Monthly Archives: March 2018

Marcus: Chapter 15: Dawn Till Dusk

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

Gordon got the call just before the end of his shift. He put his coffee in his ‘to go’ flask and got into the police car. His ‘buddy’ (if he were in one of those American crime-dramas he’d be his ‘partner’) was still sorting himself out in the station. They needed young additions to the force, Gordon was the first to admit it, but did they have to be so young?

The lad jumped into the car and Gordon passed on what he’d heard in the call through from Perth:

“Disturbance at a B&B on East High Street. Neighbours hear shouting. This could be a domestic but it’s also a place of business, so be ready and watch for anything unusual.”

It didn’t take long to reach the scene. The low dawn sunlight pierced his eyes from the horizon. Bouncing off the frost of the road. Ten minutes before the end of a double shift, and now he gets something to do. Gordon needed his bed.

A lady in a dressing gown met them as they got out of the car:

“It’s normally all quiet after about ten o’clock. This is ridiculous.”

They could hear the yelling and thumping from inside. Gordon pulled himself up to look in the window. He wasn’t prepared for the the sight of Scott punching an old man.

*

The four missing children were there as Nicky and Scott went through the door. Every one of them was as unresponsive as Daniel had been. Only this time they didn’t have Marcus around to help.

It took them a few moments to see it. Daniel’s eyes had been distant, unfocussed, when they found him. These children’s eyes were aware. The only part of them they could move. The only sign of expression on their faces, and that expression was indescribable.

Tears ran down their cheeks as they turned their gaze in unison. Settling on a closed door. One of the guest rooms.

Neither Nicky nor Scott said anything. Nicky could see what Scott was planning:

“Scott, don’t go in there. Not yet. It’s still ten minutes before Marcus told us it would be safe. We don’t know what you’ll find.”

Scott nodded. He tried to wait, watching a clock in the hallway. He had to wait for seven thirty. Marcus told them dawn was at seven thirty today. Taz’s hands twitched as he waited. His gaze darting back to the children on the couch.

The minute hand clicked to half past and Scott leapt for the door. There was just enough time before he reached it for Nicky to yell out:

“Scott no! The clock is fast. There’s still five minutes to go.

He had already turned the handle. Her warning did nothing but to take his attention away from the open doorway.

A fist like leather fired out out from the gap, slamming Scott into the wall beside his wife.

In a simple, unthinking, movement Nicky grabbed at anything she could and threw it at the unseen person in the room beyond.

The objects struck the figure and bounced off. An old man emerged from the room with a grin like a slit across his face:

“Too quick off the mark young man. I’m still on night mode.”

Mr Thomas strode out of the room, a huge dirty sack slung over his back. He looked at the children on the couch in exasperation:

“No time now. No bother, time enough to regroup,” He turned to look Scott’s crumpled form. “I’ll see your little ‘team’ again tonight I guess. Though I hope you see sense and stay out of my way.”

Scott leapt from the ground and hurled punches at the man. Hollow, inhuman, thumps echoed from the old man’s torso. It was like beating an oak barrel.

Scott managed to throw the old man to the floor. He hit the ground like a splayed spider. All sinew, sun-browned skin, and bone. Licking blood from his lip he grinned:

“Now that was unexpected.”

In one smooth twist of his body he flipped himself back onto his feet. An impossible movement that left the old man looking like a velociraptor. With a flick of his free arm he tossed Scott aside, slapping Nicky out of his way for good measure, then made for the back door.

He only looked back for a moment to laugh at the police officers rushing through the front:

“Too quick by far. The impetuousness of youth I guess. Five minutes is all the time I need.”

They raced to the back door in pursuit but there was no trace. Old Mr Thomas and his dirty sack were gone

*

Gordon’s first priority was the children on the couch. Four children, perfectly matching the description of those that were reported missing.

This situation was already complicated and that was without having to explain to his superiors why an elderly man was able to evade capture despite being chased by two police officers and two civilians.

Gordon had his buddy call in the details and got him to check on the children. Marching for the door to the old man’s room he saw two dirty sacks. He had no idea what they might hold but he knew it could be nothing but trouble.

