Chap. 31—Sinister Attachments: A Paranormal Psychological Thriller (Rancor, #1)

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THIRTY-ONE

Sinister Attachments: A Paranormal Psychological Thriller (Rancor, #1)Maggie walked into Ethel’s spare room. It smelled of mothballs and burnt sage. She wanted to plug her cell phone into an outlet, but she had left the charger in her apartment during the rush to get out; she would go to her apartment in the morning and retrieve it. Until then, she would crawl into bed and forget about the day while Ethel slept on the couch.

She lay in bed, looking around the dark room. The thick walls of the old building dulled the sound of thunder, but not enough for her to forget there was a storm outside. She considered the possibility of spirits reaching through the walls, grabbing her, and carrying her to Hell with them.

Maggie left her bedroom door open, wanting some connection with Ethel, who seemed to know how to keep them safe. She could hear Ethel set a bottle on the end table. She must have swallowed more whiskey, Maggie thought as she turned on her side and closed her eyes.

 

***

 

Maggie stood on a dock next to a thirty-six-foot mahogany cruiser. On the deck was Debbie, dressed in a pink and white string bikini and big sunglasses. Maggie quickly looked at her clothes, hoping she was not dressed the same way. She was relieved to see sandals on her feet, and shorts and a blouse covering the rest of her body.

“Are you coming or not?” Debbie asked. She was so giddy that she fell into Bruce, who had walked up next to her.

Maggie heard waves lap against the hull and their hollow swish underneath the dock. She felt a warm breeze against her hot skin. It must be close to ninety degrees, she thought. When she looked at Bruce, he was smiling at her. His belted green and black striped swim trunks suddenly made her realize she was back in time and looking at Dr. Bruce Hancock and Deborah, the nurse.

Bruce held out a hand. “I’ll help you, I won’t let you fall.”

Maggie did not want to get on the boat. Nothing good was going to come from being around Bruce and Deborah. She began turning around and was about to walk away when Bruce reached for her and pulled her into the boat.

“We’re all aboard,” Bruce shouted toward the helm. He held her close to his body before releasing her and untying the boat from the dock’s cleats.

Maggie reassured herself that this was only a dream and that she would wake up in Ethel’s apartment soon. When she turned around, she saw a man at the helm. He looked like the man in the photograph in Mr. Zimmerman’s office. This had to be Mr. Zimmerman’s father. He gave the boat’s horn one blast and then left the dock, pulling into the fairway toward Lake Michigan.

“Are you seasick, Margaret?” Deborah asked, leaning against the guardrail. Then she picked up a nautical beach towel and made her way to the foredeck before Maggie had a chance to answer.

Maggie watched Bruce follow Deborah to the bow, like a dog in heat. However, she decided to stay where she was; she did not want to get close to the people who—according to a previous flashback—wanted to blame her for Susan’s death. What was the point of this dream? She held her hair, keeping it from turning into a tangled mess, as the captain left the channel and headed toward the open water. The boat bounced and waves splashed until they reached an area far from the shoreline.

The captain turned off the engine and approached Maggie with a bottle of Scotch in his hand and some plastic cups. Maggie stared at the bottle of brown liquid. All she could think of was Claudia’s words when she had first met her at Lenny’s Grocery. My daddy once said Carl killed a man out there on the water, right there in front of Lake Shore Sanatorium—all liquored up on Scotch, he was.

He handed her a cup with a couple shots. “Here you go, ma’am.”

Maggie took the cup from him, and then asked, “Is your name Carl?”

He smiled and tipped his white sailor cap. “Captain Carl Zimmerman, at your service.”

Maggie imagined she looked as white as a ghost, but she was not a ghost; he was the ghost. He was someone from the past, someone who killed a man.

“You don’t have sea legs, do you, ma’am?” he said.

Maggie’s mouth was dry. “It’s just that you look familiar. Do you have any children?”

“I have one son, Carl Jr. He works as a janitor at that God-awful place they call a hospital.” He poured himself a shot of Scotch into a cup, swallowed it, and pointed toward the distant shore. “That’s the place right there. They call it Lake Shore Sanatorium and Psychiatric Hospital.” He leaned so close to her that she could smell the liquor on his breath. He whispered, “I think the people who work there should be patients. They’re all off their rockers. I heard that if there is one more incident they’re going to shut that place down, and people are going to pay. Some will lose their professional licenses and others will get jail time; serves them bastards’ right for treating innocent people like dogs.”

Maggie nodded. “Yeah, it’s not a very nice place.”

“Sorry, I don’t want to ruin your weekend.” He took a handkerchief from his fishing vest, blew his nose, and stuffed it back into one of the vest’s many pockets.

“Oh, you’re not,” Maggie said, but she knew this trip was not going to end well.

“I’m going up with the others; you should join us.” He turned and walked to the bow and sat across from Bruce and Deborah.

