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Marcus: Chapter 25: Crieff’s defender

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

Nikki tapped on the wall and called for the Sheriff. She didn’t have long to wait. Rotting hands as big as shovels heaved their way way from the earth. A pit of stinking sulphurous fire feet below. The Sheriff demanded to know who had summoned him and for what purpose. Nicky pointed up the hill.

The Sheriff didn’t back down, though his sense of self-importance did seem to dwindle a little:

“A LAW BREAKER? WHAT CRIME DID HE COMMIT?”

Nicky thought for a moment:

“He’s a bad man who should have been dead twenty centuries ago. I imagine he found the time to break all the laws.”

The flames in the Sheriff’s eyes burned so fiercely Nicky had to turn away. He grinned and walked to the exit then fell back on the frosty grass. His rage rattled the walls (and Nicky’s teeth). Nicky searched for a solution:

“What is it that keeps you here? Is it the wall? Could you leave if it were broken?”

The Sheriff shrugged:

“I HAVE NO IDEA.”

Nicky lead him to a goalpost. The Sheriff could understand the standard use of it but he could easily figure out what Nicky expected him to do with it.

*

Marcus’ newly functioning heard jumped a mile when the boom of the falling building reached their ears. His first reaction was to make his way to the noise. He could sense that Mr Thomas was still going strong. Possibly more strong than any of them would have liked.

Marcus pushed for his smoke form but nothing was there. He stood in front of his friends, arms outstretched. He had no time to worry about that:

“I need to go there. Now.”

Taz groaned, holding his mangled knee with both hands. James was by his side, his expression almost as bad as Taz’.

James barely lifted his eyes from his damaged friend. Taz grimaced, pulling himself up to look at Marcus:

“I hope you realise we’re coming with you.”

Marcus protested but no one would listen. They loaded themselves into Gordon’s police car. Taz stashed in the boot with his mangled leg perched on some police waterproofs. Everyone else squeezed in together.

The car skidded as they pulled out onto the main road. The night was colder than they realised (hours of digging will warm a person up). Taz grunted, announcing his dislike of the slippery roads.

Tash slowed down on the bends but let the speed creep up in straight areas. Taz didn’t seem to object too strongly. They passed the petrol station on the edge of town and soon after they got a growing view of the problem.

The town centre was spewing chunks of rock in all directions. Small fires had broken out in places where electric cables had been mangled. Boulders peppered the shop fronts, shards of glass littering the pavement. Roofs lay torn open clothing and other personal effects caught on the cold November wind. They had get to Mr Thomas. They had to stop all of this.

Then everything stopped as a huge body thudded into the tarmac in front of the car.

*

Nicky had been extremely busy. She rustled up a batch of volunteers. Most of the older children gathered in the car park put their hands up and were handed a single brick each. A tiny portion of the wall that held back the Sheriff.

The children dispersed in all directions. The idea was to increase the Sheriff’s range by forming a large stone ring to surround the town.

Children scattered in all directions, bricks in hand; up the hill towards the Knock (the zenith of the hill the whole town was built on), to ‘Bridge End’, (the bridge that led visitors into Crieff from it’s southern edge). West towards Lady Mary’s walk and MacRosty Park and westwards towards Calum’s Hill and the golf course.

From the moment the children left the Sheriff agreed that something felt different. At first he couldn’t make it through the gateway in the wall but the sound of parts of the old hotel raining down on the town centre fired something up inside.

His eyes grew wild with flames and the huge, tree-trunk muscles strained against the forcefield that would previously have thrown him back. He managed one step, then another, his old boots scraping on the flagstone entranceway. Then something ripped. Nicky feared something in the Sheriff’s rotten body had torn, but it was simple the sound of the barrier finally giving up.

The Sheriff was free and he had a truly villainous fiend to haul back to the pit tonight.

He twisted his head to one side and clicked the bones in his neck. The effect was truly ghastly; Nicky held back vomit after watching those bones click into place through the putrid holes in the Sheriff’s sallow flesh.

“HIS NIGHT OF MENACE IS AT AN END.”

Nicky crouched over, hands on knees after a considerable amount of running around:

“Well that’s a relief!”

She did her best to follow but the rotting man took the steep hill in well-practised strides. He knew this town well, it’s hills gave him no need to slow. He yelled to the centre of town:

“YOU HAVE HAD YOUR FUN LITTLE MAN, BUT NOW I HAVE COME TO TAKE YOU AWAY.”

