Tag Archives: ghost

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

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Marcus: Chapter 19: Count the Ghosts

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel fiddled with the latch and shoved the window open:

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

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

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

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

The whisper penetrated the closed glass:

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

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

I will not help them.”

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

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

Daniel held his knees:

I’m scared.”

The girl’s voice softened:

…so am I. We all are. Can I come in?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She leaned her green-white cheek on the window:

…do you know how old I am?”

Daniel refused to look at her:

I don’t know. Eleven? Maybe twelve?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Releasing?”

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

Daniel’s hopes floundered:

It won’t?”

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

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

She slipped in with no effort whatsoever:

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gag these snivelling lumps.”

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

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

Counk ghe ghosks!”

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

Count the ghosts?”

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

Keep up with the story

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, all the best, John

Marcus: Chapter 20: Under The High Street

Marcus: Chapter 18: Between a rock and more rocks

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

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

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

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

Tash called James:

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

There was a pause before James replied:

“No good news?”

“No good news…”

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

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

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

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

“Is he there? Is Mum coming too?”

James still couldn’t get the truth out:

“No. Just us for now.”

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

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

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

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

Harry took the lie and played up his boredom:

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

James and Theo saw this as a strong positive.

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

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

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

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

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

Still no Marcus.

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

Still no Marcus.

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

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

If you find this, run!

Sorry. I tried, Marcus

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

Marcus gathered into his solid form and ran after them.

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

*

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

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

She looked at Marcus. More than enough.

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

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

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

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

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

Tash sat down on one of the rocks:

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

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

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

Five children taken. Ten children.

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

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

Keep up with the story

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, all the best, John

 

Marcus: Chapter 14: The Ghost of Church Street

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

James and Theo headed home. It was late, they knew they’d struggle to sleep, but Marcus insisted that they get some rest. Their next night could be even harder.

With the boy and his dad away the other three had a nasty job on their hands. Nicky and Taz were already nauseous and they hadn’t even started. Taz stared at Marcus as they walked back up the road:

“Are you serious? We have to walk up to that churchyard and dig up a grave?”

Marcus gave a sombre, curt, nod:

“Actually, in that graveyard it’s five graves. The others are buried in different places throughout the town.”

They didn’t speak another word for twenty minutes. Not when they went into Nicky and Scott’s shed. Not when they picked up the spades. Not when Marcus grabbed a sharpening block from a shelf. Not when they walked up the hill, or when they entered the graveyard.

Only when Marcus began sharpening the spades did anyone speak again. Nicky’s voice was lower than a whisper:

“Marcus I don’t think I can do this. This is a graveyard. It doesn’t feel right.”

Marcus placed the sharpening block on the wall beside him:

“You’re right Nicky. This doesn’t feel right. Give me a second.”

Marcus got up and wandered around the church grounds. He slipped round the back of the church just as a police car pulled up beside the wall. The officer inside wound down his window:

“Alright Scott? Nicky? Mind telling me what you’re up to in a graveyard in the middle of the night? And while you’re at it I could do with some details on the shovels you’re holding.”

Taz had nothing, Nicky jumped in:

“Just volunteering with the St Michaels clean up group. Shame to see the place in disrepair. Left our spades. We were just picking them up to take home.”

The policeman frowned:

“If it were anyone else I’d be asking a lot more questions. You do see how weird this is? Look, do you guys want a lift home? It’s really bitter tonight.”

Taz looked back to the church building for Marcus:

“No, thanks Gordon, we’ll be fine. A wee walk won’t do us any harm.”

Gordon shook his head and snorted:

“If you’re sure? OK keep safe, both of you. Been some weird stuff happening tonight. Radio hasn’t stopped for a second. People talking about black-eyed ghost-children. Can you believe that?”

Scott and Nicky feigned surprise at the absurdity. Scott even faked a laugh:

“Ghost-children? Folk have been spending too much time on the ‘dark side’ of YouTube or something. Anyway thanks Gordon, see you around.”

Gordon said goodnight and moved the car off. He pulled over again a few feet further down the hill.

