Sophie pulled her thin jacket closer around her and gave her short, pale friend a pained look, but followed her into the cemetary anyway. It was a quicker route back from the gym to the car, and she was too old to be afraid. She shivered, all the same, and the misty rain was only partly to blame. She mentally scolded herself as Kelly called her, laughing, to hurry up.
You're not a child any more, to believe in ghosts and bad dreams. And it was just a bad dream.
Each step was an effort and she stuck closely to the centre of the path. Kelly rolled her bright blue eyes, but walked back to link arms, but when they reached the chapel at the centre, her bouncy nature caused her to break away: "Hey, look! A green woodpecker!" She wrestled her phone from her pocket and crept forward, intending to take a photo as it landed on a gravestone. Of course, as soon as she got close enough for her phone's resolution, it flew away. She sighed - and followed quietly through the graves, leaving Sophie alone.
Sophie sighed and stuffed her hands deep into her pockets, trying to keep her mind off where she was. The longer she stood there, the more landmarks she recognised, until she became convinced she had been in this cemetary before, and that it was the cemetary of the dream that, then, maybe hadn't been a dream. Maybe it had happened...
Hadn't happened. Couldn't have happened. Must have been a game she'd played here, and with an overactive child's imagination had become so real she'd had to convince herself it was a dream to cope.
She looked up, and the stone angel caught her eye, the corners of its mouth turning in a conniving smile. Too much. Too much for now. She wanted to call for Kelly, but knew if her friend would be unimpressed if she disturbed the birds she was trying to photo.
She walked - fast - the rest of the way out and ran for the car, hoping that Kelly had got bored chasing the bird and was already there. But no. Sophie took in a deep breath and exhaled carefully. Kelly had the keys. She waited a few more minutes, then pulled her own phone out and sent a quick message to Kelly "I'm at the car." Thrust her phone back into her pocket without checking to see if it had been delivered. Not because she was afraid it wouldn't be. That was ridiculous. But...
Another long minute passed. The cold started to seep in. She pulled her phone back out her pocket to see the message had been delivered - but not read. She didn't know if that was better, couldn't see Kelly from this angle.
How long do I wait?
The misty rain shaped figures among the graves.
I'm being ridiculous.
But she checked her phone again, twice, to see the message still unread, before ringing Kelly's phone. Only when there was no answer did she go back in. Has she tripped and fallen? Has the beast got her? Don't be ridiculous. She's fine. She's just distracted by the wildlife. Are the ghosts calling? Oh grow up grow up grow up.
She followed the path back to the chapel, back to the smirking stone angel opposite. She tried Kelly's phone again, hoping to hear which direction to go, but nothing: this time, no connection. On a whim, she followed the smirking angel's pointing arm, threading through the graves with barely compressed horror to reach an open mausoleum.
Her heart pounded. She knew this place. She'd been here before. Of course here was where she'd find Kelly. A half-remembered bargain floated through her mind: You're too young to be any good to me. You're too shy. I'll let you go if you bring me another - one who has no fear. That certainly described Kelly. Nothing phased her, and she was quick to make friends with everybody. Fuck.
Inside was dark and cool as a cave. The sound of her footsteps seemed as deadened as her heartbeat, each step enveloping her deeper in the dark. Startled laughter brushed the back of her neck - not Kelly's bright sound, but something deeper. You returned! The voice that rode her mind seemed as surprised.
"I did." Her voice was flat in this nowhere place.
For your friend... It wasn't a question, so Sophie didn't answer.
The darkness shifted around her, became bright light. It took her eyes a few moments to adjust: a fireplace right in front of her. There was a cough from behind and she turned to see Kelly seated at a table covered in candlesticks, glaring even after the fire. It wasn't exactly Kelly. No it said, in Kelly's voice from Kelly's mouth, and that fingernails-in-the-brain voice at the same time I'm just borrowing her. It paused, cocked Kelly's head to an extreme angle, and seemed to consider for a moment. How about a challenge? You can win her back, if you like, but if you lose... well, you'll break the bindings and I'll walk out of here with her. Or you can walk away and leave her here with me, for my eternal... pleasure.
Sophie paused long enough for it to snap Which is it? in a pain-sharp streak.
She pulled out the chair opposite. "I'll play."
It twisted Kelly's head again to that unnatural angle. Poker? It asked, a deck appearing in Kelly's hand.
Sophie nodded, scarce able to breathe. "Five card draw?" She kept the shake from her voice but not her body, and couldn't embed any certainty in her words. "Two rounds of redraw?"
It placed the pack in the centre of the table and 5 cards were dealt to each, spinning through the air from the deck with no hands. Sophie carefully gathered hers. A 3, a 6 and a 9 - and a pair of queens, clubs and hearts. She discarded the 3 numbers and the pack dealt her 3 more: a 5, a 2, and the queen of spades. She looked over them to where Kelly's face wore a smirk as the creature discarded a pair of cards. Sophie again discarded the non-queens, while Kelly's arm tossed back the two that had come to it.
As the new cards arrived, Sophie mustered every ounce of self-control to look and see... the last queen. She nearly sobbed with relief. The creature in Kelly looked up sharply You think your hand is good? Show me!
Sophie carefully laid the cards down on the table and was rewarded with a violent hiss: Kelly's hands lay down their cards. The jack of hearts. The 10 of hearts. The 9 of hearts... The king of hearts. Relief flooded Sophie as she realised there was no straight flush to beat her four of a kind and now she laughed, and reached for her friend's hand to pull her out of the mausoleum.
The girls stood blinking in the sunshine. Kelly rubbed her head. "I must have tripped and blacked out. I don't remember getting here..."
Sophie put an arm around her. "Maybe a concussion. Should I drive?"
Kelly blinked her green eyes as they walked back to the car. "Thought you were afraid of this place?"
"I was, but I guess I got over it."
Kelly nodded, and as they reached the car fumbled in her pocket to hand over the keys.
Sophie didn't see the joker card that fell to the ground.