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Marcus: Chapter 26: In the ruins of the High Street

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

Tash slammed on the breaks and tried to process the scene in front of her. A huge torso quivered on the road ahead, arms outstretched, head flung back in anguish.

Marcus climbed out of the car before anyone could stop him. The sheriff looked up at the boy. Recognition dawned slowly over Sheriff’s rotting features:

“YOU!? BUT HOW? YOU LIVE AGAIN?”

Marcus shook his head:

“It’s a long story, too long to go into. How bad is it there? I take it he did this?”

The sheriff bowed his head, he didn’t wear shame well:

“A CHEAT, THAT’S ALL HE IS. A FILTHY CHEAT.”

The sheriff drew back as Marcus knelt to lift his arm:

“I need to move you. We need through and you need to rest. You’ll be back to your usual self by tomorrow night.”

The sheriff nodded. Even half of the giant proved too much for Marcus’ new body to pull. Others came from the car to help. Straining to maintain their grip on his sinewy form, holding their breath against the stench. They hauled the huge rotten torso onto the pavement.

Looking at the exhausted form of the Sheriff, Tash couldn’t bring herself to start the engine. Andrew piped up from the back seat:

“Mum? Is dad still there? Is Auntie Nicky with him?”

Tash looked ahead and turned the key in the ignition.

*

Gordon had lost all hope. The only positive he could think of was that his kids were safely hidden behind the stone circle on the edge of town. Then he saw the boy.

He was a friend of Andrew’s, he lived next door to Tash’s place. Gordon couldn’t even remember the kid’s name and still he ran for him pulling him behind a flower planter. The boy yelled in protest, oblivious to the danger he was in.

A police officer flew overhead, crashing through a shop window. The boy stopped yelling. Gordon grabbed onto his shoulders:

“What are you doing here? Didn’t you hear the crashes? The explosions? The cars thrown down King Street? Why would you walk towards this?”

The boy looked him in the eye, sheer terror radiating from every pore. This kid wasn’t here through choice.

Daniel started to cry. He had promised her. He was so close and now the police had him. He was Andrew’s dad but he was still a police man. Daniel didn’t want to do it anyway but she had told him it was the only way to save everyone:

“I told her I’d be here. I promised.”

Gordon smiled. A girl. That explained everything (and it was a lot better than mind control). Gordon manoeuvred Daniel to crouch behind the planter and chanced a glance out in the direction of Mr Thomas. All was quiet.

*

Gordon’s car screeched around the corner and with it evaporated all hope of safety for all of them. Mr Thomas dropped a sandstone block from each hand and turned to face the oncoming police car:

“Marcus! You’ve come back to join me.”

The group exited the car. (All but Taz who slumped over in the boot. He wasn’t planning on any walking for a while.) Marcus didn’t even give an answer. Mr Thomas shrugged:

“A foolish hope I suppose. However, I see you brought me gifts. Now which to choose?”

Mr Thomas scanned the faces of everyone. Looking for something important, something the rest of them couldn’t see:

“I got more from some of you than others. It binds us in a way. I still don’t understand it myself…”

His eyes settled on James:

“Ah, perfect. Yes, it looks like we have a volunteer.”

James had no idea what the man was talking about. Marcus spotted it first:

“James you’re glowing.”

Through the skin on his face they could make out the faintest glimmer of blue in the shape of James’ skull. When James spoke you could see it even more clearly from his teeth. The glow grew brighter.

Mr Thomas walked to James, towering over them. He looked down at James with his newly luminescent skeleton. The new blue glow of his skull matching the blue flames in Mr Thomas’s eyes perfectly. The giant grinned:

“I wonder…”

Mr Thomas spoke under his breath and James dropped to his knees. The pain had come on so quickly that he didn’t even have time to scream. His teeth gritted against the strain as he felt every bone in his body trying to come out. His skeleton obeying the command of the giant before him while his flesh drew in the opposite direction.

