Thursday was a normal enough school day, and Friday flew past with end of the week pop quizzes in history and science, a free day in PE that Kerry spent mostly walking the track so she’d get participation points without having to put in too much effort, and another quiet evening at home alone. She wanted to be sure that she took care of school work before Saturday morning, so she intentionally avoided the library, much as she wanted to dig back into Luella’s journal and read more about the lingering spirit of Nellie Paxwood to get ready for the dare. Best not to give her mother any reasons to tell her she had to stay home all Saturday, on top of not having car access.
The completed homework and chores did the trick. Kerry was free Saturday afternoon to take her bike out and ride anywhere she wanted in Paxwood. She rode up to Paxwood House at just about a quarter to noon, ready to walk the perimeter and figure out the best point of entrance.
The property had been secured with a chain link fence ever since a small earthquake a few years back had rumbled down some sections of the stone walls that surrounded grounds fully. It wasn’t exactly a budget priority for the city council to reconstruct the old stone walls when putting up a chain link fast was quicker and faster and the property wasn’t being used for anything. At some point, someone had cut a slice through the chain link fence. The police came by and patched the fence up now and then, but inevitably someone else always cut through.
She found a point of entry, the fence fairly recently cut judging by the shine of the sharp metal edges, then returned to the front of the property.
Char was next to arrive, a stylish messenger bag slung over her shoulder as she rode up on her sleek black bicycle. For school, she had a very organized two-pocket backpack, the kind that also had wheels and an extendable handle. She said her shoulders weren’t made for carrying the weight of four textbooks around.
“Did you make that?” Kerry asked, eying the messenger bag more closely.
Char grinned. “How could you tell?”
“At the very least, I figured you had to have painted on that arrow pattern. It just… seems too much like you to be on a store shelf,” Kerry said. “Come on. I put my bike this way. I’ve heard the neighbors tend to keep an eye on the property and report when they see signs of teens loitering around causing trouble, so I figured it’s better to keep things discreet.”
They’d just finished tucking Char’s bicycle away when Cody and his friends pulled up in Cody’s red pick-up, then circled past. They apparently knew better than to just park squarely in front of Paxwood House, too.
“I spent all last night watching videos of urban explorers–you know, people who go find abandoned buildings and properties and ghost towns and go exploring. Some of them were gimmicky, with low quality ghosts or weird tall slender faceless dudes in suits hiding in the shadows, but… I get why people do it. Chance to glimpse our past, to see what used to be there, and what’s survived after years of decay.”
Char hummed softly at that. “You make it sound like an adventure. Horror movies make it sound like a bad idea, though.”
“Didn’t think you’d actually show,” Cody said when he finally walked up, one other athlete friend shadowing him.
“Already looked for an opening. There’s a hole in the chain link fence just a bit that way, and once we’re through that, I know where there’s a broken gap in the stone wall, too. Didn’t go all the way onto the grounds, but it can’t be too hard to get into an old abandoned haunted house. They do it all the time on TV.”
“Right, right,” Cody said, straightening up a bit. “Let’s get in there, then.”
Kerry could swear he was intentionally speaking with a more baritone voice than normal, like he was focusing on making sure that he didn’t let a hint of fear out. But, really, she didn’t care if he bowed out or not at this point. She wanted to figure out the secrets of Paxwood House, the reasons that Mx. Cardoso claimed it was so dangerous, what the Silphium lawyer had meant when he mentioned a dog and a sleeper. She wanted to know if Nellie’s spirit was still there, like Luella had written in her journal. Could Nellie be the lawyer’s “sleeper”?
Kerry took the lead, careful as she went to hold back any branches that might snap back and hit Char until Char was ready for them. Char tried to do the same for Cody, but apparently he either didn’t notice or didn’t care enough about his friends to keep the chain of branch deflection up for them.
Then it was through the chain link fence, but rather than following through, Cody’s friend stood there, holding the chain for Cody so he could get through.
“All right, man. Time to make good on the dare.”
“You’re not coming?” Cody asked.
“You’re the one who’s here to prove he’s braver than a girl, not me,” the friend replied.
Kerry looked over at Char. “It’s all right with me if you stay at the fence. You’ll get in less trouble that way if Officer Morgan shows up.”
“No way,” Char replied, shaking her head. “I’m not going to abandon you at the last minute. You don’t know what I’ve got in my bag, anyway.”
Cody scoffed. “What you’ve got in your bag?”
But Kerry brushed past him, heading for the crumbled pile of stone that made a break in the wall not too far from where they’d crossed through the fence, and Char was right behind her.
“I’m going to win this dare so easily,” she quipped as she went. After all, she had the best sort of friend at her side.
related 🧶 for ko-fi supporters – Kerry’s Notes for the Pixie-Bitten: The Paxwood Family