Monthly Archives: January 2018

Marcus: Chapter 7: Impossible choices

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

Did the ghouls have the same powers as Marcus? Tash took an educated guess that they didn’t. After all, if they could why wouldn’t Mr Thomas have used them as his own freakish army?

Tash wasn’t ready to take any risks. She dropped to the ground, crawling in what Taz called ‘commando style’ along the wet grass. She shimmied between hedges and other cover until the stones were almost at running distance.

To her left was a small group of ghoul-children watching the golf-course gates with empty eyes. To her right was a single girl, and she was looking right at Tash.

Tash leapt from the ground as the girl pointed in her direction and let out a dry, unearthly, shriek. The other ghouls turned at the sound and marched in her direction.

In every direction all that Tash could see was ancient children. Each a ghostly copy of the sort of a picture you’d see in a museum. They closed around her leaving nothing but a small gap, on the other side was the stone circle. The gap closed shut and then came the whistle from the direction of town.

For a fraction of a moment the ghouls looked up to search for Marcus. Tash took her chance and lunged between the ghouls who had closed the gap.

The smell was putrid, like rotting vegetables and stagnant water. Marcus smelled weird but not unpleasant. The smell of these things hung around in her nose as she pelted her way towards the stone circle.

Deep breaths of rotten air fuelled her last few strides. She flung herself onto the nearest rock. Her wrist gave a hollow ‘crack’ as she landed but she barely noticed the pain. She was safe. Even better; the others were safe.

*

Marcus drifted down towards her, landing just feet away, clearly reluctant to go any further:

“It’s not the witching hour quite yet. He sent me to get you. Insisted that there is still time. He said to tell you that if you aren’t there on time he’ll kill them.”

Tash looked at Marcus like he was crazy:

“He was going to kill them anyway! At least if I stay here he doesn’t get what he wanted.”

Marcus nodded:

“The ritual doesn’t exactly ‘kill’ them but I know what you mean. It’s not much of a life is it.”

He gestured towards the ghouls surrounding them. Their quiet moans carried perfectly in the icy night air. A blasting wail shattered the quiet as three police cars flew down the road beside them illuminating the stones in pulsing blue.

Despite the shock their presence was a comfort to Tash and a grin crossed her face:

“I don’t think Mr Thomas will be doing anything to them now.”

She checked her watch: 2:45 am. They had made it with time to spare. The police would have heard about Taz’s screams. They would be investigating right now. Tash’s parents might even have read the note she had left on her bed. It was over:

“So what do you do now? If Mr Thomas is arrested there’s no reason to get us all together in the school at three. Out of interest, why do you always do this in the school?”

Marcus grew blurry, his form drifting apart as he grew lost in concentration. His answer was half hearted, his thoughts focussed on something else:

“It’s not the school exactly. Mr Thomas made sure that one of these stones was dug up and used in the construction of the school. Along with it they took a large amount of soil. I was buried in that soil. The school was built using my grave.”

Marcus’ real form had been bad enough to look at before. Now that Tash knew his body was buried somewhere, there was something somehow more unnatural about him. Something hollow. He paced in a circle around the stones, stopping every now and then to steal a glance at the golf club gates:

“Ah, there we are. I sent some of the others on a little errand. She’s younger than what we normally use but she should make a decent replacement.”

In the distance Tash could make out a tiny girl in rainbow pyjamas, her eyes red from crying. Two ghoul-children led her towards Marcus:

“Sorry Tash. I really am. I have orders to have four children in the school before 3am and if you won’t come I’ll have to use James’ little sister.”

Tash could feel the bile rising in her throat. It was over. The police would have Mr Thomas by now. Why was Marcus carrying this on? She screamed at him in rage, fighting back her own tears. His face hung long, his brow furrowed, as he struggled with something inside:

“Tash, I’m sorry. I want to do things differently but I can’t. It has to be like this. I always do as instructed. I have no choice. Now, make things easier and come with me to the school. We can leave James’ sister here at the stones so you know she’ll be safe.”

Tash’s moment of victory dissolved into nothing. Her throat ached, she tried to swallow but she had no saliva. Tash’s voice creaked as she stood up from the stones and tried to comfort the frightened girl:

“It’s OK. I know these people are scary but those stones are magic. The bad people can’t get you if you’re there. Sit on that rock and scream.”

