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Jenny skipped along the street, her pigtails flying, her eyes shining, and a permanent smile on her face. She carried her present for Shirley in the plastic carrier bag hanging from her arm, her Cinderella costume blowing in the breeze. Today her bestest friend was celebrating her ninth birthday with a fancy-dress party, and next week it would be her turn. Somehow, the figure nine seemed more grown-up than eight. Nearer double figures.
“You going to Shirley’s party?”
She’d seen the boy in the school playground. Always on the edge of a group, always watching, and, she shivered now, something about his eyes made her uneasy. Today was no different, and his costume didn’t help. His smile was inviting, warm and almost gleeful; yet, secretive, Shirley decided.
“What are you dressed up as?” She studied his cape and the scythe he carried, its blade gleaming in the sun.
“The Grim Reaper,” he said. “And my friend Herakles will be joining me in a moment.”
Damien, that was it! She’d never liked the name because it always made her think of demons; and demons, she knew, were scary. Lately they filled her dreams, turning them to nightmares.
She never quite saw their faces in her dreams, only heard their laughter, when it turned dark and evil and woke her up.
For the last couple of nights, she’d tried in vain to wake from the nightmares. The demon stood there watching her. Whatever she did, wherever she went in her dreams, the demon stood there watching in silent celebration.
Jenny looked at the boy walking beside her. Strange, she’d never noticed before, but if her demon had a face it would be like Damian’s.
“How old are you?” she asked in an effort to shake off her qualms. “Aren’t you too old to come to Shirley’s party?”
“Age, is in the head.” Damien smiled. “After all, you think nine as far more grown-up than eight, don’t you? When in reality it’s just the beginning of another day, another number you’ll hang on to for a year.
“If you’re lucky, that is.”
His eyes, dark as obsidian, gleamed in the sunshine, his hair reminded her of the huge raven that stole food off the bird table this morning, and cawed at her mother when she chased it away.
Sometimes, in a certain light, Damien reminded her of the old man who lived in the end house on the street. Rumour and gossip abounded about him, and the school children ran past his home; half hoping he’d come outside, and terrified he might!
“Never see a light on in that house, me dear,” old Mr. Hawkins, from two doors down, told her one day. “Best to stay clear of the place. That’s what I say.” And cackling he’d wandered off into the nearest shop.
Jenny stopped at the pedestrian road crossing and waited for the lights to change from red to green.
“It’s safe to cross now.” Damien told her.
She stepped into the road, thankful Damien hadn’t followed. Reflected in the shop window ahead of her she saw him standing on the pavement, watching her, his smile one of satisfaction this time.
She didn’t hear the car that ‘came from nowhere,’ didn’t hear the screams of horror that filled the air when the car never stopped, never saw Damien vanish into thin air, to reappear beside the driver of the car.
“Promise me she didn’t suffer,” he demanded of Herakles. “I didn’t like lying to her, she was a sweet kid.”
“She didn’t suffer,” his companion assured him.
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