“That came from Maggie’s apartment,” Ethel said, looking up at the ceiling. “They are definitely angry with us.”
“I’m mad, too,” Claudia said, walking to the kitchen.
“What are you doing?” Ethel said, closing the curtain.
Claudia opened and closed cabinet doors until she found what she was looking for, a bottle of bourbon whiskey. She poured a shot into a glass and drank it down as if it were a magic potion. “Want some?”
“Yeah, I do want some,” Ethel said. “But we need to keep our wits about us while we do this. I don’t wish to make any mistakes.”
“The mistake is already done. I’m here helping you with this.” She began opening drawers. “Where is your flashlight?”
Ethel walked into the spare room filled with Maggie’s belongings. She pushed aside Maggie’s suitcase and took a flashlight and a candlestick from a dresser drawer. Then she took the candle from the center of the table and placed it in the candlestick’s cup. She turned to Claudia and handed her the flashlight. There was no way her wobbly body could safely handle a candle. “I appreciate your help; I couldn’t do this without you.”
Claudia walked to the door, raised her cane, and shouted a battle cry. “It’s time to send the demon and its accomplices back to Hell.”
“I’m glad you’re all in,” Ethel said, smiling as she walked to the door.
“I’m under the influence of false courage,” Claudia said, returning to her unsteady gait. “We’d better hurry and get this done before I change my mind.”
Ethel turned the deadbolt and then rested her hand on the doorknob. She looked at Claudia’s tired, wrinkled face. She felt sorry for talking Claudia into helping her cast out the spirits, but she knew she was not strong enough to do it herself. She hoped her spell of protection was strong enough to protect them while they searched for what they needed. But when she looked at Claudia’s thick cataract glasses, and fluid bloated body, supported by one wooden cane, she knew that simply falling down a staircase would be enough to likely kill Claudia or at least cripple her more than she already was. Nevertheless, she turned the knob and opened the door.
Icy air rushed into their faces, both refreshing and frightening at the same time.
Claudia sighed and followed Ethel out the door.
Ethel took the apartment key from her skirt pocket and locked the door behind them. They stood there a moment, watching shadows dance on the walls and ceiling. Some shadows were obviously cast from the candle’s flames, but others seemed to move against the grain, or not move at all.
“I hope your ghosts didn’t recruit help,” Claudia said, shining her flashlight toward the lobby. “And why don’t the lights work around here?”
Ethel held the candle and walked ahead, leading Claudia past Mr. Zimmerman’s office and toward the stairway. “They used to, but this place has been having electrical problems.”
Claudia shined her light toward the steps leading to the basement and then at the elevator and its open door. “Do you think it’s safe to take the elevator?”
“Not really,” Ethel said, looking at the black box. “But considering your condition I think we should use it.”
“What do you mean, my condition?” Claudia said, shining the flashlight into Ethel’s eyes.
“Okay, then, we’ll take the stairs. Let’s go,” Ethel said walking to the lip of the open staircase, leading down into the basement. “Why do you have to be so contrary?”
Claudia ignored Ethel’s remark and followed her, briefly shining the flashlight up the staircase to the second floor. Sounds of shuffling and a giggle echoed down through the darkness. “They’re upstairs right now, but I’m sure they’ll be following us.”
“No doubt,” Ethel said, taking one cautious step at a time.
When they reached the bottom step, the air was damp. An odor of mold and a rotting animal filled the air.
Claudia paused and shined the flashlight down the long hallway. “It’s been decades since I’ve been down here. I remember the scrying room being down that way, and the kitchen being to the right, but I don’t remember where the locker room was.”
Ethel walked slowly to the room that was once the kitchen. “It’s storage now.”
Claudia followed Ethel. “Do you remember—before that demon from Hell came through—how we made people happy? They absolutely loved us. We were at the peak of our game. And the parties we would attend at the beach; they were the best.”
“Of course I remember,” Ethel said, stopping in front of the old kitchen. “If that demon never came into this place, it could have been turned into a lakeshore resort, rather than a building infested with spirits.”