James’ sister rushed for the stones and planted herself down on a mossy patch. Tash looked at Marcus. His black eyes told her nothing. She hoped her own eyes could hide things as easily. It wasn’t fair, she could reach the stones in two or three long strides from here.

She could reach the stones! Why was she walking towards Marcus? To keep a promise that meant her and three others would be turned into ghoulish shadows of themselves? No thanks! She kept her face as straight as possible and braced herself for the leap back to the stones.

As her leg muscles bunched a ring of cold and wet closed around her wrist with unyielding power:

“Good try Tash but I’m afraid we really must go. We have an appointment to keep.”

Keep up with the story

Social media feeds are an oddity. What you say can be seen by millions but it can also slip away and be missed with ease. I always post new chapters on social media (Facebook and Twitter) but there’s no guarantee that we’ll both be on at the same time.

With this in  mind, if you’re enjoying ‘Marcus’ and you want to be sure you get a link to the newest chapter as soon as it’s out, you can also get an e-mail reminder by clicking this link. Mailing list members also get access to printable files so you’re not forced to read it all from a screen.

Thanks for reading, all the best, John

*

Click here to read on to Marcus: Chapter 8: Borrowed Time

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Marcus: Chapter 6: Stone Circle

I altered this picture original here https://www.flickr.com/photos/74568665@N03/11932361453

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

A pair of black eyes sparkled in the moonlight as Marcus barred their way through the bushes. Taz grabbed Tash’s hand, preparing to run. Marcus simply shook his head then gently held a finger to his lips.

He beaconed them to come closer. Neither of them wanted anything to do with that idea but they knew they had little choice.

They took three tiny steps towards him. He looked barely human and his breath smelled like an old peat bog (earthy, damp, and cold). He whispered so quietly they could barely hear him:

“I need this to stop. He has me bound by dark magic. I have to do what he tells me. He uses me to stay young, to stay alive. He’ll use you too. I’ve been doing this for so long I can’t even remember my own name. He called me ‘Marcus’. Those Romans claimed everything by naming it. I can tell you how to stop it though.”

Roman’s? Dark magic? What was he talking about? Nothing about Marcus made any sense. At least he seemed to be helping them. It was their only choice.

Taz and Tash looked at each other. Without saying a word they knew what they were going to do, turning back to face Marcus they both gave him a sharp nod.

*

Meanwhile, in the school, Mr Thomas had re-tied Nicky and used an old belt to tie James to a pipe in a different part of the basement. They couldn’t see each other from where they were. Trying to shout back and forth resulted in Mr Thomas bashing on the old pipes with a hammer with a clang that made their teeth rattle.

He slumped down to sit on the floor on a grubby spot that they could both see:

“You know, it’s really quite odd. I don’t choose. He doesn’t choose. The strange thing is, I need four and that’s always what turns up in the end. It’s like the universe is telling me something.”

For a tiny, fleeting, moment, a look of regret passed over his face. James watched in hope. Would he let them go? Had he changed his mind? (James didn’t want to imagine what he was changing his mind about). Mr Thomas wiped sweat from his brow, pulled himself back up to a standing position, and grunted in frustration:

“What’s keeping that boy? We only have a few hours left!”

*

The Marcus-shaped creature sat down in the cold leaves inside the bush. He patted the dirt, beaconing Taz and Tash to sit with him:

“He made a mistake this time though. All he told me was to get you back to the school before the witching hour. It’s not much time but it should be enough.”

“I am a Pict. When I was ten years old I was taken miles from home to a healer here. He took me to their healing circle but in the middle of his magic he was interrupted by a small band of Roman soldiers carrying their wounded leader. They dropped him beside me and the magic linked us.”

“It destroyed me. Turned me into this. But the commander healed, he grew stronger and, as we both discovered later, he became immortal.”

Tash frowned:

“But that would make you?…”

“Almost two-thousand years old, yes. Look, we don’t have time for questions. Mr Thomas is the Roman. He will stay alive forever so long as he can drain the energy from children. Like he did with me. Like he has done every quarter century since.

“You need to go to the stones. They built a golf course around them, to the East of the town. The stones can undo this mistake. He can’t follow you there and he can’t complete the ritual with only two of you.”

