Episode 7: Digging Holes

 “…and they compared the Paxwood House to Chernobyl and said to leave this one alone,” Kerry concluded before popping a cafeteria french fry into her mouth.

Char gave a soft hum, piercing her lunch salad with the only-partially-effective spork provided by the cafeteria with every meal. She took a moment to think, and eat some of her lunch, before she responded.

“I kind of… trust Mx. Cardoso? They always give impeccable safety advice in shop class, and if they say not to mess with something, they mean it sincerely. Usually it’s tools or techniques that take more time and practice to handle without losing a finger.”

“But how is an abandoned mayor’s house going to make me lose a finger? It makes no sense, Char.” Kerry groaned and leaned back in her chair. “This Paxwood House sale is moving fast, and especially if it’s dangerous, my mom needs that story so she can convince the rest of city council not to sell it.”

“Duh. The Old Mayor’s House is dangerous because it’s haunted in the worst way.”

Kerry had very, very briefly had a crush on the source of this particular intrusive comment–Cody Bennet. He was the resident walking cliche–football quarterback, always wearing his letterman jacket, always doing whatever he needed to be successful. But Kerry had quickly come to the realization that he was a self-centered jerk and absolutely not worth her time or mental energy.

“Three-quarters of the old buildings in Paxwood have ghost stories, if not more,” Kerry replied, trying her best not to roll her eyes as she turned a bit toward him.

“Trust our local ghost hunter to know,” one of Cody’s friends said, each word wrapped in sarcasm. “How is it you go digging around into all the ghost stories in town and you don’t even know the biggest one?”

“I know it was where the town founder and his family lived. I know it became the mayor’s house because none of his three daughters had kids to inherit the house, so it became city property. I know that something happened during remodeling in the ’90s that just made it more practical to move the mayor into a new house instead, and since then it’s been empty.” Kerry prattled off. These were the details she’d gathered from listening to her mother talk about the proposed sale, plus Tricia Anholts’ presentation at the city council meeting had touched briefly on the important history of the house. “Oh, it’s at the end of Main Street, at the top of Paxwood Hill, at the end of Paxwood Court. A dead end. Practically the whole property is surrounded by woodland, too.”

Cody snorted. “Oh, come on, that’s the boring stuff. They say the Paxwood family was into, like, satanic cult ritual stuff. They’d invite their rich friends to come stay over and do seances, and half the time, someone who attended the seance would get sick or just die in an accident afterward, like the Paxwoods had sacrificed their guests’ souls to the Devil to get rich. The dude, his wife, and all three of his daughters all died from the Sandman Flu, which is, like, the lingering townwide consequence for all his evil cult worship stuff.”

Kerry furrowed her brow at all of these details. It wasn’t a very well-told story, and she wanted to ask Cody his source–especially the stuff with the Sandman Flu. Every now and then, during flu season, a few people would drop into comas around town, and the locals said they had the Sandman Flu instead of the standard strain. But she doubted that he had a source, besides fireside horror stories. But if it was a stupid story kids told each other, why hadn’t she heard it? Not on the playground at recess in elementary school, not on that stupid youth bonding trip to overnight camp in sixth grade, not sitting around the cafeteria like this. How could Cody have heard the story, and she hadn’t?

“Well, if you know so much, you should come with me to Paxwood House. Saturday. Daylight, you know, when ghosts are least scary.” Kerry let the dare slip out before she even fully realized what she was doing. Frustration had turned her cheeks red hot. She needed to take control of the conversation.

Cody sputtered, starting to shake his head, but one of his friends slapped a hand on his shoulder.

“What, are you seriously afraid of that dumb ghost story?”

“No, man, I just don’t want to get in trouble for trespassing when we’ve got a game coming up.” 

“You don’t want to know the truth of the story?” Kerry asked. It was boys’ soccer season–not Cody’s main sport, but he was the type who tended to participate in any sport and every sport he could. “See if we can find any proof of those cult rituals? You’re just fine with me outshining you in confidence, before a soccer game? What would your team think if I told them about that?”

“Kerry,” Char whispered.

But Cody had already straightened up a bit taller. “All right, then. See you Saturday, at Paxwood House. How’s eleven sound?”

“High noon seems more appropriate,” Kerry returned playfully. With that, she turned back to her meal, trying to ignore the look of disapproval on Char’s face.

She waited for that prickle on the back of her neck to fade, until she was sure Cody and his friends had moved away to find their own table, before she actually leaned in and sighed.

“You agree with Mx. Cardoso, that we shouldn’t go there at all, don’t you?” Kerry guessed. “Look, it’s all right with me if you’d rather not. I can handle this one alone. I’d hate for you to get in trouble with your parents, besides.”

But, to Kerry’s surprise, Char shook her head. “Look, especially if it’s this dangerous, I’m not leaving you alone on this. Definitely not with Cody and his friends. Anything they know about the lore is going to based in pop culture, and you know way more about the deep lore. So, what do we do to get ready to go into a haunted house?”

“We prepare the sorts of things you use in a cleansing ritual, do some research on the particular ghosts that could be haunting the place so we know who they are, look into the types of occult practices that were popular when the town was founded, find the actual history of Paxwood House,” Kerry answered. “I’m thinking town library, right after school.”

“It’s a date.”

Kerry’s heart skipped a beat. She knew, logically, Char didn’t mean what Kerry’s heart wished she meant, but a girl could still dream. Again, she swallowed back the lump in her throat. Again, she pushed off that confession. The school cafeteria definitely was not the right place for that conversation. If Cody had proven anything by intruding when he did, it was that anyone could be listening, and confessing a crush was hard enough without an audience.

“Thanks, Char,” she said instead. Another opportunity missed.

related 🧶 for ko-fi supporters – Kerry’s Notes for the Pixie-Bitten: Paxwood High

Episode 7: Digging Holes

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