Judith Hammond spent much of her time alone. The tiny apartment she had just moved into a few weeks before was certainly not as large as the one she had shared with her husband, but it fit her tastes much better and allowed for a lighter load. It had been over a year since she found Vincent struggling for air on the living room floor. By the time the paramedics arrived, it was too late. She laid him to rest and began the chore of sorting through fifty-eight years of wedded bliss. She often told herself that ridding her estate of unnecessary things would make it easier for her family when her time came. She had convinced herself that her children and grandchildren would thank her for sorting and allotting what goes to who. No one had to wait for their inheritance, Judith gave almost everything away. In a primal sense, she just wanted it all gone. The couple had sold their home and moved into the Applegate apartments when Vincent first started to weaken. It made things easier that way. The recent change from the third floor to the eighth was not hard to justify. With Vincent long gone, Judith no longer needed the space that a two bedroom unit gave her and the little possessions she kept for herself fit well in her almost studio apartment. She made sure she was ready to go. Despite her age, she was vibrant and fully functional. Her thirst for knowledge drove her inquiring mind. She was a tiny woman but only in a physical sense. Judy loved to communicate, to chat, and she did it well. Every day, after the dinner hour, she would board the elevator and find herself in the lobby, waiting for her friends.
Ilene Partridge never married and never even considered having children. She never really saw any point. At eighty-four, she remained an independent woman in every way. She had resided in the same one bedroom Applegate apartment for almost twenty years and required little to keep her occupied. It was a brief ride from the fourth floor to freedom. Her books and three cats kept her company when she felt alone. It was a feeling she had grown accustomed to over the years. Her lifestyle, her financial security and her academic pursuits all seemed to bring her great comfort. Historically, she was one of the first woman to declare the modern idea that happiness could be found outside of matrimonial bliss and any resulting offspring. She stood as a self-made woman and knew her choices had been the right ones for her. She did not linger in the land of regret. For her, such things were but a waste of time and energy. She had much better things to do with her day. Ilene was intelligent, well-educated and sharp as a tack. This tough old broad was even wicked if you got her going. When her hip gave out the year before, she took to a walker, cursing it every time she needed to go out. Time had not been kind to her aging form, but she never let it get in the way of a good shot of whiskey, a day at the salon and a bitch fest with her Applegate pals. Every day, after the dinner hour, she took the elevator down to the lobby to meet up with her friends.
Martina Kuusk escaped the approaching Nazi storm in 1938. With her family, she fled
and eventually settled in a small Swiss village. Martina moved to Austria in the early 1950s and found a new life, a new husband and three children in under a ten year span. When she divorced in the mid-1960s, it was just a matter of time before she was left all alone. Her children got married, or moved to the west coast, and she found herself struggling to establish a new way of life. She was one of the very first tenants to move into the Applegate apartments. She liked it. For the first time since childhood, she actually felt like she was home. In her opinion, life had been far too hard on her and she deserved some peace of mind. It was a challenge for her to maintain it. Sadness always seemed to seep back into her thinking. As a result, she became a bonafide curmudgeon. Her path was paved with gravel and so was her voice. She had always been a fair sized woman but age and gravity had pulled her down a few inches. She was a heavy smoker, her teeth and fingers revealed for just how long. Her glasses were simple and so was her approach to life. She didn't believe in God. She didn't believe in democratic freedom. She didn't believe in anything but her friends. Every day, after the dinner hour, she left the second floor for the lobby to spend time with her comrades. Canada
When you live in the same building as someone for years and years, eventually you become familiar with them. These three little old Ladies slowly became accustomed to each other in passing. Salutations aside, it took some time for the friendship between them to form. One thing led to another, 'hello' turned into 'how are you?' and the lobby became a common ground for these blossoming relationships. Over the months and years, the trio became inseparable, thankful for the company and companionship. They went to market together, shopped together, and every day after the dinner hour, they sat together like true friends would. Meeting in the lobby was more tradition than anything else. It was here that these three women first formed as a group. All that time acknowledging one another throughout the building evolved into brief visits, coffee trips and cemented the lobby as the best place for them to gather together. They felt more alive in each other's company when in this certain place. Whether it was kismet, or providence, there was an energy whenever they assembled there. They almost seemed revitalized whenever they got together, but only in this space. It was the strangest thing, but it did not seem unnatural. Other residents of the building referred to them as the Coven.
