An altar server and a mysterious recluse compete for the affections of a choir member.
| There once was an exquisite, Lutheran cathedral in northern Germany that housed a mysterious recluse. She lived in the upstairs attic and the church knew her as The Apparition. On the few occasions she had been spotted, she wore a long, sapphire blue robe with a hood obscuring her face. She wrote the music for the services at the cathedral. Every Tuesday afternoon at exactly three o'clock, she would deliver the sheet music for the next service to the Pastor's office. The choir would then rehearse her music before performing it on Sunday.
On Easter Sunday, 1936, the choir prepared to perform her magnum opus, a baroque-styled composition about the Resurrection. The pews filled to capacity, and a young, ruggedly handsome tenor named Nathaniel took center stage to sing his solo. As the congregation listened, The Apparition paid attention from above. She could not pull her eyes away from his angelic, perfectly groomed face. Ever since he arrived, I haven't been able to get him out of my mind, she thought. I have been teaching him to sing for the last few years. He has made great progress.
Nathaniel's girlfriend, Greta, fulfilled the role of acolyte (altar server). She lit the candles on the altar at the start of the service, and also had the duties of receiving the offerings and helping with Communion. She wore a long, white robe, having earned the distinction of being Head Acolyte and the longest serving acolyte in the history of the church. She had served for 16 years - since she had been a teenager. She sat to the right of the altar and listened adoringly as her boyfriend hit the high notes in the composition. After the service ended, she hugged him, and the two kissed.
The Apparition scowled. I'm the one who taught him to sing, she thought. He should be kissing me, not her! But to kiss me, he would have to see my face. No one would want to kiss me then, she sighed. Out of frustration, she caused a banner near the altar to suddenly fall to the ground.
The falling banner interrupted Nathaniel and Greta's kiss. They both looked towards the banner. "It's the work of The Apparition," said Nathaniel. "She doesn't like us kissing. You should leave before she does something worse."
"You're probably right. I will see you at the swing dance tonight," said Greta. She hugged him one last time and departed.
The Apparition descended from the higher regions of the cathedral, appearing out of the shadows. She approached Nathaniel with the words, "You performed exquisitely. Come to my abode in the attic." She took his hand and led him upstairs. After climbing the stairs, they reached the attic, which had candles everywhere, an organ, and an elaborate bed. The Apparition approached the organ and played a few chords. Nathaniel came up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder. As she paused to turn around, he lifted her hood and gasped at what he saw. Her left eye appeared to be almost swollen shut, while her right eye, a brilliant blue, bulged and stared back. Patches of reddened and browned skin covered her cheeks. Part of her lip was missing, exposing absent teeth, and her left ear no longer existed.
The Apparition gasped at the realization that someone saw her face. She quickly pulled the hood back over it. How could he violate me like that? she thought. "Damn it!" she yelled. "How dare you!" She pushed him down the stairs. He stood up and ascended the stairs once more.
"I was just curious," said Nathaniel. "I have never seen your face before."
"No one has seen it in fifteen years," said the Apparition, wiping away tears. "Not since the accident..."
"What happened?" asked Nathaniel.
"I used to be the prettiest girl in school, until another got jealous of my looks and splashed acid in my face. I've told you too much already. Now go!"
"Wow, I had no idea," said Nathaniel.
"Leave now!" cried The Apparition. Nathaniel slowly backed out of the room.
Later that night, Nathaniel met Greta at the ballroom hosting the weekly swing dance. Upon his arrival, she ran up to him and gave him a huge hug. The band began to play, "Sing, Sing, Sing". Nathaniel placed his right hand on Greta's back, and Greta placed her left hand on Nathaniel's shoulder. They then joined their free hands together. Nathaniel led Greta into a few basic steps, then gently guided her into open position. They did a tuck turn, a side pass, and then he pulled her back into closed position. They did a 30's Charleston and a crossover for a few bars. Nathaniel softly sent Greta back into the open position. They did a few more basics, then he turned her around for the tandem Charleston. "This is my favorite swing move," said Nathaniel.
