Tuesday, May 18th, 2018, Late Evening
Moon Phase: New Moon
Paxwood, Whatcom County, Washington, USA
Loose crumbling brick remnants shifted beneath my feet as I crossed the gap in the wall that surrounded Paxwood House. I shouldn’t have been there, but the city council meeting ended early and Char wasn’t expecting me for another twenty minutes. This place was tonight’s central issue: To sell or not to sell?
I’d never admit how many times I’d visited Paxwood House, the abandoned home of town founder John Paxwood and his family. This was trespassing. Anyone who knew about my fascination with local lore and old ghost stories strongly advised against doing anything illegal, especially considering I was a sophomore with a bright future ahead of me and I didn’t want a mess on my permanent record with college applications on the horizon, but who would know? No one came here, not even high school delinquents looking for privacy. There was plenty of non-haunted forest for that.
The dim chill after I crossed the property line immediately raised goosebumps across my arms. No low points in the topography or density of tree cover explained why this always happened. Every time I came here, I noticed the change. It could be all in my head. I’d never dared to ask anyone else to tag along and verify.
Mind you, there were a few posts on the Lore Compendium about Paxwood House. The Paxwoods notoriously held seances and dabbled in the spooky, although if you were a wealthy woman living in the early 1900s, the occult was in thing, and you didn’t have social media to share your ghost encounters, so you had to host a party where everyone could be witness together. Most ladies at the time weren’t devil-worshippers. They were just, well, bored. The entire Paxwood family died inside, apparently of a flu-like disease, leaving no successors, so it became city property, then the mayor’s house. In 2001, when those anthrax attacks happened through mail in other places, some people visiting the mayor got sick. It was a total coincidence, but the mayor decided it’d be better to have a more modern, more secure, less haunted house to live in.
After that, it stood empty. Surprising how fast a place falls into disrepair.
One of the city council meeting’s points of discussion was the Silphium Resorts, Inc. proposal to purchase Paxwood House, renovate it, and open it as a luxury bed-and-breakfast at the heart of a town that had once thrived on lumber and now flourished on tourism—winter skiing and snowboarding, summer camping and hiking, antiquing all year round.
Dried up leaves crunched under my feet. It hadn’t rained in at least a week, which was admittedly unusual for Western Washington.
I’d never gone into Paxwood House. I comprehended the hazards of entering an abandoned building, but the grounds? If there were wild animals, it would be the same ones I’d encounter hiking in the ample evergreen forests here in the Cascades.
I didn’t know why at the time, but Paxwood House called to me. Ever since middle school, I’d ride up here alone on my bike sometimes and go through that same gap in the wall. With its deep roots in the history of this community, I felt almost at home musing about the stories I learned about my hometown’s past.
I strolled through the overgrown grounds, stared toward the old house sagging in the distance. It wasn’t that big, and from what little I knew about Silphium, they built large-scale vacation resorts. This late 1800s mansion probably had eight bedrooms at most. I hadn’t seen the floor plans, but they’d be in the city library. My mom would find those useful, too.
I’d already sent my notes on tonight’s meeting to her. She was a councilwoman, and I was her spy in the audience. She was sharp, but a second set of eyes scanning the crowd and the other council members’ expressions helped when something big was on the table.
So, I’d dutifully noted who was in attendance—like Dr. Vogel, Paxwood’s dentist, whose adoptive daughter now worked for the corporation that wanted to buy out Paxwood’s soul. He smiled and whispered encouraging things to several of the other local business owners sitting around him. The three resident Cardosos of Cardoso Family Auto sat together, faces neutral. Mx. Cardoso, who also taught shop at Paxwood High, had the stiffest posture of them all. The Cardosos could be firm allies in opposition to the sale.
In exchange for my observations and notes, I had permission to use the car for research.
I hadn’t mentioned that it wasn’t for school, but my mother hadn’t asked, either. That was her mistake, not mine.
Char. The new moon.
I stuck my hand into my pocket and found only keys. I’d forgotten my phone.
Might as well get going.
I headed back, crossing the same crumbling gap, felt about five degrees warmer once I was back outside.
Something different froze me in my tracks.
Had someone reported my car, parked and empty down the street? I usually came on my bike—easier to stash. Cars were too big to disguise, and despite Paxwood House’s tall brick walls, its location wasn’t isolated.
I pressed my back against the property wall to keep from being seen, listening. I knew these voices. I’d been listening to them just thirty minutes before.
“…no downside for them with this, and they’re still making us wait two weeks for them to vote on the sale. Paxwood House is a run-down wreck, a drain on their revenue, worth half of what we’re offering. Their little backwater make-believe tourist trap has to need this infusion of money into their budget.” Sneering Baritone voice I imagined his nose held up in sheer disgust. It was Silphium’s lawyer. His name was generic enough even my photographic memory hadn’t registered it.
“If you’re wondering why they’re so slow to agree, you can start with the fact that you’re calling Paxwood a backwater tourist trap. It is a city, at least, technically.” That was Tricia Anholts, former Paxwood resident, and the proposed manager who would run Paxwood House Bed and Breakfast on behalf of Silphium, if the council approved the sale.
Lawyer Man huffed. “I need to get out of this forest. The blood donor selection is abysmal, and the evergreen sap smell gets into everything. I don’t want that in my mouth.”
My mind whirred. How would blood donors relate to his mouth? Blood transfusions happened by needle. Well, unless he was a vampire, but they weren’t real.
Sure, I treasured Paxwood’s lore. I investigated ghosts and faeries and other impossibilities. I wanted actual proof that magic existed, but these were stories. Experiences. They lived in a space between true and false. Like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, they made the world more interesting.
So, no, I’d misheard him, or misunderstood what he was saying. There was no way that an honest-to-goodness vampire went through all the steps necessary to become a barred lawyer in Washington state, considering the amount of daylight activity involved even with all the cloudy days. If such a vampire existed, they would not be standing outside a decrepit Victorian mansion in the Northern Cascades talking about real estate. How could any paranormal being be that boring?
“We’ve made our proposal, and it’s not like there are any other offers on the table.” Anholts pressed on. “We can count on Vogel to persuade local business owners to put pressure on the council members. We’ll do a bit of special persuasion if it comes to that. If we knew what we were looking for, things would be different. We need full access without prying eyes.”
What did that even mean? Had the Paxwoods or a former mayor hidden some secret treasure? If true, it would be some juicy local lore. Hoping the two would just wrap up their conversation and leave, I stayed still, but…
“I hear something,” said the lawyer.
Time to move.
My best guess from their volume and direction was that they were standing close to the main entry gate, to my right. My car was off to my left. Footsteps on worn pavement started my way. My heart pounded, adrenaline flooding my system, instincts screaming that it would be a terrible idea to get caught.
I darted out from my unplanned hiding place pressed against the brick property wall, dashed like it was physical fitness testing day across the road to my car, fumbling with the key fob in my pocket. No horror movie damsel moment for me tonight. The car beeped, its lights flashing. I slipped into the driver’s seat, turned over the ignition, and ignored the sounds of Ms. Anholts and her lawyer shouting after me as I peeled away. In my rear-view mirror, I could see each of their cars. So they’d driven separately to meet here?
One of these days, trespassing and eavesdropping would catch up to me. For now, I breathed in through my nose and out through my mouth to calm my nerves.
The dashboard clock read 9:10 PM—ten minutes fast, as always, but Char was waiting, all the same. The thought of a secret treasure hidden by the town founders tempted me to cancel. Char would understand.
But, new moons only happened once a month, and I didn’t want to wait. Plus, tonight presented the perfect chance to say something.