“It’s been long enough.” Karen’s teeth chattered more from fear than from the plummeting temperatures.
“The terms of the dare said to spend the whole night in the cemetery. Not to leave before dawn. Besides, the sun’ll be up in another hour or so.”
Moonlight barely filtered through the canopy of trees, so Karen felt safe sticking her tongue out at her brother. What Scott couldn’t see he couldn’t yell at her about.
The noise echoed through the night, and she bit her tongue. Tears came to her eyes, but she whipped her head around and grabbed her brother’s arm. “What was that?”
“A twig probably. Relax.” He snatched his arm away from her.
“Yes,” she whispered, “but who snapped it?”
“You need to settle down. No one’s out here. We’re about sixty minutes away from collecting a hundred bucks each. But you need to hold it together, or we’re going to have to cough up the cash. And honestly, I’d rather die out here than give Marty and Sarah one red cent.”
“Don’t say that!”
Scott sighed. “Why don’t you sit on that bench? Close your eyes and just wait for sunup? I’ll wake you when it’s time to go.”
“Sit with me?”
“Fine.” He sighed. “But you have to close your eyes and try to sleep. Your worrying is making me nervous.”
“So you are scared?”
“Are you going to nap or what?”
Karen doubted she’d get a second of sleep, but she sat, just so her brother would be near her. She closed her eyes and leaned back against a gnarled tree trunk. The bark bit into her skin, but it comforted her to know nothing could sneak up behind her.
One deep breath, then another, and she was able to relax. Another noise, more like a rustling than snapping twigs. She surged to her feet and looked around, wide-eyed.
Her brother was gone, but an ethereal form hovered in front of a tombstone. A keening wail drifted to her on a chilling wind, echoed off the graves and trees until it surrounded Karen in a spectral vortex. Silvered moonbeams filtered through the canopy and illuminated the phantom mourner.
“Hel… hello?” Karen managed.
The ghost turned, an iridescent tear trailing down her cheek.
“Can I… I mean, do you need…?” Karen cleared her throat. “Are you okay?”
Her expression transformed from a mask of grief to a fearsome face, features contorted in fierce rage and malevolent aggression. The wraith flew at Karen with all the speed of the demons of hell, and fear rooted Karen where she stood. The spirit made contact with an icy impact, and Karen passed out.
She came to on the cold bench, pinned to the granite beneath her. Terror washed through her as she struggled to get up, and warm, moist breath tickled her neck as a moan sounded in her ear.
Tears trickled down her face. Who—or what—had captured her? And what was their intent?
The entity pushed off her back, and she was free. Karen jumped to her feet and ran, not even pausing to look back.
“Karen?” her brother called. “Where are you going?”
She skidded to a halt on the damp grass and turned. Scott sat on the bench, blinking and rubbing his face.
“I guess I fell asleep, too,” he said. “You made a nice mattress.”
Karen darted back to him, dropped to her knees, and shook her head. “No. No, you were gone. And there was a ghost at that tombstone. It—”
“Ssh. You just had a bad dream.” He stood and pulled her to her feet.
“No. It was right there.” She pointed to the grave. It was for a young boy, only two years old at his time of death. Perhaps the spirit was a grieving mother, angry for her loss? But why attack Karen? She wasn’t even alive when the boy died.
“It was a bad dream,” Scott repeated.
“It wasn’t. I was awake.”
“An illusion, then. A trick of the moonlight through the leaves and your overactive imagination.”
She bit her lip. Had she imagined it all?
“Come on.” He held his hand out to her. “Sun’s rising. Let’s go collect our money.”
Karen allowed her brother to pull her through the cemetery. She heard a soft sob, barely discernable over their footfalls. A quick glance behind her…
A woman in a white dress disappeared into the trees.
This story inspired by the WordPress daily prompt: Illusion.