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Marcus: Chapter 24: The death of the Drummond Arms

Kenneth Allen / The Drummond Arms, Crieff / CC BY-SA 2.0

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

Tash looked inside the plastic bag, then back at Marcus:

“I don’t understand Marcus. What’s supposed to happen here, I mean when I put these against the stones will you die? How does that stop Mr Thomas?”

Marcus sat on the grass outside the circle:

“I don’t know. Without me he can’t feed on children. He can’t increase his power. I don’t know if I’ll ‘die’, but it’s better than letting him start on this whole thing all over again.”

Tash held one of the bones. It was so light, so old. It was also the only set of bones she’d come across that smelled good. Green, mossy, with the tang of life and energy. It almost vibrated in her fingers.

Tash placed the bone back and wrapped the plastic around. Leaving the bag in the stone circle she took two steps out of the circle’s protection and knelt on the grass beside the ghost-boy.

She had a boy of her own, and could recognise that straight-lipped ‘brave face’ anywhere. Marcus’ eyes glistened and for a moment the black eyes caught the light and looked like ordinary human eyes, whites and all. The trick of the light stuck and two icy blue irises looked at her. Tash grabbed his face in her hands then held him tight:

“You are so brave.”

She held the boy and he wept on her shoulder, a memory of scratchy wool clothing and the smell of heather drifted into his mind. His mother. He couldn’t see her face but he felt her more strongly than he had in centuries.

It was like she was there with him, by his side. Hidden behind a barrier that none of them could see.

Tash squeezed tightly:

“Are you ready?”

Marcus wiped his eyes on his sleeve:

“I think so.”

Tash continued to hold him but nodded for her own children to begin the burial.

It didn’t take long. Marcus’ bones were placed carefully alongside his nephews’ and nieces’. As the final handful of bones was about to be placed under the stone Louise issued a warning:

“It’s the last one. I’m sorry Marcus.”

Marcus laughed a little:

“It’s OK Louise go ahead. I’m ready. I hope this works. Goodbye everyone.”

Louise lifted the final handful of bones, so small they could be from Marcus’ fingers. She tried not to look at Marcus, his face buried in her mum’s shoulder. He looked just like her little brother.

She looked at Andrew, remembered his face just one night before, and placed Marcus’ bones under the stone.

Blue light pulsed in the stones, swirling around them faster and faster. It erupted into the clouds like a beacon in the night sky then arced back down and surged through the stones.

A tendril of green light swirled out like a fast-growing root and inched its way towards Marcus. Louise yelled to her mum and Tash leapt back in time for the green tendril to enter Marcus’ mouth.

His body writhed on the ground. Tash could barely look. The poor boy jolted back. His eyes, bright blue gemstones, flew open, and rolled back in his head with the pain.

This wasn’t supposed to hurt him! All the others had just disappeared. Louise tugged on his bones, wedging her fingernails under them to pry them from the stones. It was no use, they were part of the stone now.

Marcus curled in a ball hugging his knees. This must be the end. They called out encouragement. His knuckles grew white with tension. A gurgling sound came from deep within him. His hands relaxed and he flopped sideways on the freezing grass.

Tash ran to his side:

“He’s unconscious but he’s breathing.”

She stopped and lowered her ear to his mouth again. Marcus was breathing. Marcus didn’t breathe?

His chest rose and fell, rose and fell. She held her ear against his ribs to find the unmistakable thrum of a heartbeat. The boy was alive.

He opened his eyes:

“I’m still here. I’m really here. Did the magic fail? Tash why are you lying on me?”

He stopped talking, lifting his ear to concentrate on something none of the rest of them can hear:

“What is that? That thump thump noise? Can’t you hear it?”

The others shook their heads. He held a hand to his chest and grinned.

*

Fluids of all kinds leaked from the ragged remains of the police car. The safe door jutted out through the engine block, deep inside the crack it had made in the road below.

Gordon looked back to the door of the building, his mind filling the doorway behind with the contents of his darkest nightmares. A sound from above forced the imaginings away.