Gordon gulped back his fear and revulsion but a professional attitude wasn’t enough to prepare him. Both bags were stuffed to the brim with bones. Human bones. His eyes took in the size of one of the skulls; too small. Far too small.

***

Theo’s whole body screamed with tiredness but his dad insisted that he get to school. Andrew’s mum had phoned to explain about the safety of daylight so he had nothing to worry about.

The idea of catching up with Marcus was pretty interesting. Only four kids knew the truth. Maybe going to school wouldn’t be the worst thing.

They got to school just before the bell and Theo’s face grew hot when he saw Marcus in line chatting casually with other children. Theo had seen this boy turn into smoke, he had seen his true face. This fact changed the way Marcus looked doing everything. Their teacher smiled and high-fived the ghost walking in to her classroom.

Theo sat down with his friends. A bubble of quiet and calm among the clonking and bustle of the start of the day. Marcus smiled:

“Did you all get a good night’s sleep?”

Theo, Andrew, and Daniel shook their heads. Daniel was surprised to see that the others had had as bad a night as him:

“I had the weirdest nightmares. There were ghosts, and graveyards, and then there was soup. An old man kept whispering all the way through.”

The others looked at each other. Theo’s eyes popped wide:

“Wait you don’t know that…”

There was so much to tell him but class was about to start. In struggled moments they managed to fill him in on the basics and for the rest of the day answered Daniel’s barrage of questions when they didn’t think the teacher was looking.

By home time Daniel knew as much as they did and the setting sun was as unwelcome to him as it was to everyone else.

There were no faces in the bushes by the gates and no whistling on the way home.

Theo, his little brother Harry, and Marcus walked to meet James at the gate. Marcus tagged along on their walk; their walk home passed his own ‘home’ after all.

James didn’t want to worry Harry by talking about everything. Theo’s younger brother knew nothing about the night before. He was only six years old and there were some things best left unknown.

john bray local author nanowrimo national novel writing month scotland perthshireThey stopped outside the old school gates. Marcus needed to know what had happened. James talked to Marcus about his ‘troublesome cousins’, then revealed that his nasty uncle had moved back to town. Marcus cracked the code easily.

His face already turning a little green as the night drew in, but this news added a sickly hue. The relaxed boy from school transformed to a ball of worry. He turned to James:

“It will be harder tonight than I thought. In some ways it will be easier. Get your boys home. I’ll come visit later when I know more. You’re still in the same house you grew up in aren’t you?”

As much as he trusted Marcus, James still didn’t like knowing that the ghost-boy knew where he lived. Where his family lived. Blocking Harry’s view of the now glowing boy, James walked away. He called behind him:

“I’ll wait up. I’ll be ready.”

Marcus frowned. Speaking to himself:

“You better be. He’ll know where to find you too.”

*

Marcus went round the back of the school and sneaked in. Taz was there, sitting on the top of the short iron fence that surrounded the school:

“Evening Marcus. I wanted to catch you on your way in. I did something today. I don’t know if you’ll agree with it but I hope you’ll see why I did it.”

Marcus knew without Taz telling him. The sports bag in Taz’s hand spoke volumes. Dizzy and disorientated, Marcus placed his small hand on the man’s shoulder:

“I know. It’s OK Taz, it was the right call.”

Keep up with the story

Click here for Chapter 16: Two Bags of Bones

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

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Marcus: Chapter 14: The Ghost of Church Street

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

James and Theo headed home. It was late, they knew they’d struggle to sleep, but Marcus insisted that they get some rest. Their next night could be even harder.

With the boy and his dad away the other three had a nasty job on their hands. Nicky and Taz were already nauseous and they hadn’t even started. Taz stared at Marcus as they walked back up the road:

“Are you serious? We have to walk up to that churchyard and dig up a grave?”

Marcus gave a sombre, curt, nod:

“Actually, in that graveyard it’s five graves. The others are buried in different places throughout the town.”

They didn’t speak another word for twenty minutes. Not when they went into Nicky and Scott’s shed. Not when they picked up the spades. Not when Marcus grabbed a sharpening block from a shelf. Not when they walked up the hill, or when they entered the graveyard.