It did not take long for the occupants of the Applegate to discover that George Christian was not a very good superintendent. In fact, he was as lazy as his wife Sheila turned out to be. These staunchly conservative religious folk had been hired for their high moral standards and capable nature, but actions always speak louder than words. It did not take much time for the tenants to realize this sad state of affairs. The building itself was not the only victim of this casual disregard of obligation. The tenants quickly experienced a new state of ill repair. In secret, the maintenance allowance for the building could easily be siphoned. One could claim for the work being done when no work was done whatsoever. The Christians, it appeared, were not immune to the ways of the world. The appearance of the building began to suffer. The grounds outside and the lobby inside looked more like public housing than a private building. The elevators and plumbing were granted only basic repair. Walking through the place, one would have assumed there was no manager or staff on duty, ever. When the complaints started, George and Sheila hired an assistant, who was fool enough to do all their work for them but at half the price. Even then, the constant lack of care was much more than noticeable. In fact, hiring help only meant less money for maintenance.
The owners of the Applegate building were flooded with constant appeals to make things right. For over a year, it seemed as if nothing was done regarding the unacceptable superintendents. The building suffered and so then did the tenants. When it was discovered that the Christians were hired through their Church, the reason for them not being fired became crystal clear. People registered complaints with the housing authority but to no avail. When one resident sued the management for failure to do their job, it was clear the staff did not follow the tenets of their faith. Lies flowed like milk and honey, all validated by the owner and his legal representative. It became abundantly clearer that the only way to fix the problem was to move out. This was something the three little old ladies did not want to do. When confronted person to person, or discussed in front of prying eyes and ears, George and Sheila did what any good religious person would. They stowed away in their apartment for weeks, even months at a time. Ignoring the problems somehow never made them go away. The tension, the aggravation was only made worse when the Coven, from the lobby, made a unified assault. Together they waited for George to come out. They meant to gang up on him. They banded together and they almost pounced on him.
George Christian had been having an okay day when the octogenarian trio confronted him, face to face. Denial fell like manna from heaven. St. Peter would have been proud. Nothing that any of the group said made a difference. He disappeared rather quickly into the utility room, abruptly halting the conversation. The three sat down in their proper places and waited for him to return. He re-entered the room with a fluorescent bulb and a ladder, positioning himself beneath the ailing light in front of the elevators. This was the first actual work any of the ladies had seen him do in months. They sat in their circle, desperately trying to appeal to his sense of fair play and spiritual conviction. He completely ignored them. As he climbed the ladder, the three grew angry that he had chosen to act as if they were not even there. As their anger grew, so did the energy in the room. Like a crescendo, you could feel the growing flow of rage and hatred from the three women. Suddenly, the light bulb burst, cracking into a million pieces. It flooded over poor George like a white wash. He just stood there, propped up on the ladder, lost in disbelief. It was like a wave of resentment then burst from the trio. The ladder fell straight out from under him and he landed hard on the faux marble tiles. The girls sat quietly, waiting for him to rise. When he shuffled away in defeat, they realized what had happened. They had all witnessed the surge which had come from them. They could see the ripple of emotions as they joined together and shoved the man down.
As time passed, the little old ladies learned to control their newfound powers. Practice always makes perfect. They quickly recognized that these abilities only worked when the three of them sat together in the lobby. They had tried different scenarios and different areas but it was always to no avail. They didn't know why they were granted this gift, as they called it. They barely even questioned its origin and why they had been chosen to wield it. They only knew that as a collective, when as one in the main floor foyer, they possessed this strange ability. It grew strong as they learned to control it. As a unit, if they concentrated, they could summon an energy and a great deal of force. It wasn't telekinesis or hypnosis, it wasn't a spell or witchcraft. Together, they could tap into something base in nature. The earth gave up its soul in bursts and ripples. They could feel it as they conjured more and more. The result found them more alive indeed. Judy's mind became keen and more aware. Ilene was able to abandon her walker. Martina, on occasion, even smiled for the right person. They went from spending around an hour after dinner visiting, to hovering for most of the day and evening in their new favourite place. George and Sheila Christian did not like it one bit.
