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

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

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

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

“YOU!? BUT HOW? YOU LIVE AGAIN?”

Marcus shook his head:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tash looked ahead and turned the key in the ignition.

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I told her I’d be here. I promised.”

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

His eyes settled on James:

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

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

“James you’re glowing.”

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

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

“I wonder…”

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

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

“Fascinating.”

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

Mr Thomas took great pleasure in the scene:

“Oh, now, would that work?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Thomas slammed James’ jaw shut:

“Now now James. I did warn you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel had tears in his eyes:

“That’s what Beth thought too…”

Mr Thomas frowned:

“Who is Beth?”

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

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

Mr Thomas’s eyes blazed:

“What are you talking about?”

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

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

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

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

Marcus spoke in a whisper:

“Daniel, you missed.”

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

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

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

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

He looked at the boy in front of him:

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus shook his head:

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

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

“You are my friends aren’t you?”

James grabbed the boys hand:

“Of course Marcus.”

Marcus relaxed:

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

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

“I’m so sorry Marcus.”

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

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

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

A final glimpse of brilliant blue and it was done.

***

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

The end of the story

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

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

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

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

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

All the best, and thanks for reading, John

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

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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 23: A monster in the Drummond

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

The ghoul-girl at the door grinned from ear to ear. Eyes fixed on Marcus she rubbed her belly as though filled with food for the first time in centuries. She strode towards to her Uncle.

Marcus didn’t wait, he was smoke, he billowed from the door and flowed along the corridor. He had distracted them long enough. Tash had what she needed and had started her work. Marcus’ place was beside his friend. Beside all of them.

Marcus didn’t change form again. He didn’t need to; the extra power flowing through his body, left a thrumming buzz in his head. He yelled with laughter, with joy. Overfed, over-brimming, unpredictable.

If the remaining three ghoul-children felt like this too? Marcus thought of their hate-filled eyes. It didn’t bear thinking about.

He arrived on the golf course to see Taz, covered in blood, crawling for the ring of stones. He inched closer to safety only to be dragged back by a glowing creature.

It had been a ghoul-child once but now it’s face was more skeletal, like an x-ray was shining through. Green bones glowed out and the face was stuck in a constant deathly grin. Without looking up the ghoul-boy spoke to Marcus. It’s voice bold and strong as any living person’s:

Good evening Uncle. How do you fare tonight? I appear to have lost a cousin and gained something…wonderful.”

The boy twisted Taz’s leg. Marcus winced at the crunch. He dropped on his nephew, moving from smoke to solid effortlessly.

The boy threw him aside and reached for Taz’s leg once more. However, Taz had hauled himself just close enough to be pulled into the stone circle.

Tash and Ross pulled him by the arms and the ghoul-boy pulled at him by his injured leg. A tug of war with a rope that screams can be pretty disconcerting but Tash and Ross held on tight.

Marcus slid an arm around the neck of the ghoul-boy and drew him off of his friend. Taz collapsed face forwards into the ring. Blood sprayed from his lips with each short painful burst of breath. All the same he smiled up at his saviours. Then frowned:

Well? What are you doing? Get those bones buried!”

Outside the circle a crowd of the last remaining ghoul-children had gathered. They centred their attention on Marcus but one of the girls focussed her attention on the circle, throwing rocks at the small crowd of bone buriers.

The ghouls couldn’t cross the boundary but it became abundantly clear that a well-thrown rock could make it through to the middle with ease. Regardless of who was throwing it.

The rocks clipped their arms and even their heads. The diggers would stop briefly to tend to cuts, scrapes, and deep purple bruises. Small clumps of time lost to every well-placed missile.

Marcus fought on. The diggers continued their work wearing their blemishes as badges of honour.

As more bones made contact with the rocks, the glow from beneath increased. Tash drew her hand back as sparks licked out for more.

Something didn’t feel right.

Andrew poured in another handful of bones, the sparks hissed, and one of the ghoul-girls disappeared.

