(‘Marcus’ is now available in paperback, you can pick up a copy from Fun Junction in either Crieff or Perth)
Two bags of bones now sat in the evidence room of Crieff police station. They were old, really old. The guy from Perth told them they needed a ‘specialist’ to look at them. She was going to be a week. A week with children’s bones locked up beside the staff kitchen?
Gordon hated it when he got got a shift sandwich; that’s what he called two shifts with a few hours of sleep in the middle. A few hours of messed up dreams and a two second shower and here he was back at the station. To make matters worse he hadn’t been able to eat all day.
The smell of chips wafted from the chip shop next door. Maybe he could eat them in the waiting area at the front of the station. Did they make coffee? He hadn’t even been able to stomach going in to boil the kettle.
The chippy was quiet. A few kids from the high school were lined up in anticipation of a hot poke of chips on their way home. That sounded good. Simple, hot, salty, a bit of brown sauce. Some steaming coffee in one of those polystyrene cups. He needed that.
His first chip was too hot but it was extra crispy, they had the fat on high. It burned his tongue but his stomach told him to ignore that. He leaned on the door frame of the station, his coffee cup balanced on the windowsill beside him.
He shovelled steaming golden chips into his mouth three at a time, sucking the brown sauce off his fingers then reached for his cup to wash it down.
At first he thought the steam from the coffee was playing tricks on the window then he realised what he was seeing; movement. Inside the station someone was moving around. In fact it could be more than one. How did they get in?
The chips and coffee were abandoned as Gordon slammed the door open and leapt inside. With a swift stumbling run he found himself surrounded on all sides by small, porcelain-white faces. It took him a couple more seconds to see their eyes. Their awful, lifeless eyes.
A girl walked towards him staring at him so deeply it made his temples hurt. She wore a frilly dress. The kind they wore maybe a-hundred years ago. The silence in the room made Gordon’s ears throb, desperate for something to hear.
The girl’s mouth opened slowly, stretched to a yawn, then continued. An unnatural maw that reminded Gordon of his son’s pet lizard.
Gordon gulped. The girl shook her head at the sound as though loosening the cobwebs, then relaxed her mouth. The sound of Gordon’s watch broke through the silence and he focussed on the ticks. The solid, strong, regular, orderly, ticks.
The girl looked away for a moment. When she looked back her black eyes seemed more focussed, more human. She took a few slow steps towards the police officer. She took his hand. Little fingers like ice, gripped tightly. In a tiny voice, steeped in sadness and distress she whispered:
The gaze of every child there turned to face the evidence room. Gordon moved with care, opened the door and looked inside. A faint blue light glowed from the bones in the sacks. Barely enough light to see by but light all the same.
The odd light caught the reflective surface of another pair of black eyes, peering through the bars from the window outside. These eyes had none of the peace or sadness of the others. These eyes were filled with greed, with anger.
A child’s hand slapped on the window, pressing tiny finger prints onto the glass. A tense, creaking noise began. Gordon didn’t recognise what it was until the cracks showed on the glass around the hand. He ducked his head in time to avoid the flying shards.
The hand reached in through the broken pane and grasped an iron bar. When Gordon heard that creak too he grabbed the sacks and hauled them out of the room. Locking the door behind him.
The other children were waiting for him. The girl tiptoed through them and stood by his side. She held his thumb in her tiny fingers. Gordon could swear she was shaking a little.
The ‘CLANG’ in the other room told him that the bar had given way. As the ringing in his ears died down he heard the scurrying, scraping sounds on the other side of the door. The boy from the window had friends.
Police station doors go through safety inspections and security tests that other doors could only dream of. The bars on the window were about as old as the building itself but that door was less than a year old and steel reinforced.
The tiny, impossibly strong hands on the other side pounded, and pounded, and pounded. The door held fast.
That’s when Gordon heard someone put keys into the lock on the back entrance. Ross wasn’t due to start his shift for another twenty minutes. He’d picked a fine time to develop a work ethic.
The young man wandered in carrying a pizza box. He didn’t even close the back door behind him:
“Figured you’d be hungry. Can’t say I could eat anything from the kitchen with those bones…”
He saw Gordon, he saw the bags of bones, and he saw dozens of black-eyed children staring at him. He dropped the pizza. To his credit that’s all he did. He didn’t run, he didn’t yell. He stopped, he assessed the situation, then leapt a foot in the air at the sound of yet another thump from the locked evidence room.
