The Strange Shape of Anne's Grief Part 15
by Joe Solmo
The Strange Shape Of Anne's Grief chapter 15 Carol Machen
The bicycle ride home at night was always a lonely one for Carol. Black Friday was even worse, it was late and by now everybody was at home tucked into their beds, all shopped out with bellies full of leftovers. She’d stayed a little later to help clean up the mess left by the crowd of shoppers. The apartment building was close now as she peddled away. Another block and a half to go. Still enough time for someone to try attacking her. Three years ago, she’d been mugged not far from here. He’d rushed out of one of the alleys between the old brick buildings. Waving a large knife at her. There hadn’t been much for him to take so the man, a drug user beat the shit out of her in anger. The pepper spray and small metal pipe in her jacket she carried were in response to that incident. She wouldn’t be helpless again.
Her stomach grumbled as Carol stopped in front of the apartment building. Another late supper. Work had been so hectic she’d skipped her lunch break. Most of the others were just kids. At forty Carol felt they needed some leadership and her experience qualified her. They all hated her. Carol knew that. She wasn’t there to be their friend. She was there to work. Too many of these kids wanted things handed to them without earning it. Not willing to put in the time needed.
Carol took a chain from her backpack. Chaining the bike to the rack in front of the building. A strong wind started up as she pulled the keys from her jacket. Movement caught her eye. Glancing down the street there was nobody, not even a car. Just snow flurries. That was probably it. Just snow blowing around. No muggers. No rapists. Still, she felt like she was being watched. Unlocking the front door, Carol hurried into the building. She was just being paranoid.
There’s nothing wrong with being paranoid. She thought.
Carol checked her mail before starting up the stairs. There was actually a letter among the fliers and bills. From her parents. Probably a Thanksgiving card. Before going up, Carol went to the front door. Checking to make sure it had locked. She pressed her face against the glass. Peeking out into the night. Snow blowing around at the wind’s mercy. What was she expecting to see out there, a stalker? Of course, there was nobody. This time she was just being paranoid. She made her way up to the third floor. At least the other tenants were asleep by now. Most of them were trash. Drunks, bums and welfare cases. She tried to avoided them all. Carol felt dirty living here. It was all she could afford unfortunately.
A TV was on in her neighbor’s apartment. Mrs. Lutz. That TV was on all day and night. Carol figured the old woman fell asleep watching it at night. Mrs. Lutz was one of the few people here Carol could stand. The old woman was as sick of the scum bags in the building as she was.
Entering her apartment, Carol turned on the light. Hanging her jacket and backpack on the back of the door. She was feeling spooked tonight. Black Friday had everyone at Save-Mart on edge. Especially her. They’d made it through. The others didn’t know it, but Carol did what she did, to get them there. They whispered behind her back. Called her a bitch. Never realizing why she did it.
Carol clicked on the TV. A black and white western was on. That was just fine. Old films helped relax her. In the small kitchenette area, she opened the fridge. A ham sandwich and some soup would be her supper tonight. As she prepared her sandwich, something brushed against her leg. Making Carol jump in surprise.
Looking down to see a smoky gray cat staring impatiently up at her.
“Don’t worry Mr. Jingles. I haven’t forgotten you.”
The cat meowed and rubbed its head against her leg. Carol had rescued the cat. A few summers back, she’d been watching TV, when she heard a car door slam shut as the car sped away. A few minutes later came the pathetic meowing. At first Carol had ignored it. There were lots of cats in the neighborhood. A fair share of them were strays. She heard them meowing and fighting all the time. But there was something different about this cat’s meow. It was desperate. Scared. Going down for a look she found an old cloth sack, moving back and forth. Inside was a kitten, badly beat up and bloodied. Some asshole had left it there to die. Carol cleaned the poor thing up the best she could. Tending to its wounds and trying to get it to eat something. Wrapping it up in a towel, she sat there with it. Cradling it in her arms all night. In the morning she called in. The only time working at Save-Mart she ever missed a day. Taking the cat to the vet. The vet offered to take the kitten. Find a home for it, something about it had affected her. It’s ability to survive. Carol adopted the little sucker, taking it home after a couple days. Reaching down and stroking his ears, Carol could feel the scars under the cat’s fur. Reminders of the horror it’d suffered.