Only when Marcus began sharpening the spades did anyone speak again. Nicky’s voice was lower than a whisper:

“Marcus I don’t think I can do this. This is a graveyard. It doesn’t feel right.”

Marcus placed the sharpening block on the wall beside him:

“You’re right Nicky. This doesn’t feel right. Give me a second.”

Marcus got up and wandered around the church grounds. He slipped round the back of the church just as a police car pulled up beside the wall. The officer inside wound down his window:

“Alright Scott? Nicky? Mind telling me what you’re up to in a graveyard in the middle of the night? And while you’re at it I could do with some details on the shovels you’re holding.”

Taz had nothing, Nicky jumped in:

“Just volunteering with the St Michaels clean up group. Shame to see the place in disrepair. Left our spades. We were just picking them up to take home.”

The policeman frowned:

“If it were anyone else I’d be asking a lot more questions. You do see how weird this is? Look, do you guys want a lift home? It’s really bitter tonight.”

Taz looked back to the church building for Marcus:

“No, thanks Gordon, we’ll be fine. A wee walk won’t do us any harm.”

Gordon shook his head and snorted:

“If you’re sure? OK keep safe, both of you. Been some weird stuff happening tonight. Radio hasn’t stopped for a second. People talking about black-eyed ghost-children. Can you believe that?”

Scott and Nicky feigned surprise at the absurdity. Scott even faked a laugh:

“Ghost-children? Folk have been spending too much time on the ‘dark side’ of YouTube or something. Anyway thanks Gordon, see you around.”

Gordon said goodnight and moved the car off. He pulled over again a few feet further down the hill.

Taz could see him lifting his radio. Gordon had left his window open, they heard everything:

“Gordon that’s the official count at four now. Four kids missing. Keep an eye out for anything suspicious.”

Gordon turned back to look for the couple with spades, in a graveyard, after midnight but they were gone.

Taz and Nicky watched from behind the church as Gordon got out the car to look for them. Marcus tried asking what was going on but was shushed instantly.

After a few minutes Gordon rubbed his arms and got back into the warmth of his police car. Nicky and Taz exhaled at last:

“Marcus, we’re not heroes. They got four other kids while we were running around finding Daniel.”

Marcus slumped on the wall beside them:

“I’m sorry. I had no idea.”

They listened to the sound of distant sirens. Well aware of what they meant. Marcus held his head in his hands:

“That’s not all. I can’t sense their bones. The ghoul children’s bones. They’re not here any more. ”

*

Taz didn’t see the problem with getting a night off grave-digging. Marcus stood up and looked out towards the east:

“I don’t deny that would have been a horrible task Taz but now we have no idea where those bones are. They were our best hope of taking control back and finding those children. We’re running out of time now.”

Nicky stared at Marcus:

“What do you mean? What will they do with the children?”

Marcus shook his head:

“No, I don’t mean that. I can feel the sun. My powers, and those of the ghoul-children go during the day. We only have a few hours to track them down.”

They left their spades behind and marched away. After an hour of traipsing their way up and down the freezing High Street while Marcus tried to ‘sense’ the bones they realised they needed a new strategy.

Marcus was sure they must be near. Otherwise, why was Daniel dragged up this way?

They sat down on the pavement at the top of Church Street. The sounds of the night had died away to nothing and the sounds of the morning hadn’t yet begun. A chill breeze dragged leaves and rubbish up and down the deserted street.

Then came the faintest crunch of footsteps in the growing frost.

The sound grew closer, still faint. It stopped outside a shop. Something in the window toppled over with a CLANG that made them all gasp.

The echo of the falling object dwindled away and the crunching steps continued on. They grew closer still, stopping in front of them. Only now could they see the faint outline of footprints in the frost. Even Marcus drew his legs back.

A voice floated to them on the wind. It came from a spot six feet above the footprints. Barely as loud as a whisper:

…begging your pardon…

The crunching steps continued past them and off towards the east end of the High Street. Marcus whispered to the others:

“What was that?”

The blood drained out of their faces; if Marcus didn’t know what it was then how were they supposed to?

