The Strange Shape of Anne's Grief Part 20
by Shane Migliavacca
The Strange Shape of Anne's Grief Part 20 Anne (V)
The little girl sat in a chair. She stared intently at the wire mesh that covered the window before her. Outside a man walked around barefoot on the grass in large courtyard. He wore a white hospital gown. How long had she been her? The girl wasn’t sure. Time seemed to stand still here. White walls surrounded her. Blank. Harmless. Bleaching the color out of everything. There was nothing in the room except her, the chair and a nurse. Standing in the corner. Watching her. To keep her safe.
The lock on the door clicked loudly. Eagerly the girl turned. The thick metal door slowly swung open. The woman stood there, wearing her best clothes. A smart looking dress with a matching blouse. A bright smile on her face.
“Momma!” The girl rushed towards her mother. She tried to hug the woman, only to have her back away.
The girl looks up, heartbroken. “Momma?”
“I’m sorry honey. I have to go now.”
Tears sting the young girl’s eyes as realization sinks in. “I wanna go home!”
“It’ll be okay. The doctors are going to help you.”
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry momma. It was an accident.” The girl starts forward again. Her mother raising a hand to stop her.
“I know.” The woman starts to cry herself. “I know you are my sweet girl.” She backs up towards the door. “These people will make you better. Then…you can come home.”
“Don’t leave me here! I’m scared.”
The woman stood in the doorway, the girl stepped forward, only to be stopped by the nurse. “I’ll write you every day. I love you baby.” The woman said. The door slamming shut, leaving the girl all alone.
Anne busied herself with stocking shelves. Holiday shopping season was in full effect. She was thankful for the longer hours. It kept her from being home a lot. Luke had never come back. Him being gone left a huge hole in Anne’s heart. The house felt empty with just the two of them there. Anne’s mom swore she had nothing to do with his disappearance. She seemed legitimately shocked by the whole thing. Either she was telling the truth or her mom was one hell of an actor. Anne desperately wanted to trust her, but between this and her missing costume she had huge doubts about her mother. The question was why? True she’d never liked Luke, but she had to know the effect it’d have on her. And why lie about her costume? They’d just been reconnecting lately. And now, Anne was keeping her mom at arm’s length again. She’d started locking her bedroom door as a general sense of paranoid unease had crept into Anne. Lost in her thoughts, Anne turned from the shelves. Nearly walking into a watching Miss Beal.
The old woman held up her crooked, weathered finger. “There is a beast loose among the sheep.”
“What the fuck Miss Beal?”
Miss Beal takes Anne by the chin with a diseased looking hand. Hard enough to cause Anne some pain.
“When you curse like that, you bring the beast to your doorstep.” She roughly shook Anne’s head back and forth.
Angrily, Anne smacked the old woman’s hand away. “Don’t you ever fucking touch me.”
“He’ll come for your head.” The old woman points at her. “Heed my words! A rough beast, an abomination, slouches through Frostwood!”
Anne stumbles away, her heart beating fast. Her hands shaking. She made her way to the back room. Finding the break room empty, Anne sat down. Her whole body shaking. Resting her head in her hands, Anne started to sob. It was all too much.
“What was that out there?”
Hendricks stood a few feet from her, arms crossed. A disapproving look plastered across his face. He walked over, pulling out a chair.
Anne sniffled. “She was harassing me.”
“Then you tell her to stop. You don’t create a scene like that.” He leaned forward. “I can’t have employees screaming profanities. There’s children in the store.”
Always worried about his image, the store’s image. Did he care about anything else?
“I didn’t scream at her. She surprised me. People shouldn’t be allowed to touch someone like that.”
“And I’ll have a talk with her. I’ve heard things Anne. Troubling things about you. You and Carol never got along. I don’t think you’d do anything like that…others might though. Outbursts like that. Those don’t help you.”
Anne felt an electric shock run up her spine. “What the hell are you saying?”
He ignored her outburst. “Why don’t take the rest of the day off okay? Your fairly useless like this.”
Anne stood abruptly. Sending her chair backwards. She kept her mouth shut. Not wanting to say what she was thinking. He was right, it would only make things worse.
Two other employees stood there in the door staring at them. How long had they been there? How much had they heard? Anne pushed past them. Could hear them snickering as she walked down the hall. She was glad he’d given her the rest of the day off. Anne felt like she was about to burst.
A light snow fell as Anne walked past store displays decorated for Christmas. The holiday had lost its appeal after her father’s death. A song mentioned: “Good will to all.” Anne didn’t especially feel the world had any good will for anybody these days. In one window stood a family of wood Christmas carolers. Rejects from A Christmas Carol. Unnatural smiles painted on their faces.
