They were his friends, but sometimes Jake hated them. They seemed to have developed an insane interest in scaring him on purpose and making fun of him, and they never stopped until Jake was on the verge of tears.
Ok, he was afraid of being alone in the dark, but how many eleven-year-old kids could honestly say they weren’t? And if they all really weren’t afraid, good for them. And Jake wasn’t really afraid, after all, it was more like a sense of discomfort taking hold of him every time he found himself on his own and the light was too dim.
In such situations, he couldn’t help startling at each noise, but was it fear or was it just surprise?
Still, his friends somehow smelled this feeling in him and treated it like plain fear. This is why, on that night, Jake was so quick to accept going alone in the old mansion garden to recollect the ball they were playing with.
“I’ll go!” He said, stepping forward.
The other kids looked at him for a while, surprised, then Carl began to tease him. “Isn’t it too dangerous for you, princess?”
Jake just shrugged his shoulders without a word, to prevent the trembling tone of his voice from giving him away. He just hoped Carl let it go.
But of course, he didn’t. “Ok, if you see a ghost, just shriek like a sissy and we’ll understand you’re in danger. You’re pretty good at it, aren’t you?”
Jake tried to keep quiet, but deep inside he was burning. Even being brave didn’t work, his friends still made fun of him. Carl was the worst: he was older than the other kids by at least a couple of years, but still used to hang out with the kids Jake’s age.
Needless to say, he felt like his being the more grown-up allowed him to play as the boss: he was also helped in this by his being the biggest, and if some kid didn’t tribute him what he thought it was the right dose of respect, he took it with the force.
“It’s a shame you can’t save me being an asshole because you’re quite good at it, aren’t you?” Jake said as he took the first steps towards the old gate.
“Shut up, you pussy!” Carl roared, taking a step forward, and Jake took the chance to turn around and walk towards the old mansion’s gate.
The mansion had belonged to one of the richest families in town, but it had been abandoned for more than half a century. Legends were told about the last inhabitants who died of some strange disease, and their only heir went totally nuts a few years later.
They had found him completely naked, tied to one of the big oaks in the garden, as he screamed and foamed from his mouth. Since then, nobody ever inhabited it again: Jake remembered that a few years back some rich guy had bought it, trying to convert it in a hotel or in a big condo, but he had to give up when his construction team disappeared, one worker after the other.
Jake stood in front of the black metal gate for a while, before climbing up and jumping on the other side. The air felt colder on the other side of the gate, and it left a damp taste in Jake’s mouth and nostrils. Jake shivered, then he moved forward, as he wanted to get out from there with the ball as soon as possible.
A wind unusual for that season began to blow, and Jake did his best to avoid turning around and fleeing. After all, his parents had told him countless times: there was no such thing as a ghost, and all the stories about the mansion were just stories, made up by someone with a huge fantasy.
In fact, aside from the wind, the garden was completely silent, and the only sound was caused by Jake’s steps on the paved stone walkway. His eyes gradually adjusted to the dim light, and he was able to take a look around. At times, the branches of the trees looked like devilish arms stretched out to reach him, but every time he got closer Jake could take a relieved deep breath. His confidence increased with every step.
Finally, he saw the ball, lying under one of the stone benches which surrounded a small pool with a fountain. Jake smiled and crouched under the bench.
And then it started.
A sound like if water was once again flowing by the fountain nozzle. A cold feeling gripped Jake’s heart, and he tried to calm down. It could be very well one of those sensors which had the water start when they spotted someone close enough, after all. Still, Jake wasn’t brave enough to look at the fountain, as he was scared of what he might see.
When the ball was firmly in his hands, the water stopped flowing. Jake felt relieved until the steps began.
After a few seconds that felt like ages, Jake turned around. In front of him, there was a huge shadow approaching and reaching out with its arm.
Voice died in Jake’s throat, and he began to run. He stumbled on a stone and scrambled to get on his feet, losing the ball in the process. But he didn’t care, his life was way more important.
He got completely lost in the garden as he ran around, hearing the shadow’s steps getting closer and closer, even though it never seemed to sprint forward and the cadence of its steps made it seem like an old man walking quietly in the darkness.
Jake found himself in front of a dead end. Desperate, he turned around and looked at the shadow, trying to find a way to elude it and run away. The shadow stopped quietly, and Jake saw that it was extending an arm towards him, offering him the ball. He raised an eyebrow.
“I think you forgot this sphere.” The shadow’s voice was as deep as Jake expected. And seeing that Jake didn’t respond, it got a little confused. “Isn’t it the reason why you came here?”
“Yes, it is, but…please, please, don’t hurt me! I’ll never step foot inside here again.” Jake said in a hurry.
“Hurt you?” The shadow burst into laughter. “What kind of stories do they tell you out there? I can’t hurt you, not even if I wanted to!”
Jake’s mouth widened but he couldn’t emit a single sound.
“Could you believe it? Me, Tazius Deathbringer, one of the most powerful spirits in the Seven Hells, can do no harm to any form of life, stupid as it is.” The shadow went on in between tears. It was laughing, but it also seemed bothered by that limitation of its powers.
“And why?” Jake found the courage to ask.
The shadow relaxed and laughed again. “You really need to ask? How can I hurt you, if I’ve got no body? I can’t even get out of this stinky garden without one.”
“So you’re not the one who slew the people who lived here…”
“No. I just drove them crazy, and they did that to themselves. This is what happens to almost any human mind when you people get in contact with something bigger than you. You seem to be missing the basis of necromancy, kid: to hurt anyone I need a body and to snatch one I need consent from the owner. As you can see, it’s not that easy.” The shadow plopped down on a bench, disappearing for a moment into a cloud of darkness.
“Why? What happens to the owner?” Jake asked after a few seconds. He sat down by the shadow’s side.
“Nothing that can be seen from outside. Nothing bad at all, actually.” The shadow replied, still looking at the ground.
Jake looked at the shadow’s deep red eyes as he took the ball in his hands. He stayed like that until he couldn’t see anything more than the deep darkness, broken only by those red fires.
“I think we shouldn’t have let him go alone.” Ashley was starting to get worried about Jake. Carl shrugged his shoulders. “Why? He was the one eager to go, and he didn’t ask for company.”
“There he is, he’s back!” Said Ashley, and all the kids looked at Jake climbing down the wall and walking towards them. None of them had ever seen his eyes so relaxed and confident.