A swirl of energy fizzed and cracked then spread out into four streams. Two poured into the remaining ghoul-children, one into Marcus, and one flew away into the night.

Marcus saw this and looked at his friends within the circle, eyes wide, trying to communicate something important.

The last remaining ghoul-boy punched Marcus in the gut. It was a pain unlike anything he had felt in two millennia, almost as though he actually had a gut again.

The ghoul-boy punched him in the chest, then once in the mouth. Marcus coughed (another oddity for a creature with no internal organs) and spat liquid onto the grass. Blood.

With the back of his hand he wiped his mouth. His knees wobbled as he felt the thick blood run from the cut on his mouth. The ghoul-boy shook his hand in pain, wincing as he looked at his damaged knuckles.

The ghoul-girl grabbed more and more rocks, firing them hand over hand into the protective circle. Flesh made her more uncomfortable than she had expected. It had been a long time since she had last worn it.

Despite her efforts the electric fizzling slurped up the last of another skeleton. Her brother disappeared. Her body brimmed with power and she gaped at Marcus. A wet rattle echoed between the two of them as they both filled their newly returned lungs.

Marcus held his hands up. He needed this to stop. He needed peace:

“Please! I remember you now. Messu. My brother named you after the acorns on the trees he cared for. I never meant for you to go through this. I did His bidding, it took years to learn how to break free. I am sorry that you all had to go through this with me.”

The girl relaxed her shoulders:

“You didn’t have to befriend us all though. Every ghost-child you made. You made friends first. It made it all so much worse. The betrayal hurt much more than anything the magic did.”

Marcus’ breath caught in his throat. His eyes dripped huge thick tears:

“I am so sorry. I never thought it through. I was lonely. I missed people, and he used that, he used my friendships as a weapon. I really am so sorry Messu. I hope you will go somewhere good once the magic is broken.”

The girl shook her head and took hold of her uncle’s hands:

“Marcus, I don’t think you ever understood the stones. That’s not how they work. What you’re doing just now, you’re actually…”

Her words dispersed into the night. She was gone.

Blue light flowed into the stone circle then erupted out in two streams. One stream reached Marcus, knocking him to the ground with its force. The other out into the night. Marcus watched, slumped on the grass, as more power disappeared into the distance.

The skeletons of dozens of ghost-children lay nestled under the stones. Now came the turn of the final ghost-child; Marcus himself.

*

On the inside of the safe Mr Thomas found a small plaque. A manufacturer’s guarantee, moulded in metal and screwed on tight.

This safe promised to be not only tamper-proof, pick-proof, and fire-proof it was also, apparently, bomb proof. He was testing that theory. What was becoming maddeningly clear to those outside was that whatever he was doing to the inside of the safe door was about to reach a force greater that anything the safe’s makers had ever imagined.

Nicky and Gordon ushered every child out of the room. If Mr Thomas was about to break his way through a door of solid cast iron they weren’t going to stick around to see what he did next.

Gordon held the door as Nicky helped the children up and out of the room. She tore open an ancient door and led them up to the abandoned hotel above them.

Gordon turned in time to see a trickle of blue light weave through the hinge area of the safe door. The second of these beams so far. Just as the first had surprised them, this one seemed to offer Mr Thomas more energy.

The iron door creaked against the strain. For the first time Gordon could hear Mr Thomas’s yells. Pure, animal rage heaved against the door but, despite some bending, the door still held.

Gordon heard the sound of excited child voices near the exit. Nicky had got them all out. There was no reason for him to stay here. Whatever Mr Thomas was now, it was different. If Gordon tried standing his ground it would be like a fly fighting a bus.

He ran.

Then he stopped. Just outside the door lay a little boy. He had missed his step, been missed by the others, and left behind. He tried to walk on a badly twisted ankle but Gordon knew they didn’t have time.

He swept the boy up in his arms and hoisted him onto his shoulder in a well-practised ‘dad’ technique.

