Marcus: Chapter 19: Count the Ghosts

To go to chapter 1 and follow the story through from the very beginning, simply click on this link

(‘Marcus’ is now available in paperback, you can pick up a copy from Fun Junction in either Crieff or Perth)

James watched on as small groups of children were marched stony-faced behind their ghoul-children captors. The supply seemed endless. Marcus barely appeared among them, often disappearing for long spells. Meanwhile Mr Thomas stood out as an ever-present entity, leering over each potential power increase that shuffled through the door.

James studied the room on his arrival, seeking out the source of Mr Thomas’ power; his bag of bones. James had expected to see the old man huddled near them but he was much more interested in new acquisitions. The old beast barely looked at the remains. Bones of children he had used to continue his sorry existence across the centuries.

The man had shoved the sack under a bed in the corner with little more than a thought. Teetering on it’s side it finally tipped, releasing a small cluster of bones from the open top.

As the number of children seized by the ghouls increased it all grew to be too much for Mr Thomas. He slumped onto the bed, ecstatic, and exhausted at the prospect of so much power. So many more years to add to his lifespan.

*

In another part of town Daniel was bored. His mum had stopped him doing anything. No computer games, no TV, he wasn’t allowed outside. She was holding him prisoner, he couldn’t imagine anything worse.

At least he had some good books to read. The only sound in his room was the thick ‘swila-cha’ sound the pages made as they turned. There was a ‘click’ in the corner of his room. It wasn’t a huge surprise, the house was a bit draughty in places. Sometimes things moved and fell.

Daniel glanced over to see what had fallen. Nothing. He closed his book and placed it on his pillow. Where had that sound come from?

The floor was clear. Everything on his bookcase was stacked as normal. A ‘click’ from the window forced his attention outside. It was a girl.

He couldn’t see her face but she didn’t look familiar. Was she standing below the wrong window?

Daniel fiddled with the latch and shoved the window open:

Hi, I think you’ve got the wrong house.”

The voice that came back was quiet as a whisper but cut through the air, remaining as crisp as if she were standing right in front of him:

…I need your help. Marcus is doing something. You know about all of this, you were the only one I could come to.”

Daniel stepped back from the window. Out of sight. Slipping to the floor he shuffled along to the window. He couldn’t look up, just swayed his hand about till it found the window catch. Desperately trying to close it. He lay out flat on the floor breathing as quietly as he could.

The whisper penetrated the closed glass:

…I have nowhere else to go. The police man helped but he’s gone. Marcus helped but he’s gone. I’m not going to leave.”

Daniel couldn’t remember much from his night away. What glimpses he had were beyond awful. Nothing about those children was natural. He spoke under his breath, to keep himself sure.

I will not help them.”

The girl’s voice flowed in, burrowing through his ears:

…if you don’t a lot of good people will die tonight.”

Daniel held his knees:

I’m scared.”

The girl’s voice softened:

…so am I. We all are. Can I come in?”

Daniel looked up. The girl peered through his window, crouched on his second-floor ledge. Her face drawn out, expressionless. If anything it was more inhuman than the faces he remembered from his night away. More dishevelled.

He backed away, collapsing on the bed as it hit the back of his knees:

I can’t let you in. You’ll just take me away again.”

Her mouth moved but the rest of her face was as still as a doll’s:

…if I still had the power to do that do you think I would be here asking you for help?”

That wasn’t the answer Daniel was looking for. It wasn’t really an answer at all. He stayed rooted to the bed. A small hand, palm outstretched, squeezed against the glass:

…I told you. I can stay here all night.”

Daniel rolled his eyes and shrugged, careful to make it look as convincing as he could (it wasn’t):

Fine. Hope you don’t get too bored watching me read my book.”

He lay back on his bed and tried to focus on the words on the page. Sweat kept dripping into his eyes, stinging, blurring the words.

She leaned her green-white cheek on the window:

…do you know how old I am?”

Daniel refused to look at her:

I don’t know. Eleven? Maybe twelve?”

…no. I’m eighty-six. It was my birthday in June. I wasn’t here. I’m never here. All I get are endless Novembers.”

Daniel put the book down but kept his eyes away from the window:

You almost gave me ‘endless Novembers’. I didn’t see you holding anyone back.”

She was silent for a moment. Daniel wondered if he might be able to read now:

…I’m sorry. We’re not as strong as Marcus. It’s only now that your friends are releasing us that I can think for myself again.”

Daniel turned to the window, forcing himself to look into her lifeless eyes:

Releasing?”

…yes, we’re being let go. For some of us our time is over. They’ve gone wherever it is that people normally go. I hope I can go soon. Your friends think are helping us so much. I worry though; they think it will stop Mr Thomas. It won’t.”

Daniel’s hopes floundered:

It won’t?”