Sweat dribbled down his chin. There had not been another moment in James’ life when he had felt so utterly helpless. Mr Thomas, at last, said something under his breath and the pain stopped:

“Fascinating.”

From King Street James could hear the voice of his oldest son Theo. Nicky screamed after him trying to persuade him to stay back. To stay with the other children in safety.

Mr Thomas took great pleasure in the scene:

“Oh, now, would that work?”

James had no interest whatsoever in finding out what ‘that was. He was given the opportunity to find out all the same.

His bones pulled against his flesh again. This time, the pulls were more coordinated. James was puppeted onto his feet and was made to walk towards his son. He tried to shout to him, to warn him to stay away, but his jaw bone held so tight that he could barely whimper.

The boy ran to him, closing the gap between them. James pulled against his bones with every fibre of his being, he could feel things tearing inside his body. If he had to tear himself apart to save his son then so be it.

His efforts did nothing in the end. Theo ran to him arms open wide. Beyond all control James’ arm swung at Theo. An alarmingly hard slap, but no more.

James’ emotions roller-coasted between relief at his son’s safety and revulsion at the pain he must have inflicted.

The boy’s face glowed pink and his eyes welled up with tears. Mr Thomas stood behind James and sighed:

“I’m not a monster James. I wouldn’t make you kill your own child. So long as you are loyal to me that is. Do exactly as I say and you can be assured that your family will remain safe.”

Willow ran to her son and, holding him close, led Theo away from his dad and the monster controlling him. James flopped onto the pavement, his forehead leaning on the frosted tarmac. He looked up at Mr Thomas:

“I will never be your puppet, you revolting piece of…

Mr Thomas slammed James’ jaw shut:

“Now now James. I did warn you.”

James lifted from the ground, writhing against the will of the man before him. His eyes swirled in his head, barely an ounce of willpower left. Everyone stood mannequin-still, hollow with fear. If they hadn’t witnessed the bifurcated Sheriff they would have considered doing something. At this stage one move could result in instant death for James.

Gordon wasn’t so easily put off. He grasped hold of a flag pole from among the rubble and ran full-pelt a Mr Thomas. The pole reverberated in Gordon’s hands. It was as though he had driven it at solid concrete.

Mr Thomas stepped back with the force of the blow, throwing his hands in the air:

“Remarkable; an evening of heroes! So many risking themselves for literally no gain.”

He grabbed the flagpole and swung it like a baseball bat, getting a feel for it’s weight. He laughed as it swung and collided with Gordon’s ribs. The man flew through the air and landed with a crunch at the bus stop.

His kids ran to his side (Tash wasn’t quick enough to hold them back). Mr Thomas grinned:

“I get the connection now! How interesting. So we have dads defending kids all round.”

Daniel stepped forward from behind the planter. Mr Thomas sighed with mock concern:

“Oh Daniel, what are you doing? You don’t have a dad to defend you,” he looked at the two men writhing on the ground “not that it would make that much of a difference mind you.”

Daniel reached into the inside of his jacket and pulled out a large kitchen knife. Mr Thomas’s fiery eyes widened:

“I am impressed. I mean I also find it hilarious, that goes without saying. A strong will too. I’ve seen many things in my life and yet you have impressed me young man. However, there is nothing you can do to harm me so long as that young man there is around,” (he pointed at Marcus) “I am, as far as I know, indestructible.”

Daniel had tears in his eyes:

“That’s what Beth thought too…”

Mr Thomas frowned:

“Who is Beth?”

Marcus looked to Daniel, his face ashen white, then back at Mr Thomas:

“She was my friend once. I’m not surprised you don’t remember her. You never remembered any of them. She was a very smart girl. Probably the smartest kid I ever knew. She would know what needed to be done.” (he turned to Daniel) “She told you didn’t she?”

Mr Thomas’s eyes blazed:

“What are you talking about?”

Daniel nodded at Marcus and stepped towards him. He hesitated for a moment looking into the ghost boys eyes. Marcus smiled:

“It’s OK. She was right. It’s the only way.”

