Episode 3: A New Moon Investigation

A dirt road illuminated by flashlight wasn’t the most romantic place to confess your love to the girl of your dreams, but Kerry’s heart was fluttering again, so she bit her lip as she bumped shoulders with her best friend in the darkness. And, really, this was a nerve-wracking challenge because Char was her best friend.

Char, who always came prepared with the tools for the job—whatever the job might be. Char always had the tools for the job. In this case, two flashlights and a folded map in case they lost reception and their phones died out here at the far edge of Paxwood, where the little resort city nestled in the Northern Cascades gave way to thick evergreen forest.

Char, who entertained Kerry’s crazy schemes with remarkable exuberance, even when it meant slipping out into the night in a borrowed car. She asked all the right questions and recalled each bit of lore Kerry shared, even though urban legends weren’t her first passion. (Char wanted to be a chocolatier, or a costume designer, or anything that would let her bring her glorious dreams to life.)

Char, whose friendship mattered so much that fracturing it with the wrong words at the wrong time would cut Kerry to ribbons.

“So, tell me the story,” Char said, breaking the silence that hung in the cool air between them. “What are we looking for this time?”

For the hundredth or thousandth or maybe even millionth time, Kerry swallowed the lump of confession in her throat and flashed a smile instead.

“It’s another faerie one.” Kerry made quick eye contact with Char, then looked away as she swung her flashlight side to side slowly, sweeping the beam of light across the gravel road ahead of them, then focusing on the sides of the road, thick with tall grass and brambles. She was searching for openings or a turnoff, no matter how small.

“As the story goes, there was a group of humans with magic abilities accused of being evil witches by the ordinary humans. Worse, they were tormented by demons who wanted to enslave them, but none of the humans would help them because, you know. Witches are evil.”

“So, they were facing enemies on every side.” Char nodded along.

“They needed a sanctuary where they could rest, recover, shake off the demons, then move on to a more permanent home.”

As Kerry let the story catch hold of her, it smoothed away the lump of nerves and replaced it with the ease of familiarity. She risked losing this if she said anything that would change the status quo. She couldn’t just confess. Who else would listen to these urban legends and fairy tales like they contained seeds of truth?

“The sanctuary didn’t have to be much, except hidden and safe, with enough resources to recover from their losses and injuries. The faeries, according to the old lore, have ways of walking between their home realm and our earth, making paths between distant places, and even crafting little folds in reality tucked away where no one can find them—places that simultaneously do and don’t exist. And faeries absolutely love to make deals and trades.”

“So, these not-so-evil witches made a deal,” Char guessed.

Kerry’s light glanced across a turn in the road, so she paused for a moment to pull out her phone and check the most recently updated map data. This turn was present, visible on satellite view. It was real. She pocketed her phone with a sigh.

“Exactly.” Kerry settled back into the story. “They traded in story, magic, enchantments, bargained away their best livestock and all the resources they could spare because the demons or the humans would just steal or kill or destroy anything they owned anyway. In exchange, the faeries made a Sanctuary. Legend says that Sanctuary remains a safe haven, even to this day. The Path to the Sanctuary appears at the darkest time of night, between the birch trees, under a new moon, as a new crossroads on a path that leads to nowhere.”

“And… it’s a new moon tonight, plus this road ends a bit further ahead, doesn’t it?” Char swept her own flashlight beam upward over the thin cracked white trunks of the birch trees that grew near the road. “Why birch trees specifically, though?”

“Tree meanings say they’re symbolic of new beginnings, and Faeries like to lean into symbols and meanings for their magic, I guess.”

“Okay, you checked your phone back there to see if that side road was actually there on the satellite maps?” Char gathered.

Kerry nodded. “Plus the Sanctuary Path is distinct because it will have a black gate with no fence. When you open the gate and pass through it, then you’ll be in Sanctuary. If my research is correct, you find the gate pretty quickly. If the maps aren’t updated or the satellites miss a footpath between the trees, we’ll know because of the gate, or lack of it.”

“And where did you find this story?” Char asked.

“The internet.”

They both broke out laughing. When Char bumped shoulders with Kerry in her mirth, Kerry’s heart skipped a beat.

“Wait, so it can’t be Paxwood-specific, right? And aren’t witch hunts more of an East Coast thing? Like Salem?”

Kerry shrugged then. “Right. The original story came out of New England, the colonial era. I didn’t plan to do anything with it, but then I noticed this stand of birch trees. I guess we’re far enough north here in Whatcom County. The coast shouldn’t matter if the other conditions are lined up. I mean, faeries make gates between whole other worlds, apparently.”

Even if the path didn’t appear—like all the supernatural things Kerry had investigated—this was time well spent. She and Char had gone around looking into all sorts of local legends and paranormal oddities since they’d met in sixth grade. Pioneer graveyards. Lumber ghost towns. Faerie circles. Hikes into the woods looking for signs of animal shapeshifters. Hauntings of the old buildings in Paxwood itself. It ended the same: no proof of magic, but plenty of time shared.

Kerry wished, just once, these expeditions would lead to a discovery instead of a forgotten lump of fool’s gold. Soon, she’d probably have to give up her hunt for faeries and focus on figuring out a path to college, a career, and adult financial stability, but she’d enjoy this while it lasted.

Gravel crunched beneath the soles of their shoes, and their flashlight beams passed over plants, but no unexpected paths. Somewhere nearby, an owl hooted. Above them, the road left an empty gap in the evergreen forest canopy, a wide open view to the brilliantly clear night sky—especially bright because of their distance from any major light pollution, and brighter still because of the total lack of moonlight.

Then, somewhere nearby, a wolf howled.

Char caught hold of Kerry’s hand. Kerry’s heart jumped from the sound and the tingle of contact. But friends held hands all the time.

First love was enough of a challenge when everything was hetero-normative. Kerry didn’t even know if Char was interested in girls. Char hadn’t expressed interest in either boys or girls. Even when Kerry told her she was bisexual, Char hadn’t shared her own orientation. She’d been wonderful, supportive, and understanding—grateful that Kerry had entrusted her with the truth.

But there was a difference between saying, “I think I’m bisexual,” and saying, “I think I love you.”

Not an easy conversation to have.

“Do you think we should turn back?” Char asked.

“The wolf howl?” Kerry squeezed Char’s hand. “I doubt we’ll actually see a wolf come out of the woods and onto this gravel path. We’re probably fine.”

They pressed on a few steps further, and then Kerry’s flashlight caught another break in the brambles. She’d just pulled out her phone to check the satellite map again when Char grasped her hand more tightly and pulled her back a step.

“Kerry, look.” Char hissed through clenched teeth.

Char’s flashlight beam caught on the dark shadowy shape of a wolf, its eyes reflecting the light an eerie red.

Kerry cursed. Okay, what did you do when a wolf locked its sights on you? She was pretty sure somewhere, sometime, someone had told her this. Did you make eye contact or avoid eye contact?

Char pulled on Kerry’s hand again. “Let’s… go back to your car.”

Kerry nodded. Together, they took one slow step. Then another. Then both of them turned in some kind of unspoken agreement and started running.

The wolf howled again, but a quick glance over her shoulder reassured Kerry that the wolf was not making chase.

Then, up ahead, a flash of blue lights made Kerry wish the wolf had tackled her and started eating her. The last thing she needed was Officer Adrien Morgan calling her parents. Again.

related 🧶 for ko-fi members – Kerry’s Notes for the Pixie-Bitten: The Sanctuary Gate

Episode 3: A New Moon Investigation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

error: Content is protected