Monthly Archives: December 2017

Marcus: Chapter 4: Clanks and Shadow

To go to chapter 1 and follow the story through, simply click on this link

Nothing in school seemed the same. There was a special assembly. A police officer stood at the front asking people to come forward with any information about the last time they had seen Nicky.

James and Taz got some time out of their class to go and talk to a police man in the staff room. When he found out they were friends of Nicky’s (and Tash’s) he made them a cup of tea and got his notebook out again.

He asked them about the last time they had seen her. Asked if they saw anyone unusual on their walk home from school. He asked loads of questions, and not one of those questions had anything to do with weird whistles or old photographs. Neither of them thought he would take it seriously if they did tell him.

After their interview the boys made their way back up to the classroom. The whole school felt colder. Taz thought it was because Nicky wasn’t there. On any normal day James would have jumped on Taz’s clear love for Nicky and teased him like crazy. This wasn’t a normal day, and James found himself agreeing instead.

The cold got worse after break time and it became clear that the dropping temperature had a lot more to do with faulty old radiators. They had even started ‘clinking’ every now and then.

A few minutes before the lunch bell Mr Thomas appeared at the door of their classroom. The heating was officially broken and their parents had all been called. The school was closing early; just after lunch.

James dreaded going out to the playground. He hadn’t been back since all of this started. Now, with Nicky missing, he was even more reluctant to see Marcus.

He needn’t have worried. Marcus was nowhere to be seen at lunch. It made James realise something; not only was Marcus missing from the dinner hall that day. He had never seen Marcus in the dinner hall. Never seen him carry a packed lunch. Did Marcus even eat?

When he mentioned this oddness to Taz his friend decided to ask around others at the table. By the time they were clearing their plates away, James and Taz weren’t the only ones wondering about what Marcus did for lunch.

A full stomach can be a great way to improve your mood. James and Taz tried to stay positive as they packed up their stuff and waited to be picked up.

Taz watched out the window (he’d finished packing his school-bag in seconds). Occasionally Taz heard some murmurs as kids in the classroom asked each other about Tash and Nicky (Tash had gone home long before lunch). For the most part everyone put away their stuff in complete silence.

Even the building sounded peculiar. Every now and then the silence was interrupted by clicks and clanks. CLICK CLICK CLICK CLANK CLANK CLANK CLICK CLICK CLICK. The old iron pipes weren’t used to cold like this.

James’ car pulled up outside and his mum got out. Taz let his friend know. They were both going to James’ house. Taz’s parents worked through in Perth so it was easier this way. It didn’t hurt to know they’d get some time together, neither of them wanted to be alone thinking about Nicky and Marcus right now.

They clumped their way downstairs. James’ mum signed them out at the front desk and walked them out to the car.

As Taz was buckling his seatbelt his face transformed, his skin grew pale, and his jaw hung loose. James looked around the car, desperately searching for whatever could have frightened his friend so much:

“What is it?”

Taz’s reply left James wondering if his friend had lost the plot:

“Click click click clonk clonk clonk click click click.”

James shrugged. He needed more information that that. Taz shook his head, as though clearing his thoughts:

“I taught Nicky Morse code ages ago. I’d learned it at cubs. There were certain messages that you could use if you needed help and she learned one really quickly. It stands for SOS; Save Our Souls).”

James didn’t go to cubs. He had no idea what Morse code was, and Taz had done nothing to explain his click clonk nonsense. James repeated his shrug and Taz shook his head in exasperation:

“Save our souls! It means help. Someone is hitting the radiators to signal for help.”

James understood now and the two of them looked back at the school as it disappeared from view. Nicky had been there all along and now she was completely alone.

*

James tried explaining their suspicions to his mum when they got to his house. She tried to stay supportive but he could see she was just humouring him. It did seem pretty unlikely that a kid from school had taken Nicky in the middle of the night and hidden her away somewhere in the school. She lost interest when James and Taz tried to explain that Marcus was no ordinary kid.

She left them in the living room and went to make a cup of tea. James’ body deflated. He slumped on the couch and looked at his friend for support. Taz flopped back on his seat too:

“What do we do? Your mum has always been a bit nuts. If she doesn’t believe this no one will.”

James straightened up and looked Taz straight in the eye:

“We wait. You ask if you can stay over here tonight. We’ll wait till its late and my folks are sleeping then we’ll head over to the school to investigate.”

It was the obvious thing to do. It was the right thing to do. All the same it happened to be the most terrifying thing they could do as well.

Taz called and got permission to stay the night. They go their tea and were even allowed to eat in James’ room. He popped a video on to pass the time. James’ mum brought in a pair of James’ pyjamas for Taz. He thanked her but had no plans to wear them at all.

The night wore on. James put on another video, it had witches doing horrible things in a hotel. It didn’t help their mood much.

At some point they must have fallen asleep but James had set his alarm to wake them up at 2am. By then everyone would be asleep.

He’d never sneaked out at night before. Every floor board seemed set to ‘creak’ the whole house awake. They reached the front door and unlocked it as quietly as they could. James was sure to lock it from the outside with the spare key so they had a way to get back in later.

Even with their coats on it was a shock to feel how cold the air could be at this time of night. Their muscles tightened against the chill and slowed them down.

They made their way up a dark one-way street about half way to the school. That’s when they heard the first whistle.

It started far in the distance; off near the school. It was brief, too brief (and too quiet) to be sure.

As they got closer to the school they realised how few of the street-lights were working. Only two lights were on in Commissioner Street and both were in front of the school leading the way like a beacon.

James heard something else; a ‘whoosh’ as though something had streaked past him in the darkness. Taz hadn’t heard anything.

The school was closer now. They were close enough to see that a couple of lights had been left on inside, glowing a warm peachy colour against the harsh yellow of the lights outside.

The next whistle came from behind. Taz made a noise like a walrus sitting on a pin and bolted for the school. James stood stock-still waiting for any other sounds. Something that might give him a hint about the direction he should run in.

He needn’t have waited, any direction would have done. The next whistle came from right beside his ear.

James had never ran faster in his life. He lunged for the school in great bounding leaps only to realise that it would be locked.

Where had Taz gone? Had he found a way in?

James’ eyes darted from window to window, desperately seeking some trace of his friend.

