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Jimmy Threepwood
and the Veil of Darkness


By

Richard Pitman


Published by

Crimson Cloak Publishing

© Copyright 2016 Richard Pitman

All Rights Reserved


This book is a work of Fiction. Names, characters, events, or locations are fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons or events, living or dead, are entirely coincidental. This book is licensed for private, individual entertainment only. The book contained herein constitutes a copyrighted work and may not be reproduced, stored in or introduced into an information retrieval system or transmitted in any form by ANY means (electrical, mechanical, photographic, audio recording or otherwise) for any reason (excepting the uses permitted by the licensee by copyright law under terms of fair use) without the specific written permission of the author.


~o~


For Lottie Christine Pitman, the light in my life.


~o~


Contents

Prologue

About the author

Library Details


~~o~~

Prologue

Screams echoed off the cavern walls as a dark, cloaked creature glided over the damp floor; slowly, silently. What sounded like a thousand souls perishing by fire, rattled over the rocky surface as the creature - otherwise known as the Gatekeeper - stopped in the centre of a large, open space, where stood a giant mirror. Gazing into the reflection, he admired his handiwork; the souls he’d dragged, screaming from the mortal world into an eternity of suffering and pain, swirled and swirled behind the glass. Returning his attention to the grand mirror, he touched the bony remains of his finger to the glassy surface, liquefying it and opening a view into the world of man. The Gatekeeper surveyed the poorly populated Close of Mountbatten with hungry eyes and an evil laugh.

“Soon, Jimmy Threepwood, it will be your eleventh birthday. So starts the series of events which will bring an end to this mortal world, giving me an unlimited supply of souls to do my bidding!” The hellish creature gave a long, vile, thunderous laugh, which resonated throughout the unearthly prison.

Chapter 1

How boring, thought Jimmy Damien Threepwood as his breath fogged up the window that he gazed longingly out of. Jimmy was a small lad of ten years, although quite rotund for his size. He had a mop of ginger hair and a beaming smile, which had got him out of trouble on a number of occasions.

Looking around his small and lifeless bedroom he saw his wardrobe and chest of drawers sitting in the shadowy corner, housing only school uniform, a few of his clothes, cobwebs and spiders. For a boy of his age there was one thing clearly missing ... toys. Jimmy’s mother didn’t believe in toys or allow him any type of games; not even a computer. Instead, every Sunday, he was given a list of chores which often included washing the family car, cleaning his room, and generally doing the housework his mother refused to do. Did this really matter to him? Not really, he didn’t know any better.

Jimmy continued to stare out of the window, longing to go outside and play football with his friends who lived on the council estate. Staring off to the right, in the direction of the estate, he was mesmerised by the nasty looking thick black clouds, which hung suspiciously in the air. Regular crackles of lightning snapped through the sky and each time they did so an uneasy feeling began growing in his stomach, especially as these black clouds were always in the same place every day, hanging high above the council estate projecting a sinister shadow on the ground below.

Feeling restless, he grabbed his sky-blue and white jumper from his bedside cabinet, pulled on his trainers and ran downstairs to see if his mother would let him go outside. Walking into the living room Jimmy was met with the usual foul smell of feet mixed with greasy food. There, slumped in an armchair, was his oversized slimy mother. She had a large sized fried chicken bucket resting on her stomach and a coke of the same size on the arm of her chair. Stains of the sticky liquid tainted the front of her grey vest top.

Engrossed in a daytime chat show, she didn’t even notice him standing there.

“Mum, can I go out to play football?”

… Silence.

“Mum, can I ...”

Marjorie Threepwood turned her head, slowly peeling it away from the back of the armchair and scrunched her face into a disapproving look.

“I don’t know. I don’t care what you do! Go and see your father; can’t you see I’m busy!” she said through gritted teeth, shooing him away and turning back to face the TV.

Solemnly lowering his gaze to the floor, suppressing sadness and tears, he shuffled slowly out to the garden to find his father.

As he reached the kitchen, the back door swung open and in walked a short, skinny man wearing round glasses clearly too big for his face and held in place by his long pointy nose.

Bill Threepwood ran his hand through his slicked back greying black hair.

“Arrhhh Jimmy, I was coming to find you. Why aren’t you out playing football in the Close?”

“Dad, it’s boring in the Close. It’s too small. I want to go over the road on the grass to play football.”

“Why don’t you play in your room? Didn’t I get you that toy you wanted the other day? Where’s that gone ...?”

“… Jimmy, is that you? What’s taking you so long? I’m starving!” a voice demanded from the living room.

The vision was so real he could almost touch it as he remembered walking into the living room two days earlier and handing his mother the chicken burger she had made him go out and collect.

Puurrgh, what’s this? It’s freezing cold. You dawdled back again didn’t you, DIDN’T YOU!? Right, that’s it! Where’s that stupid toy you wanted!?” his mother screamed, grabbing it from the mantelpiece. “I’m keeping this for one week; next time you won’t dawdle will you? Out! Go to your room.”

Jimmy remembered his lower lip quivering in response. “But, it wasn’t my fault, it’s what they gave me …”

I’ve heard enough. Go quickly, my programme’s starting,” his mother said as she grabbed the TV remote and turned away, slumping back into her chair.

Jimmy sat in his room on his own for hours. He had found a few old, plastic soldiers, most of which were snapped or broken as though they had been trodden on. He tried his best to use his imagination, to make up a game, but he could only think about his friends in school always talking about their new games and toys. Jimmy had to either pretend or keep his head down so he didn’t get asked …

“Mum took it away because I, urm, I was naughty,” he mumbled dejectedly.

“Never mind, Jimmy. Look, go and play in your room or just outside, and I’ll speak to your mother.”

Shaking his head, Jimmy knew this wasn’t going to end well. This happened every week, and every week he was forgotten about. He went back to his solemn, empty little grey room, lay down on his bed and wished with all of his might that things would change.

