How would she know when Debbie and Bruce were not home? All Maggie ever saw were two cars in the parking lot, Ethel’s and Mr. Zimmerman’s. How were Debbie and Bruce getting around? Were they walking everywhere? Debbie had to be home because she just saw Susie walking upstairs. Maybe she should talk with Ethel and see if she knows what is going on.
Maggie left the teddy bear where it sat, locked the door, and walked down the steps to Ethel’s apartment. She knocked. She could hear dishes placed in a sink and then footsteps approach the door. She looked away from the peephole, knowing Ethel must be looking through it. The door opened.
“Hi, dear; come in.” Ethel swung the door wide open and closed it behind Maggie. “I’ve been expecting you. Please have a seat.” Ethel pointed to a small table draped with a paisley cloth in the middle of the room.
Maggie mimicked Ethel and sat in one of the small chairs. She smiled, the atmosphere inside Ethel’s apartment was light, even though the sky outside was darkening. The air smelled of pungent incense or marijuana. “What incense are you using? It smells like . . . pot.”
Ethel lit a single candle on the table and laughed. “It’s not pot; it is sage. I was burning it because it cleanses spaces and people.”
“Oh, sorry.” Maggie watched as Ethel got up and closed the curtains, darkening the room. Colored beads hung over a doorway, and a lamp in the corner had a colorful cloth draped over the shade, casting a cheerful reddish glow into the room. “I’m getting the feeling you knew I was coming.”
Ethel leaned toward Maggie. “I thought it was likely, and I’m glad you did. Do you mind if I read you?”
“No, not at all; I wanted to talk to you; I have a couple questions.”
“Hold out your hand, I’d like to begin by reading, or rather, feeling your palm.”
Maggie put her hand, palm up, on the table in front of Ethel.
“I’m a seer, so you may notice me closing my eyes and making strange movements while I go into a trance.” She adjusted the green scarf tied like a headband and looked at Maggie. “In other words, don’t be alarmed. Since I don’t use a crystal ball anymore, I have to improvise.”
“There’s a crystal ball in the basement.”
Ethel reached for Maggie’s hand and held it firmly in hers. “What? Don’t tell me you’ve been inside that room?”
Maggie shrugged. “When I was doing laundry the door was open and Bruce showed me around.”
Ethel’s grip tightened. “That door is locked. It has been locked since a demon entered that room back in 1969.” Ethel shook her head. “Things may be worse than I expected. Don’t ever go back in that room again.”
“Okay,” Maggie said, surprised by Ethel’s reaction.
Ethel relaxed her shoulders and closed her eyes, still holding Maggie’s hand. She slowed her breathing and was silent for several minutes, and then said, “Maggie, you have the white light of protection around you. It is a gift that has been passed down from your ancestors. You have a good soul, but good souls are like honey to flies; attracting nasty creatures that thrive on sucking the life from them and using it to strengthen themselves.”
Maggie watched as Ethel’s smile disappeared, replaced by tight, over-lipsticked lips.
“You have a dark entity attached to you. It has been there for decades, even before you were born. It was put there by people with dirty souls . . . Souls who no longer have human bodies. Souls condemned to roam the earth, never to be reincarnated or to live again. They are dead forever, having sold their souls to the devil in exchange for a greedy favor.”
Maggie cleared her throat. “I don’t know what you mean.”
Ethel’s frowning eyes stayed closed. “It’s becoming clearer. The demon that has been in this building has grown since you moved in. The demon is fueling two lost souls.” Ethel groaned as if in pain. “Souls that you encountered decades ago . . . souls that keep reaffirming their commitment to Satan, who gives them pleasures . . . pleasures stronger than any earthly pleasure ever could be . . . their perfect Hell on Earth.”
Maggie watched tears form around Ethel’s tightly closed eyes. “Are you okay, Ethel?”
“It’s you the entity wants . . . It needs your soul to fuel it. It took it before, but you were able to break away. Unknown to you, it summoned you here, to the place where it all began. It is trying to steal your soul and feed upon it.”
Maggie felt compelled to ask her question. “Debbie and Bruce are telling lies about me, are they part of it?”
Ethel looked like she was shaking something off her head as she gripped Maggie’s hand, preventing her from leaving the table. “Who are Debbie and Bruce?”
“You know, the people who live on the second floor with the little girl, Susie.”
Ethel sobbed. Tears streamed down her cheeks, dripped off her chin and onto her gypsy skirt. “Maggie, there is no one on the second floor, only you.”
Maggie could not speak. Of course there were people on the second floor. “But . . . there are people. I’ve talked to them and even babysat Susie.”
Ethel’s head dropped forward. “I see it clearly, Maggie. You once worked here as a nurse on the second floor when this place was used as a psychiatric hospital. The Debbie and Bruce you talk about must be the two souls condemned to Hell, and you are the victim.
In 1969, there was a little girl named Susan Knight, who was admitted to the hospital. She was a raging mess when they brought her in here; acting as though she was possessed by a demon. Anyway, she was accidentally killed while a patient on the second floor. You were blamed for the death because of the deal the two people made with the devil. I believe their names were Deborah Franklin and Dr. Bruce Hancock. There were rumors about them being the guilty ones, not you. But something happened, somehow you died . . . And they died, too. You were brought back to live again, but the two condemned souls still want revenge for not being allowed to live the rest of their human lives in the bliss promised to them. They want you to suffer.”
Maggie could not believe what she was hearing. “But they’re there; I’ll prove it to you.”
Ethel opened her red eyes and looked at Maggie. “You must leave this place now before it’s too late,” she let go of Maggie’s hand. “I fear it is already too late.”
Maggie’s hand tingled as she rubbed it with her other hand. Ethel was speaking craziness. “Come upstairs with me and I’ll prove it to you. There are other renters on the floor.”
Ethel shook her head as she reached for a wood tip cigar.
“Please, Ethel.” Maggie had to prove to herself, even more than Ethel, that she had not been talking to ghosts all this time.
Ethel stood and took a delicately embroidered handkerchief from a coin purse sitting on an end table beside a dusty wing chair and dabbed at her eyes. “If I go with you, and you find no one on the second floor, will you leave that instant?”
“If I find there are no people on the second floor I’ll probably check myself into a mental hospital,” Maggie half-heartedly smiled.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Yes, I’ll leave. No doubt about it.”