Tag Archives: ghoul

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

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

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

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Marcus: Chapter 10: Hiding from Lifeless Eyes

john bray local author nanowrimo national novel writing month scotland perthshire

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

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

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

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

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

Both adults answered in chorus:

“We are!”

Louise was not impressed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Used to play ‘tig’ over there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you told them any of it?”

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

“Did you do this?”

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

“WELL??!”

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

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

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

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

Marcus sat down on the floor beside them:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus beamed at them:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus jumped in:

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

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

“So what now?”

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

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

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

*

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

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

Marcus shrugged:

“I’m sorry Andrew. I wish I knew.”

Marcus looked to his old friends for help:

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

James frowned:

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

Marcus screwed up his face:

“Declared him dead? What does that mean?”

James shrugged:

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

Marcus’ face lit up:

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

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

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

Marcus frowned:

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

Marcus ignored the blank faces of the others:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one else could.

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

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

Marcus shook his head:

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

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

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

Marcus braced himself:

“We need to find their bones.”

Keep up with the story

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

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 9: 25 Years Later

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

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

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

1st November 2017

Harry and Theo followed their dad out of the school gate. He had gone really quiet since they told him about the new boy.

Theo wandered off ahead leaving his dad to catch up. He moved to catch up with a couple of his friends then he saw it. Halloween had already been and gone, so why was there someone in the trees wearing a mask? Then he realised; masks don’t blink.

His pulse pounded in his ears, swishing like waves. He ran back to get his dad. When he looked back the face was gone. Theo knew his dad would just say it was his imagination, but he didn’t. His face went pale.

Theo wanted to talk about it. His dad didn’t. They were marched away from the school at a pace so fast that little Harry had to run behind in bursts to keep up.

*

Theo jumped on the computer as soon as he got home. He went to a favourite video and scrolled to the comments. It was one of the easiest ways to keep in touch with his friends, they’d been using this one for weeks.

None of them had a phone yet (despite constant requests) so for now this was their version of messaging one another. He started simply:

“Did anyone see anything weird outside school just now?”

He could be waiting for an answer for a while, there was no way of knowing whether his friends had got his message. He browsed around other web sites for a while then plugged in his headphones and had a go on his newest game. He forgot he had notifications switched on for the notice board.

BING

The notification sound lost him the game. He would have been upset but he had to know what that thing was in the bushes. Was it just his imagination?

A couple of his friends had logged in; Daniel and Andrew. Andrew was football obsessed at school but at home he was never off the computer. Daniel was just happy to chat, he was always happy to chat. It was easier on the ears here actually (at school Daniel didn’t have much of an ‘inside voice’).

They both lived nearer the school than Theo so he hoped they’d been in less of a rush as they went past. Maybe they even knew who was wearing the mask.

Andrew hadn’t seen anything. Daniel remembered seeing something move but it had been too dark to see what it was. He said he could check on his new telescope, messaged them ‘brb’ (be right back).

While they waited, Andrew asked Theo more about the face. He was convinced it was just a high school kid in one of those special custom masks you could get made online.

Their conversation fell into talking about how cool it would be to have one of those masks (some of them could even smile and move their eyebrows). Theo couldn’t help thinking ‘…but I’ve never heard of one that could blink.’

Original by 'Anton' Titled 'The Steel Cage'

Daniel was back. His message was surprisingly short (at least for Daniel): “Saw the face. Need to go see more closely.”

The others messaged back frantically, telling him he was nuts. Even if it was just a high school kid doing a prank it still wasn’t worth sneaking down there. There was no reply. Andrew said he’d go up to his bedroom and watch Daniel from his window. He’d message back on his tablet.

Theo grabbed a glass of water to fight off the dry feeling in his throat.

By the time Andrew had added a quick ‘OK I can see him’, Theo had drank so much water his stomach was making ‘sloshing’ sounds.

Andrew kept adding a progress report in short messages:

“He’s walking towards the trees.”

“He’s standing still, crouching down for a better view.”

“He’s standing back up. Like ‘stand up straight’ the way they get us to do in school.”

“Someone coming.”

“It’s a kid. About our age.”

“That’s not a kid!!! Its face isn’t right. What is that?!”

There wasn’t another message. For a second Theo wondered if this was just a prank. Daniel would definitely do something like this. Then again Andrew hated pranks. Even on April fools day Andrew never joined in. Theo ran out of options. The dry throat was back but he was cold too. Really cold:

“Dad!!!!?”

He yelled down the stairs.

“DAD!!! Come up and read this! Please!”

His dad ran up the stairs. He read through the comments in moments then held his head in his hands:

“Get your coat now.”

*

Theo’s dad rocketed down the road and skidded to a halt outside Daniel’s.

Theo wasn’t sure if he was supposed to stay in the car or not. Since his dad hadn’t said one way or the other he opted to follow him to the front door.