There was movement in one of the lower windows. When James got closer he realised the window was slightly open. Miss Bruce must have forgotten to lock ner office window.

The window was already open wide enough to climb through (Taz must have gone in this way).

As James heaved himself through the window his eyes caught a glimpse of the gas mask picture on the wall. It was distorted by the street lamp; Marcus’ smile had grown unnaturally wide and the eyes were black.

James was not going to hang around here more than he had to.

He found Taz hiding in the corridor outside, crouched in a corner with a drained look on his face. James didn’t have the heart to shout at him for running off:

“Come on you idiot, we need to get Nicky. Just don’t run off and leave her behind.”

Taz managed to force out a very dry ‘sorry’ as they made their way to the boiler room. It was the only place where someone could have sent clonks and clicks throughout the school like that. The door was locked.

Their best chance of finding keys was Mr Thomas’ overalls. Taz suggested they might be in the lockers in the staff room.

The staff room wasn’t locked and sure enough there was an old locker in the corner with overalls and a tool box in it. Taz rummaged through the pockets, then dived into the tool box.

Something about the room made James uneasy. It was only a day since he had been here working during break. Something didn’t look right. He scanned the room, trying to figure out what was different.

When he saw it his heart dropped into his guts. Beside the window, lit by the street-lights outside, stood a coat rack. The teachers all hung their coats on hooks beside the door. There had never been a coat rack last time he was there. There still wasn’t.

The distorted shape twisted in the yellow light. As Taz proclaimed ‘found the keys’ James saw the thing’s face. Shadowed, twisted, it’s black eyes glinting:

“I guess it’s my turn to tig you…”

 

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The Ogres: Chapter 4: Miners

To find your way back to the very first chapter click this link

Machines

Huge machines rumbled past the tent and shuddered to a stop. People climbed out to look around, wandering off in all directions.

Mee and Bur-up could tell that something bad would happen if one of these people found them. The Alex and the Logan told them to go back to the cave and do what they could to hide the entrance. They also took most of the stones and metal with them. The boys hid the rest in their jacket pockets.

The people from the trucks were everywhere. The sun had only just come up and these people were busy rummaging through the forest. The family tidied away their tent and did their best to hide too.

The boys’ parents called people on mobile phones and discussed the value of the hill and how much gold they might need to buy it. The Logan and the Alex worried when their dad said “That much?!”

The family had no car to go to and they didn’t want to risk hiding in the cave. If any of these people saw them going into it then all of this would be for nothing.

More phone calls and the boys grew more and more bored. The Alex wandered off with his big brother and played in the forest. Only a few rounds of tig later a man turned up. He was very smart and was carrying a shiny leather case:

“Sorry boys but I’m in the process of buying this place. We’re doing some very dangerous work today. Lots of drilling and digging. I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave.”

Neither of the boys knew what to say. The smart man couldn’t buy a hill could he? They wandered back to their parents just as their mum was getting off the phone:

“What’s wrong boys? You look upset.”

The Logan looked back at the smart man:

“He says he’s buying the hill. You can’t buy an entire hill can you?”

Their mum laughed:

“Actually, I think we just did.”

The angry smart man

They looked back to the smart man with his briefcase. His phone went off. Moments after he answered it, his face turned purple:

“That’s not possible! Who else could have known?…Wait how much did they offer? That’s ridiculous. Keep the deal on hold. There’s no way someone has access to that much money that quickly.”

The man hung up his phone and stuffed it into his pocket. He turned to the quiet trucks behind him:

“OK guys we have to pack up for the day. Deal hit a snag, we’ll be back though. Just have to sort out a few things.”

The angry smart man walked past the family on his way back to his fancy car:

“Looks like you’ve got another day to play boys. We’ll be back tomorrow I think. Enjoy your day.”

He opened his car, got inside, and drove away at top speed. The boys looked at their parents:

“How did you do that?”

Their dad’s eyes widened:

“We promised a lot. Lets hope our new friends can help.”

It took longer than they expected for them to find the cave. When they did it was clear that Mee and Bur-Up were experts at hide and seek. A heap of bracken had been torn up in small patches all around the cave and then piled up in front of the opening. It was so expertly laced that it just looked like a mound of earth.

You would only know the cave was there if you saw people going into it. As the family slipped into the cave someone did see. Far away the smart man was sitting in his car with a pair of binoculars. (“So that’s where they found the sapphire.”)

He climbed out of his car and followed the family’s trail as quietly as he could.

Great big steps

The stairs were very steep. Too steep even for the adults. The boys had to jump from one step to the next and after about fifty their legs started to ache. Surely they would find Mee and Bur-Up soon?

Every now and then they called down the tunnel in front of them, their voices echoing away to nothing. Finally they all needed a rest. The tunnel was getting warmer and it was getting harder and harder to breathe.

Above them a man took off his long overcoat and scarf and sat on a step as well. He could have kept going but the sounds of the family climbing down had stopped. He didn’t want to bump into them, he just wanted to find out where the sapphires were.

Deep below them the echoing voices reached Mee and Bur-Up at the bottom of the stair. The sound couldn’t have come at a worse time. Their leader Biggin was furious to see two bigger-folk strolling down the stairs of Ey-Kan as though it was an ordinary walk in the caverns.

He was figuring out the right punishment when the sound of little-people echoed down to them. Not just little people but little-people who knew both Mee and Bur-Up by name.

Biggin lifted his hands in anger:

“What did you do?”

Mee and Bur-Up hadn’t even told him about the trucks and about being ‘interesting’ yet. When they did he looked like he might just bounce them all the way back up the stairs himself:

“So how do we stop being interesting?”

Mee smiled:

“Don’t worry the boys’ parents had a plan. Though we left before we found out what it was.”

Biggin looked at them as though they had lost their minds:

“What were you thinking?”

Mee was almost in tears:

“It’s hard to explain. When we’re up there it’s like our brains stop working properly. I think it’s the cold.”

Biggin shook his head:

“So all of this bother and the big ice is still there?”

Mee got excited at this bit:

“No, actually no, the ice is gone. The boys explained. It’s just something called ‘winter’. After a little time goes by they get something called ‘spring’ when the plants grow and the animals wake back up again.”

