The Strange Shape of Anne's Grief Part 21
by Shane Migliavacca
The Strange Shape of Anne's Grief Part 21 Miss Beal
When she’d been younger, a boy compared her skin to porcelain. Her once velvety smooth skin was now dried and cracked. Marred by aging. It clung tightly to her bones. The pain was worse today. Constance Beal could feel it crawling through her hands into the fingers. She made fists. Flexing made them hurt more, but the pain made her grounded. Pain was the Lord’s gift. It was a punishment. One she could suffer on this plane, to make penance. She was failing in her mission, to teach them, to lead them away from the downfall of earthly sin. Only a very few would listen now. Fewer than before. And those that did wouldn’t join her. There was a time, years ago Miss Beal had a small group of followers. They’d stand with her in prayer as well as battle. They’d heard her message and believed. Campaigned against those who’d corrupt the innocent. Time had taken its toll on the group. Some lost their lives to old age. Others lost their faith. Television and money lured most of them away. Those were the new faiths. Built on sin and greed.
Constance had come to accept it as a test. To see if she was truly worthy. For the battle was here, now in Frostwood. A beast from the depths had made it here. They remained blind to the beast, but she saw it. Felt the thing’s dark heart. That murdered girl was but the first to fall.
When she was thirty-three the Lord had taken her right eye in an auto accident. She’d been drinking. The call had come years earlier. When she was twenty-five, so caught up in the ways of living for herself, Constance had ignored it. The angel Uriel had come to her one night. As she laid there in bed. Told her God’s message, his plan for her. Yet she refused. Rejected it as a fever dream. Something brought on by a night of too much drinking. Then there in the hospital after the accident Uriel came again. A vortex of light surrounded him. He offered her a second chance. To take up the battle. To save the blind. Lead them to heaven. There would be no third chance for her.
The angel had reached out with a flaming sword. The tip touching her bandaged eye socket. Though she’d lost the eye, Uriel had blessed her with a new sight. To see people as they truly were, under the skin. A very few of them were good people. All, most all reeked of sin.
She gave up any notions she’d had previously of a marriage or children. There was no time for that. Those were things that would weaken her come the time of battle. Now here it was and she was old. This too she was convinced was a test. Old she might be, but she could still go to battle.
Miss Beal knelt in front of a large ceramic crucifix surrounded by candles. She lived in the large building that had once been her parent’s clothes store. It had long since closed. Stores like Save-Mart had made Beal’s Fine Clothing a relic of a quaint past. Pulling herself up, the formidable old woman decided now was a good time as any for supper. She kept the alter in the back room of the old store. A makeshift chapel. Mannequins that had once been on the store’s main floor now served a new purpose. The stood in reverence on either side of the room. In their own form of silent prayer. Their once white skin painted red. Ever present cheerful expressions looked off in this new setting.
In the privacy of her home, she left her glasses with the shaded lens off. That was for the benefit of others. The doctors had offered her the choice of a glass eye. She had no need of such a thing. Like this, she saw a reminder of what needed to be.
Her supper was simple. Chicken soup and a ham and cheese sandwich with a glass of water. There was no need for something more. It was nourishment, nothing more. A means to an end. After she washed the one bowl, cup and plate she used. Scrubbing them clean and drying them. The building was silent. She didn’t own a TV or radio. There was no need for them. They were further distractions.
Constance had been in love once. She was twenty-eight then. Working for her parents. Her brother, Reggie had gone off to college with big ideas of becoming a writer. A great American novelist. Instead he ended up writing cheap detective novels. She hadn’t talked to him since their parents had passed. She didn’t even know if he was still alive. Not that it mattered to her.
The man she’d loved came into the store one day back then. Wayne Stevens. A teacher at the middle school. He had been looking for a suit for a colleague’s wedding. She’s seen him around town before. He was always wearing that brown aviator’s jacket and matching fedora. His smile and charm had won her over. Soon they’d started dating. Her parents were quite happy about it. They’d feared their daughter would become an old maid. If only they could see her now. They went out for two years. Becoming quite serious. There had been even talk of marriage. Then he’d left. Just like that. She never found out why. Never heard from him again. Had be become scared over the prospect of marriage? Or was there someone else in his life?
