(‘Marcus’ is now available in paperback, you can pick up a copy from Fun Junction in either Crieff or Perth)
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!”
James hung up.
Andrew looked at his mum:
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”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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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Thanks for reading, all the best, John