There was a small crowd of bigger-folk gathered to listen to the surface adventurers. A few of them liked the sound of this ‘spring’ thing. In fact even Biggin liked the idea of seeing somewhere new (though for now he couldn’t admit it).

Biggin pulled himself up straight, looking as big and leader-like as he could:

“Right, before we think about anything else we need to see what the little-people’s plan is to make us less interesting.”

Presents for little-people

A lot of the bigger-folk wanted to follow Mee and Bur-Up as they made their way back up the stairs. Some even grabbed gifts for the little people they might meet up there.

As they walked up, each step made them feel odd. Mee and Bur-Up were more used to it now but more than a few of the others had to stop for a rest every few steps.

Their heads got a little fuzzy too, and their arms and legs changed colour and got more wobbly and thumpy (like it was harder to control them).

The yells from the family above got louder and louder (more loud hu-mans) until they could see four little people perched on the edge of a step looking down at them. The Alex jumped up and waved his hands in the air:

“They’re back, they’re back, and they brought friends.”

Further up the steps the smart man listened with great interest.

Who were ‘they’? Where were they back from? and Who were their friends?

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Marcus: Chapter 3: 3:00AM

To go to chapter 1 and follow the story through, simply click on this link

James woke up, his throat dry, vague memories of nightmares drifting away. He grabbed a drink of water, perched on the end of his bed, and glanced at his alarm clock. A sickly green digital display blinked 3am.

What had broken his sleep? The whistling had permeated his dreams, the sound was still ringing in his ears. The cold water roused him further. The last traces of sleep vanished. The whistling was coming from the street outside.

It only lasted a few seconds more. By the time James was at his window the whistler was gone. From that point on he didn’t sleep a wink.

*

His eyes were red with tiredness when he arrived at school. Tash was the fist to notice:

“You look horrible! What happened to you?”

James filled her in on everything that had happened the night before. She tried to comfort him by explaining it all away. After all, it had all been muddled by his nightmares. There was no way to be sure about what he’d heard. Even as she comforted her friend, Tash’s throat grew dry and her heart raced.

Once they had shared the story with Taz and Nicky they were left with the difficult task of deciding what to do next.

Taz wanted to go on acting like nothing had happened. Nicky insisted that there must be a simple explanation and that the simplest way to get it was by talking to Marcus. James and Tash looked at them both, an expression of absolute disbelief plastered over their faces. James spoke first:

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing here. Ignore it or talk to Marcus? Those can’t be our only options.”

The others nodded in agreement. They needed more details about ‘their’ Marcus. Operation ‘ask Marcus weird questions and hope he doesn’t notice’ was scheduled for lunchtime. It happened sooner than that.

As they all lined up, ready to file into the school James found himself standing in front of Marcus. He felt guilty for snooping yet worried for his safety as well. When he turned back to take a look Marcus was smiling quietly, looking up at the pink sky and enjoying the tiny bit of autumn sun. (What was the phrase ‘pink sky in the morning…’?)

He didn’t look like a vampire, or a ghost for that matter. He wasn’t see-through and he wasn’t being fried by sunlight. Two of James’ suspicions almost completely evaporated. Perhaps the others were right. Maybe Marcus really was just an honest kid who simply resembled the boy in the photograph by some freak chance.

Marcus was at the front of the queue grinning at a story one of the girls was telling him. She went back to talking to her friend. With the grin still fixed on his face Marcus turned to face James and whistled a short, simple, easy-going tune. For James there was nothing easy-going about it.

*

When the bell went for playtime James gripped his chair. Tash and Taz, edging for the door, spotted his discomfort and forced their way back through the crowd. He could barely admit to himself how he was feeling. He faked a sore stomach and asked Mrs McClain if he could stay in.

He waited for the inevitable ‘no’ (teachers seemed to love saying ‘no’). She picked up a book from her desk and made her way to the door:

“I’m heading to the staff room just now. If you’re sure you’re not well you can come downstairs. Bring your homework jotter so you’ll have something to do. We can phone your parents if you still feel ill after break.”

Tash and Taz were led out of the room and sent off to the playground. Tash looked back at James in horror, mouthing “Are you nuts?!”

The murmur of the staff room turned into a swell of sound as Mrs McClain opened the door and led James in. It was quite possible that the teachers were louder than the pupils out in the playground.

James made himself comfortable at a table in the corner. He could barely make out any words but the smoosh of noises from teacher-chatter helped put his mind at ease. Then one word stood out:

“…Marcus has been very strange today. He’s normally so friendly and pleasant as well. I might have to get him to sit outside the classroom to work if he keeps disrupting the class like this. You wouldn’t believe what he said…”

James didn’t get to find out. One of the other teachers had put the kettle on, it drowned out everything else.

Did Marcus know about their research trip to the library the night before? Had he been watching them? Was he the one who whistled outside at 3am?

James concentrated on his maths homework, the clean simple numbers helped take his mind off everything. Before he knew it the bell was ringing and he was following Mrs McClain back up to the classroom.

Taz and Tash were two of the first ones in. They sat down at the table beside him and he told them what he’d overheard. Taz nodded with his eyes wide open:

“That’s about right. He was in a really weird mood today when we played football. Didn’t play fair, said some pretty nasty things. Then tackled Robbie really hard. He got sent to see Miss Bruce after that.”

None of them could remember a time when Marcus had been sent to the headmistress before. Taz and Tash seemed to be coming over to James’s side, though James had gone even deeper in his doubts about Marcus. Had he got sent to Miss Bruce’s office on purpose? Had he seen the picture on the wall?

The day dragged on. All three of them tried with all their might to get lost in school work. Thinking too much about Marcus left them all with headaches but nothing could take their minds off him for more than a few seconds.

When the bell went to go home they were the last in the class to leave. Taz didn’t even try to take the stairs two at a time as they made their way out to the front of the school. Tash was quiet. James couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her quiet.

When they reached the front gate Nicky was waiting for them:

“What took you guys so long? I don’t think I’ve ever been the one waiting for you.”

They were about to explain their feelings about Marcus when he came strolling out of the front door. He didn’t head for the gate straight away. Instead he looked around, acting as though he had forgotten something. He turned to take the little lane to the right of the school that led up to the seniors playground but swung past them on his way:

“Hi Nicky, thanks for the wee chat. Hope it cleared some stuff up. Forgot my jacket. See you guys tomorrow.”

