Maggie opened her eyes. Her bedroom door was open. Had she gotten up during the night to use the bathroom and forgotten to close it? She could not remember. After adjusting her pillow she looked at the nightstand clock, it was seven-thirty. Oh, great, I cannot believe I slept this late, she thought. Debbie will be here soon to pick up Susie.
Then she rolled on her back to give herself a few more minutes of snooze time before she got up. That is when her elbow touched something. She froze. Something was in bed with her. Too terrified to turn her head toward it, she could tell there was a figure under the blanket next to her, a human figure. Susie, it had to be Susie.
Maggie did not breathe for a moment, not wanting to awaken whatever it was beside her. It was not moving. It was lying there like a dead body. It had to be Susie sleeping; she probably came into her room during the night because she was afraid. But it was so still and so quiet. She could feel coldness radiate from it and hear no breathing.
As Maggie saw it, in the slow-motion seconds of the moment, she had two choices, either turn her head to see who it was or jump out of bed. If she jumped out of bed, she would awaken it, but then she would no longer be next to it. If she turned her head to look at its face, she would know who it was; Susie, of course.
She convinced herself it was Susie, who else could it be? And she would know that it was a child and not an it or a thing. So with her eyes taking the lead, she turned her head slowly, very slowly to see it. First, she saw Susie’s snarled hair lying over the shoulders, then she saw the face. It was Susie’s face, and she was staring at Maggie with black, cloudy eyes that did not blink or even seem to focus. Was Susie sleeping with her eyes open?
Maggie jumped out of bed without thinking as adrenaline surged through her body like an accelerator pump spraying gasoline. Then, performing her nursing duty, she reached over and shook Susie’s shoulder to see if she was alive. God forbid if she had to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Maggie felt for a pulse on the side of Susie’s icy neck. She was not feeling the heart pumping blood through the artery.
Then suddenly Susie pulled her teddy bear up to her chest and sat up. Maggie was so startled she thought she would collapse from shock and Susie would be reviving her.
“Susie, are you okay?” Maggie said, relieved Susie was alive but baffled as to why she was.
Bang, bang, bang sounded from the apartment door. Maggie was startled as her heart fluttered in her chest. Why was Debbie knocking like someone pissed off?
“Stay right there, Susie. That must be your mom.” Maggie went to the door, pushed the couch to the side, and looked out the peephole. It was Debbie, so she unlocked and opened the door. “Debbie, I think Susie needs to go to the hospital.”
Debbie was not her usual bubbly self, but rather a tired shift worker. “What’s going on?”
“Follow me.” Maggie turned to walk toward the bedroom, almost running into Susie, who was standing directly behind her. “Oh, are you feeling better?”
“She’s fine,” Debbie said, holding out her hand for Susie to take. “Like I said before, she sometimes has spells.”
“I don’t know; I think this was more than a spell.” Maggie watched as Susie took Debbie’s hand, and they walked into the hall. “I’d feel better if she got checked out by a doctor.”
Debbie did not answer as she walked to her apartment.
Maggie closed the door. What could she do? Report Debbie for possible child neglect? But Susie was up walking and shook her head to the affirmative when asked if she was okay. Maggie did not want to cause trouble and besides, Susie was fine when she walked out the door and Debbie knows about her so-called spells.
Enough thinking about it, she thought. Might as well get a shower and do laundry. After she showered and dressed, she took the sheets off the beds and put them into a garbage bag since she still did not have a laundry basket. She was about to walk out the door when the cell phone on her nightstand rang.
It was Nora Bella. “How’s that manuscript coming along?”
“It’s coming along, don’t worry.” However, Maggie was worried because she was behind schedule.
“Can you send it to me by the end of the week?”
Maggie hesitated answering. “Sure.”
“You sound tired, are you okay?” Nora’s speech slowed; she sounded as though she was actually concerned about Maggie more than the book.
Maggie shrugged for no one to see. “It has been a little hard adjusting to everything that’s happened.”
“If things are too difficult I may be able to convince the publisher to postpone things a bit, but for now, let’s stay on schedule, okay?”
Maggie rolled her eyes. “Sure.”
“Awesome, I expect to see the draft in my inbox by Friday afternoon. Chop, chop.”
When Nora hung-up the phone, Maggie decided that she was self-publishing when the contract ended. No more pressure from a bossy agent and no more having her profits gobbled up by greedy publishers. She picked up the laundry and detergent to continue where she had left off.
This morning she decided she would take the elevator, once again, to the basement laundry room. She pushed the button and waited, listening to the motor grind as if the wire cables were being stressed to their breaking point. Maggie was about to walk away when the elevator door opened. Why not?
She walked inside and chose the basement for her destination. The dingy cab shuddered and then descended. It clanked to a stop, and the door slid open. She stepped into the dampness and began walking toward the laundry room. When she walked past the storage room, she noticed the last room on the right, which was previously locked, was slightly ajar.
Maggie remembered Ethel’s talk of holding séances in the old hospital’s basement years ago. Could that be the room, the scrying room? Before looking inside, she would get her clothes washing and then see what was inside the room.
With the rhythmical sound of water swishing in the background, she walked to the partially opened door.
