Episode 15: The Real and the Unreal

A flash of recognition planted itself like a seed in the back of Kerry’s thoughts as she focused her sights on the black dog that held Cody pinned to the ground, jaws clenched around Cody’s shoulder. But she didn’t have time to nourish that seed. As she ran in tandem next to Char, Char whipped something out of her messenger bag and shoved it in Kerry’s direction. Kerry took it, looked down at it, looked up ahead.

It was one of the reusable confetti poppers that Char’s mother had invested in for her catering business. Some clients loved that eco-friendly touch, the idea that they could use biodegradable confetti and hand the poppers back at the end of the night, instead of little disposable plastic ones that would become just more garbage. Kerry wasn’t entirely sure why Char thought a reusable confetti popper would be handy right now.

Then it clicked: Noise. Distraction. It might scare the dog off. Char was clenching her own confetti popper one hand on the plastic handle, the other on the trigger string, ready to pull it, but waiting. 

“Good plan,” Kerry said. She grabbed her confetti popper the same way, waiting for when they were closer in range.

The black dog didn’t even look toward them at first, intent instead on holding Cody to the ground, while Cody rattled out a plaintive string of desperate pleading words. It wasn’t just the dog–it was the way that his leg was twisted under him at entirely the wrong angle. Kerry couldn’t blame him for melting down.

When they were only three feet away, so close the dog did finally look, though it didn’t unclench its jaw from Cody’s shoulder, Char leveled her confetti popper at the dog and pulled the string. 

The spring-powered mechanism fired out a glittering white cloud that struck mostly into the side of the dog. The dog gave a very doggy yelp, startled, and the very second that its jaws opened, Cody started dragging himself away from his attacker. Kerry jammed her popper into her pocket and leaned down to grab hold of Cody’s hand and help pull him away from the dog. 

The dog was now looking warily between the three teenagers. It shook itself, bits of rock salt dislodging from its fur.

“It’s… not a ghost.” Char sounded about as surprised as the dog looked right in that moment.

Then, off to their left, the overgrown hedges started to rustle. Something–someone–shoved through. With only the thought that she needed to protect Char driving her, Kerry pointed her rock salt popper at the incoming figure and pulled the string.

The cloud of rock salt struck Officer Adrien Morgan square in the chest. The spattering of rock salt dust stood out starkly against his navy blue uniform.

Kerry’s eyes widened. He was uniformed. He was actually there. And then, pushing through the same apparent path through the hedges, Ms. Anholts emerged, too. What was she doing there?

Adrien gave Kerry a look–one eyebrow up, then an eyeroll, then a tip of his head. Then he moved past her, past Char, straight toward the black dog with a confident stride and a set in his shoulders.

 “Go! Get out of here!” he bellowed, waving his arms in a wide gesture. He didn’t reach for his gun or his taser–he carried both, one at each hip. He just kept closing the gap and shouting at the dog, until it made the choice to turn tail and run around the corner of the house and out of sight.

“My goodness,” Ms. Anholts said, resting a hand over her heart. “Officer Morgan, shouldn’t you take care of that injured boy?”

Now Officer Morgan pivoted back on his heel. “Didn’t I tell you to wait outside with that independent survey team of yours until the city representative arrived with the keys to the property?”

“It seemed to me, with the screaming and shouting, that you might need some support,” Ms. Anholts replied. She gestured, again, to Cody, who was whimpering on the ground and clutching his arm. “You do have some kind of first aid training, don’t you? Can’t you help him? What if he bleeds out on your watch? And, where is your partner, anyway?”

As she waved her hand, the motion of it, the twist of her wrist, the position of her fingers, struck Kerry and drew her attention. It felt important, somehow, even though she had no idea why. All she knew was that, for once, Officer Morgan actually turned instead of holding his ground. He reached for the radio fastened to his shoulder as he knelt down next to Cody.

“Dispatch, we need EMTs at Paxwood House. Teen with a broken leg and dog bite. I’m checking vitals now. Over.”

The radio crackled with a reply: “Roger that. Help is on the way.”

Then Officer Morgan started checking Cody over, asking him questions, keeping his attention. Kerry had spent so long hating Adrien on principle, she never would have expected to see him acting with such a gentle touch and soothing voice. 

“Oh, Kerry Rhys-Hansen, I recognize you. The councilwoman’s daughter,” Ms. Anholts said, drawing Kerry’s attention away from Adrien. She looked Char up and down and pursed her lips slightly. “I don’t recognize you, though.”

“Charlotte Muso.”

Officer Morgan looked up. “Escort yourself and these two girls off the premises.”

“Oh, but what if that stray mutt comes back?” Ms. Anholts asked. “I’d hate to leave you without backup, officer.”

“And I’d hate to see these girls hurt. Go.” Now his tone was firm, unwavering He wasn’t taking any more advice from Anholts.

She held her hands up in the air, conceding. “All right all right. Ladies, shall we?”

Without waiting for a reply from either Kerry or Char, Ms. Anholts moved smoothly between the two girls, placed a firm hand on each of their upper back shoulders, and gave them both a little press forward, away from the scene. Something about the contact sent a shiver along Kerry’s spine. The hairs on the back of her neck stood once again. She took a few extra steps, quickly, to get away from Ms. Anholts’ touch, and she reached out for Char’s hand as she did.

But, any confidence Char had at the start of their adventure, all the boldness she’d born with her when she charged right at Kerry’s side to save Cody had faded, and now her fair skin had taken on a deathly white pallor, her eyes wide and unblinking, her lips pressed so firmly together that the color had drained right out of them. 

“Char?” Kerry asked, tilting her head to one side. Her heart dropped into her stomach. “Are you hurt?”

Char shook her head. “Let’s just get out of here before we make anything worse.”

“All right, sure. Do you… do you want me to call your parents?” Kerry offered.

Kerry knew that if she called her own parents, her father wouldn’t answer even on a Saturday because he’d be busy with work. Her mother would want to speak with Officer Morgan and Ms. Anholts and figure out just how bad this was for her own political ambitions. But Char’s parents? They loved their daughter in that way where they’d drop absolutely everything and come running straight to her rescue without any hesitation. 

“No, but I should. If you do, they’ll be even more worried.” Char pulled her phone out of her pocket, then started walking, one step in front of the next, with Ms. Anholts’ hand still on her shoulder, guiding her along.

The pang of jealousy that plucked at Kerry’s heart? That was stupid and baseless, but she still wanted to be the one comforting Char, the one with the reassuring arm around her. She’d gotten Char into this in the first place, and she ought to be the one to get her out of it. 

Kerry took one last glance back over her shoulder, to Officer Morgan, then to Paxwood House itself. The haze in the air had parted with the constant piercing warmth of the early afternoon sunlight. Now it looked soo much less like a haunted house straight out of a horror movie, and so much more like an old neglected property, overgrown with weeds. The only thing anyone had gotten from that stupid dare was trouble and one broken leg. This wasn’t the story she’d been looking for.

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

Episode 14: The Real and the Unreal

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