Weekend morning breakfast at the New Winslow General Store was a loud, social affair. And despite that, Roman loved it. He and Celine tried to bring the kids at least a couple of times a month. Right now they sat at one of the few tables by the deli counter, surrounded by the buzz and chatter of small-town gossip around them.
“Oh, kiddo, you’re losing your bacon,” Celine said, watching her two-year-old daughter Abby attempting to eat a breakfast sandwich. “Aaand, it’s gone. Slid right on out. Here, Abby, don’t worry, I’ve got it.”
Abby had managed to paint herself in butter and bacon as she ate her breakfast. Her lip stopped quivering as Celine reached over and picked up the wayward slice of bacon from the table. Instead, she took it and set it down in front of her ten-month-old brother, Aidan.
“Aidan want?” she said in her squeaky voice.
“That’s very sweet of you,” Roman said from next to Aidan. He picked up the bacon and put it back on Andrea’s plate. “But he’s all set. He can’t eat your food, remember? Milk only for him.”
Abby thankfully seemed satisfied with this answer and went back to her breakfast. Then fourteen-year-old Jamie slid into the chair next to Roman, holding two bags. He handed one to Roman.
“Dad, your sandwich was ready so I grabbed it.”
“Thanks,” Roman said, taking the bag and setting it down next to the sandwich he was already almost finished eating. “It’s actually for Mrs. Jensen, I’m heading up there after breakfast to make sure she’s all set in case that storm actually comes through this week.”
“Need any help?” Jamie asked, unwrapping a monstrous breakfast sandwich. “I don’t have anything planned.”
Roman was sorely tempted, but resisted. Jamie deserved a day off. “Thanks, kiddo, but I’m all set. It’s pretty much just going to be salting the walk and making sure the windows are sealed. But I appreciate the offer.”
He stood up and picked up his and Celine’s coffee cups. “I’m getting a refill. Anyone need anything?”
“Napkins,” Celine said, using one of the few napkins on the table to wipe Abby’s hands. “All of them if possible.”
Roman laughed and walked up to the coffee station. Three coffee urns stood on the counter and he paused for a second, trying to remember if he’d had full-caf or half-caf for his first cup.
Iris Davies was standing next to him, no coffee cup in hand. “Good morning, Iris,” Roman said. “How are you?”
“Good, thanks,” Iris said. “Actually, I wanted to talk to you.”
Roman was filling his cup with fully caffeinated coffee. “What’s up?” he asked, pressing the level on top of the urn.
“Listen,” Iris said, moving closer, “I’ve been doing some research into the curse and-”
“Iris, look,” Roman interrupted. “I’m here having breakfast with my family. Can this wait?”
“I’ll be quick,” Iris insisted. “I found a reference to a hotel in a handwritten town history from 1942. It doesn’t show up in any other town history books or records. And I think it must have something to do with the curse, you know? Clearly, someone had this covered up! Have you heard anything about this?”
“Uh, no,” Roman said flatly. “I’m going to head back, Celine is waiting on-”
“I just find it odd that there’s no mention of this hotel in official records,” Iris continued as though he hadn’t said anything. “But this handwritten history has details about it from the twenties. Which is waaay too late for a curse, which I imagine must have been a couple hundred years ago. But this has to be connected.”
“Yeah,” Roman said, edging around her. “Look, I’m going to head back over to my family now.”
“Oh, right,” Iris said. “Yes, sure. But let me know if you hear anything about a hotel or anything else that might be connected.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that,” he said, already walking away. “Have a good one, Iris.”
Roman walked back over to the table with his two cups of coffee. “What did Iris want?” Celine asked as he set down her cup in front of her.
Roman sighed. “She’s trying to find out what’s causing the curse. And she keeps trying to get me involved.”
Celine grimaced. “Yikes,” she said, her voice lowered. “That’s awkward.”
“It sure is. I’m trying to be polite, but she’s starting to drive me a little nuts. I don’t want to be constantly reminded about it. And I definitely don’t want to become part of some ghost hunt investigation on it.”
Celine opened her mouth to say something, then stopped as Roman shook his head. He wasn’t discussing this now. Or ever.
They sat in silence for a moment. Jamie ate his sandwich quietly. He’d known since he was little that he shouldn’t bring up the curse in front of his dad. So hearing his parents discuss it like this was unsettling.
The silence was broken with Abby trying to give her little brother a strawberry. “Oh, Abby, don’t do that,” Jamie said before his parents could say anything. “Here, let me trade you my kiwi for it instead.”
Roman turned to Celine. “Are you good if I go?”
“Go ahead,” Celine replied. “Me and Jamie can wrangle the little ones.”
Roman smiled, then kissed her. He kissed the two little ones, hesitated, and gave Jamie a pat on the shoulder. “See you guys at home,” he said, pulling on his coat.
That evening, Iris was in her shop after closing time. The lights were off and she had some candles lit around a ouija board. She’d realized immediately after having this idea that she no longer actually owned a ouija board. So instead, she’d had to borrow one from her shelves.
No problem, she’d just have to remember to reshelve it tomorrow.
The books had been a bust. Even the little town history she still hadn’t returned to the historical society didn’t provide the answers she needed. That segment about a hotel coming to town had been tantalizing, but ultimately nothing.
So instead, she was going to have to go directly to the source. There must be some spirit who had lived here in life and would be willing to talk to her about the curse.
“Spirits of this town,” Iris intoned, trying to sound as confidently mystical as she could. “I implore you, come to me. I wish to speak to one of you.”
The planchette moved slightly under her fingers.
“Is there a spirit here who wishes to speak to me?” Iris asked.
The planchette moved to YES.
“What is your name?”
The planchette scraped across the board. “R…O…L…A…N…D…Roland?”
She didn’t remember a Roland from the history books, but she hadn’t exactly committed them to memory.
“Roland, did you live in New Winslow in life?”
The planchette slid to YES.
“Do you know about the curse?”
She gave it a moment, but the planchette stayed on YES.
“Do you…do you know who is responsible for the curse?” Iris asked, her heart pounding.
Again, it stayed on YES.
Iris took a deep breath. “Are you…are you the spirit responsible?”
She let out a nervous, giddy laugh. This could be it. She was on track to solve the curse!
“Roland, when did you live here? L…O…N…G…A…G…O…long ago? Okay, how long ago? V…E…R…Y…”
Okay, she’d been hoping for more specific information, but whatever. Ghosts weren’t known for being detail-oriented.
“Roland,” Iris asked, “Did you cast the curse?”
There was a pause, then the planchette began inching toward YES. But just before it touched the letters, it wrenched back with a force that made Iris gasp. It whipped over to the letters, moving between them almost too quickly for Iris to keep up.
“E…A…T…M…Y…A…S…S…What the hell is going on?”
The candles blew out, leaving the shop in the dim light of the streetlight outside. Before Iris could really comprehend what was happening, two glass displays shattered, spraying glass shards and merchandise across the floor. Papers flew up from under the cash register and scattered across the room. The overhead lights flickered on and off.
And over all of it, a phantom, malicious laughter rang out.