Ethel waited in her car at the end of Sandpiper Bluff’s long driveway. Claudia would be getting off the bus soon and she would give her a ride through the forest to the apartment building. The old sanatorium sat over half a mile away from the road on the edge of a bluff. It was typically refreshing, but this day, the day she and Claudia were planning to go down into the basement and look for items left in Debbie and Margaret’s lockers decades ago, and then retrieve the crystal ball, was different. The air was thick and muggy, making breathing difficult. Ethel felt that the spirits, Debbie and Bruce, knew what they were up to and were preparing for it. Preparing to stop them.
The bus rumbled down the dirt road, stopping in front of the driveway. Ethel got out of the car to assist Claudia down the bus stairwell. Ever since the incident in 1969, when the demon came through the crystal ball and momentarily possessed Claudia—before taking up residency in the hospital—Claudia was left nearly blind, forcing her to wear thick cataract glasses and use a white cane.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Claudia said, her voice loud and whiny as she resisted Ethel’s help. “I’m not blind, you know.”
“Good to see you again, Claudia,” Ethel said, grinning. “Good to know you haven’t changed; you’re as cranky as ever.”
“Good to see you too, you old bat,” Claudia said, walking toward Ethel’s clunker. “I can’t believe you talked me into this.”
Ethel lifted her below-the-knee gypsy skirt and climbed into the driver’s seat of the suffocating car. She turned the ignition. Hot air from the vents blew into their faces.
Claudia lifted her edematous legs inside the car and then closed the door. She took off her shawl and sat it on the seat between her and Ethel. “You don’t have air conditioning?” she grumbled.
Ethel looked over at Claudia’s swollen lower extremities and beige compression stockings that stretched underneath her mid-calf Capri pants. “We don’t have far to go.”
Claudia shook her head. “I know how far we have to go. I’ve been here before, you know.”
Ethel put the sedan in gear and drove slowly down the driveway. The pine and oak trees cast dark shadows along the narrow path; the shade did not come close to making up for a failing air conditioner.
When they rounded the last curve in the driveway, the old sanatorium came into view. Claudia wiped perspiration from her brow as they left the shaded tunnel of trees and drove into the afternoon sun-soaked parking lot. They sat in the car looking at the old building and its once grand wraparound double-deck porches.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Claudia said, squirming in her seat.
“All we have to do is find the lockers and get one of Debbie or Margaret’s personal items.” Ethel cleared her throat. “And we have to get the crystal ball.”
Claudia twisted her cane into the car’s dirty carpet. “Let’s just get this over with.”
Ethel and Claudia got out of the car. Claudia began wheezing as she plodded toward the sidewalk.
“Are you okay?” Ethel asked, walking up next to her.
“I’m fine,” Claudia said, waddling along. “Let’s just get somewhere cool. You do have air conditioning in your apartment, don’t you?” She stopped and looked at Ethel.
Ethel avoided Claudia’s glare. “Well, no. But I don’t need it; I get the cool breeze that blows in from the lake.”
Claudia looked at the surrounding trees. Not even an oak leaf was twitching or a pine branch swaying. “Nothing is blowing off Lake Michigan right now. There is no moving air. The only breeze is from the flapping wings of those old crows flying away from this dump.”
“Those aren’t crows,” Ethel said. Her voice faltered. “I think those big black birds are ravens. You don’t usually find ravens in this part of Michigan.”
Indeed, the air felt wet and heavy, like an overbearing fog. And the black ravens, yes, they had been growing in number ever since Maggie was sent away; growing into a murder of crows. It was as though they were claiming the building as their own or waiting as observers. Observers, patiently waiting for death to arrive. “The spirits know we’re trying to stop them,” Ethel said as she walked ahead of Claudia.
While Ethel opened the front door, Claudia took each step of the porch one at a time. Her waterlogged ankles kept her from moving as quickly as she wanted to. Not that she wanted to go inside the building with its evil spirits, but she needed to get out of the sun that was baking down upon them. It was not hot like this when she got on the bus in Black Water. There, the sun was shining, sure enough, but it was not suffocating, not unbearable.
Ethel held the door open as she watched Claudia finally reach the top step. She wanted to ask, once again, if Claudia needed help, but she was afraid that Claudia would whack her with her cane. “Do you need to set down on the porch swing?”
Claudia looked over at the swing covered in bird feces as the last of the glossy black avifauna flew away, joining the rest of the scattered ravens, who seemed to be watching them. She looked back at Ethel in disgust. “I don’t think so.”