Slates and other parts of the roof slid away as Mr Thomas tore through, hauling himself into the night. It was hard to tell from this far away, even when some of the officers shone torches up, but Mr Thomas looked taller. A lot taller.

The bell rang in the town clock a few hundred meters behind them, it should have sounded out three am but it only got as far as two before a chunk of the Drummond Arms the size of a small car flew through the clock face and tore the top from the building.

Mr Thomas disappeared to the floor below, returning in moments. The police officers barely got out the way before their cars were riddled with holes and dents.

Mr Thomas’s voice shook the stonework on every building in James Square:

“It is mine. This town. This country. This world. You can do nothing to stop me. I will rebuild the Roman Empire and rule for eternity.”

His laugh shook everything. Gordon’s insides ached from the pressure. He tried to calculate a way out. Some means of defeating a man who could throw two tonne stonework hundreds of feet and still have the energy to rant and laugh.

More rubble, slate, and stonework screamed down into the midst of the police officers. This time Mr Thomas reached some of his targets. Gordon swung round looking for any weapon, anything at all that he could use.

There was nothing, it was hopeless. An almighty creak from above signalled the coming of something truly massive.

The stonework of the chimney tore through the remainder of the roof. The debris alone caused untold damage.

Gordon braced himself waiting for the impact. The sound of Mr Thomas’s grunts spoke of the sheer effort required to move the structure. There was a final yell like a man tossing a caber at the Highland Games.

Gordon was sure he could hear the muscles strain against the weight; creaking like rope on rope, or wood on wood. It was wood on wood.

The top floor of the Drummond Arms had never been intended to take the weight of a man carrying a chimney. Before Mr Thomas could complete his throw the floor buckled beneath him.

The great old joists ripped apart with a sound like thunder. It reverberated throughout the building. There was a split second delay that felt like minutes. Ancient timber gave up it’s endless task with a sound like a great exhaling. Losing the support of joists and struts in such quick succession, the exterior walls lost all integrity. Every moment made an impression on those watching but in truth only twenty seconds went by before the bulk of what was once the Drummond Arms hotel crashing down on top of Mr Thomas.

The officers celebrated and took their chance to drag the injured to safety. Gordon watched on as the walls crumpled inwards leaving gaping areas in the buildings surrounding it. Abandoned living rooms and bedrooms left dangling tongues of old carpet pointing out towards the centre of the chaos.

Nicky had taken her first opportunity to lead the children away from harm. They sat half way down King Street watching the scene unfold at the top of the hill.

The destruction of the old hotel announced itself with a wave of chalky dust and a belly-churning rumble. Even the creatures of the night stopped their hoots, squeaks, and chatters.

The night developed an eerie peace. No one dared break it. If they spoke they might end the silence. They might welcome him back.

Back in the High Street Gordon discovered that Mr Thomas didn’t need anyone to welcome him back. He could find his way without any assistance.

The man emerged from the rubble. His massive form, though covered in dust and dirt, moved with ease. Mr Thomas stood so tall that Gordon’s head would barely touch the man’s elbow. Mahogany skin pulled tightly over ropey muscles, muscles that had grown large and powerful as the years fell off Mr Thomas.

Further down the hill children screamed at the events in the Square. A vibrant, giant of a man stood in the middle of the town and threw a police car down the hill. He threw his head back, laughing at his power, at his ability to walk away from a four-storey demolition, at the pitiful excuse for competition that the local police offered him.

Nicky’s heart leapt into her throat as she watched the nine foot tall monster of a man striding towards the gathered police officers.

Mr Thomas looked out over the town and it was then that Nicky caught a glimpse of his eyes. They were gone, even from the bottom of the hill she could see it. In place of his eyes, brilliant blue flames pouring from Mr Thomas’ eye-sockets.

It gave Nicky an idea.

She was a short run from the Market Park. Another monster with burning eyes might come in handy.

Keep up with the story

Click here to read on to ‘Marcus: Chapter 25: Crieff’s defender‘.

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

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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 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 19: Count the Ghosts

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel fiddled with the latch and shoved the window open:

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

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

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

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

The whisper penetrated the closed glass:

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

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

I will not help them.”

