Category Archives: Marcus (12+ only)

Marcus: Chapter 23:

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

The ghoul-girl at the door grinned from ear to ear. Eyes fixed on Marcus she rubbed her belly as though filled with food for the first time in centuries. She strode towards to her Uncle.

Marcus didn’t wait, he was smoke, he billowed from the door and flowed along the corridor. He had distracted them long enough. Tash had what she needed and had started her work. Marcus’ place was beside his friend. Beside all of them.

Marcus didn’t change form again. He didn’t need to; the extra power flowing through his body, left a thrumming buzz in his head. He yelled with laughter, with joy. Overfed, over-brimming, unpredictable.

If the remaining three ghoul-children felt like this too? Marcus thought of their hate-filled eyes. It didn’t bear thinking about.

He arrived on the golf course to see Taz, covered in blood, crawling for the ring of stones. He inched closer to safety only to be dragged back by a glowing creature.

It had been a ghoul-child once but now it’s face was more skeletal, like an x-ray was shining through. Green bones glowed out and the face was stuck in a constant deathly grin. Without looking up the ghoul-boy spoke to Marcus. It’s voice bold and strong as any living person’s:

Good evening Uncle. How do you fare tonight? I appear to have lost a cousin and gained something…wonderful.”

The boy twisted Taz’s leg. Marcus winced at the crunch. He dropped on his nephew, moving from smoke to solid effortlessly.

The boy threw him aside and reached for Taz’s leg once more. However, Taz had hauled himself just close enough to be pulled into the stone circle.

Tash and Ross pulled him by the arms and the ghoul-boy pulled at him by his injured leg. A tug of war with a rope that screams can be pretty disconcerting but Tash and Ross held on tight.

Marcus slid an arm around the neck of the ghoul-boy and drew him off of his friend. Taz collapsed face forwards into the ring. Blood sprayed from his lips with each short painful burst of breath. All the same he smiled up at his saviours. Then frowned:

Well? What are you doing? Get those bones buried!”

Outside the circle a crowd of the last remaining ghoul-children had gathered. They centred their attention on Marcus but one of the girls focussed her attention on the circle, throwing rocks at the small crowd of bone buriers.

The ghouls couldn’t cross the boundary but it became abundantly clear that a well-thrown rock could make it through to the middle with ease. Regardless of who was throwing it.

The rocks clipped their arms and even their heads. The diggers would stop briefly to tend to cuts, scrapes, and deep purple bruises. Small clumps of time lost to every well-placed missile.

Marcus fought on. The diggers continued their work wearing their blemishes as badges of honour.

As more bones made contact with the rocks, the glow from beneath increased. Tash drew her hand back as sparks licked out for more.

Something didn’t feel right.

Andrew poured in another handful of bones, the sparks hissed, and one of the ghoul-girls disappeared.

A swirl of energy fizzed and cracked then spread out into four streams. Two poured into the remaining ghoul-children, one into Marcus, and one flew away into the night.

Marcus saw this and looked at his friends within the circle, eyes wide, trying to communicate something important.

The last remaining ghoul-boy punched Marcus in the gut. It was a pain unlike anything he had felt in two millennia, almost as though he actually had a gut again.

The ghoul-boy punched him in the chest, then once in the mouth. Marcus coughed (another oddity for a creature with no internal organs) and spat liquid onto the grass. Blood.

With the back of his hand he wiped his mouth. His knees wobbled as he felt the thick blood run from the cut on his mouth. The ghoul-boy shook his hand in pain, wincing as he looked at his damaged knuckles.

The ghoul-girl grabbed more and more rocks, firing them hand over hand into the protective circle. Flesh made her more uncomfortable than she had expected. It had been a long time since she had last worn it.

Despite her efforts the electric fizzling slurped up the last of another skeleton. Her brother disappeared. Her body brimmed with power and she gaped at Marcus. A wet rattle echoed between the two of them as they both filled their newly returned lungs.

Marcus held his hands up. He needed this to stop. He needed peace:

“Please! I remember you now. Messu. My brother named you after the acorns on the trees he cared for. I never meant for you to go through this. I did His bidding, it took years to learn how to break free. I am sorry that you all had to go through this with me.”