Despite his dishevelled state Gordon was still in uniform. Outside the hotel, gathered in the town square were at least a dozen police cars. The whole road was closed off. When one woman along with every single missing child left the building, only to be followed by an exhausted police officer, carrying an injured child on his shoulders the officers present came to a single conclusion.

A single officer began to clap, then that clap found friends. It rippled through the police officers present building into enthusiastic, highly relieved applause.

A couple of officers ran over to him. One was plain-clothed and spoke with a quiver of concern:

“Do we know if all the children are accounted for? It’s just…earlier tonight we caught two men with a sack of bones.”

He left the word ‘bones’ hanging in the air. Gordon thought of Taz and James with a lump in his throat:

“Do you have the men here?”

The detective shook his head:

“Well…that’s the thing. It would appear that mistakes were made. We’re still figuring out the details.” The officer could barely maintain eye contact “Perhaps a third man was involved. We don’t know. On returning to the car, no more than two minutes later, it was found that the doors were unlocked, the boot open, evidence gone, and two pairs of handcuffs were retrieved, unlocked on the ground beside the car. We’re still looking for the men.”

Gordon let out an audible sigh of relief:

“They’re not the ones you should be worried about. Trust me. We need to concentrate on what’s in there.”

He pointed to the building behind him in time to catch another of the odd blue streaks of light. It arced over the building and plunged through the chimney stack.

Behind him Gordon heard multiple questions, the most common being ‘what was that?’. Gordon knew. He braced himself. Now he had backup, but did they stand a chance against Mr Thomas?

They had to at least try.

The door of the safe ruptured from the basement, tearing through every floor of the four storey building. It tore a hole in the roof, showering them with slate, then flipped a dozen times in the air, before landing among the gathered crowd, cutting the hood of a police car in two.

Mr Thomas was free.

Keep up with the story

Click here to go to ‘Marcus: Chapter 24: The death of the Drummond Arms‘.

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 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 16: Two Bags of Bones

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

Two bags of bones now sat in the evidence room of Crieff police station. They were old, really old. The guy from Perth told them they needed a ‘specialist’ to look at them. She was going to be a week. A week with children’s bones locked up beside the staff kitchen?

Gordon hated it when he got got a shift sandwich; that’s what he called two shifts with a few hours of sleep in the middle. A few hours of messed up dreams and a two second shower and here he was back at the station. To make matters worse he hadn’t been able to eat all day.

The smell of chips wafted from the chip shop next door. Maybe he could eat them in the waiting area at the front of the station. Did they make coffee? He hadn’t even been able to stomach going in to boil the kettle.

The chippy was quiet. A few kids from the high school were lined up in anticipation of a hot poke of chips on their way home. That sounded good. Simple, hot, salty, a bit of brown sauce. Some steaming coffee in one of those polystyrene cups. He needed that.

His first chip was too hot but it was extra crispy, they had the fat on high. It burned his tongue but his stomach told him to ignore that. He leaned on the door frame of the station, his coffee cup balanced on the windowsill beside him.

He shovelled steaming golden chips into his mouth three at a time, sucking the brown sauce off his fingers then reached for his cup to wash it down.

At first he thought the steam from the coffee was playing tricks on the window then he realised what he was seeing; movement. Inside the station someone was moving around. In fact it could be more than one. How did they get in?

The chips and coffee were abandoned as Gordon slammed the door open and leapt inside. With a swift stumbling run he found himself surrounded on all sides by small, porcelain-white faces. It took him a couple more seconds to see their eyes. Their awful, lifeless eyes.

A girl walked towards him staring at him so deeply it made his temples hurt. She wore a frilly dress. The kind they wore maybe a-hundred years ago. The silence in the room made Gordon’s ears throb, desperate for something to hear.

The girl’s mouth opened slowly, stretched to a yawn, then continued. An unnatural maw that reminded Gordon of his son’s pet lizard.