His smile looked practised but Nicky didn’t seem to notice. She waved and smiled.

Once Marcus was out of sight the others didn’t waste a second in turning to confront Nicky. What did she say? How much did she tell him? How much did he know?

Nicky had missed James’ story about the 3am whistle. She also hadn’t heard any of the stuff about the disappearing children. All the same she had still told Marcus about the photograph. He knew they were on to him, and that they were researching him.

Nicky frowned at them all:

“You’re getting it all mixed up. Marcus explained it all. The picture was his Grampa. He saw it himself in Mrs Bruce’s office at lunch time. They have the same name, that’s all.”

They couldn’t convince Nicky to see things any other way. She liked Marcus and had made up her mind that the others were getting caught up in spooky stories.

They skipped the library, choosing the comfort of home and their tea over more research. Nicky tried to comfort James before he left them to head into his house:

“Maybe you’re still in Halloween mode. It was weeks ago now. Just relax and let it go. It’s just a weird old photo.”

James gave her an awkward smile and went in.

*

James woke up in the middle of the night to more whistling. He pinched himself, splashed his face with water. This was no dream. The floorboards creaked as James made his way to the window. He felt the cold from the rattling window before he moved the curtain back. Down in the street, exactly where the whistling was coming from. Jack saw nothing.

The whistling stopped, replaced by a crunch, like footsteps through thick frost. The time flashed on his alarm clock: 03:00 am.

James returned to bed exhausted. He was drifting off when he heard the police sirens screaming past. The clock read 03:10 am.

*

Tash was white as a sheet the next morning at school and Nicky wasn’t there at all.

CLICK HERE TO READ ON TO CHAPTER 4

The Ogres: Chapter 3: Shiny Stones vs. Sweets

To start the story from the beginning just click this link

Mee wondered exactly what a ‘Supermarket’ might look like. As he approached the hu-man town a lot of doors slammed and a lot of people got really loud. Hu-mans liked to get loud when they saw Mee.

The old lady had given him simple instructions, follow the road down the hill then turn right. Mee did that. On the way a lot of the rolling boxes called ‘cars’ stopped their rolling and started making loud ‘HONK’ sounds. Mee covered his ears and kept walking.

The food hall

The ‘supermarket’ was beautiful. It was huge. Most importantly it was filled with food. A very shaky hu-man helped Mee find the mush mallows and also helped him use a rolling basket they called a ‘trolly’. It made carrying all the mush mallows much easier.

Mee also grabbed handfuls of other interesting boxes and filled the ‘trolly’ until boxes slipped from the top. He thanked the shaky man and walked back out into the cold outside.

More noisy hu-mans squealed and ran around as he walked back up the hill, past the old lady’s house, past the broken car, and back up to the Alex and the Logan.

The boys grinned at the trolly full of marshmallows, biscuits, and chocolate. For some reason there were also about four large boxes of washing powder, and several Mee-sized handfuls of perfume boxes (Mee insisted that they smelled ‘too lovely to leave behind’). After the initial fun of seeing all the food the boys had one important question:

“How did you pay for all of this?”

Mee shrugged:

“What does ‘pay’ mean?”

The boys’ faces hung long:

“Oh dear.”

Shiny stuff

Mee simply couldn’t understand what made the shiny metal in the Logan’s bag so important. The smooshed up wood sheets made even less sense:

“So I was supposed to give the supermarket soft useless metal before I took the food?”

The boys nodded. Mee laughed:

“When we bigger-folk are little they tell us stories about you. I always thought stuff about soft metal and shiny rocks was a joke. We even used to leave it on steps as presents for the little folk.”

The boys frowned. Mee hadn’t told them the story of the big ice and the steps under the hill. When he did they grew very excited. The Logan’s eyes were very wide:

“You mean there are more of you? And you throw away ‘shiny rocks’ and ‘soft metal’ because it’s useless.”

Mee frowned:

“Mee thought you all would know. Town under hill has hundreds of bigger-folk.”

The Alex looked in the direction of the cave:

“Is anyone else on their way up?”

It was Mee’s turn to look shocked:

“Bur-Up! He’s still following me. He got tired, stopped for a rest. I should go check he OK.”

Mee grabbed two big bags of marshmallows and made his way to the cave:

“Be back soon.”

The Logan called back:

“You might want to bring some of those ‘useless’ rocks and metal with you. You need to pay for what you took.”

Mee waved, a big bag of marshmallows flopping in his hand:

“I will.”

Dark

It was dark when Mee brought Bur-Up out of the cave. He wasn’t impressed:

“You said there was sun. Also this too cold. Listen to my talk.”

Mee shrugged:

“It not so bad, Mee got used to it.”

They followed the glow of the hu-mans’ fire. Two more hairy beasts were with them, bigger than the boys but similar looking. They made the loud noises and hid the Alex and the Logan behind their backs. The Alex pushed his way out:

“It’s OK. That’s Mee and his friend Bur-Up. They’re friendly.”

Bur-Up pushed past the noisy creatures and sat in the fire. The bigger hu-mans got noisy again. The littler ones calmed them down. Bur-up wondered if the bigger ones were pets or baby hu-mans, maybe they aged backwards to the bigger-folk.

Bur-Up could feel his body getting better. Mee smiled at the boys:

“Look I brought you presents. Useless rocks and squashy metal.”

He opened his hands and the jewels and gold glistened in the firelight. Mee laughed at the faces of all four hu-mans:

“You like them. I glad. Here, you play with them how you like, I don’t need them.”

A new idea

The boys looked at the pile of jewels and gold. their mum and dad looked at the pile of jewels and gold. It was hard to tell how much it was worth but easy to see that it was a lot.

The first thing to do was to sort out the bill at the supermarket. People would already be asking questions. The police had probably been called. The bigger-folk would be in danger of being found if the police followed Mee’s trail up the hill.

The Alex and his dad went down the hill to the supermarket. Maybe there was still time to keep everyone safe and happy.

Mee wasn’t sure why being found was a bad thing. The Logan tried to explain that Mee and his family might be taken and locked away. People liked to study unusual creatures, and the bigger-folk were very unusual. They needed to stay hidden.