The girl relaxed her shoulders:

“You didn’t have to befriend us all though. Every ghost-child you made. You made friends first. It made it all so much worse. The betrayal hurt much more than anything the magic did.”

Marcus’ breath caught in his throat. His eyes dripped huge thick tears:

“I am so sorry. I never thought it through. I was lonely. I missed people, and he used that, he used my friendships as a weapon. I really am so sorry Messu. I hope you will go somewhere good once the magic is broken.”

The girl shook her head and took hold of her uncle’s hands:

“Marcus, I don’t think you ever understood the stones. That’s not how they work. What you’re doing just now, you’re actually…”

Her words dispersed into the night. She was gone.

Blue light flowed into the stone circle then erupted out in two streams. One stream reached Marcus, knocking him to the ground with its force. The other out into the night. Marcus watched, slumped on the grass, as more power disappeared into the distance.

The skeletons of dozens of ghost-children lay nestled under the stones. Now came the turn of the final ghost-child; Marcus himself.

*

On the inside of the safe Mr Thomas found a small plaque. A manufacturer’s guarantee, moulded in metal and screwed on tight.

This safe promised to be not only tamper-proof, pick-proof, and fire-proof it was also, apparently, bomb proof. He was testing that theory. What was becoming maddeningly clear to those outside was that whatever he was doing to the inside of the safe door was about to reach a force greater that anything the safe’s makers had ever imagined.

Nicky and Gordon ushered every child out of the room. If Mr Thomas was about to break his way through a door of solid cast iron they weren’t going to stick around to see what he did next.

Gordon held the door as Nicky helped the children up and out of the room. She tore open an ancient door and led them up to the abandoned hotel above them.

Gordon turned in time to see a trickle of blue light weave through the hinge area of the safe door. The second of these beams so far. Just as the first had surprised them, this one seemed to offer Mr Thomas more energy.

The iron door creaked against the strain. For the first time Gordon could hear Mr Thomas’s yells. Pure, animal rage heaved against the door but, despite some bending, the door still held.

Gordon heard the sound of excited child voices near the exit. Nicky had got them all out. There was no reason for him to stay here. Whatever Mr Thomas was now, it was different. If Gordon tried standing his ground it would be like a fly fighting a bus.

He ran.

Then he stopped. Just outside the door lay a little boy. He had missed his step, been missed by the others, and left behind. He tried to walk on a badly twisted ankle but Gordon knew they didn’t have time.

He swept the boy up in his arms and hoisted him onto his shoulder in a well-practised ‘dad’ technique.

Despite his dishevelled state Gordon was still in uniform. Outside the hotel, gathered in the town square were at least a dozen police cars. The whole road was closed off. When one woman along with every single missing child left the building, only to be followed by an exhausted police officer, carrying an injured child on his shoulders the officers present came to a single conclusion.

A single officer began to clap, then that clap found friends. It rippled through the police officers present building into enthusiastic, highly relieved applause.

A couple of officers ran over to him. One was plain-clothed and spoke with a quiver of concern:

“Do we know if all the children are accounted for? It’s just…earlier tonight we caught two men with a sack of bones.”

He left the word ‘bones’ hanging in the air. Gordon thought of Taz and James with a lump in his throat:

“Do you have the men here?”

The detective shook his head:

“Well…that’s the thing. It would appear that mistakes were made. We’re still figuring out the details.” The officer could barely maintain eye contact “Perhaps a third man was involved. We don’t know. On returning to the car, no more than two minutes later, it was found that the doors were unlocked, the boot open, evidence gone, and two pairs of handcuffs were retrieved, unlocked on the ground beside the car. We’re still looking for the men.”

Gordon let out an audible sigh of relief:

“They’re not the ones you should be worried about. Trust me. We need to concentrate on what’s in there.”

He pointed to the building behind him in time to catch another of the odd blue streaks of light. It arced over the building and plunged through the chimney stack.

Behind him Gordon heard multiple questions, the most common being ‘what was that?’. Gordon knew. He braced himself. Now he had backup, but did they stand a chance against Mr Thomas?

