New Winslow S7E22
Iris’s shop was the second to last place Noah wanted to be right now. But the other option she’d mentioned was the absolute last place he wanted to go. At first, Iris had asked him to drive to the Countess with her. If Billy McBride was still connected to him somehow – and apparently the running theory was that he was by blood – then she suspected that he’d be more likely to answer their call in his home. However, Noah knew that if he went back there right now, after everything that had happened, nothing good was going to come of it.
He was pushing his luck already by being back here in the shop with Iris. The neon display lights and the scent of orchids made him dizzy. Everything was the same as it had been last time, when they’d cracked open the mystery of what he was seeing when he was sleepwalking. Even that slightly rusted folding chair was still there, though it was folded and leaning against the wall.
“It’s a pretty simple ritual,” Iris was saying. “Normally I’d have you stay on the outside of the salt circle, but since you’re the connection, I think you should be in it with me.”
“What do I need to do?” Noah asked, bracing himself.
“Nothing,” Iris replied, to his immense relief. “Just stay in here with me.”
Liv was still going to be furious, but at least this time he didn’t even have the option to make a rash decision. Noah hung awkwardly around the counter as Iris gathered her supplies, looking around the space. This was where Andrew had spent much of the last couple years. Noah had seen Andrew with his neat little name tag, but couldn’t really envision him working here, stocking shelves and politely answering customer questions.
The idea that Andrew was actually involved in any kind of magic was something that still rattled Noah, despite everything he’d seen. Probably because he had been too drunk to actually see it develop. By the time he’d sobered up, Andrew had been putting up protective charms and getting a steady paycheck for the work.
Noah felt a little useless as Iris took out a canister of supermarket salt and spread a wide circle of it around the space, making it as neat as possible even as she had to shift around a shelf full of spell books. She set out a spirit board and lit some candles, motioning for Noah to step inside the circle with her.
His phone buzzed in his pocket and he knew it was Liv. He hadn’t seen her all day. But he wasn’t due at the Limerick for two more hours. He was tempted to leave it, but that was the best way to get her to show up here looking for him. He’d answer, they’d do this, then he’d leave this place and hope it didn’t show up in his dreams tonight.
Are you alright?
Noah answered quickly, keeping it vague and knowing he’d pay for it later. “I’m ready,” Iris said as he put his phone away. “Are you?”
“I guess?” Noah said. “I still don’t know exactly what you want me to do.”
“Just be connected,” Iris said.
She’d promised there was no chance he’d get possessed, but Noah knew Iris’s promises weren’t worth shit. He should have told Andrew he’d be here, at least. Andrew wouldn’t be happy either, but he hadn’t had to deal with the consequences of getting possessed the way Liv had, so he wouldn’t be as scared. At least Noah was pretty sure he wouldn’t.
But he was here now, so it didn’t matter if Noah regretted any of his decisions today. “He’s at the house,” she said. “The Countess, it’s his childhood home. But with you here, I think we can reach him from here.”
“He’s been in that house this whole time?” Noah asked. “Jesus, he’s just a kid.”
He swallowed hard, the sudden image of a lonely kid wandering the halls of that place too clear in his mind. Iris began talking, her voice softer and less demanding than Noah would have expected for this kind of thing. She stared into the flame, her gaze soft as she spoke, calling on Billy and telling him she was here to talk to him when he was ready. Then, still transfixed, she placed her fingers on the planchette.
There was a crackle of energy, nothing that Noah could see. But it sizzled in his ears and he shivered as the planchette moved under her hand.
“Billy, is that you?” Iris asked.
Noah shuddered again as the planchette repeated its pattern. H…O…M…E.
“I don’t understand,” Iris said. “Are you at your home? Are you at the Countess?”
There was a sharp crack, and Iris jerked away from the planchette with a cry of pain. Noah moved on instinct, grabbing her injured hand. Her index and middle finger were burned, blisters already forming. “Jesus,” he muttered.
Iris shushed him, motioning toward the planchette, which was still moving on its own, swooping across the board in the same pattern, gathering speed as it went.
And then it flew off the board, shattering a glass ball sitting on a nearby shelf. The crackling energy within the circle dropped so quickly that Noah’s ears were ringing, and by the way Iris flinched, he knew it was the same for her. She ducked out of the circle, gingerly picked up the planchette, and set it on the board, nudging it toward GOODBYE. Then she blew out the candle to end the ritual. It was only then that she grabbed her burned hand and swore.
“Do you have a first aid kit?” Noah asked.
“I have Band-Aids somewhere,” Iris said, waving him off. “It’s fine, I’ll get them in a minute.”
She got a broom and dustpan from beside the counter and began sweeping up the salt. “I guess that proves you’re connected,” she said. “Do you know your family history?”
“Not really?” Noah said, getting the dustpan and holding it in place as she swept the salt into it. “So that poor kid is just trapped over at that creepy mansion?”
“It’s complicated,” Iris said, looking up at him from where she was crouched, trying to get every grain of salt up. “I don’t know everything about it, but it’s like…there’s a difference between something being haunted and it being an anchor for a spirit. Like, a beloved home can be an anchor. Or just something with a strong, positive connection. The spirit is at rest, but that link still exists. But if a spirit’s connected to something and not at rest, that’s a more traditional haunting.”
“So this kid isn’t at rest? Never has been?”
“I don’t know,” Iris admitted as she took the dustpan from Noah and knocked the salt into the trashcan behind her counter. “If we can get him to talk to us more coherently, we can ask. But there’s a connection here. And maybe…”
Iris trailed off for a second, eyeing Noah in that way he knew meant the rest of his day was going to suck.
“What?” he asked, bracing himself.
“Can I try something?”
“You’re not going to hypnotize me again, are you?”
“No, nothing like that,” she said. “I just want to see if I can see…”
She went silent, already moving her hands up to the sides of his head. He considered moving, adrenaline already flooding him as images of ocean waves filled his vision, but what was the point of doing any of this if he wasn’t going to take any possible opportunity to help Andrew? So he took a sharp breath, shook them off, and let her work.
The burned fingers felt hotter than the other hand as Iris pressed gently down on his temples and closed her eyes. Her face was close to his chest, and he awkwardly looked down at her as she took a deep breath, then another. Then she opened her eyes.
“I’m seeing the exterior of the Countess,” she said, looking up at him. “The yard is different, but the house is the same, it must be when it was in New Winslow. I get the feeling that it is actually a blood thing, you’re related to Billy somehow. Are your parents from New Winslow?”
“My dad was from Michigan originally,” Noah said. “He moved here when he was young.”
“What about your mother?”
Ah, his favorite topic. “I think she’s from here.”
“Can you ask her about her family history?”
“We’re not…we don’t really speak.”
Iris winced. “I’m sorry.”
Of all things, that was what she apologized for? Noah would never understand her. “I guess I can try,” he said. “No promises though.”
“If she’s from here, then her birth records would be accessible at town hall or the library,” Iris said thoughtfully, looking down at her injured fingers. “It’d take longer, but that might work.”
Noah already felt obligated to call now, though. But that would have to be after he confessed to Andrew and Liv where he’d been this morning. After the events of the past few weeks – hell, the past two years – there was no way he could not. So once they had completely cleaned the protective circle and its contents, Noah walked out of Forest Charms and prepared for the next part of his day.