Taz got up and prepared to run:

“Sounds good to me. Tash are you ready?”

“I’m not sure. I want to make sure my sister will be safe. Can you promise that?”

Marcus shook his head:

“I’m afraid I can’t. I have no choice but to do whatever he asks. I will do everything I can though.”

His black eyes closed, his brow furrowed:

“There’s one more thing. I think you misunderstood. I can’t just let you leave. I have my orders. I need to take you back to the school now. My advice is to find any chance you get and run for those stones. Even if only one of you makes it, that might be enough.”

Tash and Taz looked at him with unblinking eyes. How were they supposed to get away from him? Marcus stood up and a cloud of shadow grew from inside him. He spread out until all they could see was a greenish-black face and cold black eyes:

“What are you waiting for? RUN!”

His final word shook them out of their fear. Their legs thundered away. Getting to the golf course was almost all uphill but neither of them slowed, there was no choice but to run.

They couldn’t see Marcus any more but they could feel that he was near. Every now and then the smell of peat and damp would swirl past them along with the slightest whistling.

Marcus wasn’t allowed to go easy on them; as Taz found out half way along the High Street.

He had lost track of Tash and was dodging past a group of teenagers sitting around a bench in the square when he was slammed to the ground from the side. Even through his jacket he could tell the pavement had scraped his back badly.

The teenagers ran over to see if he was OK. Taz looked up and saw a group of concerned faces and beyond that a black cloud, growing thicker.

The whistling started again, along with a voice:

“I’ll take it from here.”

When the teenagers turned and saw the swirling black mist behind them it was all too much. A couple of them tried to pull Taz up and help him but his leg was hurt. He couldn’t walk.

As the mist grew together into the distorted form of Marcus they gave up entirely and ran. Marcus leaned over Taz:

“I am sorry Taz. You’re the fastest too. I need to take you to the school now. I hope you understand.”

A steep hill led down from the square to the school. It wasn’t a short trip and Marcus dragged Taz kicking and screaming all the way to the school gates.

*

Tash had seen Taz streaming ahead of her and knew there was no way she could keep up. She would only get one chance; Marcus was clearly going after the fastest of them. She would have to choose her moment exactly.

She kept an even distance from Taz until the square. His fall took her by surprise but she was quick to respond.

While Marcus dragged her friend kicking and screaming down King Street Tash ran in the opposite direction. Up one of the steepest hills in town.

Her legs burned and her lungs spluttered as they were filled with piercing cold. She couldn’t stop. This was for her friends. This was for her sister.

She knew if she let her legs rest. If she stopped even for a few seconds. She would never be able to start again.

Doubts popped into her head. Why was she trusting a Pictish mould-ghost (or whatever Marcus was)? She had never heard of this ‘stone circle’, what was it supposed to do? They were just rocks after all. How could they do anything to help real flesh-and-blood people?

She had let the doubts shake her, slow her down. Her attention had wandered and she took a false step onto the road, slamming down hard and jarring her leg.

There was no time to deal with the pain. No time for anything. She breathed in another deep lungful of the torturous icy air. Gritted her teeth, and continued her run, now in the middle of the road.

The doubts started slipping around in her mind again, knocking against each other and popping up in little groups.

One question came up more often than any other. It was the hardest to dismiss as well: How was she supposed to find the right stones?

The answer was so much worse than she could imagine. As she reached the gates to the golf course she found the grass populated with dozens of glowing children. Ghoulish green shapes, all with the same black eyes as Marcus. They wore such a collection of odd clothing that one thing was clear. These were the children who had come before. Two-thousand years of victims (or what was left of them).

None of them had seen her yet but she they were looking. Far beyond the walking ghouls one patch of ground seemed less popular. It was hard to see, even in the moonlight, but Tash was almost certain she could make out the shape of a small circle of rocks a few hundred feet from where she was.

Towards the centre of town she heard police sirens. A lot of them. She was almost out of time.

Keep up with the story

You can click here to read on to Chapter 7: Impossible Choices.

Social media feeds are an oddity. What you say can be seen by millions but it can also slip away and be missed with ease. I always post new chapters on social media (Facebook and Twitter) but there’s no guarantee that we’ll both be on at the same time.