…I can explain on the way. First I need you to let me in.”

Daniel edged towards the window and released the latch. Stepping back to give the girl room.

She slipped in with no effort whatsoever:

Good. Thank you Daniel. Now, can you get a knife? A big one if possible.”

*

Marcus was out again, leaving Mr Thomas attended to by his four ghoul-child guards. A great yelling announced another adult had been brought to the room. Gordon scraped through the door, briefly catching a handhold on the door frame.

He lifted himself into a sitting position as his captors continued dragging him, his fists thumping the ghoul-children at his heals.

His punches made hollow crunches, like meat hit with a mallet. The children didn’t even break their stride. The police officer was hauled into a corner and chained to a radiator by his own handcuffs. His eyes darted round the room, desperate for details. They stopped on James:

James? James! What is this? What can we do?”

James strained against his ropes. Mr Thomas lifted his head and glared at the men:

Pathetic! Call yourselves men? You who allowed your wife to be taken under your nose? And you who wear the badge of authority for this town but allowed yourself to be overcome by children.”

The old man coughed, deep, dry, and hard. He turned to one of the ghoul-children guarding his bed:

Gag these snivelling lumps.”

Strips of ancient tartan were torn from their clothes and tied over the mouths of the two men. The fabric stank of rot, it’s course wool dug into their cheeks, forcing James’ tongue into the roof of his mouth.

Theo looked up at his dad. James lowered his head to meet his son’s, tears in his eyes. From the back of his throat he managed to sound out the words:

Counk ghe ghosks!”

Theo shook his head, bewildered. James tried again and this time Theo got it:

Count the ghosts?”

Sure enough, as the minutes went by, and the room filled with more kidnapped children, it also emptied of a fair portion of its ghosts.

Keep up with the story

Click here to go to ‘Marcus: Chapter 20: Under The High Street‘.

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

Marcus: Chapter 20: Under The High Street

Marcus: Chapter 18: Between a rock and more rocks

To go to chapter 1 and follow the story through from the very beginning, simply click on this link

(‘Marcus’ is now available in paperback, you can pick up a copy from Fun Junction in either Crieff or Perth)

Tash tried phoning Nicky a third time. It went to her message service. Her mouth was too dry to leave a message, she had a feeling Nicky wouldn’t be listening to it anyway.

At some point Marcus had left their digging party. With each burst of energy that went into the stone Marcus grew a little weaker. Part of Tash was glad he went, it wasn’t easy doing what they had to do while watching the ghost-boy.

Ross distracted himself with the simple act of digging. Andrew and Louise had figured out what was happening to their dad and had long since realised that distracting themselves wasn’t an option. The light display created every time they touched bone to stone offered what could well be the most depressing light display ever.

Tash called James:

“Hi James, I have bad news, awful news, and worrying news.”

There was a pause before James replied:

“No good news?”

“No good news…”

Once he had been filled in by Tash James had a whole host of options. Not one of them was attractive. Staying at home was worse than useless. Chasing after Scott and Nicky put the kids in danger. Option number three (the stones) had already claimed its first victim. Worse still, ‘option three’ left James and his kids in the open (albeit with a ring of magic stones protecting them).

James clung to the only tangible thing that might help keep his family safe. He grabbed their coats and shoes:

“Come on kids we’re off to the school.”

Harry didn’t like that one bit, wailing every moment that he got ready. Theo moved much more quickly:

“Is he there? Is Mum coming too?”

James still couldn’t get the truth out:

“No. Just us for now.”

john bray local author nanowrimo national novel writing month scotland perthshireThe car ride was silent, but for the constant whining of Harry. James pulled up round the back, parking in front of the old locked gates. He was on a constant lookout for ghoul-children.

Willow was gone. Gordon was gone. They couldn’t be sure but it looked as though they had lost Nicky and Taz too. The sooner he had some backup from Marcus the safer he’d feel.

The back door was hanging open when they got there. No Marcus to greet them.

James held his kids close, their footsteps making clumped shuffling noises along the corridor. He lied to Harry; told him they were part of a tour of the old school building but that they’d arrived early. Others would be here soon.

Harry took the lie and played up his boredom:

“I don’t want to go on a stupid tour. This place is boring and old. There aren’t any other kids here.”

James and Theo saw this as a strong positive.

James placed himself in the central stairway. Two grand staircases meeting in the middle, James remembered someone telling him one used to be for girls, the other for boys. He used to take the ‘boys’ stair every time even though that tradition had ended long before he started there.

Tonight he couldn’t care less about taking the ‘right’ stair, all he wanted was a good location to get Marcus’ attention. He didn’t want to risk yelling, he didn’t want to rattle the boys, but he also didn’t want anyone outside the school asking questions. James repeated Marcus’ name, making it clear he needed him.

