Tag Archives: amwriting

It’s Here!!!!

On 31st October I received a delivery, one that I’ve been anticipating for a while. I have to admit it’s a little eerie that a dark fantasy/ horror story would be delayed so that it arrived exactly on Halloween but that’s how it went.

So… ladies and gentlemen boys and girls…may I introduce to you the print version of ‘Marcus’.

Set in Crieff, Perthshire, over varying time periods, this story follows the disappearance of numerous children, leading the reader to the slow realisation that something really isn’t right about Marcus.

From frenzied beginnings

I started writing Marcus exactly a year ago to the day. This book was a departure from my usual. My other books are fantasy stories but they’re all part of the same series centred around a boy called Jack Reusen.

These books are aimed at children from primary 3 (around 7 years old) and upwards. Aside from the fantasy and (some) locations, there’s only one real thing that ‘Marcus’ has in common with these books.

Every book I’ve written has been the result of a writers community called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Every November I disappear into my computer and craft a new story. NaNoWriMo pushes writers to complete 50,000 words in one month. So far I’ve never failed (which still surprises me) but I can’t pretend it’s easy keeping the pace to write that much in just thirty days.

In 2017 I decided to try my hand at something new. Not only was I going to write a darker, older, book. On top of that, I was going to use short punchy chapters to allow me to publish it as a serialised novel.

Tuning in each week

I can’t thank those who read my serialised version of Marcus enough. Knowing I had people ‘tuning in’ to catch the next installment each week kept me on my toes and forced me through the editing process (editing is something I’ve never enjoyed very much).

I felt supported in a way I haven’t before during the run-up to a book release. That’s why I felt so guilty when an oversight on my part led to a month delay on the publication of this book. To everyone who has asked about when the books would be here, I am so happy to finally be able to say ‘now’.

A wee party

I’ve sold my other books at Fun Junction in Crieff and Perth for years. They have given me a ridiculous amount of support and now to top it all they’ve volunteered both shops for book-launch events for ‘Marcus’.

I’m planning on hosting the first one in Crieff (it is the setting of the book after all). More than that; the bulk of my support has come from readers around Crieff so I want to make it easy for people to come along.

I’ll get some food and drinks on and we’ll make a night of it. If you would like to come along please let me know (Facebook message, Twitter, leave a comment below, or simply send up smoke signals, whatever works). I’ll do everything I can to keep you up to date on the details of the book launch.

Fun Junction Perth will be running a late night opening on Thursdays so I’ll also run a slightly different event through there as well.

It’s such a relief to finally have the books in my hands and I really hope you like the print edition (it has some changes from the web version). Please leave any comments or questions you like. I always like hearing from readers.

Once again, sorry for the delay, and thank you for bearing with me for so long,

All the best, John

P.S. Now I’m off to start another NaNoWriMo. I’m returning to familiar ground. Looking forward to getting back up to speed with a certain wee boy, a shape-shifting polar-bear girl, and an ‘owl man’ who always knows what to do. Wish me luck! 😉

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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

Marcus: Chapter 23: A monster in the Drummond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something didn’t feel right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The girl relaxed her shoulders:

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

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

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

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

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

Her words dispersed into the night. She was gone.

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He ran.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you have the men here?”

The detective shook his head:

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

Gordon let out an audible sigh of relief:

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

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

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

They had to at least try.

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

Mr Thomas was free.

Keep up with the story

Click here to go to ‘Marcus: Chapter 24: The death of the Drummond Arms‘.

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 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 20: Under The High Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do we do?”

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

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

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

Marcus smiled:

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

He vanished along with the watch.

*

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

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

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

“Did he get them?”

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

“Is it time?”

Marcus shook his head:

“Soon. First I need her.”

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

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

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

“You’ve got my son? You’ve got Theo?”

Marcus nodded slowly:

“You do one thing and he’ll be safe.”

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

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

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

Marcus looked back at the couple standing by the door:

“How many are in here now?”

Nicky shook her head, tears in her eyes:

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

Marcus’ smile was full of pity:

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

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

Marcus shook his head:

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

*

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

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

“Come and see this.”

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

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

Daniel wanted to help his new friend:

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

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

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

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

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

Beth smiled:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…I know Marcus. I know.”

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

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

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

“You know that was my first…”

Beth was gone.

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

*

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

A thread on the bag came unhitched.

Rocks scattered across the floor.

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

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

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

“What now?”

Mr Thomas scanned the room:

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

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

Mr Thomas smiled:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No!”

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

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

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

Mr Thomas laughed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep up with the story

Click here to read on to ‘Marcus: Chapter 21: The forgotten boy’.

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.

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Thanks for reading, all the best, John