Category Archives: Marcus (12+ only)

Marcus: Chapter 9: 25 Years Later

Unedited forest image by Jerald Jackson, titled 'after you.....'

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)

1st November 2017

Harry and Theo followed their dad out of the school gate. He had gone really quiet since they told him about the new boy.

Theo wandered off ahead leaving his dad to catch up. He moved to catch up with a couple of his friends then he saw it. Halloween had already been and gone, so why was there someone in the trees wearing a mask? Then he realised; masks don’t blink.

His pulse pounded in his ears, swishing like waves. He ran back to get his dad. When he looked back the face was gone. Theo knew his dad would just say it was his imagination, but he didn’t. His face went pale.

Theo wanted to talk about it. His dad didn’t. They were marched away from the school at a pace so fast that little Harry had to run behind in bursts to keep up.

*

Theo jumped on the computer as soon as he got home. He went to a favourite video and scrolled to the comments. It was one of the easiest ways to keep in touch with his friends, they’d been using this one for weeks.

None of them had a phone yet (despite constant requests) so for now this was their version of messaging one another. He started simply:

“Did anyone see anything weird outside school just now?”

He could be waiting for an answer for a while, there was no way of knowing whether his friends had got his message. He browsed around other web sites for a while then plugged in his headphones and had a go on his newest game. He forgot he had notifications switched on for the notice board.

BING

The notification sound lost him the game. He would have been upset but he had to know what that thing was in the bushes. Was it just his imagination?

A couple of his friends had logged in; Daniel and Andrew. Andrew was football obsessed at school but at home he was never off the computer. Daniel was just happy to chat, he was always happy to chat. It was easier on the ears here actually (at school Daniel didn’t have much of an ‘inside voice’).

They both lived nearer the school than Theo so he hoped they’d been in less of a rush as they went past. Maybe they even knew who was wearing the mask.

Andrew hadn’t seen anything. Daniel remembered seeing something move but it had been too dark to see what it was. He said he could check on his new telescope, messaged them ‘brb’ (be right back).

While they waited, Andrew asked Theo more about the face. He was convinced it was just a high school kid in one of those special custom masks you could get made online.

Their conversation fell into talking about how cool it would be to have one of those masks (some of them could even smile and move their eyebrows). Theo couldn’t help thinking ‘…but I’ve never heard of one that could blink.’

Original by 'Anton' Titled 'The Steel Cage'

Daniel was back. His message was surprisingly short (at least for Daniel): “Saw the face. Need to go see more closely.”

The others messaged back frantically, telling him he was nuts. Even if it was just a high school kid doing a prank it still wasn’t worth sneaking down there. There was no reply. Andrew said he’d go up to his bedroom and watch Daniel from his window. He’d message back on his tablet.

Theo grabbed a glass of water to fight off the dry feeling in his throat.

By the time Andrew had added a quick ‘OK I can see him’, Theo had drank so much water his stomach was making ‘sloshing’ sounds.

Andrew kept adding a progress report in short messages:

“He’s walking towards the trees.”

“He’s standing still, crouching down for a better view.”

“He’s standing back up. Like ‘stand up straight’ the way they get us to do in school.”

“Someone coming.”

“It’s a kid. About our age.”

“That’s not a kid!!! Its face isn’t right. What is that?!”

There wasn’t another message. For a second Theo wondered if this was just a prank. Daniel would definitely do something like this. Then again Andrew hated pranks. Even on April fools day Andrew never joined in. Theo ran out of options. The dry throat was back but he was cold too. Really cold:

“Dad!!!!?”

He yelled down the stairs.

“DAD!!! Come up and read this! Please!”

His dad ran up the stairs. He read through the comments in moments then held his head in his hands:

“Get your coat now.”

*

Theo’s dad rocketed down the road and skidded to a halt outside Daniel’s.

Theo wasn’t sure if he was supposed to stay in the car or not. Since his dad hadn’t said one way or the other he opted to follow him to the front door.

Daniel’s mum took a while to answer. Theo tried to tell her about the messages and the faces but his dad interrupted before she thought they were nuts.:

“Is Daniel here? Theo needs to check something with him.”

Daniel’s mum wandered into the house and shouted him. There was no answer. She rolled her eyes:

“Probably has his headphones on. Wait a sec, I’ll go see.”

She ignored Theo and his dad when she came back, she just kept yelling Daniel’s name. Her distress growing and growing.

Andrew’s mum appeared from their house next door:

“Ashleigh, is everything OK? I could hear you shouting from the kitchen.”

Theo’s dad jumped, yelling right at Andrew’s mum:

“Tash! It’s happening again. He’s back.”

Tash looked at her old friend. Her face transformed from confusion to horror:

“Marcus?…”

*

Andrew’s mum ran back into her house shouting Andrew’s name. His big sister appeared, her eyes never leaving her phone:

“I think he went round the back. Said something about Daniel.”

Theo’s dad and Andrew’s mum ran round the back of the house chanting ‘no no no no no no…”

Theo ran after them. There was a hole in the fence that led to the high school playing fields. Beyond that Theo could see the group of trees and bushes where the face had been.

Andrew was walking towards them, like he was in some sort of trance. Theo searched the trees for signs of Daniel.

Way in the distance he could just make out two dark shapes walking out to the farmland out past Broich road.

He ran to his dad to tell him but when they looked back the shapes were gone.

Tash tackled her son to the ground and gripped him tight as he struggled to crawl off in the direction of the fields.

No one made a sound Andrew’s sister Louise stuck her phone in her jeans and slid through the fence. Somewhere far behind her someone started to whistle a little song. It cut through the cold night air and seemed to carry that ice into Theo’s insides. Both adults froze in place.

*

Louise interrupted the weirdness:

“What’s going on? Why’s mum holding Andrew on the grass?”

Photo © Basher Eyre (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Theo didn’t really have answers. He didn’t need them though. Andrew’s mum heaved Andrew into a standing position. She’d clearly made a decision:

“We’re going to the school. I won’t let him do all this again.”

Theo’s dad nodded in agreement and helped her to get Andrew moving. Andrew did not look great. Louise could see that much:

“Mum, Andrew doesn’t look right. He looks like he needs a doctor. How’s going to the school going to help?”

Tash didn’t even look back:

“Trust me. It’s the only thing that will.”

Keep up with the story

Click this link for Chapter 10: Hiding from Lifeless Eyes

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 8: Borrowed Time

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 didn’t make a sound, she didn’t struggle against the cold, iron, grip on her wrists. Inside she was screaming and writhing but she needed Marcus to think she was coming along willingly. Tash desperately hunted for any chance to get away. The slightest release of his hold would do. His grip didn’t relax a bit.

They passed the gates of the golf-course. Grip still tight. They followed the long steep hill all the way back to the square. Grip still tight. They followed the hill down to the school (even passing the police station on the way). Grip still tight.

Tash wondered for a second whether she should yell out at the police station but she would rather be free and silent than loud and risk being dragged away with no hope of escape.

This strategy didn’t pay off. She knew that much as Marcus hauled her through the front door of the school.

The school door was open! That was different. They had passed police cars outside. Could the police be somewhere in the building?

Marcus somehow snuffed out electric lights everywhere they went. There wasn’t a moment of hesitation as he progressed through the front of the building, past the stairs, and into the boiler room.

Marcus was holding Tash’s wrist so tight that her hand was purple. She couldn’t feel her fingers any more. With his free hand Marcus closed the door as quietly as possible and locked it from the inside. The key safely tucked into his pocket.

Next came the descent into the rooms below. Tash was allowed to have use of her hand again but it was so numb that it served little purpose except as a lump of flesh and bone she used to steady herself as she climbed down the ladder.

There was only one positive that Tash could think of; there had been no sign of Mr Thomas. This didn’t seem to slow Marcus down at all:

“Walk faster, you’re going to want to be sitting down when it happens.”

This left Tash cold. What was ‘it’? Why would she need to sit down?

Strands of electric cables lay twisted on the floor in front of them. Tash hadn’t seen her sister tied up but she knew enough to realise they had just passed the spot where she had been earlier:

“Where are you taking me? Where are the others?”

