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(15) The Eleventh Hour

BETHANIE WASN’T QUITE SURE HOW it happened. One moment, she had been standing alone in a dark and probably-haunted house. The next, a person (or what her brain had fumbled to identify as anything, eventually deciding: person. Really it was mass of black bones and ghostly light and floating ink-like hair.) drew over her like a shadow and she fell into utter darkness. When she’d opened her eyes (had she closed them? She couldn’t remember.), she was lying amongst grass, trees swaying above her head.

It was all very not-normal, very out-of-the-ordinary. It was terrifying and horrific, but it was also different. Under all the fear, some part of her was thrilled. Different!

Bethanie sat up. The forest around her was empty of sound, save for the rustle of leaves. It was dark, too – but not as dark as the house. You can do this, she told herself. It’s a walk in the park.

Under normal circumstances, she might have laughed at her own pun.

But not tonight.

Bethanie got to her feet and started forward, trusting her instincts to lead her where she needed to go. She had no clue where she was, but a couple hundred metres later, her foot smashed into stone, tripping her up.

She looked back at what had tripped her. In the dark she couldn’t see much, so she knelt down, running her fingers over the stone. That’s when she felt it: the gouges in the smooth surface. Her finger traced out an infinity symbol. No, an 8.

Bethanie pulled out her phone and hastily switched on the flashlight application. She froze. It was no ordinary stone. It was a headstone.

She was at a grave.

Bethanie moved on. Soon another grave fell into the reach of her phone’s light. And then another. The further she walked, the more she saw, and the closer each grave was to the next. All of a sudden, she was walking amongst rows and rows of them.

Delayed, Bethanie realised where she was: the graveyard.

She continued moving. Up ahead, she could see the trees thinning out. There was just enough light for her to see where the forest finished and the meadow, filled with headstones, began.

Before Bethanie got there, however, one particular grave caught her eye. It was large and tall – at least a foot taller than her – and had the crumbling, mouldy look of something ancient. It was covered in spirals and patterns, most of which she didn’t recognise – more, still, that were partially eroded – and there was a palm-sized hollow in the centre of the stone. It was a perfect circle, the stone surface within well preserved, like some crucial piece had once been there but was now missing.

At first, Bethanie didn’t know what to make of it all. Then she took a step back.

Up close, the carvings just looked like decoration, but from a distance it was clear they formed a shape – a rectangle the exact size of a door.

The wind knocked against Bethanie and she felt herself shiver. She wasn’t completely sure why this discovery bothered her, only that it did. This was a place for dead things to rest, to stay where they were. Why would someone have a door carved into their grave?

But it was more than that. There was something else, nagging away at the back of her mind. She just couldn’t pry it loose.

Bethanie turned on her phone just as the time changed on the screen. Without quite knowing why, she sucked in a breath.

It was midnight.

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