James followed the stair down to the old boiler room. He stopped calling Marcus when he found the boiler-room door cracked and beaten. Shattered remains of the slide bolt lay on the floor, the padlock still attached.

For a moment he considered leaving the kids and investigating for himself. His imagination swam with ideas of what could happen to them if left alone. No good could come of that.

They filed into the old boiler room, James helping his sons down the old stepladder to the basement below.

Still no Marcus.

The boys held his hands tightly as he brought them to the bookcase at the end of the corridor. Harry relaxed his grip when they found the ‘secret passageway’. Brimming with excitement, he struggled against his dad to be the first down the steps. James held him back.

Still no Marcus.

James switched on his phone’s torch and scanned the tiny room. One difference was instantly visible; in one corner lay a mound of dirt. A sharp, clay smell told him it was fresh.

A tiny scrap of paper poked out from the top of the mound. James stepped towards it and picked it up.

If you find this, run!

Sorry. I tried, Marcus

James dropped the paper and ran for the stairs, picking the boys up under his arms as he went.

They ran the length of the corridor, stopping at the bottom of the stepladder.

James heard footsteps in the room above. He drew his children to one side holding one finger to his lips; shh.

He couldn’t risk calling but he sent a simple text to Tash:He has M's bones. Stone circle vital. Keep digging. Will try to get to you.Marcus’ whistle echoed down from above. James held his sons close not knowing what to think. With every fibre of his being he wished they could be somewhere else. He whispered into their hair:

“If you get away go to the golf-course. Tash will keep you safe.”

*

Tash’s heart sank as the tiny form of Harry awkwardly lifted himself over the fence and ran to her. She gathered her strength and launched herself out of the stone circle to collect the boy.

He swung his arms, copying runners he’d seen on TV. It didn’t help his speed, in fact Tash worried that he was making himself a clearer target. She reached the boy just as the black smoke appeared. Marcus’ face drifted past her, expressionless, cold.

Harry squealed as he fell to the ground. Marcus had his leg. Tash flung herself at him, grasping his hands. She pulled. With all her might she pulled.

Harry’s shoe slipped off in Marcus’ hand (‘My lighty-up shoe!’). Tash seized her chance, hauling the boy to her. She gathered him up and run for the circle.

Marcus gathered into his solid form and ran after them.

Tash snapped her legs back and forth, leaping more than running. Marcus gained on them with relative ease but stopped, the blue glow of the stone circle reflected in his black eyes.

*

Marcus hovered outside the stone circle but the digging and ‘planting’ continued. Harry seemed pleased to have something to do. Tash wondered how much he understood about what was happening.

A new thought occurred to her as she lifted more soil; there were three bags, no matter how hard they worked no matter how many bones were in contact with the stones, they would never be enough. Mr Thomas still had a bag and that was enough for his needs.

She looked at Marcus. More than enough.

Marcus circled them, drifting instead of running. Soon all they could see was a circle of smoke and a face swirling past. He grinned:

“I’m needed elsewhere. See you all very soon.”

And he was gone. It was nice to be out from under his watch but they couldn’t let themselves slow down.

Andrew’s phone beeped. 8pm a reminder for some show he wanted to watch. Meaningless now and so much of the night still to get through. Ten minutes went by then came a crackling electrical sound. Ross grabbed his police radio from an abandoned pocket.

“All hands, all hands. We have reports of another missing child in Crieff. Suspect same perpetrator as previous incident. Take precautions, this guy is stronger than he looks.”

Tash sat down on one of the rocks:

“More kids. We can’t let him get away with this. Got to keep at it.”

They continued with their work. The bones in one of the bags rattled for a moment, as if stirred up by something. Marcus drifted into view near the golf-course gates. He wasn’t happy, Tash could tell. All the same he had been sent by his puppet-master to gloat about the new addition. He played his part.

This pattern continued. More calls on the radio. Every time Marcus appeared the bones would rattle (Marcus must be like a magnet to them, Tash wondered if he was trying to draw them out of the circle for his old master). Marcus came to gloat over every kidnapping, grinning his false grin, forced to laugh by a puppet-master he despised.

Five children taken. Ten children.

By the time fifteen children had been taken, the town was lit up by the blue flashing lights of most of the police cars for the region.

Tash could remember what the captured were going through. She had been there herself once (albeit briefly). However, the sheer volume of kidnappings left her imagining a prison, teaming with children, tired, confused, frightened. How was he doing this? Why so many? and where could he be hiding them all?

Keep up with the story

Click here to go to ‘Marcus: Chapter 19: Count the Ghosts‘.

