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Marcus: Chapter 7: Impossible choices

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

Did the ghouls have the same powers as Marcus? Tash took an educated guess that they didn’t. After all, if they could why wouldn’t Mr Thomas have used them as his own freakish army?

Tash wasn’t ready to take any risks. She dropped to the ground, crawling in what Taz called ‘commando style’ along the wet grass. She shimmied between hedges and other cover until the stones were almost at running distance.

To her left was a small group of ghoul-children watching the golf-course gates with empty eyes. To her right was a single girl, and she was looking right at Tash.

Tash leapt from the ground as the girl pointed in her direction and let out a dry, unearthly, shriek. The other ghouls turned at the sound and marched in her direction.

In every direction all that Tash could see was ancient children. Each a ghostly copy of the sort of a picture you’d see in a museum. They closed around her leaving nothing but a small gap, on the other side was the stone circle. The gap closed shut and then came the whistle from the direction of town.

For a fraction of a moment the ghouls looked up to search for Marcus. Tash took her chance and lunged between the ghouls who had closed the gap.

The smell was putrid, like rotting vegetables and stagnant water. Marcus smelled weird but not unpleasant. The smell of these things hung around in her nose as she pelted her way towards the stone circle.

Deep breaths of rotten air fuelled her last few strides. She flung herself onto the nearest rock. Her wrist gave a hollow ‘crack’ as she landed but she barely noticed the pain. She was safe. Even better; the others were safe.

*

Marcus drifted down towards her, landing just feet away, clearly reluctant to go any further:

“It’s not the witching hour quite yet. He sent me to get you. Insisted that there is still time. He said to tell you that if you aren’t there on time he’ll kill them.”

Tash looked at Marcus like he was crazy:

“He was going to kill them anyway! At least if I stay here he doesn’t get what he wanted.”

Marcus nodded:

“The ritual doesn’t exactly ‘kill’ them but I know what you mean. It’s not much of a life is it.”

He gestured towards the ghouls surrounding them. Their quiet moans carried perfectly in the icy night air. A blasting wail shattered the quiet as three police cars flew down the road beside them illuminating the stones in pulsing blue.

Despite the shock their presence was a comfort to Tash and a grin crossed her face:

“I don’t think Mr Thomas will be doing anything to them now.”

She checked her watch: 2:45 am. They had made it with time to spare. The police would have heard about Taz’s screams. They would be investigating right now. Tash’s parents might even have read the note she had left on her bed. It was over:

“So what do you do now? If Mr Thomas is arrested there’s no reason to get us all together in the school at three. Out of interest, why do you always do this in the school?”

Marcus grew blurry, his form drifting apart as he grew lost in concentration. His answer was half hearted, his thoughts focussed on something else:

“It’s not the school exactly. Mr Thomas made sure that one of these stones was dug up and used in the construction of the school. Along with it they took a large amount of soil. I was buried in that soil. The school was built using my grave.”

Marcus’ real form had been bad enough to look at before. Now that Tash knew his body was buried somewhere, there was something somehow more unnatural about him. Something hollow. He paced in a circle around the stones, stopping every now and then to steal a glance at the golf club gates:

“Ah, there we are. I sent some of the others on a little errand. She’s younger than what we normally use but she should make a decent replacement.”

In the distance Tash could make out a tiny girl in rainbow pyjamas, her eyes red from crying. Two ghoul-children led her towards Marcus:

“Sorry Tash. I really am. I have orders to have four children in the school before 3am and if you won’t come I’ll have to use James’ little sister.”

Tash could feel the bile rising in her throat. It was over. The police would have Mr Thomas by now. Why was Marcus carrying this on? She screamed at him in rage, fighting back her own tears. His face hung long, his brow furrowed, as he struggled with something inside:

“Tash, I’m sorry. I want to do things differently but I can’t. It has to be like this. I always do as instructed. I have no choice. Now, make things easier and come with me to the school. We can leave James’ sister here at the stones so you know she’ll be safe.”

Tash’s moment of victory dissolved into nothing. Her throat ached, she tried to swallow but she had no saliva. Tash’s voice creaked as she stood up from the stones and tried to comfort the frightened girl:

“It’s OK. I know these people are scary but those stones are magic. The bad people can’t get you if you’re there. Sit on that rock and scream.”

James’ sister rushed for the stones and planted herself down on a mossy patch. Tash looked at Marcus. His black eyes told her nothing. She hoped her own eyes could hide things as easily. It wasn’t fair, she could reach the stones in two or three long strides from here.

She could reach the stones! Why was she walking towards Marcus? To keep a promise that meant her and three others would be turned into ghoulish shadows of themselves? No thanks! She kept her face as straight as possible and braced herself for the leap back to the stones.

As her leg muscles bunched a ring of cold and wet closed around her wrist with unyielding power:

“Good try Tash but I’m afraid we really must go. We have an appointment to keep.”

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 read on to Marcus: Chapter 8: Borrowed Time

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Marcus: Chapter 5: The Boiler Room

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

The boys scrambled for the door. Taz stuffed the keys in his pocket as he went. That thing had Marcus’ voice. Was it Marcus? It certainly didn’t look anything like Marcus!