Putting her dinner on hold, Carol got Mr. Jingles his dinner. Popping open a can of food and chopping it up into little chunks for him. The whole time the cat purred, rubbing on her legs. Setting the small plate down, she admired her little companion. He made all the day to day crap worthwhile. When she went to bed, the cat would curl up next to her. Burrowing its way under the covers. Sharing her heat. It was comforting.
With her friend fed she went back to getting her dinner. A can of chicken noodle and a ham sandwich. Most nights were no different. Except for the occasional times Carol treated herself to ordering a pizza or Chinese food. Usually it was a TV dinner. Tonight, she was too tired to mess with the stove.
Depositing her dinner on a small coffee table, Carol sat on the small futon that served as the only furniture of her living room area other than the table. Slipping off her sneakers, Carol pulled on a pair of comfy slippers. Finished with his repast, Mr. Jingles rubbed against Carol’s leg again. Letting out a pitiful meow.
“Aren’t you full?”
The cat looked up at her with wide eyes.
Carol knew what the cat wanted. Ripping off a small hunk of the ham, she sat it at the cat’s feet. The cat greedily torn into the meat. Carol patted it on the head.
“Enjoy it, okay?”
On the TV a gunfight ensued as a sheriff fought off some bandits. Holding them off to protect a group of townspeople holed up in a church. Over the sound of guns blazing was something else. A steady rhythm.
Putting her half-eaten sandwich down, Carol turned down the volume and listened.
There it was again.
She knew that sound. Rushing towards the front window, Carol stubbed her toe on the table leg.
“Damn!” She cursed under her breath. Limping the rest of the way to the window.
Peeking through the closed shades down on the street. At first, she didn’t see anything, just snow blowing around. Then it came into view. Somebody was riding a bike around in circles down there. Her bike. Ringing the bike’s bell as they went. The bell she’d named the cat after. She couldn’t make them out save for the red jacket they were wearing. A hood was hiding the thief’s head.
Goddamn low-lives! They let their kids run wild around here. None of them gave a crap what they got into. Just a couple months ago, Carol caught them messing with her bike. The little rug rats were probably back to get even with her for calling the cops on them.
Carol grabbed her jacket and the small metal pipe. Couldn’t even sit down for supper after a long day of work. She looked at the cat sitting by the couch.
“Behave. I’ll be right back.”
She closed the door behind her. If Mr. Jingles got out of the apartment, one of these jerks sure as hell wouldn’t help her. Carol took the steps two at a time as she descended. Panic took hold of her for a brief second as she remembered the lock on the front door. Before going outside, she quickly checked her pockets. Good. They were there. Relieved, she went outside into the snowstorm.
Immediately Carol realized she’d stepped out into the snow wearing only her slippers. She felt her feet get wet. Adding to her growing rage. The bike thief was peddling away from her down the street. Having given up on making circles in the snow-covered street.
“Stop!” Carol called out. “Come back here!” The wind threatened to steal her voice.
Asshole! She thought as the continued peddling away. How they could keep this up in the wind and snow was beyond her. The cold starting to numb her wet toes, Carol could feel the weather beating her. She should turn back. Just file a report with the cops. But what would they do? Nothing. Just like the last time these freaking kids messed with her.
“Get back here!” She tried again. The wind sucking the breath from her.
As if in response. The bike thief rang the bell some more. Mocking her. “Fucker!”
“Hey! What the hell is going on down there?”
Carol stopped running. Leaning out the window of one of the buildings, a bearded man, half asleep glared down at her.
“Somebody is stealing my bike!” Carol answered. “Call the cops!”
“Not my problem lady. Keep it down.” The man slammed his window shut.
Nobody around here was any help. Not surprising in the least. Feeling her lungs burn Carol renewed her pursuit of the thief. Watching as they turned the corner. Heading right onto Glen Street. This asshole was going to lead her through half the damn city tonight.