The longer the women spent on the ground floor, the less work got done all around them. The dust was thick on the tacky plastic plants that Sheila thought looked classy in the front windows. The rug was heavily stained with muddy track marks and no attention. The faux marble tiles that had welcomed George's rump were covered in layers of this and that. No one vacuumed, no one swept. No one bothered to consider anyone else who lived in the building. Even the maintenance assistant was banned from any tender care, at least until the gang of witches dispersed. In less than three months, the Applegate went from just alright to grim and dismal. For George and Sheila, things went from bad to worse. They initially failed to suspect that the old ladies were behind their newfound karma. He fell on the ice when there was no ice and sprained a wrist. She slipped on a dry tile and knocked herself silly. The apartment they maintained on the same floor as the lobby in itself became a hazard. New pipes broke for no reason. The ceiling crashed on both as they slept during their office hours. Windows cracked, fires started and people immediately got sick if they entered their home. Of course, neither took the time to see the consequence of their behaviour. They simply told themselves it was evil and that their God would protect them from it.
Anyplace on the ground floor was within the reach of the Coven. They quietly relished every bump and beat. They had no agenda, they did not wish to bring anyone harm. They simply wanted what they paid for. There was never an intention. They used their gift as a means to an end, not to bring anyone to their end. Of course, things do not always work out the way we think they should. The best laid plans are usually fruitless. Month after month they lounged in the lounge, waiting for the object of their inspection. Whether it was George, or Sheila, or some innocent who was with them, the three little old ladies made life as difficult as they could for their victims. All the while, George and Sheila plotted in secret to have the space invaders removed. Legally each had paid for the right to use the lobby, but no one ever mentioned to the Christians that constant use of it would become an issue. They felt persecuted and spied on. They convinced themselves that all the "accidents" were a result of the evil which had manifested out in the building's front room.
The winter came in the most inopportune way. It was harsh, deeply cold with little breaks in the downpour. For those too old to drive themselves in such conditions, it was like a trap had been set around the building. The lack of snow removal, in a timely manner, did not help most residents of the Applegate. The rear entrance was deep with snow. Quite often, the surrounding drifts were intentionally shoved in front of the exits. It was early afternoon before anyone even bothered to clear the way out front. Ice built up under baked snow and over time it became rather dangerous for those unsteady with age to navigate the way. The Christians took great pleasure in the suffering of the tenants. Watching 80 year-old women struggle through frozen piles of dirty white gave them a sense of justice and validation. Revenge was best served quite cold. They believed their choices were approved by the God they claimed to worship. They believed the righteous would be justified by that same deity. It wasn't long before a tragedy. It wasn't long before an innocent was hurt. It wasn't long before the authorities paid a visit. Ruth Hampton was simply trying to get to the bank when she slipped on the icy walk heading out to the street. Her hip shattered in several different places. When the ambulance took her and the police finally left, George and Sheila walked through the lobby and laughed right in the faces of the injured women's friends. The trio sat silently and like George and his wife, they crossed the last line..
They sat together like they always did. They sat and they waited. The night before, they had decided that today would be the end of it all. What had happened to Ruth could well have been one of them. They figured if they had all these powers, then they should put them to good use. It wasn't like they could run the streets prancing like 30 year-old superheroes. The best they could do was to work within what life had brought before them. Whether it was moral or not was beside the point. The snow was particularly heavy this winter's morn and by noon, as with most days, the piles made from wind and storm had gathered inconveniently about the exits of the building. Large and deadly icicles hung above each doorway, looming, waiting to be called into service. The Christians were nowhere to be found. Their assistant was busy with the plumber and a frozen pipe in the sub-basement. This was something the snoozing managers should have looked after themselves. Three little old ladies rested there, all prim and proper. They had come in their best Sunday dress. Martina made it clear she could wear it anytime she wanted.
