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(11) The Real Deal

WHEN BETHANIE STEPPED INSIDE THE house, it felt like she’d just stepped into her grave. Everything was different inside. The darkness wasn’t just darkness, but an entity in and of itself, pulsing and weaving through the air, coiling in the corners, ready for the attack. The silence wasn’t just silence either; it was so quiet that the room hummed with negative-sound, with whispers Bethanie knew she couldn’t truly be hearing.

The old wooden floorboards beneath her feet creaked with every step and her heart kicked in her chest when she saw a shadow move down the hall, like a creature skittering from room to room. She blinked. Once. Twice. Everything was still.

She was so caught up in her own fear that she didn’t notice when Florence closed the door behind her, silent as the night.

Bethanie opened her mouth, afraid to speak. Or rather, afraid of what would be drawn to the sound of her voice. She shook her head. She was being childish.

“Florence?” she whisper-yelled. Her voice was shaking. She couldn’t stop it.

“Behind you,” Florence whispered, voice like wind rattling through the shutters.

Bethanie spun around, goose bumps riddling her skin. There was no one behind her. “Florence,” she said again. “This isn’t funny.”

When there was no reply, Bethanie stepped deeper into the house. She stopped when she heard a swoosh, like someone dashing across the room.

She listened.

Something upstairs creaked.

Found you, Bethanie thought. It was the same sound her own feet made on the old floor.

Quietly, she made her way to the staircase, feeling around in the dark in case she walked into anything. She found the guardrail and held onto it as she slowly headed up the stairs. With every new step, the wood groaned. Bethanie cringed. How did Florence manage to get up here so quickly, so silently?

Bethanie wouldn’t admit it to herself, but she was starting to worry that she wasn’t headed towards Florence, but towards something else entirely. This wasn’t some fake haunted house at a festival. This felt like the real deal.

Half-way up, the guardrail ended, having eroded away. Bethanie continued the rest of the way unaided.

At the top of the stairs, everything was silent. She moved across the platform until she was facing the hallway which lead deeper into the house. There was a rustle behind her. She jumped around, only to see that it was the leaves of a nearby tree swiping against a window.

Her heart was pounding. Her palms were sweaty, but she was nonetheless freezing. It was colder in here than it was outside.

Bethanie didn’t move. “Florence?” she called out once more. “Where are you?”

After a minute, Bethanie became aware of a tickle at the back of her neck, like a tiny draft blowing repeatedly, like someone’s breath on her skin. It took her ears a second longer to pick up the sound of breathing, right by her ear.

Something cold settled inside her – a fear so intense it paralysed her. The breathing continued. Whoever it was, whatever it was, was standing right behind her, close enough to touch.

Bethanie gave it a second longer, drawing up every ounce of courage she had.

She spun around.

The hallway was desolate.

“Bethanie,” someone said, their pitch rising on ie. Utterly freaked, Bethanie looked to her left, the origin of the sound.

And there was Florence, standing by the stairs, her hair so dark it bled into the night around her.

Bethanie waited for the relief to fill her, to wash out her terror. But it never came. A deep-down part of herself felt her fear increase, felt her muscles tense, her fight or flight instincts kicking into gear.

She was every bit an assemblage of animalistic instincts, urgent life-force and ancient fear.

Florence took a soundless step closer. “How about a game of truth or dare?”

Bethanie didn’t feel up for games. “Maybe we should just go. This place creeps me out.”

Florence laughed. The pure, unaccented sound vaulted around the house. It sounded very much like Florence was claiming the place with her voice, searching every corner with boundless laughter.

“That’s the point,” Florence said, moving even closer. “The point is to be afraid. That’s the fun part.”

Bethanie snuck a look at her phone. How long had it been since Dylan left? She couldn’t remember. More than anything she wanted him to return. To get her out of here.

She looked back at Florence. Dylan wasn’t here. Neither was her car. She had only one option: to play the game.

“You first,” she said. Her voice was still shaking. She knew Florence could hear it. “Truth or dare?”

Florence smiled. And the night seemed to smile along with her.

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