Mee wished he was warmer, he might be able to understand all of this if he was.

The Alex and his dad took just one of the shiny blue stones. Mee had never heard it being given a name but they said it was a ‘sapphire’. How could a tiny blue rock be worth a trolly full of mush mallows and other tasty things?

Again Mee wished he was warmer. The little people were very confusing.

Why being interesting isn’t good

The Logan and his mum helped Mee make another fire beside Bur-up, gathering as many sticks and logs as they could find. Bur-Up nibbled on some of the glowing sticks as he laid back in the warmth.

The Logan was amazed by this:

“How can you eat that?”

Bur-Up frowned:

“Bur-Up’s mum says Bur-Up has to. Must eat proper food before I have treats.”

The Logan and his mum watched Bur-Up and Mee in fascination as they chewed on white hot coals from the bottom of the fire. Their skin now so deeply green it had almost turned black.

The Alex and his dad came back. They had spoken to a special little-person called a ‘manager’ and also some ‘police’ and the ‘manager’ said the little stone made everything better. Mee grinned but the Alex’s dad shook his head:

“They were very interested in where the sapphire came from. We’re going to have to do something clever to keep you guys hidden.”

Mee shook his head:

“No it OK. We won’t make it hard for you. We just go home. Go back down stairs.”

The little man shook his head:

“It’s too late now. They saw you, and they know you have sapphires. People are going to be very interested in this hill very soon.”

Mee frowned. All this attention didn’t sound good. He didn’t want to be interesting. The hu-mans climbed into their tent and promised to get up early to work on what to do next.

Mee pulled a big armful of branches into his fire and dropped another pile into Bur-Up’s (who had already fallen asleep). Mee tried to sleep but the stars above his head distracted him. He had never slept in an open space before. Even the cavern was only a few hundred feet high.

Mee watched the stars until the sky turned a cold, pale, blue and the sun struggled up from behind a hill. The morning wasn’t much warmer than the night time but it was a lot noisier.

More hu-mans, more noise. Up the road, alongside the campsite came big metal boxes on wheels, much bigger than a ‘car’. They had big, chomping, metal, mouths on the front. Some of them were so big that even Mee could have fit inside them.

THE STORY CONTINUES IN CHAPTER 4: MINERS. CLICK HERE TO READ IT NOW.

Marcus Chapter 2: No one there

To go to chapter 1 and follow the story through, simply click on this link

James’ whole class looked up as he walked into the room. His neck prickled, his ears grew hot. James slumped into his seat and concentrated on what he’d just seen in the office. Taz wouldn’t believe him:

“Look, you don’t have to try and make me laugh. What you said in the playground. I know you didn’t mean it.”

James’ face was too straight, too pale, for it to be a joke:

“I’m not joking. I wouldn’t make up some weird story just to try and cheer you up. I’m telling you. It is one hundred million percent a picture of Marcus.”

James knew that Taz would never believe him without seeing it for himself. It really did sound nuts:

“OK, OK, we’ll go to the library on the way home? It’s from an old newspaper, they’ve got them there. I remember looking at them when we were doing that project on the first world war.”

Taz had to admit, a stop off in the library to warm up on the way home didn’t sound too bad. He’d worry about James losing his mind after.

The afternoon moved along slowly and the sunset outside didn’t help much. They’d be walking home in darkness. The thought of it made the library even more appealing.

They had a pretty big group of friends but four of them lived near each other and most afternoons they walked home together. Tasha was waiting for them at the gates, frizzy hair shoved under a woolly hat. As usual Taz got to the gates about twice as quickly as James could:

“Hi Tasha. James wants to stop off in the library on the way home.”

She nodded. She did that a lot, it was her way of trying to look like she half-expected everything that happened. Tasha was experimenting with being ‘cool’:

“I told you to stop calling me ‘Tasha’. It’s Tash, just Tash! Anyway, yeah, the library sounds good. At least I can warm up a bit. Wish girls could wear trousers. Who thought up this uniform anyway?”

Conversations with Tasha were often three conversations in one. She’d sometimes lose track herself.

They waited for Tasha’s ‘little’ sister Nicola to come out. She was only a year younger than Tasha, and was also taller by a few inches. ‘Tash’ rolled her eyes theatrically (she was in the drama group so she knew all about theatrical eye rolls):

“Wee sisters are the worst! Why is her class always the last one out?”

Nicky didn’t take long. She came skipping out of the front doors with her standard cheesy grin:

“Hey guys, what’s happening?”

Taz was always trying to impress Nicky:

“Not much. Heading to the library on the way home. James thinks he’s discovered the Crieff Primary vampire.”

Taz winked at James. Clearly he wasn’t taking this investigation seriously at all. James shook his head and led the way.

*

They defrosted in the doorway of the library. The smell of old paper drifting from inside. Taz was grinning:

“It always smells like my attic; all dusty and old. I kind of like it.”

Tash was less impressed. She proclaimed her annoyance to the ceiling. Blaming the heat of the place on all the old people who ‘lived’ there. She pulled off her jacket and jumper and flung them next to a stack of beanbags the librarians called the ‘kids corner’.

Nicky’s mouth dropped open at her sister’s behaviour:

“Tasha keep your voice down! It’s nice and cosy here. You always make such a huge thing out of everything that happens to you.”

Tasha shrugged, grabbed a beanbag seat from the top of the pile, slumping onto it. She whispered as quietly as she could:

“Sorry ‘Mum’ I’ll keep my voice down.”

James laughed. It was the first time he had since lunch time. He left his friends looking in the ghost stories section and made his way to the librarian’s desk.

He had looked at the old newspapers with his teacher. He wasn’t so sure they would let some kids thumb their way through fifty year old papers.

The librarian was really helpful. She couldn’t let them see the original paper copies. However, she brought James over to a weird gadget that looked like a big plastic TV screen and got him something called a ‘microfilm’ of the newspaper.

It didn’t take her long to find the right roll of film. It was filled with hundreds of tiny photographs of every page of every Strathearn Herald printed in 1942. Finding the exact page James needed took a lot longer. She showed James how to twist the dial, moving slowly between pictures.

James was left to cycle through hundreds of pages until he reached November, then he slowed down and clicked through page by page.