That’s when the drinking started. Constance had lost herself in the bottle. It had been obvious to her at the time, that for whatever reason he’d left it was her fault. For a time, she wrestled with the idea of ending her life. What point was there anymore? It may have been this willingness to die that caused her to drive the car into that tree.
She looked back on all that as if someone else had lived it. After the accident. After accepting the message, her life had begun in earnest. She’d never been very spiritual before. She’d gone to church with her parents. Her father had been Protestant. Her mother Catholic. They weren’t forceful with their beliefs. Constance had her choice to go or not when she got old enough. She’d chosen not to, finding church a bother. All these years later, having received the message: She still stayed clear of going to church. The angel Uriel had showed her that God was greater then what this religion or that one said. God was greater than then those raving glad-handers on TV. Preaching fire and damnation whilst begging for money. Each person was accountable to God themselves.
She had her mission. It had defined her life since that day. She’d come to believe this girl, Anne held some importance. The girl reminded her of herself way back when she was that age. Walking a line between heaven and hell. Touched by something supernatural. She was tethered to the beast in some way. If only she could figure out how.
She entered the living room. A wood stove stood in one corner, giving off a great deal of heat. A record player sat atop an end table. The only form of music she had was her mother’s old classical records. She put on some Bach. Sitting down, she went back to knitting a new scarf. She found the process relaxing. So relaxing that she sometimes found herself dozing off. Tonight was no different. Forty minutes after starting, she jerked awake. She’d fallen asleep, for how long she didn’t know.
She dreamed of her parents. They’d seemed so real. Her mother’s soft laugh rang in her ears. They’d been good people. Constance missed running the store with her parents. But that had been a different time. The world now was rotten, dirty place. She was glad her parents were spared living with the filth that walked the streets now.
Her and her brother had been running through the big garden behind their grandparent’s house. The tall leaves of the plants loomed over them. There had been something else there besides them among the tall plants. Something dark, corrupt, rotten. The beast.
Yes. The beast. Even now she could sense its presence. It was here. Now. She picked up the knitting needle. She stood, feeling the pain in her feet and legs as she did so. She was old, but she’d not go easy. The record had stopped. The soft crackle of the end of the record a soundtrack to the coming battle.
Constance strained her ears, listening. Somewhere in the building, something moved. Long ago she’d grown accustom to the sounds of the building. She could tell when it was more than the building settling.
The old woman moved silently. She inched down the long hallway. Stopping at her bedroom. There was one more thing she need. A gift from her father. Reaching into the drawer of the night stand by her bed. The old wood creaking loudly in the silence of the night. She hefted it. It’s cold smooth metal felt powerful. Her father had brought the Beretta home from the war. Kept it for defense. In case they were ever robbed. That never happened. All these years later, it would finally have a purpose.
Leaving the bedroom. She kept close to the wall as she advanced down the hall. Before she could ponder where to go, there was a loud crash from the chapel. It was loud enough to hear throughout the building. No doubt to lure her there. But she was ready for that.
In the chapel she found the mannequins knocked down, smashed. The sharp smell or urine stung her nose. It had defiled her chapel. Crouching on all fours in front of the altar it waited. It’s face hidden by shadows and a red hood. The sweatshirt was mired in filth. As was the white dress it wore. The body looked vaguely feminine. The beast was a deceiver. This much Constance knew.
“They laughed at me.” It held a cracked mannequin head in its gloved hand. “Even now they won’t shut up!” It tossed the head hard against the wall. Shattering it in to countless little bits. “Always laughing.”
“I knew you’d come vile abomination. Waited for you.”
The beast raised its head up. The face was covered by a plastic wolf’s mask. It let out a howl before charging forward. Racing towards her on all fours. Constance had just enough time to bring up her father’s 1935 Beretta as the beast tackled her. They went down. The beast clawing at her face.
“I hate you!” It screamed. “She hates you too!”
She felt it’s jagged nails dig into her skin. Fire erupting from the wounds. Squeezing the trigger, Constance fired off a shot. The bullet tearing a hole in the side of the hood. The beast, not expecting this leaped off of her. Running down the hall. Rolling to her side, she managed to fire two more rounds at her retreating foe. She was pretty sure she’d missed. She may have not done any damage to it, but she scared it. Bought herself sometime perhaps. The beast, the wolf had underestimated her. It wouldn’t again.
Pulling herself up into a sitting position she noticed for the first time in many years she felt different. She felt alive.
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