He was trying to calm himself for his last drive. Not that it really mattered, but he needed a four at the eighteenth to keep his score in double figures. He hadn’t done the ton since he was a kid and he knew he wouldn’t live it down if he did it here in Scotland, the home of golf.
To make matters worse, he was sure that his partner was cheating. Nothing he could pin down – no, this guy was too careful for that. But there was definitely something shifty about him, and he hadn’t lost that self-satisfied smirk since the second tee. Pete watched while John, his playing companion, knocked his drive straight at the hole, the ball bisecting the bunkers and dropping stone dead on the green less than six feet from the flag. This was getting embarrassing. John was supposed to be an eight handicap, just like Pete, but he had outplayed Pete all day, looked like getting a birdie, and, much to Pete’s annoyance, was still smirking. “At least a laugh would be more bearable than that horrible smugness,” Pete thought as he teed up his sixth ball of the day – the other five having disappeared over or into various cliffs or gullies.
He swung at the ball and it felt absolutely right for the first time that day. The ball flew straight as a die and he smiled – a small thing, but more than he’d been able to manage in the last couple of hours. It didn’t last long. The ball hit the fairway just short of the green and took a sharp bounce to the left, disappearing straight into the face of a deep bunker. There was a small puff of sand – it looked like it had plugged down hard.
“Bad luck,” John said, and, not for the first time, Pete fought off the urge to punch him in the mouth. “Never mind. It could have been worse – you could have been down in Old Jack’s hollow.” Pete followed the path of the ball. He hadn’t noticed the gravestones, he had been too intent on his shot, but there was a graveyard only ten yards from the green. He had indeed been lucky.
He didn’t talk as he walked up the fairway towards the bunker – he was afraid that he might lose his temper. It was just as he expected – the ball was plugged tight against the face and he was going to have to play out sideways. He got into the bunker and lined up the shot. And that was when the chill hit him, a shiver that ran all the way up his spine. There was someone in the graveyard watching him. He could feel it, but he wasn’t about to turn round. The chill got deeper, threatening to ice up his veins, and his hands began to shake.
“Control,” he muttered. “Head steady, hands fast.”
He played his shot hurriedly and was lucky that the ball stayed on the fairway. He hit a beautiful chip and holed out for a four and a total of ninety-nine shots, but the chill stayed with him and all he wanted was a long stiff drink.
“Don’t worry, Pete,” John said as they entered the clubhouse. “There’s always tomorrow.”
The last thing he wanted to think about was another round. First he wanted a drink – no, make that three drinks, enough to chase away the memory of that chill.
“I thought you’d been taken with Old Jack’s shakes,” John said, but Pete wasn’t listening, he was already heading for the bar.
“Whisky – double, on the rocks,” he said. “And what will you have, John?” he asked, turning towards his opponent.
But the other man had already moved further along the bar to stand with a huddle of other men. There was a sudden, sharp, peal of laughter, and Pete felt his ears burn. To hide his embarrassment he turned to speak to the barman, and was surprised to find that he had already emptied his glass.
“Another double, Mr Rogers?” the barman said. “Ye look like ye need wan – I ken I would after a round wi’ the likes o’ him.”
Pete accepted the drink gratefully – he was beginning to regain his composure but the chill seemed to have settled permanently in his spine.
“That man needs close watching,” Pete said, unwilling to voice his suspicions completely. He needn’t have been so circumspect.
“Aye. That’s wan way tae put it,” the barman said, smiling. “Had ye not wondered why he was the only wan free tae play ye? Naebody else will go round wi’ him. Never mind – ye’ll ken better in the morning.”
Tomorrow. Pete hadn’t thought about that yet. Another round, another chance of humiliation. He tried to change the subject.
“What did he call the graveyard? Old Jack’s hollow?”
The barman smiled again, but Pete saw something in his eyes, something that looked like fear, and he took a long time to reply.
“Aye. That’s right. Auld Jack was a regular here a few years back. Then, in the last round o’ the club championship, needing a par tae win the trophy, he knocked his ba’ against the graveyard wall. He took three shots tae get it oot o’ the grass, and it proved too much for him. He had a heart attack and died – right next tae the graveyard. And your friend John there won the trophy.”
Suddenly Pete had the shivers again, a cold draft which crept up his back and raised the hairs at the nape of his neck.