All Nicky could hear was laughter and then the sound of a car thumping and skidding against shops and other cars as it bounced down the hill towards them. She ducked into a nearby doorway for what little shelter it offered. The Sheriff shook his head, speaking under his breath:

“DAMAGE OF PRIVATE PROPERTY, ENDANGERMENT OF AN OFFICER OF THE LAW. YOU ARE IN MORE TROUBLE THAN YOU REALISE.”

Nicky was forced to duck between shop doorways as she followed him further up the hill. The police car was not the last projectile to come their way, it wasn’t even the last police car.

They passed the crossroads which would have led to the old primary school building. By that point the Sheriff had been hit by at least three large chunks of building. The flames in his eyes streamed out over the top of his head, so intense was his rage. With each step he now repeated:

“ROMAN!”

“ROMAN!”

“ROMAN!!!”

His pace increased. His rotten muscles twanging and squelching like wet rope.

Nicky ran but couldn’t get close. Up ahead she heard the Sheriff make contact with Mr Thomas. It was a sound with a wave of force behind it.

In James Square Mr Thomas had been faced with his first surprise since his transformation. The charging zombie of justice took him off guard as boulder sized fists with knuckles of exposed bone slammed into his guts and threw him into the rubble behind.

The Sheriff didn’t wait to see his advantage lost and raced to stomp on the face of the fallen man. Mr Thomas’s head disappeared into the rubble as a rotten foot in an impossibly large boot stomped, and stomped, and stomped.

The Sheriff kept stomping until all movement stopped, then turned in a fluid motion grasping the man’s ankle, dragging him from the hole his head had made. At the bottom of the hill the pit’s flames erupted from the grass of the Market Park, curling into the sky, licking the clouds in anticipation of its meal.

Mr Thomas groaned and shook his wits back into his head. He looked at the huge rotten hand encircling his ankle and sighed:

“You had your chance. But it will take a lot more than that.”

His other foot found purchase on the ground and stopped the Sheriff’s pace instantly. The dead man turned and glared at him then his burning eyes grew wider.

In one motion Mr Thomas was on his feet and had a hand embedded in the Sheriff’s ribcage, the other was forced through dry muscle in the Sheriff’s thigh until it found purchase on bone.

The Sheriff had enough time to ask “WHA…?” before Mr Thomas drew his arms in opposite directions. A sound like straining leather and cracking branches met the ears of everyone present and the Sheriff tore in two.

Both parts still moving, and the top half very much enraged, Mr Thomas could only bear so much of the Sheriff’s shouting. He lifted the torso and head portion and hauled it off to the east.

The Sheriff landed directly in front of Gordon’s police car. Tash slammed the breaks as the passengers watched the squirming torso on the road ahead, there was nothing they could say.

Keep up with the story

Click here to go to the final chapter ‘Marcus: Chapter 26: In the ruins of 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.

What’s more, ‘Marcus’ will soon be available in print. Mailing list members will receive early notice on publication date, details on where to get your copy, and information about offers and events relating to the book. Register to keep in the know.

Thanks for reading, all the best, John

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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.

Keep up with the story

Click here to go to ‘Marcus: Chapter 23: A monster in the Drummond‘.

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 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.

Keep up with the story

Click here to read on to ‘Marcus: Chapter 22: The Gauntlet to the Golf Course’.

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’.

Social media feeds are an oddity. What you say can be seen by millions but it can also slip away and be missed with ease. I always post new chapters on social media (Facebook and Twitter) but there’s no guarantee that we’ll both be on at the same time.

With this in mind, if you’re enjoying ‘Marcus’ and you want to be sure you get a link to the newest chapter as soon as it’s out, you can also get an e-mail reminder by clicking this link. Mailing list members also get access to printable files so you’re not forced to read it all from a screen.

Thanks for reading, all the best, John

Marcus: Chapter 13: Graveyards and Gardens

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

It was probably a mistake to let Marcus ring Nicky’s doorbell. She actually fell over from jumping back so quickly. Her face ashen-white she yelled back into the house behind her:

“Scott! Scott! Come out here quick!”

Marcus slumped and turned to Tash:

“Oh, I thought she’d have ended up marrying Taz.”

‘Scott’ came into the hallway and froze. Marcus beamed:

“Taz!!!!”