Faint echoes of the footsteps reflected from shop windows and walls, slowing for just a moment. Scott and Nicky wanted nothing more than to get home but Marcus jumped to his feet and followed the sounds as gently as he could. He had a sense that they were supposed to follow.

The crunching steps drew them out to the very end of the high street and stopped outside the door of a bed and breakfast. It waited for them to catch up. In a voice as cold and lifeless as the wind, it whispered:

…here…

Then it was gone.

Marcus didn’t have nerves but that didn’t stop his hands from shaking:

“I didn’t like that.”

The others shook their heads in agreement.

They barely had time to take a breath before Marcus dropped to his knees his face twisting in pain. His words came out in gut wrenched gasps:

“Here…they’re here…the kids…the bones.”

He heaved, if he had eaten anything in the past two-thousand years now would have been the time he’d have thrown it up:

“Too much…I can’t do this…wait an hour…they’ll be drawn back to their bones then…sorry, going home. Going home now.”

Marcus dissolved in front of their eyes, a cloud of black smoke dribbled away back the way they came.

The sign outside read ‘no vacancy’. The dark windows left the place looking toothless. Apparently this was the place. If two ghosts tell you where to find a pile of bones you listen to them.

An hour is a long time in the dead of night. The only positive was that no one was about to ask what they were up to. They had ducked away from Gordon’s police car a few times after they had seen him but he hadn’t been past in over an hour.

Taz held Nicky’s hand. She checked her watch, counting down the minutes.

Frost gathered on everything. Even adding a crispy quality to their eyelashes. Nicky wrapped her arms around her husband for warmth. Out the corner of her eye she saw a curtain twitch in one of the lower rooms. They were being watched.

A fire leapt into both their bellies as they jumped onto alert. Had some of the ghoul-children escaped the sheriff? Every shadow seemed to grow a pair of black eyes, their minds turning everything into lifeless faces.

Imaginations on overdrive, they almost missed the middle-aged man standing in the doorway staring vacantly in their direction. Motionless and silent, his gaze never left them. It seemed to issue a warning (‘I am here. I see you. Don’t come any closer’).

The man was clearly an ordinary flesh-and-blood human being. When they looked closely they recognised him as the owner of the B&B. Had the ghoul-children hypnotised him before they disappeared?

Ten minutes were left on their advised time but neither of them could take another second of the man’s glassy stare. They walked to him hand in hand. They’d had enough waiting.

The man stood aside to let them through. They were not ready for what lay beyond the door.

Keep up with the story

Click here to read on to Marcus: Chapter 15: Dawn Till Dusk

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

Marcus: Chapter 13: Graveyards and Gardens

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

It was probably a mistake to let Marcus ring Nicky’s doorbell. She actually fell over from jumping back so quickly. Her face ashen-white she yelled back into the house behind her:

“Scott! Scott! Come out here quick!”

Marcus slumped and turned to Tash:

“Oh, I thought she’d have ended up marrying Taz.”

‘Scott’ came into the hallway and froze. Marcus beamed:

“Taz!!!!”

Taz grabbed his wife and lifted her off the floor pulling her away to the room beyond:

“No no no! Nonononononono! No way!”

He spotted the others behind the ghost boy:

“You brought him here? Him? And you’ve got the kids with you? Are you out of your minds!?”

Tash manhandled Marcus away from the doorway and marched up to her sister and brother-in-law. Muttering as she moved the boy:

“Nice move genius! Think you’d have scared them less if you materialised in their living room.”

Marcus didn’t get a chance to reply. Tash had already taken the shocked couple away into their kitchen. The others heard the kettle bubbling before they got through the front door.

The rest of the group walked into the kitchen half way through a retelling of their night. Taz seemed to have relaxed a little and Nicky was up grabbing herself a cup of coffee.

They all found themselves somewhere to sit as Tash finished their story. Nicky shook her head:

“And Daniel is still out there somewhere?”

Marcus nodded:

“Always looking after people. You haven’t changed Nicky. Yes Daniel is out there somewhere. I expect he’ll be near the first school in Crieff, some of the ghouls I saw used to be pupils there. It’s part of the old graveyard on Church Street now. He might even be in the church hall. We haven’t been able to check because of the ghouls.”

