“So she’s definitely gone?” Missy asked.
Iris nodded. “Or at least, she says she’ll be leaving,” she said. “It was that painting you have up in that hallway, the landscape with the horses?”
“Oh, that old thing,” Missy muttered.
Anna looked at her with a half-amused, half-annoyed expression that still shimmered with affection. Then she turned back to Iris. “We bought that painting at an estate sale five years ago,” she said. “It wasn’t even anything we were seeking out. We just needed something for that space between the doorways.”
“And Anna got to the cash register with it before I noticed,” Missy chimed in.
“She said that she commissioned it and it belongs to her,” Iris went on as Anna rolled her eyes. “And apparently she was getting mad when people got too close to it. Or when she thought they might take it. But I convinced her that it’s in safe hands and she can move on.”
“And she did?” Anna said.
“She did,” Iris confirmed. “We spoke for a few minutes. I was trying to push her along because she was possessing Olivia, apparently without her consent. But she didn’t put up a fight, just agreed and left. Everything was really straightforward except for what happened with Olivia.”
“That’s an odd one,” Anna said. “It’s normal that some people would have more natural abilities to connect with spirits. But for a spirit to be able to use her body so freely, she must have some strong natural inclinations toward this.”
“Will she be coming back with you?” Missy asked.
“I doubt it,” Iris said. “She hasn’t answered any of my messages in the past couple days beyond letting me know she’s alright. I’m seeing her housemate tonight though, so he might be able to tell me more. But I think she wants out.”
The older women nodded in sympathetic understanding and Missy handed her the glass water jug. Iris poured herself another glass.
“This place is beautiful,” she said, looking around the room.
It was a small parlor with squashy, comfortable chairs set around an antique table. Tall bookshelves loomed over them as they sat around the table, all overstuffed with books.
She was about to mention her confusion over the spirit’s inconsistent repetitious movements when she spotted a familiar title on the shelf directly in front of her. Her heart dropped.
“No way,” Iris breathed, standing up and walking over to the shelf.
The other women watched curiously as she picked up the small leather history and flipped carefully through it. “You have the Harbinger history?” she asked, looking up at them. “I didn’t know there was another copy.”
“Oh, Evelyn Harbinger?” Missy asked, standing up and walking over to where Iris stood, thumbing delicately through the unmarked pages. “There are a few. But you can see, this one’s typed so it’s another edition. I believe the New Winslow Historical Society has the original.”
The bolt of shame that shot through Iris at that almost made her knees buckle. Missy didn’t seem to notice, but Anna must have picked up on something because she gave Iris a brief, curious look, then looked away.
“This building was moved over from New Winslow in the thirties,” Missy continued. “So this volume and a few others came over with it.”
Iris nodded. She’d flipped to the page with the hotel mention, running a finger gently over the words. Then she looked at Missy.
“Was this building the hotel they planned to build?” she asked.
Missy looked confused for a moment. Then she shook her head. “No, this building has been around since the early eighteen-nineties. It was a private home and the owners decided to move it here to Petersham. It was never a hotel when it was located in New Winslow. Why do you ask?”
“The Harbinger,” Iris said, gesturing to the book. “It mentions something about an attempt to build a hotel in New Winslow in the nineteen-twenties to take advantage of the Quabbin Reservoir going in.”
Missy and Anna looked at each other. “No,” Anna said. “I hadn’t heard anything about that. There was a golf club that went in with the purpose of building up the property value before selling it off to the government during the construction. But I’ve never heard anything about a hotel. Is there something you’re researching?”
Iris reluctantly set the book back down on the shelf and sat back down at the table. Missy followed suit. “I’m actually working with some friends to try and solve the New Winslow curse,” Iris said.
The two other women glanced at each other. “Huh,” Missy said. “I always kind of wondered why there wasn’t a more concentrated effort to do that. It seems like something a little large to ignore.”
“Because the town is in absolute denial,” Iris said bitterly. “But two people I know are trapped and one of them has been there over twenty years. And if I can be completely honest, I’m starting to get worried about him.”
“Is there anything we can do to help?” Anna asked.
“Honestly, I’m not sure,” Iris said, picking up her empty water glass. “We’ve been researching and trying every curse breaking spell we can find with no luck. I’m hoping there’s something in the town’s history that might help, I feel like it’s hiding in there somewhere, but I can’t find it.”
“Well, you are welcome to any of our resources,” Anna said, gesturing to the bookshelves. “And we’ve got an array of guests with access and insight that might be able to help. So if you find that there is something we can do to help, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
Iris ran a finger through the condensation on her glass. This was a lead. The Countess was a solid resource that might actually point them in the right direction while all the cleansing spells in the world were failing them.
“Thank you,” Iris said, voice heavy with emotion.
This might actually be the turning point she needed.