This is PART SIX of the story: “My Family Was Blessed with an Angel… I Think It Was a Curse.”
I found Father Gabriel Conti in Grandpa Deangelo’s study. Slumped over, with the lower half of his face missing. Bloody wings were crudely smeared on the back of his shirt, out of his own reach. He didn’t do this to himself, he couldn’t have.
The wings brought back memories: mother’s death. Hers was more dramatic and bloodier in it’s display; her wings had stretched out across the walls, dripping smears without fingerprints except her own. This was the third familial bloodbath in six months. Mother, grandma… now my uncle. Two dead with red wings painted in their own blood.
Though I had no love for my uncle, stumbling across his death scene wasn’t any easier. I’d come alone to meet my uncle. While he was acting head of the family, everyone reported to him– he reported to me. Unfortunately for Father Gabe… the arrangement proved short-lived.
Staring down at the body, I almost wasn’t surprised by the two figures that came out from the darkness. A ghost gaping in horror at his own body; behind him, Grandpa Deangelo stood, creating a grisly before-and-after– a more rotted and older version of his son. Grandpa was silent, but my uncle wasn’t; he gurgled and groaned, making wet incoherent sounds with a loose, flailing tongue.
“You need to hide the body,” The demon’s words cut through my horror, insultingly calm. “The police can’t be called to another bloody Conti crime scene.”
I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. Grandma was upstairs watching her soaps. I’d avoided her since her discharge from the hospital; it wasn’t the time to reconcile. She’d call the police and blame my brother if she saw the bloody scene. Or she’d blame me.
“You can’t just stand here. Hurry!”
Even if the demon was right, I wasn’t sure what it expected me to do; the small dusty space was now glossy red with dark blood. There was more blood than I had any hope of cleaning, not without tearing out the floors and burning stained books. The congealing mess on top of dust was like wet velvet. There was no way I could do it without being caught.
“What happened?” I asked my uncle, keeping my voice quiet. Grandma was hard of hearing, but I still wouldn’t risk being too loud. Father Gabe’s ghost, pale and gurgling, was unable to answer— though he made a gun with his fingers, pointing it where his chin was supposed to be. There was no gun in the room, the murderer must have taken it when they fled.
“Who?” I couldn’t tell what I was feeling at that moment. Anger? Grief? Fear? Disappointment? None of those answers felt right, nor any simple combination.
I didn’t dare speak his name, for fear that my uncle would confirm it. Cowardice. Even without a mouth, the spectres could nod. I didn’t want them to nod, so I didn’t ask. My reluctance felt like proof on its own.
Silver lining, tarnished as it was: I didn’t suspect myself this time. Was it strange that I wished I had? I’d lived with assumed guilt for so long when it came to Grandma, maybe I was used to blaming myself. I wasn’t ready to pass the mantle of villainy and blame to my little brother. I was his big sister, in some way it probably was my fault. If I’d been a better sister, or a little more honest, it might not have come to this.
I’d lied to his face when he asked me if I had the Glory. Would the truth have stopped him, or would I be dead instead? What blackness this demon inspired, if members of the Conti cult were willing to kill for it.
“You know who did this. I don’t even need to dangle the answer for you.” the demon said smugly, “You have two questions now.”
My head jerked up, twisting to glare at that shadow. “Two questions! I shouldn’t even have one. I didn’t push her.” I knew that now, though the demon let me think I had.
“The questions are yours to ask no matter which Conti made payment. That is your boon, Holder.” his answer confirmed, perhaps inadvertently, that the murderer was a Conti. Such a narrow pool of suspects, none pleasant to consider and only one who was obvious.
“Wait… If that’s true, I should have three questions.” I was thinking of Mother. Her death, under the demon’s terms, should count as well.
“No, unless you want to go upstairs and earn another.” the jagged shadows, the “wings of our angel”– stretched out like a sharp grin, begging me to ask why. With two questions to ask, I could afford to waste one. Of course, I wouldn’t do so deliberately.
“Mother must have asked you something before she died.” I said softly. A conclusion the demon didn’t confirm or deny. I wondered if the answer he’d given her was the real reason she’d passed the mantle of the Glory on to me. Even if that was true, it didn’t really matter. My goals wouldn’t change. I had so many questions, but I’d have to live without answers to most of them.
“You need to get rid of the body.” the demon reminded me again, “I can help you if you let me. You should embrace your role more.” What role was that? I wasn’t sure what he got out of this twisted relationship, sadistic pleasure aside. Yet another question I couldn’t ask.
As much as I didn’t want the demon to be right, calling the police wasn’t an option. They were already suspicious of the Conti cult, suspicions my brother confirmed with Grandma’s claim that he’d tried to kill her.