Marcus didn’t even slow down his walking as he hurried her along further:

“They’ll be below by now.”

He heaved a grease-stained oak bookcase to one side with no effort whatsoever and led Tash into a small room behind.

Cut into the floor was a spiral staircase. Tash leaned against the tubular walls as they descended. The rough stone offering the comfort of something solid. Something real.

A surprising number of steps led them into the middle of a tiny room. Tash could just make out the shapes of three children huddled in a corner gathered around a small battery-powered torch.

Marcus stopped on the bottom step:

“Where is he? Did he go upstairs?”

James turned and looked up at them, straining his eyes against the light flowing down from the open stairwell:

“He left ages ago. What are you going to do to us?”

Marcus sat down on the step:

“Nothing. At least that’s what I hope. With any luck he’s been taken by the police and you’ll just need to wait here until 3am. After that I’ll be gone and you can head upstairs for help.”

He took the key and placed it on the floor in front of him. The others didn’t even try to grab it. They knew there was no point. Nicky croaked in the corner:

“Marcus? What do you mean you won’t be here?”

“Every quarter century, for whatever reason, I get to be a kid. A solid, real-looking child. I make friends. I go to school. Then he comes along and takes them, uses them to stay alive for another twenty-five years. After it’s done I disappear. I lose my solid form. I sort of float in and out of existence for the next twenty-five years.”

Marcus was quiet for a long time. He looked up at the four friends with tears in his eyes:

“If he doesn’t come back tonight then this might be the end. I might never have to do that to anyone again. I might get some rest.”

Nicky jumped in:

“…but doesn’t that mean you’ll…”

She didn’t want to say ‘die’ but everyone knew what she meant. Marcus laughed:

“I’ve been dead for two-thousand years. Maybe now I can start acting like it.”

3am watch on stone floor

Among them only Tash had a watch. She took it off and sat it on the floor between them all. Taz pointed the torch at it. It was two minutes till three. In silence they watched for the seconds to tick down.

Taz coughed, making the others jump:

“Marcus, I enjoyed playing tig with you. You’re really fast. It was fun. (You know before you captured us and planned to sacrifice us to keep a janitor’s assistant alive and everything).”

The seconds ticked away to their freedom and Marcus’ destruction. Five…four…three…two…one…

Nothing happened. Marcus was still there and so were they. They grinned among themselves. Then Tash frowned:

“It’s actually set a bit fast. It’s only a few minutes…”

Blue light flashed out of Marcus and a damp cold feeling clawed at the four friends. They had never felt more tired. As they collapsed to the floor Marcus stood up in his luminous glory and screamed:

“No!!!!! This wasn’t supposed to happen. He isn’t here this time. I thought I’d fixed it. I’m so sorry. So, so sorry.”

*

A few hundred meters away. In a cell in the police station a tiny stream of blue light crept in through the window and disappeared into Mr Thomas. He caught his breath:

“Not as much as usual Marcus. Quite disappointing really, but it’ll have to do.”

He looked in the mirror. A face of brown leather, surrounded by snow white hair, scowled back at him. He was old but he was alive. For now.

*

James woke up in his bed at home with no memory of getting there. His dad slumped forward, perched on the end of the bed. He jerked awake at the sound of James:

“Finally! We’ve been so worried. The four of you were so ill when they found you. Are you OK? Can you remember anything?”

James’ throat was painfully dry. His dad had to help him take a sip of water before he could speak:

“What about the others? Taz? Nicky? Tasha? Are they OK? Is Marcus?”

His dad sighed and shook his head:

“I’m really sorry to say this but they still haven’t found him. We don’t know what Mr Thomas did with him but it’s not looking promising.”

“The others are the same as you. Been ill and sleeping for weeks. You managed to sleep your way to the Christmas holidays!”

James got up and put his slippers on. His dad helped him down to the living room. Long phone calls told him that his friends were awake too. Everything was going to be OK.

***

1st November 2017

James hurried towards the school. He was supposed to be picking up the kids right now but he was still five minutes away. Time had never been on his side. For as long as he could remember it felt like someone had set up his internal clock a bit wrong. Like some of his time was missing.

Tash streaked past him on her way to pick up her two. There was nothing quite like seeing a school friend with kids to make you feel old. They exchanged an eye-roll of mutual understanding and she vanished into the crowd of parents.

James was almost at the gate, running past the bushes when he saw something that made his stomach lurch. It couldn’t be…

I altered this picture original here https://www.flickr.com/photos/74568665@N03/11932361453

A pale, green, face gazed out from the bushes to his left. Black eyes reflected the street lights that lit the way into the new school. Then they were gone.

He’d allowed himself to consider it some childish story; something they had made up to explain what had happened to them. Sometimes he’d get flashbacks like this and remember the truth.

He hunted through the thinning crowd for Tash but she had already gone. His boys raced towards him. Theo (his eldest) was jumping around as usual:

“What kept you so long?”

James tried not to think about the face in the bushes. He tried to hide his discomfort by acting as normally as possible. He apologised for being late and asked how their day was. Harry (his youngest) jumped in:

“Theo has a new boy in his class. He’s really fast, hardly anyone can catch him when we play tig.”

James was relieved to be talking about something normal:

“So what’s the new boy’s name.”

Theo and Harry replied in unison:

“He’s called Marcus.”

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

Click here to skip on to Chapter 9

Marcus: Chapter 7: Impossible choices

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)

Did the ghouls have the same powers as Marcus? Tash took an educated guess that they didn’t. After all, if they could why wouldn’t Mr Thomas have used them as his own freakish army?

Tash wasn’t ready to take any risks. She dropped to the ground, crawling in what Taz called ‘commando style’ along the wet grass. She shimmied between hedges and other cover until the stones were almost at running distance.

To her left was a small group of ghoul-children watching the golf-course gates with empty eyes. To her right was a single girl, and she was looking right at Tash.

Tash leapt from the ground as the girl pointed in her direction and let out a dry, unearthly, shriek. The other ghouls turned at the sound and marched in her direction.

In every direction all that Tash could see was ancient children. Each a ghostly copy of the sort of a picture you’d see in a museum. They closed around her leaving nothing but a small gap, on the other side was the stone circle. The gap closed shut and then came the whistle from the direction of town.

For a fraction of a moment the ghouls looked up to search for Marcus. Tash took her chance and lunged between the ghouls who had closed the gap.

The smell was putrid, like rotting vegetables and stagnant water. Marcus smelled weird but not unpleasant. The smell of these things hung around in her nose as she pelted her way towards the stone circle.

Deep breaths of rotten air fuelled her last few strides. She flung herself onto the nearest rock. Her wrist gave a hollow ‘crack’ as she landed but she barely noticed the pain. She was safe. Even better; the others were safe.

*

Marcus drifted down towards her, landing just feet away, clearly reluctant to go any further:

“It’s not the witching hour quite yet. He sent me to get you. Insisted that there is still time. He said to tell you that if you aren’t there on time he’ll kill them.”

Tash looked at Marcus like he was crazy:

“He was going to kill them anyway! At least if I stay here he doesn’t get what he wanted.”

Marcus nodded:

“The ritual doesn’t exactly ‘kill’ them but I know what you mean. It’s not much of a life is it.”

He gestured towards the ghouls surrounding them. Their quiet moans carried perfectly in the icy night air. A blasting wail shattered the quiet as three police cars flew down the road beside them illuminating the stones in pulsing blue.

Despite the shock their presence was a comfort to Tash and a grin crossed her face:

“I don’t think Mr Thomas will be doing anything to them now.”

She checked her watch: 2:45 am. They had made it with time to spare. The police would have heard about Taz’s screams. They would be investigating right now. Tash’s parents might even have read the note she had left on her bed. It was over:

“So what do you do now? If Mr Thomas is arrested there’s no reason to get us all together in the school at three. Out of interest, why do you always do this in the school?”

Marcus grew blurry, his form drifting apart as he grew lost in concentration. His answer was half hearted, his thoughts focussed on something else:

“It’s not the school exactly. Mr Thomas made sure that one of these stones was dug up and used in the construction of the school. Along with it they took a large amount of soil. I was buried in that soil. The school was built using my grave.”