Taz grabbed his wife and lifted her off the floor pulling her away to the room beyond:

“No no no! Nonononononono! No way!”

He spotted the others behind the ghost boy:

“You brought him here? Him? And you’ve got the kids with you? Are you out of your minds!?”

Tash manhandled Marcus away from the doorway and marched up to her sister and brother-in-law. Muttering as she moved the boy:

“Nice move genius! Think you’d have scared them less if you materialised in their living room.”

Marcus didn’t get a chance to reply. Tash had already taken the shocked couple away into their kitchen. The others heard the kettle bubbling before they got through the front door.

The rest of the group walked into the kitchen half way through a retelling of their night. Taz seemed to have relaxed a little and Nicky was up grabbing herself a cup of coffee.

They all found themselves somewhere to sit as Tash finished their story. Nicky shook her head:

“And Daniel is still out there somewhere?”

Marcus nodded:

“Always looking after people. You haven’t changed Nicky. Yes Daniel is out there somewhere. I expect he’ll be near the first school in Crieff, some of the ghouls I saw used to be pupils there. It’s part of the old graveyard on Church Street now. He might even be in the church hall. We haven’t been able to check because of the ghouls.”

Scott (Taz) jumped in:

“It’s not really a graveyard any more.”

Marcus challenged Scott with a frown:

“How can it stop being a graveyard?”

Scott got worked up pretty fast. Clearly this was a sore point for him:

“A few years ago they lifted the grave stones. I heard that some of them were put in a skip but I’m not sure how much truth there is to that. All the same it’s probably different than you remember it being.”

Marcus wrinkled his face:

“Who would take someone’s gravestone? What use could that serve?”

Taz nodded in agreement:

“Exactly!”

The room was silent for a moment. Taz went a little red as he realised he was getting along with someone who once dragged him kicking and screaming to his possible end. He turned away from Marcus in disgust.

Louise took the initiative. Grabbed her aunt’s coat from the hallway and threw it to her:

“Come on. There’s a little boy held hostage by a bunch of freaky ghost children (no offence Marcus). They’re somewhere in this town. We think we know where he is and we’ve now got a chance of getting hold of him. Why are we still here?!”

Coffees were left abandoned and jackets pulled on. Not one of them questioned the furious, scrawny, fifteen-year-old girl pointing their way to the exit.

As Taz walked past she grabbed his shoulder:

“And you uncle Scott. You knew Marcus did everything he could to help you back then. You can’t hold that against him. We’re all on the same team now.”

Suitably admonished, Taz held out his hand to Marcus and the ghost-boy shook it. Taz forced a smile on his face as he surreptitiously wiped Marcus’ weird ghost slime on his trousers. He hoped Louise didn’t see that bit.

The walk up to Church Street took no time at all. This wasn’t a good thing. They had all looked forward to some breathing time between the sheriff and another confrontation with the ghoul-children.

The old graveyard came into view as soon as they rounded the corner and headed for St Michaels church. There was no sign of guards but that didn’t mean there weren’t any. Marcus had made his low power level quite clear. Taz wasn’t convinced:

“Bet you could still use that cheat speed thing you do.”

Marcus frowned:

“Cheat speed?”

Taz glared at Marcus:

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

Marcus laughed:

“Taz that’s called running. I was just faster than you.”

Scott turned away, hiding his face. He had always been the fastest at school. He knew Marcus cheated to catch up with him.

James spotted the back and forth between the two:

“Taz, are you seriously angry at Marcus for being faster than you? Not dragging you through the streets? Not endangering your life and your friends? You’re annoyed he beat you at running?”

Scott’s face was scarlet. He hid his inner child back inside and coughed:

“Well when you put it like that…”

The others laughed. It wasn’t that funny but laughter fought the fear back a little.

Their laughter caught in their throats as each of them spotted the children at the gate to the church. Unmoving statues, black eyes full of malice.

Taz didn’t waste time. He was over the churchyard wall before the ghoul-children even noticed:

“Bet I can outrun you now you little pipsqueak!”

Marcus vaulted the wall in pursuit:

“Bet you can’t old man.”

The two of them barrelled through the church doors and were gone from view in seconds.

The ghoul-children glanced back and forth from the crowd in the street to the door of the church, hesitating over their next move.

James grinned:

“Looks like they get a bit less bright without their friends around to help.”