Maybe they would have taken her less seriously, if not for the circumstances of Mother’s death. They were looking at Angelo for that too, as well as Father. I probably wasn’t exempt from their suspicions either. My uncle’s murder, once discovered, would make things even worse. I needed to handle it myself.
“You said you could help me. Help me, then.”
“Give the body to me.”
Grandpa Deangelo inclined his head, but Uncle Gabe didn’t react at all. I realized that my uncle still couldn’t see the shadow, though my grandfather could. Perhaps it was his status as a former Holder that made it possible.
“Give you the body?” my stomach roiled as I considered it. I understood, though I didn’t want to; it would also mean touching a corpse, one I could barely lift. I wasn’t exactly strong and my uncle was easily double my weight. Dead weight.
“I can’t.” I said.
“You can. But I can’t take it without you. I am not physically capable, but you are.”
“But I’m not!” I threw up my hands in frustration, “which is exactly the problem. I can’t lift him by myself.” Not to mention the fact that touching my uncle’s dead body was a horrifying proposition on its own. I couldn’t believe I was standing there arguing about body disposal!
“You don’t need to lift the whole body.” the demon countered calmly.
I looked to my uncle. He didn’t seem aware of the debate in front of him, casting his eyes mournfully to his own corpse.
“Your actions won’t determine his fate, Sera. A body is not a soul.” the demon answered a question I hadn’t asked. A generous freebie, though he seemed over-eager to take up the body. Grandpa Deangelo kept nodding each time I looked at him. He truly took no issue with the demon’s proposition?
“Fine.” I whispered. I reached down, taking hold of my uncle’s arm. His skin was disturbingly tepid; I nearly dropped the limb in disgust, but instead I lifted it up towards the shadow, until his fingers vanished into the void– a void that pulled back, slurping up my uncle’s corpse– and with it, the blood in the room. I was left to pick his teeth out of the carpet. I knelt down, collecting them to toss underhand into the void.
The open book on the desk, once illegible under my uncle’s open head… was now pristine. It was a bible, opened to the book of Hebrews. Even under the circumstances, I wanted to scoff. The hypocrisy of my uncle’s fixation on scripture was no less laughable with his death. I could even guess the verse he was reading, a Conti favorite was Hebrews 13:2. Sure enough, I spotted it on the open page:
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
I wiped the tears from my eyes, unsure if I was laughing or crying. We were entertaining a demon that very moment, I was all-too aware of that; I missed my old cynicism, the ignorant bliss.
“Sera. I’ve done you a favor. I want you to do something for me,” before I could panic and refuse, he continued: “I need a moment with your grandfather. You can’t go far, of course, but wait outside the study door.”
“That would be an awful waste of a question. Are you sure you want me to answer that?” his voice was flat rather than defensive, “This doesn’t concern you at all.”
“Grandpa?” I looked at him worriedly, but he gave me a thumbs up. “… Fine.” I said reluctantly, stepping out of the study and closing the door behind me. I pressed my ear against the door though, unable to resist. The demon never seemed interested in Grandpa Deangelo before, but I knew they had a history. Grandpa was a former Holder, after all.
I could still hear the demon’s voice; a physical barrier couldn’t muffle a sound that wasn’t of this world. I could always hear his voice, making his request for privacy even stranger.
“Shall I avenge you, Deangelo?”
A muffled, male voice answered. Dry, papery and impossible to hear clearly for its softness. Neither ghost in the room should have been able to talk, but I knew the demon wasn’t talking to itself. I found myself gripping the door handle tightly, or maybe I’d never let go of it to begin with.
“So it shall be.”
Unable to resist or wait any longer, I burst back into the room. Uncle Gabe was gone, but there stood my grandpa. He smiled at me, something that shouldn’t have been possible– his face, reconstructed from the grim horror. He looked as I remembered him before his death.
“Sera,” he said. “It’s up to you, now. I can’t stay longer. Do what I couldn’t.”
“Grandpa!” I couldn’t even glare at the shadow, feeling that the second I looked away from Grandpa Deangelo, he’d be gone. I couldn’t even blink. “At least tell me what happened! And tell me what to do. Please.” my voice broke a little, eyes burning with their unblinking urgency.
“I can’t.” he said. “What kept me here is gone, and there are rules I must abide by.”
“It wasn’t the curse keeping you here?” I wanted to grab him, shake him by the shoulders– I even tried, though my hands passed right through. I didn’t get an answer, he was gone. I sobbed, feeling frustrated, devastated and lost.
Even though my grandpa’s spectre had initially horrified me, I’d come to take comfort in his presence. Pressing my hands over my eyes, I cried for him like I hadn’t cried for my uncle. Perhaps my selective grief was an unforgivable cruelty, but only my uncle plotted to kill me.