Scott (Taz) jumped in:

“It’s not really a graveyard any more.”

Marcus challenged Scott with a frown:

“How can it stop being a graveyard?”

Scott got worked up pretty fast. Clearly this was a sore point for him:

“A few years ago they lifted the grave stones. I heard that some of them were put in a skip but I’m not sure how much truth there is to that. All the same it’s probably different than you remember it being.”

Marcus wrinkled his face:

“Who would take someone’s gravestone? What use could that serve?”

Taz nodded in agreement:

“Exactly!”

The room was silent for a moment. Taz went a little red as he realised he was getting along with someone who once dragged him kicking and screaming to his possible end. He turned away from Marcus in disgust.

Louise took the initiative. Grabbed her aunt’s coat from the hallway and threw it to her:

“Come on. There’s a little boy held hostage by a bunch of freaky ghost children (no offence Marcus). They’re somewhere in this town. We think we know where he is and we’ve now got a chance of getting hold of him. Why are we still here?!”

Coffees were left abandoned and jackets pulled on. Not one of them questioned the furious, scrawny, fifteen-year-old girl pointing their way to the exit.

As Taz walked past she grabbed his shoulder:

“And you uncle Scott. You knew Marcus did everything he could to help you back then. You can’t hold that against him. We’re all on the same team now.”

Suitably admonished, Taz held out his hand to Marcus and the ghost-boy shook it. Taz forced a smile on his face as he surreptitiously wiped Marcus’ weird ghost slime on his trousers. He hoped Louise didn’t see that bit.

The walk up to Church Street took no time at all. This wasn’t a good thing. They had all looked forward to some breathing time between the sheriff and another confrontation with the ghoul-children.

The old graveyard came into view as soon as they rounded the corner and headed for St Michaels church. There was no sign of guards but that didn’t mean there weren’t any. Marcus had made his low power level quite clear. Taz wasn’t convinced:

“Bet you could still use that cheat speed thing you do.”

Marcus frowned:

“Cheat speed?”

Taz glared at Marcus:

“That thing you did so you could catch me back then.”

Marcus laughed:

“Taz that’s called running. I was just faster than you.”

Scott turned away, hiding his face. He had always been the fastest at school. He knew Marcus cheated to catch up with him.

James spotted the back and forth between the two:

“Taz, are you seriously angry at Marcus for being faster than you? Not dragging you through the streets? Not endangering your life and your friends? You’re annoyed he beat you at running?”

Scott’s face was scarlet. He hid his inner child back inside and coughed:

“Well when you put it like that…”

The others laughed. It wasn’t that funny but laughter fought the fear back a little.

Their laughter caught in their throats as each of them spotted the children at the gate to the church. Unmoving statues, black eyes full of malice.

Taz didn’t waste time. He was over the churchyard wall before the ghoul-children even noticed:

“Bet I can outrun you now you little pipsqueak!”

Marcus vaulted the wall in pursuit:

“Bet you can’t old man.”

The two of them barrelled through the church doors and were gone from view in seconds.

The ghoul-children glanced back and forth from the crowd in the street to the door of the church, hesitating over their next move.

James grinned:

“Looks like they get a bit less bright without their friends around to help.”

The ghoul-children glared at him, their decision made. James’ face drooped.

“Oops. OK, I know what to do. The sheriff will sort them out.”

He was already running as he said the last part. Theo yelled after his dad:

“Hit the bricks on the west wall. Shout ‘law breakers sheriff’ then get out of there.”

James was half way down the road but his reply carried well enough in the crisp November air:

“Got it!”

The guards were gone and there was no sign of any more ghoul-children. Had they really been the last two?

They slipped in through the old doors to find Taz and Marcus comforting a statue.

Daniel’s skin shone with sweat. He barely breathed. He wouldn’t move an inch. Daniel didn’t even blink. What would they say to his mum?

There wasn’t time to worry about that. Taz lifted the boy up into his arms and a small stuffed donkey fell to the floor. Daniel must have found it in a lost and found box. A tiny thing to comfort him when his only company had been the mindless creatures who had snatched him away.