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

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

Daniel held his knees:

I’m scared.”

The girl’s voice softened:

…so am I. We all are. Can I come in?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She leaned her green-white cheek on the window:

…do you know how old I am?”

Daniel refused to look at her:

I don’t know. Eleven? Maybe twelve?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Releasing?”

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

Daniel’s hopes floundered:

It won’t?”

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

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

She slipped in with no effort whatsoever:

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gag these snivelling lumps.”

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

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

Counk ghe ghosks!”

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

Count the ghosts?”

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

Keep up with the story

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, all the best, John

Marcus: Chapter 20: Under The High Street

Marcus: Chapter 18: Between a rock and more rocks

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

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

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

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

Tash called James:

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

There was a pause before James replied:

“No good news?”

“No good news…”

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

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

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

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

“Is he there? Is Mum coming too?”

James still couldn’t get the truth out:

“No. Just us for now.”

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

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

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

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

Harry took the lie and played up his boredom:

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

James and Theo saw this as a strong positive.

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

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

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

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

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

Still no Marcus.

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

Still no Marcus.

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

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

If you find this, run!

Sorry. I tried, Marcus

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

Marcus gathered into his solid form and ran after them.

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

*

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

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

She looked at Marcus. More than enough.

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

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

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

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

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

Tash sat down on one of the rocks:

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

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

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

Five children taken. Ten children.

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

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

Keep up with the story

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, all the best, John

 

Marcus Chapter 11 Overcome by Blank Faces

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

Theo wanted to help his friend but this was beyond anything he had expected:

“Find their bones? You think Daniel is beside their BONES!? What’s are they planning on doing with him?”

Marcus didn’t have any nice answers. He had some nasty ones but he didn’t want to say them out loud. Instead he focussed on what they could deal with right now:

“Maybe they’re just used to gathering children. I don’t know. Whatever it is, they won’t stop until they have four. It’s always four.”

Marcus looked at Andrew and sighed: “We’ll have to deal with Andrew’s ‘whispers’ later.”

James coughed:

“I wanted to ask you about something. Last time; we all felt something. We all lost a bit of energy. It worked a little didn’t it? It’s how you’re still here. Now it’s all happening again and we’re going to stop them. What happens if there’s no energy this time? Will you run out? Would you…”

Marcus interrupted:

“To be honest James I have no idea. For now lets save Daniel. We can discuss whether this will kill me later.”

That was the end of the discussion. Marcus was on his way to the exit as he spoke. The others followed followed close behind then stopped dead as Marcus shoved the emergency bar on the door and motioned for them to follow:

“Stay low. Keep hidden. I have some power. I can probably ward off two or three ghouls. If any more turn up take my advice; run.”

They rounded the corner. A boy and a girl, silhouetted by distant street lights, blocked their way. Black, lifeless, unblinking eyes took them in. The only sign of recognition; the slightest tilt of their heads. Marcus dissolved into smoke and swirled towards them, flinging them at the walls to either side.

The small group saw their chance and hurried past. Picking up the pace as they looked back to see the ghoul-children dusting themselves off. The school gates were locked, leaving them with a scrabbled climb over the fence. Steps away from the fence Tash stopped and pointed.

From the other side of the bars four blank faces slid into view, unblinking ghoul-children, each with a slight head-tilt of recognition. Each developing the smallest hint of a smile.

Marcus turned on his heel and made for the lane down the side of the school:

“Change of plan. Get out over the front fence. Any way you can. If we get split up, meet at the old graveyard on Church Street. I have an idea.”

They climbed the low fence that led to what Theo and Andrew had known as the ‘junior’ playground; their old playground.

As they set foot on the concrete. Two of the ghoul-children turned from the others and made their way down the hill; that route also led to the front of the school. Marcus saw them:

“OK, guess they’re smarter than I realised. RUN!!!”

James and Tash helped the kids over the locked gate and down the lane to the front. Every person that climbed through the narrow gap gave the ghoul-children more time to get ahead of them.