“You should be glad for him. He moved on.” the demon said. I was suspicious of it’s empathy, the creature was hardly kind or sentimental. The demon once told me that generations of Conti hypocrites were in Hell. Of course, he’d meant to provoke me then– but it was hard not to wonder if it was true. Haunting the old study was probably better than Hell.
“You sent me out of the room to talk to him. You did this.”
“So what if I did?”
“I’m going to get rid of you!”
“Wasn’t that your goal already?” which of course, it was. I glared at the shadow, but it laughed at me anyway. The demon was in a good mood, but mine had already hit bedrock. I couldn’t possibly feel any worse.
The study felt so empty. It was the same sort of emptiness I felt in Mother’s bedroom. Trying to ground myself back into reality, bitter as it was, I started stacking the books on the desk. Uncle Gabe’s bible and other religious texts. They didn’t mean much to me, more evidence to pitch into the void.
The Conti priest had been deluded about the nature of the demon, still insisting he was an angel. If the books were any indication, he’d been trying to prove it up until the moment of his death. Even resorting to apocrypha!
The Book of Enoch was conspicuous among the well-read stack, its pages stiffer and less worn than more respected texts. I knew of it, given my religious upbringing and education– but I also knew the Conti family didn’t observe the book as canon, nor did the Church. Father Gabe was desperate indeed, but he wasn’t there for me to mock him. I had the sense that he too was gone forever.
I wouldn’t miss him, but I felt slightly guilty about our last interaction. The last I’d seen him, I’d been ready to kill him for acting against me. When I found out he’d filed a police report on my brother, I’d lost it!
“Why didn’t you come to me first?” I’d screamed. My uncle had towered over me, but cowered anyway- raising his hands up protectively as I interrogated him.
“I didn’t know I should! Your brother doesn’t have anything to do with our arrangement.” It was bullshit, we both knew it. Though he acted afraid of me, I fully expected him to turn on me the first chance he got. He’d gotten his chance a lot sooner than anticipated.
“I made you the head of the family so you’d report to me on all family affairs. Or have you already forgotten our deal?” thunder roared in my ears; the taste of iron and rain filled my mouth. He knew better than to cross me, yet he’d acted on his own.
For a moment, I considered reaching into the demon’s void-shadow and striking Father Gabe down with the demon’s angel blade. I knew that desire was the demon’s influence, though I was angry enough that it was tempting. With my demonic parasite, anger was a dangerous thing.
“Do it.” The demon whispered, “You know you want to.”
I did. I could see it, like a flipbook of black and red; but that’s how I knew the thoughts weren’t truly mine, even if I agreed with them. The demon didn’t seem to like my uncle either, always quick to recommend murder when it came to him. Grandma, too.
“It couldn’t have been Angelo.” I’d said firmly. “What are you playing at, Uncle?”
“Mother said it was him, why would she lie about that? Besides, if it wasn’t him… where is he? How did he know to run?”
I’d stormed out after that, getting swept back up in the drama of police investigations and family squabbling; the Blood Contis, still in town, were quick to condemn my brother and father, shuffling my sister and I between them while Father was busy handling the aftermath.
It’d been hard to get away from it all, under the close eye of family and law enforcement. I’d been interrogated too, but not the way my father was. I had to keep it that way, at all costs.
Tossing Uncle Gabe’s books and teeth into the void, I knew it was time to go. Hurrying out of the study, I took the key from around my neck and locked the door. I had no intention of stepping inside ever again.
“We can get rid of the bitch upstairs just as easily.” the demon reminded me. “You don’t even have to kill her, just give her to me.”
I paused, leaning against the study door as I looked at the demon’s void-shadow. His grudge against my grandmother was significant, something worth knowing or asking about. I didn’t want to waste my question, but… I would, if I had to.
“Demon.” the unnamed shadow was unusually still. “If you tell me what Grandma did to deserve it… I’ll consider it.”
“You’re avoiding a question.” but I could tell he was interested.
“Yes.” I agreed, walking towards the door. “I’m not going to waste a question on that. But if you really want me to give her to you, you have to give me a reason. I’ll consider it if you tell me.” I meant it, too. My heart, heavy with grief and blackened by circumstance, was not the same as it was. I’d just helped hide a murder, I was no more virtuous than any other Conti.
“I’m surprised you haven’t already guessed what happened.” the demon said. “But since you’re serious, I’ll tell you. Benita convinced Gabriel to kill Deangelo.”
That didn’t make sense. Grandma Conti was obsessed with “Our Angel”, being married to the Holder had been her great pride. Why would she want him dead? Stranger still, even if it was true…
“Why would you care?”