"I like it too," said Greta.
Before they knew it, the song was over. They thanked each other and danced with other partners for a few songs before reuniting. No one knew of The Apparition's presence at the dance. She hid upstairs, watching secretly from a balcony. As she watched Nathaniel and Greta dance, she wondered, Why can't that be me? I forgive him for exposing my face. He's so angelic that I can't stay upset with him.She sighed as he twirled Greta, then pulled her into a dip. As they kissed, the lights suddenly went out. Since no one could dance in the dark, the evening came to an abrupt end.
Nathaniel welcomed Greta into his 1936 Volkswagen Bug and drove her home. "That was weird how the lights unexpectedly went out," said Greta.
"That's the kind of thing The Apparition would do, but I didn't think she was there," said Nathaniel.
"Why do you put up with her?" asked Greta. "I can tell she has a thing for you."
"I feel bad for her. She used to be beautiful, but her classmate got jealous of her looks and threw acid in her face."
"How sad!" said Greta. "I never knew."
"Neither did I until she told me earlier today," said Nathaniel. "No one has ever been kind to her, except for me. That is why she loves me."
"I certainly don't envy her life, but I do envy her ability to write spectacular music," said Greta.
Nathaniel pulled onto Katze Strasse, Greta's street. He parked in front of her Victorian abode, and she gave him a quick kiss before heading inside. Finally, I can kiss her without something strange happening, he thought. He then headed home.
On the next Sunday in church, Greta began the service by approaching the altar and lighting the candles. After she finished and ceremoniously bowed, she approached her seat to the right of the altar and found a note on it. Setting the extinguished taper aside, she picked up the letter and read,
I have had enough of your affections towards my love. Since only one of us can rightfully be with him, I propose we settle this in an honorable manner. I am challenging you to a duel upon the roof of the cathedral this evening at seven pm. May the best woman win.
After the service, Greta somberly approached Nathaniel. "The Apparition has challenged me to a duel tonight at seven on the roof," she said.
"Don't do it! She is skilled at shooting. I don't want to lose you," said Nathaniel.
"If I back out, I will look like a wimp. I would rather die honorably than live as a coward," said Greta. She went home, took a nap for a few hours, and borrowed her father's pistol before returning to the cathedral just before seven. The sky above changed from blue to an exquisite pink. After ascending the stairs, she arrived on the roof, where The Apparition knelt in prayer before rising to meet her challenger. I don't want to be responsible for her death, thought Greta. I will miss her on purpose.
The two women stood apart at an agreed distance and took aim. Greta intentionally aimed a few feet to the right of her opponent. Just as they were about to fire, Nathaniel breathlessly ran up the stairs with the word, "Stop!" Both women lowered their guns and looked at him.
"Don't kill each other over me," he pleaded. "Neither of you can have me because I am an angel and must return to Heaven. I have been sent to Earth for a short time, and now my time is up."
The Apparition's eyes widened, and Greta's jaw dropped. Both of them fixed their gaze on the increasingly translucent angel.
Nathaniel went up to The Apparition, partially lifted the hood, and kissed her. It was the only time in her adult life she had been kissed. He then smooched Greta one last time before fading away.
"Did you know he was an angel?" asked The Apparition, scratching her head.
"No, did you?" said Greta, wiping a tear from her eye at the realization that her love would never return.
"No, but I'm not surprised. It explains a few things, like how he sang so beautifully," said the recluse.
"And why he was so easy on the eyes," said Greta.
"Well, we have nothing left to fight over now," said The Apparition, setting down the gun.
"True," said Greta. "I say we call a truce." She put away her father's pistol.
"Agreed." The two shook hands and departed.
Greta became The Apparition's only friend. Greta continued to serve the altar, and The Apparition continued to write music for the services. Neither of them ever forgot the beautiful angel with the magnificent voice.
(word count: 1626)