The deep raspy call of the jet-black birds made the hair stand up on the nape of Ethel’s neck. She knew that the ravens overtaking Sandpiper Bluff Apartments were likely a bad omen. They were harbingers of death and stealer of souls and they were surrounding the old hospital, like spectators in an ancient Roman arena waiting to watch those condemned to death be ripped apart by wild lions. “Hurry it up; I want to get to my apartment.”
“Don’t get your knickers in a knot,” Claudia said, walking behind Ethel into the vestibule. “I’m going as fast as I can.”
“At the speed you move, I’ll be singing auld lang syne and bidding farewell to this year,” Ethel said. She unlocked the lobby door and stepped into the dimly lit space.
“The way this year is turning out,” Claudia said, following Ethel into the lobby, “that sounds like a good idea.”
Ethel shivered as she stood in front of her apartment door, having outpaced Claudia across the reception area. “It’s colder than usual in here.”
As Claudia passed Mr. Zimmerman’s old office, she stopped and looked over at the open stairway and its dingy banister leading to the second floor, and down to the basement. “I sense spirits here.” She turned and walked up to Ethel. The plastered walls were cracked in such a manner that it looked like rusty veins were ripping through the interior. “This place is falling apart. I thought the owners were keeping this place up.”
Ethel opened her apartment door and motioned for Claudia to follow her. “It was kept up, at least until Maggie moved in and the spirits grew stronger. Mr. Zimmerman kept the banister and floor polished to a glossy perfection. Things were shiny and clean.” Ethel closed and locked the door as Claudia made her way to the couch. “And that was even between his drinking binges. But sad to say, the building’s history and the reincarnated spirits have affected the structure.”
Claudia used her cane to push aside a book, before putting her legs on the coffee table. “You need to get out of this place before something bad happens.”
Ethel walked over to the bookshelf where she kept the gold tin box containing many of the items she needed to cast spells. She took it down and sat it on the small round table. “Let’s get started with the prayer for protection.”
“I just got comfortable,” Claudia said, taking her legs off the coffee table. She grunted as she stood and walked to sit across from Ethel at the table.
Ethel lit the blessed white candle she had sitting in the center of the tabletop. Then she sat a picture of St. Patrick next to it and they said aloud:
The cross of Christ be with me;
The cross of Christ overcomes all water and every fire;
The cross of Christ overcomes all weapons;
The cross of Christ is a perfect sign and blessing to my soul.
May Christ be with me and my body during all my life
At day and at night. Now I pray, I pray God the Father
For the soul’s sake, and I pray God the Son for the Father’s sake,
And I pray God the Holy Ghost for the Father’s and Son’s sake,
And I pray God the Holy Ghost for the for the Father’s and the Son’s sake, . . .
As she said the prayer, the windowpanes began to vibrate, as if a giant bulldozer was driving up to the building, ready to demolish it. Ethel kept focused on the prayer. She took Claudia’s hands and held them firmly as the afternoon sun, seeping in around the sides of the closed curtains, disappeared. Leaving the room dark.
That the holy corpse of God may bless me against all evil things, words and works.
The Cross of Christ
The cross of Christ open unto me future bliss;
The cross of Christ be with me, above me, before me,
Behind me, beneath me, aside of me and
Everywhere, and before all my enemies,
Visible and invisible; these all flee from me
As soon as they but know or hear.
Enoch and Elias, the two prophets, were never
Imprisoned, nor bound, nor beaten and came
Never out of their power; thus no one of my enemies
Must be able to injure or attack me in my body
Or my life, in the name of God the Father, the Son,
And the Holy Ghost. Amen!
Protection from Heaven
The blessing which came from heaven,
From God the Father, when the true living Son was born,
Be with me at all times;
The blessing which God spoke over the whole human race,
Be with me always.
Ethel finished the prayer, opened her eyes, and released Claudia’s hands. The only light in the room was from the flickering candle. “It got dark outside.”
Claudia watched Ethel stand and walk to the front window. “You did a good job protecting your apartment, but we still have to leave it and go down to that damned basement.”
Ethel nodded and moved the curtain enough to peer outside. “It’s dark outside. It’s like there is a thick black fog surrounding the building.”
“That demon is powerful,” Claudia said. She stood and walked next to Ethel. “I hate to say it, but now we have to finish what we’ve started because they’ll never leave us alone, if we don’t. I’ll be followed back to my house. It’s not haunted now, but it soon will be.”
“Oh my god,” Ethel said. Her chin began to tremble.
“What?” Claudia said, stamping her cane on the floor like a child having a temper tantrum.
Ethel moved the curtain so that she could see the writing on the outside glass. Written in what appeared to be fresh dripping blood were the words: WE ARE WAITING.