The ghoul-children glared at him, their decision made. James’ face drooped.

“Oops. OK, I know what to do. The sheriff will sort them out.”

He was already running as he said the last part. Theo yelled after his dad:

“Hit the bricks on the west wall. Shout ‘law breakers sheriff’ then get out of there.”

James was half way down the road but his reply carried well enough in the crisp November air:

“Got it!”

The guards were gone and there was no sign of any more ghoul-children. Had they really been the last two?

They slipped in through the old doors to find Taz and Marcus comforting a statue.

Daniel’s skin shone with sweat. He barely breathed. He wouldn’t move an inch. Daniel didn’t even blink. What would they say to his mum?

There wasn’t time to worry about that. Taz lifted the boy up into his arms and a small stuffed donkey fell to the floor. Daniel must have found it in a lost and found box. A tiny thing to comfort him when his only company had been the mindless creatures who had snatched him away.

What had this boy been through?

Marcus picked up the donkey and rested it in Daniel’s arms. Theo and Andrew gulped back tears. The adventure felt less adventurous, and their victory a little more hollow, when they saw what had happened to their friend.

*

Daniel got a bit of colour back in his cheeks as they approached his house. He even stirred a little when he heard his mum’s voice at the door.

The others made up a story about him wandering off in the cold and getting disorientated but his mum didn’t look entirely convinced.

She was too pleased to see her son safe and well (if a little quieter than usual) to make much of it, and invited them all in for something warm to drink and a bite to eat if anyone needed it.

Tash could see that the woman needed company so she went in with her kids. The others didn’t want to crowd up the place and walked James and Theo back to their car.

Marcus sighed in relief:

“I think we handled that well tonight. We’ll be better prepared for tomorrow night too.”

Taz’s mouth hung open. An expression that was pretty common on the others as well:

“Tomorrow night? What do you mean tomorrow night?”

Marcus held his hands in the air:

“I thought you all understood. This could go on for weeks. I have no idea what they’re doing, and I’ve lost all control of them. We need to stop those ghoul-children from taking anyone else.”

James shook his head:

“What are you talking about. I led the ghoul-children to the sheriff. He’s got them now. Are there more of them?”

Marcus had the good grace to look sorry:

“There probably are more yes, but the problem is the sheriff can only hold them for one night. He doesn’t have their bones there with him. Their bones will draw them back during the day. By tomorrow night they’ll be out in force again.”

James swore and punched the hood of his car. Taz and Nicky leaned on the car in exhaustion. Vomit rose in Theo’s mouth.

Marcus cringed:

“That’s not the only bad news. If we want to stop them, or at least control them, we need their bones ourselves. Taz, Nicky, I was wondering if you could help me…”

*

In Daniel’s house Tash and her kids were drinking down their second cup of home-made soup. Rich and hearty, and warm. Really warm. Like a big hug from the inside.

Daniel had hoovered up four cupfuls before falling asleep on the couch. His mum was ecstatic to see him eating. As he slept they could even see him smiling. She headed back through to the kitchen.

Daniel sat bolt upright, his eyes open but unfocussed and whistled an odd little melody. It was a song Tash hadn’t heard in twenty-five years.

*

There was a boy in her garden. Chloe shifted into the little window seat to get a better view. He looked quite handsome too (from what she could see of him). She didn’t recognise him from school, maybe he went to Morrisons. His movements were slow and deliberate. Like he was inspecting the garden for something.

His toe caught her old skipping rope; left in the garden after the summer. It must be rotten and soggy by now. Chloe felt a small pang of guilt at leaving it out there.

The boy reached down and picked it up, gathering the chord around his fingers. He tied it into a neat knot then stopped and sniffed the skipping rope.

Ewww! Why did he sniff it? Chloe could see from here that it was green with mould and rot. The boy nodded. She could only see the back of his head but she could swear he had started to smile.

He placed it slowly, with care, on the picnic table then lifted his head. Sniffing the air. Chloe’s guts started to curl as thought they were sending her brain a message, and then he turned to face her window and the message rang loud and clear. That wasn’t a boy!

Her parents didn’t even hear her leave the house.

Keep up with the story

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

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 12: The Sheriff

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

Bin lids don’t get enough credit. Buckets are good but when surrounded by a group of clawing ghoul-children there’s nothing quite like a bin lid to help you break through their defences and make an opening.