Turning the same corner nearly a minute later, Carol thought she’d lost them. The bike and its rider nowhere to be seen.
Carol felt her spirits sink. No! How could they be gone? Wait. There on the side, leaning on a large snowbank sat her bike. They’d tried riding it down the poorly shoveled sidewalk and crashed into the snowbank. The lazy bastards around here had actually helped her out for once. The bike was in front of the old Five and dime. Long since closed down. Carol inched forward. Gripping the metal pipe in her hand tight. The cold made the metal stick to her skin. Carol was expecting a trap.
There a few feet from the bike, lying in the snow was the bike thief. Face down in the snow. As she got closer, she could hear them sobbing. It was a girl. About her size, maybe a teenager. Besides the hooded jacket, the girl was wearing some kind of costume dress. They must be freezing out in that. Carol could see their body shudder with each sob. Were they hurt?
For a moment she thought about just taking her bike and leaving them there. That’s what they get for stealing. Seeing them there in the snow though, panic and regret swelled up inside her. If the girl was hurt would she be blamed? Carol could see the girl’s no-good parents trying to sue her. She had to check the girl. Had to be sure they were okay.
“Hey girl.” She asked. “Are you hurt?” Getting close enough to touch the crying girl. Putting her hand on their shoulder. The sobbing stopped. Replaced by a low guttural growl. The girl rolls over. Their face covered by a cheap wolf mask.
Startled Carol stumbles back. The thief rose up. Pulling a hatchet from the red jacket.
But Carol’s warning did no good. Wolf-Mask rushed towards her. Smashing their shoulder into Carol’s chest. Sending her backwards through the big glass window of the Five and dime. Glass fell everywhere as Carol slammed into the dusty wood floor of the closed store. The metal pipe rolling away from her. Disappearing under a counter.
She gasped for breath. Outside on the sidewalk her attacker howled like a wolf. This wasn’t just a joyriding kid. This was a lunatic. Carol tried standing, pain shot through her left leg. In the fall she’d twisted something. The pain was too much to stand without help. Crying out in frustration and pain. Carol pulled herself over shards of broken glass. Feeling them cut into her hands, arms and legs. They weren’t the only things cut by the glass. Out of the corner of her right eye she could see a bit of glass sticking out of her cheek.
Pulling herself towards one of the counters. Carol prayed whoever owned this place had installed a silent alarm. Maybe the cops were on their way. Maybe that man in the window had called them. Maybe there was something here she could use as a weapon. Deep down she knew. It was hopeless. She was going to die here and for what? A bike? No! Everything she’d been through in her life, it wouldn’t end here. It couldn’t.
Behind her, Carol heard glass crunch under her attacker’s feet as they stepped through the shattered window into the store.
“Help! Help! Somebody!” She screamed. Desperation had taken hold. Maybe they’d be scared off by her screaming.
Yet, Wolf-Mask continued to stalk her, almost playfully. As Carol neared the counter she saw salvation. Some workman had left a hammer lying propped against the counter’s side. The sight renewed her strength. Ignoring the pain Carol dragged herself faster. Towards her chance to survive.
Perhaps seeing what Carol was after, Wolf-Mask grabbed her left leg pulling Carol back. But it was too late as Carol’s fingers wrapped around the handle of the hammer. Rolling over onto her back, swinging wildly, Carol forced them to momentarily back off. Just out of range of her swings Wolf-Mask bring their own weapon to bear. Burying the hatchet into Carol’s left ankle. She screams as white-hot pain races through her body. Two. Three. Four. Five times. They brought the blade down severing Carol’s foot. The pain was too much to take. The hammer clattered to the floor as she gripped her leg with both hands.
The Wolf crouched down. Staring at its prey. Backhanding Carol hard across the face. Sending her backwards. Lying flat on her back Carol watched helplessly as they smiled. Barring jagged teeth. Teeth that ripped into her throat.
Blackness crept into the corners of Carol’s vision. Slowly blotting out the light. As she started to fade Carol could only think about Mr. Jingles back in her apartment. She hoped somebody would look after him.
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