Ethel rolled up the floral area rug lying in the middle of her apartment’s living room, revealing a five-pointed star painted on the hardwood floor. After the demon was released in 1969, she modified the pentagram to represent the Star of Bethlehem, with each point of the star having a biblical heroine. While Ethel was not a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, she valued the Freemasonic Order and its biblical teachings. Actually, Ethel knew very little about OES, but she hoped that its dedication to charity, truth, and loving kindness would counteract the evil in the building.
She also knew that she was not using the emblem the way it should be used. However, she was a psychic, a crystal gazer, a seer and knew that good trumps evil . . . usually; and wanted all the help she could get.
Claudia lit a blessed white candle on the round table while Ethel retrieved a wooden magic wand from the gold tin box on the shelf containing all her thaumaturgy.
“I can’t believe we’re waiting until late afternoon to cast the spell of protection,” Claudia said, blowing out the match; causing the smell of sulfur to penetrate through the previous sage smudging. “It’ll be dark before we know it.”
“I had to wait for my pain pills to kick in,” Ethel said, limping to the star.
“And we never came up with any personal items,” Claudia said. She walked onto the star and stood across from Ethel.
“We’ll make due,” Ethel said, holding the wand in her hand. Made of elder wood, with carvings of elderberries running down its length, it reminded Ethel of Dumbledore’s wand in the Harry Potter movies. She had received it from her great-grandmother Muma, not from the headmaster of Hogwarts Wizarding School.
“Have you even seen the crystal ball, lately?” Claudia asked, wearily supporting herself with her cane.
“No, but I know it’s still in the scrying room,” Ethel said. “Are you ready?”
“Get on with it already,” Claudia grumbled.
Ethel raised the wand toward the ceiling and said:
“Terra, Ignis, Aqua,
Elements of astral I summon thee.
Earth by Divinity, Divinity by Earth,
Give the enemy the power to see,
The strength of the elements by my side,
No rules magic I shall abide.
Now when my enemy meets his downfall,
This spell will have no power left at all.
In no way shall this spell reverse or place upon me any curse.
So mote it be.”
Ethel lowered the wand and closed the circle just as the building began to shake. Knickknacks of small glass potion bottles started to rattle on a shelf while kitchen cupboard doors began to open.
“Let’s hurry to the basement while we can,” Ethel said, picking up the video camera, a blessed candle, and a small clear bottle of Holy water. She walked to the door and cracked it open. No one was outside waiting for them. “Hurry.”
The two old women hobbled down the hallway, past a pile of broken glass that Tim had swept into a corner, and then rushed through the lobby. The building was still shaking as they went down the steps. Claudia lost her footing and slipped, causing her to set her bottom on a step. Ethel helped her stand and they continued down to the basement and its flickering fluorescent lights.
With little time to think, Ethel tucked the programmed video camera between a cinderblock and a loose stone from the original basement foundation. With all the movement, Ethel knew it was recording her endeavors, but that was okay, at least the detective would see what was happening. She pointed it toward the scrying room and ran over to meet Claudia, who was already inside.
“Which panel is it?” Claudia said, pushing on the dark rectangular sections of the walls.
Ethel began pushing on sections of the wood paneling, hoping to release a latch and pop the panel door open. “I think the building is shifting and making it so that the door won’t open.”
“Find it, and fast,” Claudia said, sitting at the round table. She lit the candle that she had brought and held it in place in the center of the witching board carved into the tabletop.
“I got it,” Ethel shouted, as a wall panel opened. The building immediately stopped shaking when she touched the quartz crystal ball. She gently lifted the cantaloupe-sized globe, and its stand, with two hands and sat it in front of Claudia. “It’s just as beautiful as it was decades ago.”
“I’m actually amazed it still shines,” Claudia said, placing her hands on the sphere. The light from the candle made it sparkle and glow as if powering on and coming to life.
Ethel kept the scrying room door open so that the camera would record their scrying session and because she did not want to leave the safety of the table. In the lobby above them, tremendous thuds pounded the floor as the basement grew pitch black.
Claudia kept her gaze on the crystal ball. Soon a mist began to form, swirling and swirling inside the orb. Then the images around and inside the crystal ball began to clear and brighten, emitting a white light of protection around them and the table.
A woman’s laughter bellowed at the top of the staircase and grew louder as it descended the basement steps. Then Ethel noticed something dark in a far corner of the room. Not a shadow, but something in the shape of a man; a man with a black cloak.
The lenses of Claudia’s thick cataract glasses reflected the dancing light from the crystal ball and the candle as she stared into the sphere. She moved her hands gently around the globe as if she were moving soap foam floating on top of bath water toward her.
Ethel shivered, wanting to cross her arms from the frigid air. Instead, she kept her hands on the table and watched Claudia work the crystal. She whispered to her, “The demon is here with us.”
“I know,” Claudia said, not breaking her gaze from the swirling mist inside the globe. Then with an edgy determination, she said, “Demon Vampire from Hell, what is your name?”
There was no answer. All they heard was the laughter, now at the bottom of the basement steps at the far end of the hall.
