Ethel looked out her living room window. Another day had dawned and the birds were singing, the sun was shining, and there was not a raven or an approaching fog bank in sight. “Things are still good today.”
“When were you going to check that video camera?” Claudia asked, putting on her glasses.
“I’ll check it right now,” Ethel said, keeping the curtains closed. She had not gotten around to cleaning the red letters from her front window. “I’ll be right back.”
Ethel walked out of her apartment and past the broken glass that was now scattered across the lobby floor from the building shaking yesterday. She walked to the stairs and flipped on the light switch. The basement lights flicked on. Good, no need for a flashlight.
She walked down the steps and into the hallway. The foundation had shifted and it seemed that if she made too much noise, the vibration alone would topple the old hospital, or at least the east wall onto her, burying her in a heap of rubble. Tim Chandler would surely condemn the place and request that she move out immediately.
Ethel found the crevice where she had put the video camera to record a section of the basement, especially the scrying room. She reached up to retrieve the camera, but it was stuck. The shifting of the building had caused the crevice to collapse onto the camcorder. Not only that, but the basement floor was wet, likely from a fractured water pipe, she thought.
Then she smelled oil or gas, probably from the furnace and another broken pipe. It occurred to her that the building could be a ticking time-bomb, ready to explode with the flick of a match or click of an electrical switch. She knew, or at least was pretty sure, that Det. Becker had called Tim and told him about the building shaking and that he needed to have it inspected, but he had not been out yet, at least as far as she knew. However, she knew that she and Claudia needed to get out of the building, but not until she got the camera.
“Damn it,” Ethel said, wiggling the camera side-to-side.
She looked around for something she could use to chip away at the broken concrete. The only thing she saw was a piece of steel rebar that had become dislodged from the building’s shaking. She began chipping away at the old stone concrete until she was finally able to joggle the camera enough to get it out.
She looked toward the scrying room and around the basement. This would be her last time down here. Sadness overtook her as memories of the place, from when she worked there in the nineteen sixties as the primary receptionist, brought tears to her eyes. She envisioned kitchen staff preparing food for the patients, nurses in the locker room, and Mr. Zimmerman retrieving his broom from the janitor’s closet. She smiled; oh, how he was fun to speak with. When he swept the lobby, he always had a joke for her. He had a joke book, actually more than one, which was where he would get his daily jokes. She was fond of him back in his youth, before he had a beer belly, when he had a head full of hair. He was fond of her, too.
A loud pop in the wall next to her jarred her from reminiscing and made her run back to the staircase. She and Claudia would need to leave the building before it was too late. She moved quickly to her apartment, ignoring her aching hip.
“Claudia, we need to get out of here,” Ethel said, limping toward her purse and the golden box.
“Why?” Claudia said, looking up from a Dean Koontz book. “I just got comfortable.”
“This place is ready to explode,” Ethel said, not bothering to close the apartment door.
“Explode? Do you think you can get any more dramatic?” Claudia said, scooting forward on the sofa so that she could get the leverage she needed to stand.
“I’m not joking,” Ethel said, going into her bedroom. She took an old hard-sided suitcase from her closet and began stuffing it with clothes, a picture of a youthful her and Mr. Zimmerman holding hands on the beach, spell books from her bookshelf, and her unique tea blend of elderflowers and black tea leaves.
“What do you want me to do?” Claudia asked, finally standing.
“I’ll help you put on Maggie’s backpack and then let’s get out of here,” Ethel said, barely able to lift the wheelless ancient luggage.
There was a loud crack and the floor shook. Ethel and Claudia left the apartment so fast; it was as if Deborah and Bruce were chasing them down the hallway. The old chandelier in the lobby ceiling began swinging, as the building shifted, just like the floor of a carnival’s haunted house. They rushed into the vestibule and then out the front door onto the porch. The entry began collapsing around them as they ran, and yes, they ran, down the steps to Ethel’s old gray sedan.
“Get in,” Ethel said, putting the suitcase and magic box into the back seat.
Claudia miraculously slid out of the backpack and threw it in the backseat next to the suitcase. No sooner had Ethel started the car than the 1899 three-story building began collapsing. A plume of gray dust rushed over the car as bricks and wood scattered over the lawn, toward the parking lot.
