Wednesday, 15 May 2019, Morning (Waxing Crescent)
Paxwood, Whatcom County, Washington, USA
Regardless of what Clover thinks about humanizing myself and everyone else in this story, let’s be honest: Getting grounded sucks, and none of us wants to relive that conversation. Besides, you’re here for a haunted house story, not mother-daughter drama.
Once my mother took my keys, I retreated to my room. Fuming, I searched for distractions via internet vampire lore, jotted down a few notes, and questioned my sanity. Silphium’s lawyer could not be a vampire. Vampires weren’t real.
Morning offered a better path forward. As I was getting ready for school, my phone chimed with a text message from Diana Cade, the editor of the Paxwood Chronicle. I knew who it was by the sound—a typewriter ding.
“No one wants to cover the Paxwood House sale, but it’s important local news and you like Paxwood-themed ghost stories. Can you get me something well-researched?”
Perfect opportunity. A little freelance paycheck, a chance to help solidify my mother’s argument against the sale to Silphium, and a reason for me to dig in to Paxwood House with Diana Cade’s approval. It wasn’t a press badge, but it gave me a little authority to work with.
“I’m on it.”
There wouldn’t be much to find on Paxwood House online—it wasn’t like Georgetown Castle or the Winchester Mystery House. Hadn’t even gotten any acknowledgement in the most obscure episodes of ghost hunter shows. Only locals cared about Paxwood House, so I’d start at the city library.
As for individuals to interview, I’d want to talk to Dr. Vogel. He was the most enthused audience member at the city hall meeting, and Ms. Anholts was the representative for the Silphium bid. My mother would give me access to the city council members.
I also had enough time before the homeroom bell to drop by the shop classroom and give Mx. Cardoso a visit.
Mx. Cardoso was a less obvious target if you didn’t know them. People didn’t give Cardoso Auto a second thought, but the Cardoso family went back to Paxwood’s founding. Their garage and gas station serviced the original cars of Paxwood, and locals continued to count on the Cardosos’ expertise to this day.
Beyond that, if anyone in this town was a wizard, it was Mx. Cardoso. Their uncanny ability to fix anything could be their MIT degree and constant curiosity. Or, their MIT success could stem from literal wizardry.
“Miss Rhys-Hansen,” Mx. Cardoso greeted when I stepped through the open shop door. They stood at their desk—a standing desk, no chair in sight. At first, they glanced toward me like they planned to go straight back to focusing on whatever important teacher emails they’d received this morning, but then their head snapped back toward me in a quick double-take. “You went to Paxwood House last night, didn’t you?”
Another reason I was pretty sure Mx. Cardoso was some kind of wizard? They knew when I went to certain places in town. At least Mx. Cardoso didn’t show up in those places at the worst moment and then call my mother to get me in trouble like a certain resident cop.
As they turned toward me, they stuck their hand down into an oversized cartoonish coffee cup on their desk. A lilac grey mouse darted up onto their hand, then started the climb up their button-up shirt to perch on their shoulder, nose twitching. This was Arcie, phonetic for RC, short for Reepicheep. Mx. Cardoso’s pet mouse. (Mouse familiar? Wizard!)
“Only outside it,” I said. “The town hall meeting got me thinking.”
“That’s what brings you here,” Mx. Cardoso guessed. They waved me up to their desk, then handed me a tiny pouch of yogurt drops—small sweet mouse treats. I accepted, took out a yogurt drop, then extended a hand out toward Mx. Cardoso’s shoulder with the drop on my palm.
Arcie stuck its little nose out, whiskers twitching as it sniffed at my fingers for a moment before it made the jump from Mx. Cardoso’s shoulder over to my hand, then picked the yogurt drop in its little hand-like paws.
“It is,” I confirmed. “I want to do a bit of intelligence-gathering for my mother to oppose the corporate bid. The Paxwood Chronicle wants me to write something about the history of Paxwood House and the proposed sale. I hoped you might have some ideas about where I could start?”
Mx. Cardoso shook their head. Conflicted, maybe? The silence should have felt weighty, but it was weirdly refreshing to give Arcie my attention. Little ear twitches. Arcie had some big ears for a mouse, every twitch exaggerated. I used one index finger to pet Arcie’s silky fur along its spine. No rushing this.
“Cade should know better.” Mx. Cardoso met my eyes, intense. “Paxwood House is the Chernobyl of Paxwood, Kerry. It’s best for your health to stay far, far away.”
“Are you saying it’s the site of a major nuclear disaster?” I doubted it, but sometimes taking things a little too literally worked to reveal underlying truths.
“No, no, but…” Mx. Cardoso pinched the bridge of their nose. So many signs of stress, uncertainty. They knew something. “Just… Leave it to someone else.”
The adamant refusal should have set me off, but Arcie’s tickling whiskers stilled my nerves. The mouse wanted another treat; I obliged. “You can help me here, or I’ll go digging around the library, but I’m not dropping this. The right owner would respect Paxwood House. They just need to know it exists before Silphium seals the deal.”
“I won’t help you investigate Paxwood House, but…” Mx. Cardoso looked down at their smartphone then, which wasn’t characteristic of them. They almost always kept their focus on the person in front of them, rarely checked their devices during conversations. “I can help you with finding a potential buyer. I’ll put in a word, have a friend contact your mother.”
“Who?” I asked. One name sprang to mind. “Roy Coleman?”
Mx. Cardoso laughed. “You have such a sharp memory. Between park ranger duties and courting a new lady in Vegas on his days off? No, he’s too busy.”
How could I forget Roy Coleman, the literal Olympic fencer who came from Paxwood, who also saved a girl who was drowning in a lake when he was in high school? Roy let me interview him for both moments in Paxwood history, even though I’d been a kid. Mx. Cardoso—back when I’d known them as kid genius Alex Cardoso—had hung out, waiting for Roy.
Roy and Alex left holding hands. They’d been more than friends, which I didn’t piece together until later.
My heart gave that little butterfly flitter in my chest as thoughts strayed to Char. No, I couldn’t ask Mx. Cardoso, teacher, for relationship advice.
“All right, who, then? Someone you met in Boston, maybe?”
Mx. Cardoso waved me off. “Until I contact her and determine if she’s interested, I’m not telling you more about her.”
“You met her in Boston,” I pressed. After all, they hadn’t denied the fact.
“Boston has altogether too many colleges. That won’t help you narrow it down. I promise, I’ll make contact. She’d be better for Paxwood House than Silphium, but… might be she’s otherwise occupied.”
Mx. Cardoso stretched a hand out for Arcie, and the little mouse left my open palms, scampered up Mx. Cardoso’s arm, and nestled back into the pocket of their button-up shirt.
I gritted my teeth, resigned. I wouldn’t be getting anything else out of Mx. Cardoso today.
“And, in the meantime, stay out of Paxwood House. Nowhere near it for me, okay?”
You didn’t make promises you couldn’t keep to a wizard, after all.