“Demon Vampire from Hell, what is your name?” Claudia said again, her whiney voice seeming to contradict the authority she commanded.
A low guttural laugh came from the corner of the room, as it emitted a sense of impending doom.
“I will call you Lamia, demon vampire and will send you back where you came from . . . back through the gates of Hell, along with the evil spirits Deborah Franklin and Bruce Hancock.” Claudia said. She was shaking, because of the icy air and from fear of what the demon may do to them.
Spit splattered on the table; a brown glob of sticky mucus. Ethel almost jumped from her seat, but she stayed focused on Claudia, ready to intervene if the demon threatened her.
While the building trembled, causing the witching table to vibrate, Ethel held the glass decanter of Holy water tight. Then she prayed with Claudia:
“Saint Michael the Archangel,
Defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray.”
The building shook violently, as if ready to topple down upon them, completing its own demolition. Outside the door of the scrying room, Ethel saw Deborah and Bruce. Their faces were contorted and corpselike. Then she slowly turned her head and looked at the black robed demon now standing behind Claudia. She saw rotten flesh covering its face and maggots wiggling from its hollow eye sockets, falling onto the top of Claudia’s head. The demon placed a hand on each side of Claudia’s face. Ethel saw its fingers, slime-covered bones, preparing to squeeze Claudia’s skull until it popped.
She wanted to grab Claudia and run out of the room, but if she did that, she would give the demon more power; it would know they were weak and that it was strong. She looked at the crystal ball, still filled with a warm white light and continued the prayer with Claudia,
“And do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
By the power of God,
Thrust into hell Satan,
And all the evil spirits,
Who prowl about the world
Seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”
When they finished the prayer, asking Saint Michael the Archangel to intercede, she saw the demon lower its head to Claudia’s neck, preparing to feed on her life essence, just as it has been doing to Maggie. Ethel uncapped the bottle she held and, as if she were throwing a Frisbee, she doused the demon, Claudia, Deborah, and Bruce with one the Holy water. They cried out in agony and began to sizzle and to smoke. Ethel knew that the searing of the spirits was a sign that the fires of Hell were reaching for them and pulling them down into its flaming pit of anguish. Moments later, they were gone. The smell of burnt meat filled the room as the building creaked and settled onto its shaky foundation.
“Close the door to Hell,” Ethel said, holding the nearly empty container of Holy water. “Before they come back through it.”
When Claudia finished chanting the spell of closure, the crystal ball went dark and the room warmed.
“Are they in the crystal ball?” Ethel asked, looking at the inky swirls inside the globe.
Claudia brushed the squirming maggots from the top of her head as she rose from the chair and backed away from the table. She stumbled on a fallen ceiling panel and was about to fall backward onto the concrete when Det. Becker caught her from behind.
“What just happened?” Det. Becker said, supporting Claudia until she was standing on her own.
Ethel handed Claudia her cane and smiled. “You came just in time, Detective. We sent the evil spirits back to Hell.”
“Are you two all right?” Det. Becker asked, scratching his head.
“I’m fine,” Claudia said, walking back to the table. “They almost came back through the door, but I closed it just in time.”
Det. Becker walked up to the crystal ball filled with a black substance, like a black Krampus snow globe. At times, he thought he saw glimpses of faces and flashes of fire. He looked next to the globe and saw the maggots wiggling along the tabletop. The atmosphere felt lighter than when he first walked into the building; even the stink of rotting rodents was replaced with a faint scent of roses. “Did you just perform a séance?”
“We did,” Ethel said, holding her chin high. “Now the spirits won’t bother Maggie, or anyone else for that matter, anymore. We just need to bury the crystal ball and our mission is completed.”
“I can see, Detective,” Claudia said, walking up next to him. With a squeaky voice of victory, she said, “I see that maybe you are a believer, now.”
Det. Becker raised his eyebrows, unsure how to answer. He indeed was seeing things he had never seen before. He looked at the two war-torn elderly women standing before him. He knew they had battled something, but he was unsure exactly what. “You ladies are sure making a believer out of me.”
“Can I ask you a favor, Detective,” Ethel said, glancing toward the swirling liquid in the globe.
“What do you need?” Det. Becker asked, knowing she was going to ask him for a far out favor.
“Can you carry the crystal ball up the stairs and out of the building? I fear that if Claudia and I were to try and move it, it would end up shattered on the floor, not to mention the demon and spirits would be released.”
Det. Becker glanced at the inky ooze and then back at Ethel. He sighed as he picked up the crystal ball, removing it from its stand as the black ink continued moving inside. “It’s cold.”
“Be careful with that,” Claudia snapped. “I can’t go through another séance. It’ll kill me.”
Det. Becker gently handled the round crystal, following the women up the stairs and out the back door.
“What do you plan on doing with this?” Det. Becker said. He stood on the back porch as the setting sun spewed its golden rays of light over them. The charcoal fog was gone, replaced with the fresh, moist scent of Lake Michigan water gently blowing across the high bluff.
“While Ethel gets the shovel, you and I can find a secret place where it can be buried and not disturbed when then tear down the building,” Claudia said, wincing with each painful step she took down the porch steps and onto the tall grass of the back lawn.