By the time James had climbed over to join them the other ghoul-children had disappeared too. This plan had flaws. Tash had one question:

“How strong are those things?”

Marcus shrugged:

“Never saw them up against an adult but they are strong. Whatever you do don’t let one grab you. I don’t think you’d get away if it did.”

The first two ghoul-children were there to meet them at the bottom of the lane. Marcus ‘smoked’ them, re-materialising instantly in a pained crouch on the ground:

“Can’t do that again. Like my insides were hanging out. It’s all on you guys now.”

James and Tash raided an old shed that used to contain play equipment for the nursery school. They got an abandoned scooter and a metal bucket. No one wanted to belittle their cache of ‘weapons’ but they all thought it; things could be better.

The other two ghoul-children had placed themselves at the old school gate. The group had no plans of going to the gate though. They laughed at the ghoul-children’s foolishness as they jumped over the low fence.

They heard the giggling before they landed. A group of eight or ten ghoul-children huddled out of sight under the wall. As they jumped down the children grabbed at their clothes, their hair, their ankles.

Tash swung the scooter on it’s axis like some giant, rusty nunchuk. It cracked one of the ghoul-boys right across the head. James whacked one of the ghoul-girls in the hand with the bucket. Her knuckles made an meaty ‘crunch’.

The other ghoul-children closed in. Surrounded by grasping hands on all sides, they were running out of options. Neither adult could swing their weapon without hurting one of their group. Marcus sighed:

“I’m going to try something. It might not work and when I’m done I need one of you to carry me. It’s going to use everything I’ve got.”

The smoke cloud erupted around Marcus again. He vanished from view as black mist closed around their group.

Inside the mist they smelled moss and dampness; clean, natural, and old. Strangely calming in its own way. They felt the sensation of movement and the next thing they knew they were about a half-mile away in Market Park.

The cloud gathered into a pile on the ground. Marcus lay motionless. Louise leaned forward to check on him:

“He’s got no pulse! He isn’t breathing!”

Her mum shushed her:

“He’s a ghost Lou. I don’t think he ever breathes.”

They laughed nervously. Tash crouched down to pick up the boy:

“Oh, he’s heaver than I thought. James could you give me a hand? James?…”

James wasn’t there.

*

Daniel woke up and wished he hadn’t. He couldn’t move again. There were no ropes, he wasn’t tied up. All the same, the only parts of his body he could move were his eyes. They made him do what they wanted, so long as those four things were there, he had no choice. Daniel could barely see through the tears.

When they left the room he could move around. He had looked for a way out, tried all the doors but only the cupboard was unlocked. Others like them, more black-eyed creatures, watched from outside the barred windows but these others didn’t have the power. He missed even that taste of freedom.

His knees ached. His muscles twitched. He wanted to stretch his legs but he could barely control his own breathing. There wasn’t enough air. They were doing it on purpose. Suffocating him. Knocking him out, again.

*

When you don’t care who you hurt it’s surprising how much damage you can do with a metal bucket.

James was in a bit of a frenzy now. Most of the ghoul-children were flat on their backs but they didn’t stay that way for long.

One tried to stand up and met the mighty wrath of the bucket right to the temple. James swung round and caught another of them square in the chest. Knocking them directly into the middle of Commissioner Street. It left a gap for him to slip through.

He got a few steps away and stopped. Where should he go next? They were to meet at the graveyard in Church Street but he didn’t want to lead the ghoul-children straight to the others. Instead he went in the opposite direction; towards the Market Park.

James’ pondering had left the ghoul-children enough time to gather around him again. Why hadn’t he just ran? Why did he have to overthink everything? All he needed was enough space to run through. He swung the bucket again. The handle had grown misshapen. This was the last straw.

The twisted handle released the bucket as James arched it towards a ghoul-child. Bucket and handle were parted forever as it flew over the ghoul-child’s head and landed with a ‘clunk’ in the distance.

The handle was not an effective weapon. As the ghouls inched closer James looked around for something, anything, he could use to open that gap.

Keep up with the story

Click here to read on to ‘Marcus: Chapter 12: The Sheriff’.