What had this boy been through?

Marcus picked up the donkey and rested it in Daniel’s arms. Theo and Andrew gulped back tears. The adventure felt less adventurous, and their victory a little more hollow, when they saw what had happened to their friend.

*

Daniel got a bit of colour back in his cheeks as they approached his house. He even stirred a little when he heard his mum’s voice at the door.

The others made up a story about him wandering off in the cold and getting disorientated but his mum didn’t look entirely convinced.

She was too pleased to see her son safe and well (if a little quieter than usual) to make much of it, and invited them all in for something warm to drink and a bite to eat if anyone needed it.

Tash could see that the woman needed company so she went in with her kids. The others didn’t want to crowd up the place and walked James and Theo back to their car.

Marcus sighed in relief:

“I think we handled that well tonight. We’ll be better prepared for tomorrow night too.”

Taz’s mouth hung open. An expression that was pretty common on the others as well:

“Tomorrow night? What do you mean tomorrow night?”

Marcus held his hands in the air:

“I thought you all understood. This could go on for weeks. I have no idea what they’re doing, and I’ve lost all control of them. We need to stop those ghoul-children from taking anyone else.”

James shook his head:

“What are you talking about. I led the ghoul-children to the sheriff. He’s got them now. Are there more of them?”

Marcus had the good grace to look sorry:

“There probably are more yes, but the problem is the sheriff can only hold them for one night. He doesn’t have their bones there with him. Their bones will draw them back during the day. By tomorrow night they’ll be out in force again.”

James swore and punched the hood of his car. Taz and Nicky leaned on the car in exhaustion. Vomit rose in Theo’s mouth.

Marcus cringed:

“That’s not the only bad news. If we want to stop them, or at least control them, we need their bones ourselves. Taz, Nicky, I was wondering if you could help me…”

*

In Daniel’s house Tash and her kids were drinking down their second cup of home-made soup. Rich and hearty, and warm. Really warm. Like a big hug from the inside.

Daniel had hoovered up four cupfuls before falling asleep on the couch. His mum was ecstatic to see him eating. As he slept they could even see him smiling. She headed back through to the kitchen.

Daniel sat bolt upright, his eyes open but unfocussed and whistled an odd little melody. It was a song Tash hadn’t heard in twenty-five years.

*

There was a boy in her garden. Chloe shifted into the little window seat to get a better view. He looked quite handsome too (from what she could see of him). She didn’t recognise him from school, maybe he went to Morrisons. His movements were slow and deliberate. Like he was inspecting the garden for something.

His toe caught her old skipping rope; left in the garden after the summer. It must be rotten and soggy by now. Chloe felt a small pang of guilt at leaving it out there.

The boy reached down and picked it up, gathering the chord around his fingers. He tied it into a neat knot then stopped and sniffed the skipping rope.

Ewww! Why did he sniff it? Chloe could see from here that it was green with mould and rot. The boy nodded. She could only see the back of his head but she could swear he had started to smile.

He placed it slowly, with care, on the picnic table then lifted his head. Sniffing the air. Chloe’s guts started to curl as thought they were sending her brain a message, and then he turned to face her window and the message rang loud and clear. That wasn’t a boy!

Her parents didn’t even hear her leave the house.

Keep up with the story

Click here to read on to Chapter 14: The Ghost of Church Street.

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

Marcus: Chapter 12: The Sheriff

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

Bin lids don’t get enough credit. Buckets are good but when surrounded by a group of clawing ghoul-children there’s nothing quite like a bin lid to help you break through their defences and make an opening.

James ran with the thrill of victory pulsing in his head. If he could divert the ghoul-children down to the Market Park the others might stand a chance of getting to the graveyard unnoticed. If only he could figure out where they’d gone.

*

Down in the Market park the others were catching their breath. Enjoying the chance to recharge, and make plans. Their first challenge was figuring out what had happened to James.

Was he still at the school? Had Marcus dropped him off somewhere else?

One thing they were all sure of was Marcus’ last instruction before he knocked himself out; meet at the graveyard.

