Marcus’ plan had worked but they had no time to celebrate. James and Taz had the bag. Taz had had enough of bones for a lifetime. James did the honours (he needed the distraction after leaving Theo behind with Nicky).
They had the tiniest of head starts. They had seen what Marcus’ ‘family’ could do and they had a good idea about what to expect from Mr Thomas. In fact everything they knew told them this was pointless. They ran all the same.
In fact they paid so much attention to who might be following that they didn’t think of who they might run into. Taz was a few feet in the lead but he still didn’t slow down enough to avoid running into the side of the flashing police car.
A man in expensive shoes and a tweed jacket stepped out to catch him. This man exuded authority, even without a uniform he embodied ‘official’:
“No need to rush sir. What appears to be the emergency?”
Taz just had enough time to realise how bad things had gone before James ran into the two of them.
The cloth bag landed on the pavement beside the police officer’s feet. A grin sneaked on from the corner of his mouth:
“And what might this be? You gents been taking something that doesn’t belong to you?”
His face drained when he saw inside the bag. He just had time to yell for another officer before throwing up on the boot of the police car.
James and Taz were read their rights, cuffed, and thrown into the back of the car before they could even say ‘but…’
The sack was placed with care into the boot. The man in the tweed jacket wouldn’t even look at them. He locked the police car and went round the corner, mobile phone in hand talking to himself:
“I am not equipped for this. Only made detective two months ago. They warn you in training but…”
The other officer accompanied him, a comforting hand on his shoulder. James and Taz looked at one another then glared at the floor.
Idiots! What sort of fool runs towards a police car with a sack of human bones?
Taz broke the silence:
“So what do we do now?”
James shook his head:
“I have literally no idea. You didn’t swipe his keys by any chance did you?”
Taz gave a dry laugh:
“No, I wish. Only one slight of hand in me tonight and I used it already.”
James smiled at his old friend:
“I suppose you did.”
The officers clearly had no intention of coming back soon. Taz adjusted himself to feel more comfortable (it wasn’t easy with his hands handcuffed behind his back).
The car pinged and clicked. The metal contracting in the growing cold.
The road sounded odd too. Like a ‘crunch’ surrounded by a bubble of silence. James looked out the window:
“What do you think that is?”
Taz shook his head:
Footprints from nowhere appeared in the frost, growing closer to them with each step. Stopping outside Taz’s door.
The locking mechanism in the door clinked, grinded, then ‘pinged’. The door handle lifted by itself and the wind howled in from outside:
James stared but Taz knew better, with a simple ‘come on’ to his friend, Taz shuffled his way out of the door.
Meanwhile the car boot was grinding and crunching too. Another ‘ping’ and it released itself springing open to reveal the cloth bag.
James looked round for a clue about what was happening only to feel thick, rough, hands of ice grab at the handcuffs behind his back and tear the chain apart.
A loud ‘clink’ from behind Taz’s back told him his friend was free as well.
James grabbed the bag and looked to his friend. Taz shrugged:
“I’ll explain later. For now we run. This time we look where we’re going.”
Two men ran like they did when they were kids. Like an escaped tiger was on their heels. It wasn’t far from the truth.
A cloud of green smoke trailed up the hill towards them. Unnoticed, it weaved through bush). Through front gardens and back gardens, weaving towards the men.
It drifted into a back garden then flooded into the road catching in their mouths as they ran through it. Taz broke out of his run and grabbed James for support:
The cloud materialised into the form of a boy. Tall for his age and bearing a close resemblance to Marcus. He grinned, his expression had nothing in common with his uncle. It oozed malice as though he held his hate as a ball of spit waiting behind his lips:
“…leave the bones and I’ll see your children are spared…”
James declined. There was nothing to hint that this creature wanted anything but harm to come to others.
The boy laughed:
“…just as well. You invaders don’t deserve this place. It was so wild before you all came. So free…”
He slipped past them faster than they could imagine. Grabbing hold of the bag as he did:
“…once we gain the power we will wreck this place. It will return to what it was…”
James hung onto the bag, heaving against the strength of the ghoul-child. Taz joined in the tug of war and all three fell to the ground wrestling for possession.
James yelled to the boy:
“You’re delusional. The only change you’ll bring about is the deaths of dozens of children. There’s nothing good in that.”
The boy’s eyes clouded over, he threw himself at James, screaming in rage. James wrestled, managing to fire off a single word in Taz’s direction:
The boy had both hands on James’ throat and none on the bag. Taz grabbed it, scraping and skidding on the road as he threw himself into great leaps of speed. Only his toes touched the road surface.
He steadied his pace once he felt he had a clear run towards the golf course. Light, steady, brushing sounds told him the boy was on his feet and catching up.
There was a second sound, steady, hard, laboured, then a loud crunch as James tackled the ghoul-boy into a wall. Taz did his best to stay focussed, to keep his eyes on the gates up ahead.
He forced himself to ignore the crunch of bone on the stone wall. Taz suspected the ghoul-boy was pretty much boneless. He wouldn’t make that sound, but James would. Taz couldn’t bank on his friend’s assistance again.
He raced past the gates and made straight for the stone circle. There in the centre were the diggers, still hard at work but with no more bones to feed to the stones.
The sound of the ghoul-boy stopped. That wasn’t a good thing. Taz’s eyes jumped in every direction waiting for the cloud. He caught a glimpse, it could have been nothing but if it were the boy Taz would never get the bag there in time.
He swung the bundle with all his might towards the circle. The green cloud poured towards it. It was too slow. The bag landed a few feet shy of the others. Louise reacted without thinking, before her mum could do anything.
She stepped out of the circle, grabbed the bag, and threw it to her mum. The green cloud descended and the ghoul-boy stood over her, grasping her hair in one hand and her throat with the other:
“…you do anything with those bones and I squeeze. The girl will never breathe again…”
A boulder came down on the boy’s head. Louise had the tiniest moment of release and took it. Her mum hauled her over the stones to safety. Her eyes whirled back at the sound of a crunch. The boy now had the boulder and Taz had a very broken leg.
Andrew flung bones under the stones in great handfuls. Surely that was a full skeleton?
The ghoul-boy raised the boulder and Taz rolled away in time to receive little more than a glancing blow to the shoulder.
Tash, Louise, Ross, and Willow all grabbed handfuls of putrid bones, sliding them into place under the stones. The bag grew lighter, but still no sign they had completed a skeleton.
Marcus knew he could do nothing if the ghoul-child at the door found him. It would take him back to Mr Thomas. Marcus wasn’t sure what to expect after that but nothing about it felt good.
A hand reached through the door, scrambling up the wall for a light switch. It found it but with no electricity it offered only a simple, empty ‘click’. The school had been without electricity for a few years now.
The ghoul was out of touch. She slid the door open and moonlight slipped in. Drifting along the floor from the open doorway. Pale blue light snaked over Marcus’ hand but he held still. Perhaps she hadn’t seen.
The ghoul-girl leaned out the door and called with a small snigger:
“…he’s in here. Not moving. Poor ‘uncle Marcus’ must be worn out.”
The mock sympathy hurt Marcus more than he expected. He strained to get up, preparing for a fight. Another set of footsteps swished along the corridor outside, growing closer by the second. And then they stopped.
His nephew was gone. The girl at the door dropped to her knees. She turned on her struggling uncle:
“…what did you do to him? Where did you send him?…”
It was then that Marcus’ gut filled with power. A rich blue glow shone from his skin. He no longer struggled. No longer felt glued to the floor. Every movement was effortless. Marcus stood up.
Marcus stood up.