The Strange Shape of Anne's Grief Part 24

by Shane MIgliavacca

The Strange Shape of Anne's Grief chapter 24 Pottersville


Tess had eyed the girls a little strangely before giving up the location of the Pottersville City Hall. After a tasty but greasy breakfast of ham, scrambled eggs and hash browns Anne and Sam were back in the pickup. After a bit of aimless driving, they finally found the Pottersville City Hall. The building looked more like an old church then a government office. In fact, it had once been a church they found out. The old city hall was being renovated and the church had closed a few years prior. The church basement was the new home of all the old records. A female guide escorted the girls to spiral staircase that led to the bowels of the church.

“Mr. Bettis is in charge of the records.” The pretty guide said. Her freckled face lighting up. “He should be down there now. When you get to the bottom go straight, it’s the last door on the left.”

The stairs were quite steep. Anne put her hand on the wood banister. She felt rough scrapes in the polished surface. Something getting moved up or down the stairs had dug into the wood’s surface. Careless movers perhaps.

Sam’s boots click-clacked on the concrete steps behind her. “You nervous?” She asked.

“Nervous. Why?” Was she that obvious?

“You’re going kind of slow.”

“It’s the stairs, kind of steep.”

“Little bit.”

Was it really the stairs or was it that you’re getting close?

Close to what she wasn’t sure. The nearer they got the more her heart raced. She’d told herself she was ready for this. Ready for whatever she found. That it was better to get it over with. Face her fears. Yet now, she wanted to turn back. Maybe there was somethings that were best left unknown.

The hallway was dimly lit. As if the power was about half what it should be. One of the overhead lights flickered on and off. Bathing the middle of the hallway in occasional bouts of darkness.

“Homey.” Sam said. “For John Wayne Gacy.”

“Sam.” Anne chided. 

The archive room sat open. Inside large folders full of papers sat everywhere. On tables, crammed into shelves, stuffed into boxes on the floor.

Anne lightly rapped on the wood door. “Hello? Mr. Bettis? Anyone here? Hello?”

They waited a couple minutes. When nobody answered, Sam stepped into the room.

“Sam, maybe we should wait. She said he was down here. He could be busy.”

“Or in the shitter.” Sam shrugged. “We could be waiting till doomsday.”

“You’ve got a few years for that.”

Both girls jumped. They turned to see a small man step out from behind a shelf. What was the word Anne had heard it called? Dwarfism? Yes, that was the word. He was a dwarf.

“Mr. Bettis?” Anne asked. Trying her damnedest not to stare.

“Indeed. He is me. I am him.”   

A mop of curly dark brown hair sat atop his head. Large cat eye glasses. covered his bright amber eyes. A pencil thin mustache cloaked his top lip. He wore his tie slung over his left shoulder, giving him the illusion of being in motion.

“Sorry to startle you. I was filing some papers in the back. And about to grab a quick nap.” He smiled. “Keep that between us. So, to what do I own the pleasure of your company today?” 

“I found out I was born here.” Anne unfolded her birth certificate. Handing it to Bettis.

He looked it over, adjusting his glasses. “So you were. Welcome back.”

“Thanks.” Anne manged brief smile.

“What exactly can I help you find, miss?” He extended his hand.

It took a second to register with Anne before she took it. Shaking his hand. “Anne. Anne Marsten.”

“Pleased to meet you Miss Marsten. Marlowe Bettis. Keeper of the town records and local historian. Not an official title, still it’s better than clerk.” His eyes traveled to Sam. “And you are?”

“Oh sorry. This is my friend Sam Lang.”

He nodded to Sam.

“Yo.” Sam nodded back. 

“This will sound odd, but I was hoping to find out something out about my time here.” Anne said. “I can’t remember anything before I was twelve. I figured the beginning was a good place to start.”

“Smart. Come with me.” He clapped his hands together. “I’ll see what I can dig up.”

They followed him through twisting aisles of records. The room was larger than Anne had first thought. It smelled like those books she’d picked up at garage sales for ten cents. From somewhere overhead a heater kicked on. Humming and rattling. Sounding for all the world like it was about to explode. It must have been turned all the way up. Anne started to sweat. Feeling a trickle of perspiration travel down her spine.

