“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know anyone was in here.”
Iris had left the Countess’s sitting room just long enough to get some water. And in that time, someone else had sat down in her chair. The surprise at this was tinged with frustration, since she’d very clearly left four books, her laptop, and her jacket at the seat. But apparently that wasn’t clear enough to this elegantly dressed interloper.
“Oh dear,” the woman said. “I’m in your seat, aren’t I? Oh, just let me-”
She hopped out of the seat, gliding over to the empty chair on the other side of the small table. An improvement, though not by much. But the woman brushed her long dark hair back behind her ears and smiled widely at Iris.
Iris smiled back in a way that she hoped came across as polite, then sat back down. The book she had open, a broader history of the region, was proving to be useless. But she’d be getting back to the Harbinger as soon as she finished reading it. It had been two days since she’d found those details about the Alderidge family and the hotel, but the rest of the book was a dense, tangled mess of facts and opinions about the town that she was still trying to parse through. While she’d wanted to jump immediately back into it, she had to check some details for a ritual she was hoping to do with Andrew some time soon.
“I see you’ve got Evelyn’s book there,” the woman said, nodding at the Harbinger where it sat on the table.
Iris frowned. “You knew her?”
“I know her. Well, I know her somewhat.”
Ignoring the present tense for a woman that had clearly been dead for decades, Iris nodded. “Only met her a couple times. On the spirit plane, of course,” the woman continued, looking knowingly at Iris. “Kind woman. Very smart. She wrote about the history of this building too.”
Iris had been about to politely return to her work, but this could prove useful. “Oh?” she asked.
“Oh yes,” the woman said, now fiddling with a quarter, running it between her fingers in a shockingly agile way. “It wasn’t always here in Petersham. It used to be over in New Winslow. Strange town. Did you know it’s cursed?”
“Yes, I did.”
The woman’s face stayed neutral, but Iris could feel her irritation at Iris’s answer and she wished the woman would just leave. “The McBrides owned it then,” the woman said, still running the coin through her fingers as she settled into the rhythm of her story. “Good family, father was a ship captain. Their boy died at sea and they never recovered. Sold the house and moved away. Sad, really. The boy, Billy, he was so young.”
If this was the McBride house, then the spirit she was sensing upstairs must be Billy McBride, still lingering decades later. She’d have to wait and confirm that with Missy and Anna though. This woman seemed confident enough, but that didn’t mean Iris was going to believe everything she said.
“And he lived here?” Iris asked.
The quarter kept spinning. “His whole life,” the woman replied. “I imagine the house would have been his if he’d outlived his father and not the other way around. Parents should never outlive their children. It isn’t natural.”
Iris wasn’t quite sure what to say, but the woman didn’t seem to mind her silence. “That’s so sad,” she finally said.
They were silent for a moment. Iris glanced over and realized that it wasn’t a quarter, it was some kind of old silver coin. And the woman was just gazing distantly into the pool of light thrown on the table by the lamp between them as she spun it over and over around her hand.
“I’m hungry,” the woman announced, catching the coin and looking at Iris. “It’s been a while since I’ve stayed here, do you know anywhere in town that sells good food? I could use a sandwich on some good bread.”
“I think there’s a general store?” Iris said. “But you’d probably want to ask the owners.”
“The thing about magic is, magic makes you hungry.”
Once again, how was she supposed to respond to that? But the woman clearly wasn’t looking for a response. If anything, she was looking for an audience. “It takes energy,” she continued.
Iris wasn’t about to start that conversation, wasn’t about to say that she owned a magic shop and had been practicing for years. She understood energy, maybe even better than this woman did. “You use the energy you already have to clean the other energy away,” the woman continued, a smile spreading across her face. “Like a sponge, wiping it all away.”
She mimicked a wiping motion with her hands, running them slowly over each other. Then she snapped and the sparks that flew from her fingers nearly made Iris fall out of her chair in shock. The woman winked at Iris and walked away.
Iris sat silently for a moment, wondering what the hell just happened. The glow from the woman’s fingers was still burned into her retinas, flaring back up every time she blinked. The competitive part of her wanted to go home and learn exactly how to do that trick herself. But she still had work to do. And even if she had to slog through a few chapters of nothingness to get the information she needed, she was getting it tonight. So she picked up the Harbinger and opened up where she’d left off.
Jacob McBride was well known for his skill and experience on the sea. His grand house was one of five on the edge of town, making a previously undesirable point of land an enviable position for the citizens of New Winslow. With four storeys and turrets with handmade stained glass windows, the home was the largest in New Winslow until the Alderidge house was built only a single lot over. But despite the possibility of neighborly tensions, the Alderidge family and the McBride family were known to be close friends. This lasted until the untimely death of Billy McBride, after which the McBride family left town as soon as they could. The building was later moved – at considerable expense – to nearby Petersham where it is currently a private residence.
So the lady was right about that. The confirmation should have come as a relief, but Iris just felt irritated that this woman with her magic tricks had been right.