(Rare content warning on this one.)
“Raise five,” I said, tossing another red chip into the pot.
Benny’s shoulders slumped even more, but was careful to keep his hands where they were as he thought. He knew I was watching him like a hawk, tracking his body language to figure out what he had.
“Uh… I call,” he said after a while. His words carried a hint of hesitation. He had nothing. Of course, I didn’t either. I had a pair of threes after the flop. But with a Queen and Jack showing, he was right to worry. Benny was too trusting, and his dwindling pool of chips reflected that. He was also easily distracted, so having cleavage gave me a distinct advantage.
“Cara’s bluffing again. She does this to you every time,” Matt told him, glancing up at the both of us before dealing the next card. Another Queen.
“Bet three,” I stated, keeping my tone flat.
Benny eyed Matt, who shrugged. Matt had folded minutes ago and had been watching this hand patiently.
“Well… how do you know she’s bluffing?” Benny asked.
“She’s playing you, man. Been milking your chips all night.”
“Hey! No helping,” I snapped. I held my empty beer can towards him. “Can I get a refill, oh gracious host?” Matt snagged it and stood, going back into the kitchen.
Benny analyzed everything about me in that moment, trying to glean any information about the cards placed neatly face down in front of me. His gaze lingered on my chest, revealing where his mind really was. I stretched my arms forwards for good measure, encouraging him to choose poorly. “I’ll, uh, raise two,” he said, pushing one of his last red chips in.
“Raise five,” I said in a heartbeat, doing the same.
Matt came back with two fresh cans, putting one next to my mound of chips. I nodded my thanks.
“I can’t do it,” Benny groaned, throwing his cards into the middle. “I fold.”
“Ha!” I shouted. “I barely had two pair!” I flipped my cards over to prove that I had indeed been bluffing.
“Told you,” Michael said, cracking his can open and taking a sip.
“Damn it… how do you do that?” Benny said.
I hooked a palm around the pot and shoveled it back towards me. “Credit goes to my sick reads. You guys better step it up or I’m going to be thirty bucks richer in the next half hour.”
My phone started ringing the retro Batman intro.
“Shit,” I mumbled, pulling my phone out and pushing my way out of the chair. “Play the next few without me, I’ll be back in a little while.”
“Your brother again?” Michael asked.
“Yeah,” I lied. With a nod to the both of them I rushed out the front door of Michael’s house and into the cold night air. The phone felt warm on my face as I pressed it against my cheek, careful to keep my voice low. “Everything okay?”
“Of course not,” my brother called over the phone. “I’m picking up lots of unusual movement in the Passways. You’d better come home soon and check it out.”
“On my way.” I hung up and exhaled slowly.
Michael’s house was still warm and inviting when I stepped back in, but the atmosphere had changed. The two of them were chatting with low voices, not expecting me to have come back so soon.
“Uh… you leaving?” Benny said.
I nodded. “Sorry guys, I gotta go. You two split the winnings. I owe you guys a bit for ruining the night anyway.”
Michael shrugged. “It’s whatever. You gotta do what you gotta do. You gonna be good to drive, though? You had like three—”
“I’ll be fine. Sorry, it’s just… duty calls. Everything will be fine, but I have to go. See you later.”
This was the third time this month there was an incident in the Passways.
I got home in ten minutes—roughly half the time it should have taken me. I may have ran a red light or two, but nobody would be out driving at this hour anyway, so it didn’t matter. I flung the door open to see Baxter chewing his nails off as he stared at the computer. “What’s the situation?” I asked.
That sent a chill down my spine. Undead? How had they gotten into the Passway?
“Mindless ones, mostly. About half a dozen due north about five hundred feet of our entrance. There was more. Something’s fighting back.”
I could take that many easy. But there was no way to know how long that person or thing might last. “Any sign of their master?”
He shook his head. “Not that I can tell, but I keep telling you our trackers don’t work that well in the Passway. It’s like using a heat camera to find people when it’s already a hundred degrees outside.”
“I’m going in there.” I opened a cabinet in the hallway and grabbed my two knives. Snapping their sheathes onto the sides of my belt. “Be back in fifteen. Have first responders ready in case that person is hurt. Unless they’re not human, obviously.”
“Stay safe,” Baxter said.
I shrugged as if to say ‘no promises’, then put the key into the deadbolt lock of the closet door. The door that actually opened into the Passway. Here we go.
As always, the Passway resembled a nice garden walkway that extended to infinity in two directions. The floor was covered in soft, well tended grass with flowers strategically placed throughout, and a tall, white picket fence walled off the sides. The doors back to the real world were little more than gates, each with their own unique handle. There was no light source, yet it seemed to be a clear sunny day.
No time to waste, though, I had to move.
The total absence of sound in the Passway never failed to unsettle me. It was disorienting to say the least, especially since the haze of the tunnels limited visibility to about one or two hundred feet.
When I saw a cluster of grey bones, my daggers were out with a flash. A calm breath and I funneled my ki into them, pouring the elements of fire and ice into the blades.
The thralls were all crowded around somebody who seemed to be fending for herself pretty well. She held a solid red sword out in front of her, ready to defend herself if any of the undead lunged for her.
A wide arc of the ice dagger sheared straight through the head of one of the thralls, then two quick stabs into another. Once they discovered a new threat, some of them turned to face me, but they were slow and unarmed. The other girl and I were flanking them now, so we had the advantage here.
A minute later and all that was left was a pile of (once more) lifeless bones between us. I could feel my chest heaving with exertion, and after a cursory glance around I sheathed my daggers. Back planted firmly against the wall of the picket fence, it was important to make sure nobody could sneak up on you in the Passway.
This girl seemed pretty inexperienced, so I directed her to do the same. She seemed pretty stunned, staring at me without so much as wiping away the blood from her wounds, but she did as I directed.
It wasn’t until I got a chance to really look at her that I realized who she was.
“Lisa?” I asked, though no words came out. We hadn’t seen each other since I broke up with her in high school. That was before I moved and before I…
She analyzed me up and down, and like Benny her gaze lingered on my chest, but for completely different reasons. I pulled my shirt up and shrunk a bit at her gaze. She hadn’t seemed to have changed since we last saw each other.
I certainly had, though, and this was going to get awkward very fast.