Ethel walked through the front door and onto the porch. It was dark. No moon, no stars, not even a light in the building. Even the beam of the flashlight seemed dim as it tried to penetrate the blackness.
She did not want to walk off the porch and into the air absent of light. But having no other good choices—other than getting into the car and driving away—she shined the muted shaft of light down to light her path. Then she heard the sound of something moving in the darkness not far from her. She stopped and listened, but the sound would stop as well. She was afraid to shine the light toward whatever seemed to be following her; she was afraid of what she might see.
She began walking again, and so did the thing following her, watching her. She stopped again and so did the footsteps. It was too quiet, not even the lapping waves of Lake Michigan seemed to be able to penetrate the thick air.
When Ethel reached the shed, she slid open the shed door, it screeched as it rolled along rusty runners. Before she walked inside, she looked past the bluff, toward the horizon, only the slightest of sunlight penetrated through the inky fog enveloping the property. The air felt heavy, as dark, undulating waves moved through the still, dark air.
She turned her attention back to the shed. She shined the light inside and saw several gardening tools, a shovel, and rake. Deeper in the shed she saw a toolbox and a limb saw, rope, a wheelbarrow, and an old snow blower.
“Come on, Mr. Zimmerman, you have to have a hammer around here someplace,” she said, walking further inside. She did not want to go too far inside, fearing someone may come up behind her, slide the door shut and lock her inside.
Something scurried across the dirty concrete floor, as Ethel shined the light from corner to corner. Then she saw a sledgehammer and an ax. She went to pick up the large, heavy hammer that Mr. Zimmerman used to drive in fence posts, but she could barely lift it. She sat the flashlight on the floor and tugged on the long fiberglass handle of the ten-pound hammer. She yanked it out from behind a rake and hoe, both fell to the floor. She held the handle with two hands and began dragging the sledgehammer toward the shed door before deciding there would be no way she would be able to lift it and pound through a wall.
She dropped it and picked up the flashlight. She shined the light at the ax. Already out of breath, she grabbed its smooth wooden handle with one hand and dragged it to the door. It was heavy, but not as heavy as the sledgehammer. This should get through the wall, she thought as she walked out of the outbuilding, dragging the sharp blade behind her. Then she picked it up with both hands, even with the flashlight in one hand. Then she walked down the gravel path and across the damp grass toward the dark building.
She was breathing heavy by the time she reached the front steps. She stopped when she noticed a single raven perched on the far railing, watching her. She shined her light back and forth along the porch, looking for more of the stocky black birds, or the thing that was following her.
“Shoo, get out of here,” she said. Her words were so muted it seemed as if she was going deaf. Then the bird flapped its wings and left, with barely a sound. Crazy. It was as if she was in a fluid vacuum of sinuous waves.
She climbed the steps and walked through the front entrance, setting the ax down to unlock the vestibule door. Her age was getting the best of her. Instead of carrying the ax, she decided to drag it with one hand, while using the flashlight to light her path with the other. It scraped along the hardwood floors, but she did not care if it left a scratch or not. The place was going to be closing and probably torn down at some point.
When she got to the top of the basement steps, she shouted, “Claudia, I have what we need to break through that wall. It’s going to make a racket as I drag it down the steps.” And indeed it did, each drop of the sharp metal blade was loud.
When she reached the locker room, she shined the light inside as she dragged the ax into the room. She screamed when she saw Claudia passed out on the floor.
“Claudia,” she said, letting go of the ax, its handle smacking against the floor. She ran up to Claudia. “Are you okay?”
Claudia did not answer. Ethel knew it was probably the spirits affecting Claudia, but she could not count out the possibility that she had a heart attack or a stroke. She debated whether to run up to her apartment and call 9-1-1 or to continue what they had started. In her gut, she knew it was the spirits affecting Claudia and that paramedics would not be able to help her; only she could help her. It was more important than ever that she get at least a personal item from Deborah, from 1969, to make the spell effective. If they wanted even the slightest chance to banish her, Bruce, and the psychic vampire from this dimension and send them to Hell where they belonged.
She shook Claudia’s shoulder. She was relieved when she began to respond. Then she felt for a carotid pulse on the side of her neck, it was weak, but present. She got under Claudia’s shoulder and moved her toward the door so that she could begin slashing away at the back wall.
Claudia moaned, and then said, “What are you doing?”
Ethel stopped pulling Claudia when she reached a safe distance from potential flying debris. “Thank God you’re okay. What happened?”
Claudia tried to sit up, but she was weak. “Help me sit up.”
Ethel helped Claudia sit up and lean against the wall next to the door. All the while Claudia complained about Ethel being too rough or moving her too fast.
Ethel stood and looked down at Claudia. “What happened?”