There it was. James leapt up to get his friends. Taz got there first, he was surprised at the likeness:

“That is really weird. I wonder if it’s a relative or something. He looks so similar.”

That was it. They were all going to treat it as an odd coincidence. As if it were just a funny story to pass around the playground tomorrow. He was about to say something when Tasha jumped in:

“That’s more than ‘similar’ Taz. That boy looks identical to Marcus. I don’t even like looking at it. And did you see what it says in the article underneath.”

They all scanned through the article but the words jumped out as soon as James saw them:

…Crieff Primary Pupil Marcus Bauchan demonstrates proper use of the child-sized gas mask…

For a few seconds no one said anything. James wanted to stay and look for more pictures. His friends, on the other hand, had become remarkably interested in how soon their tea time was (they couldn’t have looked more scared).

James couldn’t blame them. Looking alike was one thing but sharing the same name was beyond odd. He needed to see what else was hiding in the newspapers.

His friends packed up their bags and got their jackets back on. As they said bye, Tasha insisted that James tell her everything in school the next morning.

For the next half-hour James gradually ran out of energy. He wouldn’t have anything to share with Tasha the next day. Then he found it; an article appearing years after the gas-mask photograph. There wasn’t even a picture. The title left a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach:

‘Missing Children Still Unaccounted For’

The article named five children. Four names that James didn’t recognise, and one that he did; ‘Marcus Bauchan’.

James searched ahead for some clue about the fate of the missing children but it was pretty clear they had never returned.

James needed to get home soon. His parents would be worried. On a whim he decided to wind the film back again. The gap between stories was exactly twenty-five years (give or take a few days).

James looked for microfilm of earlier issues and found one from 1917 (exactly twenty five years before the gas mask). In November he found it, more missing children. This time there were no names, apparently they had been with a travelling circus. Again they vanished without a trace but that was all the article had to say about it.

James stared at the screen in front of him, afraid to look round. How could Marcus be linked to all this? He was just a ten year old boy.

That was when the lights in the library went out.

James swallowed but his throat was so dry it felt like it stuck together. He forced himself to look round and found that he was completely alone. He couldn’t even see the librarian.

He got up on legs made of dough. They were numb from sitting in one place for so long but his whole body felt numb too. He leaned on the table giving his legs a chance to get the feeling back.

The library windows were lit by the street-lights outside and the odd passing car headlight. They gave him something to see by. He almost missed a shape in the corner of one of the windows; a blurred face with a look of terror plastered over it. It was on the outside. That meant whatever it was was two, maybe three, stories up.

Perhaps it was a leftover Halloween decoration. Then James saw it move, its black eyes fixed on James. The feeling rushed back to his legs but they wouldn’t do anything he told them to. He watched the face follow him, tried to tell himself it was just a distorted version of his own reflection then a hand landed on his shoulder.

He spun round to face whatever creature had come to take him. The librarian looked down at him:

“Sorry, I thought you left ages ago. Come along, I’ve locked up. I’ll need to let you out.”

James tried to hide his shaking as the librarian led him to the door and let him out into the street. The cold clawed at his cheeks as he made his way home. The whistling wind didn’t help either, it added that extra bit of dread to his current mood.

That got worse when he realised there was no wind. The air was so still the trees looked like statues. The sound he heard was actual whistling, and it was coming from behind him.

He turned his head back and forth, attempting to locate the origin of the sound. It was coming from across the road. But there was no one there. James was alone.

He pictured himself challenging the mysterious whistler. Then his memory lurched back to the black-eyed face in the library window.

James arrived home in moments, his legs aching from the fastest run he had ever done in his life.

 

*

Chapter 3 will be available next Sunday (24th/Christmas Eve) at 6pm. To be sure it gets to you you can sign up for the Marcus mailing list (please click this link for the sign-up form). Being part of the mailing list will also give you access to pdf printable copies of all the chapters so far (if you’d prefer to read screen-free).

Hope you enjoyed this week’s instalment. Please pop a comment in the comments section to let me know what you thought.

As always, thanks for reading, All the best, John

CLICK HERE TO READ ON TO CHAPTER 3

The Ogres: Chapter 2: Rolly Box

To read from the beginning click here

Every year the bigger folk talked about going back up and every year they decided to wait. It went on so long that they forgot about the idea. The cavern was home. It was warm. It was safe. But it was dull.

Mee and Bur-up were young by bigger folk standards, but they were old enough to know better. They considered themselves ‘brave adventurers’, everyone else considered them fools.

Either way they found themselves stomping their way up hundreds of stone steps on a fairly normal Thursday morning. Bur-Up got tired. The most exercise he got was lifting food to his mouth. He was good at that, Mee had to admit, but it didn’t really count as training for a walk that hadn’t been attempted since before their great granny was born (bigger folk live a long time).

No one is sure if Mee was the braver of the two or if he was just the most foolish but he decided to continue up. The walls grew colder than anything he had ever felt. He felt sure the ice must still be there above them. Surely thousands of years of snow must have left it miles thick by now?

Instead of ice he found a cave. It was different than the stories. Smaller, more damp, more mouldy, more occupied. That’s when he met the creature.

It was small, slightly hairy, and it looked as though someone had put some clothes on it as a joke. Mee wondered if it was a pet of some sort. The creature made a horrible screeching sound. Yes, definitely a pet or guard animal of some sort. So where was it’s owner?

Mee asked:

“Is you lost hairy beast. Where your bigger person gone?”

The creature stopped shrieking. The hairy little beast talked:

“My Mum and Dad are back at the car. What are you?”

Mee shook his head:

“I’m Mee.”

The tiny hairy beast laughed:

“No I’m me!”

“NO, I’m Mee!”

“No, I’m me!”

This went on for a while until Mee got a little upset and exclaimed ‘My name is Mee!”. The little hairy beast came over to him:

“I’m sorry. I thought you were playing a game. Hello Mee. I’m Alex. You look very different to me. Are you human?”

Me shook his head. He hadn’t heard the word ‘human’ before. Maybe that’s what the little hairy beast was. Mee tried to explain:

“Mee is one of the bigger folk. We live under the hill. We escaped the big ice. Is it gone now?”

