Episode 8: The Library

Kerry did try the school library during her TA period for more information, even though she knew that it wasn’t likely to provide much. What she really needed was the Paxwood Library’s records room with its old local newspaper archives, personal journals, family genealogy resources like birth and death records, and even a catalog of where people were buried in the old cemetery. This wouldn’t be the first time that Kerry used it to anchor down the concrete details around whispered local legends. Pretty much from the time her fourth grade teacher had introduced her to the concept of primary source documents, the records room had been one of Kerry’s favorite places to dig around for interesting truths and facts.

Unfortunately, just as Kerry was at her locker, gathering up everything she needed for homework in her backpack, her phone buzzed.

Char: Low math score. Got to stay after school. I’m sorry!

Kerry: I can wait, do a little homework.

Char: I don’t know how long this is going to take, and the library closes at 4 today. Go ahead! It’s okay! You can catch me up after!

Kerry’s shoulders sank at this. The more suspicious part of her wondered if Char was just trying to find the best way to duck out on something she didn’t want to do without hurting Kerry’s feelings. Kerry could remember Char’s expression when Kerry complained about Mx. Cardoso cutting her off. Char believed in her shop teacher’s advice. Char also hated confrontations. Maybe this was her way of hinting that researching Paxwood House didn’t seem safe to her, without coming out and stating it.

But then, after a pause, Char sent another message:

Char: I’ll let you know when I’m done, and then if I can’t meet you at the library, you should come over to my place, kay?

Kerry: Sounds great–keep me posted!

Kerry took a breath. There. Char was her friend. Sometimes a low math score was just a math score. And, besides, the records room wasn’t exactly the most interesting place to most people, most of the time.

Even when she had car permissions, usually Kerry rode her bicycle to school. Although Paxwood was a walking city, riding anywhere made the trip infinitely faster, and there were places to lock up bikes in front of most of the buildings in town, besides. Soon enough, she was entering the Paxwood Library.

Most people stuck to the first floor of the library, which had been remodeled with an open design in mind about five years back. There were plenty of accommodating open tables with power strips built in so people could power their own devices, spread out, and use the free wifi to get some studying or research or video streaming done in a comfortable air-conditioned space. Plus there were six public computers, each in a little study carrel along one wall. The large wooden bookshelves that had dominated the floor space throughout Kerry’s childhood were just gone. Now, the majority of the shelves were under four feet tall to increase that open feeling and let through as much natural light as possible, though the old building didn’t have very many windows.

Without those tall rows of books, it made the library feel less like an actual library and more like a coffee shop without the coffee, but it also felt a lot less like something was constantly stalking you as you moved between the shelves. (Yes, the library was haunted, too, but by most accounts, it was mostly haunted by the spirits of the cats that Paxwood librarians past had taken in and given shelter during winter in exchange for their rodent management services.)

The second floor still had tall shelves and the records room. Kerry expected to ascend the steps, turn left, and enter the records room all alone, but when she opened the door, she found someone else was already using the space.

The individual sat at one of the two tables, leaning back in a chair so that only two of its legs were still on the ground. They had a very classic teenage goth vibe–dark eyeliner, long dark hair, black clothes, pale skin–but where Kerry might have expected a prickly reaction when she entered the room, the individual flashed a smile instead.

“Don’t often see people up here.” Their voice was friendly, welcoming. “It’s like everyone thinks the old records room might eat them alive.”

“I don’t see people up here much, either.” Kerry raised an eyebrow. “Haven’t heard any stories about this building eating people. That’s the basement of the Clarksen Theatre down the street.”

They laughed. “I’m Sylvestri, but my friends call me Sly, and you can, too. She/her.”

“Kerry, also she/her.” Kerry sat down across from Sly and started unpacking her laptop. “Okay, though, your name sounds familiar, but I know we haven’t met.” As much as Kerry’s mind was a steel trap, older memories took a bit to suss out sometimes.

“Well, the Paxwood Chronicle did a little human interest story when my adoptive family took me in, about a year ago now,” Sly offered. She tilted her head to one side, while Kerry tried not to stare too hard.

Human interest story. Teen adoption. About a year ago. Then it clicked. “Oh! Doctor Vogel and his wife took you in, right?”

It wasn’t the first time the Vogels had taken in a child who needed a home, and it probably wouldn’t be the last, either. Sometimes the town dentist fostered, sometimes he and his wife outright adopted. Usually it was older kids or teenagers who had lost their family in some tragedy. A car crash, a house fire, a natural disaster. Ms. Anholts was another example of that.

“The good doctor has me reading old primary sources about the city’s history to meet my independent study program’s history standards, which… Okay, don’t get me wrong, but most of this stuff is pretty dry. It’s good to have someone else around. What brings you? School project?”

“Not school, but definitely a project,” Kerry said. “I want to dig up some stories about the history of Paxwood House–the old mayor’s house. The city council’s trying to decide whether to sell it, and my mother’s one of the city council members. Did you know about that?”

“Oh, that’s why Tricia’s in town, right?” Sly shrugged. “She came for dinner the other day, and she and the ‘rents got into a long discussion about it.”

She started to shuffle around through a few different books sitting in front of her, then pushed one of them across the table to Kerry.

“This might help you out, then. It’s the actual diary of one of John Paxwood’s daughters. It’s mostly the typical stuff–dinner parties, jealousy toward her older sisters, that kind of thing. When she writes about her mother’s seances, that gets interesting.” Sly held her hands up and wiggled her fingers as she added some vibrato to emphasize what variety of interesting.

Kerry could not believe her luck. She accepted the book with a grin. This was exactly what she’d been looking for. If she wanted to understand the nature of Paxwood’s haunting before she went there Saturday for the dare, if she wanted to put together something really meaningful for her mom, where better to start than a firsthand account of someone who lived there?

“I wish there was more of the spooky stuff. It’s… just dry, like most things here,” Sly added. She reached over for another one of the books in her stack and started flipping through it. “The seances aren’t even that creepy. Back then, they didn’t have TV, so rich people had to entertain themselves somehow, and for whatever reason, wealthy women in the late 1800s decided that the occult was just the thing to dabble in.”

“Yeah, like Sarah Winchester and her mystery house, in California,” Kerry said. “Pouring her money into seances for advice to keep the ghosts of the people killed by Winchester rifles from haunting her, then constructing her house with rooms full of numerology and doors that go nowhere.”

“Exactly.” Sly nodded. “You can find a surprising number of old photos of women sitting around a table with a crystal ball like they’re at a Tupperware party. Crazy they believed in that stuff, huh?”

“Yeah, crazy.” Kerry only agreed because she knew that was what she was expected to say in response to the statement. No one really believed in ghosts, or faeries, or magic, or monsters hiding in the shadows. Even though there were so many stories about these strange, miraculous, magical things, there was no way they were real, and anyone who believed in them was definitely crazy.

“Life would be way more interesting, though, if there were ghosts,” Sly added with a sigh. Her gaze fell back down to the book in front of her.

Kerry knew that look–the look of someone trying to get back to focus, despite being interested in the conversation. Instead of trying to engage with Sly, note her agreement, bring up her adventures, she decided this would probably be a good time to focus, herself. She opened up the old diary Sly had given her, and she started to read.

related 🧶 for ko-fi members – Kerry’s Notes for the Pixie-Bitten: Dr. Vogel’s Trio

Episode 8: The Library

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