Tuesday, 14 May 2019, Night (New Moon)
Paxwood, Whatcom County, Washington, USA
A dirt road illuminated by flashlight wasn’t the most romantic place to confess your love to the girl of your dreams, but there were worse. I’d planned this out—and lost my nerve—for months. Any of the times we drove around provided the privacy for it. No chance her parents or mine would barge in on us. But, I’d imagine myself, distracted as I fumbled through my confession, getting into a wreck. Way, way too embarrassing.
So, out here, under an open night sky alive with stars, between towering evergreen trees, my heart went weird in my chest, like some kind of trapped creature squirming for an escape. I bit my lip as I bumped shoulders with my best friend.
That was the most nerve-wracking part: Char was my best friend.
Char, who always came prepared—whatever we were getting into. Tonight, she brought two flashlights and a folded map in case we lost reception and our phones died out here at the far edge of Paxwood, where our little city nestled in the Northern Cascades gave way to thick evergreen forest.
Char, who entertained my crazy schemes with remarkable exuberance, even when it meant slipping out into the night in a borrowed car. She asked all the right questions and recalled each bit of lore I shared, though urban legends weren’t her first passion. (Char wanted to be a chocolatier, a costume designer, or anything fundamentally creative.)
Char, whose friendship mattered so much that fracturing it with the wrong words would cut me to ribbons.
Char trusted me as twilight turned to night, even somewhere like this.
“So, tell me the story,” Char said, breaking the silence that hung in the cool air between us. “What are we looking for?”
For the hundredth or thousandth or maybe millionth time, I swallowed the lump of confession in my throat and flashed a smile instead.
“It’s another faerie one.” I looked away as I swung my flashlight side to side slowly, sweeping the beam of light across the gravel road, most focused on shoulder, thick with tall grass and brambles. I was looking for an footpath—no matter how small.
“As the story goes, there was a group of humans with magic abilities accused of being evil witches by the ordinary humans. Worse, they were tormented by demons who wanted to enslave them, but no one would help them because, you know. Witches are evil.”
“So, they were facing enemies on every side.” Char nodded along.
“They needed a sanctuary where they could rest, recover, shake off their tormentors, then move on to a more permanent home.”
As I let the story catch hold of me, that wild creature that had replaced my heart stilled, put to slumber by the familiar rhythm. I risked losing this if I said anything that would change the status quo. I couldn’t confess. Who else would listen to my weird folklore like Char?
“The sanctuary needed to be hidden and safe, with enough resources to recover from losses. The faeries, according to the old lore, have ways of walking between their home realm and our world, making paths between distant places, even crafting little folds in reality tucked away where no one can find them because they simultaneously do and don’t exist. And faeries absolutely love to make deals and trades.”
“So, these not-so-evil witches made a deal,” Char guessed.
My light glanced across a turn in the road, so I pulled out my phone to check the most recently updated map data. This was visible on satellite view. It was real. I settled back into the tale.
“Exactly. They traded in story, magic, enchantments, bargained away their best livestock and all the resources they could spare because the demons or the humans would steal or kill or destroy anything they owned, anyway. In exchange, the faeries made a sanctuary. Legend says it remains a haven, even to this day. The sanctuary path appears between the birch trees, under a new moon. A new crossroads on a path that leads to nowhere.”
“And… it’s a new moon tonight, plus this road ends ahead, doesn’t it?” Char swept her own flashlight beam upward over the thin cracked white trunks of the birch trees that grew near the road. “Why birch trees specifically, though?”
“Tree meanings say they’re symbolic of new beginnings, and Faeries like to lean into symbols and meanings for their magic, I guess.”
“You checked your phone to compare that side road to the maps?” Char gathered.
I nodded. “Plus, the sanctuary path is distinct because it will have a black gate with no fence. When you open the gate and pass through it, you’ll find yourself in Sanctuary. If my research is correct, you encounter the gate pretty quickly. We shouldn’t have to stray too far down any side path. No gate? It’s not the Sanctuary Path.”
“And where did you find this story?” Char asked.
We both broke out laughing. When Char bumped shoulders with me in her mirth, that wild creature stirred again.
“Wait, so it can’t be Paxwood-specific, right? And aren’t witch hunts more of an East Coast thing? Like Salem?”
I shrugged. “Right. It came out of New England, the colonial era. I didn’t plan to do anything with it, but then I noticed this stand of birch trees. I guess we’re far enough north here in Whatcom County. The coast shouldn’t matter if the other conditions line up. I mean, faeries make gates between whole other worlds, apparently.”
Char and I investigated so many local legends and paranormal oddities since we’d met in sixth grade. Pioneer graveyards. Lumber ghost towns. Faerie circles. Hikes into the woods looking for signs of animal shapeshifters. Hauntings of the old buildings in Paxwood itself. It ended the same: no proof of magic, but plenty of time shared.
I wished, just once, these expeditions would lead to a discovery instead of a forgotten lump of fool’s gold. Soon, I’d have to give up the hunt for faeries and focus on figuring out a path to college, a career, and adult financial stability, but I’d enjoy this while it lasted.
Gravel crunched beneath the soles of our shoes, and our flashlight beams passed over plants, but no unexpected paths. Somewhere nearby, an owl hooted. Above us, the road left an empty gap in the evergreen forest canopy, a wide open view to the brilliantly clear night sky—especially bright because of our distance from any major light pollution, and brighter still because of the total lack of moonlight.
Then, a wolf howled.
Char caught hold of my hand. I reassured myself it meant nothing. Friends held hands all the time.
First love was enough of a challenge when everything was hetero-normative. I didn’t even know if Char was interested in girls. Char hadn’t expressed interest in, well, anyone. When I told her I was bisexual, Char hadn’t shared her own orientation. She’d been wonderful, supportive, and understanding—grateful that I had entrusted her with the truth.
But there was a difference between saying, “I think I’m bisexual,” and saying, “I think I love you.”
Not a comfortable conversation to have.
“Should we turn back?” Char asked.
“The wolf howl?” I squeezed Char’s hand. “We’re probably fine.”
We pressed on a few steps further, and then my flashlight caught another break in the brambles. I’d started to check the satellite map again when Char pulled me back a step.
“Kerry, look,” Char whispered.
The underbrush rustled, Char’s light catching the movement. My first thought was that somehow the vampire lawyer had tracked me down already. But the figure that broke through the trees was worse.
After all, Officer Adrian Morgan was an absolutely real human being, and the last thing I needed was for him to call my parents on me. Again.