There reflected in the glass of the window stood a figure. Watching from Anne across the street. Wearing a red hooded sweatshirt and old baggy jeans. Anne spun around. Was that her hoodie? It couldn’t be. The figure raised their left hand. Slowly waving at Anne.
“Hey! Who are you?” Anne started blindly across the street. Nearly getting hit by a station wagon. The red hooded figure bolted as Anne made her way to the other side. Instinct took over Anne, all she knew was she had to follow. Had to catch them.
The figure stopped about fifteen feet from Anne. At the entrance of an alleyway. The red hooded weirdo did a little halfhearted dance step, as if mocking Anne. Before ducking into the alley. Slowly, Anne walked forward, entering the alley. She should just turn and run. But she had to know.
Steam belched out of a grate near one of the buildings. Masking the alley in a light mist. A ragged, stained old mattress leaned against the side of the other one. Garbage lie half covered in snow.
“Hello?” Anne called out. Her foot squished in the snow as she stepped forward. It was more like slush here. The heat rising up from the grates melting it. “Who are you?”
A little way ahead, something sat atop the snow. As if placed perfectly for her to see. Anne knelt down. It was an old Polaroid picture. A baby in a crib. An embroidered blanket covers their little body. Stitched into the blanket is the name: Emily
“What do you want?” Anne’s voice broke, betraying how nervous she was.
“Three blind mice, three blind mice, see how they run, see how they run!”
Anne stood, clutching the picture. Her eyes darting around the alley. Trying to find the source of the song.
“They all ran after, the farmer's wife! She cut off their tails… with a carving knife!”
Anne looked up. On a rickety looking fire-escape attached to the building’s side crouched her tormentor.
“Who are you?”
They sat there, silent. Staring down at her. Their face covered by the hood.
“It was you at the house. You broke in. Why?”
“Because Emily didn’t forget.” They said. Their voice a low growl.
That name again. Anne felt it worm its way into her brain. Why did it follow her? Emily. Images flashed through her head, too fast and vague to hold onto.
“What do you want with me?” Anne asked. Her head spinning.
With that, they climbed up the fire-escape. Anne stuffed the picture in her jacket, in pursuit. Pulling herself up the fire-escape ladder. The rusty metal creaked under her weight as Anne climbed. The whole damned thing could collapse before she even reached the top. She’d made it halfway up, when one of the bolts broke free of the building. Then another followed it. The fire-escape groaned as the middle section swayed back and forth. Anne gripped the rusty rail, steadying herself.
No. She had to know. Had to find out who was messing with her. Making it to the roof of the building. Nearly out of breath, Anne saw a set of footprints leading across the snow-covered rooftop. The person that made them was nowhere to be seen. A large air conditioning unit sat in the center of the roof. To the left a doorway leading into the building. They could be hiding behind either structure. Anne followed the footprints till they disappeared near the air conditioner.
“Come out! I want to talk to you!” Anne waited. Only silence answered her. She wished she had something to use as a weapon. This could be the person that killed Carol. Or at the very least a nut. She remembered that girl in the park she’d met. Maybe she had relatives. Anne pulled out the picture. Feeling her car keys in her pocket. In the very least she could use the keys as a makeshift weapon.
Moving forward, Anne held her breath. Darting around the side of the air conditioner, her fist of keys held high, Anne was greeted by only empty space.
Then there was the crunch of snow underfoot. From behind the doorway hurtled the red hooded stalker. Moving with almost inhuman speed they pounced on Anne, forcing her face first to the ground.
“Can’t tell you. Not yet.”
Anne could feel their hot breath on her ear. Smell rancid decay in it. “Why?”
“I want to play a game. Would be no fun if you didn’t suffer.”
Anne felt a wet tongue touch her ear then retreat. She waited for something else to follow it. Pain. Death. There was nothing. Turning over, Anne saw she was alone. If not for the footprints in the snow, the photo in her hands, she’d think it was a hallucination. Her mind finally snapped in two. Sitting there in the snow, Anne realized there was something here. Something evil. And perhaps she held the key to that mystery.
Anne sat in the pickup. Studying the picture. Trying to decipher a clue from it. Anything that might tell her who or why. She looked at the name on the blanket. Emily. Why did that name haunt her? Turning the picture over. The back was dated. But the handwriting was badly scribbled. Nineteen-seventy…something. Was that a one? Or maybe a seven or a nine?
She’d seen that name somewhere recently. Emily. Where? Every time she thought she had it, her mind tugged it away. She rested her head on the steering wheel. Trying to let go of everything but the name. The cold plastic of the pickup’s wheel numbed her forehead. Here in her dad’s truck was the only place she could feel safe. Her dad. God, she wished he was here. Then through the fog of her mind she remembered something.
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