“But what about Daniel? He wandered off with that…thing. Shouldn’t we call the police or something?”
Theo called back to the adults as he marched at top speed towards his school. When he looked back he realised they were on the other path. Louise noticed too:
“I thought you said we were going to the school.”
Both adults answered in chorus:
Louise was not impressed:
“Wait! You mean the old school? No way! There’s no one there. How can that help get Andrew better or help us find Daniel? Besides it’s creepy at night.”
Theo had to agree. A visit to an abandoned primary school, at night, was not his first choice after what they’d been through already.
There wasn’t any discussion to be had. Tash and James marched a dazed and confused Andrew onwards and the others had no choice but to keep up.
Theo didn’t even like walking past the old school during the day. It had actually been his school for a few years before it had closed, before they all moved to the new one. It had been really good. A fun place. Somewhere he had met most of his friends.
It was different now. All the classrooms had been gutted. The pictures weren’t stuck on the windows any more. No one had drawn chalk pictures on the playground for years.
It was a sad place to walk past in the daytime. Theo didn’t like to think what it might be like at night.
The old school did not look great at night. What were his dad and Andrew’s mum thinking?
They suggested that it ‘might be easier’ if they went round the back of the school. (What might be easier?)
The gates were locked but it was easy enough to climb the old fence into the back playground. Once they were all in they made their way to the back of the building. Theo’s dad smiled:
“Used to play ‘tig’ over there.”
The smile faded as a whistle echoed around the old playground.
Theo hunted round for the source of the sound. His eyes almost missed the face in a classroom window. Why was someone inside the building. The boy looked familiar but his face was really pale. It was hard to tell.
He pointed the boy out to the others. His dad and Andrew’s mum ran in the direction of the window.
They tried the door nearest them but it was locked. All the doors would be locked. Again, how did that boy get into the school?
The boy waved and pointed towards the fire exit up near the gym hall. They walked towards it (as quickly as Andrew could be dragged along). It burst open just as they got to it. Theo recognised Marcus now. Was the Marcus his dad had mentioned his Marcus? Marcus looked out behind them carefully:
“I can’t see any ghoul-children. We should be safe. Get in and I’ll lock up again.”
The door closed behind them with an almighty slam. Even Andrew jumped.
Marcus looked at the boys and at Louise but seemed to be speaking to the adults:
“Have you told them any of it?”
The adults shook their heads. Tash held Andrew close, turning him to face Marcus:
“Did you do this?”
Marcus leaned in close to Andrew and placed his hand on his head. Tash was shaking:
Marcus jumped at the shout, shook his head and stepped back from the boy:
“No I didn’t do this. I don’t understand.”
The adults breathed deeply and slumped to the ground. Tash held her son close. He hadn’t spoken since they had found him. His eyes darted around, focussing on nothing in particular. Tash looked up from him, her expression strained:
“Marcus please say you can do something for my son.”
Marcus sat down on the floor beside them:
“My power isn’t what it was but I’ll see what I can do.”
He held Andrew’s hand and struggled to make eye contact as Andrew’s eyes darted round in all directions. Marcus persisted until Andrew’s gaze seemed to lock onto him and stay there:
“Marcus? Are we in school? What happened?” He looked around at the others from the floor “Why am I on the floor? Why are you at school mum? Wait this is the old school!”
He didn’t get his answers. At least not straight away. Everyone was too relieved to see him talking again. Marcus was the first to answer his questions:
“Good to see you again Andrew. There’s a lot to explain but we don’t have much time. I’m an old friend of your mum’s…Actually, am I an old friend?”
Marcus turned to the adults with an almost pleading look. Tash and James nodded. Tash put her hand on his arm:
“We know what you were doing for us. How difficult it must have been. Of course you’re a friend.”
Marcus beamed at them:
“I’m so glad. And James, you’ve got grey hair!” James didn’t see this as something worth celebrating. Marcus did “I’ve never had a friend with grey hair before!”
