Tag Archives: crieff primary

Marcus: Chapter 4: Clanks and Shadow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

James straightened up and looked Taz straight in the eye:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I guess it’s my turn to tig you…”

 

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Marcus Chapter 1: The photograph

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

27th November 1992

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I GOT MARCUS! HE’S IT!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

TO READ ON TO CHAPTER 2 JUST CLICK HERE

Crieff Primary visit

Crieff_PSI knew it was going to be a different kind of talk today because the whole class had already read the book. In fact they had literally just finished the last chapter when I got there, so they had lots of questions about the characters.

The great thing for me was seeing that I’d managed to make a story that they had clearly all enjoyed. I tried to write the books so there was something for everyone and today made me feel like I’d managed to get pretty close to that goal.

The added bonus of knowing that the class had all heard the first book was that I could get away with reading a wee sample of ‘…the Spark of Dreams‘. I think they enjoyed their wee teaser, and they certainly asked a lot of questions about what to expect in future books.

It was a fantastic day and a genuine thrill to see that Jack’s world had clearly appealed to them all so much, and I’ll definitely be down there again (if they’ll have me) to talk about any future books. In the mean time it sounds as though I might be getting some illustrations from the class, inspired by characters from the book, to share with you soon. I’m looking forward to what they think Jack, Thea, Sparky, and Harold look like.

Weirdly enough I spent yesterday in my p2 classroom in Comrie primary and today I was in my p3 classroom. The last couple of days have been really enjoyable and a wee walk down memory lane. Hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about it, thanks for reading, Cheers, John