They had to at least try.

The door of the safe ruptured from the basement, tearing through every floor of the four storey building. It tore a hole in the roof, showering them with slate, then flipped a dozen times in the air, before landing among the gathered crowd, cutting the hood of a police car in two.

Mr Thomas was free.

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Marcus: Chapter 22: The Gauntlet to the Golf Course

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

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:

Shhh.”

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:

…out…

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.”

James nodded:

Agreed.”

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:

Is that?”

James nodded:

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:

Go!”

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.

Marcus: Chapter 21: The forgotten boy

Copyright Humphrey Bolton

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

Willow arrived at the stone circle at a sprint. There was barely a breath left in her but she recounted the message in minute detail to Tash:

“Tash! Marcus says ‘Get in the car. Everyone will be safe once you’re in the driving seat.’ He made it sound really important. I didn’t know what else to do.”

Tash looked at Willow, red-faced, exhausted, terrified:

“Willow get inside the stone circle. They can’t get to you here. We can talk about the message after.”

“Tash you need to go to the car. He was insistent. Please go to the car.”

Tash glanced round. Waiting, watching for the trap to reveal itself. Marcus had done this sort of thing before. She shook her head as she looked into Willow’s tear blotched eyes:

“Please Tash. It’s the only reason he let me go. He’s still got James. He has Theo as well. He has my son.”

Tash looked at her own kids, safe behind the barrier. Then to Willow’s little boy Harry sitting beside them, now stock-still with worry over his dad and big brother.

Tash grabbed Gordon’s car keys from her pocket and stepped over the boundary. For a single breath she hung at the edge one foot inside the circle. Then her feet were pounding on wet grass launching her forward. 

Only when she was in sight of the car did her mind wander to visions of ghoul-children waiting to grab her ankles. She focussed on the keys. On the lock. Trying to slide the metal into place. Her muddy, freezing hands. The keys slipping onto the ground. She allowed herself a quick glimpse around before trying again with the keys.

Sounds rippled around her, rustles in the trees and the bushes. Just the wind. Just the wind.

The key slid into place and the central locking gave a satisfying ‘thunk’ noise as all the doors opened in unison. Tash leapt inside and adjusted herself into the driving seat. She had no intention of going anywhere but she knew Marcus. There was something she had to do.

Her foot rustled against something on the floor. A plastic groceries bag. She lifted it onto her lap.

If the smell of sweet, peaty earth didn’t convince her the note sitting on top of the bones was more than enough.

It’s time. The first will wait to last. Always your friend, goodbye, Marcus

Tash remembered the odd way Marcus had turned up to gloat after each abduction. Preceding every visit the bags of bones had rattled. Tash had assumed it was some kind of magic equivalent of magnetism. But now she understood.

Marcus had topped up the bone stash bit by bit. All this time he had been on their side. But how would they know when it was time for his bones to meet the circle? Would there be some signal?

*

42AD ‘Victoria’ (Roman Name, original name lost to time) Damnonii stronghold (what is now Dalginross, 7 miles West of Crieff)

The Romans were winning. Their general, a legionary by the name of Magnus Gallum (the great Gaul) was unstoppable in battle. It was said that spears shattered on contact with his skin. That he could fight for days without rest. He was also said to be the oldest legionary warrior for hundreds of miles.

The Damnonii tribe had a theory about his power. Stories were told about a boy,  who, twenty-five years earlier had been taken to the healing stones to the east. It was said that the healing was broken, corrupted, by the arrival of a group of Romans.

The boy’s energy tangled with that of a Legionary warrior and he grew strong as the boy grew weak. The boy died in front of his parents. Wrapped in what he was wearing, he was buried near the stones.

The healers claimed that they could not undo this abomination. Could not break the boy’s energy away from the soldier’s. Though there would be a small chance perhaps once in each generation when the power of the stones grew to its strongest.

The time had come to test the healers’ theory. If children of his blood could take his bones it was thought that the spell might be broken and the great Roman ‘hero’ destroyed at last.

Four cousins put their names forward. They were young but quick and brave beyond measure. Full of the sureness of youth they set out for the healing circle.

