Tuesday, 21 May 2019, Morning
Paxwood, Whatcom County, Washington, USA
Eyewitness: Kerry

The voice I most wanted to hear flowed through Mx. Cardoso’s door and into my ears. I paused at the threshold, out of sight. Was Char back to school today, or was I imagining it?

“…the puzzle box project?” That way she had of turning a statement into a question, the lightest raise of her tone at the last word. I knew her teacher-conversation voice so well. I’d missed it.

“That makes sense,” Mx. Cardoso said. “Anything else I can do while your arm is healing?”

Could he actually magically make it better at light speed? If magic was real, and all magic was possible, then how about healing magic? I pressed up against the wall instead of going through the door. Char needed time, after all. She hadn’t sent me a message. She hadn’t called. No one told me she’d be back at school today. She clearly didn’t want to see me.

“I’m… not sure it’s really something you can help with,” she said.

“Try me.” Mx. Cardoso’s tone was gentle.

“Well, it’s about Kerry.”

Dagger to my chest. This wasn’t a conversation I should eavesdrop on. It was never a good idea to listen when people were talking about you.

I twisted away from the door and pounded the pavement in any direction but right there, right then. I didn’t need to hear Char telling Mx. Cardoso how she felt unsafe with me because over the course of one week I’d gotten her in trouble with her parents for taking her out into the forest on a school night under false pretenses, then I’d gotten her arm broken as a final flourish to a terrible week.

Would Mx. Cardoso defend me or protect Char? Now that I was in on the magic, and Char wasn’t, would distance be better, anyway? Mx. Cardoso would probably advise her to keep away from me for her own safety. She hadn’t decided to participate in the world of magic. Her shield of skepticism stood.

I sniffed, blinked, shook my head. Bathroom. I needed to hit the bathroom before I headed to first period.

It took a couple of minutes to refresh and reset, but I still finished up before the five-minute bell chimed. As I walked toward my first period class, I checked my phone, tentative.

Of all the things I expected to see, a message from Sly’s name was a pleasant surprise. I smiled as I flicked the message open, then read it twice, eyes widening.

Sly: Trish is going to Paxwood House today. Right now. She and Hugh were talking about the jewelry box, and now she’s off.

Not thirty minutes before, I was asking Rowen if she thought it was wise to go to the Silphium Resort on her own. In hindsight, there were so many other options for me. At the very least, I could have asked myself that same question before I started moving against the flow of students heading toward their classes and toward the bicycle rack. Or given a thought to the fact that if my first period teacher marked me absent, my mother would get an attendance robocall.

But, hey, if you’ve never cut class before, you don’t think about flying under the radar.

I wasn’t a total goody two-shoes. I’d used a bathroom pass or two to stay out in the hall and avoid a class I didn’t want to attend. Used my TA period in the library to roam a little further afield than necessary. Been late to class because I got caught up in pursuit of a story. Played sick and gotten one of my parents to call it in for an excused day off.
This was my first time outright cutting.

I had the best justifications, though. Someone had to check in on what Anholts and Hugh were up to. Mx. Cardoso had to teach, and Rowen was off meeting with city councilors or heading to the Northern Cascades Silphium Resort, so both were busy. It was down to me to gather this vital information. It might shed light on the concept of a Paxwood treasure or reveal what Silphium wanted with Paxwood House.

This story was too important to neglect. I felt it in my bones.

And it had nothing to do with avoiding Char.

Paxwood High wasn’t exactly close to Paxwood House. Paxwood House sat on a hill overlooking the city, surrounded by residences and forest. By the time I reached there, pedaling hard against gravity, I was breathless. I wheeled my bicycle around the perimeter, away from the main gate, to the collapsed and crumbling section of wall that I’d used so many times to cross into the grounds.

I didn’t second-guess the miasma that enfolded me as I crossed the barrier this time. It was real. The house was haunted, and this was a tangible aspect of that haunting. The air was colder, heavier, darker. Light couldn’t penetrate it as easily.

Was this a common aspect of many hauntings, or particular to this house? Had the Paxwoods built the place to harness this kind of energy, or was the atmosphere a result of all the untimely deaths? Plenty of questions left to be answered, but none of them would help me figure out where Anholts and Hugh were.

I checked my phone, but Sly hadn’t sent me any updates or more information. I had to go with my gut on this. Most overt entrance was through the front door. Unless they had magical reasons, they didn’t need to slink in through the back or use a window. They’d have the keys from the sloppy realtor, who didn’t want to visit the haunted house.

Cutting between trees and around low-growing clusters of ferns and brambles, I approached the front porch. The door stood wide open and inviting. A black rental Mercedes sat empty in the driveway—just the car a vampire lawyer would drive. They were inside.

I climbed the porch steps and headed inside, too, pausing just on the other side of the threshold to listen.

At first, nothing stood out. Just empty house sounds. A slight creak here, a rattle there. For a moment, near the grand ballroom, I thought I caught the sounds of… string music? But, no. I shook that off. It didn’t make sense.

There! An echo of a conversation came from the direction of the kitchen. I took the softest steps across the old hardwood foyer floor, then pressed myself against the wall instead of moving straight into the doorway that led down to the servant’s quarters.

“The basement is the most likely hiding place,” the vampire asserted.

“It could be hidden anywhere on the grounds. Let’s do a wider survey for the symbol,” Anholts said.

“Trust me. A space with no windows beneath the ground, easily accessible by the family but not meant for guests. This is where we should begin our search. Or, do you have that all-too-human fear of basements, yourself?”

Anholts scoffed.

I waited for their footsteps, fading down the creaking basement stairs, then started down the hall after them.

As I did, though, I shivered. That sound of strings playing behind me echoed in my ears again. I tossed a glance over my shoulder and saw the doors to the grand ballroom standing open. Had they been open before?

A grip as real and firm as any living human’s clamped around my arm and pulled, but there was no one standing next to me. The force threw me off-balance. I stumbled, trying to keep my feet beneath me, to turn.

Another viselike grip grabbed my other arm. A lady’s voice cooed in my ear.

“Come to the party, darling. You’re ever so welcome.”

I did the only truly natural thing to do when unseen whispering forces were dragging you against your will: I screamed.

19: Eavesdropping. Trespassing. Terrible. Hobbies.

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