Maggie looked across the blue water toward shore. There, on the bluff, was the sanatorium. It looked majestic, like a mansion for a wealthy lumber baron. At the same time, it was eerie looking.

“Hey, Margaret,” Deborah said. “Why don’t you come up here and join us.”

It’s only a dream. It’s only a dream; she kept reminding herself as she stood up and walked to the head of the boat. When she passed the cabin, she smelled a foul odor. “Is there a dead animal on board?”

“That’s just the leftover smell of a propane leak from the stove that I had earlier. It’s fixed; there’s nothing to worry about,” the captain said.

Maggie was not sure there was nothing to worry about. Captain Zimmerman must have been drunk before they undocked, and she did not trust his judgment. Nonetheless, the four of them sat talking, laughing, and drinking for a couple hours.

When Bruce returned from the bathroom, he had Deborah’s beach bag in his hand. He sat it next to her and put his hand on her bare thigh.

“Time to check your blood sugar, babe,” Bruce said.

“Don’t want to forget that.” Deborah giggled as she reached into the bag and took out a small case with a glucose meter inside. She poked her finger, drawing a drop of blood, which she then placed on a strip in the machine. “It’s fine, eighty-eight.”

Maggie noticed the captain squirm in his seat and then tense up as if he had seen something frightening. Then she saw Bruce sneer at the captain.

“Margaret, let me test your blood sugar,” Deborah said, approaching Maggie with the lancet.

“I’m not diabetic, I don’t need it checked.”

“You know how alcohol can cause hypoglycemia.” Deborah kneeled next to Maggie and reached for her hand.

“Don’t let her touch you,” the captain said. He reached over and pushed Deborah’s hand away. “They’re not what they seem.”

As far as Maggie was concerned, nobody was as they seemed; not even herself. She braced herself on the seat as the water became choppy and dark clouds began approaching the boat. “What’s going on?”

The captain pointed between Bruce and Deborah. “There’s a hooded . . . something in a black hooded robe.”

“You’re drunk, old man,” Deborah said. She reached for Maggie’s hand and punctured the skin on a fingertip with the lancet.

Maggie jumped from the poke, but Deborah held her hand tight as blood dripped into a small glass ampule.

“What are you doing?” Maggie tugged her hand away. “That’s not a test strip.”

Deborah returned to Bruce, put the capped tube into the meter’s case, and returned it to her bag. Then both Bruce and Deborah looked at the terrified captain.

“Do you see it, Margaret?” Captain Zimmerman asked, reaching inside his vest as if he was having a heart attack.

Maggie shook her head and held her sore finger as cold raindrops began to fall from the black swirling sky above.

Bruce looked at Deborah. “Who would’ve thought a drunken sailor could see our friend.”

They laughed. Then, without warning, Bruce stood and lunged for the captain. Maggie began screaming as Bruce tried to push the captain overboard.

Then a single gunshot broke through the wind with a crack. Bruce stumbled backward, falling at Deborah’s feet. Deborah sprang at the captain and began clawing at his face, causing him to drop the snub-nosed revolver he had hidden under his garment before she managed to push him over the side of the boat.

Maggie reached down and picked up the gun while Deborah watched a massive swell pull the captain under.

“You bitch,” Deborah said as she returned to Bruce and knelt next to him. He was lying face down and groaning in pain. Blood rushed from underneath him as the rain diluted and washed it down the deck.

Maggie stood when Deborah stood. She pointed the gun at Deborah. “Stay away or I’ll shoot.”

Deborah smiled, rolled her eyes, and raised her hands. “Are you going to kill an innocent person like you did Susan?”

“I didn’t kill Susan, you did.”

“No, not true.” Deborah began taking small steps toward Maggie. “It’s already in the record what happened. Now . . .” Deborah pointed toward Bruce, “you’ve killed Bruce and the captain. You’re sick Margaret.”

Maggie shook her head and began backing toward the cabin, trying to stay a few feet ahead of Deborah.

“Where’re you going, Maggie? All that’s left is overboard like the captain.”

Maggie knew there had to be a marine radio at the helm, so she kept backing her way toward it, while Deborah kept following her.

“You’re a pitiful case, Margaret McGee. Maybe they’ll give you the death penalty and put you out of your misery.”

Gusts of wind rocked the boat as Maggie turned and ran to the helm. She picked up the radio’s handset, pressed the button on the side, and frantically said, “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!”

It was no use. Deborah ran up to her and began clawing at Maggie’s face, causing her to drop the handset and stumble backward into the lower-level galley. While lying on the floor, next to the stove, she could smell the propane—it was still leaking. Deborah was on top of Maggie, trying to take the gun from her hands.

Maggie whispered, “It’s only a dream. It’s only a dream.” She squeezed the trigger, knowing it would spark and cause the propane to explode. In the slow-motion seconds before the explosion, she knew she would die. Then, she thought, hadn’t she already died?

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