It was after hours on Christmas Day and Iris was back in her store. It was still a mess, despite multiple attempts to fix it. Every time she tried to clean Roland – or whatever he was – just trashed it again.
But tonight she didn’t care. Instead, she paced the store furiously, tossing supplies into her messenger bag as she went. She’d found the spell she needed, and now she was going to do what she needed to do.
Iris couldn’t believe what Roman had said to her. Two nights later and she was still seething. She didn’t know what she was doing? How dare he say that! She was the town expert on these things because no one else could be bothered. Oh, you’ve been cursed for twenty years, Roman? What have you done about it? Fuck all, that’s right. Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Let’s just sit there and wait to die. And God forbid someone with training, someone who might actually be able to help, tries to do something for you.
She tossed the last book into her bag, intentionally ignoring Harbinger town history laying beside it. Sure, they were angry now, but they’d understand soon enough.
“If a ouija board isn’t going to get me the answers I need, then summoning them directly is the only way,” Iris muttered, looking over her bag’s contents. “Salt…knife…what else?”
A high-pitched laugh carried over the speakers she’d unplugged twelve hours ago.
“Shut up!” Iris yelled. “God, just shut up! Sending you back is the next thing on my to-do list, you little shit!”
She picked up her bag and dagger and stormed outside, not even bothering to lock the heavy wooden door behind her. It was freezing cold outside, but she barely felt it as she made her way down the sidewalk, passing the closed, empty shops of downtown New Winslow. She’d forgotten it was midnight.
Roman was locking up the House of Pizza as she passed. “Hi, Iris,” he said in a polite, distant voice. “Merry Christmas.”
“Fuck you, Roman,” Iris spat.
Roman blinked at her, then turned back to the door. “Right.”
She started to walk away, then heard him call, “Iris, where are you going with a dagger?”
Iris whirled around. “I’m going to go do exactly what I need to do,” she snapped. “What I’ve studied for years and you know exactly nothing about. I’m going to go find out exactly who or what is cursing this town and if I have to summon them directly, that’s what I’ll do.”
Roman’s face went from aggressively passive to livid. “Summon them?” he repeated. “Iris, are you out of your goddamn mind?”
“I have everything under control, Roman,” Iris said, trying to keep her voice smooth. “Go back to your stupid family and your boring little life. I’ll go do what I do best.”
Roman stepped in front of her, and she did her best not to flinch. “First,” he said in a low voice, “Don’t you ever speak about my family like that. I like you, Iris, despite what you seem to think. But nobody talks about my family like that. Ever.”
She resisted the urge to apologize. “Second,” Roman continued, “please don’t do this. Do you honestly think I never tried to figure it out? Seriously? I almost destroyed my life trying to find a way out. Summoning something like this is just asking for trouble. If this something is powerful enough to put a curse on a whole town for generations and is willing to do so, then it’s way more powerful than we can possibly stand up against. This isn’t some townsperson with a grudge. This is demonic. Summoning it will put you and the town in danger. Please don’t do this.”
Iris took a deep breath. “I have it under control,” she repeated, hating the way her voice shook slightly. “You might not be able to hold your own against a supernatural being, but I’m trained. Despite what you seem to think, I’m an expert and capable of doing this.”
“Iris, please,” Roman repeated, sounding more scared than angry now. “Just wait. Think about it. There’s no reason it has to be tonight, right? So why not just go back to your store and do a little more planning?”
Before Iris could respond, she heard the sound of a window breaking a few buildings down. Malicious laughter floated on the sharp wind toward them.
“What was that?” Roman asked. “Was that your shop?”
Iris felt her confidence deflate. “It was nothing,” she said.
“It was nothing,” Iris repeated firmly. “Goodbye, Roman.”
She ducked around Roman and began walking away in a brisk manner she hoped exuded courage. She heard him calling to her, but ignored him and slipped onto the next side street.
Once she was sure Roman wasn’t following, Iris sighed and sagged against the stone wall of what she realized was the New Winslow Town Cemetery. No spirits were lingering tonight, at least not any she could see. After a few deep, calming breaths, she straightened up and began walking back to her shop. The only sounds were the crunching snow under her feet and the occasional giggle on the wind.