The snow continued to fall and drifts loomed across the entrance to the garage. The roundabout, for drop-off at the front entrance, disappeared under a dense blanket. Eventually, the street plows came and made things even worse. The ladies could almost smell the Christians when they finally decided to come down the hall and see to the building. At 1 o'clock in the afternoon, it was about damn time. George grabbed the shovel from the entrance and pulled on a bucket of salt from the corner of the room. He pushed hard against the door, shoving the built up snow out into the circular lane. He grunted and turned to look at the little old ladies, dainty and pretty, and at least in George's mind, not close enough to their final resting place. Getting away with almost everything but murder made him into a cocky and ego driven ass. His wife fared not much better; they believed they were untouchable. As he began to shovel in the most pathetic of ways, she sprinkled some salt here and some salt there. After clearing only a small path to the sidewalk, they folded up their dignity and turned to go inside. George flipped the shovel over his shoulder and glared through the window at the trio. The shovel hit the icicles and the icicles fell down hard. They were enormous. It was almost ironic when the very danger he had ignored for so long then confronted his face. One plunged deep into his left eye and he fell limply to the ground. On his way down, the metal shovel flew into the air and landed sharply, striking Sheila on the head. It stuck in its newfound place. You could almost hear the thud when each one met the ice and snow. They just laid there, finished, and no one really cared. When the building assistant entered the scene, he called 9-1-1 and tried to bring both the bodies inside. A group of tenants gathered in the lobby and joined the three little old ladies in their distance. Pleas for assistance were met with excuses. After all, how was an 80 year-old woman or a 90 year-old man supposed to lift such obese carcasses?
By the time any help had arrived, it was way too late. When the ambulance left and the coroner left, there was little left for the police to inquire about. No one in the crowd owned a cell phone or mobile device. Not one was able to step outside on the inch-thick layer of ice and offer assistance. Any ability to aid with the morbid scene had been striped from them all long ago. All they could really do was watch. What a calamity to be killed just feet from the safety of inside. What misery, so sad, to fall prey to your own premeditated inconsideration. All the witnesses, and the feed from the security camera, guaranteed there would be no cause for suspicion. It was such a tragic accident. If they had only maintained the entrance better. What a horrific act of God.
For the first time in forever, the three old gals stayed away from the lobby. In fact, it took almost two weeks before they dared to journey near the Christians' final resting place. They slipped in and out of the mail room and through the back door. They planned to avoid each other until the coast was clear. They did not hang out. They did not meet in private. They did not say a thing until the all rang well. No one said a thing when the building assistant was hired on in a full-time capacity. Not a 'told you so' was offered when management got hold of the building's books. Quietly, they viewed the changes that were made to the landscape and the structure. They watched as the building came back to life. It was clean again. It was finally repaired. It was almost as if their world went back to normal. It was almost as if those terrible people had never existed, never invaded the lives of the tenants at the Applegate.
Snow was melting from the winter sun and the day was bright and warm, relatively speaking. It was a lovely scene from the lobby window. Sometime around noon, Judy called Ilene and Ilene called Martina, and they all agreed to meet in the lobby just after three. They knew this time of day brought the least amount of traffic to the area. As each filtered down to the ground floor, they noticed the difference. The world was right once again. Judy took her place first and then Ilene showed up in a few more moments. Martina pulled up the rear, appearing from out back where she had just finished a smoke. They began their dance like any Coven would. Each took their place like they always had. They closed their eyes and each focused. They reached deep inside and found the gift once again. This had not changed. It was still with them. The oldest took the lead and broke the silence.
"I can't believe you did that," said Judy to the oblivious Ilene.
"Did what?" Ilene inquired.
"You know," she added. "The shovel? The icicle?"
"I didn't do it," she rebuffed. "I thought you did it."
"I didn't do it," Judith maintained.
"I wish I had done it," Martina added, quite pleased.