(‘Marcus’ is now available in paperback, you can pick up a copy from Fun Junction in either Crieff or Perth)
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 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?”
“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:
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.”
Taz glared at Marcus:
“That thing you did so you could catch me back then.”
“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.
“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:
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.
“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.
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Thanks for reading, all the best, John