It was a short trip, they were accompanied only by a small group of protectors. Their trip brought little to impede their way.

On their first night it is said that the spirit of their Uncle came to them. Still in the form of a boy. Confused about his fate but glad of their company he asked to stay with them. They explained everything to the spirit and he approved.

On the second night, with their Uncle’s help, they found his grave. His body was removed and preparations were made for the required ritual. The boy thanked them for his impending release.

That night their camp was raided by Roman soldiers. They killed the Damnonii watchman but the children, their other protectors, and their Uncle got away. The bones were left forgotten as they escaped. It is thought the soldiers took them for their own dark ends.

On the third night one of the children vanished. Their defenders doubled the guard and watched intently for Romans throughout the night.

Despite their efforts they could do nothing to prevent the loss of the second of the cousins. On the fifth day the group gave up their mission, choosing instead to protect the last two and to make their way home. Their route was interrupted by Roman barricades.

Hiding from view, they made a fireless camp. The dark drew in and with it went what little heat the day had brought. It was then that the ghost-child returned. He offered comfort to his remaining nephew and niece. He persuaded their protectors to leave the children in his care. It was the last they ever saw of them.

From that day forth the Damnonii in the area saw their number shrink by four children every twenty-five years. The Damnonii tribe were absorbed into the population of newcomers, and as the centuries passed their stronghold fell into ruin, eaten up by the surrounding countryside. Their descendants were left with nothing to inherit. Nothing that is but the ghost-child and the Roman.

*

30th November 2017, Crieff, Scotland (swirling around somewhere above the town)

Marcus had long forgotten his family. Two millennia could wipe clean even the most vivid of memories. However, when he looked into the faces of the ghoul-children chasing him, something clicked.

A sister’s nose, a brother’s brow, his mother’s cheek. Mr Thomas wasn’t lying, these were all that remained of Marcus’ family. In fact they were all that remained of Marcus’ life as a living, breathing, child.

For a moment he glimpsed bracken flying below his feet as he ran from his siblings. Laughter flew from his burning lungs, he was always too fast for them. For the briefest moment he could pretend it hadn’t gone wrong. The healing had worked. The Roman never came. He was home.

His nephew’s hand grasped his shoulder with crushing strength and Marcus was torn from his memories. He turned, hoping for some recognition, some kinship in the eyes of the boy who had his shoulder. There was recognition but those black eyes showed nothing but pure, over-brimming hatred.

“…you ruined us. Our people gone. Our home gone. Our language. You replace it with this Latin garbage that he forces us to speak. You make me sick…

Marcus twisted against the boy’s grip but he held fast. The others came alongside, grabbing at their Uncle. Marcus lost his footing and came down hard. There was no pain when they struck. Then the green smoke came. It flew up his nose, filled his throat and scratched at him from the inside.

From burning itch to cold ache, Marcus strained to escape. He let himself disperse. The black cloud always felt uncomfortable but that form offered a break from the pain. He swirled with the winds, all he wanted was to get away. To go home.

He had the smallest glimpse of a stone cottage, a peat fire leaving thick, sweet, smoke to wallow out. The smell was real, the cottage, real. Then it wasn’t.

He knew it was long gone. The best he had was a memory of a memory. A ghost-image of something pure and good he had once called ‘home’.

He had a different home now. One filled with sadness and regret but with triumph too. And there was joy. Moments with friends throughout generations. Good friends, good times. For better or worse, he knew where he belonged.

There was no real reason to suppose the old school could provide him with anything special. Any secret weapon. Marcus knew that these four children couldn’t kill him (after all, he was dead already). That didn’t mean he had any plans to let them catch him again.

A huge green cloud, putrid and rotten descended on the surface of the back playground. Marcus stood his ground and looked into their lifeless eyes:

“My favourite game was always ‘tig’, though I do like a game of hide and seek if given a chance.”

The others barely had time to respond before Marcus had flipped around and disappeared into the building behind him.

They took chase but even a two second head start can make a difference if you’re a ghost.

Marcus phased through walls and floors. It was a skill he had never seen the ghoul-children perform. It took some effort on his part to do it. He wondered if the others would tire themselves out trying.

