Early in the morning and Nancy was opening the general store. Apparently frigging Kelly had actually been by to get the trash this morning since Oscar was out of town and the alley was clear. Small favors to start another miserable day in this miserable little town.
She put her key in the lock, turned it, and opened the door. As she was about to step inside, there was a sound of shattering glass somewhere deep inside the dark store. Then another. And another. All coming gradually toward her.
There was no such thing as ghosts, Nancy sniffed as she closed the door and relocked it. But that didn’t mean she was about to go in there.
She didn’t get paid nearly enough for that.
The school was mostly empty by this point in the year, but the locker rooms were still in use. Last minute practices, stragglers emptying out their lockers, coaches finishing up the season. So it didn’t really surprise Coach Keene when she heard the sound of a shower turning on.
But after about fifteen minutes, she realized the shower was still going. That was suspicious. None of her girls would willingly spend fifteen minutes in a locker room shower, and it wasn’t like there were classes today that they needed to clean up for.
She stood up and started walking toward the shower bank, her footsteps clipping and echoing in the empty space. The shower was still hissing as she made her way toward it.
Then there was silence. None of the showers were running as she reached the stalls. They weren’t even wet.
Then suddenly all three showers turned on in unison, blasting water and scalding steam into the air.
Coach Keene ran.
David Raine had never gotten hit with the curse before, even after forty years in New Winslow. So of course it had to strike now, just as he was leaving town for an important business trip.
David swore and kicked the side of his car as it idled by the town line. Of course it was today. Obviously. And it wasn’t like the other guys were going to believe him when he said he was trapped in his cursed hometown.
He should have moved to Buffalo like his sister and parents.
And now, as if to add the shit cherry to his sundae, long scratches were forming along the sides of his car, as though invisible talons were tearing into the steel. David stumbled back, bumping painfully into the invisible barrier of the town line as his tires popped and hissed, deflating one after the other.
Fuck this, he thought, turning and running back into town. He’d just tell them it was car trouble.
Charles Baxter parked his car outside of town hall and sat behind the wheel for a moment. There was a town meeting tonight. Over the past couple months, he’d managed to have an entire meeting without any interruptions from anyone about the godforsaken town curse. While Amalia Degas’s apparent increased activity with Iris Davies was concerning, none of it had shown up on his front step yet. Maybe they could get another month of peace?
He got out of the car, his mind now on the hours of meetings ahead of him today. He was so distracted that he almost didn’t notice the graffiti on the front door. He stopped, then sighed.
An enormous spray-painted penis covered the glass of the front door. It splashed over the building’s hours of operations and spread onto the brick beside the door. Town Hall had been open for forty-five minutes. There was no way that this hadn’t been seen by at least a dozen people so far.
Unfortunately, there was probably no way he could blame this on Iris, was there?
Hugh stood alone in Keegan’s Pub. It was only his fifth shift, but he’d come in to do some morning prep work before Olivia arrived. He was a little surprised that Bret or Olivia were comfortable with him being in the building alone after only a few days. But Bret hadn’t shown up since he’d introduced Hugh and Olivia anyway, so maybe that wasn’t so surprising.
He smiled to himself as he shelved the boxes of vegetables he’d brought into the walk-in fridge with him. Olivia was cute. She clearly needed a vacation and a full night’s sleep, but she seemed like a sweet person. It was a shame she was his boss. He needed the job too much to risk it by asking her out.
He pushed the walk-in door, expecting it to slide open easily. But instead, he jarred his shoulder while staying firmly closed. His smile faded into a frown as he took the knob and shoved it. But the door stayed shut.
Dammit. Now he was going to have to call Olivia to help him out of the walk-in on his first morning here alone. He sighed, fishing out his phone and scrolling through his contacts.
Just as he was about to hit Send, the door swung open, dumping him onto the tiled floor of the kitchen.
Hugh stood up, looking around cautiously. But nobody seemed to be in the building but him.
He slid his phone back into his pocket. On second thought, there was no reason to bother Olivia with this.
Iris was shelving the new order of crystals that had come in that morning. The shop was empty for the first time in hours, the gentle music playing over the speakers to nobody.
She straightened up a small display of obsidian and glanced toward the door. Andrew was due to arrive in a few minutes. Once he was settled, she could go to the bank and then grab a quick lunch.
Her thoughts were occupied by the rhythmic motion of shelving and the different lunch possibilities that leaving New Winslow to go to the bank would provide. It took her a moment to recognize the psychic crackle around the store.
Roland. He’d tried to get in again and been rejected by the wards she’d put in place. She mentally added updating the wards to her to-do list for the day and tried to return her focus to her work.
Roland would have to be dealt with, she knew. But maybe she could just push it off a little longer.
Olivia was in the front yard, sitting in a lawn chair as Mia played in a blue plastic wading pool. The June sun was strong, beaming down on them from directly overhead. And even with the sunscreen she’d put on, Olivia knew her shoulders were burning. But Mia was splashing in the water in her frilly bathing suit and having so much fun that Olivia didn’t have the heart to make her stop. So instead, Olivia followed the shade as much as possible.
If she had a coffee shop, she’d have an entire summer line of drinks, she thought as Mia tossed a toy car out of the pool, then poured water after it. Coffee, tea, and espresso drinks of course, but also some mocktails. Maybe frozen lemonades. The general store didn’t do anything special for summer, so it wasn’t like she’d be stepping on anybody’s toes.
Mia shrieked as the water spilled out of the cup she was holding and landed on her belly. Olivia watched for a second to make sure it was a happy screech.
That’s when she noticed the ghost.
She was a young woman, maybe Olivia’s age. Maybe a little younger. She stood by Noah’s truck, watching Mia play in the pool with an expression that Olivia couldn’t quite read on her filmy face. She looked like she was really there, taking in the current scene rather than replaying some trauma of her own over and over.
“Hello,” Olivia said quietly.
The ghost looked over at her. Now that Olivia could see her face more clearly, the ghost definitely couldn’t be older than twenty-five.
“Beautiful,” the ghost said.
Then she was gone before Olivia could say another word. Mia didn’t seem to notice anything had happened. She just ripped up a handful of grass and dropped it in the pool, watching the blades as they floated in the waves she created.