Daniel thrust the knife into Marcus’ chest. It slid in much deeper than he expected.

Marcus fell to his knees. The others screamed. Seconds hung in the still November air, frozen and silent.

Marcus spoke in a whisper:

“Daniel, you missed.”

Mr Thomas roared. Blue light swirled from him, flowing up the hill, to the distant stones. Daniel knelt in front of Marcus, wiping the tears from his eyes:

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. What to I do?”

Marcus grunted as he pulled the knife from his ribs. It slipped onto the pavement between them. Daniel wiped the blade on his jumper. Marcus laughed a little:

“I don’t think you need to worry about cleaning it.”

He looked at the boy in front of him:

“It’s OK you know. I’ve lived too long. Seen too much death. I hurt people. I was lonely and dozens of children suffered because of that. I’d like to do something right.”

He had missed having a heartbeat. He used it to guide Daniel:

“Here!, And please be quick. He’s coming.”

Mr Thomas was striding towards them through the rubble, his steps less sure, his form less intimidating. Daniel looked to Marcus with a smile:

“He’s getting weaker. Maybe I don’t have to…Maybe you don’t have to…”

Marcus shook his head:

“No half measures. We have to mean this. Save your friends. Save my friends.”

He looked towards the crowd gathered around him. James had even recovered enough to pull himself towards them. Marcus smiled:

“You are my friends aren’t you?”

James grabbed the boys hand:

“Of course Marcus.”

Marcus relaxed:

“That’s good. Thank you….James you’ve got grey hair there old man. I don’t think I’ve ever had a friend with grey hair before…”

Mr Thomas propped himself up with the flagpole and heaved himself in their direction. Daniel looked up and pictured it all starting again. So many children, so many years stolen. His lips still tingled with Beth’s first kiss. A first that should have happened seventy-five years before:

“I’m so sorry Marcus.”

The knife found it’s target this time. As Marcus’ pulse slowed the blue light flowed away faster. Mr Thomas dropped to the ground, degrading into a walking corpse before their eyes.

The corpse quivered, lifting an arm towards the dying boy. Still reaching for a hold on life. Nicky wobbled through the rubble and grabbed a chunk of sandstone from the fallen hotel. When the boulder landed on Mr Thomas the bones collapsed like a melon. He was finished.

The others watched as Marcus drifted away. His body lay there, perfectly human, a smile hanging on his lips, but Marcus was gone. James reached over and closed the boy’s eyes.

A final glimpse of brilliant blue and it was done.

***

A smell of brothy soup and the feeling of rough hand-woven wool. Her arms held him tightly. The boy was home.

The end of the story

I hope you’ve enjoyed following this story over the past few months. I would welcome any feedback you might have.

The book will be available in print and in kindle format at the end of September 2018 (perfect timing for the long nights drawing in).

If you would like to pre-order a copy for yourself, or as a gift for someone else, please click on the link below to pay for your copy now via PayPal (you can also pay via Debit or Credit card).

It would make a great gift for any horror/dark fantasy fans who have some link to Crieff or the area.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have followed this story through. The readership has grown steadily over the past few months and your interest has made my job all the more enjoyable. Thank you all,

All the best, and thanks for reading, John

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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‘.

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Thanks for reading, all the best, John

Marcus: Chapter 4: Clanks and Shadow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

James straightened up and looked Taz straight in the eye:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I guess it’s my turn to tig you…”

 

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The Ogres: Chapter 4: Miners

To find your way back to the very first chapter click this link

Machines

Huge machines rumbled past the tent and shuddered to a stop. People climbed out to look around, wandering off in all directions.

Mee and Bur-up could tell that something bad would happen if one of these people found them. The Alex and the Logan told them to go back to the cave and do what they could to hide the entrance. They also took most of the stones and metal with them. The boys hid the rest in their jacket pockets.

The people from the trucks were everywhere. The sun had only just come up and these people were busy rummaging through the forest. The family tidied away their tent and did their best to hide too.