Marcus got carried away. He went through one too many walls, too quickly, and collapsed on the floor of one of the classrooms. His head swam as he pulled himself up and looked for a ‘real’ hiding place.

There was no furniture left here. The place had been stripped as they moved the school into the new building. There were one or two build-in cupboards with sliding doors left. There just weren’t any in this classroom.

Marcus dragged himself along the floor and drew himself up to stand at the door out to the hall. He moved his head slowly, letting just one eye peek out into the corridor beyond.

Barely a speck of light made it into the corridor but it was enough to see that, for now at least, Marcus was alone.

He limped alongside the wall, leaning on it for support. None of the classrooms he looked in had what he needed. In the end he had to settle for a small room beside the gym hall. It had been a host of things but the last thing Marcus remembered it being was a ‘TV room’.

Not a single window looked in on this room, with the door closed Marcus could only count on his own blue glow too see by. He couldn’t risk it giving him away though. He forced the light away. Leaving his skin a dull green-brown in the shadows of the room.

The footsteps came quicker than expected. Marcus searched his memory. Was there another way out in this room. There was a door at the back but was that a cupboard or an exit?

He tested the door. Locked. He barely had the energy to stand. There was no way he could phase through before the steps reached the door to the hallway.

The soft, brushing sound of ancient leather footwear grew closer. Marcus slid to the floor, keeping his profile flat, and waited.

If Marcus still had a heart it would be in his mouth. If he still had a pulse it would have thrummed in his ears. Instead Marcus had to endure the icy silence, with no heart or pulse to keep him company. Nothing but the ‘brush brush brush’ of the footsteps outside.

Then they stopped. Nothing but the creaks of the old building cooling in the night were left. Though the footsteps had stopped Marcus knew that the feet that made them were still very much there.

He was a ghost too. He didn’t have to move. Marcus could lie on this floor all night. That idea grew more and more appealing. So much so that Marcus was caught off guard when the door handle squeaked.

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Thanks for reading, all the best, John

Marcus: Chapter 20: Under The High Street

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

A few feet under Crieff High Street a small interconnected network of basements and tunnels grow damp with neglect. Only a portion of their rooms and corridors still used as underground storage by the town’s businesses.

If you live in a town for as long as Mr Thomas had you come to know it’s secrets. Gordon and James, along with dozens of frightened children now found themselves hidden away inside one of these ‘secrets’. Inside Mr Thomas’ forgotten labyrinth.

Gordon and James had a system going; from their two different vantage points they communicated the numbers of ghoul-children. Theo was tasked memorising the counts.

As time went on the numbers dribbled away. They stopped counting when they recognised individual ghoul-children and could tell when their faces were no longer present. Something was stopping them from coming back. But what?

Would there be some point in the small hours of the morning when they would all return at once? Theo looked to his dad:

“What do we do?”

A swirl of black smoke grouped together directly between James and his son. Marcus rounded on Theo:

“I say you stop meddling in things that don’t concern you. For starters why don’t you hand over that watch you seem so interested in.”

The boy took off his watch, leaving a white band of skin where it had lived on his wrist for years. Mickey mouse marked out the time with his gloved hands. A childish comfort, one he hadn’t noticed till it was about to go. He handed it to the thing that had been his friend.

Marcus smiled:

“I can tell you’re planning something, but really, what use could three people be against so many?”

He vanished along with the watch.

*

Marcus materialised outside another room. One that Theo and the others knew nothing about. He unlocked the door, heaved it against decades of built up dirt and peered inside. The door opening awakened a flurry of movement inside the room. Nicky’s voice broke through the darkness:

“Marcus? Is that you? What’s going on?”

Marcus looked back at her, blank eyes nestled in a placid face glowing corpse-green. Taz jumped in:

“Did he get them?”

Marcus nodded. Taz shifted his position, sitting cross legged on the old floor:

“Is it time?”

Marcus shook his head:

“Soon. First I need her.”

He pointed at Willow, Theo and Harry’s mum. Her eyes widened, she mouthed ‘No’ over and over, backing into the corner. Marcus held up Theo’s watch:

“Your son will be safe so long as you do absolutely everything I ask you to do. No fuss. No shouting. Just do it.”

