Tag Archives: dark fantasy

It’s Here!!!!

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

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

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

From frenzied beginnings

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

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

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

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

Tuning in each week

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

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

A wee party

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the best, John

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

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We apologise for the delay…

I am so sorry. Local press in both the Strathearn Herald/ Daily Record Online and in the Courier reported that the print editions of ‘Marcus’ would be available by now. I am sorry to say that some miscommunication between myself and the printing company has lead to an unexpected delay.

I’m pushing on as quickly as I can. The misunderstanding has been cleared up and we’re now making progress. I’ll keep readers posted going forward but I just wanted to take this chance to apologise for the longer wait.

You have all been brilliant at supporting ‘Marcus’ as it has progressed from the first serialised week until now. I hope the wait won’t be long, but I can’t help but realise how close we are getting to Halloween.

To make up for the slow progress I’m going to put together a special launch event once the book is ready (it’s not a bad time of year to be launching a book with ghouls and monsters). If you sign up to the ‘Marcus’ mailing list (by clicking this link) I’ll be able to send you an invite once the books are on their way.

Once again I am sorry for the delay, and thank you for your patience,

All the best, John

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

Pre-Order your copy of ‘Marcus’ now (£6.99 with UK postage included):

Marcus: Chapter 25: Crieff’s defender

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

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

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

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

Nicky thought for a moment:

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

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

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

The Sheriff shrugged:

“I HAVE NO IDEA.”

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

*

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

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

“I need to go there. Now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“HIS NIGHT OF MENACE IS AT AN END.”

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

“Well that’s a relief!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ROMAN!”

“ROMAN!”

“ROMAN!!!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep up with the story

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, all the best, John

Marcus: Chapter 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

Marcus: Chapter 22: The Gauntlet to the Golf Course

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

Marcus’ plan had worked but they had no time to celebrate. James and Taz had the bag. Taz had had enough of bones for a lifetime. James did the honours (he needed the distraction after leaving Theo behind with Nicky).

They had the tiniest of head starts. They had seen what Marcus’ ‘family’ could do and they had a good idea about what to expect from Mr Thomas. In fact everything they knew told them this was pointless. They ran all the same.

In fact they paid so much attention to who might be following that they didn’t think of who they might run into. Taz was a few feet in the lead but he still didn’t slow down enough to avoid running into the side of the flashing police car.

A man in expensive shoes and a tweed jacket stepped out to catch him. This man exuded authority, even without a uniform he embodied ‘official’:

No need to rush sir. What appears to be the emergency?”

Taz just had enough time to realise how bad things had gone before James ran into the two of them.

The cloth bag landed on the pavement beside the police officer’s feet. A grin sneaked on from the corner of his mouth:

And what might this be? You gents been taking something that doesn’t belong to you?”

His face drained when he saw inside the bag. He just had time to yell for another officer before throwing up on the boot of the police car.

James and Taz were read their rights, cuffed, and thrown into the back of the car before they could even say ‘but…’

The sack was placed with care into the boot. The man in the tweed jacket wouldn’t even look at them. He locked the police car and went round the corner, mobile phone in hand talking to himself:

I am not equipped for this. Only made detective two months ago. They warn you in training but…”

The other officer accompanied him, a comforting hand on his shoulder. James and Taz looked at one another then glared at the floor.

Idiots! What sort of fool runs towards a police car with a sack of human bones?

Taz broke the silence:

So what do we do now?”

James shook his head:

I have literally no idea. You didn’t swipe his keys by any chance did you?”

Taz gave a dry laugh:

No, I wish. Only one slight of hand in me tonight and I used it already.”

James smiled at his old friend:

I suppose you did.”

The officers clearly had no intention of coming back soon. Taz adjusted himself to feel more comfortable (it wasn’t easy with his hands handcuffed behind his back).

The car pinged and clicked. The metal contracting in the growing cold.

The road sounded odd too. Like a ‘crunch’ surrounded by a bubble of silence. James looked out the window:

What do you think that is?”

Taz shook his head:

Shhh.”

Footprints from nowhere appeared in the frost, growing closer to them with each step. Stopping outside Taz’s door.

The locking mechanism in the door clinked, grinded, then ‘pinged’. The door handle lifted by itself and the wind howled in from outside:

…out…

James stared but Taz knew better, with a simple ‘come on’ to his friend, Taz shuffled his way out of the door.

Meanwhile the car boot was grinding and crunching too. Another ‘ping’ and it released itself springing open to reveal the cloth bag.

James looked round for a clue about what was happening only to feel thick, rough, hands of ice grab at the handcuffs behind his back and tear the chain apart.

A loud ‘clink’ from behind Taz’s back told him his friend was free as well.

James grabbed the bag and looked to his friend. Taz shrugged:

I’ll explain later. For now we run. This time we look where we’re going.”

