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(13) Truth Or Dare

“TRUTH,” FLORENCE SAID, STILL SMILING. It was starting to freak Bethanie out.

They’d move back downstairs and sat in the foyer by the front door, facing each other. It was a battle of mettle, and Bethanie wasn’t sure she could win.

She thought for a moment. “What is your biggest regret?”

The wind hissed under the door beside them. It made the hairs on Bethanie’s arm rise. She did her best to ignore it.

Florence placed a finger to her lips dramatically as if she were deeply considering her answer. “My biggest regret…” She thought about it for a few more minutes, letting Bethanie wait in the silence. Strangely, Bethanie felt as if Florence was trying to stall. “My biggest regret is living the way I was expected to live. I wish I’d done my own thing sooner.”

This struck a chord in Bethanie. She felt like she always did the same thing, always stuck to the path society had placed her on. Hadn’t the whole point of today been to break free of that? Maybe she had more in common with Florence than she realised…

“Okay, you’re up,” Florence said. “Truth or dare?”

Bethanie thought of all the time she’d wasted, going through the same motions every day, hanging with same two girls who wouldn’t hesitate to kick her under the bus if it meant saving their own skin. If she truly wanted to live apart from any and all influence, without wasting the chances thrown her way, she would have to prove it – to the world, and to herself.

Bethanie took a deep breath. “Dare.”

Florence said, “I was hoping you’d say that.” She looked positively giddy. “I dare you to go upstairs, go as far down the hall as you can, and then scratch your name into the wall.”

Bethanie thought, That doesn’t sound too bad. “What with?”

Florence looked around and produced a particularly sharp shard of glass. “This.” She placed it into Bethanie’s open palm.

Bethanie had to admit: she felt better about going upstairs with a weapon in her hand, even if it would be useless against any ghosts. Not that there were any ghosts. She was letting her imagination roam a bit too far. Hastily, she reined it back in.

“Alright.” She got up and moved to the base of the stairs, placing her hand on the banister. This was your choice, she told herself. Surprisingly, it actually made her feel better.

Bethanie headed up the stairs. It was much easier this time around. When given purpose and certainty that she wasn’t alone, the shadows didn’t seem to bother her as much.

She paused at the entrance to the hall. It yawned open, dark and unforgiving. If she looked hard enough, she could make out a window at the far end. It didn’t let in any light; it was the night of a new moon.

Bethanie started forward. The darkness was crushing, and she was painfully aware that every step she took forward was a step she’d have to take back out. Aside from her creaky footfalls and a distant rustle of leaves outside, it was dead quiet.

She passed by a half-open door. Inside, there was only blackness. She had the sensation of something lurking within, watching her, coming closer. Quickly, she moved on.

The house was deeper than Bethanie thought. She crept past a few more rooms before she finally reached the end of the hallway. If she had thought it was cold in the foyer, it was freezing back here. Her breath left her mouth in visible white puffs.

The window loomed before her, blurry and caked with dirt. She could still see out, however, and it showed her a view of the forest. It was still.

This didn’t add up in Bethanie’s brain. Hadn’t she heard the wind earlier? Hadn’t she seen the leaves brushing up against the windows of the house? There was nothing right about the scene.

Eager to be done, Bethanie crouched down and started scratching her name in the wood panel framing the window. Her letters were jagged and required more pressure to create than she would have thought for decaying wood. She had to go over each stroke numerous times just to make a dent. Each letter took excruciatingly long.

By the time she got to the H, Bethanie started wishing she had a shorter name. The wind had picked up; she could feel it toying with the hem of her skirt, flattening the fabric of her jacket against her back. A look up out the window confirmed her suspicions: it was still quiet outside. This wind was isolated to within the house.

Bethanie shivered, and not just from the cold.

Finally, she got to the E. She rushed through it, her hand hurting from all the exertion. When she was done, she stood up and started moving back down the hall, hand gripping the shard of glass like it was her lifeline.

It didn’t get warmer as she grew closer to the foyer. Instead the cold kept close, trailing behind and around her like an over-attached canine.

Bethanie reached the platform by the stairs, emerging from the hallway. She sighed with relief at finally being finished with the dare.

It wasn’t until she got downstairs that she realised Florence was gone.

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