The sounds of the old school creaked around them. No one spoke. Marcus coughed:
“Anyway, I’m not what you think. Maybe your parents could fill you in.”
Tash and James shared everything they knew. Marcus being ‘healed’ by a Druid two-thousand years ago, the Roman (Mr Thomas), the kidnappings every twenty-five years since, ending with what Marcus had done for them when they were kids.
As the story moved along the others moved further from Marcus. Despite his frequent ‘sorry’s at some of the worst bits, the children still kept their distance.
The adults smiled as they finished. Louise threw her arms in the air:
“Was that supposed to make us feel better? You even brought us to the same school. With this ghost kid. This does not seem like the best plan.”
Marcus jumped in:
“I’m not a ghost. Actually I’m not sure what I am.”
Louise’s eyes jumped from Marcus to her mum and back again as though trying to gauge who was the most messed up. She sat down on the floor crossing her arms and legs:
“So what now?”
Marcus stood up slowly, his eyes fixed on something they couldn’t see. Through the open door of a classroom, out the window, to the darkened playground beyond. His voice shook a little:
“Now we all get up. We don’t look round. Then we move away from the windows so those ghouls can’t watch us any more.”
Theo sneaked a glance into the classroom and out the window. A boy and a girl gripped the bars on the windows, their black eyes fixed on Andrew.
Without saying a word they shuffled along the corridor and further into the school building. There were a lot of windows but it was an old building with lots of twists and turns. It didn’t take long to find a hiding place.
Andrew’s breathing came in great bursts. The only words he got out were: “Why me?”
“I’m sorry Andrew. I wish I knew.”
Marcus looked to his old friends for help:
“What happened after I last saw you? Where did Mr Thomas end up?”
“We never saw him again. The police tried to find him but declared him dead a few years ago.”
Marcus screwed up his face:
“Declared him dead? What does that mean?”
“They looked for him so long, there was no trace of him. At that point they filled in some forms. He’s gone.”
Marcus’ face lit up:
“He’s really gone? I didn’t think I could have a life without him. Every twenty-five years I’d turn up, he’d use me to get another burst of energy, then I’d disappear and he would have another twenty-five years to use for his own enjoyment.”
James and Tash celebrated along with Marcus. Louise, Andrew, and Theo shook their heads in disbelief. Louise stared at them:
“That’s great. So can any of you explain why a bunch of freaky ghost-kids are sneaking around kidnapping people?”
“No. I can’t connect to them any more. It’s hard to figure out what they’re up to.”
Marcus ignored the blank faces of the others:
“OK lets deal with the easier question; what happened tonight?”
Theo told the story of the face on his trip home from school and his conversation with his friends online. Marcus jumped in as soon as he got to the bit about Daniel and the ghoul:
“You’re going to have to explain all this ‘online’ business to me another time. I have no idea what you’re all talking about. But are you trying to say the ghoul-children got someone?”
Theo seemed to think Marcus already knew about Daniel. He shook his head:
“Of course I didn’t know. Do we know where they took him?”
Everyone gaped. They had hoped Marcus could help with that. Marcus started listing all the likely sites when Andrew ‘shushed’ him:
“What’s that whispering sound? Can anyone else hear that?”
No one else could.
The moment passed with uncomfortable coughs. Tash put her arm round her son, Marcus had got him talking but he clearly wasn’t back to normal yet. She hunted for a change of topic:
“Marcus, you were listing places we might find the ghoul-children.”
Marcus shook his head:
“Actually I was listing empty buildings in town. If we’re trying to track down the ghoul-children themselves there’s one solution that jumps out. You’re not going to like it.”
Theo thought back to the last time he had seen Daniel. A small shape drawn away by one of those things. They couldn’t leave Daniel with them any longer:
“Whatever it is it’ll be worth it. We’ve got to help Daniel.”
Marcus braced himself:
“We need to find their bones.”
Keep up with the story
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Thanks for reading, all the best, John