James nodded:

Agreed.”

Two men ran like they did when they were kids. Like an escaped tiger was on their heels. It wasn’t far from the truth.

A cloud of green smoke trailed up the hill towards them. Unnoticed, it weaved through bush). Through front gardens and back gardens, weaving towards the men.

It drifted into a back garden then flooded into the road catching in their mouths as they ran through it. Taz broke out of his run and grabbed James for support:

Is that?”

James nodded:

The cloud materialised into the form of a boy. Tall for his age and bearing a close resemblance to Marcus. He grinned, his expression had nothing in common with his uncle. It oozed malice as though he held his hate as a ball of spit waiting behind his lips:

…leave the bones and I’ll see your children are spared…

James declined. There was nothing to hint that this creature wanted anything but harm to come to others.

The boy laughed:

…just as well. You invaders don’t deserve this place. It was so wild before you all came. So free…

He slipped past them faster than they could imagine. Grabbing hold of the bag as he did:

…once we gain the power we will wreck this place. It will return to what it was…

James hung onto the bag, heaving against the strength of the ghoul-child. Taz joined in the tug of war and all three fell to the ground wrestling for possession.

James yelled to the boy:

You’re delusional. The only change you’ll bring about is the deaths of dozens of children. There’s nothing good in that.”

The boy’s eyes clouded over, he threw himself at James, screaming in rage. James wrestled, managing to fire off a single word in Taz’s direction:

Go!”

The boy had both hands on James’ throat and none on the bag. Taz grabbed it, scraping and skidding on the road as he threw himself into great leaps of speed. Only his toes touched the road surface.

He steadied his pace once he felt he had a clear run towards the golf course. Light, steady, brushing sounds told him the boy was on his feet and catching up.

There was a second sound, steady, hard, laboured, then a loud crunch as James tackled the ghoul-boy into a wall. Taz did his best to stay focussed, to keep his eyes on the gates up ahead.

He forced himself to ignore the crunch of bone on the stone wall. Taz suspected the ghoul-boy was pretty much boneless. He wouldn’t make that sound, but James would. Taz couldn’t bank on his friend’s assistance again.

He raced past the gates and made straight for the stone circle. There in the centre were the diggers, still hard at work but with no more bones to feed to the stones.

The sound of the ghoul-boy stopped. That wasn’t a good thing. Taz’s eyes jumped in every direction waiting for the cloud. He caught a glimpse, it could have been nothing but if it were the boy Taz would never get the bag there in time.

He swung the bundle with all his might towards the circle. The green cloud poured towards it. It was too slow. The bag landed a few feet shy of the others. Louise reacted without thinking, before her mum could do anything.

She stepped out of the circle, grabbed the bag, and threw it to her mum. The green cloud descended and the ghoul-boy stood over her, grasping her hair in one hand and her throat with the other:

…you do anything with those bones and I squeeze. The girl will never breathe again…

A boulder came down on the boy’s head. Louise had the tiniest moment of release and took it. Her mum hauled her over the stones to safety. Her eyes whirled back at the sound of a crunch. The boy now had the boulder and Taz had a very broken leg.

Andrew flung bones under the stones in great handfuls. Surely that was a full skeleton?

The ghoul-boy raised the boulder and Taz rolled away in time to receive little more than a glancing blow to the shoulder.

Tash, Louise, Ross, and Willow all grabbed handfuls of putrid bones, sliding them into place under the stones. The bag grew lighter, but still no sign they had completed a skeleton.

*

Marcus knew he could do nothing if the ghoul-child at the door found him. It would take him back to Mr Thomas. Marcus wasn’t sure what to expect after that but nothing about it felt good.

A hand reached through the door, scrambling up the wall for a light switch. It found it but with no electricity it offered only a simple, empty ‘click’. The school had been without electricity for a few years now.

The ghoul was out of touch. She slid the door open and moonlight slipped in. Drifting along the floor from the open doorway. Pale blue light snaked over Marcus’ hand but he held still. Perhaps she hadn’t seen.

The ghoul-girl leaned out the door and called with a small snigger:

…he’s in here. Not moving. Poor ‘uncle Marcus’ must be worn out.

The mock sympathy hurt Marcus more than he expected. He strained to get up, preparing for a fight. Another set of footsteps swished along the corridor outside, growing closer by the second. And then they stopped.

His nephew was gone. The girl at the door dropped to her knees. She turned on her struggling uncle:

…what did you do to him? Where did you send him?…

It was then that Marcus’ gut filled with power. A rich blue glow shone from his skin. He no longer struggled. No longer felt glued to the floor. Every movement was effortless. Marcus stood up.

Marcus stood up.