Gordon gulped. The girl shook her head at the sound as though loosening the cobwebs, then relaxed her mouth. The sound of Gordon’s watch broke through the silence and he focussed on the ticks. The solid, strong, regular, orderly, ticks.

The girl looked away for a moment. When she looked back her black eyes seemed more focussed, more human. She took a few slow steps towards the police officer. She took his hand. Little fingers like ice, gripped tightly. In a tiny voice, steeped in sadness and distress she whispered:

“Protect us.”

The gaze of every child there turned to face the evidence room. Gordon moved with care, opened the door and looked inside. A faint blue light glowed from the bones in the sacks. Barely enough light to see by but light all the same.

The odd light caught the reflective surface of another pair of black eyes, peering through the bars from the window outside. These eyes had none of the peace or sadness of the others. These eyes were filled with greed, with anger.

A child’s hand slapped on the window, pressing tiny finger prints onto the glass. A tense, creaking noise began. Gordon didn’t recognise what it was until the cracks showed on the glass around the hand. He ducked his head in time to avoid the flying shards.

The hand reached in through the broken pane and grasped an iron bar. When Gordon heard that creak too he grabbed the sacks and hauled them out of the room. Locking the door behind him.

The other children were waiting for him. The girl tiptoed through them and stood by his side. She held his thumb in her tiny fingers. Gordon could swear she was shaking a little.

The ‘CLANG’ in the other room told him that the bar had given way. As the ringing in his ears died down he heard the scurrying, scraping sounds on the other side of the door. The boy from the window had friends.

Police station doors go through safety inspections and security tests that other doors could only dream of. The bars on the window were about as old as the building itself but that door was less than a year old and steel reinforced.

The tiny, impossibly strong hands on the other side pounded, and pounded, and pounded. The door held fast.

That’s when Gordon heard someone put keys into the lock on the back entrance. Ross wasn’t due to start his shift for another twenty minutes. He’d picked a fine time to develop a work ethic.

The young man wandered in carrying a pizza box. He didn’t even close the back door behind him:

“Figured you’d be hungry. Can’t say I could eat anything from the kitchen with those bones…”

He saw Gordon, he saw the bags of bones, and he saw dozens of black-eyed children staring at him. He dropped the pizza. To his credit that’s all he did. He didn’t run, he didn’t yell. He stopped, he assessed the situation, then leapt a foot in the air at the sound of yet another thump from the locked evidence room.

The thumps were bad but it was worse when they stopped. The scurrying noise came again. Gordon yelled for Ross to close the back door and lock it but the lad was too late. Four ghoul-children stood in the doorway, their bodies primed to pounce.

When the men heard the whistling they expected the end to be upon them. Black smoke drifted in through the gaps in the front door, knocking the letterbox open with a creak and a clang. Gordon thought of woodland walks and digging in the dirt as a child. A strange peace came over him.

The smoke condensed between the police officers and the ghoul-children at the back door. A voice Gordon hadn’t heard in decades spoke from inside the smoke:

“Gordon, nice to see you again. If you phone Tash she’ll tell you what to do. I’ll keep these guys out.”

The smoke swirled around the ghoul-children at the door, ejecting them from the building. It condensed again. Gordon could make out the outline of a small hand as it grasped the keys from the outside lock, slammed the door, then locked them in.

The officers held their breath as they waited. Neither of them felt equipped to fight smoke.

The smoke drew together ever more tightly until it formed the shape of a boy. His face was familiar. Then, deep in the recesses of Gordon’s brain some dots connected:

“Marcus? But you…I mean Mr Thomas…”

Marcus held a pained expression:

“I know Gordon. You’re almost right. More importantly though; WHY HAVEN’T YOU PHONED TASH YET?!”

*

Tash was sitting down to dinner with her kids when the house phone rang. Only call centres phoned the house any more, time wasters, and always at dinner time. She ignored it. They normally hung up at the sound of the answering machine anyway.

