Sarah Anne Wisemueller: A Sisters of the Secret Mystery Story

Sarah Anne Wisemueller sat on the back steps of Sisters of the Secret Mystery, the orphanage her Uncle Thomas had dropped her off ten years ago. She looked across the dark paved playground, remembering. Back then, at seven, she was one of the children hanging from the monkey bars, but now at seventeen, she had different feelings as she watched them play, and thought differently.

A scuff behind her told her Sister Mary Edwards approached as she usually did, and had done for most of the years she had lived there. The woman, who was much younger than the forty-year-old she easily portrayed, pulled up her heavy habit skirts and sat beside her. She was silent for several minutes, also watching the children play.

“Tomorrow is your birthday,” the sister said finally, quietly, almost in a whisper. Sister Mary Edwards never spoke louder than something just over a whisper. Sarah Anne thought it must the reason she never taught classes. She stayed in the kitchen baking bread and managing her staff of three, including the best dishwasher in the city, Sarah Anne.

“Yes, Sister,” Sarah Anne said. “I was just reflecting on the changes, my changes.”

The sister adjusted her cowl. “So, you have begun to see things with a different eye? Life has changed for you, yes?” she asked, a hint of France in her accent.

Sarah Anne smiled. “Yes, you and the other sisters have done well. When I arrived I was unruly, undisciplined and …” Sarah Anne stopped reaching for the correct word.

“Dangerous?” the sister inserted.

Sarah Anne turned to look at the nun, her eyes becoming glassy. “Yes, I guess that is the most appropriate word.”

The sister’s arm hugged the shoulders of the teenager. “You have come very far.” She pulled her toward her. “Very far.”

“And yet?” Sarah Anne asked.

Sister Mary Edwards pursed her lips. “And yet, you have more to learn, as do we all.”

Sarah Anne looked at the next step down. “I will be eighteen tomorrow, no longer your burden.”

“Well,” the sister said, “this is true, but you also work in my kitchen, so you are an employee.”

Sarah Anne looked out at the children. James Braiden was helping Josie Upton up from the blacktop where he had “accidently” pushed her. She remembered this same event from her own past, except it had been the twins, James and Daryl Howard on the ground and she the one that pushed them. “Employees are paid,” Sarah Anne said suddenly.”

“We are not without funds,” the sister said, watching the same interaction, though cataloging the event differently.

“So,” Sarah Anne sat up and shifted her position. “I would be an employee, and not an orphan, but still kept.”

The nun sat silently again while several seconds passed. “Yes,” she said abruptly, her voice clipped.

“So, the council has decided that I am not ready,” Sarah Anne said flatly.

“Yes,” the sister replied in much the same tone as before.

“So, in essence, I have no choice but to stay and wash dishes.” Sarah felt the tremble of the thing she tried to keep controlled begin to awaken.

Sister Mary Edwards shifted her position. “They have decided that you should be given more time.” She crossed her arms, sliding each up the sleeve of the other. “You understand that more time equals more life do you not?”

Sarah Anne trembled slightly. “And it also equates to more imprisonment.”

“Yes, to some extent. I will not try to sugar coat it. It means that you will stay with us for some further length of time.”

“How long? How long am I to be your dishwasher, or perhaps something more important like Sister Matty’s assistant nose wiper in the clinic? How long, Sister Mary Edwards?” Sarah Anne jerked as a small spasm moved from her abdomen then up her arm.

Sister Mary Edwards flinched. She knew her job was much like a caretaker in a zoo. She could never forget that she dealt with wild things, and that if she let herself be lulled into thinking this was not true, it could mean her end.

Seeing Sarah Anne escalating, she played her ace. “Denny Clendenin, how important was he?”

Everything in Sarah Anne that was quickly rising to the surface, like magma in a volcano, seized. She dropped her head and she spoke quickly. “That was just after I got here, the day after. I had no control. He pushed me off the slide and I got cut, remember the eight stiches.” Sarah Anne held up her arm to expose the small scar near her right elbow. “I …”

“You killed him, and however you must explain it to yourself, however you have rationalized it so the guilt and shame seem smaller and the pain less, he is still dead. He is dead for being a stupid kid, something that all children do at one time or another. Perhaps you can remember things you have done that were just as inconsiderate?”

Sarah Anne could remember many such things only, though it was only recently that she had been able to admit it. Many had been premeditated … like Denny. She remembered him yelling at her from behind that he wanted to be first on the slide, even though she had reached the tall steel ladder and was already four steps up. Denny had reached the bottom and vaulted up, passing her, grabbing her hand and twisting it away. She remembered how she had swung out and lost her grip and footing, and fell against a sharp piece of concrete cutting her arm.