This was no time for questions. It was time for running. Like they’d seen on every scary movie, in every scary book, the boys ran for the stairs. They ran for higher ground, even though all it could do was trap them.

They raced for the top floor. The corridors were wider there. That part of the building was newer. If they ran that way they could take the second set of stairs, double back onto the floor below and make a second attempt at getting into the boiler room.

Taz was determined not to leave his friend behind again:

“James, come on! It’s easier if you take the steps two at a time. Trust me.”

James copied Taz’s leaping run up the stairs. Sure enough they got up faster than he would have believed possible. His fear of tripping pushed firmly to one side in the face of his fear of the thing behind them. They raced through the top corridor, barging through the door at the end, just as the door they had just come through creaked open.

Marcus poked his head round with a grin. He yelled something after them but they didn’t stick around to find out what it was. They took the other stairs in jumps. James wasn’t even sure if his feet were hitting the ground. Nothing about this felt safe but it was better to risk a twisted ankle than wait around for Marcus to get them.

They came out at the very back of the school. At the far end of a very old corridor. The walls were arched and it smelled of bleach from the gym hall toilets. They ran on and turned into the big stairwell again. Leaping down steps without counting.

Taz ran ahead and grabbed the keys out of his pocket. There were dozens of them.

He skipped the tiny ones and the huge old iron ones and tried the most likely sizes and shapes. As the keys rattled against the door he was sure he could hear movement from behind it, and a girl’s voice!

Something wasn’t right though. The girl’s voice was muffled more than it should be. Taz slid key after key into the lock until finally, with a satisfying ‘click’ he found one that worked.

Taz flung the door open to find a darkened room, not much bigger than a store cupboard. He turned on the light. The room was empty; Nicky wasn’t here.

James came in to see why Taz was taking so long:

“Where is she?”

A tiny, echoing, voice came from below:

“I’m down here!”

At the far end of the room the boys spotted a ladder leading down to a level below. To rescue their friend they would need to climb under the school. Marcus would be here any minute.

In a rush of inspiration Taz leapt for the door and slammed it shut. He grabbed the key and locked them in:

“This way he won’t know we’re here yet.”

There was a lot of space under the school. A lot more than they expected. More in fact than there would ever need to be. James started to wonder if this underground bit was older than the school.

He and Taz got back to the task at hand:

“Nicky? Nicky are you here? We’ve come to get you, we need to take you home.”

A muffled cry from a small cupboard nearby told them everything they needed to know. A strip of old electrical cable linked her right ankle to one of the heating pipes. She looked up with a face covered in muck and sweat.

Up till that point the boys hadn’t wanted to believe that this was real. Neither of them had imagined Nicky like this. Nicky had to shake them out of it:

“Please! Help me!”

They leapt forward and started working on the knots. The plastic coating on the cables slipped as they pulled at it. The seconds ticked by with the sound of their own heartbeat pulsing in their ears.

Marcus would figure it out quickly. They had locked him out but he could be waiting for them by the door when they came back up.

Nicky wobbled as she walked, her sleeping legs waking up as she moved them. The boys grabbed an arm each and helped her along to the stepladder. At that point she was on her own. They couldn’t pull her up so she forced her legs to move, despite agonising pins and needles.

The boys let her climb up first, shuffling from foot to foot as they suppressed the urge to ask Nicky to hurry up. Finally she reached the top and James and Taz hauled themselves up to join her.

There was no way of knowing what might meet them on the other side of the door. James pointed out that the longer they waited the more likely it would be that they would find Marcus there.

Taz pressed his ear up against the door, sticking his tongue out as he concentrated:

“I can’t hear anything…”

The door handle turned.

*

Taz scurried along the floor on all fours, putting as much distance between himself and the door as possible. James and Nicky grabbed him by his shoulders and pulled him towards them.

A metallic scraping sound came from the other side of the door. A huge clump of keys clicking against the handle. No other sound could be heard as a key clicked gently into the lock and produced a tiny ‘squeak’ as it opened the door.

A huge shape filled the open door. The lights in the stairway had been turned on leaving the figure’s face in shadow. As he stepped forward the three friends finally felt able to breathe. Mr Thomas, assistant janitor and saviour of the hour, gaped at them:

“What on earth are you all doing here?”

He stepped closer to them, frowning:

“Marcus was supposed to keep you tied up!”

They had seconds to digest what Mr Thomas was saying. Taz was the first to respond. Heaving his friends up he hauled them with all his might to speed past the man and leap through the open door.

They held hands tight and ran as one, slipping a little on the freshly polished floor, bumping into corners.

Mr Thomas poked his head out of the boiler room:

“Marcus! We have an escape attempt!”

A greenish-black shape blurred past them and took the shape of a ten year old boy:

“I really am sorry but I can’t let you leave.”

There was something odd about Marcus’ expression, somehow he really did seem sorry. All the same he clearly intended to keep them there.

