Tash slammed on the breaks and tried to process the scene in front of her. A huge torso quivered on the road ahead, arms outstretched, head flung back in anguish.
Marcus climbed out of the car before anyone could stop him. The sheriff looked up at the boy. Recognition dawned slowly over Sheriff’s rotting features:
“YOU!? BUT HOW? YOU LIVE AGAIN?”
Marcus shook his head:
“It’s a long story, too long to go into. How bad is it there? I take it he did this?”
The sheriff bowed his head, he didn’t wear shame well:
“A CHEAT, THAT’S ALL HE IS. A FILTHY CHEAT.”
The sheriff drew back as Marcus knelt to lift his arm:
“I need to move you. We need through and you need to rest. You’ll be back to your usual self by tomorrow night.”
The sheriff nodded. Even half of the giant proved too much for Marcus’ new body to pull. Others came from the car to help. Straining to maintain their grip on his sinewy form, holding their breath against the stench. They hauled the huge rotten torso onto the pavement.
Looking at the exhausted form of the Sheriff, Tash couldn’t bring herself to start the engine. Andrew piped up from the back seat:
“Mum? Is dad still there? Is Auntie Nicky with him?”
Tash looked ahead and turned the key in the ignition.
Gordon had lost all hope. The only positive he could think of was that his kids were safely hidden behind the stone circle on the edge of town. Then he saw the boy.
He was a friend of Andrew’s, he lived next door to Tash’s place. Gordon couldn’t even remember the kid’s name and still he ran for him pulling him behind a flower planter. The boy yelled in protest, oblivious to the danger he was in.
A police officer flew overhead, crashing through a shop window. The boy stopped yelling. Gordon grabbed onto his shoulders:
“What are you doing here? Didn’t you hear the crashes? The explosions? The cars thrown down King Street? Why would you walk towards this?”
The boy looked him in the eye, sheer terror radiating from every pore. This kid wasn’t here through choice.
Daniel started to cry. He had promised her. He was so close and now the police had him. He was Andrew’s dad but he was still a police man. Daniel didn’t want to do it anyway but she had told him it was the only way to save everyone:
“I told her I’d be here. I promised.”
Gordon smiled. A girl. That explained everything (and it was a lot better than mind control). Gordon manoeuvred Daniel to crouch behind the planter and chanced a glance out in the direction of Mr Thomas. All was quiet.
Gordon’s car screeched around the corner and with it evaporated all hope of safety for all of them. Mr Thomas dropped a sandstone block from each hand and turned to face the oncoming police car:
“Marcus! You’ve come back to join me.”
The group exited the car. (All but Taz who slumped over in the boot. He wasn’t planning on any walking for a while.) Marcus didn’t even give an answer. Mr Thomas shrugged:
“A foolish hope I suppose. However, I see you brought me gifts. Now which to choose?”
Mr Thomas scanned the faces of everyone. Looking for something important, something the rest of them couldn’t see:
“I got more from some of you than others. It binds us in a way. I still don’t understand it myself…”
His eyes settled on James:
“Ah, perfect. Yes, it looks like we have a volunteer.”
James had no idea what the man was talking about. Marcus spotted it first:
“James you’re glowing.”
Through the skin on his face they could make out the faintest glimmer of blue in the shape of James’ skull. When James spoke you could see it even more clearly from his teeth. The glow grew brighter.
Mr Thomas walked to James, towering over them. He looked down at James with his newly luminescent skeleton. The new blue glow of his skull matching the blue flames in Mr Thomas’s eyes perfectly. The giant grinned:
Mr Thomas spoke under his breath and James dropped to his knees. The pain had come on so quickly that he didn’t even have time to scream. His teeth gritted against the strain as he felt every bone in his body trying to come out. His skeleton obeying the command of the giant before him while his flesh drew in the opposite direction.
Sweat dribbled down his chin. There had not been another moment in James’ life when he had felt so utterly helpless. Mr Thomas, at last, said something under his breath and the pain stopped:
From King Street James could hear the voice of his oldest son Theo. Nicky screamed after him trying to persuade him to stay back. To stay with the other children in safety.
Mr Thomas took great pleasure in the scene:
“Oh, now, would that work?”
James had no interest whatsoever in finding out what ‘that‘ was. He was given the opportunity to find out all the same.
His bones pulled against his flesh again. This time, the pulls were more coordinated. James was puppeted onto his feet and was made to walk towards his son. He tried to shout to him, to warn him to stay away, but his jaw bone held so tight that he could barely whimper.
The boy ran to him, closing the gap between them. James pulled against his bones with every fibre of his being, he could feel things tearing inside his body. If he had to tear himself apart to save his son then so be it.
His efforts did nothing in the end. Theo ran to him arms open wide. Beyond all control James’ arm swung at Theo. An alarmingly hard slap, but no more.
James’ emotions roller-coasted between relief at his son’s safety and revulsion at the pain he must have inflicted.
The boy’s face glowed pink and his eyes welled up with tears. Mr Thomas stood behind James and sighed:
“I’m not a monster James. I wouldn’t make you kill your own child. So long as you are loyal to me that is. Do exactly as I say and you can be assured that your family will remain safe.”
Willow ran to her son and, holding him close, led Theo away from his dad and the monster controlling him. James flopped onto the pavement, his forehead leaning on the frosted tarmac. He looked up at Mr Thomas:
“I will never be your puppet, you revolting piece of…
Mr Thomas slammed James’ jaw shut:
“Now now James. I did warn you.”