Tash tried phoning James.

He answered almost immediately:

“Tash? What happened? Where are you? Actually don’t tell me, they might hear.”

He was out of breath, clearly running. Tash yelled down the phone:

“James are you OK? Are they chasing you?”

James’ words came back in puffs:

“Yep…Look I’m diverting them. Going to the Market Park. They won’t be near the school. Take your chance and get away. Meet where we agreed if you can.”

The colour drained from Tash’s face. Andrew spotted it first:

“What is it mum?”

Tash tried pleading with James over the phone:

“James?! Don’t do that we’re…”

James jumped in:

“Don’t tell me where you are!”

Tash gritted her teeth:

“But James we’re actually in…”

“I said don’t tell me!”

“…but James!”

James hung up.

Andrew looked at his mum:

“Well?”

Tash shook her head:

“What an idiot. They’re coming here. We need to hide.”

The Market Park was a huge grassy area that had once been used to sell livestock by the thousands but was now used for town events. It was a wide functional green space, empty of features. Aside from a few bushes and trees there really was nowhere to hide. Everything around them was fenced off.

*

James saw his mistake as he rounded the corner and approached the gates. A woman and four children couldn’t exactly hide for long here. He never listened to others enough. He should have let Tash finish speaking. Too late, always too late for things.

His only hope was if the ghoul-children didn’t see them. In the miniscule head start he had won himself, he motioned the others to lie down on the grass then continued on down the hill and away from the entrance to the park.

The others held their breath as they watched a horde of ghoul-children trail past the gate in pursuit of James. A lot more than eight now.

Theo’s knees hurt from the cold grass. He forced them deeper into the icy soil to stop himself moving. It was better than thinking about what those things might do to his dad.

Marcus squirmed and stretched:

“What happened? Why are we all lying down?”

Every one of the others shushed him and pointed to the gate. The ghoul-children had worked for him for years, obeyed his every command. Watching them chase James past the gate was like watching his hand move outside of his control. He shook the feeling off:

“Is he coming back round?”

Tash sneered at the ghost-boy:

“I would hope not. Why?”

Marcus was silent as still more straggling ghoul-children joined their brethren whistling past the gate. Their light footsteps disappeared into the distance. Marcus jumped up and dusted himself off:

“If he does we could get the Sheriff. He doesn’t like the ghouls. He doesn’t like me either. Actually I don’t think he likes anyone.”

The others asked in unison:

“The Sheriff? Crieff doesn’t have a sheriff!”

*

“I’ve not seen him in a couple of hundred years. I wonder if he’s still around.”

Marcus marched to the small gates cut into the west wall of the park.

“When he was alive he watched for the sheep and cattle-rustlers that sneaked in when the drovers brought their livestock to the market. He doesn’t like rule breakers. I mean really doesn’t like them. He would have them hanging by the town gates by nightfall”

Theo frowned:

“OK so you’re going to get an angry ghost. An angry murderous ghost to help save my dad from other angry ghosts? Can’t see that going wrong at all.”

Marcus shrugged:

“Oh it could go horribly wrong, I’m not going to deny that, but it’s the best chance he has. Besides it’s the ghosts the sheriff has the most problem with. We break the rules just by still being around after death.”

Louise wasn’t convinced:

“But he’s a ghost.”

Marcus smirked:

“Yep. We don’t mention that bit. He’s a weird guy, but he has his uses. Never noticed those uses till now, but he definitely has his them.”

Marcus grabbed a rock and thumped it on one of the ancient boulders that made up the wall:

“Rule breakers! There are Rule Breakers. Monstrous deviations of nature! We need the sheriff. Help us.”

A wrenching, hollow sound rumbled from below them as the ground tore apart. A red glow pulsing deep inside the ground through a hole barely larger than a fist.

Marcus peered down, his face bathed in blood-red light:

“That should do it.”

They backed away, eyes fixed on the small glowing hole. Marcus continued walking backwards:

“Should have said before; I can’t be here when he comes out. Good luck guys. I’ll see you at the gate when it’s over.”