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

 

Marcus: Chapter 17: That’s Four

To go to chapter 1 and follow the story through from the very beginning, simply click on this link

(‘Marcus’ is now available in paperback, you can pick up a copy from Fun Junction in either Crieff or Perth)

Theo’s house was locked tight. He watched from the top window desperate to see nothing. He had left his dad downstairs, eyes glued on the computer screen waiting for the strange reports to come pouring it.

The night was still; no wind, no sounds, no ghosts. After the third sign of movement that turned out to be the neighbour’s cat Theo went downstairs to get something to eat and drink.

James didn’t even look up from the screen, but he sat up rod-straight:

“Are they here?”

Theo slurped milk from his glass, shaking his head:

“Nope. Only so many times I can let Blaise scare me. How many times does a cat need to go out in one night?”

Harry was curled up on the couch watching cartoons on the tablet. He broke his eyes away from the screen for a moment:

“I hope you guys aren’t talking about ghosts again. Mum said you both had to stop ‘cos you’re scaring me. Ghosts aren’t real.”

James stepped away from the computer and sat beside his younger son:

“Mum’s right. You shouldn’t be scared. There’s nothing to worry about.”

Harry smiled:

“Can I get my toastie now? Mum said she’d make me one when she got back.”

James’ brow furrowed:

“When was that?”

“Ehmm…I don’t know, maybe when I started this episode.”

It sometimes wasn’t a great idea to trust a six-year-old’s sense of time. She had just gone out to put something in the bins outside. James realised he had lost track too. He popped on a pair of slippers:

“Be back in a sec guys. Just checking to see if mum needs a hand.”

He ran to the back of the house. The bins were on their side, tipped from the enclosure he’d made for them.

Out of sight, within the branches of their neighbour’s tree, two eyes were watching. It wasn’t Blaise the cat and it wasn’t a ghoul child. James’ wife held on to the branch with every ounce of her strength, pulling against them. She opened her mouth to scream for her husband but found a tiny hand stuffing it with dirt.

The shock made her hand slip. She let go of the branch, the force of their pull dropped her to the ground with force. Her head hit the trunk of the tree and everything went blurry. She could swear she heard the faintest whisper:

…that’s one…

*

Tash was tired but she’d taken enough of a break already. The others had been digging for twenty minutes straight. The strange stones seemed stranger still when you dug up the earth below them.

It was then that the blue glow was visible, the same blue glow coming from the bags of bones. Marcus couldn’t touch the stones himself, but insisted that all the bones had to make contact. Every time a bone was laid beside a rock it would glow brighter, it’s light flowing into the stone until all that was left was dull bone.

Tash grabbed a shovel and started digging. After the third shovel-full of soil flicked in Gordon’s direction, he moved over a little.

It was as good a time as any to grab a drink of water and stretch his back. November soil fought back, a lot, it had taken him over an hour to get just a few inches down.

He had dropped his jacket into the car a few minutes after they started. In the dry cold his sweat grew icy. He hunted in the back seat for the jacket. In the end it announced itself; his phone rang from the pocket. The jacket wasn’t in the car but hanging over a tree a short distance from the stone circle.

He flung the jacket on before fumbling for the phone with icy fingers. He didn’t have to sound too official, his shift had ended ages ago. His screen displayed a Crieff number, vaguely familiar:

Hello?”

James’ voice came back, hushed and terrified:

I’m standing in my back garden. I don’t want the kids to hear this. They’ve taken her. They took Willow. They took my wife.”

Gordon walked back and forth trying to keep himself warm:

OK James. Is there any sign of struggle?”

James told him about the overturned bins and said something about an upset cat. Ordinarily Gordon managed professional detachment quite well, not expecting the worst, especially when adults were involved.After the nights he’d had, he let the conclusions jump to their heart’s content.

OK, look, I’m going to get in the car now. I’ll be there in less than five minutes. Go keep an eye on the kids and I’ll…”

Gordon’s foot got hooked on a tree root. It tangled round his ankle and he fell to the ground dropping his phone. He reached down to untangle the root but it moved. His eyes adjusted just in time to make out the tiny fingers.

…that’s two…

*

James could hear muffled cursing on the other end of the phone. It disappeared into the distance. Where had Gordon gone?

He hung up the call and selected Tash’s number, all the time making his way back round to the house to check on the kids. The kids?! He had been so worried about Willow that he’d neglected to get round, to lock the door, to check the house was safe.

The kids weren’t in the living room when he got in. He locked the front door. (Why didn’t he do that earlier?) James’ eyes darted in all directions searching for any sign of his children.

From the top of the stairs he heard whispering:

…you’ll never find me…

James raced up to the boys’ room in time to hear Theo yell:

Found you Harry! Now it’s my turn to hide.”

James gulped back the bile that had been rising in his throat, then noticed Tash’s voice chattering from his phone:

…James what’s wrong? Is everything OK? Can you hear me?”