Marcus’ real form had been bad enough to look at before. Now that Tash knew his body was buried somewhere, there was something somehow more unnatural about him. Something hollow. He paced in a circle around the stones, stopping every now and then to steal a glance at the golf club gates:

“Ah, there we are. I sent some of the others on a little errand. She’s younger than what we normally use but she should make a decent replacement.”

In the distance Tash could make out a tiny girl in rainbow pyjamas, her eyes red from crying. Two ghoul-children led her towards Marcus:

“Sorry Tash. I really am. I have orders to have four children in the school before 3am and if you won’t come I’ll have to use James’ little sister.”

Tash could feel the bile rising in her throat. It was over. The police would have Mr Thomas by now. Why was Marcus carrying this on? She screamed at him in rage, fighting back her own tears. His face hung long, his brow furrowed, as he struggled with something inside:

“Tash, I’m sorry. I want to do things differently but I can’t. It has to be like this. I always do as instructed. I have no choice. Now, make things easier and come with me to the school. We can leave James’ sister here at the stones so you know she’ll be safe.”

Tash’s moment of victory dissolved into nothing. Her throat ached, she tried to swallow but she had no saliva. Tash’s voice creaked as she stood up from the stones and tried to comfort the frightened girl:

“It’s OK. I know these people are scary but those stones are magic. The bad people can’t get you if you’re there. Sit on that rock and scream.”

James’ sister rushed for the stones and planted herself down on a mossy patch. Tash looked at Marcus. His black eyes told her nothing. She hoped her own eyes could hide things as easily. It wasn’t fair, she could reach the stones in two or three long strides from here.

She could reach the stones! Why was she walking towards Marcus? To keep a promise that meant her and three others would be turned into ghoulish shadows of themselves? No thanks! She kept her face as straight as possible and braced herself for the leap back to the stones.

As her leg muscles bunched a ring of cold and wet closed around her wrist with unyielding power:

“Good try Tash but I’m afraid we really must go. We have an appointment to keep.”

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

*

Click here to read on to Marcus: Chapter 8: Borrowed Time

Marcus: Chapter 6: Stone Circle

I altered this picture original here https://www.flickr.com/photos/74568665@N03/11932361453

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)

A pair of black eyes sparkled in the moonlight as Marcus barred their way through the bushes. Taz grabbed Tash’s hand, preparing to run. Marcus simply shook his head then gently held a finger to his lips.

He beaconed them to come closer. Neither of them wanted anything to do with that idea but they knew they had little choice.

They took three tiny steps towards him. He looked barely human and his breath smelled like an old peat bog (earthy, damp, and cold). He whispered so quietly they could barely hear him:

“I need this to stop. He has me bound by dark magic. I have to do what he tells me. He uses me to stay young, to stay alive. He’ll use you too. I’ve been doing this for so long I can’t even remember my own name. He called me ‘Marcus’. Those Romans claimed everything by naming it. I can tell you how to stop it though.”

Roman’s? Dark magic? What was he talking about? Nothing about Marcus made any sense. At least he seemed to be helping them. It was their only choice.

Taz and Tash looked at each other. Without saying a word they knew what they were going to do, turning back to face Marcus they both gave him a sharp nod.

*

Meanwhile, in the school, Mr Thomas had re-tied Nicky and used an old belt to tie James to a pipe in a different part of the basement. They couldn’t see each other from where they were. Trying to shout back and forth resulted in Mr Thomas bashing on the old pipes with a hammer with a clang that made their teeth rattle.

He slumped down to sit on the floor on a grubby spot that they could both see:

“You know, it’s really quite odd. I don’t choose. He doesn’t choose. The strange thing is, I need four and that’s always what turns up in the end. It’s like the universe is telling me something.”

For a tiny, fleeting, moment, a look of regret passed over his face. James watched in hope. Would he let them go? Had he changed his mind? (James didn’t want to imagine what he was changing his mind about). Mr Thomas wiped sweat from his brow, pulled himself back up to a standing position, and grunted in frustration:

“What’s keeping that boy? We only have a few hours left!”

*

The Marcus-shaped creature sat down in the cold leaves inside the bush. He patted the dirt, beaconing Taz and Tash to sit with him:

“He made a mistake this time though. All he told me was to get you back to the school before the witching hour. It’s not much time but it should be enough.”

“I am a Pict. When I was ten years old I was taken miles from home to a healer here. He took me to their healing circle but in the middle of his magic he was interrupted by a small band of Roman soldiers carrying their wounded leader. They dropped him beside me and the magic linked us.”

“It destroyed me. Turned me into this. But the commander healed, he grew stronger and, as we both discovered later, he became immortal.”

Tash frowned:

“But that would make you?…”

“Almost two-thousand years old, yes. Look, we don’t have time for questions. Mr Thomas is the Roman. He will stay alive forever so long as he can drain the energy from children. Like he did with me. Like he has done every quarter century since.

“You need to go to the stones. They built a golf course around them, to the East of the town. The stones can undo this mistake. He can’t follow you there and he can’t complete the ritual with only two of you.”

Taz got up and prepared to run:

“Sounds good to me. Tash are you ready?”

“I’m not sure. I want to make sure my sister will be safe. Can you promise that?”

Marcus shook his head:

“I’m afraid I can’t. I have no choice but to do whatever he asks. I will do everything I can though.”

His black eyes closed, his brow furrowed:

“There’s one more thing. I think you misunderstood. I can’t just let you leave. I have my orders. I need to take you back to the school now. My advice is to find any chance you get and run for those stones. Even if only one of you makes it, that might be enough.”

Tash and Taz looked at him with unblinking eyes. How were they supposed to get away from him? Marcus stood up and a cloud of shadow grew from inside him. He spread out until all they could see was a greenish-black face and cold black eyes:

“What are you waiting for? RUN!”

His final word shook them out of their fear. Their legs thundered away. Getting to the golf course was almost all uphill but neither of them slowed, there was no choice but to run.

They couldn’t see Marcus any more but they could feel that he was near. Every now and then the smell of peat and damp would swirl past them along with the slightest whistling.

Marcus wasn’t allowed to go easy on them; as Taz found out half way along the High Street.

He had lost track of Tash and was dodging past a group of teenagers sitting around a bench in the square when he was slammed to the ground from the side. Even through his jacket he could tell the pavement had scraped his back badly.

The teenagers ran over to see if he was OK. Taz looked up and saw a group of concerned faces and beyond that a black cloud, growing thicker.

The whistling started again, along with a voice:

“I’ll take it from here.”

When the teenagers turned and saw the swirling black mist behind them it was all too much. A couple of them tried to pull Taz up and help him but his leg was hurt. He couldn’t walk.

As the mist grew together into the distorted form of Marcus they gave up entirely and ran. Marcus leaned over Taz:

“I am sorry Taz. You’re the fastest too. I need to take you to the school now. I hope you understand.”

A steep hill led down from the square to the school. It wasn’t a short trip and Marcus dragged Taz kicking and screaming all the way to the school gates.

*

Tash had seen Taz streaming ahead of her and knew there was no way she could keep up. She would only get one chance; Marcus was clearly going after the fastest of them. She would have to choose her moment exactly.

She kept an even distance from Taz until the square. His fall took her by surprise but she was quick to respond.

While Marcus dragged her friend kicking and screaming down King Street Tash ran in the opposite direction. Up one of the steepest hills in town.

Her legs burned and her lungs spluttered as they were filled with piercing cold. She couldn’t stop. This was for her friends. This was for her sister.

She knew if she let her legs rest. If she stopped even for a few seconds. She would never be able to start again.

Doubts popped into her head. Why was she trusting a Pictish mould-ghost (or whatever Marcus was)? She had never heard of this ‘stone circle’, what was it supposed to do? They were just rocks after all. How could they do anything to help real flesh-and-blood people?

She had let the doubts shake her, slow her down. Her attention had wandered and she took a false step onto the road, slamming down hard and jarring her leg.

There was no time to deal with the pain. No time for anything. She breathed in another deep lungful of the torturous icy air. Gritted her teeth, and continued her run, now in the middle of the road.

The doubts started slipping around in her mind again, knocking against each other and popping up in little groups.

