(‘Marcus’ is now available in paperback, you can pick up a copy from Fun Junction in either Crieff or Perth)
Tash looked inside the plastic bag, then back at Marcus:
“I don’t understand Marcus. What’s supposed to happen here, I mean when I put these against the stones will you die? How does that stop Mr Thomas?”
Marcus sat on the grass outside the circle:
“I don’t know. Without me he can’t feed on children. He can’t increase his power. I don’t know if I’ll ‘die’, but it’s better than letting him start on this whole thing all over again.”
Tash held one of the bones. It was so light, so old. It was also the only set of bones she’d come across that smelled good. Green, mossy, with the tang of life and energy. It almost vibrated in her fingers.
Tash placed the bone back and wrapped the plastic around. Leaving the bag in the stone circle she took two steps out of the circle’s protection and knelt on the grass beside the ghost-boy.
She had a boy of her own, and could recognise that straight-lipped ‘brave face’ anywhere. Marcus’ eyes glistened and for a moment the black eyes caught the light and looked like ordinary human eyes, whites and all. The trick of the light stuck and two icy blue irises looked at her. Tash grabbed his face in her hands then held him tight:
“You are so brave.”
She held the boy and he wept on her shoulder, a memory of scratchy wool clothing and the smell of heather drifted into his mind. His mother. He couldn’t see her face but he felt her more strongly than he had in centuries.
It was like she was there with him, by his side. Hidden behind a barrier that none of them could see.
Tash squeezed tightly:
“Are you ready?”
Marcus wiped his eyes on his sleeve:
“I think so.”
Tash continued to hold him but nodded for her own children to begin the burial.
It didn’t take long. Marcus’ bones were placed carefully alongside his nephews’ and nieces’. As the final handful of bones was about to be placed under the stone Louise issued a warning:
“It’s the last one. I’m sorry Marcus.”
Marcus laughed a little:
“It’s OK Louise go ahead. I’m ready. I hope this works. Goodbye everyone.”
Louise lifted the final handful of bones, so small they could be from Marcus’ fingers. She tried not to look at Marcus, his face buried in her mum’s shoulder. He looked just like her little brother.
She looked at Andrew, remembered his face just one night before, and placed Marcus’ bones under the stone.
Blue light pulsed in the stones, swirling around them faster and faster. It erupted into the clouds like a beacon in the night sky then arced back down and surged through the stones.
A tendril of green light swirled out like a fast-growing root and inched its way towards Marcus. Louise yelled to her mum and Tash leapt back in time for the green tendril to enter Marcus’ mouth.
His body writhed on the ground. Tash could barely look. The poor boy jolted back. His eyes, bright blue gemstones, flew open, and rolled back in his head with the pain.
This wasn’t supposed to hurt him! All the others had just disappeared. Louise tugged on his bones, wedging her fingernails under them to pry them from the stones. It was no use, they were part of the stone now.
Marcus curled in a ball hugging his knees. This must be the end. They called out encouragement. His knuckles grew white with tension. A gurgling sound came from deep within him. His hands relaxed and he flopped sideways on the freezing grass.
Tash ran to his side:
“He’s unconscious but he’s breathing.”
She stopped and lowered her ear to his mouth again. Marcus was breathing. Marcus didn’t breathe?
His chest rose and fell, rose and fell. She held her ear against his ribs to find the unmistakable thrum of a heartbeat. The boy was alive.
He opened his eyes:
“I’m still here. I’m really here. Did the magic fail? Tash why are you lying on me?”
He stopped talking, lifting his ear to concentrate on something none of the rest of them can hear:
“What is that? That thump thump noise? Can’t you hear it?”
The others shook their heads. He held a hand to his chest and grinned.
Fluids of all kinds leaked from the ragged remains of the police car. The safe door jutted out through the engine block, deep inside the crack it had made in the road below.
Gordon looked back to the door of the building, his mind filling the doorway behind with the contents of his darkest nightmares. A sound from above forced the imaginings away.