He raised his phone to his ear. The reality of Willow’s disappearance slamming back into view. Out of earshot from the kids, he recounted everything he had just told Gordon. Tash interrupted:

Wait, when were you talking to Gordon?”

James tried to count back the time:

Maybe five minutes ago. Probably less than that. He said he was getting into the car. He should be here soon.”

Tash’s eyes settled on her ex-husband’s car:

James, his car is here. And Gordon is not in it.”

She yelled out for him but heard no reply. Apologising to James she hung up and tried phoning Gordon.

It rang. She could hear the ringtone; the theme tune to one of those ridiculous crime dramas that he loved so much. A light pulsed under a bedraggled tree. There it was, Gordon’s phone, and no Gordon. Tash shook her head:

Oh Gordon…”

There was no way to hide this from the kids. She broke the news of their dad’s disappearance as gently as possible. They were clearly upset but they held it together better than Gordon’s buddy Ross.

She debated going to check on James. Maybe perch all the kids inside the stone circle. They’d keep them safe, the same way they’d done for her years ago. However, Gordon was near the circle and they’d got to him easily enough.

Whatever happened next, she needed help. She also needed someone who could deal with the blubbering man-child Ross had become. She needed Nicky.

*

Nicky’s phone rang as she was getting into the car:

Hey sis, what’s up?”

The next few minutes were a series of ‘what?’ and ‘but…’ as Nicky was filled in. She wanted to pop on the ignition to get the heater going to take the chill out of the night. Sadly, Scott had the keys and he was taking an age to come out the house.

*

Scott knew he’d left the keys on the hook, where could they be? For the fourth time he wandered through to the kitchen to check if they were on the worktop. Next stop would be his jacket pocket. He was getting sick of this loop.

There was a jangling sound. Had the keys been in his jacket the whole time? He already knew the answer. The jangling hadn’t come from his jacket. Nicky was out in the car. That meant…:

No no no nononononono!”

Scott slammed into the wall and didn’t get up:

…that’s three…

*

Nicky got out the car and walked round to the boot. Scott was always losing his keys. Perhaps he’d left them in one of the bags.

Before she went for the pockets her attention was drawn to the small leather bag Scott had dug out of the attic that afternoon (“…seems respectable enough…”). It was hard to believe that it contained the bones of a whole person, albeit a small one.

Scott explained why they needed Marcus’ bones but she hadn’t followed it entirely. She reached forward and undid the old clasp. It opened like an old doctor’s case.

So small, glowing ever so gently. Hard to imagine them linked to someone so powerful, so ancient. She reached forward to touch one and a fist pounded into her temple forcing her sideways to crack her head on the car:

I’ll take that!”

A leathered hand grasped the handles of the tiny bag. Mr Thomas laughed:

Now does that count as four, or five?”

Keep up with the story

Click here to go to ‘Marcus: Chapter 18: Between a rock and more rocks’.

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

Marcus: Chapter 16: Two Bags of Bones

To go to chapter 1 and follow the story through from the very beginning, simply click on this link

(‘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:

“Protect us.”

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.

BEEP

“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.”

Marcus shrugged:

“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

Click here to go to Chapter 17: That’s Four

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

Marcus: Chapter 15: Dawn Till Dusk

To go to chapter 1 and follow the story through from the very beginning, simply click on this link

(‘Marcus’ is now available in paperback, you can pick up a copy from Fun Junction in either Crieff or Perth)

Gordon got the call just before the end of his shift. He put his coffee in his ‘to go’ flask and got into the police car. His ‘buddy’ (if he were in one of those American crime-dramas he’d be his ‘partner’) was still sorting himself out in the station. They needed young additions to the force, Gordon was the first to admit it, but did they have to be so young?

The lad jumped into the car and Gordon passed on what he’d heard in the call through from Perth:

“Disturbance at a B&B on East High Street. Neighbours hear shouting. This could be a domestic but it’s also a place of business, so be ready and watch for anything unusual.”

It didn’t take long to reach the scene. The low dawn sunlight pierced his eyes from the horizon. Bouncing off the frost of the road. Ten minutes before the end of a double shift, and now he gets something to do. Gordon needed his bed.

A lady in a dressing gown met them as they got out of the car:

“It’s normally all quiet after about ten o’clock. This is ridiculous.”

They could hear the yelling and thumping from inside. Gordon pulled himself up to look in the window. He wasn’t prepared for the the sight of Scott punching an old man.

*

The four missing children were there as Nicky and Scott went through the door. Every one of them was as unresponsive as Daniel had been. Only this time they didn’t have Marcus around to help.

It took them a few moments to see it. Daniel’s eyes had been distant, unfocussed, when they found him. These children’s eyes were aware. The only part of them they could move. The only sign of expression on their faces, and that expression was indescribable.