His head felt light as a feather and he could feel himself slowly, gently drifting off into a daydream. Suddenly he was jolted awake, nearly falling out of his bed, by the demonic reverberation of a thousand whips crackling through the sky. His heart was pounding and he was struggling to catch his breath as he forced his eyes open. He felt disorientated; he was no longer in his bedroom. Frantically looking down, he saw he was standing on hard, bone dry ground with cracks streaming off in all directions. The pungent smell of singed clothing and ozone oozed through his nostrils, making his senses tingle. Cracks of thunder made him jump and snap his neck upwards to see blood red and purple clouds gazing down at this young intruder. Burnt, ashen black trees caught his eye. He stared in disbelief. Petrified he looked around, searching for any means of escape ... and then he saw them.

In the near distance were vast numbers of lifeless bodies strewn across the scorched earth. Rushing to the closest person to see if he could help, Jimmy grabbed the shoulders and pulled the body over, gasping at what he saw. There was no face; no physical injury that he could see, just a vast void of emptiness where a face should have been. The body was wearing a black cloak with soft purple lining that had some form of animal emblem stitched into the breast pocket. The cloak was severely burnt. Brushing the soot away Jimmy was able to make out the head of an embroidered golden owl. Something made him reach into the open pocket of the cloak; trembling and closing his eyes, his nervous fingertips touched a silky soft texture. He was just about to examine his find when, from behind him, came a roaring sound that seemed to shake the very ground and surrounding mountains.

Instinctively, Jimmy ducked, looking over his right shoulder to see what was happening. There in the distance two monstrous figures clashed blades again, sending a vibration through the air that made him stagger as it flicked past his tuft of hair. The figures were too far away to make out any real detail, but one was humongous with fiery red skin, a black cape thrashing in the wind and his hand raising a giant axe above his head. Jimmy couldn’t turn to look at the other male; this humongous red warrior transfixed him. The ground quivered again as the hulky beast struck the final blow sending the second warrior hurtling through the air and crashing into a mighty oak.

Roaring in victory, the beast turned to see Jimmy kneeling next to one of his victims. In a flash it bounded towards him at immense speed, its strides eating up the distance. Fear flooded Jimmy’s body, and he didn’t know whether to run or fight.

He turned to run but found his legs wouldn’t move. In sheer panic he tried again, but nothing. The warrior was getting closer and closer.

“Arrgh!”

Jimmy closed his eyes and woke up in his own bed in a pool of sweat. He took a long deep breath. His dream had felt so real. The burnt smell was still on his pyjama top, the black soot on his fingers … but he was safe.

He wiped the sweat away. Lying there for a short while trying to recover, he heard his mother and father talking downstairs. Glancing at the clock, he saw it was late. He must have been sleeping for hours. Pulling on his slippers, he crept silently down the stairs and slid into the kitchen.

Jimmy hid under the breakfast bar and listened in.

“Marge, we can’t keep it a secret much longer,” he heard his father say. “They said things would start to happen near his eleventh birthday.”

“No! He will never know. He will remain here with us locked in that room if necessary,” his mother argued.

Edging closer to get into a better position, Jimmy caught his arm on the radiator. He let out a small gasp.

“What was that?” his mother whispered.

Swiftly, Jimmy darted out of the space and rushed upstairs to his room, diving under the covers, pretending to be asleep.

He closed his eyes tightly as he heard the squeaking of the fifth, tenth and top steps as someone climbed the stairs. The bedroom door slowly creaked open, just enough, he imagined, to allow a beam of the landing light to illuminate his bed.

He knew it was his father who poked his head around the door; he could picture him catching his glasses on the doorframe as he did.

Jimmy could sense panic in his father as he peered in on him, as though he was worried he may have overheard something.

The door closed gently and soft slippers patted down the stairs, into the kitchen. Jimmy’s mind was spinning. What were his parents talking about? What would happen? He thought about it a little longer before finally drifting back off to sleep.

Chapter 2

Weeks passed and Jimmy had completely forgotten about the dream and what his parents had been talking about. That was all about to change.

One day, as he was walking the usual two-mile trek to school, he saw a peculiar black crow standing in his path, almost as if it were waiting for him. This was clearly unusual, even to Jimmy’s ten-year-old brain, and he side-stepped to try and avoid the confident bird. To Jimmy’s surprise the crow mirrored his actions and simply hopped in front of him again. Once more Jimmy tried to walk around the crow but again it jumped in his path, giving a challenging squawk.

Feeling a little brave and pressed for time, Jimmy bent down and tried to gently nudge the bird aside with the palm of his hand. This was the wrong move. The inquisitive crow instantly became animated, squawking aggressively. The bird leapt forward, nipping Jimmy’s hand. As Jimmy instinctively pulled away, the bird flew onto Jimmy’s head and pecked him twice with its sharp beak. Jimmy was flailing his arms around desperately, trying to escape this unprovoked attack, until eventually the crow calmed down, jumped off of Jimmy and landed elegantly on a wooden fence. Seizing his chance, Jimmy started to run towards the school but was amazed when he saw, out of the corner of his eye, that the mysterious black crow was keeping up with him, gliding along the fence.

Slowing down to a brisk walk he glanced over his shoulder to see the crow’s location. As he dreaded, it was staring at him through yellow beady eyes and was squawking in victory. Jimmy was sure the bird was laughing at him.

Jimmy’s attention was drawn for only a few moments; then another squawk came from a tree to his right, then another to his left, then another, and another. Entrenched in the high-pitched noise, he looked up into the trees and found a hundred more black crows almost chanting for the original, slightly fatter bird to attack again.