James ran with the thrill of victory pulsing in his head. If he could divert the ghoul-children down to the Market Park the others might stand a chance of getting to the graveyard unnoticed. If only he could figure out where they’d gone.

*

Down in the Market park the others were catching their breath. Enjoying the chance to recharge, and make plans. Their first challenge was figuring out what had happened to James.

Was he still at the school? Had Marcus dropped him off somewhere else?

One thing they were all sure of was Marcus’ last instruction before he knocked himself out; meet at the graveyard.

Tash tried phoning James.

He answered almost immediately:

“Tash? What happened? Where are you? Actually don’t tell me, they might hear.”

He was out of breath, clearly running. Tash yelled down the phone:

“James are you OK? Are they chasing you?”

James’ words came back in puffs:

“Yep…Look I’m diverting them. Going to the Market Park. They won’t be near the school. Take your chance and get away. Meet where we agreed if you can.”

The colour drained from Tash’s face. Andrew spotted it first:

“What is it mum?”

Tash tried pleading with James over the phone:

“James?! Don’t do that we’re…”

James jumped in:

“Don’t tell me where you are!”

Tash gritted her teeth:

“But James we’re actually in…”

“I said don’t tell me!”

“…but James!”

James hung up.

Andrew looked at his mum:

“Well?”

Tash shook her head:

“What an idiot. They’re coming here. We need to hide.”

The Market Park was a huge grassy area that had once been used to sell livestock by the thousands but was now used for town events. It was a wide functional green space, empty of features. Aside from a few bushes and trees there really was nowhere to hide. Everything around them was fenced off.

*

James saw his mistake as he rounded the corner and approached the gates. A woman and four children couldn’t exactly hide for long here. He never listened to others enough. He should have let Tash finish speaking. Too late, always too late for things.

His only hope was if the ghoul-children didn’t see them. In the miniscule head start he had won himself, he motioned the others to lie down on the grass then continued on down the hill and away from the entrance to the park.

The others held their breath as they watched a horde of ghoul-children trail past the gate in pursuit of James. A lot more than eight now.

Theo’s knees hurt from the cold grass. He forced them deeper into the icy soil to stop himself moving. It was better than thinking about what those things might do to his dad.

Marcus squirmed and stretched:

“What happened? Why are we all lying down?”

Every one of the others shushed him and pointed to the gate. The ghoul-children had worked for him for years, obeyed his every command. Watching them chase James past the gate was like watching his hand move outside of his control. He shook the feeling off:

“Is he coming back round?”

Tash sneered at the ghost-boy:

“I would hope not. Why?”

Marcus was silent as still more straggling ghoul-children joined their brethren whistling past the gate. Their light footsteps disappeared into the distance. Marcus jumped up and dusted himself off:

“If he does we could get the Sheriff. He doesn’t like the ghouls. He doesn’t like me either. Actually I don’t think he likes anyone.”

The others asked in unison:

“The Sheriff? Crieff doesn’t have a sheriff!”

*

“I’ve not seen him in a couple of hundred years. I wonder if he’s still around.”

Marcus marched to the small gates cut into the west wall of the park.

“When he was alive he watched for the sheep and cattle-rustlers that sneaked in when the drovers brought their livestock to the market. He doesn’t like rule breakers. I mean really doesn’t like them. He would have them hanging by the town gates by nightfall”

Theo frowned:

“OK so you’re going to get an angry ghost. An angry murderous ghost to help save my dad from other angry ghosts? Can’t see that going wrong at all.”

Marcus shrugged:

“Oh it could go horribly wrong, I’m not going to deny that, but it’s the best chance he has. Besides it’s the ghosts the sheriff has the most problem with. We break the rules just by still being around after death.”

Louise wasn’t convinced:

“But he’s a ghost.”

Marcus smirked:

“Yep. We don’t mention that bit. He’s a weird guy, but he has his uses. Never noticed those uses till now, but he definitely has his them.”

Marcus grabbed a rock and thumped it on one of the ancient boulders that made up the wall:

“Rule breakers! There are Rule Breakers. Monstrous deviations of nature! We need the sheriff. Help us.”

A wrenching, hollow sound rumbled from below them as the ground tore apart. A red glow pulsing deep inside the ground through a hole barely larger than a fist.

Marcus peered down, his face bathed in blood-red light:

“That should do it.”

