Kerry’s first choice, digging into the history of Paxwood House, would have been to swing by Old Man Morgan’s home, except he’d passed away almost six months ago now. Of anyone in Paxwood, he most often indulged her curiosity, sharing stories about the shadows and secrets and ghosts of the town—and the land, before the town even existed. He was a member of the Nooksack Tribe, so his stories reached deep as the roots of the old-growth trees. Despite Old Man Morgan’s eccentricity and whimsy, his nephew Adrien became such a stick-in-the-mud cop, which made no sense. She felt a small pang of mourning over his absence, but mourning wouldn’t help her now.
Without Old Man Morgan to pester, that left Mx. Cardoso. The Cardoso family established itself in Paxwood when automobiles arrived. The family ran the oldest gas station and auto shop in town, but more than that, Mx. Cardoso themselves had this sort of charge in the air around them. If anyone in Paxwood had met a faerie, it was Mx. Cardoso.
So, after she locked her bicycle up on the bike rack, rather than heading for the cafeteria, the library, or her first period classroom, she went along the edge of campus, to the shop building. After all, when Mx. Cardoso wasn’t assisting their father and brother with Cardoso Gas and Auto, they taught shop at Paxwood High, one of the few in the area with an actual shop class. Mx. Cardoso had even spearheaded the effort to re-open the shop after they came back to Paxwood with their fresh MIT degree in tow.
Char ended up in shop class when home economics got cancelled at the start of their freshman year, and she’d been livid right until she met the genius shop teacher. Once Mx. Cardoso got their students working on projects, Mx. Cardoso won most of them over, no matter why they’d ended up in Shop. Char gladly signed up for another year of shop.
Kerry found the shop door standing a touch ajar, a sign that Mx. Cardoso was available. They probably intended to meet with actual shop students, but Kerry couldn’t pass up this opportunity, especially not when she’d walked out of her way for it.
“Mx. Cardoso.” She pushed through the door.
Mx. Cardoso stood at their desk, their work laptop up on a riser that converted the standard old wooden desk into a standing desk. Mx. Cardoso never sat down. Who knew how they got the energy to stand all day? They wore jeans and a shirt with a lemon print over a nerdy t-shirt, with their dark brown hair pulled back in a short ponytail that ended just below their shoulders. A single white silk flower was tucked into the ponytail. Kerry respected Mx. Cardoso’s confidence to just be themselves.
“Char’s not here.” They barely glanced up, but they did smile in invitation.
“Oh, I was actually looking for you.” Kerry winced, though. Char deserved an apology for the way Kerry ignored her feelings after that close call with the wolf. But here she was, chasing a story. She’d make it up to Char. Somehow. “I know you know almost everything about town lore, and I had some questions about Paxwood House and the town founder. You know. For a project.”
“Does it have to do with the proposed sale that the City Council is voting on soon?” Mx. Cardoso asked. Now they turned toward Kerry, eyebrows gathering.
“My mom needs fuel to oppose the sale. Paxwood House is an important piece of our town’s history. It shouldn’t be the hands of some corporation headquartered in Miami. I want to gather stories, write blog posts, maybe send some articles to the city paper. You know, inspire some local pride.”
Mx. Cardoso crossed their arms, leaning back a bit as they studied Kerry for a long moment. She felt like they were measuring something about her she didn’t quite understand.
“That house isn’t safe,” they said after a long moment. “I don’t feel right telling you more than that. It’s best just to leave this one to the adults, Kerry. Trust me on that. I’ll ask my dad to throw his weight in with other local business owners opposing the sale, though, for whatever that’s worth.”
“Now you know I have to dig into the story by any means necessary.” Kerry used a cheery tone to cover up the disappointment. She’d never felt so dismissed by Mx. Cardoso. “Why not tell me, as a trusted source?”
“That’s not how this works, Kerry,” they replied. “I won’t put knowledge in your hands that will get you arrested for trespassing at best, or hurt or killed at worst. If I told you it’s as toxic as Chernobyl, would that convey how serious I am? Would it keep you away?”
That gave Kerry a brief pause. Mx. Cardoso had never shut her down before, but they’d never compared something to a nuclear disaster, either.
“Don’t suppose your father has the money to throw in a bid for the house instead of Silphium so we don’t get a quaint bed-and-breakfast built on this apparent toxic wasteland?”
“No, but… I might know someone who does,” Mx. Cardoso said, tilting their head a bit to one side.
“What’s her name? How do I get in contact? Is she an heiress to an enormous fortune?” Kerry leaned in.
“Her name is Rowen Hayward. Not sure I’d wish this house on her, but she’d know what she’s getting into.”
“How do you know her? How do I make contact?” Kerry asked.
“No, I’ll do a little of research, and I’ll call her if it seems right.” Mx. Cardoso shook their head. “We ran in a few of the same circles in Boston, but… It’s a long and personal story. Right now, the best thing you can do to help your mother is stay away from that house, okay?”
Kerry was not willing to make a verbal promise, so she turned her hands palms upward, conceding. Now, two stories pecked at her: The Paxwood House and this Rowen Hayward person.
When Kerry asked Mx. Cardoso about local lore, they’d been forthcoming, even when they didn’t go into the same depth as Old Man Morgan. When she asked about faerie circles, Mx. Cardoso told her it was faerie, not fairy, but best to call any faerie she encountered one of the Fair Folk, or just one of the Folk to be most respectful. They said this tongue-in-cheek, like someone telling campfire stories, but with an edge of seriousness that left her wondering.
If they knew faeries, if such magical things were real, if the Paxwood House was dangerous in some incomprehensible way, it would follow that she should listen to Mx. Cardoso’s advice.
But she needed to get back in her mother’s good graces and get her car key back.
Besides, the story sunk its fangs in. She couldn’t shake it off now.
related 🧶 for ko-fi members – Kerry’s Notes for the Pixie-Bitten: Meet Mx. Cardoso