“After you left to get a hammer I heard two sets of footsteps coming down to the basement. I knew it wasn’t you; it was those two spirits. They tried to kill me.” She brushed dirt from her arms and began rubbing a sore elbow. “My body may be weak, but my soul is strong.”
“Did they say anything?” Ethel asked, shining the flashlight over Claudia. She noticed the elbow Claudia was rubbing was bleeding. She knelt down and took a closer look. “Stop rubbing your elbow, you have a skin tear. We’ll dress it when we get back to my apartment.”
Claudia pulled her blood stained hand away. “It was a man and woman and they wanted me to mind my own business. Then the lights went out.”
“Let’s get the things we need from the lockers and then get back upstairs,” Ethel said, dragging the ax to the back of the room. “Then when you’re patched up, we’ll come back down, get the crystal ball, and begin the séance.”
Claudia grumbled. “I just want to get this over with.”
Ethel mustered all the strength she could, lifted the ax and swung at the drywall. The steel blade broke through the sheetrock, leaving a small incision.
“Come on, Ethel girl, you can do it,” she said aloud. Her breathing was heavy as she lifted the ax and swung again, this time puncturing a bigger slit, creating a hole. It was hollow behind the sheetrock because the ax blade did not contact the back wall as she continued slashing. She repeatedly swung, until she had a hole big enough to work with.
She moved swiftly to the hole and began tearing away at it with her bare hands. Speckles of red blood dotted the white pieces as she ripped them from the wall and let them fall to the floor.
When she had a large hole ripped from the wall, she took the flashlight and looked inside. Yes, it was the rest of the locker room and the lockers were still as they were decades ago.
She picked the ax up once more, and with a loud grunt, she thrust it as hard as she could to tear a larger piece from the wall. The hole in the wall was now big enough to step through. Before she went into the room, she needed to know which locker was Deborah’s. Shining the light around she saw that most of the lockers were open and appeared empty, but others were closed and probably locked. She would need the locker list with the locker combinations.
She turned and shined her light at the open file cabinet drawer and then at the folder on the desk next to the extinguished candle. She stepped over the mess she had made and walked up to the desk. The folder tab said: LOCKERS; it was the one she needed. When she looked through the papers inside, she did not see the one she needed. She found copies of the locker room rules, the ones that she handed out to new employees, but not the master combination list.
Then she shined the light at Claudia, still leaning against the doorframe, as if dead. In fact, she looked so much like a corpse that Ethel rushed up to her and knelt at her side, once again feeling for a pulse.
“Stop touching me,” Claudia said, pushing Ethel’s hand away.
“You looked dead, you old fool,” Ethel said, standing up. “Did you find the combination list?”
Claudia removed a partially torn paper from her pocket. “I think it’s what you’re looking for, the master combination list.”
Ethel took the paper and went back to the opening she had hacked away with the ax. She shined the flashlight around the room that had been sealed up for decades. Then she held onto a stud and stepped through. But when she brought her second foot over the bottom of the opening, her moccasin caught on the jagged edge, causing her to stumble forward and fall onto the dingy tile floor. She fell smack on her sore arthritic hip. She let out a cry of pain and grabbed her pelvis with her left hand that was still holding the wrinkled paper. It hurt. It hurt badly. It was the same hip she had fallen on when she tripped over Susie’s teddy bear in Maggie’s apartment a few months earlier.
Tears streamed from her eyes. She could not believe her luck. She envisioned Detective Becker coming to the apartment Monday morning with the manager to examine the old medical records, only to find two old ladies half dead after demolishing a wall. She laughed and cried at the same time, but at least they would be found.
“Are you all right?” Claudia said, with a high-pitched voice that seemed to make the pain worse.
“It’s my hip,” Ethel said, wiping tears from her cheeks.
The flashlight had been forced from her hand when she contacted the floor. It had rolled toward the lockers. She turned onto her belly and began sliding across the floor toward the light. Inching her way, her elbows scraping on the floor. She could feel her thin friable skin tear as she moved like a slug toward the light.
Finally, she reached it. It lay with its beam shining at the bottom of the lockers. The toe guard was out of place and she could see underneath the stand of lockers. Then she saw something. She picked up the light and shined the light toward the object. She would need to move the dislodged metal kick plate. Still lying on the floor, she began pulling on the sharp-edged metal with her bloody fingers until she was finally able to move it enough so that she could reach inside. She put her hand through the opening and pulled out an envelope. How had it gotten there? Had it been dropped and accidently kicked underneath, between the tile floor and the metal face, or had someone intentionally hid it there. She opened it and took out a folded letter. It was a letter from Dr. Bruce Hancock addressed to Nurse Deborah. Where were they, by the way? They had attacked Claudia and now she could not sense them. Were they now tormenting Maggie? Probably not, the black-robed entity was likely doing that.