One question came up more often than any other. It was the hardest to dismiss as well: How was she supposed to find the right stones?

The answer was so much worse than she could imagine. As she reached the gates to the golf course she found the grass populated with dozens of glowing children. Ghoulish green shapes, all with the same black eyes as Marcus. They wore such a collection of odd clothing that one thing was clear. These were the children who had come before. Two-thousand years of victims (or what was left of them).

None of them had seen her yet but she they were looking. Far beyond the walking ghouls one patch of ground seemed less popular. It was hard to see, even in the moonlight, but Tash was almost certain she could make out the shape of a small circle of rocks a few hundred feet from where she was.

Towards the centre of town she heard police sirens. A lot of them. She was almost out of time.

Keep up with the story

You can click here to read on to Chapter 7: Impossible Choices.

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.

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Thanks for reading, all the best, John

Marcus: Chapter 5: The Boiler Room

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)

The boys scrambled for the door. Taz stuffed the keys in his pocket as he went. That thing had Marcus’ voice. Was it Marcus? It certainly didn’t look anything like Marcus!

This was no time for questions. It was time for running. Like they’d seen on every scary movie, in every scary book, the boys ran for the stairs. They ran for higher ground, even though all it could do was trap them.

They raced for the top floor. The corridors were wider there. That part of the building was newer. If they ran that way they could take the second set of stairs, double back onto the floor below and make a second attempt at getting into the boiler room.

Taz was determined not to leave his friend behind again:

“James, come on! It’s easier if you take the steps two at a time. Trust me.”

James copied Taz’s leaping run up the stairs. Sure enough they got up faster than he would have believed possible. His fear of tripping pushed firmly to one side in the face of his fear of the thing behind them. They raced through the top corridor, barging through the door at the end, just as the door they had just come through creaked open.

Marcus poked his head round with a grin. He yelled something after them but they didn’t stick around to find out what it was. They took the other stairs in jumps. James wasn’t even sure if his feet were hitting the ground. Nothing about this felt safe but it was better to risk a twisted ankle than wait around for Marcus to get them.

They came out at the very back of the school. At the far end of a very old corridor. The walls were arched and it smelled of bleach from the gym hall toilets. They ran on and turned into the big stairwell again. Leaping down steps without counting.

Taz ran ahead and grabbed the keys out of his pocket. There were dozens of them.

He skipped the tiny ones and the huge old iron ones and tried the most likely sizes and shapes. As the keys rattled against the door he was sure he could hear movement from behind it, and a girl’s voice!

Something wasn’t right though. The girl’s voice was muffled more than it should be. Taz slid key after key into the lock until finally, with a satisfying ‘click’ he found one that worked.

Taz flung the door open to find a darkened room, not much bigger than a store cupboard. He turned on the light. The room was empty; Nicky wasn’t here.

James came in to see why Taz was taking so long:

“Where is she?”

A tiny, echoing, voice came from below:

“I’m down here!”

At the far end of the room the boys spotted a ladder leading down to a level below. To rescue their friend they would need to climb under the school. Marcus would be here any minute.

In a rush of inspiration Taz leapt for the door and slammed it shut. He grabbed the key and locked them in:

“This way he won’t know we’re here yet.”

There was a lot of space under the school. A lot more than they expected. More in fact than there would ever need to be. James started to wonder if this underground bit was older than the school.

He and Taz got back to the task at hand:

“Nicky? Nicky are you here? We’ve come to get you, we need to take you home.”

A muffled cry from a small cupboard nearby told them everything they needed to know. A strip of old electrical cable linked her right ankle to one of the heating pipes. She looked up with a face covered in muck and sweat.

Up till that point the boys hadn’t wanted to believe that this was real. Neither of them had imagined Nicky like this. Nicky had to shake them out of it:

“Please! Help me!”

They leapt forward and started working on the knots. The plastic coating on the cables slipped as they pulled at it. The seconds ticked by with the sound of their own heartbeat pulsing in their ears.

Marcus would figure it out quickly. They had locked him out but he could be waiting for them by the door when they came back up.

Nicky wobbled as she walked, her sleeping legs waking up as she moved them. The boys grabbed an arm each and helped her along to the stepladder. At that point she was on her own. They couldn’t pull her up so she forced her legs to move, despite agonising pins and needles.

The boys let her climb up first, shuffling from foot to foot as they suppressed the urge to ask Nicky to hurry up. Finally she reached the top and James and Taz hauled themselves up to join her.

There was no way of knowing what might meet them on the other side of the door. James pointed out that the longer they waited the more likely it would be that they would find Marcus there.

Taz pressed his ear up against the door, sticking his tongue out as he concentrated:

“I can’t hear anything…”

The door handle turned.

*

Taz scurried along the floor on all fours, putting as much distance between himself and the door as possible. James and Nicky grabbed him by his shoulders and pulled him towards them.

A metallic scraping sound came from the other side of the door. A huge clump of keys clicking against the handle. No other sound could be heard as a key clicked gently into the lock and produced a tiny ‘squeak’ as it opened the door.

A huge shape filled the open door. The lights in the stairway had been turned on leaving the figure’s face in shadow. As he stepped forward the three friends finally felt able to breathe. Mr Thomas, assistant janitor and saviour of the hour, gaped at them:

“What on earth are you all doing here?”

He stepped closer to them, frowning:

“Marcus was supposed to keep you tied up!”

They had seconds to digest what Mr Thomas was saying. Taz was the first to respond. Heaving his friends up he hauled them with all his might to speed past the man and leap through the open door.

They held hands tight and ran as one, slipping a little on the freshly polished floor, bumping into corners.

Mr Thomas poked his head out of the boiler room:

“Marcus! We have an escape attempt!”

A greenish-black shape blurred past them and took the shape of a ten year old boy:

“I really am sorry but I can’t let you leave.”

There was something odd about Marcus’ expression, somehow he really did seem sorry. All the same he clearly intended to keep them there.

The trio launched themselves right at him, knocking him to one side as they made for the door. They remembered too late that this wasn’t the way they’d come in. Nicky fiddled with the lock, no key just a twist catch. As soon as they heard the ‘click’ all three of them flung the door open and ran out into the night.

They made directly for the gate but the greenish-black shape was back. This time, away from the lights in the school, Marcus didn’t look at all like himself. Black eyes blinked at them from behind pale green eyelids.

The three friends stepped back from the creature in front of them. In his fright Taz let go of James’ hand. A gust of wind threw him aside and he heard the words ‘Tig! I got you!” hiding inside the wind’s howl.

Taz pulled himself up and found the playground deserted. James, Nicky, even Marcus. All gone.

For a fleeting moment he considered running back into the school. There was nothing he could do. He needed help.

Taz’s legs thumped onto the pavement like pistons. He ran in a flat-out sprint all the way to Tash’s house. There was no clear way of getting hold of her without ringing the bell but he knew her parents wouldn’t believe what he had to tell them.

He’d have to knock on her bedroom window. Thankfully Tash’s house was a bungalow so at least he wouldn’t have to do any climbing to get to her.

Taz crept round the side of her house and found that her bedroom light was already on. She hadn’t even closed her curtains. When he looked in he saw that she was sitting up in bed, tear-reddened eyes staring blankly at her bedroom door. When Taz knocked on her window she fell off the bed.

Tash dashed to the window and pulled it open:

“Taz? What are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night.”

Taz had no time to waste (he was also ridiculously out of breath):

“Marcus…He has Nicky and James. He was working with Mr Thomas the whole time. Adults won’t believe us. We have got to go. Now!”

Tash hadn’t even put her pyjamas on. She knew she wouldn’t sleep with Nicky missing. Now she had a chance to save her sister and help her friend. Her parents would never forgive her if she left without saying anything but, as Taz said, they couldn’t risk them not believing them. She scribbled a quick note down and left it on her pillow:

So sorry, had to go. Mr Thomas and Marcus have Nicky and James in the school boiler room.

Didn’t think you’d believe us. Leaving with Taz now. Love you, Tash

They climbed out the window and into the night. Tash led Taz to a shortcut to the school through some bushes at the back of her house. He stopped cold in the middle of the bushes. Tash couldn’t understand:

“What is it?”