The hairy ‘Alex’ didn’t know what he was talking about:

“It’s a bit frosty outside but I haven’t seen any ‘big ice’.”

He led the way to the cave’s mouth and that’s when Mee saw it; a huge ball of fire in the sky. He had heard about this in stories but he couldn’t remember the name for it. The ‘Alex’ called it ‘the sun’.

Mee told the ‘Alex’ about how Ey-Kan had made ‘the sun’ and thrown it into the sky with a machine. Outside the cave the cold air made everything blurry, the sounds were all soft and sort of wet.

When Mee spoke it was like there was cloth in his mouth:

“Two of the Alex. I’m not thinking good. All too slow. It’s really slowing out here.”

The Alex looked round. Mee was right, there were two of him now. Two humans anyway. His big brother’s face poked out from behind a tree; eyes wide, a silent scream struggling to escape his open mouth. The Alex waved:

“It’s OK Logan. He won’t hurt you.”

The Alex looked back to Mee:

“Did you say it’s snowing?”

Mee shook his head:

“No, slowing. My head not work so good out here. Need warm place.”

The two boys helped Mee find his way to their campfire. Their mum and dad had gone down to the car to get their picnic and the rest of their stuff. Logan had a backpack with him. In it were all the essentials for a weekend camping on a cold hillside; four packs of crisps and a big bag of marshmallows.

The bigger folk had nothing like this food. The squishy pink marshmallows were too good to say no to. Mee put twelve in his mouth then sat in the fire to get warm. The flames licked up his back and over his head. The heat melted the marshmallows in his mouth. It would seem that more melted means more delicious.

On Fire

The ‘hu-mans’ were being very noisy. It made it extremely hard to enjoy his mouthful of pink goop. It stuck his teeth together a little:

“What the matter? You both OK?”

The Alex squealed in shock and with laughter:

“You’re on fire! Isn’t it sore?”

Mee frowned slowly, enjoying the last of his marshmallows as they melted down his throat:

“Why would fire be sore? Not like it’s cutting me or bashing me!”

The hu-mans laughed but stepped back. The Logan tried to explain:

“It’s just, people aren’t normally fire-proof. Not many living things are.”

Mee shrugged:

“Hu? How strange. Can I have more mush mallow?”

The Logan slid the bag along the ground. Mee had grown so hot that his skin had changed colour; he was a deep, dark green now. If it wasn’t for the talking, and the moving, and the smiling, and the eating (and he was doing a lot of that now), the hu-mans might have thought he was cooking.

With a belly full of food and a freshly toasted butt Mee stood up and went for a wander in the forest. Cracking branches and knocking down the odd tree with a simple ‘oops’.

His next ‘oops’ came after he bumped into a big metal box. The box was perched on four squashy wheels. One bump was enough to send it rolling away from him.

The Alex caught up just in time to see the car rolling away down the road towards the town:

“Our car! What happened?”

Mee tried another ‘oops’ but the Alex seemed to need more than that:

“I bumped it.”

The Logan shook his head:

“Our stuff was in there. Our food was in there.”

Mee grew a lot more concerned about the runaway box:

“You mean more mush mallows?”

The Logan shrugged:

“Maybe.”

Mee ran after the ‘car’. It was far away, it had stopped, a wall had caught it. It was very broken. Mee went to look inside. He couldn’t find a lid so he just grabbed an end and pulled. It broke more. Since it was already broken Mee started pulling at all the sides looking for ‘mush-mallows’.

He found a smaller box inside, in it was lots of very cold stuff. Some of it could have been food, none of it was a bag of ‘mush mallows’. Mee wondered if they had fallen out, or if there was somewhere else he might find some.

Along the wall from the broken car Mee spotted a house. It was the first thing that looked right (though it was far too small). Mee knocked on the door and a hu-man answered. She was half his size, had steel coloured hair and her face looked strange, all stretched with eyes that didn’t blink. She was noisy too. She liked to say ‘arghhh’.

Mee looked down at the tiny person:

“Hello hu-man, I broke the car box and I need mush mallows. Where do mush mallows grow.”

The lady’s face stopped being all stretched and she seemed to have said enough ‘arghhh’ for now. Instead she became very quiet. Mee breathed slowly but it was still one…two…three, breaths before she spoke again:

“You can get food at the supermarket.”

Mee grinned a grin as big as the old lady’s whole head:

“Perfect. Where is the ‘Supermarket’?”

The tiny old person pointed into the town and told him it was at the very bottom of the hill. He gave her a quick “Thank you!” and went to get more ‘mush mallows’.

*

Thanks so much for reading. I really hope you enjoyed the story. Please let me know what you thought in the comments below.

I’ll have chapter three ready for you next week. Be sure to sign up to the e-mail list to receive chapters direct to your inbox (please click this link). You’ll also gain access to pdf printable versions of the stories (if you’d rather read without screens). I should also point out that the first eight chapters of the Bigger Folk will be available here on the website but later chapters will be released solely on the e-mail list.

As always thanks for reading, All the best, John

READ ON FOR CHAPTER 3: SHINY STONES vs SWEETS

Marcus Chapter 1: The photograph

To pre-order your copy of Marcus in paperback click on this link (out September 2018)

27th November 1992

It was a ‘no jackets’ sort of lunch time, the wind stung James’ face as he ran after his friends, but he didn’t care. They hadn’t stopped running since they got outside, his hair stuck to his head with sweat, and there was a fire in his belly as he raced to ‘tig’ Scott, a boy so small and so fast they nicknamed him ‘Taz’ (after the Tasmanian devil cartoon).

No one at this school kicked James. Or stole his gym shoes. He didn’t have to spend lunchtime talking to the dinner ladies. He could even leave his coat in the pile by the railing and he knew it would be there when he went back for it. This place was like heaven.

There was only one really weird thing about Crieff Primary. It was something none of the other kids seemed to notice. James wasn’t the only new kid in school. Another boy, Marcus, had started a few weeks before James did. Marcus wasn’t the weird thing, it was the way everyone else treated him that was so odd.

It was like they had all known him their whole lives. He knew loads about people; could remember their names, what their favourite TV shows were, their favourite games. It was safe to say that Marcus made making friends look easy. He was like the perfect kid. James wanted to hate the guy but he just couldn’t.