“You had better give me another double,” he said, “I think I’m going to need some stiffening to get me back out there tomorrow.”
One thing led to another and it was several hours later before Pete weaved his way back to his hotel and fell into a fitful, uneasy, sleep.
The night served its purpose in one respect – by the time he woke the chill had finally gone, to be replaced by a hangover. Two cups of coffee shifted the bulk of it, and by the time he got to the first tee he felt almost human again.
The sun was shining from a clear blue sky and there was only a slight breeze. Not even the ever-present smirk on John’s face as he approached could dampen Pete’s mood. He felt good. Today was going to be much better.
He was proved right as early as the first green. He had left himself with a long, up-hill putt for a birdie – more than thirty feet, but as soon as he hit it he knew it was in. He allowed himself a smile as the ball rattled into the cup.
He managed to match John hole for hole, and was even thinking that he might take a few off the other man, when John spoke for the first time since that first hole birdie.
“Say Pete. How about making it more interesting? Fifty pounds on the match?
Pete didn’t even think about it.
“Make it seventy and you’ve got yourself a deal,” he said.
“OK,” John said. Pete thought that the other man had answered suspiciously quickly, and was not surprised to see that the smirk was back. He was going to have to watch his opponent very carefully.
They shared the next five holes, and Pete had the honour on the fifteenth. He stood over the ball, looked down the fairway, and froze. There, in the distance, only partially obscured by a fine mist, sat the graveyard. The chill was back and he hurried the shot, hooking it as far as the fifth fairway.
He was lucky – he found a good lie and managed to half the hole in par, but all he could think of was the eighteenth tee, wondering if he was even going to be able to play a shot.
He only managed to share the next two holes by sheer luck – some of his nervousness seemed to have rubbed off on John and they halved them both in bogey fives.
Pete had the honour on the last. He was all square, scores even with just this one to play, but his legs had gone weak on him and he had to lean on his three iron to stop himself from falling. Lining the shot up was the toughest thing he ever did and as soon as he hit the ball he knew it was all wrong. His heart sank as he watched it fall and nestle, hidden in the long grass next to the graveyard wall.
“May as well give up now,” he thought. “No way am I going to play that one.”
He didn’t really pay attention to John’s shot – he didn’t even look, but he was surprised to hear John swear and turned just in time to see the ball overshoot the green and bounce into the bunker at the back.
Maybe he still had a chance – if only he could bring himself to get close to that graveyard.
He bought some time by letting John play first – the bunker was slightly further away from the pin anyway. He saw the other man jump up and down, watched him swing, and saw some sand fly.
“Just practising” John shouted.
“The bastard fluffed it,” Pete thought, but he didn’t say anything. John swung again, and his ball popped out of the bunker, sweet as a nut, and rolled up to five feet from the hole.
Pete strode over to the graveyard, adrenaline pumping, determined not to lose, but when he saw his ball his heart sank – it was lying amongst thick, tufty, grass and he reckoned he’d need at least two shots just to move it.
He looked back towards the hole and John was standing by the pin.
“Shall I take it out?” he said, and the smirk was back full force.
“Yeah. You do that,” Pete said, and bent over his shot.
And that’s when it happened.
The chill came back. But this time it was more – it was as if someone had poured ice into his veins. The nine iron shook in his hands. Then his spine stiffened, as if someone had pushed him upright, pushed him from inside. He watched his hands draw back, saw the clubface go through the ball, and felt it hit the sweet spot. But none of it was him – something, or someone, was working through him. He could only watch as the ball flew straight and true, dropping, as soft as a feather, only six inches from the hole.
John looked straight at him, stunned, and Pete felt the corners of his mouth rise into a teeth-baring smile.
The colour drained from his opponent’s face, and his jaw dropped a clear inch.
Pete stayed where he was as John stood over his putt – he could see that the man’s heart wasn’t in it and the ball sailed wide to finish nearly two feet past the hole. John stomped off the green without looking back and headed for the clubhouse. It was only then that Pete could move.
Something left him – he felt it pass through and out and the cold left, just like that. He stumbled forward, away from the wall and turned around, just in time to see a grey mist fade into a nearby headstone.
He didn’t have to look at the inscription to know what the name on it would be.
Old Jack had finally got his par.