Tears ran down their cheeks as they turned their gaze in unison. Settling on a closed door. One of the guest rooms.

Neither Nicky nor Scott said anything. Nicky could see what Scott was planning:

“Scott, don’t go in there. Not yet. It’s still ten minutes before Marcus told us it would be safe. We don’t know what you’ll find.”

Scott nodded. He tried to wait, watching a clock in the hallway. He had to wait for seven thirty. Marcus told them dawn was at seven thirty today. Taz’s hands twitched as he waited. His gaze darting back to the children on the couch.

The minute hand clicked to half past and Scott leapt for the door. There was just enough time before he reached it for Nicky to yell out:

“Scott no! The clock is fast. There’s still five minutes to go.

He had already turned the handle. Her warning did nothing but to take his attention away from the open doorway.

A fist like leather fired out out from the gap, slamming Scott into the wall beside his wife.

In a simple, unthinking, movement Nicky grabbed at anything she could and threw it at the unseen person in the room beyond.

The objects struck the figure and bounced off. An old man emerged from the room with a grin like a slit across his face:

“Too quick off the mark young man. I’m still on night mode.”

Mr Thomas strode out of the room, a huge dirty sack slung over his back. He looked at the children on the couch in exasperation:

“No time now. No bother, time enough to regroup,” He turned to look Scott’s crumpled form. “I’ll see your little ‘team’ again tonight I guess. Though I hope you see sense and stay out of my way.”

Scott leapt from the ground and hurled punches at the man. Hollow, inhuman, thumps echoed from the old man’s torso. It was like beating an oak barrel.

Scott managed to throw the old man to the floor. He hit the ground like a splayed spider. All sinew, sun-browned skin, and bone. Licking blood from his lip he grinned:

“Now that was unexpected.”

In one smooth twist of his body he flipped himself back onto his feet. An impossible movement that left the old man looking like a velociraptor. With a flick of his free arm he tossed Scott aside, slapping Nicky out of his way for good measure, then made for the back door.

He only looked back for a moment to laugh at the police officers rushing through the front:

“Too quick by far. The impetuousness of youth I guess. Five minutes is all the time I need.”

They raced to the back door in pursuit but there was no trace. Old Mr Thomas and his dirty sack were gone

*

Gordon’s first priority was the children on the couch. Four children, perfectly matching the description of those that were reported missing.

This situation was already complicated and that was without having to explain to his superiors why an elderly man was able to evade capture despite being chased by two police officers and two civilians.

Gordon had his buddy call in the details and got him to check on the children. Marching for the door to the old man’s room he saw two dirty sacks. He had no idea what they might hold but he knew it could be nothing but trouble.

Gordon gulped back his fear and revulsion but a professional attitude wasn’t enough to prepare him. Both bags were stuffed to the brim with bones. Human bones. His eyes took in the size of one of the skulls; too small. Far too small.

***

Theo’s whole body screamed with tiredness but his dad insisted that he get to school. Andrew’s mum had phoned to explain about the safety of daylight so he had nothing to worry about.

The idea of catching up with Marcus was pretty interesting. Only four kids knew the truth. Maybe going to school wouldn’t be the worst thing.

They got to school just before the bell and Theo’s face grew hot when he saw Marcus in line chatting casually with other children. Theo had seen this boy turn into smoke, he had seen his true face. This fact changed the way Marcus looked doing everything. Their teacher smiled and high-fived the ghost walking in to her classroom.

Theo sat down with his friends. A bubble of quiet and calm among the clonking and bustle of the start of the day. Marcus smiled:

“Did you all get a good night’s sleep?”

Theo, Andrew, and Daniel shook their heads. Daniel was surprised to see that the others had had as bad a night as him:

“I had the weirdest nightmares. There were ghosts, and graveyards, and then there was soup. An old man kept whispering all the way through.”

The others looked at each other. Theo’s eyes popped wide:

“Wait you don’t know that…”

There was so much to tell him but class was about to start. In struggled moments they managed to fill him in on the basics and for the rest of the day answered Daniel’s barrage of questions when they didn’t think the teacher was looking.

By home time Daniel knew as much as they did and the setting sun was as unwelcome to him as it was to everyone else.

There were no faces in the bushes by the gates and no whistling on the way home.

Theo, his little brother Harry, and Marcus walked to meet James at the gate. Marcus tagged along on their walk; their walk home passed his own ‘home’ after all.

James didn’t want to worry Harry by talking about everything. Theo’s younger brother knew nothing about the night before. He was only six years old and there were some things best left unknown.

john bray local author nanowrimo national novel writing month scotland perthshireThey stopped outside the old school gates. Marcus needed to know what had happened. James talked to Marcus about his ‘troublesome cousins’, then revealed that his nasty uncle had moved back to town. Marcus cracked the code easily.