Confused by the surreal situation, Jimmy took a firm grip of his school bag and ran as fast as he could through the valley of chanting birds. Reaching the entrance to the school, Jimmy grabbed the giant steel gate and slammed it behind him. Looking back through the bars of the school gate he could see the determined fat little crow positioned on the path. Jimmy felt a chill of worry rush through his body, thinking whether this nemesis was going to wait for him all day. Just then the school bell reverberated and he ran through the main doors.

School was the same as any other day, with Jimmy having Art and Maths first thing.

Periodically during the lessons, Jimmy would look out of the window, firstly checking for the crow but also with the now familiar desperate feeling that there must be more to this world. Daydreaming, he hadn’t noticed that he was looking towards his house. He snapped out of his trance when he saw the angry looking black cloud was hovering overhead again. Bending his neck to look at the sky above the school, he was surprised to see it was a perfect day.

“Potts, Potts, look at that dark cloud over there. That’s odd, isn’t it?” he frowned, shoving his elbow into the boy next to him.

Will Potts, a tall lad with brown hair parted to the side and a large protruding nose, looked from Jimmy to the area in question, and then back to Jimmy again.

“Jimmy, are you mad? I don’t see a cloud in the sky! Shhh you’ll get me into trouble.”

Puzzled Jimmy turned back to the area and to his surprise Potts was right; there was no cloud. It was a beautiful summer’s day. What was going on? He thought. Then Jimmy saw it; he caught a glimpse of that crow again. The maniacal crow sitting on a tree with five others gazing directly at him, again giving him the feeling it was laughing and mocking him. Turning his head Jimmy looked away. Although he tried to ignore it, he was scared.

As the end of lesson bell rang, lunchtime was the next concern, not only for Jimmy but for the rest of the school children. Lunchtime was the one hour every day where Spike Williams would be unsupervised with the other children.

Spike was a full year older than Jimmy but had been kept back a year due to his behaviour. He was a good three inches taller than Jimmy and a great deal stronger. Spike took great pleasure in pushing the younger kids about, throwing them down the small bank into the mud and taking their dinner money as a protection racket. Let’s just say Spike was a mean and horrible little boy. Luckily, during this one lunchtime, Spike left Jimmy and his pal Will Potts alone and found another victim.

After lunch Jimmy followed Will and his fellow classmates into their chemistry lesson. This class always entertained Jimmy as he thought the teacher was quite mad.

The teacher, Freddy Tuft, was a small man with a slight hunch. He was very excitable and often paced up and down the classroom mumbling to himself; the other unusual thing was that he would often talk to students but remain completely focused on the ceiling. Mr. Tuft’s choice of clothing also amused the students; even on the hottest of summer days he would wear a knee length brown raincoat, rich brown shoes, and carry a leather brief case, which was empty apart from his sandwiches.

As the lesson progressed Mr. Tuft started to discuss the periodic table and was going to demonstrate to the class how to make various liquids ‘pop’ from inside a test tube. Mr. Tuft showed the class how it was done and then asked all the students to carefully turn on their Bunsen burners. Jimmy was very careful as he turned on the gas and ignited the bright yellow flame.

Jimmy was ready to start when he caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye and saw twenty crows sitting in the tree directly outside the second floor classroom window. As Jimmy continued to stare at the birds he stretched his arm out in front of him to grab his science book, when a small fat wasp flew straight passed his face. Instinctively, Jimmy swung out with his left arm, missed the wasp and hit the Bunsen burner onto the table. Instantly his school jumper set alight and the flame burnt straight into his left wrist.

“Sir, Sir, quick Jimmy’s on fire!” Will hollered frantically as the thirty students snapped their heads back to see what was going on.

In a flash Mr. Tuft grabbed a towel and threw it on Jimmy’s sleeve to dampen the fire, whilst at the same time turning off the Bunsen burner. A raw sensation of fire throbbed on Jimmy’s skin and the soreness was starting to burn. Mr. Tuft immediately took Jimmy to the sink and ran cold water on his wrist for five minutes before wrapping it in a clean bandage. Jimmy was told to report to the nurse for a check-up.

As Jimmy sat waiting for the nurse he still had the raw sensation of burning under the bandage. The nurse saw him quickly and she was already pulling and tugging at Mr. Tuft’s bandage. Having never been to the nurse before he noticed that she was extremely tall, taller than any of the other teachers in the school and she kept grunting and sniffing. This was very odd but Jimmy thought it would be impolite to say anything. Peeling back the bandage from the skin the nurse was first to comment and noticed that the fire had left a deep mark on his forearm.

“Huumm it looks like a 9?” the nurse mused.

Which it did, but of course from Jimmy’s angle it looked more like a 6. The nurse applied a foul smelling greasy ointment, told Jimmy to keep changing the bandages, and sent him home with a letter for his family.

Jimmy ran home and quickly told his mother the story. She was still sat in the same position as the day before, with the same stain ridden vest and piece of fried chicken resting on her stomach.

“That’s interesting boy …” she said, not once moving her eyes from the daily dose of chat shows and antique programs.

“Go and see what your father thinks, go on, scoot.”

Walking into the kitchen, his wrist started to throb and after the day he’d just had he decided to go straight to bed. After a few hours of the intense soreness throughout his arm, Jimmy decided to look out of the window to see if the menacing crows were still sat outside. To his pleasant surprise, they weren’t.

Looking around the estate Jimmy saw Derek from three doors up sweeping his path with a long wooden brush. Whilst he was looking towards the council estate, there was a bump on the window that startled Jimmy.

When he looked closely at the windowsill he saw there was a small fat wasp. Could it be the same one from earlier? thought Jimmy. Nah Then … Bump, bump, bump, bump, bump. Five more wasps hit the window, landed on the windowsill, and sat focused on Jimmy’s every movement. They sat there for a few minutes before just flying away. That can’t be normal. What a strange day.

