Theo wanted to help his friend but this was beyond anything he had expected:
“Find their bones? You think Daniel is beside their BONES!? What’s are they planning on doing with him?”
Marcus didn’t have any nice answers. He had some nasty ones but he didn’t want to say them out loud. Instead he focussed on what they could deal with right now:
“Maybe they’re just used to gathering children. I don’t know. Whatever it is, they won’t stop until they have four. It’s always four.”
Marcus looked at Andrew and sighed: “We’ll have to deal with Andrew’s ‘whispers’ later.”
“I wanted to ask you about something. Last time; we all felt something. We all lost a bit of energy. It worked a little didn’t it? It’s how you’re still here. Now it’s all happening again and we’re going to stop them. What happens if there’s no energy this time? Will you run out? Would you…”
“To be honest James I have no idea. For now lets save Daniel. We can discuss whether this will kill me later.”
That was the end of the discussion. Marcus was on his way to the exit as he spoke. The others followed followed close behind then stopped dead as Marcus shoved the emergency bar on the door and motioned for them to follow:
“Stay low. Keep hidden. I have some power. I can probably ward off two or three ghouls. If any more turn up take my advice; run.”
They rounded the corner. A boy and a girl, silhouetted by distant street lights, blocked their way. Black, lifeless, unblinking eyes took them in. The only sign of recognition; the slightest tilt of their heads. Marcus dissolved into smoke and swirled towards them, flinging them at the walls to either side.
The small group saw their chance and hurried past. Picking up the pace as they looked back to see the ghoul-children dusting themselves off. The school gates were locked, leaving them with a scrabbled climb over the fence. Steps away from the fence Tash stopped and pointed.
From the other side of the bars four blank faces slid into view, unblinking ghoul-children, each with a slight head-tilt of recognition. Each developing the smallest hint of a smile.
Marcus turned on his heel and made for the lane down the side of the school:
“Change of plan. Get out over the front fence. Any way you can. If we get split up, meet at the old graveyard on Church Street. I have an idea.”
They climbed the low fence that led to what Theo and Andrew had known as the ‘junior’ playground; their old playground.
As they set foot on the concrete. Two of the ghoul-children turned from the others and made their way down the hill; that route also led to the front of the school. Marcus saw them:
“OK, guess they’re smarter than I realised. RUN!!!”
James and Tash helped the kids over the locked gate and down the lane to the front. Every person that climbed through the narrow gap gave the ghoul-children more time to get ahead of them.
By the time James had climbed over to join them the other ghoul-children had disappeared too. This plan had flaws. Tash had one question:
“How strong are those things?”
“Never saw them up against an adult but they are strong. Whatever you do don’t let one grab you. I don’t think you’d get away if it did.”
The first two ghoul-children were there to meet them at the bottom of the lane. Marcus ‘smoked’ them, re-materialising instantly in a pained crouch on the ground:
“Can’t do that again. Like my insides were hanging out. It’s all on you guys now.”
James and Tash raided an old shed that used to contain play equipment for the nursery school. They got an abandoned scooter and a metal bucket. No one wanted to belittle their cache of ‘weapons’ but they all thought it; things could be better.
The other two ghoul-children had placed themselves at the old school gate. The group had no plans of going to the gate though. They laughed at the ghoul-children’s foolishness as they jumped over the low fence.
They heard the giggling before they landed. A group of eight or ten ghoul-children huddled out of sight under the wall. As they jumped down the children grabbed at their clothes, their hair, their ankles.
Tash swung the scooter on it’s axis like some giant, rusty nunchuk. It cracked one of the ghoul-boys right across the head. James whacked one of the ghoul-girls in the hand with the bucket. Her knuckles made an meaty ‘crunch’.
The other ghoul-children closed in. Surrounded by grasping hands on all sides, they were running out of options. Neither adult could swing their weapon without hurting one of their group. Marcus sighed:
“I’m going to try something. It might not work and when I’m done I need one of you to carry me. It’s going to use everything I’ve got.”
The smoke cloud erupted around Marcus again. He vanished from view as black mist closed around their group.
Inside the mist they smelled moss and dampness; clean, natural, and old. Strangely calming in its own way. They felt the sensation of movement and the next thing they knew they were about a half-mile away in Market Park.
The cloud gathered into a pile on the ground. Marcus lay motionless. Louise leaned forward to check on him:
“He’s got no pulse! He isn’t breathing!”
Her mum shushed her:
“He’s a ghost Lou. I don’t think he ever breathes.”
They laughed nervously. Tash crouched down to pick up the boy:
“Oh, he’s heaver than I thought. James could you give me a hand? James?…”
James wasn’t there.
Daniel woke up and wished he hadn’t. He couldn’t move again. There were no ropes, he wasn’t tied up. All the same, the only parts of his body he could move were his eyes. They made him do what they wanted, so long as those four things were there, he had no choice. Daniel could barely see through the tears.
When they left the room he could move around. He had looked for a way out, tried all the doors but only the cupboard was unlocked. Others like them, more black-eyed creatures, watched from outside the barred windows but these others didn’t have the power. He missed even that taste of freedom.
His knees ached. His muscles twitched. He wanted to stretch his legs but he could barely control his own breathing. There wasn’t enough air. They were doing it on purpose. Suffocating him. Knocking him out, again.
When you don’t care who you hurt it’s surprising how much damage you can do with a metal bucket.
James was in a bit of a frenzy now. Most of the ghoul-children were flat on their backs but they didn’t stay that way for long.
One tried to stand up and met the mighty wrath of the bucket right to the temple. James swung round and caught another of them square in the chest. Knocking them directly into the middle of Commissioner Street. It left a gap for him to slip through.
He got a few steps away and stopped. Where should he go next? They were to meet at the graveyard in Church Street but he didn’t want to lead the ghoul-children straight to the others. Instead he went in the opposite direction; towards the Market Park.
James’ pondering had left the ghoul-children enough time to gather around him again. Why hadn’t he just ran? Why did he have to overthink everything? All he needed was enough space to run through. He swung the bucket again. The handle had grown misshapen. This was the last straw.
The twisted handle released the bucket as James arched it towards a ghoul-child. Bucket and handle were parted forever as it flew over the ghoul-child’s head and landed with a ‘clunk’ in the distance.
The handle was not an effective weapon. As the ghouls inched closer James looked around for something, anything, he could use to open that gap.
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