(‘Marcus’ is now available in paperback, you can pick up a copy from Fun Junction in either Crieff or Perth)
1st November 2017
Harry and Theo followed their dad out of the school gate. He had gone really quiet since they told him about the new boy.
Theo wandered off ahead leaving his dad to catch up. He moved to catch up with a couple of his friends then he saw it. Halloween had already been and gone, so why was there someone in the trees wearing a mask? Then he realised; masks don’t blink.
His pulse pounded in his ears, swishing like waves. He ran back to get his dad. When he looked back the face was gone. Theo knew his dad would just say it was his imagination, but he didn’t. His face went pale.
Theo wanted to talk about it. His dad didn’t. They were marched away from the school at a pace so fast that little Harry had to run behind in bursts to keep up.
Theo jumped on the computer as soon as he got home. He went to a favourite video and scrolled to the comments. It was one of the easiest ways to keep in touch with his friends, they’d been using this one for weeks.
None of them had a phone yet (despite constant requests) so for now this was their version of messaging one another. He started simply:
“Did anyone see anything weird outside school just now?”
He could be waiting for an answer for a while, there was no way of knowing whether his friends had got his message. He browsed around other web sites for a while then plugged in his headphones and had a go on his newest game. He forgot he had notifications switched on for the notice board.
The notification sound lost him the game. He would have been upset but he had to know what that thing was in the bushes. Was it just his imagination?
A couple of his friends had logged in; Daniel and Andrew. Andrew was football obsessed at school but at home he was never off the computer. Daniel was just happy to chat, he was always happy to chat. It was easier on the ears here actually (at school Daniel didn’t have much of an ‘inside voice’).
They both lived nearer the school than Theo so he hoped they’d been in less of a rush as they went past. Maybe they even knew who was wearing the mask.
Andrew hadn’t seen anything. Daniel remembered seeing something move but it had been too dark to see what it was. He said he could check on his new telescope, messaged them ‘brb’ (be right back).
While they waited, Andrew asked Theo more about the face. He was convinced it was just a high school kid in one of those special custom masks you could get made online.
Their conversation fell into talking about how cool it would be to have one of those masks (some of them could even smile and move their eyebrows). Theo couldn’t help thinking ‘…but I’ve never heard of one that could blink.’
Daniel was back. His message was surprisingly short (at least for Daniel): “Saw the face. Need to go see more closely.”
The others messaged back frantically, telling him he was nuts. Even if it was just a high school kid doing a prank it still wasn’t worth sneaking down there. There was no reply. Andrew said he’d go up to his bedroom and watch Daniel from his window. He’d message back on his tablet.
Theo grabbed a glass of water to fight off the dry feeling in his throat.
By the time Andrew had added a quick ‘OK I can see him’, Theo had drank so much water his stomach was making ‘sloshing’ sounds.
Andrew kept adding a progress report in short messages:
“He’s walking towards the trees.”
“He’s standing still, crouching down for a better view.”
“He’s standing back up. Like ‘stand up straight’ the way they get us to do in school.”
“It’s a kid. About our age.”
“That’s not a kid!!! Its face isn’t right. What is that?!”
There wasn’t another message. For a second Theo wondered if this was just a prank. Daniel would definitely do something like this. Then again Andrew hated pranks. Even on April fools day Andrew never joined in. Theo ran out of options. The dry throat was back but he was cold too. Really cold:
He yelled down the stairs.
“DAD!!! Come up and read this! Please!”
His dad ran up the stairs. He read through the comments in moments then held his head in his hands:
“Get your coat now.”
Theo’s dad rocketed down the road and skidded to a halt outside Daniel’s.
Theo wasn’t sure if he was supposed to stay in the car or not. Since his dad hadn’t said one way or the other he opted to follow him to the front door.
Daniel’s mum took a while to answer. Theo tried to tell her about the messages and the faces but his dad interrupted before she thought they were nuts.:
“Is Daniel here? Theo needs to check something with him.”
Daniel’s mum wandered into the house and shouted him. There was no answer. She rolled her eyes:
“Probably has his headphones on. Wait a sec, I’ll go see.”
She ignored Theo and his dad when she came back, she just kept yelling Daniel’s name. Her distress growing and growing.
Andrew’s mum appeared from their house next door:
“Ashleigh, is everything OK? I could hear you shouting from the kitchen.”
Theo’s dad jumped, yelling right at Andrew’s mum:
“Tash! It’s happening again. He’s back.”
Tash looked at her old friend. Her face transformed from confusion to horror:
Andrew’s mum ran back into her house shouting Andrew’s name. His big sister appeared, her eyes never leaving her phone:
“I think he went round the back. Said something about Daniel.”
Theo’s dad and Andrew’s mum ran round the back of the house chanting ‘no no no no no no…”
Theo ran after them. There was a hole in the fence that led to the high school playing fields. Beyond that Theo could see the group of trees and bushes where the face had been.
Andrew was walking towards them, like he was in some sort of trance. Theo searched the trees for signs of Daniel.
Way in the distance he could just make out two dark shapes walking out to the farmland out past Broich road.
He ran to his dad to tell him but when they looked back the shapes were gone.
Tash tackled her son to the ground and gripped him tight as he struggled to crawl off in the direction of the fields.
No one made a sound Andrew’s sister Louise stuck her phone in her jeans and slid through the fence. Somewhere far behind her someone started to whistle a little song. It cut through the cold night air and seemed to carry that ice into Theo’s insides. Both adults froze in place.
Louise interrupted the weirdness:
“What’s going on? Why’s mum holding Andrew on the grass?”
Theo didn’t really have answers. He didn’t need them though. Andrew’s mum heaved Andrew into a standing position. She’d clearly made a decision:
“We’re going to the school. I won’t let him do all this again.”
Theo’s dad nodded in agreement and helped her to get Andrew moving. Andrew did not look great. Louise could see that much:
“Mum, Andrew doesn’t look right. He looks like he needs a doctor. How’s going to the school going to help?”
Tash didn’t even look back:
“Trust me. It’s the only thing that will.”
Keep up with the story
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Thanks for reading, all the best, John