The sisters had taken her to the clinic before she could get even with Denny so after the stitches, and counseling, and dinner, and showers, and everyone was in bed with lights out, she crept to his room. She walked right up to his bed and was going to — now looking back, she didn’t remember what she had intended to do but she knew it was going to be painful, but he wasn’t there. His pillows were stuffed under the covers to make a lump. She remembered wondering if it ever fooled the sisters, but regardless, he was gone.

She thought of how she had known where he was, how she had heard some of the boys talking about a certain closet that had a certain hole from which they could look into the older girls’ room. How they listened to their conversations and sometimes caught glimpses of the girls dressing.

She remembered slipping down the hall, as silently as a night breeze, he thing in her unfurling its arms and keeping her feet from touching the floor. When she reached the closet, she opened the door quickly and stepped in before Denny understood what was going on. She remembered his initial fright, then how he got angry and told her to leave, and that he said he should have pushed her harder and maybe she would have, “broke her head instead of just cut her arm.”

Sarah Anne felt the same emotion welling up, even all these years later. The pain of rejection, the rejection she had received from her mother the seven years previous, and the anger that built up, then reached out as imagined tendrils. The tendrils that had grabbed Denny Clendenin there in the dark musty closet and crushed him into a bloody unrecognizable lump of gristle, bone and flesh dressed in cartoon print pajamas.

She felt something slide across her neck. Instinctively an invisible tentacle reached up, grabbed the thing and began to squeeze. She knew, she could see in her mind’s eye, the skin begin to bruise and how it applied more pressure until the bone popped then suddenly nothing, everything went black.

Sister Mary Edwards pulled her right hand away from Sarah Anne, and used her thumb to slide the power switch to the off position. There was a last pop of electricity as the capacitor discharged and made the stunner safe. She pulled her arm further into her robe and placed the device into the small pocket she had sewn for it, before gently shifting her quickly swelling left arm from its position around the now collapsed body of the girl.

Sister Mary Edwards considered her hand, wrist and arm, and though it was sore to move, she didn’t think it was broken. She would get a wrist brace from Sister Matty and it would be right as rain in a week.

Looking at the poor girl, she had hoped beyond hope that Sarah Anne would learn to control her mystery, but she had just experienced the reason for the council’s ruling. Given this, she had to agree that Sarah Anne was still many years away from being let out into the world. She closed her eyes and said a quick prayer to calm herself. Though she hoped for success, and would continue to work with Sarah Anne, as well as the other children at the orphanage that were cursed with the more violent mysteries, she also understood that sometimes the children grew to adulthood and chose the easier road, the broad path of evil. If that happened — she shook her head knowing she was fooling herself – ‘when’ it happened she was the one called upon to remove the child. Sometimes termination was the only answer.


Sarah Anne did not come down to the evening meal. Instead, she sat on the end of her bed and stared out the window, past the dusty screen and dirty glass, and past the tall stone walls of the orphanage into the skyline of the city. Her emotions rose and fell like the waves of a rolling sea. First the anger brought about by the knowledge that she would not be leaving the orphanage any time soon, maybe not for years, then she rode the wave down, acknowledging that she was not ready to leave, with the most recent example being Sister Mary’s dislocated wrist.

“Maybe I could escape to a jungle, or a mountain range in Patagonia, or the great Sahara Desert,” she said aloud. “There would be few people, if any, and I could live free.”

“Learn to find freedom in complete captivity,” came the almost whisper from across the room.

Sarah Anne looked to see Sister Mary Edward leaning against her door jam, her bandaged hand sticking out, visible below her long black sleeves. The sister smiled and shrugged. “You must learn to be free where ever you are. In that, you will find peace, and in peace, there is control,” the nun said.

Sarah Anne said nothing.


A week later, Sarah Anne sat in her place on the steps, looking out over the playground. Now officially an adult, she watched the children, a part of her still wanting to swing from the bars and play kickball. Sister Mary Edward sat down beside her, something she now expected whenever she sat on these steps. In truth, Sarah Anne felt some comfort when the sister was around.

“I believe Jerry Widdle is going to be an athlete one day,” the nun said, nodding at the seven-year-old boy kicking. He connected solidly and the ball soared over the other team’s heads and rolled to the wall.

“Maybe, but he has an ego problem, and I find it odd that the other team members trip often when they chase his kick.” Sarah Anne said without looking at Sister Mary Edwards. “I assume he will face challenges outside these walls, encounter people much better at … whatever, than he is.”

