Mother Superior was ancient. Or at least that was the impression she had given off for the twenty three years she had been in charge of the convent. As far as anyone knew, she had always been ancient, born with wrinkled skin, greying hair and knowing eyes. Only now did the years seem to weigh heavy on her shoulders, pressing down on her chest, making it hard for her to breathe. It had been two days since she had taken to bed - even agreeing to accept the luxury of a feather pillow - and the convent had been awash with whispered rumours. Mother Superior was about to meet her maker.
For those two days, Sister Maria had not left her side. She had barely slept at all, and eaten only some mouthfuls of soup. No, her own physical form was unimportant, all that mattered was tending to her teacher, and making sure she was comfortable and at peace.
Mother Superior had been drifting in and out of consciousness for the last day or so, with her moments of lucidity getting ever shorter and more spaced out. Sister Maria sat and prayed from her small book of psalms and hymns, hoping that the words were easing the old woman’s spirit, if not her body.
“Maria…” Mother Superior croaked hoarsely, as she rose back from oblivion. “Maria…”
“Easy Mother Superior,” soothed Maria, reaching for a cup of water and helping her teacher to sip. “Do not push yourself on my account, you have a long and wonderful journey ahead of you.”
“Maria, there are things you must know… must tell you… before it’s too late.” She closed her eyes once more and seemed to sleep.
Sister Maria had been in the convent since she was a young girl and she knew no other life. If she had had a family other than the nuns, or a mother other than Mother Superior, she did not know them. She was lucky to have found a loving home, and always strove to be grateful. She turned back to her prayers.
“Yes Mother Superior”
“Call me Agnes, dear one,” she said, “and hold a dying woman’s hand.”
“Yes Mother… Yes Agnes” Maria said obediently, and held the frail hand that felt like paper over bone.
“When I die,” her voice was quiet and uncertain, like nothing Maria had heard before from this formerly powerful woman. “When I die, you will be the new Mother Superior.”
“Me? But Mother S… But Agnes, I am so young! I have not the wisdom, not the experience, surely someone else, Sister Kerry, Sister Catherine…”
“All fine women, but no. It shall be you. I have made my wishes very clear.”
Mother Superior’s voice dropped to a low whisper, so Maria had to lean in close to hear her words.
“Because you are a pure spirit, my daughter, pure and innocent. So open… and willing.”
“Thank you, Mother.”
“So good… so kind… you would give anything… for others…”
“Yes, Mother, you know I would.”
The old woman smiled. “Then I… shall take it” she whispered.
The frail body sagged in the bed, broken and lifeless, as a cold burning spread up Maria’s hand and through her arm. What was happening? It hurt so much, so much, she had to scream, she had to…
Agnes opened her new eyes and looked down at the lump of useless, worn out flesh beneath her. It had definitely been time for an upgrade. With any luck, this body could easily be stretched out for a few decades, maybe even more. And there was bound to be another young woman before then.
After all, the convent had a way of attracting the pure, the noble, and the generous.