Taz shook his head and closed his eyes:

“The whistling, can’t you hear it.”

Tash hadn’t heard anything at first. She did now. A quiet, gentle song, echoing against the cold hard walls around them. It was getting closer.

*

Click here for Marcus: Chapter 6: Stone Circle

Marcus: Chapter 4: Clanks and Shadow

To go to chapter 1 and follow the story through, 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)

Nothing in school seemed the same. There was a special assembly. A police officer stood at the front asking people to come forward with any information about the last time they had seen Nicky.

James and Taz got some time out of their class to go and talk to a police man in the staff room. When he found out they were friends of Nicky’s (and Tash’s) he made them a cup of tea and got his notebook out again.

He asked them about the last time they had seen her. Asked if they saw anyone unusual on their walk home from school. He asked loads of questions, and not one of those questions had anything to do with weird whistles or old photographs. Neither of them thought he would take it seriously if they did tell him.

After their interview the boys made their way back up to the classroom. The whole school felt colder. Taz thought it was because Nicky wasn’t there. On any normal day James would have jumped on Taz’s clear love for Nicky and teased him like crazy. This wasn’t a normal day, and James found himself agreeing instead.

The cold got worse after break time and it became clear that the dropping temperature had a lot more to do with faulty old radiators. They had even started ‘clinking’ every now and then.

A few minutes before the lunch bell Mr Thomas appeared at the door of their classroom. The heating was officially broken and their parents had all been called. The school was closing early; just after lunch.

James dreaded going out to the playground. He hadn’t been back since all of this started. Now, with Nicky missing, he was even more reluctant to see Marcus.

He needn’t have worried. Marcus was nowhere to be seen at lunch. It made James realise something; not only was Marcus missing from the dinner hall that day. He had never seen Marcus in the dinner hall. Never seen him carry a packed lunch. Did Marcus even eat?

When he mentioned this oddness to Taz his friend decided to ask around others at the table. By the time they were clearing their plates away, James and Taz weren’t the only ones wondering about what Marcus did for lunch.

A full stomach can be a great way to improve your mood. James and Taz tried to stay positive as they packed up their stuff and waited to be picked up.

Taz watched out the window (he’d finished packing his school-bag in seconds). Occasionally Taz heard some murmurs as kids in the classroom asked each other about Tash and Nicky (Tash had gone home long before lunch). For the most part everyone put away their stuff in complete silence.

Even the building sounded peculiar. Every now and then the silence was interrupted by clicks and clanks. CLICK CLICK CLICK CLANK CLANK CLANK CLICK CLICK CLICK. The old iron pipes weren’t used to cold like this.

James’ car pulled up outside and his mum got out. Taz let his friend know. They were both going to James’ house. Taz’s parents worked through in Perth so it was easier this way. It didn’t hurt to know they’d get some time together, neither of them wanted to be alone thinking about Nicky and Marcus right now.

They clumped their way downstairs. James’ mum signed them out at the front desk and walked them out to the car.

As Taz was buckling his seatbelt his face transformed, his skin grew pale, and his jaw hung loose. James looked around the car, desperately searching for whatever could have frightened his friend so much:

“What is it?”

Taz’s reply left James wondering if his friend had lost the plot:

“Click click click clonk clonk clonk click click click.”

James shrugged. He needed more information that that. Taz shook his head, as though clearing his thoughts:

“I taught Nicky Morse code ages ago. I’d learned it at cubs. There were certain messages that you could use if you needed help and she learned one really quickly. It stands for SOS; Save Our Souls).”

James didn’t go to cubs. He had no idea what Morse code was, and Taz had done nothing to explain his click clonk nonsense. James repeated his shrug and Taz shook his head in exasperation:

“Save our souls! It means help. Someone is hitting the radiators to signal for help.”

James understood now and the two of them looked back at the school as it disappeared from view. Nicky had been there all along and now she was completely alone.

*

James tried explaining their suspicions to his mum when they got to his house. She tried to stay supportive but he could see she was just humouring him. It did seem pretty unlikely that a kid from school had taken Nicky in the middle of the night and hidden her away somewhere in the school. She lost interest when James and Taz tried to explain that Marcus was no ordinary kid.

She left them in the living room and went to make a cup of tea. James’ body deflated. He slumped on the couch and looked at his friend for support. Taz flopped back on his seat too:

“What do we do? Your mum has always been a bit nuts. If she doesn’t believe this no one will.”

James straightened up and looked Taz straight in the eye:

“We wait. You ask if you can stay over here tonight. We’ll wait till its late and my folks are sleeping then we’ll head over to the school to investigate.”

It was the obvious thing to do. It was the right thing to do. All the same it happened to be the most terrifying thing they could do as well.

Taz called and got permission to stay the night. They go their tea and were even allowed to eat in James’ room. He popped a video on to pass the time. James’ mum brought in a pair of James’ pyjamas for Taz. He thanked her but had no plans to wear them at all.

The night wore on. James put on another video, it had witches doing horrible things in a hotel. It didn’t help their mood much.

At some point they must have fallen asleep but James had set his alarm to wake them up at 2am. By then everyone would be asleep.

He’d never sneaked out at night before. Every floor board seemed set to ‘creak’ the whole house awake. They reached the front door and unlocked it as quietly as they could. James was sure to lock it from the outside with the spare key so they had a way to get back in later.

Even with their coats on it was a shock to feel how cold the air could be at this time of night. Their muscles tightened against the chill and slowed them down.

They made their way up a dark one-way street about half way to the school. That’s when they heard the first whistle.

It started far in the distance; off near the school. It was brief, too brief (and too quiet) to be sure.

As they got closer to the school they realised how few of the street-lights were working. Only two lights were on in Commissioner Street and both were in front of the school leading the way like a beacon.

James heard something else; a ‘whoosh’ as though something had streaked past him in the darkness. Taz hadn’t heard anything.

The school was closer now. They were close enough to see that a couple of lights had been left on inside, glowing a warm peachy colour against the harsh yellow of the lights outside.

The next whistle came from behind. Taz made a noise like a walrus sitting on a pin and bolted for the school. James stood stock-still waiting for any other sounds. Something that might give him a hint about the direction he should run in.

He needn’t have waited, any direction would have done. The next whistle came from right beside his ear.

James had never ran faster in his life. He lunged for the school in great bounding leaps only to realise that it would be locked.

Where had Taz gone? Had he found a way in?

James’ eyes darted from window to window, desperately seeking some trace of his friend.

There was movement in one of the lower windows. When James got closer he realised the window was slightly open. Miss Bruce must have forgotten to lock ner office window.

The window was already open wide enough to climb through (Taz must have gone in this way).

As James heaved himself through the window his eyes caught a glimpse of the gas mask picture on the wall. It was distorted by the street lamp; Marcus’ smile had grown unnaturally wide and the eyes were black.

James was not going to hang around here more than he had to.

He found Taz hiding in the corridor outside, crouched in a corner with a drained look on his face. James didn’t have the heart to shout at him for running off:

“Come on you idiot, we need to get Nicky. Just don’t run off and leave her behind.”

Taz managed to force out a very dry ‘sorry’ as they made their way to the boiler room. It was the only place where someone could have sent clonks and clicks throughout the school like that. The door was locked.

Their best chance of finding keys was Mr Thomas’ overalls. Taz suggested they might be in the lockers in the staff room.

The staff room wasn’t locked and sure enough there was an old locker in the corner with overalls and a tool box in it. Taz rummaged through the pockets, then dived into the tool box.

Something about the room made James uneasy. It was only a day since he had been here working during break. Something didn’t look right. He scanned the room, trying to figure out what was different.

When he saw it his heart dropped into his guts. Beside the window, lit by the street-lights outside, stood a coat rack. The teachers all hung their coats on hooks beside the door. There had never been a coat rack last time he was there. There still wasn’t.

The distorted shape twisted in the yellow light. As Taz proclaimed ‘found the keys’ James saw the thing’s face. Shadowed, twisted, it’s black eyes glinting:

“I guess it’s my turn to tig you…”

 

To continue reading simply click here

Marcus: Chapter 3: 3:00AM

To go to chapter 1 and follow the story through, 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 woke up, his throat dry, vague memories of nightmares drifting away. He grabbed a drink of water, perched on the end of his bed, and glanced at his alarm clock. A sickly green digital display blinked 3am.