The boys’ parents called people on mobile phones and discussed the value of the hill and how much gold they might need to buy it. The Logan and the Alex worried when their dad said “That much?!”

The family had no car to go to and they didn’t want to risk hiding in the cave. If any of these people saw them going into it then all of this would be for nothing.

More phone calls and the boys grew more and more bored. The Alex wandered off with his big brother and played in the forest. Only a few rounds of tig later a man turned up. He was very smart and was carrying a shiny leather case:

“Sorry boys but I’m in the process of buying this place. We’re doing some very dangerous work today. Lots of drilling and digging. I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave.”

Neither of the boys knew what to say. The smart man couldn’t buy a hill could he? They wandered back to their parents just as their mum was getting off the phone:

“What’s wrong boys? You look upset.”

The Logan looked back at the smart man:

“He says he’s buying the hill. You can’t buy an entire hill can you?”

Their mum laughed:

“Actually, I think we just did.”

The angry smart man

They looked back to the smart man with his briefcase. His phone went off. Moments after he answered it, his face turned purple:

“That’s not possible! Who else could have known?…Wait how much did they offer? That’s ridiculous. Keep the deal on hold. There’s no way someone has access to that much money that quickly.”

The man hung up his phone and stuffed it into his pocket. He turned to the quiet trucks behind him:

“OK guys we have to pack up for the day. Deal hit a snag, we’ll be back though. Just have to sort out a few things.”

The angry smart man walked past the family on his way back to his fancy car:

“Looks like you’ve got another day to play boys. We’ll be back tomorrow I think. Enjoy your day.”

He opened his car, got inside, and drove away at top speed. The boys looked at their parents:

“How did you do that?”

Their dad’s eyes widened:

“We promised a lot. Lets hope our new friends can help.”

It took longer than they expected for them to find the cave. When they did it was clear that Mee and Bur-Up were experts at hide and seek. A heap of bracken had been torn up in small patches all around the cave and then piled up in front of the opening. It was so expertly laced that it just looked like a mound of earth.

You would only know the cave was there if you saw people going into it. As the family slipped into the cave someone did see. Far away the smart man was sitting in his car with a pair of binoculars. (“So that’s where they found the sapphire.”)

He climbed out of his car and followed the family’s trail as quietly as he could.

Great big steps

The stairs were very steep. Too steep even for the adults. The boys had to jump from one step to the next and after about fifty their legs started to ache. Surely they would find Mee and Bur-Up soon?

Every now and then they called down the tunnel in front of them, their voices echoing away to nothing. Finally they all needed a rest. The tunnel was getting warmer and it was getting harder and harder to breathe.

Above them a man took off his long overcoat and scarf and sat on a step as well. He could have kept going but the sounds of the family climbing down had stopped. He didn’t want to bump into them, he just wanted to find out where the sapphires were.

Deep below them the echoing voices reached Mee and Bur-Up at the bottom of the stair. The sound couldn’t have come at a worse time. Their leader Biggin was furious to see two bigger-folk strolling down the stairs of Ey-Kan as though it was an ordinary walk in the caverns.

He was figuring out the right punishment when the sound of little-people echoed down to them. Not just little people but little-people who knew both Mee and Bur-Up by name.

Biggin lifted his hands in anger:

“What did you do?”

Mee and Bur-Up hadn’t even told him about the trucks and about being ‘interesting’ yet. When they did he looked like he might just bounce them all the way back up the stairs himself:

“So how do we stop being interesting?”

Mee smiled:

“Don’t worry the boys’ parents had a plan. Though we left before we found out what it was.”

Biggin looked at them as though they had lost their minds:

“What were you thinking?”

Mee was almost in tears:

“It’s hard to explain. When we’re up there it’s like our brains stop working properly. I think it’s the cold.”

Biggin shook his head:

“So all of this bother and the big ice is still there?”

Mee got excited at this bit:

“No, actually no, the ice is gone. The boys explained. It’s just something called ‘winter’. After a little time goes by they get something called ‘spring’ when the plants grow and the animals wake back up again.”