She walked towards the ghost-boy and inspected the watch:

“You’ve got my son? You’ve got Theo?”

Marcus nodded slowly:

“You do one thing and he’ll be safe.”

She thought back to the strength of those tiny hands grasping her ankles. In the pitch dark of this dingy old room Marcus’s glow hurt her eyes. Something told her this boy was considerably more powerful than the others she had met. This was not the time to stand and fight, this was the time to save her child. She didn’t nod but her sigh told Marcus everything he needed to know:

“Good. I need you to go to the golf-course. Find Tash and her kids and tell her this exactly; ‘Get in the car. Everyone will be safe once you’re in the driving seat.’ You understand I want you to tell her that exactly?”

Willow nodded and repeated her phrase. With a nod from Marcus she was on her way.

Marcus looked back at the couple standing by the door:

“How many are in here now?”

Nicky shook her head, tears in her eyes:

“Twenty. Twenty terrified children. This is the first you’ve even stopped to say anything. Why do you need so many? This is monstrous!”

Marcus’ smile was full of pity:

“There are so many more Nicky. I’ll bring some to you. Comfort them. You’ll be good at that. Their time in this place will be over soon enough.”

Thick swells of tears rolled down the woman’s face. Her husband looked at Marcus with a face like marble. Every muscle tensed to keep from showing the slightest hint of emotion.

Marcus shook his head:

“I just wish it didn’t have to be this way.”

*

Daniel ducked into a small bush as another police car drove past. Beth (the ghost-girl) squeezed in beside him. Her skin was cold but she smelled good; like home-made soup and biscuits.

She looked better too. Less green. Her cheeks were growing pink and her eyes, though still black as night, at least looked more healthy. She smiled and took his hand:

“Come and see this.”

They walked along the street a little more then stopped. Beth looked at the door of a small ground-floor flat:

“…This was my Granny’s house. The week daddy went to fight the Jerries we stayed with her. Mummy was sad. We had loads of home-made soup and played checkers. I never did find out if daddy made it back.”

Daniel wanted to help his new friend:

“I’m sure we could check. Maybe we could sneak into the library. Or a graveyard.”

He regretted the last bit instantly as he discovered that ghosts can cry. Beth let go of his hand:

“…I’m not sure I’d feel better either way. Whatever happened, I wasn’t there. I never saw him again. Not after…”

Daniel tried to understand what the girl was going through. It was impossible. He held out his hand to her again. Her ice-cold fingers wrapped in his. He smiled:

“I can take you to the park instead if you like. Do you think it’ll be the same as when you were still…”

Beth smiled:

“…it’s OK. It’s strange for me too. Yes, the park sounds lovely. As long as it has swings. I liked the swings.”

They talked about school. About films and books. Favourite foods. How brilliant grannies are. How weird it was that Beth was older than Daniel’s granny. They laughed about friends and teachers, how different they were but also how much they’ve stayed the same too.

They went on the roundabout, had a go on the see-saw, went down the slide a few times, but mostly they sat on the swings talking. Talking and holding hands.

Daniel didn’t spot the black smoke until it was growing together in front of them. It formed into legs and then a full body. Marcus stepped towards Beth:

“Beth. It’s time, they’re getting to your bones now. I hope you know how sorry I am.”

Beth stood up, letting go of Daniel’s hand. She walked to Marcus and hugged him:

“…I know Marcus. I know.”

Marcus turned to smoke again, drifting off on the wind. Beth made her way back to Daniel, standing in front of his swing. He got up. She put her tiny icy arms around him:

“Do you still have it?” Daniel nodded.“…good, I hope you don’t need it. Daniel, I would like to thank you. Thank you for the nicest night I’ve had in seventy-five years.”

She leaned into his shoulder, gripping him even tighter. Her face moved closer to his. He felt the cold touch of her cheek as it brushed against his own, then two icy lips pressed on his. Beth was blushing when she moved back:

“You know that was my first…”

Beth was gone.

Daniel looked up. He was alone. The park had felt so comfortable just a few moments before. It wasn’t where he was supposed to be any more. He made his way to his friends.