Their protests dried in their throats as a huge rotten hand heaved the soil downwards forcing its way up and out of the hole. A shoulder packed tight with muscle and sinew followed. Then the sheriff dragged himself out to the world above. The hole gaped in tatters, red light rippling on the walls beside them as though they were on fire.

Marcus was gone so the sheriff turned on them. Eyes glowing red, dressed in a ragged uniform, and carrying a hangman’s noose. He greeted them in a voice that made their innards vibrate:

Who summoned me? Who am I to bring to justice?”

As he uttered the word ‘justice’ his burning eyes flicked towards the hole below them. Did the ghoul children really deserve that?

Theo thought of his dad, running for his life, just a few hundred feet away. They didn’t have a choice, he turned to Tash:

“Call my dad. Tell him to bring them here.”

The stink of the sheriff clawed at the back of Tash’s throat. Fire, rot, and filth. They couldn’t stay here long. Her eyes watered, blurring her view of her phone’s screen. She called James. She didn’t wait for him to say anything:

“Bring them through the west entrance. We have something for them.”

All that came in reply was laboured breathing, the sound of running, followed by a grunt of recognition. James was on board.

The sheriff glared at her as she hung up her call:

What witchcraft is that, that allows you to talk to those who are not here?”

The red glow in his eyes intensified with his rage. The group hurriedly tried to explain how phones worked, pointing out that it was science, not ‘witchcraft’. The glow in his eyes dulled a little but he still looked at them accusingly:

Why have you called upon my services. Why wake me from my slumber?”

They weren’t sure where to start. Fortunately James did the job for them as he emerged screaming through the gate followed by an alarming number of ghoul-children. If this didn’t work they would all be in trouble.

The sheriff’s face distorted into his own monstrous version of a grin. The fire in his eyes glowed deep red and he lifted his noose:

I see now. The dead walk again.”

James raced at them. The group turned from the sheriff and ran alongside the purple faced, middle-aged man. A bit of company gave him a burst of energy and he increased his pace as a ghoul-child began catching up.

The Sheriff began his work.

It wasn’t easy to watch. After the first ghoul-child was noose-dragged to the glowing pit none of them could bring themselves to look back. The cold black eyes didn’t even blink as the sheriff hauled them off to…wherever it was that he took them.

Marcus cheered them on from beyond the gate as their feet thumped on the icy earth. The ghoul-children seemed to have increased their pace as well. Their faces showed no sign of fear but their speed told a different story.

The sheriff materialised in bursts of flames and steam then dragged them back to his hole. The ghoul-children squirmed against the rope, fingers rasping as they clawed the frozen ground. Each of them made a ‘thwump’ noise as they vanished through the glowing red hole.

As they reached Marcus at the gate they realised it had been a while since they had last heard a ‘thwump’. They looked round to find the sheriff charging towards them. The fire in his eyes blazing, he roared:

You side with this abomination? You side with Marcus?! You are all guilty now.”

Marcus screamed at them all to join him on the other side of the gate. They couldn’t see what good that might do them now but followed his instructions.

The sheriff’s feet threw huge lumps of soil up behind him as he thundered towards them. His eyes didn’t leave them for a moment. He grasped his noose tightly and spun it round his head like a lasso, preparing to catch one of them.

They closed their eyes, preparing for the noose to fall. Marcus laughed:

“Wait for it…wait for it…”

BOOM! A fireball erupted before their eyes but they felt no heat. It curved back from the gate as though they were behind a wall of glass.

Marcus grinned at their vacant expressions:

“That was intense!”

As the wall of flames dwindled they could see the Market Park beyond. It was as though nothing had happened. The hole in the ground at the far end was gone. Along with it the Sheriff had vanished. All that remained were the deep-cut welts left behind by his charge through the turf.

James caught his breath:

“So what next?”

Marcus drew breath deeply:

“I don’t know how to tell you but that wasn’t the last of them. We can’t just wander up to the graveyard now. They know we’re coming.”

Tash sagged. They were exhausted. Louise brushed the dirt from her knees:

“I think we need to go to Auntie Nicky’s.”

Keep up with the story

To read on to Chapter 13: Graveyard and Gardens just click here

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