BEEP

“Hi Tash? It’s Gordon. Sorry to call you like this…It’s just…Marcus says you know where to take things to keep them safe…”

Tash had picked up the phone by the time Gordon had said ‘safe’. Her kids watched and waited, only hearing one side of the conversation. When their mum got off the phone she was as white as a sheet:

“Sorry kids. Family meal night is postponed. We need to go help your dad bury a heap of bones.”

*

The police car pulled up in front of the house and Tash, Andrew, and Louise squeezed into the back, feeling instantly like convicts.

It would be a mistake to say the car smelled bad. It was more accurate to say that the air made their skin crawl. Their noses gave up after the first sniff. Their scalps itched and something deep inside them told them to leave the car as fast as they could.

From the rear of the car a hand grabbed hold of Tash’s shoulder. She had never been one to scream but now seemed a good time for one.

The kids leapt out of the car. The scream was the last straw. Looking back, the green hand grasping their mum confirmed their worst fears. Louise yelled:

“Dad! What’s going on?”

Marcus poked his head up from the luggage are behind the seat:

“Sorry Tash, I slipped. Nothing to grab onto back here. Your husband drives like a maniac.”

Tash shook her head:

“He hasn’t been my husband for seven years.”

Gordon jumped in:

“We realised we could live together or like each other but not both. We chose to get on.”

Marcus shrugged:

“Well…OK…Either way you drive like a maniac and we have a pile of children’s bones to bury sometime before dawn. Shall we concentrate on that for now?”

Tash screwed up her face at the boy’s rudeness. Before she could say anything her eyes caught movement through the rear windscreen. The briefest glimpse, but enough to recognise the increasingly familiar form of a ghoul-child. She jumped into the car:

“OK Marcus I think I’m up to speed. Gordon! Can we get a move on?! They’re on their way.”

The smell took over their senses once the doors were closed. Gordon wedged a peg over his nose. At least that explained how he’d managed to drive all this way in the grips of the odour.

It was a short drive to the golf course. Tash had walked past it, driven past it, so many times since that night. The memories faded, details drifted away. She would never forget but she had grown thankful of the blurring of time.

Every tiny moment, every minute sensation from that night slammed back into her mind as she stepped out of the car and made her way to the stone circle.

At least Marcus wasn’t chasing her this time. In fact he was struggling to heave two large sacks out of the police car. Andrew and Louise held an end as they placed the bags down gently on the ice-hardened ground.

Andrew walked ahead as the adults and Marcus held the sacks with as much care as they could. A deep gut-wrenching guilt almost knocked Marcus to the ground as he carried the bones of children he had once called friends.

They were still connected. He could feel a few of them hiding nearby. He couldn’t read their thoughts or even their feelings. All he knew was that he was doing something to keep them safe for the first time since he had met each of them.

Keep up with the story

Click here to go to Chapter 17: That’s Four

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 12: The Sheriff

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

Bin lids don’t get enough credit. Buckets are good but when surrounded by a group of clawing ghoul-children there’s nothing quite like a bin lid to help you break through their defences and make an opening.

James ran with the thrill of victory pulsing in his head. If he could divert the ghoul-children down to the Market Park the others might stand a chance of getting to the graveyard unnoticed. If only he could figure out where they’d gone.

*

Down in the Market park the others were catching their breath. Enjoying the chance to recharge, and make plans. Their first challenge was figuring out what had happened to James.

Was he still at the school? Had Marcus dropped him off somewhere else?

One thing they were all sure of was Marcus’ last instruction before he knocked himself out; meet at the graveyard.

Tash tried phoning James.

He answered almost immediately:

“Tash? What happened? Where are you? Actually don’t tell me, they might hear.”

He was out of breath, clearly running. Tash yelled down the phone:

“James are you OK? Are they chasing you?”

James’ words came back in puffs:

“Yep…Look I’m diverting them. Going to the Market Park. They won’t be near the school. Take your chance and get away. Meet where we agreed if you can.”