Daniel’s mum took a while to answer. Theo tried to tell her about the messages and the faces but his dad interrupted before she thought they were nuts.:

“Is Daniel here? Theo needs to check something with him.”

Daniel’s mum wandered into the house and shouted him. There was no answer. She rolled her eyes:

“Probably has his headphones on. Wait a sec, I’ll go see.”

She ignored Theo and his dad when she came back, she just kept yelling Daniel’s name. Her distress growing and growing.

Andrew’s mum appeared from their house next door:

“Ashleigh, is everything OK? I could hear you shouting from the kitchen.”

Theo’s dad jumped, yelling right at Andrew’s mum:

“Tash! It’s happening again. He’s back.”

Tash looked at her old friend. Her face transformed from confusion to horror:

“Marcus?…”

*

Andrew’s mum ran back into her house shouting Andrew’s name. His big sister appeared, her eyes never leaving her phone:

“I think he went round the back. Said something about Daniel.”

Theo’s dad and Andrew’s mum ran round the back of the house chanting ‘no no no no no no…”

Theo ran after them. There was a hole in the fence that led to the high school playing fields. Beyond that Theo could see the group of trees and bushes where the face had been.

Andrew was walking towards them, like he was in some sort of trance. Theo searched the trees for signs of Daniel.

Way in the distance he could just make out two dark shapes walking out to the farmland out past Broich road.

He ran to his dad to tell him but when they looked back the shapes were gone.

Tash tackled her son to the ground and gripped him tight as he struggled to crawl off in the direction of the fields.

No one made a sound Andrew’s sister Louise stuck her phone in her jeans and slid through the fence. Somewhere far behind her someone started to whistle a little song. It cut through the cold night air and seemed to carry that ice into Theo’s insides. Both adults froze in place.

*

Louise interrupted the weirdness:

“What’s going on? Why’s mum holding Andrew on the grass?”

Photo © Basher Eyre (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Theo didn’t really have answers. He didn’t need them though. Andrew’s mum heaved Andrew into a standing position. She’d clearly made a decision:

“We’re going to the school. I won’t let him do all this again.”

Theo’s dad nodded in agreement and helped her to get Andrew moving. Andrew did not look great. Louise could see that much:

“Mum, Andrew doesn’t look right. He looks like he needs a doctor. How’s going to the school going to help?”

Tash didn’t even look back:

“Trust me. It’s the only thing that will.”

Keep up with the story

Click this link for Chapter 10: Hiding from Lifeless Eyes

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 8: Borrowed Time

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

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

Tash didn’t make a sound, she didn’t struggle against the cold, iron, grip on her wrists. Inside she was screaming and writhing but she needed Marcus to think she was coming along willingly. Tash desperately hunted for any chance to get away. The slightest release of his hold would do. His grip didn’t relax a bit.

They passed the gates of the golf-course. Grip still tight. They followed the long steep hill all the way back to the square. Grip still tight. They followed the hill down to the school (even passing the police station on the way). Grip still tight.

Tash wondered for a second whether she should yell out at the police station but she would rather be free and silent than loud and risk being dragged away with no hope of escape.

This strategy didn’t pay off. She knew that much as Marcus hauled her through the front door of the school.

The school door was open! That was different. They had passed police cars outside. Could the police be somewhere in the building?

Marcus somehow snuffed out electric lights everywhere they went. There wasn’t a moment of hesitation as he progressed through the front of the building, past the stairs, and into the boiler room.

Marcus was holding Tash’s wrist so tight that her hand was purple. She couldn’t feel her fingers any more. With his free hand Marcus closed the door as quietly as possible and locked it from the inside. The key safely tucked into his pocket.

Next came the descent into the rooms below. Tash was allowed to have use of her hand again but it was so numb that it served little purpose except as a lump of flesh and bone she used to steady herself as she climbed down the ladder.

There was only one positive that Tash could think of; there had been no sign of Mr Thomas. This didn’t seem to slow Marcus down at all:

“Walk faster, you’re going to want to be sitting down when it happens.”

This left Tash cold. What was ‘it’? Why would she need to sit down?

Strands of electric cables lay twisted on the floor in front of them. Tash hadn’t seen her sister tied up but she knew enough to realise they had just passed the spot where she had been earlier:

“Where are you taking me? Where are the others?”

Marcus didn’t even slow down his walking as he hurried her along further:

“They’ll be below by now.”

He heaved a grease-stained oak bookcase to one side with no effort whatsoever and led Tash into a small room behind.

Cut into the floor was a spiral staircase. Tash leaned against the tubular walls as they descended. The rough stone offering the comfort of something solid. Something real.

A surprising number of steps led them into the middle of a tiny room. Tash could just make out the shapes of three children huddled in a corner gathered around a small battery-powered torch.