They came to an open area with file cabinets, a couple microfiche machines and oak table. Folders were stacked on it, perilously close to spilling over.

“Take a seat. I think I know where to start. Just be a minute or five. No promises.”

He disappears into the darkness of the aisles.

“Should we run?” Sam whispered. “Before he comes back with an axe.”


They waited for about fifteen minutes before Bettis returned. Anne glancing up at the wall clock every few seconds. When he did come back, he had a box of papers cradled in his arms. He set it on the table with a large thump. The shock wave nearly toppling over the stack of folders. Which Sam saved from tumbling at the last second.

“Good play.” Bettis pulled out a chair. Taking a stack of folders from the box. “Dig in ladies.”

They spent the next hour and a half going through folders. Flipping through paper after paper. Bettis had gathered up any files that fell into a certain time bracket before Anne’s birth and up to when she’d be twelve.

Bettis looked up at the clock. “I need some caffeine.” He took his glasses off, rubbing his eyes. Before he put them back on, he cleaned the lenses with his shirt sleeve. “What would you say to some coffee and stale donuts from upstairs?”

Sam closed a folder, setting it aside. “Sounds like heaven.”

Bettis slide off the chair. “Thought as much. I can trust you ladies not to get into anything or run off with stuff?”

“We’ll behave.” Sam answered.

“Counting on it.” With that Bettis headed toward the door.

Anne caught up in going through her share of folders hadn’t paid attention to any of their conversation. She looked up in time to see him walk off. “Huh? What’s going on? Where’d he go?”

“To get us some coffee and donuts.”

“Oh. Cool.” Her eyes stung. Her sight was a bit blurry.

“You okay there?”

“Sure. I guess.” Anne stretched, feeling hot needles in her lower back. The chairs were anything but comfortable. “Back’s killing me.” She stood slowly, fearful of feeling a sharp jolt in her back as she straightened up. 

“Is that the only thing? C’mon you can tell me. I could be home doing nothing at all right now. I’m here because I’m your friend and I’m worried about you.”

“I just want to this to be over. I want to find something that’ll spark some kind of memory. Something that might fill this blank hole inside. It’s eating at me. Not knowing. Maybe if I see the house where I lived before.”

“Well no matter if we find something or not I’m here for you.”

“I know. Thanks.”

They went back to searching. After a few minutes of renewed searching Bettis returned. Holding a tray with three Styrofoam cups of coffee and a paper plate stacked with a mix of doughnuts in his small hands.

“The cavalry is here ladies.” He guided the tray to the table with precision. Anne and Sam clearing a spot for it. “The girl upstairs asked if you’d left yet. I think she feels we’re doing something kinky down here.”

“Girl with freckles?” Sam asked.

Bettis nodded. “Yes. That’s young Abby.”

“I think she likes you.”

“Really now?” He handed the girls each a cup filled to the brim.

Sam took a sip. “You should have seen her face when she mentioned your name.”

“Hum…food for thought.” He sat. “Any luck while I was gone?”

“Nada so far.” Sam took a chocolate doughnut. Dunking it in her coffee.

“We should probably just go to the bottom of the box. What you’re looking for is always at the bottom. At least in my experience.”

They went through more folders, dangerously getting close to running out of them when Sam let out an excited laugh.

“Hot damn. Found something.” 

Indeed she had, as Anne and Bettis leaned over to see. It was a deed to a two-story house on Maple street. Anne felt her heart race. A knot in her stomach.

“Good work Samantha.” Bettis said. “Let’s see.” He took the deed. “32 Maple street. I can write you up some directions if you want to take a look.”

“Yes please.” Anne answered. Her hands were trembling.

So close now.

Bettis took the deed as he went off to get something to write with. Anne flipped through the rest of the folder she’d been looking at. There was no real point, but she felt compelled to finish what she’d started. And there at the bottom, as Bettis said it would. What she was looking for, a birth certificate. She stared at it. It’s image mapping itself to her mind’s eye. The name printed on it hit her like a baseball bat across the head. Anne nearly fell out of the chair as she read it.

Emily Marsten.

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