His face already turning a little green as the night drew in, but this news added a sickly hue. The relaxed boy from school transformed to a ball of worry. He turned to James:

“It will be harder tonight than I thought. In some ways it will be easier. Get your boys home. I’ll come visit later when I know more. You’re still in the same house you grew up in aren’t you?”

As much as he trusted Marcus, James still didn’t like knowing that the ghost-boy knew where he lived. Where his family lived. Blocking Harry’s view of the now glowing boy, James walked away. He called behind him:

“I’ll wait up. I’ll be ready.”

Marcus frowned. Speaking to himself:

“You better be. He’ll know where to find you too.”

*

Marcus went round the back of the school and sneaked in. Taz was there, sitting on the top of the short iron fence that surrounded the school:

“Evening Marcus. I wanted to catch you on your way in. I did something today. I don’t know if you’ll agree with it but I hope you’ll see why I did it.”

Marcus knew without Taz telling him. The sports bag in Taz’s hand spoke volumes. Dizzy and disorientated, Marcus placed his small hand on the man’s shoulder:

“I know. It’s OK Taz, it was the right call.”

Keep up with the story

Click here for Chapter 16: Two Bags of Bones

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

Marcus: Chapter 14: The Ghost of Church Street

To go to chapter 1 and follow the story through from the very beginning, simply click on this link

(‘Marcus’ is now available in paperback, you can pick up a copy from Fun Junction in either Crieff or Perth)

James and Theo headed home. It was late, they knew they’d struggle to sleep, but Marcus insisted that they get some rest. Their next night could be even harder.

With the boy and his dad away the other three had a nasty job on their hands. Nicky and Taz were already nauseous and they hadn’t even started. Taz stared at Marcus as they walked back up the road:

“Are you serious? We have to walk up to that churchyard and dig up a grave?”

Marcus gave a sombre, curt, nod:

“Actually, in that graveyard it’s five graves. The others are buried in different places throughout the town.”

They didn’t speak another word for twenty minutes. Not when they went into Nicky and Scott’s shed. Not when they picked up the spades. Not when Marcus grabbed a sharpening block from a shelf. Not when they walked up the hill, or when they entered the graveyard.

Only when Marcus began sharpening the spades did anyone speak again. Nicky’s voice was lower than a whisper:

“Marcus I don’t think I can do this. This is a graveyard. It doesn’t feel right.”

Marcus placed the sharpening block on the wall beside him:

“You’re right Nicky. This doesn’t feel right. Give me a second.”

Marcus got up and wandered around the church grounds. He slipped round the back of the church just as a police car pulled up beside the wall. The officer inside wound down his window:

“Alright Scott? Nicky? Mind telling me what you’re up to in a graveyard in the middle of the night? And while you’re at it I could do with some details on the shovels you’re holding.”

Taz had nothing, Nicky jumped in:

“Just volunteering with the St Michaels clean up group. Shame to see the place in disrepair. Left our spades. We were just picking them up to take home.”

The policeman frowned:

“If it were anyone else I’d be asking a lot more questions. You do see how weird this is? Look, do you guys want a lift home? It’s really bitter tonight.”

Taz looked back to the church building for Marcus:

“No, thanks Gordon, we’ll be fine. A wee walk won’t do us any harm.”

Gordon shook his head and snorted:

“If you’re sure? OK keep safe, both of you. Been some weird stuff happening tonight. Radio hasn’t stopped for a second. People talking about black-eyed ghost-children. Can you believe that?”

Scott and Nicky feigned surprise at the absurdity. Scott even faked a laugh:

“Ghost-children? Folk have been spending too much time on the ‘dark side’ of YouTube or something. Anyway thanks Gordon, see you around.”

Gordon said goodnight and moved the car off. He pulled over again a few feet further down the hill.

Taz could see him lifting his radio. Gordon had left his window open, they heard everything:

“Gordon that’s the official count at four now. Four kids missing. Keep an eye out for anything suspicious.”

Gordon turned back to look for the couple with spades, in a graveyard, after midnight but they were gone.

Taz and Nicky watched from behind the church as Gordon got out the car to look for them. Marcus tried asking what was going on but was shushed instantly.

After a few minutes Gordon rubbed his arms and got back into the warmth of his police car. Nicky and Taz exhaled at last:

“Marcus, we’re not heroes. They got four other kids while we were running around finding Daniel.”

Marcus slumped on the wall beside them:

“I’m sorry. I had no idea.”