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 10: Hiding from Lifeless Eyes

john bray local author nanowrimo national novel writing month scotland perthshire

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

“But what about Daniel? He wandered off with that…thing. Shouldn’t we call the police or something?”

Theo called back to the adults as he marched at top speed towards his school. When he looked back he realised they were on the other path. Louise noticed too:

“I thought you said we were going to the school.”

Both adults answered in chorus:

“We are!”

Louise was not impressed:

“Wait! You mean the old school? No way! There’s no one there. How can that help get Andrew better or help us find Daniel? Besides it’s creepy at night.”

Theo had to agree. A visit to an abandoned primary school, at night, was not his first choice after what they’d been through already.

There wasn’t any discussion to be had. Tash and James marched a dazed and confused Andrew onwards and the others had no choice but to keep up.

Theo didn’t even like walking past the old school during the day. It had actually been his school for a few years before it had closed, before they all moved to the new one. It had been really good. A fun place. Somewhere he had met most of his friends.

It was different now. All the classrooms had been gutted. The pictures weren’t stuck on the windows any more. No one had drawn chalk pictures on the playground for years.

It was a sad place to walk past in the daytime. Theo didn’t like to think what it might be like at night.

The old school did not look great at night. What were his dad and Andrew’s mum thinking?

They suggested that it ‘might be easier’ if they went round the back of the school. (What might be easier?)

The gates were locked but it was easy enough to climb the old fence into the back playground. Once they were all in they made their way to the back of the building. Theo’s dad smiled:

“Used to play ‘tig’ over there.”

The smile faded as a whistle echoed around the old playground.

Theo hunted round for the source of the sound. His eyes almost missed the face in a classroom window. Why was someone inside the building. The boy looked familiar but his face was really pale. It was hard to tell.

He pointed the boy out to the others. His dad and Andrew’s mum ran in the direction of the window.

They tried the door nearest them but it was locked. All the doors would be locked. Again, how did that boy get into the school?

The boy waved and pointed towards the fire exit up near the gym hall. They walked towards it (as quickly as Andrew could be dragged along). It burst open just as they got to it. Theo recognised Marcus now. Was the Marcus his dad had mentioned his Marcus? Marcus looked out behind them carefully:

“I can’t see any ghoul-children. We should be safe. Get in and I’ll lock up again.”

The door closed behind them with an almighty slam. Even Andrew jumped.

Marcus looked at the boys and at Louise but seemed to be speaking to the adults:

“Have you told them any of it?”

The adults shook their heads. Tash held Andrew close, turning him to face Marcus:

“Did you do this?”

Marcus leaned in close to Andrew and placed his hand on his head. Tash was shaking:

“WELL??!”

Marcus jumped at the shout, shook his head and stepped back from the boy:

“No I didn’t do this. I don’t understand.”

The adults breathed deeply and slumped to the ground. Tash held her son close. He hadn’t spoken since they had found him. His eyes darted around, focussing on nothing in particular. Tash looked up from him, her expression strained:

“Marcus please say you can do something for my son.”

Marcus sat down on the floor beside them:

“My power isn’t what it was but I’ll see what I can do.”

He held Andrew’s hand and struggled to make eye contact as Andrew’s eyes darted round in all directions. Marcus persisted until Andrew’s gaze seemed to lock onto him and stay there:

“Marcus? Are we in school? What happened?” He looked around at the others from the floor “Why am I on the floor? Why are you at school mum? Wait this is the old school!”

He didn’t get his answers. At least not straight away. Everyone was too relieved to see him talking again. Marcus was the first to answer his questions:

“Good to see you again Andrew. There’s a lot to explain but we don’t have much time. I’m an old friend of your mum’s…Actually, am I an old friend?”

Marcus turned to the adults with an almost pleading look. Tash and James nodded. Tash put her hand on his arm:

“We know what you were doing for us. How difficult it must have been. Of course you’re a friend.”

Marcus beamed at them:

“I’m so glad. And James, you’ve got grey hair!” James didn’t see this as something worth celebrating. Marcus did “I’ve never had a friend with grey hair before!”