With this in  mind, if you’re enjoying ‘Marcus’ and you want to be sure you get a link to the newest chapter as soon as it’s out, you can also get an e-mail reminder by clicking this link. Mailing list members also get access to printable files so you’re not forced to read it all from a screen.

Thanks for reading, all the best, John

The Plague

I just wanted to add a quick wee note to say sorry for the delay on last week’s chapter of ‘Marcus’. I had everything set up last Saturday night but hadn’t sorted the formatting etc. yet. Unfortunately, since Sunday morning, I’ve been hit down with some horrible flu thing.

Seem to be back to normal now. I don’t have a full new chapter of the Ogres to share yet but I should have everything back to normal by next Sunday. In the mean time I hope you enjoy this week’s (or last weeks’?) instalment of ‘Marcus’. It’s a chapter I’m really happy with and I thoroughly enjoyed writing it, hope you enjoy it as much too.

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

Marcus: Chapter 5: The Boiler Room

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

The boys scrambled for the door. Taz stuffed the keys in his pocket as he went. That thing had Marcus’ voice. Was it Marcus? It certainly didn’t look anything like Marcus!

This was no time for questions. It was time for running. Like they’d seen on every scary movie, in every scary book, the boys ran for the stairs. They ran for higher ground, even though all it could do was trap them.

They raced for the top floor. The corridors were wider there. That part of the building was newer. If they ran that way they could take the second set of stairs, double back onto the floor below and make a second attempt at getting into the boiler room.

Taz was determined not to leave his friend behind again:

“James, come on! It’s easier if you take the steps two at a time. Trust me.”

James copied Taz’s leaping run up the stairs. Sure enough they got up faster than he would have believed possible. His fear of tripping pushed firmly to one side in the face of his fear of the thing behind them. They raced through the top corridor, barging through the door at the end, just as the door they had just come through creaked open.

Marcus poked his head round with a grin. He yelled something after them but they didn’t stick around to find out what it was. They took the other stairs in jumps. James wasn’t even sure if his feet were hitting the ground. Nothing about this felt safe but it was better to risk a twisted ankle than wait around for Marcus to get them.

They came out at the very back of the school. At the far end of a very old corridor. The walls were arched and it smelled of bleach from the gym hall toilets. They ran on and turned into the big stairwell again. Leaping down steps without counting.

Taz ran ahead and grabbed the keys out of his pocket. There were dozens of them.

He skipped the tiny ones and the huge old iron ones and tried the most likely sizes and shapes. As the keys rattled against the door he was sure he could hear movement from behind it, and a girl’s voice!

Something wasn’t right though. The girl’s voice was muffled more than it should be. Taz slid key after key into the lock until finally, with a satisfying ‘click’ he found one that worked.

Taz flung the door open to find a darkened room, not much bigger than a store cupboard. He turned on the light. The room was empty; Nicky wasn’t here.

James came in to see why Taz was taking so long:

“Where is she?”

A tiny, echoing, voice came from below:

“I’m down here!”

At the far end of the room the boys spotted a ladder leading down to a level below. To rescue their friend they would need to climb under the school. Marcus would be here any minute.

In a rush of inspiration Taz leapt for the door and slammed it shut. He grabbed the key and locked them in:

“This way he won’t know we’re here yet.”

There was a lot of space under the school. A lot more than they expected. More in fact than there would ever need to be. James started to wonder if this underground bit was older than the school.

He and Taz got back to the task at hand:

“Nicky? Nicky are you here? We’ve come to get you, we need to take you home.”

A muffled cry from a small cupboard nearby told them everything they needed to know. A strip of old electrical cable linked her right ankle to one of the heating pipes. She looked up with a face covered in muck and sweat.

Up till that point the boys hadn’t wanted to believe that this was real. Neither of them had imagined Nicky like this. Nicky had to shake them out of it:

“Please! Help me!”

They leapt forward and started working on the knots. The plastic coating on the cables slipped as they pulled at it. The seconds ticked by with the sound of their own heartbeat pulsing in their ears.

Marcus would figure it out quickly. They had locked him out but he could be waiting for them by the door when they came back up.

Nicky wobbled as she walked, her sleeping legs waking up as she moved them. The boys grabbed an arm each and helped her along to the stepladder. At that point she was on her own. They couldn’t pull her up so she forced her legs to move, despite agonising pins and needles.