Later that night Jimmy explained what had happened in school to his father whilst he changed the dressing on his wrist. The family ate their tea as normal before Jimmy went back to bed.

The following morning Jimmy sluggishly rose from bed at seven a.m. and looked at the grey calendar on the wall. September 12th; three more days until his birthday, he mused. An air of excitement passed through Jimmy as he began hoping he would finally get a good present, such as a game console or a laptop. Remembering he had never received a present during the last ten years, he wondered why his parents would care now. Letting out a deep sigh he got ready for school.

Walking to school by himself once again, Jimmy anticipated seeing the black crow, but there was nothing. He breathed a sigh of relief and continued on.

Approaching the school Jimmy suddenly heard a buzzing and vibrating sound on the gentle morning breeze. He cast a sharp glance over his shoulder, but there was nothing. Shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders he carried on. Jimmy was mulling over the strange events of yesterday when from nowhere a swarm of angry wasps flew straight at him. The haze of wasps dived around his head making an aggressive ‘buzzing’ noise.

“Oww! Arrgh!”

One of the raging insects had stung Jimmy on the right side of his neck.

Arrgh! What is going on? he thought.

Grabbing his neck whilst keeping his head low and trying to swat the swarm with his school bag he ran straight into the school. As he ended the day yesterday at the nurse’s office, he began today in the same fashion. Reaching the nurses office, Jimmy nearly skidded into the surgery. Rubbing his hand against his neck, Jimmy sat on a chair. What is going on this week?! he thought.

After his first two lessons had finished, Jimmy started to realise it was lunchtime and time to once again avoid Spike. Little did Jimmy know that his week was going to go from bad to worse … and then to strange.

Chapter 3

Lunchtime started well enough; he had used his lunch money and picked up the last ham salad packed lunch that contained a Golden Crunch biscuit, Jimmy’s favourite.

Once he and Will had eaten their food they decided to see if they could join a football match with their school friends. The only game currently being played had already started. Excited, they both joined the game and were playing for about ten minutes when for no apparent reason all the players just stopped and stood still. There was silence on the pitch and even the dropping of a pin could have been heard. What no one had noticed was that Spike had walked onto the pitch, and was threatening Steve Parkes, the owner of the football. Spike was shouting that if he could not join the game Steve would be visiting the nurse very quickly. The whole school feared Spike and moments later he was playing.

Great, no one tackles him; he won’t pass, wonderful, this game is ruined! thought Jimmy. The other players also thought this but no one dared say it to him or leave the game.

Then it happened, the moment that changed Jimmy and Spike’s lives forever.

Steve Parkes won the ball back with a great tackle in midfield. He beat one player, then another, and he was clear. He had Jimmy wide open on the right and Spike stood in the middle marked by two players. Naturally, through fear of repercussions, Steve took the harder option and passed to Spike. The two defenders parted like the red sea to allow Spike a clear shot at the goal. A rush of madness overcame skinny, meek Will Potts. From out of nowhere he ran at full speed and slid straight in front of Spike, cleanly taking the ball. Time stood still as the whole school stopped and gasped.

In slow motion, with the rage and power of an angry lion, Spike grabbed Will by the scruff of his neck and punched him once in the face. Falling to the ground, Will grabbed his nose to stop the blood spurting out. Spike leapt on top of Will, ready for the next assault. At that exact moment in time, seeing his friend being attacked, something happened to Jimmy; something snapped inside him. Instinctively, with anger and protective instincts pulsating through him, Jimmy rushed over, grabbed Spike by the back of his jumper and with the strength of ten bears, dragged him off of his injured friend, giving him the opportunity to jump on top of him. Spike had never been challenged in his life; he looked up in pure amazement, especially at the strength that was pinning him to the ground.

Then, as foretold, it started ...

Jimmy’s eyes were pulsing bright red with the eternal fire in the pupils themselves. Slowly Spike became transfixed with the eyes and looked straight into the heart of Jimmy Threepwood’s very soul. He saw a glimpse of the future; a world of destruction, free flowing fire, a cascade of ash raining down and the end of the world as we know it. This was a future too rich for a boy of twelve to handle. To Spike, it felt like an eternity gazing helplessly into those blood red fiery eyes, whilst to everyone else standing on the playground, it was seconds. Moments later Spike passed out due to the sheer magnetism of what he had seen. Seeing the huddle, Mr. Thompson ran to see what was going on.

Pushing through the crowd Mr. Thompson pointed a long, shaking finger at Jimmy. “You, boy!” he shouted, “get to the headmaster’s office … now!”

Mr. Thompson picked up Spike, who was still trembling and mumbling to himself, and rushed him to the nurse’s office.

As Jimmy strolled along the corridors he couldn’t understand what had happened. Where did that strength come from? Mostly he couldn’t get the horrified look on Spike’s face out of his head.

The headmaster’s office was situated directly above the nurse’s office and he saw Spike being carried into the surgery room. The door was open and Jimmy moved around and crouched on the stairs to look through the white railings; Spike was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking straight at the outside wall. He was as white as a ghost. Rocking back and forth, Spike kept repeating, “I’ve seen it, the end! Flying black horses with the wings of a bat being ridden by a horned warrior throwing lightning … I’ve seen it, the …” With that the door was slammed shut.

Moments later the headmaster’s assistant summoned Jimmy to explain what had occurred moments before. Jimmy wasn’t in the office long before he was sent home with the headmaster telling him he would be ringing ahead to speak with his parents.

When Jimmy walked into his house he was surprised to find his mother had moved from the chair and was standing in the kitchen.

In her normal gritty voice, caused through years of smoking, she said to him, “Your father is painting the spare bedroom, keep out of our way, he will cook dinner later.”