What had broken his sleep? The whistling had permeated his dreams, the sound was still ringing in his ears. The cold water roused him further. The last traces of sleep vanished. The whistling was coming from the street outside.

It only lasted a few seconds more. By the time James was at his window the whistler was gone. From that point on he didn’t sleep a wink.

*

His eyes were red with tiredness when he arrived at school. Tash was the fist to notice:

“You look horrible! What happened to you?”

James filled her in on everything that had happened the night before. She tried to comfort him by explaining it all away. After all, it had all been muddled by his nightmares. There was no way to be sure about what he’d heard. Even as she comforted her friend, Tash’s throat grew dry and her heart raced.

Once they had shared the story with Taz and Nicky they were left with the difficult task of deciding what to do next.

Taz wanted to go on acting like nothing had happened. Nicky insisted that there must be a simple explanation and that the simplest way to get it was by talking to Marcus. James and Tash looked at them both, an expression of absolute disbelief plastered over their faces. James spoke first:

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing here. Ignore it or talk to Marcus? Those can’t be our only options.”

The others nodded in agreement. They needed more details about ‘their’ Marcus. Operation ‘ask Marcus weird questions and hope he doesn’t notice’ was scheduled for lunchtime. It happened sooner than that.

As they all lined up, ready to file into the school James found himself standing in front of Marcus. He felt guilty for snooping yet worried for his safety as well. When he turned back to take a look Marcus was smiling quietly, looking up at the pink sky and enjoying the tiny bit of autumn sun. (What was the phrase ‘pink sky in the morning…’?)

He didn’t look like a vampire, or a ghost for that matter. He wasn’t see-through and he wasn’t being fried by sunlight. Two of James’ suspicions almost completely evaporated. Perhaps the others were right. Maybe Marcus really was just an honest kid who simply resembled the boy in the photograph by some freak chance.

Marcus was at the front of the queue grinning at a story one of the girls was telling him. She went back to talking to her friend. With the grin still fixed on his face Marcus turned to face James and whistled a short, simple, easy-going tune. For James there was nothing easy-going about it.

*

When the bell went for playtime James gripped his chair. Tash and Taz, edging for the door, spotted his discomfort and forced their way back through the crowd. He could barely admit to himself how he was feeling. He faked a sore stomach and asked Mrs McClain if he could stay in.

He waited for the inevitable ‘no’ (teachers seemed to love saying ‘no’). She picked up a book from her desk and made her way to the door:

“I’m heading to the staff room just now. If you’re sure you’re not well you can come downstairs. Bring your homework jotter so you’ll have something to do. We can phone your parents if you still feel ill after break.”

Tash and Taz were led out of the room and sent off to the playground. Tash looked back at James in horror, mouthing “Are you nuts?!”

The murmur of the staff room turned into a swell of sound as Mrs McClain opened the door and led James in. It was quite possible that the teachers were louder than the pupils out in the playground.

James made himself comfortable at a table in the corner. He could barely make out any words but the smoosh of noises from teacher-chatter helped put his mind at ease. Then one word stood out:

“…Marcus has been very strange today. He’s normally so friendly and pleasant as well. I might have to get him to sit outside the classroom to work if he keeps disrupting the class like this. You wouldn’t believe what he said…”

James didn’t get to find out. One of the other teachers had put the kettle on, it drowned out everything else.

Did Marcus know about their research trip to the library the night before? Had he been watching them? Was he the one who whistled outside at 3am?

James concentrated on his maths homework, the clean simple numbers helped take his mind off everything. Before he knew it the bell was ringing and he was following Mrs McClain back up to the classroom.

Taz and Tash were two of the first ones in. They sat down at the table beside him and he told them what he’d overheard. Taz nodded with his eyes wide open:

“That’s about right. He was in a really weird mood today when we played football. Didn’t play fair, said some pretty nasty things. Then tackled Robbie really hard. He got sent to see Miss Bruce after that.”

None of them could remember a time when Marcus had been sent to the headmistress before. Taz and Tash seemed to be coming over to James’s side, though James had gone even deeper in his doubts about Marcus. Had he got sent to Miss Bruce’s office on purpose? Had he seen the picture on the wall?

The day dragged on. All three of them tried with all their might to get lost in school work. Thinking too much about Marcus left them all with headaches but nothing could take their minds off him for more than a few seconds.

When the bell went to go home they were the last in the class to leave. Taz didn’t even try to take the stairs two at a time as they made their way out to the front of the school. Tash was quiet. James couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her quiet.

When they reached the front gate Nicky was waiting for them:

“What took you guys so long? I don’t think I’ve ever been the one waiting for you.”

They were about to explain their feelings about Marcus when he came strolling out of the front door. He didn’t head for the gate straight away. Instead he looked around, acting as though he had forgotten something. He turned to take the little lane to the right of the school that led up to the seniors playground but swung past them on his way:

“Hi Nicky, thanks for the wee chat. Hope it cleared some stuff up. Forgot my jacket. See you guys tomorrow.”

His smile looked practised but Nicky didn’t seem to notice. She waved and smiled.

Once Marcus was out of sight the others didn’t waste a second in turning to confront Nicky. What did she say? How much did she tell him? How much did he know?

Nicky had missed James’ story about the 3am whistle. She also hadn’t heard any of the stuff about the disappearing children. All the same she had still told Marcus about the photograph. He knew they were on to him, and that they were researching him.

Nicky frowned at them all:

“You’re getting it all mixed up. Marcus explained it all. The picture was his Grampa. He saw it himself in Mrs Bruce’s office at lunch time. They have the same name, that’s all.”

They couldn’t convince Nicky to see things any other way. She liked Marcus and had made up her mind that the others were getting caught up in spooky stories.

They skipped the library, choosing the comfort of home and their tea over more research. Nicky tried to comfort James before he left them to head into his house:

“Maybe you’re still in Halloween mode. It was weeks ago now. Just relax and let it go. It’s just a weird old photo.”

James gave her an awkward smile and went in.

*

James woke up in the middle of the night to more whistling. He pinched himself, splashed his face with water. This was no dream. The floorboards creaked as James made his way to the window. He felt the cold from the rattling window before he moved the curtain back. Down in the street, exactly where the whistling was coming from. Jack saw nothing.

The whistling stopped, replaced by a crunch, like footsteps through thick frost. The time flashed on his alarm clock: 03:00 am.

James returned to bed exhausted. He was drifting off when he heard the police sirens screaming past. The clock read 03:10 am.

*

Tash was white as a sheet the next morning at school and Nicky wasn’t there at all.

CLICK HERE TO READ ON TO CHAPTER 4

Marcus Chapter 2: No one there

To go to chapter 1 and follow the story through, 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’ whole class looked up as he walked into the room. His neck prickled, his ears grew hot. James slumped into his seat and concentrated on what he’d just seen in the office. Taz wouldn’t believe him:

“Look, you don’t have to try and make me laugh. What you said in the playground. I know you didn’t mean it.”

James’ face was too straight, too pale, for it to be a joke:

“I’m not joking. I wouldn’t make up some weird story just to try and cheer you up. I’m telling you. It is one hundred million percent a picture of Marcus.”

James knew that Taz would never believe him without seeing it for himself. It really did sound nuts:

“OK, OK, we’ll go to the library on the way home? It’s from an old newspaper, they’ve got them there. I remember looking at them when we were doing that project on the first world war.”

Taz had to admit, a stop off in the library to warm up on the way home didn’t sound too bad. He’d worry about James losing his mind after.

The afternoon moved along slowly and the sunset outside didn’t help much. They’d be walking home in darkness. The thought of it made the library even more appealing.

They had a pretty big group of friends but four of them lived near each other and most afternoons they walked home together. Tasha was waiting for them at the gates, frizzy hair shoved under a woolly hat. As usual Taz got to the gates about twice as quickly as James could:

“Hi Tasha. James wants to stop off in the library on the way home.”