They backed away, eyes fixed on the small glowing hole. Marcus continued walking backwards:

“Should have said before; I can’t be here when he comes out. Good luck guys. I’ll see you at the gate when it’s over.”

Their protests dried in their throats as a huge rotten hand heaved the soil downwards forcing its way up and out of the hole. A shoulder packed tight with muscle and sinew followed. Then the sheriff dragged himself out to the world above. The hole gaped in tatters, red light rippling on the walls beside them as though they were on fire.

Marcus was gone so the sheriff turned on them. Eyes glowing red, dressed in a ragged uniform, and carrying a hangman’s noose. He greeted them in a voice that made their innards vibrate:

Who summoned me? Who am I to bring to justice?”

As he uttered the word ‘justice’ his burning eyes flicked towards the hole below them. Did the ghoul children really deserve that?

Theo thought of his dad, running for his life, just a few hundred feet away. They didn’t have a choice, he turned to Tash:

“Call my dad. Tell him to bring them here.”

The stink of the sheriff clawed at the back of Tash’s throat. Fire, rot, and filth. They couldn’t stay here long. Her eyes watered, blurring her view of her phone’s screen. She called James. She didn’t wait for him to say anything:

“Bring them through the west entrance. We have something for them.”

All that came in reply was laboured breathing, the sound of running, followed by a grunt of recognition. James was on board.

The sheriff glared at her as she hung up her call:

What witchcraft is that, that allows you to talk to those who are not here?”

The red glow in his eyes intensified with his rage. The group hurriedly tried to explain how phones worked, pointing out that it was science, not ‘witchcraft’. The glow in his eyes dulled a little but he still looked at them accusingly:

Why have you called upon my services. Why wake me from my slumber?”

They weren’t sure where to start. Fortunately James did the job for them as he emerged screaming through the gate followed by an alarming number of ghoul-children. If this didn’t work they would all be in trouble.

The sheriff’s face distorted into his own monstrous version of a grin. The fire in his eyes glowed deep red and he lifted his noose:

I see now. The dead walk again.”

James raced at them. The group turned from the sheriff and ran alongside the purple faced, middle-aged man. A bit of company gave him a burst of energy and he increased his pace as a ghoul-child began catching up.

The Sheriff began his work.

It wasn’t easy to watch. After the first ghoul-child was noose-dragged to the glowing pit none of them could bring themselves to look back. The cold black eyes didn’t even blink as the sheriff hauled them off to…wherever it was that he took them.

Marcus cheered them on from beyond the gate as their feet thumped on the icy earth. The ghoul-children seemed to have increased their pace as well. Their faces showed no sign of fear but their speed told a different story.

The sheriff materialised in bursts of flames and steam then dragged them back to his hole. The ghoul-children squirmed against the rope, fingers rasping as they clawed the frozen ground. Each of them made a ‘thwump’ noise as they vanished through the glowing red hole.

As they reached Marcus at the gate they realised it had been a while since they had last heard a ‘thwump’. They looked round to find the sheriff charging towards them. The fire in his eyes blazing, he roared:

You side with this abomination? You side with Marcus?! You are all guilty now.”

Marcus screamed at them all to join him on the other side of the gate. They couldn’t see what good that might do them now but followed his instructions.

The sheriff’s feet threw huge lumps of soil up behind him as he thundered towards them. His eyes didn’t leave them for a moment. He grasped his noose tightly and spun it round his head like a lasso, preparing to catch one of them.

They closed their eyes, preparing for the noose to fall. Marcus laughed:

“Wait for it…wait for it…”

BOOM! A fireball erupted before their eyes but they felt no heat. It curved back from the gate as though they were behind a wall of glass.

Marcus grinned at their vacant expressions:

“That was intense!”

As the wall of flames dwindled they could see the Market Park beyond. It was as though nothing had happened. The hole in the ground at the far end was gone. Along with it the Sheriff had vanished. All that remained were the deep-cut welts left behind by his charge through the turf.

James caught his breath:

“So what next?”

Marcus drew breath deeply:

“I don’t know how to tell you but that wasn’t the last of them. We can’t just wander up to the graveyard now. They know we’re coming.”

Tash sagged. They were exhausted. Louise brushed the dirt from her knees:

“I think we need to go to Auntie Nicky’s.”

Keep up with the story

To read on to Chapter 13: Graveyard and Gardens just click here

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