With that, Marge waddled back to the living room and Jimmy walked upstairs to receive his punishment from his father. Jimmy kept his head down as he entered the room to speak with his father–but nothing. Jimmy’s father simply greeted him and questioned him about what he wanted for tea. Nothing about the incident in school at all. How strange. That was odd? Better not mention it … Best to keep quiet.


The following day at school Jimmy sat with his school year in the grand hall at 8:15 a.m. for the weekly assembly. This was near the headmaster’s office and had a cold wooden floor, which each student was expected to sit on with their legs crossed and mouths closed.

The headmaster himself, Mr. Riding, a tall balding man with brown streaks of hair and square glasses, conducted the assembly.

“Students, I have some unfortunate news for you all. One of your classmates Spike Williams had some form of breakdown yesterday and has sadly been taken out of school until further notice. Please give any get well cards or messages to the school secretary who will pass them on to Spike.”

From that moment on it seemed a weight had lifted from each of the students and a smile started to slowly form on all of their faces. No longer would the students be bullied and terrified during lunch times. No longer would their games be ruined; Jimmy Threepwood would be a hero to all.

For the rest of the day he was treated as one. He was congratulated, received handshakes and even got a kiss from one of the girls. The most thankful, though, was his best friend Will Potts.

“I owe you one for yesterday Jimmy. I thought that was the end of me!”

“Why did you do it, Will?” replied Jimmy.

“I don’t know, it was sort of a rush of blood, but I’m glad I did and the bloody nose was worth it. We are free at last! Jimmy the hero!”

To Jimmy’s surprise even some of the teachers gave him a congratulating wink and a pat on the back. He really had done a good deed … if only they knew what was to follow.

Chapter 4

Jimmy was awoken early the following morning by an ear piercing, heartrending shrill, as though a thousand screaming souls were giving their last breath in the mortal world. The deathly noise stirred Jimmy’s stomach as he pulled across his bed covers, knelt on his bed, and tore back the curtains to see what was happening. Jimmy was certain the noise had echoed from the council estate, but all he could see was an illuminating purple light flashing from the brick wall.

Calming down, Jimmy regained his composure and suddenly realised today was his eleventh birthday. He smiled to himself and was just in the motion of jumping from his bed when out of the corner of his eye he saw a slight flicker of movement inside the purple light. Pressing his face firmly on the window to get a greater view, he was sure he could make out a black shadow moving from within the darkness and slowly, eerily, it seemed to glide towards his house.

With his face squashed tightly against the window, each breath fogged the glass and every time he used his sleeve and rapidly wiped the window the shadow moved slightly closer to his house.

As the darkness drew closer Jimmy suddenly had a clear view and it was obvious that this was no shadow. This was some form of hollow skeletal figure inside a lengthy black, dishevelled, shredded cloak with a black hood casting a shadow over the face. Jimmy was transfixed and frantically moved around his bed to get a better angle or find a position where he might be able to see through one of the tears in the figure’s cloak; but there wasn’t one.

A metal scythe gleamed in the morning sunlight and as Jimmy looked at the hand he saw there was no flesh; just sharp yellow, bony talons firmly gripping the full length wooden handle of an immensely sharp weapon. Silently, deadly, the figure glided over the path, coming closer and closer to Jimmy’s house.

Jimmy continued to stare, mesmerised by the creature as it approached his front gate. As the figure slowly turned, a second, much smaller creature came into view. The second creature was standing directly behind the first, carrying its cloak, almost as though it were trying to stop it getting dirty from the floor. The hideous knee-high, green goblin took one hand away from the cloak and stroked its shoulder length slimy black hair out of its eyes. Jimmy’s gaze was averted from the sinister looking goblin by movement under the cloak of the hellish figure. Scrunching his eyes, Jimmy could see hundreds and hundreds of cockroach type creatures frantically scuttling around where his feet should have been. Somehow the air also looked different. Behind the ghastly figure was some kind of yellow odour or gas lingering in the air. For the first time Jimmy noticed that all of the flowers the figure had glided over were slowly withering, drying up, and dying. As he looked further away in the direction the creature had come from the flowers were starting to rejuvenate themselves.

The creature raised his left decaying hand and with a snap of the wrist, the gate flung open. Jimmy continued to watch in pure amazement, but then ducked quickly when the goblin looked upward in his direction and gave a sly grin; revealing its sharp, yet pointy, yellow teeth.

Breathing deeply Jimmy launched himself off of the bed and as quietly as he could ran down the stairs into the kitchen, sliding under the breakfast bar. This was instantly followed by a heavy ‘RASP’ on the wooden door. Looking up, Jimmy could see that in the area where the thump had come from a dark round wet patch started forming on the door. The patch became wetter and wetter until the wood blistered and withered before his eyes. ‘RASP!’ This time the patch began to creak and little brown maggots pushed through the wood, beginning to crawl though the wasting damaged panels and dropping one by one to the floor. Jimmy’s father appeared in the kitchen in a fluster, trembling all over. He rushed to the door. His hand was violently shaking by the time he pulled down the handle.

The creature pushed past Jimmy’s father and glided confidently and silently through the kitchen. The creature hovered by Jimmy, who was still hiding under the breakfast bar. Jimmy tried to move further back, almost burrowing into the wall, when he came face to face with the short female goblin. The goblin glanced at Jimmy, snarled, biting its teeth together before turning its nose up and continuing on into the living room.

A deep, deathly, commanding voice thundered, “You were told to make sure he was ready!”

“M-M-M-Master, I was just about to … to do it!” said Marge in a quivering voice.

Jimmy had never heard her like this.

“I, I, I ... d-d-did as you said; he has no real friends or pets and spends most of his time alone!”

“Good, you have fulfilled our deal. You will not be taken as foretold, but granted an extra ten years here to waste and create misery. Make sure the boy is ready for six p.m.”

Confidently turning, the creature flung its cape behind him, nearly knocking over the goblin in the process, and glided out of the house without saying another word.