Claudia nodded and then shined her light through the open door. Remnants of counters, sinks, and stoves sat in the shadows behind old stretchers, beds, and wheelchairs.
Ethel brushed a cobweb from the door and walked into the room.
“What are you doing?” Claudia said. “The lockers aren’t in there, are they?”
“No, but I might need a hammer or something to break through the wall,” Ethel said, moving the candlestick side-to-side.
“First, let’s see if we even need a hammer,” Claudia said, shining her light back down the corridor. “Maybe they’re not even behind a wall.”
“I suppose,” Ethel said, walking out. She walked to the next room. She tried to open the door, but it would not open. “It’s locked.”
“What room is that?” Claudia asked.
“I think this was where they kept medical records,” Ethel said, turning away from the door. “But I know I saw file cabinets in the old locker room when I was down here a while back.”
Claudia shined the light toward the next door along the wide hallway. The light reflected off a dusty old placard with words: EMPLOYEE LOCKER ROOM. “There it is.”
Ethel opened the door. “Shine your light around for something to prop open this door.”
Claudia shined the light around the room. Indeed, file cabinets stood along the side wall, next to an old desk. “How do you know the locker assignment list is in the file cabinet?”
“Because they’re the file cabinets that were in the reception area when I worked here. At least I think so because I remember they were a gray metal and the height looks right,” Ethel said. Then she walked up to a box filled with old hardcover medical books. She sat the candle on the desk and tried to push the box in front of the door. “Shine your light here so I can see.”
Claudia lit the box of reference books: Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body and Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary added weight to the damp cardboard box. She watched as Ethel grunted and strained as she slid the heavy box in front of the door. “You’re in pretty good shape for an old bitty.”
Ethel moaned as she stood upright and placed a hand on her sore hip. “If you say so.”
Claudia shined the light around the old plaster walls. “Why would they wall up the lockers?”
“They used this room as an office for a while when they first renovated it into apartments,” Ethel said as she walked to the back wall. “Until the manager decided he didn’t like being down here and moved the office to where it is now, on the first floor.”
Claudia took her cane and begin rapping on the water-stained drywall of the back wall. “Sounds hollow. There must be a space behind it.”
“We need a way to break through it,” Ethel said, rubbing her hip.
“Maybe you can saw through the sheetrock,” Claudia said. “Where did Mr. Zimmerman keep his tools?”
“Outside in the shed,” Ethel said, picking up the candlestick. “If we don’t find anything down here, I’ll have to go get a sledgehammer or something.”
“I think you may have to,” Claudia said, shining her light at fluttering cobwebs hanging from the ceiling. “I haven’t seen anything, so far, that we can use to break through the wall.”
“I don’t want to leave you here by yourself,” Ethel said. Then she jumped when she saw a mouse jump out of the box she had just moved and then scurry into a dark corner behind more boxes.
“I’ll be fine,” Claudia said, trying to open the top file cabinet drawer. After a few wiggles, the drawer opened. “I’ll hunt for the locker list while you’re gone. Where’d you keep it?”
Ethel walked up to the open drawer. She took a faded musty form from a folder. “This brings back memories; it’s a daily visitor log. We definitely have the right cabinet. It’s been decades since I’ve looked at this stuff, but I think we’re on the right track.”
“Here,” Claudia said, handing Ethel the flashlight. “This will help you better than that candle when you go outside to the shed.”
Ethel sat the candle on the desk and took the flashlight. “I’ll be as fast as I can.”
“I hope so,” Claudia said, closing the top cabinet drawer.
Ethel walked out of the room. Claudia could hear her climb the stairs as she opened the next drawer. She picked up the candle so that she could read the folder tabs better. “I might have you,” she said, setting the candle back onto the desk.
She took out the folder and laid it next to the candle so that she could read it better. She leaned her cane against the desk and began looking through the papers inside the folder. Then she heard footsteps coming back down the stairs.
“That was fast,” Claudia said, her whiney voice echoing through the basement. Then she heard a second set of steps descending. Then a frigid gust of air caused her breath to show, just before the candle blew out.