“Hello.” You never know, someone could be inside.
There was no answer, so she reached inside and felt for a light switch. When she found it, she flipped it up and down. It did not work, so she opened the door as far as it would go so that the flickering fluorescent lights from the corridor would illuminate at least part of the room.
“This is the room,” Maggie whispered as she stood in the doorway.
Inside the darkened room was a round table with spent candles in the center, their hardened wax had dripped onto their holders. There were wooden table chairs scattered about the room, some were lying on their side on the dark concrete floor. It was difficult to see, but on the far wall was a drape covering something similar to a painting hanging. Maggie wondered what could be underneath it. She needed more light. Next time she came down here, she would bring her phone to use as a flashlight.
Something touched Maggie’s shoulder. She jumped and screamed. When she turned around, she saw Bruce standing behind her.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.” He smiled unapologetically. “What are you doing?”
Maggie walked out of the doorway and stood in the hall. “I’m doing laundry and thought I’d look around.” She looked toward the room. “Do you know anything about that room?”
“That room?” He glanced at it and then back at Maggie. “Why? Did you want to go inside?”
“I was just curious.” She crossed her arms. “The light doesn’t work, so it’s hard to see what’s inside.”
“Stay here,” Bruce said. He walked into the laundry room and returned with a candle. He pulled a lighter from his pocket and lit it. The flame flickered. “Want to see?”
Maggie was not sure she wanted to go inside anymore. Bruce seemed a little too eager to show her around, but she had to know. “I’ll be right behind you.”
Bruce walked into the room. The candle’s flame flared and grew larger, casting dancing shadows on the black painted walls.
When they walked up to the table, Maggie noticed the tabletop looked like a rounded Ouija board. Symbols of the zodiac were in the outermost perimeter circle, followed by the alphabet, numbers, more symbols, and ending with a pentagram in the center. “A Ouija board?”
“A witchboard.” Bruce ran his fingers along the dusty board, leaving a two-finger trail behind.
“Does anyone still use this room?”
Bruce looked at Maggie and smiled, while the candle glowed on his face, casting shadows that gave the impression he had deep-set eyes. “People used to use it.”
Maggie was not sure she should ask the next question, it was rather personal and none of her business, but she decided to ask it anyway. “Did you ever use it?”
“Once upon a time,” he said. “Why? Do you want to use it?”
“No,” Maggie said, shaking her head; remembering what Ethel had told her. But Ethel never said anything about a witchboard. She looked at the back wall and the object that hung from the wall with a purple velvet cloth draped over it. “What’s behind that cloth?”
Bruce smiled at her and held the candle toward her. “Here, hold this.”
Maggie took the candle and watched as Bruce removed the velvet drape, revealing a large oval mirror with the strangest frame she had ever seen. At first, she thought it was vines carved into the wood but on closer inspection, she realized they were snakes, snakes intertwined into a coiling mass around the mirror. Reflecting from the black glass was the image of her and Bruce. “What kind of mirror is that?”
“It’s used for scrying,” Bruce said, staring at the reflection. “Want to try it?”
Bruce knew too much about the sinister looking things in this room. Snakes were not the same as vines, and a witchboard was not the same as a decorative tabletop. “I think I’d better get back to my laundry.”
Bruce looked at her from the reflection and she looked back. He smiled at her, but she did not smile back. “Sometimes things are not what they seem to be, Maggie.”
What was he talking about? “I don’t know what you mean.”
He talked to her through the reflection in the mirror. “Come closer, stand next to me.”
The mirror was strange. It had a feel to it, a pull to it. She walked closer and stood next to Bruce. He put his arm around her and pulled her even closer. “Just look into the mirror, let it take you away.”
She would play along. She looked at Bruce’s reflection; he was no longer looking at her but rather staring off into a void as if he were in a trance. She noticed her breathing increase as if she was becoming short of breath from a heaviness in the air. The reflections around the room looked like robed people moving about. Oh, how the eye can play tricks on the mind, she thought. But one shadow, one hooded shadow was standing still; it was not dancing about like the others. Oh my god, there is something standing behind us. She pulled away from Bruce and turned around. Then she looked back at the mirror. It was gone. “Bruce, I saw something standing behind us. Let’s get out of here.”
Bruce followed Maggie out of the room. “Did something scare you?”
Maggie could hear the washer still agitating. She wanted to take the laundry out of the washer and never go back down in the basement ever again. But what was she going to with a load of wet clothes? She walked quickly toward the stairs. “I thought I saw something standing behind us.”
“I’m sorry,” Bruce said, climbing the steps behind her. “But you did want to know about the room.”
When they got to the second floor, Maggie turned around. “I’m sorry. I guess my imagination ran away with me.”
“It’s all right,” he said. “Why don’t you stop over for supper tonight, Debbie is going to be stopping by.”
“Thanks, but I should get work done tonight. I’m terribly behind.”
“You still have to eat, don’t you?” He walked toward his apartment. “We eat around six, I’ll be expecting you.”
Maggie watched Bruce walk into his apartment and close the door. She then went into hers. Why can’t I be better at saying no? Now he is expecting me for supper.