Keep up with the story

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, all the best, John

Marcus: Chapter 21: The forgotten boy

Copyright Humphrey Bolton

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

Willow arrived at the stone circle at a sprint. There was barely a breath left in her but she recounted the message in minute detail to Tash:

“Tash! Marcus says ‘Get in the car. Everyone will be safe once you’re in the driving seat.’ He made it sound really important. I didn’t know what else to do.”

Tash looked at Willow, red-faced, exhausted, terrified:

“Willow get inside the stone circle. They can’t get to you here. We can talk about the message after.”

“Tash you need to go to the car. He was insistent. Please go to the car.”

Tash glanced round. Waiting, watching for the trap to reveal itself. Marcus had done this sort of thing before. She shook her head as she looked into Willow’s tear blotched eyes:

“Please Tash. It’s the only reason he let me go. He’s still got James. He has Theo as well. He has my son.”

Tash looked at her own kids, safe behind the barrier. Then to Willow’s little boy Harry sitting beside them, now stock-still with worry over his dad and big brother.

Tash grabbed Gordon’s car keys from her pocket and stepped over the boundary. For a single breath she hung at the edge one foot inside the circle. Then her feet were pounding on wet grass launching her forward. 

Only when she was in sight of the car did her mind wander to visions of ghoul-children waiting to grab her ankles. She focussed on the keys. On the lock. Trying to slide the metal into place. Her muddy, freezing hands. The keys slipping onto the ground. She allowed herself a quick glimpse around before trying again with the keys.

Sounds rippled around her, rustles in the trees and the bushes. Just the wind. Just the wind.

The key slid into place and the central locking gave a satisfying ‘thunk’ noise as all the doors opened in unison. Tash leapt inside and adjusted herself into the driving seat. She had no intention of going anywhere but she knew Marcus. There was something she had to do.

Her foot rustled against something on the floor. A plastic groceries bag. She lifted it onto her lap.

If the smell of sweet, peaty earth didn’t convince her the note sitting on top of the bones was more than enough.

It’s time. The first will wait to last. Always your friend, goodbye, Marcus

Tash remembered the odd way Marcus had turned up to gloat after each abduction. Preceding every visit the bags of bones had rattled. Tash had assumed it was some kind of magic equivalent of magnetism. But now she understood.

Marcus had topped up the bone stash bit by bit. All this time he had been on their side. But how would they know when it was time for his bones to meet the circle? Would there be some signal?

*

42AD ‘Victoria’ (Roman Name, original name lost to time) Damnonii stronghold (what is now Dalginross, 7 miles West of Crieff)

The Romans were winning. Their general, a legionary by the name of Magnus Gallum (the great Gaul) was unstoppable in battle. It was said that spears shattered on contact with his skin. That he could fight for days without rest. He was also said to be the oldest legionary warrior for hundreds of miles.

The Damnonii tribe had a theory about his power. Stories were told about a boy,  who, twenty-five years earlier had been taken to the healing stones to the east. It was said that the healing was broken, corrupted, by the arrival of a group of Romans.

The boy’s energy tangled with that of a Legionary warrior and he grew strong as the boy grew weak. The boy died in front of his parents. Wrapped in what he was wearing, he was buried near the stones.

The healers claimed that they could not undo this abomination. Could not break the boy’s energy away from the soldier’s. Though there would be a small chance perhaps once in each generation when the power of the stones grew to its strongest.

The time had come to test the healers’ theory. If children of his blood could take his bones it was thought that the spell might be broken and the great Roman ‘hero’ destroyed at last.

Four cousins put their names forward. They were young but quick and brave beyond measure. Full of the sureness of youth they set out for the healing circle.

It was a short trip, they were accompanied only by a small group of protectors. Their trip brought little to impede their way.

On their first night it is said that the spirit of their Uncle came to them. Still in the form of a boy. Confused about his fate but glad of their company he asked to stay with them. They explained everything to the spirit and he approved.

On the second night, with their Uncle’s help, they found his grave. His body was removed and preparations were made for the required ritual. The boy thanked them for his impending release.

That night their camp was raided by Roman soldiers. They killed the Damnonii watchman but the children, their other protectors, and their Uncle got away. The bones were left forgotten as they escaped. It is thought the soldiers took them for their own dark ends.

On the third night one of the children vanished. Their defenders doubled the guard and watched intently for Romans throughout the night.

Despite their efforts they could do nothing to prevent the loss of the second of the cousins. On the fifth day the group gave up their mission, choosing instead to protect the last two and to make their way home. Their route was interrupted by Roman barricades.

Hiding from view, they made a fireless camp. The dark drew in and with it went what little heat the day had brought. It was then that the ghost-child returned. He offered comfort to his remaining nephew and niece. He persuaded their protectors to leave the children in his care. It was the last they ever saw of them.

