The sun was low on the western horizon when she drove past the realtor’s For Sale sign and down the long secluded driveway to Sandpiper Bluff Apartments. She slowed the car when the dilapidated three-story 1899 converted sanatorium came into view. Once magnificent and inviting, it now looked dark and ominous. No lights shined warmly in the windows; there was not even a working outdoor light to illuminate the front entrance. She was the only one now living in the building, which was beginning to look its age. She felt a sense of foreboding as if something bad was going to happen. Maybe not that night, but sometime soon. She felt uneasy because her feelings, her intuitions, were usually correct.
She pulled into the parking lot and turned off the car. She looked up at the third floor where the murdered superintendent, Mr. Carl Zimmerman, once lived. She felt sad for not checking on the beer-bellied, gray-haired man. She had thought he was just keeping to himself, which was typical of him. The new superintendent, Tim Chandler, was a young guy who refused to live in the building. He was hired by the owners, who now had the place up for sale.
She had received a letter from them telling her that she needed to make plans to move. She laughed when she read it. Only ghost hunters would want to buy a place where people were murdered and that was said to be haunted. Besides, she was not ready to move. She had an attachment to the place ever since she was a receptionist there back in the 1960s, back when it was called Lake Shore Sanatorium and Psychiatric Hospital. That was when the manager allowed her and Claudia Suttle to hold séances, but that was mostly because he liked the regular contact with his deceased wife.
However, it was not long before he became a drunkard and the psychiatric hospital was mismanaged. Especially when it became known that the staff was mistreating the patients. The final nail in the coffin was when a ten-year-old mentally ill child was admitted with an antisocial personality disorder. One moment she was calm and sweet, and the next she became violent. She was so unpredictable that she gained access to bandage scissors and killed an orderly in 1969. The place closed shortly thereafter.
The séances ended as well. Actually, Ethel put an end to the séances earlier in 1969, before the place was closed. It was Claudia’s turn to be the medium during a séance. She was in the basement scrying room using the crystal ball, just like they always did to speak with spirits. Assisting clients who wanted to talk with deceased loved ones so that they would know they were well and not to worry. However, when a grieving couple wanted to communicate with their young daughter who had died from influenza; that was when the dark entity entered the room instead of the child. She and Claudia were unable to banish the strong entity as it stayed in the building feeding off patients and staff. Soon weak souled people and staff with a penchant for wrongdoing—like the nurse Debbie Franklin and Doctor Bruce Hancock—became violent and uncaring toward patients. They were easy targets for the entity, allowing it to use them in exchange for eternal ecstasy. But the entity wanted a pure soul in exchange for the eternal sexual rapture between the two lowlifes. It wanted a nurse named Margaret.
Enough thinking of that, Ethel said to herself. She did not want to go inside where the spirits Debbie and Bruce roamed the second floor in their promised bliss, but her apartment was safe. Ethel’s spells were strong enough to keep the spirits from harming her, but the longer Maggie stayed in despair, the stronger the black robed spirit became. And it granted some of the strength he acquired to Debbie and Bruce. Ethel knew would soon need to move whether or not the manager wanted her out of the building.
Ethel envisioned a white light around her body as she got out of the car. She would need to go down in the basement of the building, to the scrying room, to get the crystal ball that had been locked up there since 1969. But she would not do that alone. She would call Claudia and have her come over and go with her to the basement to retrieve it.
She slung the hobo bag over her shoulder and limped to the porch. Her hip ached from the long car ride and the previous fall in Maggie’s apartment.
The once full and frilly ferns, hanging above the porch rails, were dead. The porch swing that once swayed gently in the Lake Michigan breeze was covered with white and gray bird droppings. Even the once pleasant scent of roses and spruce trees had changed to rotting wood and a decaying animal underneath the floorboards.
She walked into the vestibule, unlocked the glass panel door to the lobby, and went inside. She focused on keeping herself protected as she walked swiftly past the superintendent’s office to her first-floor apartment. Once inside, she locked her door and breathed a sigh of relief. She turned around and was about to take the bag from her shoulder when she saw writing on the living room window. She walked cautiously up to the window facing the lake. The writing was on the outside of the pain of glass and appeared to have been written in red lipstick. It said: WATCHING YOU.
Ethel immediately dropped her purse and moved quickly to the gold tin box on a bookshelf. She opened it, took the canister of blessed salt, and began reapplying it at the base of the door and windows. She wanted to apply it around all the perimeter walls, but she did not have enough. Then she took out a sage smudging stick and a turkey feather. She lit the bundle of herbs with a match from a box sitting next to a pack of wood-tip cigars on the side table by the couch and began smudging the apartment. Fanning the smoke with the feather as she moved room to room, corner to corner. When she smudged by the message on the window, it began dripping like blood, down the windowpane. She closed the curtain and continued the cleansing.