Jimmy had no idea what was going on and ran upstairs when the coast was clear. He could hear his mother and father whispering, and shortly afterwards, heard his father creeping up the stairs.

“Dad, what was that?” Jimmy asked fearfully.

With a faint smile and a look of sheer disheartenment, his father sat beside him on the bed.

“Jimmy, I’m so sorry, your mother made a deal with that man, um, thing when you were born. It appeared in the hospital when I was asleep and showed your mother the future. It said she would die this year today unless she made a deal. The deal was to keep you unhappy, separated from friends with no attachments and on this day, your eleventh birthday, he would take you away to fulfil your purpose.”

“What purpose?” snapped Jimmy; tears pooled in his eyes as he thought about what his father had told him. How could his mother have made a deal like that?

“I don’t know, your mother would never tell me,” said Jimmy’s father, a tear slowly trickling down his cheek.

“Jimmy I-I’m sorry, we have to let you go, but he told us we can still see you …” he mumbled, wiping the tears away.

“Come on Jimmy, it’s your birthday, let’s go out for a little while. We have a few hours yet.”

Those few hours disappeared in an instant and Jimmy was standing outside his steel front gate when he glanced down at his watch. 5:55 p.m.

“I’m so, so scared Dad, where am I going? What’s going to happen to me?” he asked as his lower lip started to quiver and tears filled his vision.

“You’ll be okay Jimmy; they wouldn’t have done all this just to harm you.” Jimmy’s dad stepped in to hold his son but stopped himself. He knew the deal; he knew what would happen if Jimmy was loved.

The front gate started to vibrate and looking off to the right Jimmy could see the air distorting, as though he was staring at leaking gas. A short, sharp hiss of lightning crackled in the air, followed by a burst of purple light and smoke. From nowhere the creature and its foul companion appeared.

“Time is short, follow me, now!” roared the abomination, sending a chill down the spine of both Jimmy and Bill Threepwood.

Desperately scared and unable to control his trembling body Jimmy followed. Walking alongside the dirty brown-cloaked goblin, Jimmy constantly looked back over his shoulder at his father who was just frozen on the spot staring at his son walking off.

“That is my servant Xanadu; she is my assistant in all matters. Now quickly, we have others to collect!”

Jimmy glanced at Xanadu, but was more interested in looking at the creature and the multitude of bugs and insects slithering under his cloak. He also noticed that ordinary people in their path couldn’t see them, but suddenly gained the overwhelming urge to cross the road away from them. Those who didn’t cross the road were suddenly overcome by a wave of illness; one of them nearly collapsed and had to hold a fence for support. Like the flowers, once the creature was a short distance away, they became well again.

Moments passed and the group was now approaching the council estate hiding under the shadow of the mysterious black cloud hanging overhead. Jimmy saw the two-storey council flat with a large brick wall facing them in front of which was a small circular green. Approaching the centre of the wall, the creature raised its scythe and thumped the wall three times. Instantly a dark purple glow of light formed in the shape of a door and the wall crumbled to dust and rubble. Grabbing Jimmy’s arm with a thin, bony, skeleton hand the creature pulled him through. Jimmy’s eyes were burning in the bright light but his body was freezing cold, with each breath he took forming a puff of condensation. Jimmy couldn’t see anything but felt the eerie presence of evil and darkness rising within.

Chapter 5

Stepping into the dazzling purple light, Jimmy immediately felt an eerie chill submerge his body. Shaking and folding his arms to retain the last bit of heat, he breathed as his lungs felt the icy artic air circulating in his chest. Each breath felt cold and uncomfortable as white puffs of condensation floated wastefully into the air. The ground felt like solid smooth marble and in the distance Jimmy could see a light, a door maybe, but definitely a light, projecting the path forward.

After only a few moments and a brisk pace the group reached the light and again Jimmy was dragged through it. Closing his eyes and trying to hold back the fear, Jimmy stepped forward into the unknown.

Breathing deeply, his foot touched the floor but to his surprise he heard the crunch of dead, dry leaves and the snap of an old wooden branch. Opening his eyes Jimmy was standing in the middle of a forest. This was a small open section and had tall dark trees circling a bare grassy area and a yellow and orange flamed fire was roaring in the centre.

Carefully positioned around the fire were five bulky wooden tree stumps, formerly grand trees cut down to create seats. The forest air continued to send an icy chill down Jimmy’s spine; he was terrified, hearing the noises of wolves howling, birds pecking, bushes rustling and insects crawling all around him. Petrified, he pulled his arms across his trembling body as his eyes darted in every direction. Stepping forward, the back of the fire came into view and there, once again, sat the fat black crow that had stalked his every move. Jimmy walked toward the crow. He was within touching distance and glanced over his shoulder to ask the cloaked creature why it was following him when ‘Puff!’ a short sharp snap was followed by a cloud of dark purple smoke. The sound startled Jimmy and sent his heart racing. As the smoke receded Jimmy slowly made out the figure of a man.

“Finally we meet in person, Jimmy Threepwood. I have been watching you for a great many years; you have been a great enigma to me. You don’t act like the others,” mused the tall, black haired, grey bearded man dressed in an elegant blood red robe. His voice was deep and grisly, almost cutting.

Jimmy’s eyes were diverted from his wrinkled, dry face to an entrancing fist sized red crystal hanging from his neck. As Jimmy stared into the stone he was startled as a face appeared, screaming back at him.

Snapping out of his trance Jimmy immediately and sharply turned his nose and screwed up his face. Wow, he smells of rotting flesh and his face, it looks like it’s slowly decaying, he thought.

“My name is Lyreco, and this is the Elksidian Forest.”

There was a rustle of leaves near where Jimmy had appeared and in a gut wrenching eerie voice, the hooded creature lurking in the darkness spoke.

“My time here is done. The others have also been collected and will arrive shortly,” it said coldly.