There was a small crowd of bigger-folk gathered to listen to the surface adventurers. A few of them liked the sound of this ‘spring’ thing. In fact even Biggin liked the idea of seeing somewhere new (though for now he couldn’t admit it).

Biggin pulled himself up straight, looking as big and leader-like as he could:

“Right, before we think about anything else we need to see what the little-people’s plan is to make us less interesting.”

Presents for little-people

A lot of the bigger-folk wanted to follow Mee and Bur-Up as they made their way back up the stairs. Some even grabbed gifts for the little people they might meet up there.

As they walked up, each step made them feel odd. Mee and Bur-Up were more used to it now but more than a few of the others had to stop for a rest every few steps.

Their heads got a little fuzzy too, and their arms and legs changed colour and got more wobbly and thumpy (like it was harder to control them).

The yells from the family above got louder and louder (more loud hu-mans) until they could see four little people perched on the edge of a step looking down at them. The Alex jumped up and waved his hands in the air:

“They’re back, they’re back, and they brought friends.”

Further up the steps the smart man listened with great interest.

Who were ‘they’? Where were they back from? and Who were their friends?

Subscribe

Don’t forget to subscribe to get Ogre stories straight to your inbox. You’ll also get access to printable A4 sheets to make story reading easier. All free (and I’ll only use your e-mail address to send you weekly Ogre stories).

If you’d like these stories in your e-mail inbox (along with easy to print pdf documents) click here.

As always, thank you for reading, All the best, John

Story Sundays

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

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

Marcus

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ogres

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

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

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

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

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

Thank You

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

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

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

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

As always, thanks for reading,

All the best, John

 

About my new book ‘Marcus’

Please be aware that ‘Marcus’ is not aimed at younger readers.

I’ve been writing ‘properly’ for four years now. The Jack Reusen books are aimed at children of around eight years old and over. They are primarily fantasy stories, adventures in magic in which the main characters grow and develop. There’s a coming of age component to them which seems to resonate with kids. I love writing these books.

However, there are forms of magic that are too dark for Jack’s world. This year (2017) for National Novel Writing Month (otherwise known as NaNoWriMo) I decided to write a book that played with that magic. It went to a dark place. A place that isn’t appropriate for children.

What is ‘Marcus’ about?

Children are asked to grow up very quickly now. There is some truth to the idea that the teen years seem to be bleeding into the twenty-somethings, creating something called ‘twenagers’ apparently. This is something that I didn’t really see occur when I was that age (though I’m not saying this is a bad thing).

However, Children as young as eight or nine are being described as ‘pre-teen’, where the simple term ‘child’ would have sufficed in the past. The complicated description of this would tie together the odd pre-teen/twenager issue. The simple way to describe it is to say kids are growing up too fast.

Marcus is a book that looks at what happens when a child doesn’t grow up too fast. It’s a book about a boy who never grows up at all (and not in a Peter Pan, happy thoughts and fairy-dust sense).

Set in Crieff, it is a horror story about the importance of growing up. It features some of Crieff’s history along with some of my own creation (it is not intended to be completely historically accurate).

Who is Marcus?

Marcus is brilliant. Everyone at school likes him (even the teachers) but when James finds Marcus’ ‘grandad’ in an old school photo things get really strange.

The photo is odd, too similar to Marcus. Even more little things mount up. Marcus arrives late in the front office every morning. He’s always last to be picked up (even the teachers don’t remember seeing him go). Marcus doesn’t go to any after-school clubs, he doesn’t come round to anyone’s house. No one has even once bumped into him at the supermarket. Possibly strangest of all, no one has ever seen Marcus eating lunch.

There’s a lot more to Marcus than meets the eye and as James and his friends start to investigate they find that the closer they get to the truth. The more dangerous things become.

Marcus is far from what he seems but he is also not alone. Who should they trust? and what fate awaits them if they place their trust in the wrong hands?

