“You know you were going about it all wrong, right?”
Once again, Iris was trying to work. And once again, Vivien was made a dramatic entrance as she slipped in the door of the sitting room.
Iris looked up from the Harbinger, which she was reading for a third time in hopes of even of hint of more information about Billy McBride. “Going about what all wrong?” she asked.
“Contacting the McBride boy. I know you were trying to reach him, I could feel the energy throughout the house.”
Iris suppressed a sigh. “What do you think went wrong?”
Vivien sat down across from her and examined one fuchsia fingernail as she spoke. “He’s a kid,” she said. “A kid’s not going to want to come out for the same things that an adult would. So you need to summon a kid.”
Iris thought about it for a second. “That doesn’t make sense,” she said finally.
Irritation flashed across Vivien’s face. “I don’t get what’s so hard to understand,” she said. “The boy was eighteen. Are you still interested in the same things that caught your attention at eighteen?”
Iris was about to admit that yes, she absolutely was. In fact, she’d made a career out of those things. But Vivien carried on. “You have to talk to him on his level,” she said. “What would bring in an eighteen-year-old, make him willing to come back and chat?”
“Where did you learn about this?” Iris asked. “I have to be honest, I’ve trained with a lot of different people and I’ve never heard that you should consider ages like this. Plus, aren’t a lot of kid ghosts actually demons?”
Vivien waved her off. “It’s always worked for me,” she said. “Anyway, I wanted to let you know that I’m willing to contact him for you. I’d have to do it tonight though.”
Of course she would. Iris was supposed to be meeting Roman and Andrew for a ritual tonight. But that wasn’t until the moon was high, so she had time.
“When tonight?” she asked.
“I’m teaching a class online later, so it’ll have to be early,” Vivien said. “Are you free right now?”
She was now, apparently. Before Iris could answer, Vivien smiled. “Thought so,” she said. “I’ll see you on the fourth floor.”
She walked out, her skirt fluttering behind her. Hope mingled with irritation in Iris’s mind as she got up and followed her toward the stairs.
“Do you think you could break the curse?” she asked as she caught up with Vivien.
Vivien looked over and smiled at Iris. “Of course.”
No hesitation, no request for more information. Just easy confidence. Iris wasn’t sure whether she should be relieved or more nervous than she was. “What would you have to do?” she asked as they turned on the landing toward the next set of stairs.
Vivien thought for a second. “Well,” she started, “I’d have to go into the town, I suppose. Feel its energy, see what needs to be cleansed. It would be simple. If you’d like, we can go investigate after we correctly summon little Billy.”
Something ugly twisted in Iris’s chest. But if she resisted rising to the bait, maybe she’d be able to break the curse quickly and avoid dealing with Baxter. So instead of telling Vivien exactly how she felt, she plastered on a smile. “Sounds good,” she said.
“Of course, we can wait until after the ritual you’ve already planned for tonight,” Vivien said. “I suppose it’s worth a shot still.”
“Do you feel the presence in the room?” Vivien whispered.
The bedroom on the fourth floor was dark, with the heavy curtains pulled across the windows to blot out any light from outside. Vivien had brought her own spirit board and placed it in the center of the threadbare rug, insisting that Iris sit across from her on the floor. Instead of candles, Iris had placed several tiny battery-operated tea lights on the floor around the two of them and the tiny lights illuminated the spirit board between them and nothing else.
On the surface, Vivien’s approach was similar to Iris’s. She used the spirit board, but dove right into the meat of the ritual without any sort of buildup. She summoned Billy McBride in a tone that reminded Iris of an angry mother lecturing a disobedient son. At first, Iris thought nothing was going to happen. But she began to feel a tug in the air as Vivien worked, like the other woman was a magnet drawing in some kind of energy to herself.
Iris took a breath and cast her awareness out into the room. “I do,” she whispered back. “It feels…I can’t quite tell yet.”
But then it was there, so solid that it might as well be standing beside her. Iris glanced over and saw the figure standing a mere foot away from them. She screamed, jumping backward.
“What is it?” Vivien exclaimed.
Iris pointed a shaking finger at the figure as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a vial of holy water. “Who are you?” she demanded.
The figure didn’t speak. Nor did it try to communicate in any other way. As its body became slightly less solid, Iris felt her chest loosen a little. But that was short-lived as she noticed another figure appearing through the fading torso of the first one.
“How many did you summon?” she whispered to Vivien.
“Just one,” Vivien said, eyes tightly closed. “I’m still waiting for a response.”
“It’s here,” Iris said, voice a little louder now. “And it brought friends.”
Vivien opened her eyes. “What are you talking about?” she asked. “I don’t see anything.”
Irritation started drowning out some of the terror Iris was feeling. “You don’t see that?” she demanded, pointing at the first figure. “Or that one?”
Another figure shimmered into view near the dresser. “Or that?”
Vivien squinted into the dim room, then flipped on the flashlight of her cell phone. In the sudden light, Iris could see there were now four figures. “Oh,” Vivien said.
“It’s fine,” Vivien said. “I’ll fix it. Um…”
She looked around the room as though waiting for the answer to come to her. Iris rolled her eyes.
“Salt the room,” she said. “We can’t let them out. Take this and put a full circle around the edges of the room.”
She handed Vivien a canister of salt. She took it and Iris waved her into action. Then she began taking out her cleansing supplies, grateful she’d remembered to bring her bag up with her.
This was going to take a long time. And judging by the way Vivien had already missed a wide section of the room with the salt, it was going to be mostly on Iris to fix it. She just had to hope that Anna and Missy were too busy to come up and see what was happening.