Ethel clenched the steering wheel, closed her eyes, and braced for an impact. The sound of the old hospital collapsing was louder than she had expected. She opened her eyes as the dust cleared and she saw that half of the building was now a heap of broken timbers and plaster.
Claudia looked at Ethel. “I guess you’re staying with me for a while.”
“When we get to your place I’ll call Tim and let him know that half of the demolition has already been done,” Ethel said. She squirted window washer fluid on the windshield and turned on the wipers, smearing the soot over the glass. “I’m going to miss this place.”
“I’m not,” Claudia said, smacking her cane against the dashboard. “Let’s go.”
* * *
Ethel pulled into the driveway of Claudia’s small old-fashioned cottage. From the house foundation to the curb, weeds mingled with red hollyhocks, white hydrangeas, aromatic violet catmint, and any other wildflower that decided to take up residence. The cottage itself had shutters and a wood-shingled roof. Ethel noticed that Claudia had taken the time to fill the window boxes with Petunia and vines, only to let weeds share the bed.
The tiny home with its tiny yard was the perfect size for a single woman such as Claudia, well it used to be, Ethel thought. Seasonal freezing and thawing of the ground had upheaved the flagstone in the walkway leading to the front door.
“I’m glad I’m home,” Claudia said, getting out of the car.
Ethel stepped out of the car and opened the door to the backseat. “It’s been ages since I’ve been here. You used to have the quaintest cottage garden I have ever seen. It was just like a home in a fairy tale.”
“Used to be is right,” Claudia said, picking up Maggie’s backpack.
Ethel pulled her suitcase and the magic box from the backseat and followed Claudia to the front door. The tip of her moccasin caught on the edge of a flagstone, causing her to trip. “If I fall and hurt my other hip, your next job may be that of a nursemaid.”
“Dream on, Ethel,” Claudia said, walking into her home. She sat the backpack on the floor beside the door. “Don’t mind the mess, I wasn’t expecting company.”
Ethel looked around the interior. A fireplace and mantel took up most of the back wall, while a recliner, end table, sofa, china cabinet, and television set, took up the rest of the space. The décor was more American Craftsman than the Victorian style that Ethel preferred. The kitchen was small, containing only a sink, refrigerator, stove, and small dinette table. The only other rooms were a bathroom and a bedroom.
“There’s only one bedroom, isn’t there?” Ethel said.
Claudia nodded. “The davenport will serve you until you find another place to live.”
Ethel sat her suitcase and magic box on the kitchen table. Then she unlatched the hard-sided suitcase and took out the video camera. She flipped open the viewing screen and turned on the power. “I’m dying to see what’s on this.”
Claudia walked up next to her and looked at the tiny picture. First, it showed Ethel placing the camera in its crevice and then walk to the scrying room. Because the scrying room door was open during the séance, it showed the whole thing. It showed two shadow people walk to the scrying room door and it showed the blackest of black shapes standing inside the room, next to the table. Unfortunately, because of the building shaking, most of the séance was a blur until the ritual ended and Det. Becker entered the room. Then it showed them pick up the crystal ball and leave.
“I’m showing this to the detective,” Ethel said. “It is proof there are spirits.”
Then it cut to a later time. A man was walking down the hall with a flashlight.
“That’s Doctor Suharto,” Ethel said, watching the screen intently.
She and Claudia watched as he went into the scrying room and over to the large oval mirror with intertwining and coiling snakes carved into the wooden frame. They watched as he took down the mirror and laid it face down on the table.
“What’s he doing?” Claudia asked.
“It looks like he’s removing the back,” Ethel said. “That must be where he had the knife hidden all these years.”
They heard the doctor cuss and then watched as he hung the mirror back on the wall.
“After I call Tim and let him know his apartment building is no longer standing, I’m driving to the police station and showing the detective this video,” Ethel said. “Do you want to come along?”
“No way,” Claudia said, opening a cabinet filled with liquor bottles. “I’m making me an Irish coffee, getting into my pajamas, and reading Odd Thomas. Are you coming back here when you’re done?”
“Where else do I have to go?” Ethel said, limping out the door with the camera.