They listened to the sound of distant sirens. Well aware of what they meant. Marcus held his head in his hands:

“That’s not all. I can’t sense their bones. The ghoul children’s bones. They’re not here any more. ”

*

Taz didn’t see the problem with getting a night off grave-digging. Marcus stood up and looked out towards the east:

“I don’t deny that would have been a horrible task Taz but now we have no idea where those bones are. They were our best hope of taking control back and finding those children. We’re running out of time now.”

Nicky stared at Marcus:

“What do you mean? What will they do with the children?”

Marcus shook his head:

“No, I don’t mean that. I can feel the sun. My powers, and those of the ghoul-children go during the day. We only have a few hours to track them down.”

They left their spades behind and marched away. After an hour of traipsing their way up and down the freezing High Street while Marcus tried to ‘sense’ the bones they realised they needed a new strategy.

Marcus was sure they must be near. Otherwise, why was Daniel dragged up this way?

They sat down on the pavement at the top of Church Street. The sounds of the night had died away to nothing and the sounds of the morning hadn’t yet begun. A chill breeze dragged leaves and rubbish up and down the deserted street.

Then came the faintest crunch of footsteps in the growing frost.

The sound grew closer, still faint. It stopped outside a shop. Something in the window toppled over with a CLANG that made them all gasp.

The echo of the falling object dwindled away and the crunching steps continued on. They grew closer still, stopping in front of them. Only now could they see the faint outline of footprints in the frost. Even Marcus drew his legs back.

A voice floated to them on the wind. It came from a spot six feet above the footprints. Barely as loud as a whisper:

…begging your pardon…

The crunching steps continued past them and off towards the east end of the High Street. Marcus whispered to the others:

“What was that?”

The blood drained out of their faces; if Marcus didn’t know what it was then how were they supposed to?

Faint echoes of the footsteps reflected from shop windows and walls, slowing for just a moment. Scott and Nicky wanted nothing more than to get home but Marcus jumped to his feet and followed the sounds as gently as he could. He had a sense that they were supposed to follow.

The crunching steps drew them out to the very end of the high street and stopped outside the door of a bed and breakfast. It waited for them to catch up. In a voice as cold and lifeless as the wind, it whispered:

…here…

Then it was gone.

Marcus didn’t have nerves but that didn’t stop his hands from shaking:

“I didn’t like that.”

The others shook their heads in agreement.

They barely had time to take a breath before Marcus dropped to his knees his face twisting in pain. His words came out in gut wrenched gasps:

“Here…they’re here…the kids…the bones.”

He heaved, if he had eaten anything in the past two-thousand years now would have been the time he’d have thrown it up:

“Too much…I can’t do this…wait an hour…they’ll be drawn back to their bones then…sorry, going home. Going home now.”

Marcus dissolved in front of their eyes, a cloud of black smoke dribbled away back the way they came.

The sign outside read ‘no vacancy’. The dark windows left the place looking toothless. Apparently this was the place. If two ghosts tell you where to find a pile of bones you listen to them.

An hour is a long time in the dead of night. The only positive was that no one was about to ask what they were up to. They had ducked away from Gordon’s police car a few times after they had seen him but he hadn’t been past in over an hour.

Taz held Nicky’s hand. She checked her watch, counting down the minutes.

Frost gathered on everything. Even adding a crispy quality to their eyelashes. Nicky wrapped her arms around her husband for warmth. Out the corner of her eye she saw a curtain twitch in one of the lower rooms. They were being watched.

A fire leapt into both their bellies as they jumped onto alert. Had some of the ghoul-children escaped the sheriff? Every shadow seemed to grow a pair of black eyes, their minds turning everything into lifeless faces.

Imaginations on overdrive, they almost missed the middle-aged man standing in the doorway staring vacantly in their direction. Motionless and silent, his gaze never left them. It seemed to issue a warning (‘I am here. I see you. Don’t come any closer’).

The man was clearly an ordinary flesh-and-blood human being. When they looked closely they recognised him as the owner of the B&B. Had the ghoul-children hypnotised him before they disappeared?

Ten minutes were left on their advised time but neither of them could take another second of the man’s glassy stare. They walked to him hand in hand. They’d had enough waiting.

The man stood aside to let them through. They were not ready for what lay beyond the door.

Keep up with the story

Click here to read on to Marcus: Chapter 15: Dawn Till Dusk

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

Marcus: Chapter 13: Graveyards and Gardens

To go to chapter 1 and follow the story through from the very beginning, simply click on this link

(‘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!!!!”

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?”

Marcus nodded:

“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:

“Exactly!”

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.”

Marcus frowned:

“Cheat speed?”

Taz glared at Marcus:

“That thing you did so you could catch me back then.”

Marcus laughed:

“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.

James grinned:

“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:

“Got it!”

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.

Marcus cringed:

“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.

Keep up with the story

Click here to read on to Chapter 14: The Ghost of Church Street.

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Thanks for reading, all the best, John