Taz could see him lifting his radio. Gordon had left his window open, they heard everything:

“Gordon that’s the official count at four now. Four kids missing. Keep an eye out for anything suspicious.”

Gordon turned back to look for the couple with spades, in a graveyard, after midnight but they were gone.

Taz and Nicky watched from behind the church as Gordon got out the car to look for them. Marcus tried asking what was going on but was shushed instantly.

After a few minutes Gordon rubbed his arms and got back into the warmth of his police car. Nicky and Taz exhaled at last:

“Marcus, we’re not heroes. They got four other kids while we were running around finding Daniel.”

Marcus slumped on the wall beside them:

“I’m sorry. I had no idea.”

They listened to the sound of distant sirens. Well aware of what they meant. Marcus held his head in his hands:

“That’s not all. I can’t sense their bones. The ghoul children’s bones. They’re not here any more. ”

*

Taz didn’t see the problem with getting a night off grave-digging. Marcus stood up and looked out towards the east:

“I don’t deny that would have been a horrible task Taz but now we have no idea where those bones are. They were our best hope of taking control back and finding those children. We’re running out of time now.”

Nicky stared at Marcus:

“What do you mean? What will they do with the children?”

Marcus shook his head:

“No, I don’t mean that. I can feel the sun. My powers, and those of the ghoul-children go during the day. We only have a few hours to track them down.”

They left their spades behind and marched away. After an hour of traipsing their way up and down the freezing High Street while Marcus tried to ‘sense’ the bones they realised they needed a new strategy.

Marcus was sure they must be near. Otherwise, why was Daniel dragged up this way?

They sat down on the pavement at the top of Church Street. The sounds of the night had died away to nothing and the sounds of the morning hadn’t yet begun. A chill breeze dragged leaves and rubbish up and down the deserted street.

Then came the faintest crunch of footsteps in the growing frost.

The sound grew closer, still faint. It stopped outside a shop. Something in the window toppled over with a CLANG that made them all gasp.

The echo of the falling object dwindled away and the crunching steps continued on. They grew closer still, stopping in front of them. Only now could they see the faint outline of footprints in the frost. Even Marcus drew his legs back.

A voice floated to them on the wind. It came from a spot six feet above the footprints. Barely as loud as a whisper:

…begging your pardon…

The crunching steps continued past them and off towards the east end of the High Street. Marcus whispered to the others:

“What was that?”

The blood drained out of their faces; if Marcus didn’t know what it was then how were they supposed to?

Faint echoes of the footsteps reflected from shop windows and walls, slowing for just a moment. Scott and Nicky wanted nothing more than to get home but Marcus jumped to his feet and followed the sounds as gently as he could. He had a sense that they were supposed to follow.

The crunching steps drew them out to the very end of the high street and stopped outside the door of a bed and breakfast. It waited for them to catch up. In a voice as cold and lifeless as the wind, it whispered:

…here…

Then it was gone.

Marcus didn’t have nerves but that didn’t stop his hands from shaking:

“I didn’t like that.”

The others shook their heads in agreement.

They barely had time to take a breath before Marcus dropped to his knees his face twisting in pain. His words came out in gut wrenched gasps:

“Here…they’re here…the kids…the bones.”

He heaved, if he had eaten anything in the past two-thousand years now would have been the time he’d have thrown it up:

“Too much…I can’t do this…wait an hour…they’ll be drawn back to their bones then…sorry, going home. Going home now.”

Marcus dissolved in front of their eyes, a cloud of black smoke dribbled away back the way they came.

The sign outside read ‘no vacancy’. The dark windows left the place looking toothless. Apparently this was the place. If two ghosts tell you where to find a pile of bones you listen to them.

An hour is a long time in the dead of night. The only positive was that no one was about to ask what they were up to. They had ducked away from Gordon’s police car a few times after they had seen him but he hadn’t been past in over an hour.

Taz held Nicky’s hand. She checked her watch, counting down the minutes.