From that day forth the Damnonii in the area saw their number shrink by four children every twenty-five years. The Damnonii tribe were absorbed into the population of newcomers, and as the centuries passed their stronghold fell into ruin, eaten up by the surrounding countryside. Their descendants were left with nothing to inherit. Nothing that is but the ghost-child and the Roman.

*

30th November 2017, Crieff, Scotland (swirling around somewhere above the town)

Marcus had long forgotten his family. Two millennia could wipe clean even the most vivid of memories. However, when he looked into the faces of the ghoul-children chasing him, something clicked.

A sister’s nose, a brother’s brow, his mother’s cheek. Mr Thomas wasn’t lying, these were all that remained of Marcus’ family. In fact they were all that remained of Marcus’ life as a living, breathing, child.

For a moment he glimpsed bracken flying below his feet as he ran from his siblings. Laughter flew from his burning lungs, he was always too fast for them. For the briefest moment he could pretend it hadn’t gone wrong. The healing had worked. The Roman never came. He was home.

His nephew’s hand grasped his shoulder with crushing strength and Marcus was torn from his memories. He turned, hoping for some recognition, some kinship in the eyes of the boy who had his shoulder. There was recognition but those black eyes showed nothing but pure, over-brimming hatred.

“…you ruined us. Our people gone. Our home gone. Our language. You replace it with this Latin garbage that he forces us to speak. You make me sick…

Marcus twisted against the boy’s grip but he held fast. The others came alongside, grabbing at their Uncle. Marcus lost his footing and came down hard. There was no pain when they struck. Then the green smoke came. It flew up his nose, filled his throat and scratched at him from the inside.

From burning itch to cold ache, Marcus strained to escape. He let himself disperse. The black cloud always felt uncomfortable but that form offered a break from the pain. He swirled with the winds, all he wanted was to get away. To go home.

He had the smallest glimpse of a stone cottage, a peat fire leaving thick, sweet, smoke to wallow out. The smell was real, the cottage, real. Then it wasn’t.

He knew it was long gone. The best he had was a memory of a memory. A ghost-image of something pure and good he had once called ‘home’.

He had a different home now. One filled with sadness and regret but with triumph too. And there was joy. Moments with friends throughout generations. Good friends, good times. For better or worse, he knew where he belonged.

There was no real reason to suppose the old school could provide him with anything special. Any secret weapon. Marcus knew that these four children couldn’t kill him (after all, he was dead already). That didn’t mean he had any plans to let them catch him again.

A huge green cloud, putrid and rotten descended on the surface of the back playground. Marcus stood his ground and looked into their lifeless eyes:

“My favourite game was always ‘tig’, though I do like a game of hide and seek if given a chance.”

The others barely had time to respond before Marcus had flipped around and disappeared into the building behind him.

They took chase but even a two second head start can make a difference if you’re a ghost.

Marcus phased through walls and floors. It was a skill he had never seen the ghoul-children perform. It took some effort on his part to do it. He wondered if the others would tire themselves out trying.

Marcus got carried away. He went through one too many walls, too quickly, and collapsed on the floor of one of the classrooms. His head swam as he pulled himself up and looked for a ‘real’ hiding place.

There was no furniture left here. The place had been stripped as they moved the school into the new building. There were one or two build-in cupboards with sliding doors left. There just weren’t any in this classroom.

Marcus dragged himself along the floor and drew himself up to stand at the door out to the hall. He moved his head slowly, letting just one eye peek out into the corridor beyond.

Barely a speck of light made it into the corridor but it was enough to see that, for now at least, Marcus was alone.

He limped alongside the wall, leaning on it for support. None of the classrooms he looked in had what he needed. In the end he had to settle for a small room beside the gym hall. It had been a host of things but the last thing Marcus remembered it being was a ‘TV room’.

Not a single window looked in on this room, with the door closed Marcus could only count on his own blue glow too see by. He couldn’t risk it giving him away though. He forced the light away. Leaving his skin a dull green-brown in the shadows of the room.

The footsteps came quicker than expected. Marcus searched his memory. Was there another way out in this room. There was a door at the back but was that a cupboard or an exit?

He tested the door. Locked. He barely had the energy to stand. There was no way he could phase through before the steps reached the door to the hallway.

The soft, brushing sound of ancient leather footwear grew closer. Marcus slid to the floor, keeping his profile flat, and waited.

If Marcus still had a heart it would be in his mouth. If he still had a pulse it would have thrummed in his ears. Instead Marcus had to endure the icy silence, with no heart or pulse to keep him company. Nothing but the ‘brush brush brush’ of the footsteps outside.

Then they stopped. Nothing but the creaks of the old building cooling in the night were left. Though the footsteps had stopped Marcus knew that the feet that made them were still very much there.

He was a ghost too. He didn’t have to move. Marcus could lie on this floor all night. That idea grew more and more appealing. So much so that Marcus was caught off guard when the door handle squeaked.

Keep up with the story

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, all the best, John