With a sharp turn, the cloaked creature raised his scythe. Jimmy glared at Xanadu, who simply returned a foul look and a grimace. In an instant they were gone. The egress was more spectacular than Lyreco’s entrance; with the creature almost sucked through a tiny hole in the air into what Jimmy could only assume was a different dimension.

The instant the tiny vortex disappeared the whole forest seemed to rumble. Simultaneously three dark purple doors opened in thin air and three children stepped into the forest with the light fading behind them. There were two boys and one girl that Jimmy couldn’t take his eyes off. Her piercing green eyes glowed in the light of the flame.

“Good, you have all arrived safety, my name is Lyreco and I am a Dark Reaver, please take a seat,” said the cloaked creature, gesturing to each of the thick wooden trunks around the fire; one by one the children sat themselves down.

“The creatures whom you all just met were the Gatekeeper, and his minion Xanadu. The Gatekeeper controls the walkways between life and death. The Gatekeeper knows when the mortals will die and he is ready to greet their souls. The Gatekeeper either sends them upwards to the eternal paradise, or … well, enough of that; I bet you are wondering what is going on here.”

Jimmy looked at the other three children and he noticed that they all had something in common; they all had some sort of edge, some sort of dark spirit or aura shrouding them. It was enough for Jimmy to feel uneasy about the situation, and although he would never admit it, he was scared.

Lyreco started.

“My young apprentices, it is written that the world will continue to evolve over time and mankind evolves with the increase in technology, and demands on the planet drain the resources. Each passing decade the planet dies a little more, until one day it will be gone. It is foretold by the Elders that every two millennia our Dark Lord and Master Tyranacus will rise from the ashes and destroy all life on the planet.

“But, only four powerful beings that own the mark of Tyranacus have the combined power to bring him to his destiny. Two millennia ago four such youths who possessed the mark were brought to this very Forest and trained in all manner of powers, magic and weapons until they eventually gained the power to open the gates. The four warriors and our lord master purged this planet and reduced it to fire and rubble.

“There were of course, as there always is, a meddlesome bunch that tried to stop it, but they were no match. Once the destruction was complete the four warriors took their place as rulers of the planet and formed the re-birth in their own form. That of course was a long time ago and now that time has come again.

“You were all born consecutively on the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th of September and all wear the mark of Tyranacus, is that correct?”

Glancing around the group, scared of what might happen, Jimmy nodded.

“Ya ... Ya ... Yes, sir.”

This was immediately followed by two further nods. But from the last youth, nothing, just silence. Rising from the stump a youth with spiky dyed brown hair shouted, “Are you real? What is this rubbish? Rising dark lords, powers, destruction, it’s all rubbish, I’m going.”

With trepidation Jimmy looked at the youth then snapped back to Lyreco and he could see the blood draining from his already cold decaying face. Lyreco rose, pulled aside his cloak, and pointed his long, stick thin finger at the spiky haired boy, quivering in anger. Immediately the boy reacted, thrusting his hands over his mouth and dropping to his knees, with tears streaming from his eyes. The youth slowly turned to the rest of the group and they gasped. The youth moved his hands from his mouth and they could see it had been covered over with a rubbery flesh which stretched as he tried to scream.

“YOU WILL DO AS YOU ARE TOLD, BOY!” demanded Lyreco.

With a further wave of his hand the boy was levitated from the floor and dropped back onto the wooden stump. With a wheeze, Lyreco lowered his finger and his mouth returned to normal.

“Let that be the first lesson to you all. I will teach you the powers you need and you will far eclipse me, but for now YOU WILL DO AS YOU ARE TOLD!”

The brown haired male looked sheepishly at the other children, and then looked at the floor.

“Now you know I demand respect, show me your marks.”

Without complaint and with haste all four youths rolled up their sleeves and revealed the number 9 to Lyreco and a 6 to each other as they looked across the line.

“Good, now the training can begin,” said Lyreco. “Your training has many areas and one day you will have the power of the gods, but first we must see what your inner power tells us. You, Threepwood, stand and walk to the fire.”

Reluctantly Jimmy rose and sauntered to the crackling yellow flame. The radiating heat could be felt pulsing from the source. Lyreco started chanting some unusual words and in a flash the flame illuminated and roared bright green.

“Place your hand in the flame.”

Scared stiff and in fear of what would happen if he didn’t, Jimmy raised his right arm, looked at Lyreco, looked at the three youths, and then plunged his arm straight into the centre. To his amazement there was no pain, just a warm sensation of floating and intense burning.

Opening his eyes he was startled to find he was floating high in the air above the fire. He saw his body had become alight with intense surging flames. He flapped both hands and he started rise up and up until he found himself level with the shortest tree. The jaws of the other kids had dropped to the floor. In front of their very eyes the boy known as Threepwood had turned into a bird drenched in fire and was drifting off into the sky.

With one swift movement of Lyreco’s hand Threepwood’s flames perished and gravity dragged him crashing down to the ground with a thud. Picking himself up and dusting off the dirt he saw the rest of the group were staring intently.

Unusual, I have never heard of a student having the inner power of a Phoenix, how strange, thought Lyreco, rubbing his beard.

“You, Harry Hopkins, you’re next,” speaking to the formerly overconfident spiky-haired male.

Without saying a word and showing no fear, Harry plunged his right arm into the green fire and with a bright flash of brilliant light he was gone. There in his place was a venomous black viper, slithering and rustling on the forest floor. The smooth skinned serpent glared at Jimmy, slowly opened his mouth to reveal two pointed razor sharp fangs, and gave a sinister hiss. Again, Lyreco raised his hand and once the haze of smoke levelled, Harry reappeared, shaking off the curious feeling.