The boys let her climb up first, shuffling from foot to foot as they suppressed the urge to ask Nicky to hurry up. Finally she reached the top and James and Taz hauled themselves up to join her.

There was no way of knowing what might meet them on the other side of the door. James pointed out that the longer they waited the more likely it would be that they would find Marcus there.

Taz pressed his ear up against the door, sticking his tongue out as he concentrated:

“I can’t hear anything…”

The door handle turned.

*

Taz scurried along the floor on all fours, putting as much distance between himself and the door as possible. James and Nicky grabbed him by his shoulders and pulled him towards them.

A metallic scraping sound came from the other side of the door. A huge clump of keys clicking against the handle. No other sound could be heard as a key clicked gently into the lock and produced a tiny ‘squeak’ as it opened the door.

A huge shape filled the open door. The lights in the stairway had been turned on leaving the figure’s face in shadow. As he stepped forward the three friends finally felt able to breathe. Mr Thomas, assistant janitor and saviour of the hour, gaped at them:

“What on earth are you all doing here?”

He stepped closer to them, frowning:

“Marcus was supposed to keep you tied up!”

They had seconds to digest what Mr Thomas was saying. Taz was the first to respond. Heaving his friends up he hauled them with all his might to speed past the man and leap through the open door.

They held hands tight and ran as one, slipping a little on the freshly polished floor, bumping into corners.

Mr Thomas poked his head out of the boiler room:

“Marcus! We have an escape attempt!”

A greenish-black shape blurred past them and took the shape of a ten year old boy:

“I really am sorry but I can’t let you leave.”

There was something odd about Marcus’ expression, somehow he really did seem sorry. All the same he clearly intended to keep them there.

The trio launched themselves right at him, knocking him to one side as they made for the door. They remembered too late that this wasn’t the way they’d come in. Nicky fiddled with the lock, no key just a twist catch. As soon as they heard the ‘click’ all three of them flung the door open and ran out into the night.

They made directly for the gate but the greenish-black shape was back. This time, away from the lights in the school, Marcus didn’t look at all like himself. Black eyes blinked at them from behind pale green eyelids.

The three friends stepped back from the creature in front of them. In his fright Taz let go of James’ hand. A gust of wind threw him aside and he heard the words ‘Tig! I got you!” hiding inside the wind’s howl.

Taz pulled himself up and found the playground deserted. James, Nicky, even Marcus. All gone.

For a fleeting moment he considered running back into the school. There was nothing he could do. He needed help.

Taz’s legs thumped onto the pavement like pistons. He ran in a flat-out sprint all the way to Tash’s house. There was no clear way of getting hold of her without ringing the bell but he knew her parents wouldn’t believe what he had to tell them.

He’d have to knock on her bedroom window. Thankfully Tash’s house was a bungalow so at least he wouldn’t have to do any climbing to get to her.

Taz crept round the side of her house and found that her bedroom light was already on. She hadn’t even closed her curtains. When he looked in he saw that she was sitting up in bed, tear-reddened eyes staring blankly at her bedroom door. When Taz knocked on her window she fell off the bed.

Tash dashed to the window and pulled it open:

“Taz? What are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night.”

Taz had no time to waste (he was also ridiculously out of breath):

“Marcus…He has Nicky and James. He was working with Mr Thomas the whole time. Adults won’t believe us. We have got to go. Now!”

Tash hadn’t even put her pyjamas on. She knew she wouldn’t sleep with Nicky missing. Now she had a chance to save her sister and help her friend. Her parents would never forgive her if she left without saying anything but, as Taz said, they couldn’t risk them not believing them. She scribbled a quick note down and left it on her pillow:

So sorry, had to go. Mr Thomas and Marcus have Nicky and James in the school boiler room.

Didn’t think you’d believe us. Leaving with Taz now. Love you, Tash

They climbed out the window and into the night. Tash led Taz to a shortcut to the school through some bushes at the back of her house. He stopped cold in the middle of the bushes. Tash couldn’t understand:

“What is it?”

Taz shook his head and closed his eyes:

“The whistling, can’t you hear it.”

Tash hadn’t heard anything at first. She did now. A quiet, gentle song, echoing against the cold hard walls around them. It was getting closer.

*

Click here for Marcus: Chapter 6: Stone Circle