Iris’s voice pulled Roman out of the giant tome of ancient curses he’d been absorbed in. He blinked, trying to get his eyes to focus on her in the dark as she stood in the doorway of the shop.
“Iris,” Roman greeted. “Hey, sorry, I’ll just be a few more minutes.”
Iris nodded, but she looked hesitant as she took a step into the store, letting the door swing shut behind her. “No, it’s fine,” she said. “It’s just…is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” Roman said quickly. “Why?”
“We wrapped up two hours ago,” she said. “You told me you were going to stay a couple more minutes.”
“Shit, I’m sorry,” Roman said, shaking his head. “I just got caught up in research. I didn’t mean to keep you.”
“You didn’t,” Iris said. “The door locks behind you, I’m not concerned about that. But it’s…”
His eyes were burning from focusing on the small, faded print for so long. He rubbed at them while Iris clearly tried to find the words for something that she thought was going to irritate him.
“This is the third time you’ve gotten caught up in research in the past few weeks,” she said. “I know this isn’t a newfound passion for the occult. And please don’t get mad at me for saying this, but you look exhausted.”
She eyed him cautiously, like she was expecting him to get mad. And to be fair, he couldn’t ignore the flash of irritation that sizzled through him at her words. But instead of snapping, he sighed.
“You’re right,” he said.
He tried to ignore the look of surprise on her face as he admitted this. “I’m fine, I swear,” he continued. “I’m just…I need to solve this. Not just for me. But for a lot of reasons.”
Iris looked unsure how to respond. He stood up and closed the book, ignoring the puff of dust that rose up as he did so. “I’ll head out now,” he said. “See you Thursday?”
Iris nodded uncertainly. “Yeah,” she said. “See you then. Have a good night, Roman.”
“You too, Iris.”
He walked out the door and heard the latch fall into place behind him as he stepped into the cool late night air. He wasn’t quite sure what time it was, but it felt like midnight. As Roman walked toward the sidewalk, he yawned and stretched, joints cracking.
He should go home, shouldn’t he? But he had a few more things he wanted to look into before he went to bed. And if he went home, Celine would see exactly what Iris had seen and force him to go to bed.
Well, not force. But strongly encourage in a way he knew he was powerless against.
Maybe he’d head over to the House of Pizza. It was closed now, nobody would bother him and he could use the computer in the back to continue to look into the location-based curses he’d been looking at.
Roman’s head throbbed and he winced. He had to be at the shop at eight tomorrow, he should really go home and sleep. But then he thought about Minnie, who was probably lying awake in bed right now. She didn’t sleep much these days, he knew. Even with the nurse coming in and the painkillers, she still slept lightly.
And wished to see the ocean one more time.
No, he could work a little longer. If it bought even the chance of getting her out of here before she died, he’d stay up all night and just tell Celine he went in early.
Satisfied, he turned in the direction of the House of Pizza and started walking.
Noah was sitting in the backyard, gazing out at the woods. He didn’t feel drunk right now. He’d been drinking steadily throughout the day, but honestly, it had just been to keep himself on an even keel. Sitting here now, he felt clumsy and a little numb, but not wasted.
Now that he wasn’t working beyond a few odd jobs, there wasn’t anything to stop him from drinking all day if he chose to. It was pathetic and embarrassing, but he had no intention of stopping. Not after he’d failed so badly before. Now he was both ashamed of himself and relieved he hadn’t told any of the others that he’d planned to quit. Clearly he couldn’t do it, he was too weak to do it on his own.
In a way, it was almost freeing. He’d tried, and it didn’t work. So now he could just give up.
He was a real piece of shit.
He hadn’t actually seen Mia in weeks. He’d hear her sometimes, crying through the vents late at night. He’d also hear Olivia sometimes. But it wasn’t like he could do anything about it. Olivia wanted nothing to do with him now, and he didn’t blame her.
He heard the door open and then footsteps coming down the steps from Olivia’s house. He hesitated, then turned around.