In a room more ancient than their school or even the town of Crieff itself they find their answers. Can they escape? Will they ever see their missing friends again? What is the truth about Marcus?

(AND THAT’S JUST THE FIRST EIGHT CHAPTERS)

Please read on, I hope you enjoy the story. I’ll post a chapter every day as it’s revised and edited. If you see anything wrong or if you know some part of Crieff’s history that contradicts the events in the book please leave a comment (I’ll do what I can to fix it).

This is a work in progress, what you read here may change as time goes on but I will do everything I can to maintain the characters, setting, and overall story. I look forward to hearing from you.

All the best, John

Why are Jack Reusen books so short?

harry potter page 1A long long time ago (actually it was only three years back) I tried to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to my eldest son. It was a few weeks after his seventh birthday and he was on holiday from school. I thought that at last he was ready to sit down and enjoy one of the best children’s fantasy series ever written. He wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, he enjoyed it but his attention started lagging in the middle of each chapter. I tried to keep my reading as animated as possible but we still ended up stopping in the middle of some chapters. We would take a break, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes until the next day. For the most part it seemed to work. However, with each break he seemed to forget more details about the book.

At their heart Harry Potter books are mystery books in a fantasy setting. There are clues to remember and puzzles to solve throughout. Forgetting details in these sorts of books takes a lot of the oomph out of them.

I would be asked things like ‘Who’s Ron?’ ‘Why can’t Harry just do magic straight away?’ or possibly the most telling ‘Why does he live with his Aunt and Uncle?’ (asked when Harry has his first Hogwarts Christmas). It was clear he was forgetting more than he was remembering and at around chapter six or seven I could see that almost everything was going over his head.

We put Harry Potter away, to come back to when he was a bit older. All the same, the experience of trying to retain his interest lodged in my mind.

This sensation came back to me when November of 2014 rolled in. The nights grew long, and I discovered a new way to write. NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) fell into my lap. They said something like ‘you have a book inside you waiting to get out’ and I realised that there really was.

Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame became something that I needed to write; something fantastical, exciting, relatable, and importantly, a book that could (hopefully) maintain the interest of an energetic seven-year-old like my son.

There are lots of books for seven-year-olds. Incredible, exciting, sometimes hillarious books, but I felt like I could write something a bit different. I wanted an element of the seriousness of ‘older’ fantasy books, and a slight taste of the danger and thrills that come with that.

From my own experience I realised that I could hold my son’s attention for about ten minutes, so (estimating a reading speed of about 250 words per minute) I worked out that my chapters needed to be no more than 2,500 words long.

I also wanted to make sure the story could be read all the way through in a relatively small space of time so I limited my chapter count to be sure that the whole book could be read in around a fortnight (at a rate of one or two chapters per night).

When I released the first book in the Jack Reusen series I began to hear that other families were having exactly the experience I’d hoped they would. (I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that some parents were sneakily reading ahead to see what happened next). These responses were brilliant, then, around a month after release, I heard something that changed the way I looked at the books.

At the time I worked in a local toy shop. One of our regular customers came in specifically to thank me for writing the book. I hadn’t been thanked for the book before.

It turned out that she had been trying to get her nine year old son to read chapter books for years. Nothing caught his interest. Then she gave him ‘…the Fey Flame‘ and apparently he read the whole thing in just a few nights. I was taken aback and told her how happy I was that he had enjoyed the book so much.

That boy wasn’t the last to say something similar about the Jack Reusen books. The shorter length seems to have made it easier for a lot of children to enjoy. Now that I know I’m helping kids get into reading I can’t bring myself to change the formula.

The original idea was to give families something that they could enjoy together, but a fantastic side-effect seems to be getting more reluctant readers caught up in a book. I love reading and the idea that someone might miss out on the enjoyment of it is disheartening. If writing short chapters and short books helps get a few more kids enjoying reading then I’ll write as many of these books as I can.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share your own favourite short/quick reads in the comments below. All the best, John