The colour drained from Tash’s face. Andrew spotted it first:

“What is it mum?”

Tash tried pleading with James over the phone:

“James?! Don’t do that we’re…”

James jumped in:

“Don’t tell me where you are!”

Tash gritted her teeth:

“But James we’re actually in…”

“I said don’t tell me!”

“…but James!”

James hung up.

Andrew looked at his mum:

“Well?”

Tash shook her head:

“What an idiot. They’re coming here. We need to hide.”

The Market Park was a huge grassy area that had once been used to sell livestock by the thousands but was now used for town events. It was a wide functional green space, empty of features. Aside from a few bushes and trees there really was nowhere to hide. Everything around them was fenced off.

*

James saw his mistake as he rounded the corner and approached the gates. A woman and four children couldn’t exactly hide for long here. He never listened to others enough. He should have let Tash finish speaking. Too late, always too late for things.

His only hope was if the ghoul-children didn’t see them. In the miniscule head start he had won himself, he motioned the others to lie down on the grass then continued on down the hill and away from the entrance to the park.

The others held their breath as they watched a horde of ghoul-children trail past the gate in pursuit of James. A lot more than eight now.

Theo’s knees hurt from the cold grass. He forced them deeper into the icy soil to stop himself moving. It was better than thinking about what those things might do to his dad.

Marcus squirmed and stretched:

“What happened? Why are we all lying down?”

Every one of the others shushed him and pointed to the gate. The ghoul-children had worked for him for years, obeyed his every command. Watching them chase James past the gate was like watching his hand move outside of his control. He shook the feeling off:

“Is he coming back round?”

Tash sneered at the ghost-boy:

“I would hope not. Why?”

Marcus was silent as still more straggling ghoul-children joined their brethren whistling past the gate. Their light footsteps disappeared into the distance. Marcus jumped up and dusted himself off:

“If he does we could get the Sheriff. He doesn’t like the ghouls. He doesn’t like me either. Actually I don’t think he likes anyone.”

The others asked in unison:

“The Sheriff? Crieff doesn’t have a sheriff!”

*

“I’ve not seen him in a couple of hundred years. I wonder if he’s still around.”

Marcus marched to the small gates cut into the west wall of the park.

“When he was alive he watched for the sheep and cattle-rustlers that sneaked in when the drovers brought their livestock to the market. He doesn’t like rule breakers. I mean really doesn’t like them. He would have them hanging by the town gates by nightfall”

Theo frowned:

“OK so you’re going to get an angry ghost. An angry murderous ghost to help save my dad from other angry ghosts? Can’t see that going wrong at all.”

Marcus shrugged:

“Oh it could go horribly wrong, I’m not going to deny that, but it’s the best chance he has. Besides it’s the ghosts the sheriff has the most problem with. We break the rules just by still being around after death.”

Louise wasn’t convinced:

“But he’s a ghost.”

Marcus smirked:

“Yep. We don’t mention that bit. He’s a weird guy, but he has his uses. Never noticed those uses till now, but he definitely has his them.”

Marcus grabbed a rock and thumped it on one of the ancient boulders that made up the wall:

“Rule breakers! There are Rule Breakers. Monstrous deviations of nature! We need the sheriff. Help us.”

A wrenching, hollow sound rumbled from below them as the ground tore apart. A red glow pulsing deep inside the ground through a hole barely larger than a fist.

Marcus peered down, his face bathed in blood-red light:

“That should do it.”

They backed away, eyes fixed on the small glowing hole. Marcus continued walking backwards:

“Should have said before; I can’t be here when he comes out. Good luck guys. I’ll see you at the gate when it’s over.”

Their protests dried in their throats as a huge rotten hand heaved the soil downwards forcing its way up and out of the hole. A shoulder packed tight with muscle and sinew followed. Then the sheriff dragged himself out to the world above. The hole gaped in tatters, red light rippling on the walls beside them as though they were on fire.

