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

I gave Rowen a rundown of everything I knew, all the intel I’d been gathering on Silphium for my mother, a play-by-play of the city council meetings regarding the sale of Paxwood House. She took it all in stride, jotting down notes in a small personal journal as I spoke. I wanted Mx. Cardoso to pipe up and contribute anything about the actual magic around Paxwood House and its ghostly residents, but they just ate their strawberry rhubarb pie and let me drive the info session.

Maybe Mx. Cardoso wasn’t entirely ready to prattle off every fact they knew about magic unbidden.

How could I earn Mx. Cardoso’s confidence so they’d share their delicious stories?

Any opportunity for sharing ended when my phone buzzed in my pocket, and my heart leaped.

I turned my attention to check the messages, hoping to see Char’s name there, and as I did, Rowen leaned back.

“I should find a hotel,” she said, stretching. “Looks like I’m staying.”

“I can help you with that.” Mx. Cardoso stood up, laying cash down on the table to cover the bill as they did.

And as quickly as my heart had flitted up, butterfly-light, another toad in the acidic pit of my stomach caught it with its sticky tongue.

No message from Char.


Sly: Bored out of my mind. Come antiquing?

I tilted my head, raised an eyebrow, a little surprised. Sly had invited me to spend time with her while she worked her cashier job at the antiques shop just a couple of hours ago. It only felt like a lifetime because, well, magic was real. That changed everything.

“I’ll be in touch,” Rowen said to me. “I’m guessing you’ve got something else on your mind based on that look.”

“Yeah, a friend wants to hang out. Nothing important.” I tried to play it off.

Mx. Cardoso grinned. “Tell Char I said hello.”

All the toads in my gut hopped in unison at that, churning the pond.

“Right.” I plastered on my best cheerful mask, squeezing back any hint of tears.

I distracted myself by focusing on the activity along Main Street. A few employees or small business owners were out, polishing windows, painting storefronts, positioning window displays. Memorial Day Weekend, just one week away, marked the start of tourist season and the summer rush.

For the last couple of years, color choices had veered toward the rainbow unicorn, eye-catching and trendy, although some businesses stuck to the rustic browns, forest greens, and plaids that evoked Paxwood’s lumber industry past. There was one building in particular where the owner insisted on using the same roofing and siding techniques from the original construction. Now I had to wonder if it was like Maisey’s, with some enchantment related to that craftsmanship that kept it standing.

There were vacant shop fronts, too. Some owners shuttered their shops for the off season and returned for the summer tourists. The start-up businesses and pop-ups were less predictable. An entrepreneur would come with fidget spinners or boutique slime or some other seasonal trend. Then they would find very little support up and down the street. The businesses here weren’t the friendliest toward newcomers with niche ideas that had nothing to do with Paxwood.

Even if the entrepreneurial Silphium Resorts had a sound plan for Paxwood House, the residents might not buy it. My mother knew this city. And once I introduced Rowen, my mother would recognize the kindred intent.

I turned down Second Avenue, navigating to the antique shop where Sly worked. It wasn’t the only one in the shop district—tourists and locals alike loved a little antiquing. The dusty old trinkets could hide history or secrets that made them worth more than gold for a dedicated treasure-hunter.

When I was seven, I’d gotten myself banned from all the antiques shops looking for those secrets.

I got it now. I pestered the shop owners with questions about every single item in their store, consuming their time and energy and giving them nothing in return. Most people who adored antiques also enjoyed sharing the stories, but maybe not so much when the pipsqueak kid kept distracting them from paying customers. Freshman year, I mended fences by helping with some ad copy and online social media posts. I practiced my burgeoning interest, and they gained exposure.

The shop bell chimed, and I strolled into that pot-pourri of wood and dust and fading perfume that bordered on stale yet somehow remained inoffensive.

Sly stood behind the glass counter, leaning over an old paperback. An annoyed frown crossed her face before she looked up. Then she grinned.

“Thanks for taking up the invitation,” she said. “I don’t know why we’re open all day on an off-season Sunday. Churchgoers aren’t shopping. Tourists aren’t here yet. It’s so dull that I’m rereading Dracula. Only tolerable book from the Little Library.”

“You don’t have to pretend you hate classic horror in front of me.” I loved the Little Libraries peppered around Paxwood, artistic enclosed shelves with glass doors where people left the books they’d finished for anyone to claim. So many of the high schoolers refused to touch used books. If they enjoyed reading at all, they didn’t want book cooties.

“You got me there. I’d still rather lay my hands on one of those.” She gestured to a bookshelf behind the counter. “But they are all out of print, signed, or rare first editions. You don’t read these books. You collect them.”

I skimmed those spines for anything interesting. Could they contain some piece of Paxwood’s history that the library hadn’t collected? Or… Could any be magic? A spell book?

That question came from that dreaming child inside me who still loved So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane.

It hit me again.

Magic wasn’t just real around Mx. Cardoso and Rowen. It was real everywhere. So, magic books were out there—maybe even on that shelf.

I had to shake that off, though. I didn’t know Sly well enough to even guess her stance on magic. Besides, she’d invited me here for Paxwood House history, not magic tangents.

“Okay, what Paxwood House trinkets do you have around here?”

Sly clasped her hands together, her posture straightening. “Paxwood House served as the mayor’s official residence for a few decades, so it’s challenging to verify when an object was actually owned by the Paxwood family rather than one of the house’s many resident mayors.”

This had all the bland energy of a practiced legal disclaimer. Sly’s lips twitched as she finished her recitation.

“Okay, but…?” I prompted.

Her smile grew, and she moved around the counter, off into the depths with a purposeful stride. I followed her, navigating through these tight spaces full to the brim with beautiful old things. She stopped in front of a shelf of ornamental boxes and picked one up.

“The individual who sold this box to the shop swore up, down, and sideways that it belonged to Lady Paxwood. When you turn it over, you’ll see her initials carved in the center.”

Sly placed the dark-stained wooden jewelry box in my hands and allowed me to do the honors. Sure enough, I discovered the ornate FMP.

“Florence Marie Paxwood. Wife of lumber baron and city founder John Paxwood.” I traced the letters with my finger.

“Carved initials don’t prove the box’s provenance,” Sly said. “No paperwork to prove any chain of ownership. No proof of the original purchase. It has a local crafter’s mark, but that’s about it.”

I hummed as I set it upright. An unusual symbol spread in almost paisley-like curlicues across the lid. Some whorls might be ornamental, but only someone who knew the core symbol would be able to tell.

Something tingled through me, a shivering impulse, the kind that often came right next to the edge of uncovering an amazing detail for a story. I could feel the slightest shift of something inside the box as I turned it right side up again. The lid moved smoothly on its hinges and rested at that perfect ninety-degree angle, revealing a lovely polished mirror on the inner lid and a plush emerald green velvet lining.

Nothing inside, though. I could have sworn…

I lifted one side higher than the other and felt that slight shift. Puzzled, I passed it back to Sly.

“Tilt it at an angle and tell me what you feel.”

Sly didn’t tilt it as far as I had at first, not until I nudged her arm up higher. Once I did, her eyes widened.

“Feels like there’s something in there.”

I held out my hands to take the box back, and Sly obliged. With the lid open and my fingers together, I put my hand inside, against one edge. Then I did the same on the outside.

“Half an index finger of difference between the inside and outside, which is more than the thickness of the wood and lining combined. There’s got to be a hidden compartment.”

“Let’s go back to the cashier’s counter. I bet I can find something there to help us probe the box gently.”

13: A Little Antiquing

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