The sounds of the old school creaked around them. No one spoke. Marcus coughed:

“Anyway, I’m not what you think. Maybe your parents could fill you in.”

Tash and James shared everything they knew. Marcus being ‘healed’ by a Druid two-thousand years ago, the Roman (Mr Thomas), the kidnappings every twenty-five years since, ending with what Marcus had done for them when they were kids.

As the story moved along the others moved further from Marcus. Despite his frequent ‘sorry’s at some of the worst bits, the children still kept their distance.

The adults smiled as they finished. Louise threw her arms in the air:

“Was that supposed to make us feel better? You even brought us to the same school. With this ghost kid. This does not seem like the best plan.”

Marcus jumped in:

“I’m not a ghost. Actually I’m not sure what I am.”

Louise’s eyes jumped from Marcus to her mum and back again as though trying to gauge who was the most messed up. She sat down on the floor crossing her arms and legs:

“So what now?”

Marcus stood up slowly, his eyes fixed on something they couldn’t see. Through the open door of a classroom, out the window, to the darkened playground beyond. His voice shook a little:

“Now we all get up. We don’t look round. Then we move away from the windows so those ghouls can’t watch us any more.”

Theo sneaked a glance into the classroom and out the window. A boy and a girl gripped the bars on the windows, their black eyes fixed on Andrew.

*

Without saying a word they shuffled along the corridor and further into the school building. There were a lot of windows but it was an old building with lots of twists and turns. It didn’t take long to find a hiding place.

Andrew’s breathing came in great bursts. The only words he got out were: “Why me?”

Marcus shrugged:

“I’m sorry Andrew. I wish I knew.”

Marcus looked to his old friends for help:

“What happened after I last saw you? Where did Mr Thomas end up?”

James frowned:

“We never saw him again. The police tried to find him but declared him dead a few years ago.”

Marcus screwed up his face:

“Declared him dead? What does that mean?”

James shrugged:

“They looked for him so long, there was no trace of him. At that point they filled in some forms. He’s gone.”

Marcus’ face lit up:

“He’s really gone? I didn’t think I could have a life without him. Every twenty-five years I’d turn up, he’d use me to get another burst of energy, then I’d disappear and he would have another twenty-five years to use for his own enjoyment.”

James and Tash celebrated along with Marcus. Louise, Andrew, and Theo shook their heads in disbelief. Louise stared at them:

“That’s great. So can any of you explain why a bunch of freaky ghost-kids are sneaking around kidnapping people?”

Marcus frowned:

“No. I can’t connect to them any more. It’s hard to figure out what they’re up to.”

Marcus ignored the blank faces of the others:

“OK lets deal with the easier question; what happened tonight?”

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

Theo told the story of the face on his trip home from school and his conversation with his friends online. Marcus jumped in as soon as he got to the bit about Daniel and the ghoul:

“You’re going to have to explain all this ‘online’ business to me another time. I have no idea what you’re all talking about. But are you trying to say the ghoul-children got someone?”

Theo seemed to think Marcus already knew about Daniel. He shook his head:

“Of course I didn’t know. Do we know where they took him?”

Everyone gaped. They had hoped Marcus could help with that. Marcus started listing all the likely sites when Andrew ‘shushed’ him:

“What’s that whispering sound? Can anyone else hear that?”

No one else could.

The moment passed with uncomfortable coughs. Tash put her arm round her son, Marcus had got him talking but he clearly wasn’t back to normal yet. She hunted for a change of topic:

“Marcus, you were listing places we might find the ghoul-children.”

Marcus shook his head:

“Actually I was listing empty buildings in town. If we’re trying to track down the ghoul-children themselves there’s one solution that jumps out. You’re not going to like it.”

Theo thought back to the last time he had seen Daniel. A small shape drawn away by one of those things. They couldn’t leave Daniel with them any longer:

“Whatever it is it’ll be worth it. We’ve got to help Daniel.”

Marcus braced himself:

“We need to find their bones.”

Keep up with the story

Click here to read on to ‘Marcus Chapter 11 Overcome by Blank Faces’.

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