James lifted from the ground, writhing against the will of the man before him. His eyes swirled in his head, barely an ounce of willpower left. Everyone stood mannequin-still, hollow with fear. If they hadn’t witnessed the bifurcated Sheriff they would have considered doing something. At this stage one move could result in instant death for James.
Gordon wasn’t so easily put off. He grasped hold of a flag pole from among the rubble and ran full-pelt a Mr Thomas. The pole reverberated in Gordon’s hands. It was as though he had driven it at solid concrete.
Mr Thomas stepped back with the force of the blow, throwing his hands in the air:
“Remarkable; an evening of heroes! So many risking themselves for literally no gain.”
He grabbed the flagpole and swung it like a baseball bat, getting a feel for it’s weight. He laughed as it swung and collided with Gordon’s ribs. The man flew through the air and landed with a crunch at the bus stop.
His kids ran to his side (Tash wasn’t quick enough to hold them back). Mr Thomas grinned:
“I get the connection now! How interesting. So we have dads defending kids all round.”
Daniel stepped forward from behind the planter. Mr Thomas sighed with mock concern:
“Oh Daniel, what are you doing? You don’t have a dad to defend you,” he looked at the two men writhing on the ground “not that it would make that much of a difference mind you.”
Daniel reached into the inside of his jacket and pulled out a large kitchen knife. Mr Thomas’s fiery eyes widened:
“I am impressed. I mean I also find it hilarious, that goes without saying. A strong will too. I’ve seen many things in my life and yet you have impressed me young man. However, there is nothing you can do to harm me so long as that young man there is around,” (he pointed at Marcus) “I am, as far as I know, indestructible.”
Daniel had tears in his eyes:
“That’s what Beth thought too…”
Mr Thomas frowned:
“Who is Beth?”
Marcus looked to Daniel, his face ashen white, then back at Mr Thomas:
“She was my friend once. I’m not surprised you don’t remember her. You never remembered any of them. She was a very smart girl. Probably the smartest kid I ever knew. She would know what needed to be done.” (he turned to Daniel) “She told you didn’t she?”
Mr Thomas’s eyes blazed:
“What are you talking about?”
Daniel nodded at Marcus and stepped towards him. He hesitated for a moment looking into the ghost boys eyes. Marcus smiled:
“It’s OK. She was right. It’s the only way.”
Daniel thrust the knife into Marcus’ chest. It slid in much deeper than he expected.
Marcus fell to his knees. The others screamed. Seconds hung in the still November air, frozen and silent.
Marcus spoke in a whisper:
“Daniel, you missed.”
Mr Thomas roared. Blue light swirled from him, flowing up the hill, to the distant stones. Daniel knelt in front of Marcus, wiping the tears from his eyes:
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. What to I do?”
Marcus grunted as he pulled the knife from his ribs. It slipped onto the pavement between them. Daniel wiped the blade on his jumper. Marcus laughed a little:
“I don’t think you need to worry about cleaning it.”
He looked at the boy in front of him:
“It’s OK you know. I’ve lived too long. Seen too much death. I hurt people. I was lonely and dozens of children suffered because of that. I’d like to do something right.”
He had missed having a heartbeat. He used it to guide Daniel:
“Here!, And please be quick. He’s coming.”
Mr Thomas was striding towards them through the rubble, his steps less sure, his form less intimidating. Daniel looked to Marcus with a smile:
“He’s getting weaker. Maybe I don’t have to…Maybe you don’t have to…”
Marcus shook his head:
“No half measures. We have to mean this. Save your friends. Save my friends.”
He looked towards the crowd gathered around him. James had even recovered enough to pull himself towards them. Marcus smiled:
“You are my friends aren’t you?”
James grabbed the boys hand:
“Of course Marcus.”
“That’s good. Thank you….James you’ve got grey hair there old man. I don’t think I’ve ever had a friend with grey hair before…”
Mr Thomas propped himself up with the flagpole and heaved himself in their direction. Daniel looked up and pictured it all starting again. So many children, so many years stolen. His lips still tingled with Beth’s first kiss. A first that should have happened seventy-five years before:
“I’m so sorry Marcus.”
The knife found it’s target this time. As Marcus’ pulse slowed the blue light flowed away faster. Mr Thomas dropped to the ground, degrading into a walking corpse before their eyes.
The corpse quivered, lifting an arm towards the dying boy. Still reaching for a hold on life. Nicky wobbled through the rubble and grabbed a chunk of sandstone from the fallen hotel. When the boulder landed on Mr Thomas the bones collapsed like a melon. He was finished.
The others watched as Marcus drifted away. His body lay there, perfectly human, a smile hanging on his lips, but Marcus was gone. James reached over and closed the boy’s eyes.
A final glimpse of brilliant blue and it was done.
A smell of brothy soup and the feeling of rough hand-woven wool. Her arms held him tightly. The boy was home.
The end of the story
I hope you’ve enjoyed following this story over the past few months. I would welcome any feedback you might have.
The book will be available in print and in kindle format at the end of September 2018 (perfect timing for the long nights drawing in).
If you would like to pre-order a copy for yourself, or as a gift for someone else, please click on the link below to pay for your copy now via PayPal (you can also pay via Debit or Credit card).
It would make a great gift for any horror/dark fantasy fans who have some link to Crieff or the area.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have followed this story through. The readership has grown steadily over the past few months and your interest has made my job all the more enjoyable. Thank you all,
All the best, and thanks for reading, John