The trio launched themselves right at him, knocking him to one side as they made for the door. They remembered too late that this wasn’t the way they’d come in. Nicky fiddled with the lock, no key just a twist catch. As soon as they heard the ‘click’ all three of them flung the door open and ran out into the night.

They made directly for the gate but the greenish-black shape was back. This time, away from the lights in the school, Marcus didn’t look at all like himself. Black eyes blinked at them from behind pale green eyelids.

The three friends stepped back from the creature in front of them. In his fright Taz let go of James’ hand. A gust of wind threw him aside and he heard the words ‘Tig! I got you!” hiding inside the wind’s howl.

Taz pulled himself up and found the playground deserted. James, Nicky, even Marcus. All gone.

For a fleeting moment he considered running back into the school. There was nothing he could do. He needed help.

Taz’s legs thumped onto the pavement like pistons. He ran in a flat-out sprint all the way to Tash’s house. There was no clear way of getting hold of her without ringing the bell but he knew her parents wouldn’t believe what he had to tell them.

He’d have to knock on her bedroom window. Thankfully Tash’s house was a bungalow so at least he wouldn’t have to do any climbing to get to her.

Taz crept round the side of her house and found that her bedroom light was already on. She hadn’t even closed her curtains. When he looked in he saw that she was sitting up in bed, tear-reddened eyes staring blankly at her bedroom door. When Taz knocked on her window she fell off the bed.

Tash dashed to the window and pulled it open:

“Taz? What are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night.”

Taz had no time to waste (he was also ridiculously out of breath):

“Marcus…He has Nicky and James. He was working with Mr Thomas the whole time. Adults won’t believe us. We have got to go. Now!”

Tash hadn’t even put her pyjamas on. She knew she wouldn’t sleep with Nicky missing. Now she had a chance to save her sister and help her friend. Her parents would never forgive her if she left without saying anything but, as Taz said, they couldn’t risk them not believing them. She scribbled a quick note down and left it on her pillow:

So sorry, had to go. Mr Thomas and Marcus have Nicky and James in the school boiler room.

Didn’t think you’d believe us. Leaving with Taz now. Love you, Tash

They climbed out the window and into the night. Tash led Taz to a shortcut to the school through some bushes at the back of her house. He stopped cold in the middle of the bushes. Tash couldn’t understand:

“What is it?”

Taz shook his head and closed his eyes:

“The whistling, can’t you hear it.”

Tash hadn’t heard anything at first. She did now. A quiet, gentle song, echoing against the cold hard walls around them. It was getting closer.

*

Click here for Marcus: Chapter 6: Stone Circle

Marcus Chapter 1: The photograph

To pre-order your copy of Marcus in paperback click on this link (out September 2018)

27th November 1992

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I GOT MARCUS! HE’S IT!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

TO READ ON TO CHAPTER 2 JUST CLICK HERE

Story Sundays

From this week onwards I’ll be putting out something I call ‘Story Sundays’. Every Sunday I will release one chapter of ‘Marcus’ (my new horror book for over 12s) and one chapter of ‘The Ogres’ (for children aged 5 years and up). These releases will continue for the next eight weeks.

Here’s a bit about each of the books so you can decide if you’d like a new chapter delivered to your e-mail inbox every Sunday:

Marcus

Wish you could be a kid forever? The reality is more grim than Peter Pan would have us believe. In this serialised book you’ll meet Marcus; a popular ten year old kid who knows the best games.

Marcus is hiding a secret. One dry November afternoon his friend James finds a second world war photograph bearing an uncanny resemblance to Marcus. The ‘boy’s’ deception is about to unravel.

However, for those investigating Marcus’ secret, their curiosity could be their undoing.

Set within the backdrop of the small Scottish town of Crieff during the 1990s, this is a story about guilt, lies, and sacrifice.

To subscribe to this serialised book simply click on this link (or on the photo).

UPDATE: following this linkYou can now read live chapters by .

The Ogres

The ‘Bigger-Folk’, as they call themselves, have lived under a hill for thousands of years. They know nothing about the hu-mans when they re-emerge into the world.

With the help of two human brothers they learn quickly that marshmallows are delicious, cars are easily torn apart, and people get a shock when you sit in a fire for a heat (The bigger-folk are fire-proof).

In human culture the ‘Bigger-folk’ have had many names; ogres, trolls, giants, orcs. They’ve had a bad rap. All the same, their brains don’t function too well in the ‘cold’ up here on the surface. The brothers are about to find out exactly how clumsy, how destructive, but also how caring these creatures can be.

If you would like to get a new chapter of ‘The Bigger Folk’ in your inbox every Sunday please click on this link (or on the photo).

UPDATE: You can now catch up with the latest chapters by following this link.

Thank You

I’ve been writing for a few years now. My first two books ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ and ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ are both available for kindle or in paperback editions (Just click the links).

The only thing that keeps me writing is knowing that people read my work and enjoy it. I’d like to thank you today for stopping by the site and (hopefully) for signing up for the new books.

This is a new concept for me. I’ve never serialised before and I really hope you’ll enjoy it.

If you have any issues with sign-up, or with the e-mails themselves please don’t hesitate to contact me.

As always, thanks for reading,

All the best, John