The thumps were bad but it was worse when they stopped. The scurrying noise came again. Gordon yelled for Ross to close the back door and lock it but the lad was too late. Four ghoul-children stood in the doorway, their bodies primed to pounce.
When the men heard the whistling they expected the end to be upon them. Black smoke drifted in through the gaps in the front door, knocking the letterbox open with a creak and a clang. Gordon thought of woodland walks and digging in the dirt as a child. A strange peace came over him.
The smoke condensed between the police officers and the ghoul-children at the back door. A voice Gordon hadn’t heard in decades spoke from inside the smoke:
“Gordon, nice to see you again. If you phone Tash she’ll tell you what to do. I’ll keep these guys out.”
The smoke swirled around the ghoul-children at the door, ejecting them from the building. It condensed again. Gordon could make out the outline of a small hand as it grasped the keys from the outside lock, slammed the door, then locked them in.
The officers held their breath as they waited. Neither of them felt equipped to fight smoke.
The smoke drew together ever more tightly until it formed the shape of a boy. His face was familiar. Then, deep in the recesses of Gordon’s brain some dots connected:
“Marcus? But you…I mean Mr Thomas…”
Marcus held a pained expression:
“I know Gordon. You’re almost right. More importantly though; WHY HAVEN’T YOU PHONED TASH YET?!”
Tash was sitting down to dinner with her kids when the house phone rang. Only call centres phoned the house any more, time wasters, and always at dinner time. She ignored it. They normally hung up at the sound of the answering machine anyway.
“Hi Tash? It’s Gordon. Sorry to call you like this…It’s just…Marcus says you know where to take things to keep them safe…”
Tash had picked up the phone by the time Gordon had said ‘safe’. Her kids watched and waited, only hearing one side of the conversation. When their mum got off the phone she was as white as a sheet:
“Sorry kids. Family meal night is postponed. We need to go help your dad bury a heap of bones.”
The police car pulled up in front of the house and Tash, Andrew, and Louise squeezed into the back, feeling instantly like convicts.
It would be a mistake to say the car smelled bad. It was more accurate to say that the air made their skin crawl. Their noses gave up after the first sniff. Their scalps itched and something deep inside them told them to leave the car as fast as they could.
From the rear of the car a hand grabbed hold of Tash’s shoulder. She had never been one to scream but now seemed a good time for one.
The kids leapt out of the car. The scream was the last straw. Looking back, the green hand grasping their mum confirmed their worst fears. Louise yelled:
“Dad! What’s going on?”
Marcus poked his head up from the luggage are behind the seat:
“Sorry Tash, I slipped. Nothing to grab onto back here. Your husband drives like a maniac.”
Tash shook her head:
“He hasn’t been my husband for seven years.”
Gordon jumped in:
“We realised we could live together or like each other but not both. We chose to get on.”
“Well…OK…Either way you drive like a maniac and we have a pile of children’s bones to bury sometime before dawn. Shall we concentrate on that for now?”
Tash screwed up her face at the boy’s rudeness. Before she could say anything her eyes caught movement through the rear windscreen. The briefest glimpse, but enough to recognise the increasingly familiar form of a ghoul-child. She jumped into the car:
“OK Marcus I think I’m up to speed. Gordon! Can we get a move on?! They’re on their way.”
The smell took over their senses once the doors were closed. Gordon wedged a peg over his nose. At least that explained how he’d managed to drive all this way in the grips of the odour.
It was a short drive to the golf course. Tash had walked past it, driven past it, so many times since that night. The memories faded, details drifted away. She would never forget but she had grown thankful of the blurring of time.
Every tiny moment, every minute sensation from that night slammed back into her mind as she stepped out of the car and made her way to the stone circle.
At least Marcus wasn’t chasing her this time. In fact he was struggling to heave two large sacks out of the police car. Andrew and Louise held an end as they placed the bags down gently on the ice-hardened ground.
Andrew walked ahead as the adults and Marcus held the sacks with as much care as they could. A deep gut-wrenching guilt almost knocked Marcus to the ground as he carried the bones of children he had once called friends.
They were still connected. He could feel a few of them hiding nearby. He couldn’t read their thoughts or even their feelings. All he knew was that he was doing something to keep them safe for the first time since he had met each of them.
Keep up with the story
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Thanks for reading, all the best, John