She nodded. She did that a lot, it was her way of trying to look like she half-expected everything that happened. Tasha was experimenting with being ‘cool’:

“I told you to stop calling me ‘Tasha’. It’s Tash, just Tash! Anyway, yeah, the library sounds good. At least I can warm up a bit. Wish girls could wear trousers. Who thought up this uniform anyway?”

Conversations with Tasha were often three conversations in one. She’d sometimes lose track herself.

They waited for Tasha’s ‘little’ sister Nicola to come out. She was only a year younger than Tasha, and was also taller by a few inches. ‘Tash’ rolled her eyes theatrically (she was in the drama group so she knew all about theatrical eye rolls):

“Wee sisters are the worst! Why is her class always the last one out?”

Nicky didn’t take long. She came skipping out of the front doors with her standard cheesy grin:

“Hey guys, what’s happening?”

Taz was always trying to impress Nicky:

“Not much. Heading to the library on the way home. James thinks he’s discovered the Crieff Primary vampire.”

Taz winked at James. Clearly he wasn’t taking this investigation seriously at all. James shook his head and led the way.

*

They defrosted in the doorway of the library. The smell of old paper drifting from inside. Taz was grinning:

“It always smells like my attic; all dusty and old. I kind of like it.”

Tash was less impressed. She proclaimed her annoyance to the ceiling. Blaming the heat of the place on all the old people who ‘lived’ there. She pulled off her jacket and jumper and flung them next to a stack of beanbags the librarians called the ‘kids corner’.

Nicky’s mouth dropped open at her sister’s behaviour:

“Tasha keep your voice down! It’s nice and cosy here. You always make such a huge thing out of everything that happens to you.”

Tasha shrugged, grabbed a beanbag seat from the top of the pile, slumping onto it. She whispered as quietly as she could:

“Sorry ‘Mum’ I’ll keep my voice down.”

James laughed. It was the first time he had since lunch time. He left his friends looking in the ghost stories section and made his way to the librarian’s desk.

He had looked at the old newspapers with his teacher. He wasn’t so sure they would let some kids thumb their way through fifty year old papers.

The librarian was really helpful. She couldn’t let them see the original paper copies. However, she brought James over to a weird gadget that looked like a big plastic TV screen and got him something called a ‘microfilm’ of the newspaper.

It didn’t take her long to find the right roll of film. It was filled with hundreds of tiny photographs of every page of every Strathearn Herald printed in 1942. Finding the exact page James needed took a lot longer. She showed James how to twist the dial, moving slowly between pictures.

James was left to cycle through hundreds of pages until he reached November, then he slowed down and clicked through page by page.

There it was. James leapt up to get his friends. Taz got there first, he was surprised at the likeness:

“That is really weird. I wonder if it’s a relative or something. He looks so similar.”

That was it. They were all going to treat it as an odd coincidence. As if it were just a funny story to pass around the playground tomorrow. He was about to say something when Tasha jumped in:

“That’s more than ‘similar’ Taz. That boy looks identical to Marcus. I don’t even like looking at it. And did you see what it says in the article underneath.”

They all scanned through the article but the words jumped out as soon as James saw them:

…Crieff Primary Pupil Marcus Bauchan demonstrates proper use of the child-sized gas mask…

For a few seconds no one said anything. James wanted to stay and look for more pictures. His friends, on the other hand, had become remarkably interested in how soon their tea time was (they couldn’t have looked more scared).

James couldn’t blame them. Looking alike was one thing but sharing the same name was beyond odd. He needed to see what else was hiding in the newspapers.

His friends packed up their bags and got their jackets back on. As they said bye, Tasha insisted that James tell her everything in school the next morning.

For the next half-hour James gradually ran out of energy. He wouldn’t have anything to share with Tasha the next day. Then he found it; an article appearing years after the gas-mask photograph. There wasn’t even a picture. The title left a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach:

‘Missing Children Still Unaccounted For’

The article named five children. Four names that James didn’t recognise, and one that he did; ‘Marcus Bauchan’.

James searched ahead for some clue about the fate of the missing children but it was pretty clear they had never returned.

James needed to get home soon. His parents would be worried. On a whim he decided to wind the film back again. The gap between stories was exactly twenty-five years (give or take a few days).

James looked for microfilm of earlier issues and found one from 1917 (exactly twenty five years before the gas mask). In November he found it, more missing children. This time there were no names, apparently they had been with a travelling circus. Again they vanished without a trace but that was all the article had to say about it.

James stared at the screen in front of him, afraid to look round. How could Marcus be linked to all this? He was just a ten year old boy.

That was when the lights in the library went out.

James swallowed but his throat was so dry it felt like it stuck together. He forced himself to look round and found that he was completely alone. He couldn’t even see the librarian.

He got up on legs made of dough. They were numb from sitting in one place for so long but his whole body felt numb too. He leaned on the table giving his legs a chance to get the feeling back.

The library windows were lit by the street-lights outside and the odd passing car headlight. They gave him something to see by. He almost missed a shape in the corner of one of the windows; a blurred face with a look of terror plastered over it. It was on the outside. That meant whatever it was was two, maybe three, stories up.

Perhaps it was a leftover Halloween decoration. Then James saw it move, its black eyes fixed on James. The feeling rushed back to his legs but they wouldn’t do anything he told them to. He watched the face follow him, tried to tell himself it was just a distorted version of his own reflection then a hand landed on his shoulder.

He spun round to face whatever creature had come to take him. The librarian looked down at him:

“Sorry, I thought you left ages ago. Come along, I’ve locked up. I’ll need to let you out.”

James tried to hide his shaking as the librarian led him to the door and let him out into the street. The cold clawed at his cheeks as he made his way home. The whistling wind didn’t help either, it added that extra bit of dread to his current mood.

That got worse when he realised there was no wind. The air was so still the trees looked like statues. The sound he heard was actual whistling, and it was coming from behind him.

He turned his head back and forth, attempting to locate the origin of the sound. It was coming from across the road. But there was no one there. James was alone.

He pictured himself challenging the mysterious whistler. Then his memory lurched back to the black-eyed face in the library window.

James arrived home in moments, his legs aching from the fastest run he had ever done in his life.

 

*

Chapter 3 will be available next Sunday (24th/Christmas Eve) at 6pm. To be sure it gets to you you can sign up for the Marcus mailing list (please click this link for the sign-up form). Being part of the mailing list will also give you access to pdf printable copies of all the chapters so far (if you’d prefer to read screen-free).

Hope you enjoyed this week’s instalment. Please pop a comment in the comments section to let me know what you thought.

As always, thanks for reading, All the best, John

CLICK HERE TO READ ON TO CHAPTER 3

Marcus: Chapter 1: The photograph

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

27th November 1992

It was a ‘no jackets’ sort of lunch time, the wind stung James’ face as he ran after his friends, but he didn’t care. They hadn’t stopped running since they got outside, his hair stuck to his head with sweat, and there was a fire in his belly as he raced to ‘tig’ Scott, a boy so small and so fast they nicknamed him ‘Taz’ (after the Tasmanian devil cartoon).

No one at this school kicked James. Or stole his gym shoes. He didn’t have to spend lunchtime talking to the dinner ladies. He could even leave his coat in the pile by the railing and he knew it would be there when he went back for it. This place was like heaven.

There was only one really weird thing about Crieff Primary. It was something none of the other kids seemed to notice. James wasn’t the only new kid in school. Another boy, Marcus, had started a few weeks before James did. Marcus wasn’t the weird thing, it was the way everyone else treated him that was so odd.

It was like they had all known him their whole lives. He knew loads about people; could remember their names, what their favourite TV shows were, their favourite games. It was safe to say that Marcus made making friends look easy. He was like the perfect kid. James wanted to hate the guy but he just couldn’t.

Marcus slipped past him, narrowly escaping a ‘tig’. He swung round with a huge grin as soon as he was far enough away:

“Come on James! Let someone else get a turn being ‘it’.”

The fire bubbled in James’ belly and he forced his legs to sprint him ever-closer to Marcus. Eyebrows raised Marcus turned on his heel and jetted off.