*

Marcus was on borrowed time. That became abundantly clear when he dug into the bag, through the rocks he’d filled it with, in search of the last four sets of bones. They weren’t there. If he made any more noise Mr Thomas would hear.

A thread on the bag came unhitched.

Rocks scattered across the floor.

Every sound in the room stopped. Mr Thomas hauled himself out of bed:

“What have you done!? Another of your sneak tactics. Can’t follow orders. No wonder we Romans decimated your kind. Backwards, no foresight. You can’t see how good we could have it.”

Theo and the others watched on as Mr Thomas gripped a small parcel in his hands. Ragged old sheets of tartan. More ancient than any cloth they had ever seen. Marcus dropped to his knees, tears in his eyes:

“What now?”

Mr Thomas scanned the room:

“Your friend there. His energy was to be mine. Too good for that I guess. I will show him some charity. I will not use his son’s energy for my great transformation. Go over there and set the boy free.”

James was lost. What was the man doing? Marcus undid the ropes binding Theo. The boy grinned at his dad and thanked Marcus.

Mr Thomas smiled:

“Such a polite boy. Clearly a good friend to have.”

Marcus waited, he knew what was coming. Mr Thomas’s voice grew higher, quivering with joy:

“…but, that is your weakness Marcus. It’s what gets in your way. Ever lonely. You can’t help but get attached. I will help you cut out that weakness.”

The old man grasped the remains of Marcus’ kilt. The last thing he had to remember his mother. The only memory he could still hold on to. Mr Thomas cleared his throat, forcing the excitement down a notch:

“Kill him Marcus. I don’t want his energy. Just kill the boy.”

Marcus straightened up, like a puppet on strings and reached for one of the ropes on the floor. His walk became laboured, as though fighting his orders. Theo backed away but Marcus herded him in the direction of the old man.

Marcus raised the rope, preparing to strike, ignoring the sounds of James tearing at his restraints, almost lifting an old iron radiator straight off the wall. He looked at Theo, then at the old man:

“No!”

He leapt for Mr Thomas’s throat, wrapping the cord around his neck and dragging him to the ground. The man bucked against him, squealing like a farm animal. The tartan fell to the ground and a cascade of stones spilled out, falling underfoot and making the old man slip.

Marcus rummaged through the old man’s clothes and found what he needed. Tied to Mr Thomas’s waist was a large bag.

Marcus dispersed into smoke. A thick slashing sound filled the air. Marcus unveiling a power none of them has seen before. The slashing sliced against the old man’s clothing, ripping shreds from him. The bag fell unnoticed on the floor beneath them.

Mr Thomas laughed:

“Nothing you do can hurt me. I may be old but you can’t so much as scratch my flesh. You can’t break my bones. What’s more…”

He gestured in the direction of his four motionless ‘body-guards’:

“These four are our oldest members. Perhaps you recognise them. Your nephews. Your nieces. The last of your clan, your tribe…whatever you savages called yourselves. They came to help and instead you fed them to me. My first meal. They are eager to see you pay for what you did. They need no orders.”

Sure enough the four ghoul-children beside the bed grinned, glad to finally have their chance with Marcus. They stretched and swatted at the black cloud Marcus had become. It did nothing.

They stopped their hand waving. Green smoke dribbled from their arms and into Marcus. Mr Thomas laughed again:

“…bet you didn’t know they could do that.”

Marcus, in his smoke, screamed in agony. The cloud clumped together, and his body collapsed to the ground. The ghoul-children sped towards him but he regained his senses in time.

He ran for the door and the last of the ghoul-children continued in pursuit.

Mr Thomas dusted himself off, crouching to draw himself off of the floor. James and Gordon landed on him with their full weight. He pushed against them but more hands and fists joined the fight as dozens of children forced the man down.

His arms and legs were tied and he was dragged to another room. A huge iron safe lay open in the corner. His strength was no match for the legion of fists and feet forcing him into the safe. They locked him in and threw away the key.

Keep up with the story

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 19: Count the Ghosts

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

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

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

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’.

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Thanks for reading, all the best, John