Marcus was gone so the sheriff turned on them. Eyes glowing red, dressed in a ragged uniform, and carrying a hangman’s noose. He greeted them in a voice that made their innards vibrate:

Who summoned me? Who am I to bring to justice?”

As he uttered the word ‘justice’ his burning eyes flicked towards the hole below them. Did the ghoul children really deserve that?

Theo thought of his dad, running for his life, just a few hundred feet away. They didn’t have a choice, he turned to Tash:

“Call my dad. Tell him to bring them here.”

The stink of the sheriff clawed at the back of Tash’s throat. Fire, rot, and filth. They couldn’t stay here long. Her eyes watered, blurring her view of her phone’s screen. She called James. She didn’t wait for him to say anything:

“Bring them through the west entrance. We have something for them.”

All that came in reply was laboured breathing, the sound of running, followed by a grunt of recognition. James was on board.

The sheriff glared at her as she hung up her call:

What witchcraft is that, that allows you to talk to those who are not here?”

The red glow in his eyes intensified with his rage. The group hurriedly tried to explain how phones worked, pointing out that it was science, not ‘witchcraft’. The glow in his eyes dulled a little but he still looked at them accusingly:

Why have you called upon my services. Why wake me from my slumber?”

They weren’t sure where to start. Fortunately James did the job for them as he emerged screaming through the gate followed by an alarming number of ghoul-children. If this didn’t work they would all be in trouble.

The sheriff’s face distorted into his own monstrous version of a grin. The fire in his eyes glowed deep red and he lifted his noose:

I see now. The dead walk again.”

James raced at them. The group turned from the sheriff and ran alongside the purple faced, middle-aged man. A bit of company gave him a burst of energy and he increased his pace as a ghoul-child began catching up.

The Sheriff began his work.

It wasn’t easy to watch. After the first ghoul-child was noose-dragged to the glowing pit none of them could bring themselves to look back. The cold black eyes didn’t even blink as the sheriff hauled them off to…wherever it was that he took them.

Marcus cheered them on from beyond the gate as their feet thumped on the icy earth. The ghoul-children seemed to have increased their pace as well. Their faces showed no sign of fear but their speed told a different story.

The sheriff materialised in bursts of flames and steam then dragged them back to his hole. The ghoul-children squirmed against the rope, fingers rasping as they clawed the frozen ground. Each of them made a ‘thwump’ noise as they vanished through the glowing red hole.

As they reached Marcus at the gate they realised it had been a while since they had last heard a ‘thwump’. They looked round to find the sheriff charging towards them. The fire in his eyes blazing, he roared:

You side with this abomination? You side with Marcus?! You are all guilty now.”

Marcus screamed at them all to join him on the other side of the gate. They couldn’t see what good that might do them now but followed his instructions.

The sheriff’s feet threw huge lumps of soil up behind him as he thundered towards them. His eyes didn’t leave them for a moment. He grasped his noose tightly and spun it round his head like a lasso, preparing to catch one of them.

They closed their eyes, preparing for the noose to fall. Marcus laughed:

“Wait for it…wait for it…”

BOOM! A fireball erupted before their eyes but they felt no heat. It curved back from the gate as though they were behind a wall of glass.

Marcus grinned at their vacant expressions:

“That was intense!”

As the wall of flames dwindled they could see the Market Park beyond. It was as though nothing had happened. The hole in the ground at the far end was gone. Along with it the Sheriff had vanished. All that remained were the deep-cut welts left behind by his charge through the turf.

James caught his breath:

“So what next?”

Marcus drew breath deeply:

“I don’t know how to tell you but that wasn’t the last of them. We can’t just wander up to the graveyard now. They know we’re coming.”

Tash sagged. They were exhausted. Louise brushed the dirt from her knees:

“I think we need to go to Auntie Nicky’s.”

Keep up with the story

To read on to Chapter 13: Graveyard and Gardens just click here

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