Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Portrait

By Lisa McCourt Hollar

Agnes Crumbottom looked up from the book she was reading as the bell above the front door chimed. “Can I help you?” She asked 
 the woman as she approached the desk.
“I hope so." The woman looked around the shop to see if they were alone. She was holding a large, frame in her hands. Agnes squinted, trying to see what the frame contained, but the woman shifted it, almost like she was embarrassed by the object. “My uncle recently passed away and I inherited some of his artwork.”
The way she said artwork and wrinkled her nose, Agnes got the impression the woman considered whatever art her uncle left her, distasteful.
“I am sorry for your loss.” Agnes said.
“Yeah, well I’m not. He was a horrid man. I’m quite honestly relieved to be rid of him.”
“Umm, congratulations then,” Agnes said, uncomfortably. She looked longingly at her book, wishing the woman would get to the point of her visit, so she could get back to it.
“I did some research on the internet. You are the only occult store in the area… at least the only one that seems legitimate.” Again, the woman’s voice left Agnes with the impression that she didn’t care much for those who practiced the dark arts.
“There are those who make claims they can’t back up,” Agnes said.
“My uncle, well, he claimed he was a vampire and, I know this is going to sound silly, but he had this made. He said it was so he could live on after his death.” The woman placed the portrait on the counter for Agnes to look at. “I know he was delusional, but it gives me the creeps. I would burn it, but… it seems to be flame proof.”
“What do you mean, flame proof?”
“I tried, it wouldn’t burn. I then put it in the trash… but it found its way back inside.”
Agnes looked at the portrait, curious. “Are you sure someone didn’t find it and bring it back inside? Another family member?”
“I’m his only living relative. I’ve never believed in the supernatural, but this picture scares the bejeebers out of me.”
“I’m still not understanding… why have you brought it to me?”
“I read the testimonials on your web page. People who claim you helped remove spirits from their homes.” 
Thewoman sounded desperate and Agnes almost laughed. She’d written all those testimonials herself. Some people would believe anything. She looked at the picture. It was horrible. Uncle Creepy had applied some kind of black gel to his hair and had it slicked back. His face was painted white and his lips were blood red.
“My fee is rather high,” Agnes said, noncommittally.
“My uncle was rich. He left me very wealthy.”
This time Agnes let her smile show. “I think we can work something out.”
Agnes finished locking up the shop, turned the sign to close and shut off the lights. Climbing the stairs to her apartment, she chuckled as she thought about the money she’d taken from the woman earlier. Her name, it had turned out, was Elaine Hightower, her uncle had been Darren Hightower. He’d once been a big political figure in the town. Then he’d taken ill and disappeared from sight. He was still wealthy though and Agnes had just taken a huge portion of his worth. She didn’t feel guilty though. Elaine Hightower, though stupid enough to part with some of her inheritance, was still a wealthy woman.
Kicking off her shoes, Agnes set her book down next to her favorite chair and then headed to her bedroom to change into something more comfortable. When she returned to the living room, she passed the chair and her book, intent on grabbing a snack in the kitchen. She had just opened the refrigerator, when she realized that something had been different about the living room. She turned and looked in. Hanging on the wall was the portrait of Darren Hightower.
“Now how did you get there?”
She looked around. Someone had to come in and put it there. Perhaps his niece? Agnes quickly dismissed that idea though. She walked over to the portrait and studied the image. He was really very good looking, despite the absurd costume. She imagined what it might be like to feel his lips on her neck. For a moment she lost herself in the fantasy, running her hands over her breasts. Then she shook the fantasy off and chuckled.
“I’ve been reading too many romances. Still, you are here instead of in the storeroom downstairs, so maybe there is something to Elaine’s story.”
Agnes took the picture down and stuck it in the hall closet. Then she locked the door, just to be sure. Sitting down in her chair, she glanced towards the closet, making sure it was still shut and then picked up her book and began reading. Before long, her eyes began to droop. Her head sagged a few times. Each time she would jerk her head up and try to focus on the book. Eventually she lost the battle and she nodded off to sleep. Just before dozing off, she thought she heard the closet door open, but was too tired to care.
“Agnes…  Agnes. Wake up.”
Agnes opened her eyes. Darren Hightower was standing over her. She smiled, thinking now she would find out how his lips felt on her neck. She pulled him to her, welcoming his embrace. Then a sharp pain pierced her neck and she screamed.
Elaine Hightower stomped her foot, venting her frustration. Uncle Darren’s picture was back above the fireplace and the stack of money she’d paid the fortune teller was on the mantle, reminding her that this was still his house and his fortune, despite the stake she had put through his cold, dead heart.
“This isn’t over with yet, Uncle.”
She scooped up the money and put it back in the safe, trying to ignore the laugh she heard inside of her head.

No comments:

Post a Comment