Iris hadn’t done anything more than observe on the fourth floor since the disastrous night she and Olivia Walker had been up here. Sitting on the floor now with her Ouija board, she thought slightly guilty about how she hadn’t checked in with Olivia in a little while. Maybe she should see if there were any effects still lingering. But then, Olivia had said she didn’t want anything to do with this work anymore, so she was probably fine on her own.
And for now, Iris had to focus. This ghost, the repetitive one with just enough variation, it had to be Billy McBride. The young sailor who died at sea must have returned to his childhood home. This house had been next door to the Alderidge house, so if she could get in touch with Billy, maybe she could solve two issues at the same time. The Countess would be cleared of agitated spirits and maybe he could shed some light on the hotel situation.
“Billy McBride,” Iris said as she slid the last obsidian stone onto the edge of the salt circle she’d drawn. “Can you hear me?”
After the disaster that was, and continued to be Roland, she was taking precautions this time. With her luck, she’d resurrect Roland’s BFF or something. So now here she was, surrounded by salt and crystals. She wished she could use incense, but Anna had told her the fire suppression system was very sensitive and that risked a disaster. She didn’t even have a real candle, just some battery-operated tea lights that flickered on the floor in front of her.
“I’m trying to speak to Billy McBride. Is Billy here now?”
The planchette remained motionless under her fingers and the room was silent except for the sound of rain pounding the ceiling. But only three hours ago, someone had mentioned hearing the footsteps up here, so it wasn’t like he’d left. Iris took a deep breath, trying to clear her mind and focus on the task at hand.
“Billy, are you here?” she tried again. “I mean no harm, I just want to talk to you.”
Not even a twitch. It wasn’t the board, she’d borrowed it from Anna who told her she’d had multiple conversations with spirits through it. And it wasn’t her preparation. Iris didn’t use Ouija boards often, but she put up wards on a regular basis. She knew her protections were strong. So the only explanation was that Billy wasn’t feeling chatty tonight.
“I’m calling on the spirit of Billy McBride,” Iris intoned, filling her voice with confidence and authority she barely felt. “Will the soul of Billy McBride talk to me tonight?”
She stopped as an appropriate rumble of thunder sounded from outside. But still, the planchette lay uselessly on the board.
Fine, she could give him a little time. But she’d get him to talk eventually. Instead of stressing out, Iris began turning off the tea lights.
“Leaving tomorrow, huh?”
McMann’s rough voice behind him made Noah jump and turn away from the window he was staring out at the rain coming down. “Uh, yeah,” he said, turning back to look out into the darkness. “Yeah, I guess I am.”
McMann laughed, the sound open and free and tinged with thirty years of cigarettes. “Me neither,” he admitted.
“Are you leaving tomorrow?” Noah asked.
He’d thought he wanted to be alone with his thoughts and his nerves, but having another person here was actually kind of calming. Even if it was McMann, who had made it clear that he was more excited for Noah’s release than Noah was, at least for the thought of a good night’s sleep uninterrupted by screams from the bunk below him.
“Nah,” McMann said. “I’ve got another few days. My oldest son’s gonna pick me up. You got someone to get you?”
“My friend is coming.”
McMann peered out into the inky blackness. “Damn streetlight’s out,” he muttered.
“I tell you what though,” McMann said. “Once I’m out of here, I’m out of here. This is my second go and I’m not putting myself or my kids through a third. You got kids?”
“No,” Noah said.
“You got anyone to go home to?”
“Best friend and her kid live downstairs,” Noah replied.
Was Andrew still there? Not that it mattered.
“Good. Good to have the support. You can wake them up screaming every night, you creepy little shit.”
The words were said with enough begrudging affection that Noah had to laugh despite the humiliation. He had, in fact, woken McMann up multiple times screaming in his sleep. McMann laughed too.
“You got this,” he said.
“You do too,” Noah replied.
“Damn right I do.”
With that, McMann walked away, leaving Noah gazing out the window.
Tomorrow, he thought. Eleven o’clock tomorrow morning, Liv was going to be here to get him. It felt unreal in the same way that rehab had felt unreal as he’d made that desperate phone call a month and a half ago. But now, with the alcohol out of his system and the comfort of a structured routine, this place felt like his real life.
What was going to happen when he left? He didn’t have the audacity to just slide back into place as though nothing had happened. God, Liv shouldn’t even have to get him tomorrow. He was perfectly capable of getting a cab home.
A cab that would likely be met at the town line by Charlie. Who’d driven Noah’s wasted ass home on one evening he vaguely remembered last summer.
Noah cringed, but he knew it was far from the last time that was going to happen. He was going back to the place where he’d fallen apart. People were going to treat him differently from now on. Some might be overly concerned and others were just going to mock him. But could he eventually come back from the way he’d wrecked his reputation in town? Noah genuinely didn’t know. And Noah wasn’t even sure he wanted Olivia to know that he’d spent extra time here because he’d spent almost a week on suicide watch after blurting out in a therapy session that he saw suicide as a possibility in the near future. She’d spent enough time worrying about him and he felt much more stable now, so maybe he’d keep that to himself. If anyone even asked about rehab, anyway.
Something seemed to move in the darkness and Noah finally remembered to blink his dry eyes. He shook his head, then got up from the chair and stretched.
If his eyes were playing tricks on him, it was time to go to bed. A few hours from now, he’d be in a whole new world. And contrary to what he’d thought before, maybe he actually needed to take care of himself if he was going to survive in it.