Frost gathered on everything. Even adding a crispy quality to their eyelashes. Nicky wrapped her arms around her husband for warmth. Out the corner of her eye she saw a curtain twitch in one of the lower rooms. They were being watched.

A fire leapt into both their bellies as they jumped onto alert. Had some of the ghoul-children escaped the sheriff? Every shadow seemed to grow a pair of black eyes, their minds turning everything into lifeless faces.

Imaginations on overdrive, they almost missed the middle-aged man standing in the doorway staring vacantly in their direction. Motionless and silent, his gaze never left them. It seemed to issue a warning (‘I am here. I see you. Don’t come any closer’).

The man was clearly an ordinary flesh-and-blood human being. When they looked closely they recognised him as the owner of the B&B. Had the ghoul-children hypnotised him before they disappeared?

Ten minutes were left on their advised time but neither of them could take another second of the man’s glassy stare. They walked to him hand in hand. They’d had enough waiting.

The man stood aside to let them through. They were not ready for what lay beyond the door.

Keep up with the story

Click here to read on to Marcus: Chapter 15: Dawn Till Dusk

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 6: Stone Circle

I altered this picture original here https://www.flickr.com/photos/74568665@N03/11932361453

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

A pair of black eyes sparkled in the moonlight as Marcus barred their way through the bushes. Taz grabbed Tash’s hand, preparing to run. Marcus simply shook his head then gently held a finger to his lips.

He beaconed them to come closer. Neither of them wanted anything to do with that idea but they knew they had little choice.

They took three tiny steps towards him. He looked barely human and his breath smelled like an old peat bog (earthy, damp, and cold). He whispered so quietly they could barely hear him:

“I need this to stop. He has me bound by dark magic. I have to do what he tells me. He uses me to stay young, to stay alive. He’ll use you too. I’ve been doing this for so long I can’t even remember my own name. He called me ‘Marcus’. Those Romans claimed everything by naming it. I can tell you how to stop it though.”

Roman’s? Dark magic? What was he talking about? Nothing about Marcus made any sense. At least he seemed to be helping them. It was their only choice.

Taz and Tash looked at each other. Without saying a word they knew what they were going to do, turning back to face Marcus they both gave him a sharp nod.

*

Meanwhile, in the school, Mr Thomas had re-tied Nicky and used an old belt to tie James to a pipe in a different part of the basement. They couldn’t see each other from where they were. Trying to shout back and forth resulted in Mr Thomas bashing on the old pipes with a hammer with a clang that made their teeth rattle.

He slumped down to sit on the floor on a grubby spot that they could both see:

“You know, it’s really quite odd. I don’t choose. He doesn’t choose. The strange thing is, I need four and that’s always what turns up in the end. It’s like the universe is telling me something.”

For a tiny, fleeting, moment, a look of regret passed over his face. James watched in hope. Would he let them go? Had he changed his mind? (James didn’t want to imagine what he was changing his mind about). Mr Thomas wiped sweat from his brow, pulled himself back up to a standing position, and grunted in frustration:

“What’s keeping that boy? We only have a few hours left!”

*

The Marcus-shaped creature sat down in the cold leaves inside the bush. He patted the dirt, beaconing Taz and Tash to sit with him:

“He made a mistake this time though. All he told me was to get you back to the school before the witching hour. It’s not much time but it should be enough.”

“I am a Pict. When I was ten years old I was taken miles from home to a healer here. He took me to their healing circle but in the middle of his magic he was interrupted by a small band of Roman soldiers carrying their wounded leader. They dropped him beside me and the magic linked us.”

“It destroyed me. Turned me into this. But the commander healed, he grew stronger and, as we both discovered later, he became immortal.”

Tash frowned:

“But that would make you?…”

“Almost two-thousand years old, yes. Look, we don’t have time for questions. Mr Thomas is the Roman. He will stay alive forever so long as he can drain the energy from children. Like he did with me. Like he has done every quarter century since.

“You need to go to the stones. They built a golf course around them, to the East of the town. The stones can undo this mistake. He can’t follow you there and he can’t complete the ritual with only two of you.”