Marcus slipped past him, narrowly escaping a ‘tig’. He swung round with a huge grin as soon as he was far enough away:

“Come on James! Let someone else get a turn being ‘it’.”

The fire bubbled in James’ belly and he forced his legs to sprint him ever-closer to Marcus. Eyebrows raised Marcus turned on his heel and jetted off.

The more James pushed himself, the more the November air bit at his lungs. It went beyond being fun and started to hurt. His temples throbbed like an ice-cream headache as he made his final lunge at Marcus. His fingertips brushed his shoulder as he forced the word ‘tig’ out of his aching lungs.

He knew Marcus felt it too but the ‘perfect’ boy shook his head with a laugh:

“You’ll have to try harder than that Jamie!”

What!?? They both knew he’d caught him. Marcus was ‘it’ now but he ran off laughing anyway. And what was he playing at calling James ‘Jamie’? There were two people in the world who called him ‘Jamie’; his mum and his granny (and his granny couldn’t call him it any more since she was dead).

James stopped running, blood rushing to his face as the fury swelled inside:

“You KNOW I got you!” he raised his voice louder, announcing it to as many folk in the playground as would listen:

“I GOT MARCUS! HE’S IT!”

A few girls took jumpy steps away from Marcus but most of the others just frowned. Marcus shook his head and made a face as if to say ‘so he says’ and most of the others relaxed. It was a tried and tested sneak tactic for some kids to pretend they hadn’t been caught. It was one of the ways slower kids could still join in.

No one seemed to believe that Marcus would fake it though. James could tell his face had gone that weird pink-speckled way it did when he was properly upset. He flung his arms out to his sides:

“Fine. I’m out. I’m not playing any more!”

Taz zipped towards James, a frown covering his face, clearly worried about his friend. That only got James more annoyed. Taz crossed his fingers (the sign that he wasn’t part of the game for now):

“You OK? Look, maybe you just thought you got him.”

Balling up his fists to keep the rage at bay James looked his best friend straight in the eye and swore. It was a phrase he’d heard a couple of times on the TV, he wasn’t even sure he’d said it right. The shock on Taz’s face left James ashamed but it was the yell from Mrs Eastwick (the playground supervisor) that really made James’ guts drop:

“James! Did you say what I think you did? That’s it, ten house points gone and you can go straight to the headmistress’s office!”

At least Marcus had the good sense to look sorry for what he’d done as James was paraded past him on the way into the school. Lunch time was over.

*

James had never been sent to the headmistress’s office before. He’d never even really been in trouble, either at this school or the old one. He could feel the macaroni cheese he’d had for lunch lurching up his throat a bit as he took the steps down to the front of the school.

The corridor outside the headmistress’s office stank of bleach. It didn’t help the sick feeling. Mrs Eastwick told him to sit on a spongy seat while she went in to see Miss Bruce.

The seat was way more comfortable than the ones they had at their desks. It was clearly an old one from the staff room, a ‘grown-up’ chair for people visiting the school.

James’ mum and dad had sat out here with him when they were asking about moving him to Crieff Primary. Miss Bruce had been smiling the whole time and had even got James a mug of hot chocolate to drink while they had talked about the school and about James’ hobbies and favourite subjects.

Miss Bruce was not smiling when she opened the door to her office:

“Come in James. Thanks Maggie, I’ll talk to James about this. You’d better get back up, it’s twenty minutes before the bell.”

Mrs Eastwick gave a sharp nod and hustled back up the stairs.

James was ushered into the office and given a seat opposite the desk. There was no offer of hot chocolate. No smiles. Miss Bruce sat down and looked at him. Not one word had been said since Mrs Eastwick left and James half expected the bell for the end of lunch to go before Miss Bruce would say anything. She sighed:

“James, what happened out there? I could hardly believe it when I heard what you’d said to Scott.”

James tried to explain about Marcus, and how he’d got him. He explained how no one had believed him. They all sided with Marcus. They all loved Marcus. Miss Bruce shook her head, and held a hand up telling him to stop:

“But it wasn’t Marcus you said that horrible thing to. It was someone who came and tried to help you, your friend. From what I can tell Scott seems to be your best friend?”

James nodded. There wasn’t much else he could say. Pins and needles prickled his face. He could feel Miss Bruce judging him. He felt ashamed.

She got up from her desk and made her way to a wall filled with strange little shelves. There were papers slotted into each one, photocopies of different forms and worksheets (it was where she’d got the forms for James’ mum and dad just a few weeks ago):

“I really hadn’t expected to have to write up one of these for you James. I’m sorry to have to do it.”

She placed a small pile of paper on her desk, the kind that copies what you write onto the layers below. James couldn’t remember the name for it. Miss Bruce looked up from her writing:

“OK, so this is a demerit slip. A copy of this will go to your parents and we keep this carbon copy in your school record.”

She pulled the two sheets apart. The copy sheet was blue and she took it over to a cabinet and sorted through to find a folder with James’ name on it.

He could see photocopies of different certificates and awards in there. There was even a copy of his certificate for winning first place in the Burns poetry reading in primary one. Now all the things he was proud of would be joined forever with his smudgy blue ‘demerit’ slip.

Miss Bruce closed the filing cabinet and was about to say something when someone knocked on the door. It was Mr Thomas the janitor’s assistant:

“Sorry Miss Bruce. It’s the boiler. I think I’ll have to call someone out to have a look at it.”

James was left in the office as Miss Bruce followed Mr Thomas out to inspect the problem. Despite the old radiators in Miss Bruce’s room James felt cold. His jacket was still up in the playground. His hands were white and numb.

He got up and went over to warm his hands by the radiator. Facing the wall his eyes had little to focus on. There were old pictures of the school decorating it. Most of them black and white. One of them caught his eye, there was a little card typed out and put behind the glass in the frame:

Pupils practising gas mask use. Crieff Primary. Picture from Strathearn Herald 4th November 1942

And there, right above the card, holding the rubber straps of his gas mask, was Marcus.

*

Chapter two of ‘Marcus’ will be available next Sunday. To get it delivered directly to your inbox click on this link.

Thanks for reading, let me know what you think, all the best, John

TO READ ON TO CHAPTER 2 JUST CLICK HERE