The Sistren is a collection of stories about seventy-two singular sisters. Every week a new sister’s story is told, accompanied by an original illustration. 

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You find yourself in a school for the blind. The building is a sprawling, seemingly endless Victorian institution built against the sea. A student no older than ten greets you at the entrance and leads you quietly through the pale halls up the broad, cranky stairs to the third floor and down the ever-narrowing hall to your tiny room. The color green is present particularly in nothing but generally in everything, is overpowering, a shade you have never experienced. Your quarters fit a bed and a small closet, are framed by two large windows with closed shutters. Before you can open them a second student, almost identical to the first, knocks on your door, leads you downstairs to your classroom.

Classes begin. They are just as you remember them from your youth. The headmistress is painfully beautiful, though slightly out-of-focus. Her eyes never settle on yours. The children are silent unless spoken to, collaborate lifelessly when called upon, take copious notes while she speaks. They move and listen and write without help. They seem both blind, deaf and neither. There is a glassiness to their eyes, voice and movement. Nobody seems to acknowledge your presence.

Instead of a bell, there is a rumble that rattles the desks. The children put away their supplies, line up single file, wait for the headmistress to dismiss them. She closes the door before you leave. You take a seat by the window and watch the children spill out onto the field against the water. There is a dense fog that never recedes, lurks curiously around the school, expectant. An inhalation that doesn’t want to release. It makes it difficult to see the children, impossible to see past the boundary of land.

A trumpet blares and there is the sound of hooves. You turn to the headmistress, who is writing the afternoon schedule on the chalkboard. Next to the current time she has written The Hunt. Outside the children are walking past the boundary into the fog, into what you imagine is the sea, except that they must be mounting the horses whose hoofbeats pause before resuming again. Soon the clatter of hooves is mixed with a frantic splashing, and then a complete silence.

After a long time staring out into the fog you get up, decide to try the door. A student enters as you make your way over, leads you down the hall into the cavernous dining room. There is a single empty table, the longest you have seen by a significant margin, set with dishes and cutlery. You are seated and motioned to wait. The cold seeps into the edges of your bones until you can feel each individually inside you. The silence seems unending.

Without warning the large doors fly open and the children enter the dining room single file, taking their places at the table in silence. They are completely soaked, their hair and uniforms dripping. There is blood on their cuticles and at the edges of their mouths. A simple meal is served and they eat almost in unison. Your questions are met with silence, so you walk to the doors, still open a crack, and peer out. Deep in the fog there is the shadow of a mound, perhaps a pile of corpses, perhaps a small hill you didn’t notice before. A boy gently but firmly closes the door and motions that you join him at the table once more. The food tastes of iron.

Classes resume. There are numbers and letters and dates on the board but you don’t quite follow the headmistress. She is more spirited than the students, as if she were coaxing them from their lifeless state. It does no good. They seldom participate and do so barely above a whisper. You stare out the window to the shadowy mound, to the contours of land against what must be the sea. The sun is setting, sets, and there is darkness. Then that rumble again, the filing of students, their exit. A student fetches you and leads you back to your room.

You open the window and peer out into the misty dark. After some time you hear the big doors open once more, hear feet against the grass, see the beginnings of human shapes and movement. There is a point of light gradually spreading, pushing against the fog, a fire. Soon it is big enough that you can make out the human forms surrounding it. Judging by its location, you assume it is the mound you saw earlier. And then there is chanting.

Gradually at first, but then with a growing fullness, a guttural croak emerges from what must be the sea. It responds to the chant, perhaps to the fire, producing a coarse melody with the choir. The sound is terrible. You imagine a gargantuan creature peering its head above the water, letting its existence be known. The children don’t seem to mind, in fact seem to expect it, their chant growing louder alongside the croak. It builds to a horrid climax and then there is silence.

The next day plays out identically. Perhaps the fog is more dense. The students less alive. The headmistress more beautiful. The croak punctures the night more violently and you barely sleep the second night. The blood on their teeth, the blurry pile, keep you from rest.

On the morning of the third day you climb out of your window, manage to make your way down to the ground without getting hurt. Once you touch the grass you feel more in danger than you did scaling the building. The fog could not be more dense. You cannot make out your own body past your chest, can only guess that there is land in front of you. Picking your direction based on the angle of the building, you walk towards what should be the fire, the pile, the imprint of children’s feet or horse hooves on grass. Finding nothing you walk in circles for a bit, trying to locate some evidence of the hunt, of their night. After some time you resume your walk ahead, feel the need to make some progress before the children come out again, before the horses are called.

You walk through fog for days and nights. You never reach the sea. Never hear another human voice. The croak is still present once there is complete darkness. Your thoughts go back to the headmistress. The one absolute love in your life. It is only now you realize it, and so you turn around, hoping to make the Victorian school out against the fog. Seeing her image in front of you. Hoping for the clatter of hooves. The blood in their mouths.



Naiara and Balearus

Naiara and Balearus