When she was done, she put the items back into the box and placed it respectfully back into its place on the shelf. Then she lit a thin cigar before picking up the telephone and calling Claudia.
“Hello,” said a loud, whiny voice.
“Claudia, I need a favor,” Ethel said, speaking swiftly.
“What favor?” Claudia asked with a sharp tone.
“You remember Maggie McGee, don’t you?” Ethel said, knowing Claudia was not happy. She took a drag of the cigar.
“Sure,” Claudia said. “She’s the sweet girl who seems to attract bad things to her.”
“Well, she needs my help, and I need your help,” Ethel said. She could hear Claudia open what sounded like the refrigerator and crack the tab of a can, probably beer, she thought.
“I know what you’re going to say and I’m against it,” Claudia said. Her high-pitched voice reverberated through the phone line.
“I can’t do the séance by myself,” Ethel said. “I need your help and I need the . . . crystal ball.”
Claudia choked and hacked. “No way, Ethel. The demon that came through it years ago almost killed me. I already cannot see worth a damn because of it. The crystal ball needs to stay locked up. Why do you think we need to use it again?”
Ethel had thought about the answer in advance, knowing Claudia would be a hard sell. “Because the demon is attached to Maggie and feeding off her, not to mention the two evil spirits, Debbie and Bruce, are doing everything they can to sabotage any help sent her way. The crystal ball is powerful and is the only way we can send the demon back to where it came from . . . Hell.”
The sound of the phone being slammed against something and then picked up, rang through Ethel’s ear.
“Or, Ethel, it could bring another demon through the gateway to Hell. If that were to happen, you are not strong enough to fight off two of them. They would reach into our bodies and take our souls back through the gateway with them. Are you willing to take that chance?” Claudia said.
Ethel sighed. “Together we are two strong mediums, and I think we have a chance against the demon and the evil spirits. If we do not try, Maggie will live the rest of her life in agony, in a living Hell on Earth. Besides, we’re a couple old hags, what do we have to lose?”
“You know what we have to lose,” Claudia said, “our souls.”
“But I have something that will give us the edge,” Ethel said.
“What?” Claudia said.
“I don’t have it yet,” Ethel said. “But when Debbie, Bruce, and sadly Margaret, were blown to pieces in that boating accident out on Lake Michigan in 1969, their personal belongings were left in their lockers. I don’t think anyone ever removed them because the hospital was shut down shortly after that. I can use their personal items to conjure up a spell to send them to Hell.”
“I’m not liking your idea, Ethel,” Claudia said.
“It’s worth trying to find things they possessed,” Ethel said. “The staff locker room for the nurses was in the basement. I think the doctors kept their things in the doctors’ lounge on the third floor. I think that all we need is one thing from any one of them.”
“Are you saying that when the building was renovated no one ever opened or removed the lockers?” Claudia said.
“I don’t think so,” Ethel said. “When I was down in the locker room, years ago now, they appeared to be walled over and the room was used for storage. I think we can hammer our way through the drywall and get to them.”
“If that were the case,” Claudia said. “How would we know which lockers were theirs?”
“Because, as you know, I was the receptionist during that time and I had access to the list of who had which locker,” Ethel said.
“How are you going to find a decade’s old paper?” Claudia said.
“The file cabinet is in the storage room,” Ethel said. “When the place closed, a lot of the paperwork was just left behind.”
“Like I said, what if we can’t find the paper you’re after?” Claudia asked.
“I know all the staff took their things out of the lockers when they left. So the lockers with personal items left behind would be Debbie’s, Bruce’s, and Margaret’s.” Ethel said. She paused and then said, “Wait a minute, you said we. Are you with me then?”
“It was a slip of the tongue,” Claudia said. “Why would I be in on something that is such a long shot and likely to send us to the inferno?”
“Because you and I are good people and care about setting the wrongs to right,” Ethel said. “Maggie needs our help and we are the only ones who can help her. And you know as well as I do that the actions we take in this life will decide the fate of our future existences . . . karma. I do not want my destiny to be that of a slug. And even if the demon is able to take us back to Hell with him, we will not go unrewarded for our good deed. What goes around comes around.”
The phone slammed against something again. “Damn it, Ethel, I’m pissed off.”
“I can tell,” Ethel said, smiling. She knew Claudia was being convinced to help.
“Okay, I’ll do it,” Claudia said. “So when is all this going to happen?”
“Stop over tomorrow afternoon,” Ethel said.