“Hey,” Olivia said.
She was holding a trash bag and wearing flip-flops. He waved. “Hey.”
She looked like she was about to say something else, then stopped. “Are you drunk?” she asked, a slight bite in her words.
He shrugged. “Nah.”
She didn’t believe him. It was obvious and stabbed at him. She opened her mouth, then closed it, like she didn’t want to say something she might regret. Then she shook her head and walked away.
Noah stood up, dusted off his pants, and started heading toward his own apartment.
Now he was going to get drunk.
Iris had insisted that Andrew needed to gaze into the mirror for a few minutes in order to charge it before they began the ritual. After five months of working with her, he was less inclined to dismiss anything she told him to do. While the curse still held him firmly in New Winslow, he’d seen the side effects of the various spells she had cast and helped him cast over the past few months. So he knew this was real.
But staring at his own reflection for this long was painful.
It didn’t help that they were in the middle of the shop, with Andrew sitting within a protective circle of salt. The air smelled of sage and cedar around him, and his eyes burned a little from the smoke of the incense Iris was burning just outside of the salt circle.
“Don’t look at me,” Iris said as she passed through his peripheral vision. “Keep your eyes on the mirror. Keep your breathing steady and focus on passing your energy into the mirror.”
He nodded, eyes still fixed on his own bloody reflection. He had some acne on his chin. That certainly hadn’t been there yesterday, had it? He was in his mid-thirties, why was acne still a problem?
He turned back to his own eyes in the mirror and tried to imagine a beam of light connecting his real gaze to that of the reflection. The white light he’d spent hours honing while laying on the daybed at night, trying to sleep. It was going into the mirror, being absorbed into its surface and charging the mirror to break the curse.
He breathed deeply and let it out in a warm, slow cloud toward the mirror. Then took another and another.
It was simple, sure. But so was the curse, in a way. He had been able to leave town. Then he was cursed. Now he couldn’t leave town.
So why did the solution need to be complicated?
Where was Roman? He had been here last night when they’d been planning this out, but hadn’t committed to it. He’d actually seemed somewhat skeptical. Wasn’t his wife a witch? What was his problem?
The energy. Leaving him and going into the mirror. Bouncing off of the mirror and returning the curse to its origin. Whatever that happened to be.
He saw Iris gradually slowing down her rotations around the salt circle. That probably meant it had been long enough. She’d said five to ten minutes and the moments had all melted together as he had sat here trying not to contemplate the spots on his face.
Andrew’s eyes flicked over to the candle burning on the table beside him. The flame was still going strong.
“Should I blow that out?” Andrew asked.
“Do you feel like the spell’s charged?”
Andrew swallowed the response that was bubbling up and tried to take this seriously. His escape depended on it, after all. So he took a moment, mentally scanning himself for any signals.
“I think so,” he said truthfully.
“Then blow it out.”
He leaned over and gently blew out the candle, leaving them bathed in the eerie light of the display cases.
The mirror didn’t look any different than it had before he’d charged it, but Andrew reckoned that made sense. The next step was to bury it somewhere far from his home.
Easy enough to do, considering home was fifty miles away. But still, he’d keep it away from Olivia’s house.
“Alright, I’m off to bury this in the woods,” Andrew said.
“What, now?” Iris asked, setting the incense burner down on a small table.
He shrugged. “What, is a ghost going to get me?”
“No, but a bear might.”
Damn, she was right. Andrew sighed. “What should I do with it?” he asked. “I don’t want to bring anything into the house. Not with Mia there.”
“Leave it here,” Iris said. “It’ll be safe in the shop. Come back in the morning and bury it. The waxing moon won’t be going anywhere by tomorrow morning so once it’s buried, we can see if it worked.”
Andrew nodded, trying not to let his apprehension show. There was no way this worked. Not because magic didn’t exist. He was living proof that it did. But because this all felt piddly, like trying to drain a lake with a bucket.
But if they only had the bucket, what other choice did he have?