“Yes, this is true. He has the potential though, which was the basis for my comment. All the children,” the sister paused, “all of you have so much potential. It is not potential you lack, it is control. Once you establish control, those vaults of potential will be available to you.”

Tears welled up in Sarah Anne’s eyes. “I am …”

The sister laid her hand on the young woman. “Yes?”

“I do bad things.” Sarah Anne managed between sobs.

“Yes, you have done bad things.” The sister thought she knew what was in Sarah Anne’s heart. “But you are not evil, child.”

Sarah Anne’s face crumbled and she slumped into the sister’s lap. “But my mother …” she managed before the gasps stopped her voice.

“Oh, my dear child, fear can be a powerful motivator. Her fear of finding another crushed and bloody rat or cat in her bed, your justice – a child’s justice — for her anger toward you. She feared she might be your next victim, but regardless, before you even took your first breath in this world, your mother was an angry broken woman and that is not your fault. She did not have the ability to nurture a child, especially one with special mysteries. Instead of the grace, mercy and compassion you deserved, she showed you anger and contempt.”

Sarah Anne turned her head to the side and lay her cheek on Sister Mary Edward’s leg. “If Uncle Tom had not dropped me off …”

The question hung there for a second before the sister spoke. “Then I believe your anger would have killed your mother and you would still be an orphan, but in a government system that would not and could not help you.”

“But what about Uncle Tom, couldn’t he take me and watch over me?”

“No dear, he could not,” the sister said succinctly.

Sarah Anne lifted her head to look at the sister. “Why, what is it? Is he dead like my mother?”

The sister smiled. “No, not as far as we know.”

“But he kept me during the afternoons and nights my mom was working the streets.” She wiped her sleeve across her eyes. “He fed me, and let me watch TV with him, he was nice.”

The sister smiled. “And he is not your Uncle.

Sarah Anne stared at Sister Mary Edwards for a few seconds before the sister continued. “He was a man across the hall with whom your mother traded services. When he discovered her in your apartment, dead of an overdose, he knew he couldn’t keep you. Your mother had told him about your mystery and he had seen the examples, and she told him of a place she had heard of for kids with similar troubles so he brought you here.”

Sarah Anne dropped her head. “So I am alone. I knew I was almost alone, but I always thought that when I left the orphanage I might convince him that we could live together, share the rent and other expenses. He was my only family.” She dropped her gaze to her lap.

Sister Mary Edward reached over and lifted her chin to look into her face. “You are not alone. Sarah Anne, I love you. If I had a daughter I would want her to be just like you.”

Tears erupted the young woman’s eyes again. “But without this awful…”

The sister interrupted her before she could finish. “Your mystery makes your life — complicated, but no, it is a part of you and I accept you just the way you are, just the way the Savior accepts me. Sarah Anne you must forgive your Uncle Thomas for abandoning you, and your mother for rejecting you.” The sister brushed Sarah Anne’s cheek with the back of her hand. “Then forgive yourself for your ignorance, your bad choices and your anger.”

Eventually, several minutes later, Sarah Anne’s tears stopped and she realized something had changed. She felt different, the oppressive weight of the mystery, always pushing and prodding, was not trying to get out. It was there but, it was asleep, she smiled and corrected herself — asleep with one eyelid slightly open. She looked at the sister who looked tired but was smiling, then Sarah Anne laughed.

Sister Mary Edwards eyes went wide. In ten years she had never heard the girl laugh. Her own mouth opened and a giggle escaped which made Sarah Anne laugh all the harder, until she was doubled over and gasping for breath. Sister Mary Edwards lay back on the steps and laughed quietly, as only this sister could do. The children on the playground, hearing the ruckus, began to move towards then until another sister intercepted and turned them around.

Finally, as the two women wiped their faces and exhaled their last sighs, Sister Mary Edwards stood and offered her good hand. Sarah Anne accepted it, stood, and was immediately pulled into a hug.  “It is time to start making tomorrow’s bread, I could use the help.” She pushed the young woman to arm’s length and looked her straight in the face. “And the company.”

Sarah Anne Wisemueller was warm with something she had not felt in a long time. She reconsidered, and decided that she had not felt it ever. Her mystery, the deadly invisible serpent inside her still lay coiled and ready, but somehow she knew she could develop a new relationship with it, and with Sister Mary Edward’s help, maybe learn to control it. A word came to mind, ‘hopeful.’

She stopped on the top step and looked back over the playground as the kids still ran about playing and calling to each other. Then she looked past them and over the wall to the city skyline and knew one day she would not just see it, but would live in it. She wasn’t concerned with leaving anymore and he entered the building, truly happy for the first time in her life.


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