Next to put their hand in the fire was the third male. He was taller than Jimmy with shaved blond hair and a large distinguished nose, and Jimmy thought he had a menacing look about him. In front of Jimmy’s eyes this male, Percy Timmins re-appeared as a gigantic blue and yellow dragon. Timmins swung his scaled neck toward Lyreco, looked him up and down, before firing a rage of yellow fire at him from his extensive jaw. Lyreco simply held up his arm in a blocking motion and the fire parted in mid-air. Once he’d had enough, Lyreco clenched his fist, drawing the magic out of Timmins as he morphed back into human form and fell straight to the floor. Timmins kept his head down as if expecting his punishment, but it never came. Lyreco gave an evil smile and requested Timmins sit back down.

Finally, Talula Airheart stood up to the fire and morphed into a black bat with glowing red eyes and a ferocious snap. The creature gave a mighty cry, before changing quietly back to the human form.

“Good, now we have seen your inner power I suggest your first lesson will be to practise them. You can change to these forms at any time, but as you can see by the way you are feeling now, they will take a lot of your energy and may leave you defenceless. Once you master the power no one will be able to stop you, not even me.

“Practise your powers and I shall return.”

PUFF!

A purple cloud of smoke filled the forest air, releasing a pungent smell of burnt sulphur. From within the cloud came an almighty squawk and out soared the familiar fat black crow into the night sky.

Chapter 6

Once alone, the group stared at each other in sheer disbelief. Returning to a natural flickering yellow flame, the fire produced enough light to keep the night creatures at bay.

Harry Hopkins was the first to move. He crunched over the dry leaves and dead twigs, approaching Jimmy, and aggressively shoved him on the right shoulder.

“What’s your story? I think you’re in the wrong place, out of my way. I’m gonna learn how to turn into that snake again and see what happens if I bite you.” His tone was arrogant and selfish.

Harry Hopkins shoved past Jimmy and stood behind the stump, and closing his eyes, he tried to summon the creature. Jimmy started to feel disheartened until a gentle sweet smelling fragrance meandered past his nose and a gentle hand squeezed his shoulder.

A soft voice spoke.

“Don’t worry about him, he’s an idiot. I loved that fire bird, how did you do that? By the way, I’m Talula.”

Jimmy turned and smiled at the girl with shoulder length brown hair and bright green eyes. Talula smiled back, but something wasn’t quite right. Jimmy immediately noticed there was no warmth within her face or eyes. She was ice cold.

“Hello, I’m Jimmy; I-I-I don’t know how I did that with the bird? It just happened?”

Smiling again, Talula said, “I’m glad to be here, anything to get away from my father. He used to lock my bedroom door and leave me there for days. It was some agreement with that ma ... creature who brought us here.”

Jimmy could see the sadness and hatred in Talula’s eyes, but he knew instantly he was different. He didn’t resent his mother for her behaviour and he loved his father; but clearly for Talula it had been much worse.

“I’m going to try and turn into that bat again; it was fun!” With that Talula walked off with Jimmy’s eyes still following her.

The third boy was already standing alone, facing away from the group and looking into the darkness of the forest. Jimmy considered talking to him, but thought better of it.

Jimmy and the rest of the group spent the next few hours trying as hard as they could to morph into their mythical creatures, but it just didn’t seem to work. Had there been any passers-by they would surely have commented on how odd the four children looked, standing in the middle of a forest at night, mumbling to themselves.

Jimmy started thinking about his childhood and his own life, in the hope that he might overcome the boredom and his dwelling on what Talula had said. As far back as he could remember his mother had been horrible to him. She had ignored him and regularly sent him to his room. She had difficulty in moving due to her excessive weight and rarely left the house. When they did go out for a family meal she would often just sit there and order everything off the menu and rarely talk to Jimmy. Then there was his dad; he was a kind man, but very weak. His wife bullied him and it was only when he was alone with Jimmy that he showed his caring, compassionate side. As Jimmy thought about his father and some of the fun they had had, a feeling of warmth ignited in his stomach. The burning sensation reappeared and as he focused on his surroundings he found he was floating high above Elksidian Forest, illuminating the night sky.

Effortlessly he flew, circling higher, then lower, leaving a trail of bright flames in his wake which gently fizzled out in the night air.

He dived, plummeting like a meteor towards the fire pulling up at the last minute as he burst through the top of the roaring flames, sending a plume of smoke into the air. In all his euphoria he had completely forgotten about his companions and, looking down, he saw the others glaring in envy with anger strewn across their faces that he was the first to realise his power.

As the anger mounted in front of his eyes they also transformed into their respective creatures. That’s odd, thought Jimmy, they struggled for hours, but that look of pure rage and envy and they have all suddenly changed. It can’t be

A flurry of chilled air thrust past his face. The large blue and yellow dragon appeared, ferociously flapping his clawed wings, flying dangerously close to him. The wind from its humongous wingspan was forcing the smaller phoenix backward even with Jimmy flapping frantically.

The dragon stopped and hovered effortlessly before Jimmy and growled, “I am the strongest of you all, feel my POWER!”

The forceful dragon wrenched its immense jaws open and a spittle of fire started formulating at the back of its throat. In anticipation Jimmy closed his eyes and waited for the impact. Suddenly, the air was filled by an ear-piercing shriek. Jimmy opened his eyes and saw that Talula, in the form of a bat, had flown at Percy’s eye and they were now both intertwined with fire spurting upward into the air. A rush of blood flooded over Jimmy. He lowered his head and charged with all his might at the oversized dragon. With an almighty collision the three were sent into an uncontrollable tailspin and nosedived towards the forest floor. As Jimmy was spinning at an incredible speed he thought he noticed the dark outline of a deathly black castle in the near distance being rained on by streams of intense purple lightning. The next thing he remembered was seeing the ground coming closer and closer ... and then there was impact. All three hit the floor in a heap and morphed back to their normal forms.


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