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Tom Howard


Tom Howard is a banking software analyst in Little Rock, Arkansas and thanks the Central Arkansas Speculative Fiction Writing Group for their help and support.

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By: Tom Howard
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“Do that,” agreed the sister. “But I would still like to meet this man.” She smiled at them. “Go now and let me visit our bloated tick.”

As we hurried out the chapel door, I heard arguing behind us.

The next day, I was mopping the generalissimo’s office – my father’s former den – when Sister Joan made her dramatic appearance. The big man, obviously amused to be speaking to a mutant woman with two llama heads in a town surrounded by pens of llamas, smiled and wiped his brow with a dirty handkerchief. Sister Joan – the symbol of dignity and propriety – stood patiently, waiting for the appraising stares of the sweaty general and his men to end. She knew they’d joke about her possible parentage, but she wasn’t there to react to ridicule – she was determining how much trouble San Joye de Uzuna was in.

“You wanted to see me, Sister?” he asked, chomping a cheap cigar and saying her title as if it was a dirty word.

“Yes, General,” she said calmly, although if you knew the signs, you could see her left head was glowering silently. “I’d like to invite you to Sunday mass at the chapel.”

He sat back in his chair, causing it to complain loudly, and laughed long and deep. His men joined him with insincere familiarity. “Thank you, Sister Llama,” he said. “My men and I were just debating on what to do with the chapel now that we have liberated your village from the aggressors. This rat hole of a house is too small for a man of my position, don’t you think?”

“What aggressors?” she asked. “The chapel belongs to the Church, not to the town. And where would the people go for solace and guidance?”

He laughed again. “Well, to me, of course.” Unbelievably he stared openly at Sister Joan’s attire, obviously wondering how much of her was llama beneath her robes. “I think you’ve given them enough solace for a while, Sister. Tell me, were you always a bride of the Church?”

“No,” she said. “We…I was trained as a pharmacist.”

“In America?” he asked, licking his lips. “From a rich family?”

“I have no family except the Church, General.” She changed the subject. “You’ve been here long enough to know our village has very little to spare. Perhaps if you and your men are willing to help the villagers in the fields—”

The angry generalissimo jumped to his feet, his face red. He placed his hands dangerously on the pair of pistols that hung on his hips. “Do we look like farmers to you, Sister?” he bellowed.

“No, sir. The Church doesn’t allow me to tell you what you look like.” She spun around, gathered her black skirts, and departed before the fat man could react. I received a beating for the bucket of water I “accidentally” tipped over his polished boots as he started after her. And I had to polish the boots again.

That night at the secret meeting held in the chapel, I had to stand the entire time because my back was too sore to lean back against a pew.

There were almost as many of us at that meeting as there had been at Sunday service. My mother had the forethought to remind everyone to bring blankets to cover the windows, and Sister Joan lit a few candles. Fortunately, Generalissimo Franco and his men had discovered Senor Blanco’s mash barrels full and fermenting in a small canyon nearby and were currently liberating them by the tankard.

My father and other members of the village had had enough, but Sister Joan tried her best to calm everyone. “We cannot become animals like them,” she insisted. “This too shall pass.”
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