“I’m feeling rather foolish carrying this thing,” Det. Becker said, following Claudia.
“Take it over there,” Claudia said, pointing with her cane not far from the cliff. “By that big rock.”
Det. Becker and Claudia walked over to the shoulder-high boulder, long ago deposited by a retreating ice sheet. Soon Ethel returned with a shovel.
“I’ll take the crystal ball, Detective,” Ethel said, leaning the shovel against the rock. “If you don’t mind digging the hole.”
Det. Becker sniggered as he handed Ethel the crystal ball and took the shovel. He stuck the point into the ground. “Right here?”
“Perfect,” Claudia said, winking at Ethel. “You’re a good man.”
“I feel like a criminal who’s in cahoots on a scheme to hide evidence,” Det. Becker said as he pushed the shovel blade into the ground.
“We’re not hiding evidence,” Ethel said, watching him dig into the hard clay soil. “We’re just hiding the crystal ball so that no one will ever find it and release the demon.”
Det. Becker did not say anything as he shoveled until he had a hole that he thought was deep enough.
“Dig it deeper, Detective,” Claudia demanded. “Because you never know if someone is going to plant flowers around this eyesore, trying to make it beautiful, and I don’t want them digging up the gateway to Hell.”
“Gateway to Hell? That sounds ominous,” Det. Becker said, digging at least three feet down into the earth. He wiped sweat from his brow. “I can’t dig any deeper.”
Ethel handed him the crystal ball. He placed it carefully into the bottom of the hole and shoveled the dirt over it. Then Ethel packed the dirt down filling the hole with the sole of her moccasin.
When Ethel was finished, she stood back and admired their accomplishment. “I’m surprised you came out today, Detective. Was there something you needed?”
“Actually, I have a few more questions,” Det. Becker said, walking onto the porch with the women. He leaned against the porch rail as the two golden agers each sat in a rocking chair. He wiped the remaining soil from his hands and took the notepad and pen from his pocket. “How long did you know Mr. Carl Zimmerman?”
“I’ve known him for decades, ever since I worked here,” Ethel said, rocking back and forth. “He was the janitor here before he was a superintendent.”
“Were you and he romantically involved?” Det. Becker asked, as seriously as he could.
Claudia burst out laughing, thrusting the tip of her cane on the porch. “You’re making my day, Detective.”
Ethel looked at Claudia and began laughing herself. Then she caught her breath. “Heavens, no, Detective, why would you think that? We were good friends, nothing more.”
“You’ve lived here a long time, have you ever been in the medical records room?” Det. Becker asked, keeping a straight face.
“The last time I was in there was when I worked here. It’s been locked ever since.” Ethel said, looking over at Claudia, who was still amused by Det. Becker’s inference that Ethel and Carl were lovers.
“How many times were you in Maggie’s apartment?” Det. Becker asked.
“Only twice. Once when the spirits of Deborah, Bruce, and Susan were following us, and I ended up tripping over a stuffed animal and hurting my hip. And the second time was when they found . . . that knife,” Ethel said. Her smiled faded as she looked down at the floorboards.
“Speaking of spirits,” Det. Becker said, lowering his notepad. “Is it now your belief that Maggie will not be tormented by that . . .?”
“Demon, Detective,” Ethel said, looking up. “The demon vampire, nurse Deborah, and doctor Hancock are now gone from this place. Maggie should be feeling better, but we still have to prove her innocence.”
“I thought you were saying a little girl named Susan Knight committed the murder. At the risk of sounding like a fool,” Det. Becker said, rubbing the back of his neck. “Why didn’t you do anything about her? Is she still around?”
“I’m not sure, but I think she left when Maggie was no longer in the building,” Ethel said, puckering her mouth in thought. “I haven’t sensed her or seen evidence of her since the police took Maggie away. She could be in purgatory or limbo. I don’t know, but I don’t think she’s here anymore.”
“Doctor Suharto said you have been harassing him,” Det. Becker said, knowing the doctor was exaggerating when he spoke of Ethel’s phone call.
Ethel shook her head. “That buffoon; I was only trying to see if he has something to do with that unusual knife. I’m sure he’s the same Doctor Suharto that was in that letter.”
“May I suggest that you leave the investigation to the police department,” Det. Becker said. “Otherwise, I think he may accuse you of harassment and I’m sure you don’t want to end up in court over that.”
“Yes, Detective,” Ethel said, nodding with a smile. “I was just trying to help Maggie.”
Det. Becker reached inside his jacket and took out the buccal kit. “Do you mind submitting a voluntary cheek sample for DNA?”
Ethel raised her eyebrows. “Do you think I killed Mr. Zimmerman?”
“Doctor Suharto voluntarily submitted a sample and a sample from you would help with our investigation,” Det. Becker said, sounding as though it was routine.
Ethel stopped rocking. “Sure, whatever you want, Detective. But I don’t think it’s necessary because now that Deborah and Bruce aren’t around to whisper into people’s ears, trying to manipulate their thoughts and actions, things should be cleared up soon.”