Marcus stopped on the bottom step:

“Where is he? Did he go upstairs?”

James turned and looked up at them, straining his eyes against the light flowing down from the open stairwell:

“He left ages ago. What are you going to do to us?”

Marcus sat down on the step:

“Nothing. At least that’s what I hope. With any luck he’s been taken by the police and you’ll just need to wait here until 3am. After that I’ll be gone and you can head upstairs for help.”

He took the key and placed it on the floor in front of him. The others didn’t even try to grab it. They knew there was no point. Nicky croaked in the corner:

“Marcus? What do you mean you won’t be here?”

“Every quarter century, for whatever reason, I get to be a kid. A solid, real-looking child. I make friends. I go to school. Then he comes along and takes them, uses them to stay alive for another twenty-five years. After it’s done I disappear. I lose my solid form. I sort of float in and out of existence for the next twenty-five years.”

Marcus was quiet for a long time. He looked up at the four friends with tears in his eyes:

“If he doesn’t come back tonight then this might be the end. I might never have to do that to anyone again. I might get some rest.”

Nicky jumped in:

“…but doesn’t that mean you’ll…”

She didn’t want to say ‘die’ but everyone knew what she meant. Marcus laughed:

“I’ve been dead for two-thousand years. Maybe now I can start acting like it.”

3am watch on stone floor

Among them only Tash had a watch. She took it off and sat it on the floor between them all. Taz pointed the torch at it. It was two minutes till three. In silence they watched for the seconds to tick down.

Taz coughed, making the others jump:

“Marcus, I enjoyed playing tig with you. You’re really fast. It was fun. (You know before you captured us and planned to sacrifice us to keep a janitor’s assistant alive and everything).”

The seconds ticked away to their freedom and Marcus’ destruction. Five…four…three…two…one…

Nothing happened. Marcus was still there and so were they. They grinned among themselves. Then Tash frowned:

“It’s actually set a bit fast. It’s only a few minutes…”

Blue light flashed out of Marcus and a damp cold feeling clawed at the four friends. They had never felt more tired. As they collapsed to the floor Marcus stood up in his luminous glory and screamed:

“No!!!!! This wasn’t supposed to happen. He isn’t here this time. I thought I’d fixed it. I’m so sorry. So, so sorry.”

*

A few hundred meters away. In a cell in the police station a tiny stream of blue light crept in through the window and disappeared into Mr Thomas. He caught his breath:

“Not as much as usual Marcus. Quite disappointing really, but it’ll have to do.”

He looked in the mirror. A face of brown leather, surrounded by snow white hair, scowled back at him. He was old but he was alive. For now.

*

James woke up in his bed at home with no memory of getting there. His dad slumped forward, perched on the end of the bed. He jerked awake at the sound of James:

“Finally! We’ve been so worried. The four of you were so ill when they found you. Are you OK? Can you remember anything?”

James’ throat was painfully dry. His dad had to help him take a sip of water before he could speak:

“What about the others? Taz? Nicky? Tasha? Are they OK? Is Marcus?”

His dad sighed and shook his head:

“I’m really sorry to say this but they still haven’t found him. We don’t know what Mr Thomas did with him but it’s not looking promising.”

“The others are the same as you. Been ill and sleeping for weeks. You managed to sleep your way to the Christmas holidays!”

James got up and put his slippers on. His dad helped him down to the living room. Long phone calls told him that his friends were awake too. Everything was going to be OK.

***

1st November 2017

James hurried towards the school. He was supposed to be picking up the kids right now but he was still five minutes away. Time had never been on his side. For as long as he could remember it felt like someone had set up his internal clock a bit wrong. Like some of his time was missing.

Tash streaked past him on her way to pick up her two. There was nothing quite like seeing a school friend with kids to make you feel old. They exchanged an eye-roll of mutual understanding and she vanished into the crowd of parents.

James was almost at the gate, running past the bushes when he saw something that made his stomach lurch. It couldn’t be…

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

A pale, green, face gazed out from the bushes to his left. Black eyes reflected the street lights that lit the way into the new school. Then they were gone.

He’d allowed himself to consider it some childish story; something they had made up to explain what had happened to them. Sometimes he’d get flashbacks like this and remember the truth.

He hunted through the thinning crowd for Tash but she had already gone. His boys raced towards him. Theo (his eldest) was jumping around as usual:

“What kept you so long?”

James tried not to think about the face in the bushes. He tried to hide his discomfort by acting as normally as possible. He apologised for being late and asked how their day was. Harry (his youngest) jumped in:

“Theo has a new boy in his class. He’s really fast, hardly anyone can catch him when we play tig.”

James was relieved to be talking about something normal:

“So what’s the new boy’s name.”

Theo and Harry replied in unison:

“He’s called Marcus.”

Keep up with the story

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

Click here to skip on to Chapter 9

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

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

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