“Mélanie! Stop, please. Stop!”
Mélanie stopped. She didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. “I’m not going in there.”
“Come back, please.”
Even with the please, it was an order. Even the way he sounded like he was pleading with her, abashed and embarrassed, it was an order. She turned around and walked as slowly as she could back towards him.
“I have too much of a flair for the dramatic, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were from around here. I didn’t know you’d have heard the rumors.”
She put one foot deliberately directly in front of the the other foot and didn’t look up at him. “Rumors? I’ve seen what happens to people.”
“Oh, so you really are from nearby. There were a couple, yeah. They weren’t scared enough, and they were quite irritated at me. I’d done this and that, you know, and so I, uh, I put a little mojo on them. It should wear off. It should have worn off by now – that was a while ago.”
“I haven’t seen then in a while,” she admitted slowly. “I got – well, I got sold.”
“Oh.” He sounded relieved. “Oh, well, I may have to check. Anyway, this place is, well, it already had a reputation. And there are a couple – they might be ghosts; I didn’t think those actually existed, though – but I came to an arrangement with them a long time ago.”
She was still walking towards him as slowly as she could. “Wait.” She looked up at him. “This place is a hellhole, a real demon-infested place. I know people…”
“Like I said, when people get very close, I have to discourage them, but most of the time, the rumors and some Workings on the gates and the fence keep people away. Nothing in here is going to eat you. Nothing in here is going to make you empty. Okay? It’s all smoke and mirrors and some Workings that I guess were me outsmarting myself.”
“And a couple ghosts,” she pointed out. She let her feet carry her at a slightly more normal walking pace.
“And a couple ghosts,” he allowed. “Or things that may or may not be ghosts. Please?” He held out his hands to her. “We’re safer once we’re inside all those Workings.”
“Safer in the haunted house.” She let herself speed up a bit more. The pressure of the orders was starting to give her a headache. “You know how ridiculous that sounds, right?”
“It might sound ridiculous, but I assure you it’s true. Now, I am sorry. I honestly didn’t expect you to have heard of my little charade. But I assure you, once we get past the facade, it’s lovely inside, there’s food, there’s running water, or at least water that runs, and I can provide you with some better clothing. Please?”
She let herself close the last few feet to her new owner at a much faster pace.
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