Taz got up and prepared to run:

“Sounds good to me. Tash are you ready?”

“I’m not sure. I want to make sure my sister will be safe. Can you promise that?”

Marcus shook his head:

“I’m afraid I can’t. I have no choice but to do whatever he asks. I will do everything I can though.”

His black eyes closed, his brow furrowed:

“There’s one more thing. I think you misunderstood. I can’t just let you leave. I have my orders. I need to take you back to the school now. My advice is to find any chance you get and run for those stones. Even if only one of you makes it, that might be enough.”

Tash and Taz looked at him with unblinking eyes. How were they supposed to get away from him? Marcus stood up and a cloud of shadow grew from inside him. He spread out until all they could see was a greenish-black face and cold black eyes:

“What are you waiting for? RUN!”

His final word shook them out of their fear. Their legs thundered away. Getting to the golf course was almost all uphill but neither of them slowed, there was no choice but to run.

They couldn’t see Marcus any more but they could feel that he was near. Every now and then the smell of peat and damp would swirl past them along with the slightest whistling.

Marcus wasn’t allowed to go easy on them; as Taz found out half way along the High Street.

He had lost track of Tash and was dodging past a group of teenagers sitting around a bench in the square when he was slammed to the ground from the side. Even through his jacket he could tell the pavement had scraped his back badly.

The teenagers ran over to see if he was OK. Taz looked up and saw a group of concerned faces and beyond that a black cloud, growing thicker.

The whistling started again, along with a voice:

“I’ll take it from here.”

When the teenagers turned and saw the swirling black mist behind them it was all too much. A couple of them tried to pull Taz up and help him but his leg was hurt. He couldn’t walk.

As the mist grew together into the distorted form of Marcus they gave up entirely and ran. Marcus leaned over Taz:

“I am sorry Taz. You’re the fastest too. I need to take you to the school now. I hope you understand.”

A steep hill led down from the square to the school. It wasn’t a short trip and Marcus dragged Taz kicking and screaming all the way to the school gates.

*

Tash had seen Taz streaming ahead of her and knew there was no way she could keep up. She would only get one chance; Marcus was clearly going after the fastest of them. She would have to choose her moment exactly.

She kept an even distance from Taz until the square. His fall took her by surprise but she was quick to respond.

While Marcus dragged her friend kicking and screaming down King Street Tash ran in the opposite direction. Up one of the steepest hills in town.

Her legs burned and her lungs spluttered as they were filled with piercing cold. She couldn’t stop. This was for her friends. This was for her sister.

She knew if she let her legs rest. If she stopped even for a few seconds. She would never be able to start again.

Doubts popped into her head. Why was she trusting a Pictish mould-ghost (or whatever Marcus was)? She had never heard of this ‘stone circle’, what was it supposed to do? They were just rocks after all. How could they do anything to help real flesh-and-blood people?

She had let the doubts shake her, slow her down. Her attention had wandered and she took a false step onto the road, slamming down hard and jarring her leg.

There was no time to deal with the pain. No time for anything. She breathed in another deep lungful of the torturous icy air. Gritted her teeth, and continued her run, now in the middle of the road.

The doubts started slipping around in her mind again, knocking against each other and popping up in little groups.

One question came up more often than any other. It was the hardest to dismiss as well: How was she supposed to find the right stones?

The answer was so much worse than she could imagine. As she reached the gates to the golf course she found the grass populated with dozens of glowing children. Ghoulish green shapes, all with the same black eyes as Marcus. They wore such a collection of odd clothing that one thing was clear. These were the children who had come before. Two-thousand years of victims (or what was left of them).

None of them had seen her yet but she they were looking. Far beyond the walking ghouls one patch of ground seemed less popular. It was hard to see, even in the moonlight, but Tash was almost certain she could make out the shape of a small circle of rocks a few hundred feet from where she was.

Towards the centre of town she heard police sirens. A lot of them. She was almost out of time.

Keep up with the story

You can click here to read on to Chapter 7: Impossible Choices.

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