Sunday, 19 May 2019, Early Afternoon
Paxwood, Whatcom County, Washington, USA
Eyewitness: Kerry

Through the open repair bay door at Cardoso Auto, I spotted Dominic Cardoso working on a car. I moved close to the wall before he could spot me. Active power tool noises worked to my advantage.

When the pitch and intensity masked the chime, I pushed the office door open to slip through. Less motion, less likely anyone would spot me.

Look, maybe I have a bad eavesdropping habit. I like when I choose whether to reveal myself. Can you blame me, though? People say interesting things when they don’t realize a kid is listening.

“…old boyfriend?” A mezzo voice, unfamiliar. I’d missed the start of the sentence, but Mx. Cardoso’s reply filled in the gaps.

“No, no, Bran made it clear when I chose Paxwood that we were done. If we’re going to talk about our dating lives while we wait for Kerry, how about you and that firefighter?”

“Look, the only reason he even knows I exist is because he saved me the night I lost my arm. And he only followed up because he had questions about the demon prince’s corpse. That’s a terrible basis for a romance.”

I kept close to the wall so Mx. Cardoso and the guest wouldn’t notice me as I eavesdropped. Mx. Cardoso wore a coverall pulled up over their shoulders but still unzipped, revealing a floral-print tee underneath.

The guest also stood behind the counter, leaning casually. Light brown hair, olive skin, but most distinctly, one prosthetic arm. I didn’t mean to stare, but given what the guest had just said, I couldn’t help it. Lost arm. Demon prince corpse. Rescued by a firefighter. The need for the full story swelled inside my chest, overwhelming.

No, I would not reveal myself by immediately asking personal questions. Way too invasive. People didn’t tell stories to gotcha journalists.

“Well, people meet in all kinds of ways, and they’ll use any excuse they can to spend time with someone who catches their eye. I mean, Bran and I–“

Mx. Cardoso cut off, skimming the waiting room, so suddenly that I couldn’t avoid their attention.

“Of course you slipped in.” They grinned. “Rowen, this is Kerry, she/her, intrepid journalist and daughter of the city councilwoman who could use a buyer. Kerry, Rowen Hayward, she/her. Thought you might want to meet your alternative buyer, maybe help us get in touch with the councilwoman.”

“What?” I raised an eyebrow. It made sense, but why did it feel so unexpected?

Because adults said whatever appeased kids? Or, because Mx. Cardoso gave me honest advice to avoid Paxwood House and I didn’t want to eat crow?

“Lucky I was out this way when Alex called me. So, you’re the one who knows all about this Paxwood House.” Her smile faded when she turned her gaze on me. She shivered. “Alex, you feel this?”

Mx. Cardoso made a noncommittal noise, met my eyes. Then they cursed. Actual four letter word. I’d never heard a teacher cuss before. Not only that, Mx. Cardoso didn’t have that strong language persona. More like a family sitcom euphemism vibe.

“You went to Paxwood House, didn’t you?”

I tensed. This was what I’d expected. But the two looked at me like they’d discovered an ancient Tupperware container full of mystery meat and deadly mold.


“I told you not to go there. I warned you it was dangerous.” Mx. Cardoso rounded the counter, pulling something out from their pocket. “Hold Arcie for me, would you? Here, give her some yogurt drops.”

From another pocket, Mx. Cardoso produced a little plastic bag with the milky pink yogurt drops. Next thing I knew, I held the mouse and the treats both. How did we get here?

“I’m… very confused right now,” I admitted.

Rowen came around to touch my shoulder. “Well, let’s clear this up. Magic is real. Alex is a mage. Arcie is their familiar. And when you visit a haunted house, sometimes its ghosts mark you.”

My jaw dropped.

Mx. Cardoso glowered at Rowen.

“You’re the one who told a teenager not to do something instead of explaining what dangers awaited,” Rowen said, matter of fact.

Oh, I liked her.

But Mx. Cardoso had meant well. I could acknowledge that.

“I ignored you and went in unprepared, then Char got hurt,” I said. “I’m… sorry.”

Mx. Cardoso sucked in a breath through their teeth and looked skyward, as if seeking a higher power.

“Thank you for that, Kerry. And, Ro, I don’t like it, but you have a point. Yes, Arcie is my familiar. I use her to help with spells, like the aura cleansing I’m working on you subtly right now. She helps as a magic focus, so I don’t have to light candles or chant in dead languages. People get suspicious about the chanting, but they don’t seem to mind giving treats to pocket pets.”

“A… cleansing spell, okay,” I said. “So, the ghost I saw in Paxwood House. Real.”

“Ghosts are real, yes,” Rowen confirmed.

Sharp anger filled me, tamped down by the softness of the little sweet mouse in my palm.

“Magic is real. Ghosts are real. Every paranormal thing I’ve ever asked you or Old Man Morgan or anyone else about town legends—real? And if they are, why is it everyone I’ve ever asked has always couched their answers in reasons magic isn’t real? Is it like some kind of joke? Get some kicks at my expense?”

“That’s… not why.” Alex extended their hand, taking Arcie back from me and returning her to their pocket. “Magic is dangerous. There are dark beings that don’t want mere mortals knowing about their existence. Plus, manipulators take advantage of people who think magic is fairy tales and children’s books. A bright-eyed teen with dreams of becoming a magical girl would sell their soul before they know what they’re doing. The people who don’t look, don’t have the questions, don’t believe, they’re able to skirt past the worst dangers. When I’m telling you the ways magic isn’t real, I’m giving you the shield of skepticism. Humans make enough mundane trouble. So, do you really want this?”

That was a lot to take in. But, before I could dispute a single word, Rowen spoke up.

“Is there a good diner in town? This might be easier with food, and I didn’t have breakfast.”

“Maisey’s,” I said. “Let’s go.”

11: Yogurt Drops and Truth Bombs

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