The more James pushed himself, the more the November air bit at his lungs. It went beyond being fun and started to hurt. His temples throbbed like an ice-cream headache as he made his final lunge at Marcus. His fingertips brushed his shoulder as he forced the word ‘tig’ out of his aching lungs.

He knew Marcus felt it too but the ‘perfect’ boy shook his head with a laugh:

“You’ll have to try harder than that Jamie!”

What!?? They both knew he’d caught him. Marcus was ‘it’ now but he ran off laughing anyway. And what was he playing at calling James ‘Jamie’? There were two people in the world who called him ‘Jamie’; his mum and his granny (and his granny couldn’t call him it any more since she was dead).

James stopped running, blood rushing to his face as the fury swelled inside:

“You KNOW I got you!” he raised his voice louder, announcing it to as many folk in the playground as would listen:

“I GOT MARCUS! HE’S IT!”

A few girls took jumpy steps away from Marcus but most of the others just frowned. Marcus shook his head and made a face as if to say ‘so he says’ and most of the others relaxed. It was a tried and tested sneak tactic for some kids to pretend they hadn’t been caught. It was one of the ways slower kids could still join in.

No one seemed to believe that Marcus would fake it though. James could tell his face had gone that weird pink-speckled way it did when he was properly upset. He flung his arms out to his sides:

“Fine. I’m out. I’m not playing any more!”

Taz zipped towards James, a frown covering his face, clearly worried about his friend. That only got James more annoyed. Taz crossed his fingers (the sign that he wasn’t part of the game for now):

“You OK? Look, maybe you just thought you got him.”

Balling up his fists to keep the rage at bay James looked his best friend straight in the eye and swore. It was a phrase he’d heard a couple of times on the TV, he wasn’t even sure he’d said it right. The shock on Taz’s face left James ashamed but it was the yell from Mrs Eastwick (the playground supervisor) that really made James’ guts drop:

“James! Did you say what I think you did? That’s it, ten house points gone and you can go straight to the headmistress’s office!”

At least Marcus had the good sense to look sorry for what he’d done as James was paraded past him on the way into the school. Lunch time was over.

*

James had never been sent to the headmistress’s office before. He’d never even really been in trouble, either at this school or the old one. He could feel the macaroni cheese he’d had for lunch lurching up his throat a bit as he took the steps down to the front of the school.

The corridor outside the headmistress’s office stank of bleach. It didn’t help the sick feeling. Mrs Eastwick told him to sit on a spongy seat while she went in to see Miss Bruce.

The seat was way more comfortable than the ones they had at their desks. It was clearly an old one from the staff room, a ‘grown-up’ chair for people visiting the school.

James’ mum and dad had sat out here with him when they were asking about moving him to Crieff Primary. Miss Bruce had been smiling the whole time and had even got James a mug of hot chocolate to drink while they had talked about the school and about James’ hobbies and favourite subjects.

Miss Bruce was not smiling when she opened the door to her office:

“Come in James. Thanks Maggie, I’ll talk to James about this. You’d better get back up, it’s twenty minutes before the bell.”

Mrs Eastwick gave a sharp nod and hustled back up the stairs.

James was ushered into the office and given a seat opposite the desk. There was no offer of hot chocolate. No smiles. Miss Bruce sat down and looked at him. Not one word had been said since Mrs Eastwick left and James half expected the bell for the end of lunch to go before Miss Bruce would say anything. She sighed:

“James, what happened out there? I could hardly believe it when I heard what you’d said to Scott.”

James tried to explain about Marcus, and how he’d got him. He explained how no one had believed him. They all sided with Marcus. They all loved Marcus. Miss Bruce shook her head, and held a hand up telling him to stop:

“But it wasn’t Marcus you said that horrible thing to. It was someone who came and tried to help you, your friend. From what I can tell Scott seems to be your best friend?”

James nodded. There wasn’t much else he could say. Pins and needles prickled his face. He could feel Miss Bruce judging him. He felt ashamed.

She got up from her desk and made her way to a wall filled with strange little shelves. There were papers slotted into each one, photocopies of different forms and worksheets (it was where she’d got the forms for James’ mum and dad just a few weeks ago):

“I really hadn’t expected to have to write up one of these for you James. I’m sorry to have to do it.”

She placed a small pile of paper on her desk, the kind that copies what you write onto the layers below. James couldn’t remember the name for it. Miss Bruce looked up from her writing:

“OK, so this is a demerit slip. A copy of this will go to your parents and we keep this carbon copy in your school record.”

She pulled the two sheets apart. The copy sheet was blue and she took it over to a cabinet and sorted through to find a folder with James’ name on it.

He could see photocopies of different certificates and awards in there. There was even a copy of his certificate for winning first place in the Burns poetry reading in primary one. Now all the things he was proud of would be joined forever with his smudgy blue ‘demerit’ slip.

Miss Bruce closed the filing cabinet and was about to say something when someone knocked on the door. It was Mr Thomas the janitor’s assistant:

“Sorry Miss Bruce. It’s the boiler. I think I’ll have to call someone out to have a look at it.”

James was left in the office as Miss Bruce followed Mr Thomas out to inspect the problem. Despite the old radiators in Miss Bruce’s room James felt cold. His jacket was still up in the playground. His hands were white and numb.

He got up and went over to warm his hands by the radiator. Facing the wall his eyes had little to focus on. There were old pictures of the school decorating it. Most of them black and white. One of them caught his eye, there was a little card typed out and put behind the glass in the frame:

Pupils practising gas mask use. Crieff Primary. Picture from Strathearn Herald 4th November 1942

And there, right above the card, holding the rubber straps of his gas mask, was Marcus.

*

Chapter two of ‘Marcus’ will be available next Sunday. To get it delivered directly to your inbox click on this link.

Thanks for reading, let me know what you think, all the best, John

TO READ ON TO CHAPTER 2 JUST CLICK HERE

Story Sundays

From this week onwards I’ll be putting out something I call ‘Story Sundays’. Every Sunday I will release one chapter of ‘Marcus’ (my new horror book for over 12s) and one chapter of ‘The Ogres’ (for children aged 5 years and up). These releases will continue for the next eight weeks.

Here’s a bit about each of the books so you can decide if you’d like a new chapter delivered to your e-mail inbox every Sunday:

Marcus

Wish you could be a kid forever? The reality is more grim than Peter Pan would have us believe. In this serialised book you’ll meet Marcus; a popular ten year old kid who knows the best games.

Marcus is hiding a secret. One dry November afternoon his friend James finds a second world war photograph bearing an uncanny resemblance to Marcus. The ‘boy’s’ deception is about to unravel.

However, for those investigating Marcus’ secret, their curiosity could be their undoing.

Set within the backdrop of the small Scottish town of Crieff during the 1990s, this is a story about guilt, lies, and sacrifice.

To subscribe to this serialised book simply click on this link (or on the photo).

UPDATE: following this linkYou can now read live chapters by .

The Ogres

The ‘Bigger-Folk’, as they call themselves, have lived under a hill for thousands of years. They know nothing about the hu-mans when they re-emerge into the world.

With the help of two human brothers they learn quickly that marshmallows are delicious, cars are easily torn apart, and people get a shock when you sit in a fire for a heat (The bigger-folk are fire-proof).

In human culture the ‘Bigger-folk’ have had many names; ogres, trolls, giants, orcs. They’ve had a bad rap. All the same, their brains don’t function too well in the ‘cold’ up here on the surface. The brothers are about to find out exactly how clumsy, how destructive, but also how caring these creatures can be.

If you would like to get a new chapter of ‘The Bigger Folk’ in your inbox every Sunday please click on this link (or on the photo).

UPDATE: You can now catch up with the latest chapters by following this link.

Thank You

I’ve been writing for a few years now. My first two books ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ and ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ are both available for kindle or in paperback editions (Just click the links).

The only thing that keeps me writing is knowing that people read my work and enjoy it. I’d like to thank you today for stopping by the site and (hopefully) for signing up for the new books.

This is a new concept for me. I’ve never serialised before and I really hope you’ll enjoy it.

If you have any issues with sign-up, or with the e-mails themselves please don’t hesitate to contact me.

As always, thanks for reading,

All the best, John