Slates and other parts of the roof slid away as Mr Thomas tore through, hauling himself into the night. It was hard to tell from this far away, even when some of the officers shone torches up, but Mr Thomas looked taller. A lot taller.
The bell rang in the town clock a few hundred meters behind them, it should have sounded out three am but it only got as far as two before a chunk of the Drummond Arms the size of a small car flew through the clock face and tore the top from the building.
Mr Thomas disappeared to the floor below, returning in moments. The police officers barely got out the way before their cars were riddled with holes and dents.
Mr Thomas’s voice shook the stonework on every building in James Square:
“It is mine. This town. This country. This world. You can do nothing to stop me. I will rebuild the Roman Empire and rule for eternity.”
His laugh shook everything. Gordon’s insides ached from the pressure. He tried to calculate a way out. Some means of defeating a man who could throw two tonne stonework hundreds of feet and still have the energy to rant and laugh.
More rubble, slate, and stonework screamed down into the midst of the police officers. This time Mr Thomas reached some of his targets. Gordon swung round looking for any weapon, anything at all that he could use.
There was nothing, it was hopeless. An almighty creak from above signalled the coming of something truly massive.
The stonework of the chimney tore through the remainder of the roof. The debris alone caused untold damage.
Gordon braced himself waiting for the impact. The sound of Mr Thomas’s grunts spoke of the sheer effort required to move the structure. There was a final yell like a man tossing a caber at the Highland Games.
Gordon was sure he could hear the muscles strain against the weight; creaking like rope on rope, or wood on wood. It was wood on wood.
The top floor of the Drummond Arms had never been intended to take the weight of a man carrying a chimney. Before Mr Thomas could complete his throw the floor buckled beneath him.
The great old joists ripped apart with a sound like thunder. It reverberated throughout the building. There was a split second delay that felt like minutes. Ancient timber gave up it’s endless task with a sound like a great exhaling. Losing the support of joists and struts in such quick succession, the exterior walls lost all integrity. Every moment made an impression on those watching but in truth only twenty seconds went by before the bulk of what was once the Drummond Arms hotel crashing down on top of Mr Thomas.
The officers celebrated and took their chance to drag the injured to safety. Gordon watched on as the walls crumpled inwards leaving gaping areas in the buildings surrounding it. Abandoned living rooms and bedrooms left dangling tongues of old carpet pointing out towards the centre of the chaos.
Nicky had taken her first opportunity to lead the children away from harm. They sat half way down King Street watching the scene unfold at the top of the hill.
The destruction of the old hotel announced itself with a wave of chalky dust and a belly-churning rumble. Even the creatures of the night stopped their hoots, squeaks, and chatters.
The night developed an eerie peace. No one dared break it. If they spoke they might end the silence. They might welcome him back.
Back in the High Street Gordon discovered that Mr Thomas didn’t need anyone to welcome him back. He could find his way without any assistance.
The man emerged from the rubble. His massive form, though covered in dust and dirt, moved with ease. Mr Thomas stood so tall that Gordon’s head would barely touch the man’s elbow. Mahogany skin pulled tightly over ropey muscles, muscles that had grown large and powerful as the years fell off Mr Thomas.
Further down the hill children screamed at the events in the Square. A vibrant, giant of a man stood in the middle of the town and threw a police car down the hill. He threw his head back, laughing at his power, at his ability to walk away from a four-storey demolition, at the pitiful excuse for competition that the local police offered him.
Nicky’s heart leapt into her throat as she watched the nine foot tall monster of a man striding towards the gathered police officers.
Mr Thomas looked out over the town and it was then that Nicky caught a glimpse of his eyes. They were gone, even from the bottom of the hill she could see it. In place of his eyes, brilliant blue flames pouring from Mr Thomas’ eye-sockets.
It gave Nicky an idea.
She was a short run from the Market Park. Another monster with burning eyes might come in handy.
Keep up with the story
Click here to read on to ‘Marcus: Chapter 25: Crieff’s defender‘.
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