Tag Archives: serial

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

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

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 2: No one there

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

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

James’ whole class looked up as he walked into the room. His neck prickled, his ears grew hot. James slumped into his seat and concentrated on what he’d just seen in the office. Taz wouldn’t believe him:

“Look, you don’t have to try and make me laugh. What you said in the playground. I know you didn’t mean it.”

James’ face was too straight, too pale, for it to be a joke:

“I’m not joking. I wouldn’t make up some weird story just to try and cheer you up. I’m telling you. It is one hundred million percent a picture of Marcus.”

James knew that Taz would never believe him without seeing it for himself. It really did sound nuts:

“OK, OK, we’ll go to the library on the way home? It’s from an old newspaper, they’ve got them there. I remember looking at them when we were doing that project on the first world war.”

Taz had to admit, a stop off in the library to warm up on the way home didn’t sound too bad. He’d worry about James losing his mind after.

The afternoon moved along slowly and the sunset outside didn’t help much. They’d be walking home in darkness. The thought of it made the library even more appealing.

They had a pretty big group of friends but four of them lived near each other and most afternoons they walked home together. Tasha was waiting for them at the gates, frizzy hair shoved under a woolly hat. As usual Taz got to the gates about twice as quickly as James could:

“Hi Tasha. James wants to stop off in the library on the way home.”

She nodded. She did that a lot, it was her way of trying to look like she half-expected everything that happened. Tasha was experimenting with being ‘cool’:

“I told you to stop calling me ‘Tasha’. It’s Tash, just Tash! Anyway, yeah, the library sounds good. At least I can warm up a bit. Wish girls could wear trousers. Who thought up this uniform anyway?”

Conversations with Tasha were often three conversations in one. She’d sometimes lose track herself.

They waited for Tasha’s ‘little’ sister Nicola to come out. She was only a year younger than Tasha, and was also taller by a few inches. ‘Tash’ rolled her eyes theatrically (she was in the drama group so she knew all about theatrical eye rolls):

“Wee sisters are the worst! Why is her class always the last one out?”

Nicky didn’t take long. She came skipping out of the front doors with her standard cheesy grin:

“Hey guys, what’s happening?”

Taz was always trying to impress Nicky:

“Not much. Heading to the library on the way home. James thinks he’s discovered the Crieff Primary vampire.”

Taz winked at James. Clearly he wasn’t taking this investigation seriously at all. James shook his head and led the way.

*

They defrosted in the doorway of the library. The smell of old paper drifting from inside. Taz was grinning:

“It always smells like my attic; all dusty and old. I kind of like it.”

Tash was less impressed. She proclaimed her annoyance to the ceiling. Blaming the heat of the place on all the old people who ‘lived’ there. She pulled off her jacket and jumper and flung them next to a stack of beanbags the librarians called the ‘kids corner’.

Nicky’s mouth dropped open at her sister’s behaviour:

“Tasha keep your voice down! It’s nice and cosy here. You always make such a huge thing out of everything that happens to you.”

Tasha shrugged, grabbed a beanbag seat from the top of the pile, slumping onto it. She whispered as quietly as she could:

“Sorry ‘Mum’ I’ll keep my voice down.”

James laughed. It was the first time he had since lunch time. He left his friends looking in the ghost stories section and made his way to the librarian’s desk.

He had looked at the old newspapers with his teacher. He wasn’t so sure they would let some kids thumb their way through fifty year old papers.

The librarian was really helpful. She couldn’t let them see the original paper copies. However, she brought James over to a weird gadget that looked like a big plastic TV screen and got him something called a ‘microfilm’ of the newspaper.

It didn’t take her long to find the right roll of film. It was filled with hundreds of tiny photographs of every page of every Strathearn Herald printed in 1942. Finding the exact page James needed took a lot longer. She showed James how to twist the dial, moving slowly between pictures.

James was left to cycle through hundreds of pages until he reached November, then he slowed down and clicked through page by page.

There it was. James leapt up to get his friends. Taz got there first, he was surprised at the likeness:

“That is really weird. I wonder if it’s a relative or something. He looks so similar.”

That was it. They were all going to treat it as an odd coincidence. As if it were just a funny story to pass around the playground tomorrow. He was about to say something when Tasha jumped in:

“That’s more than ‘similar’ Taz. That boy looks identical to Marcus. I don’t even like looking at it. And did you see what it says in the article underneath.”

They all scanned through the article but the words jumped out as soon as James saw them:

…Crieff Primary Pupil Marcus Bauchan demonstrates proper use of the child-sized gas mask…

For a few seconds no one said anything. James wanted to stay and look for more pictures. His friends, on the other hand, had become remarkably interested in how soon their tea time was (they couldn’t have looked more scared).

James couldn’t blame them. Looking alike was one thing but sharing the same name was beyond odd. He needed to see what else was hiding in the newspapers.

His friends packed up their bags and got their jackets back on. As they said bye, Tasha insisted that James tell her everything in school the next morning.

For the next half-hour James gradually ran out of energy. He wouldn’t have anything to share with Tasha the next day. Then he found it; an article appearing years after the gas-mask photograph. There wasn’t even a picture. The title left a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach:

‘Missing Children Still Unaccounted For’

The article named five children. Four names that James didn’t recognise, and one that he did; ‘Marcus Bauchan’.

James searched ahead for some clue about the fate of the missing children but it was pretty clear they had never returned.

James needed to get home soon. His parents would be worried. On a whim he decided to wind the film back again. The gap between stories was exactly twenty-five years (give or take a few days).

James looked for microfilm of earlier issues and found one from 1917 (exactly twenty five years before the gas mask). In November he found it, more missing children. This time there were no names, apparently they had been with a travelling circus. Again they vanished without a trace but that was all the article had to say about it.

James stared at the screen in front of him, afraid to look round. How could Marcus be linked to all this? He was just a ten year old boy.

That was when the lights in the library went out.

James swallowed but his throat was so dry it felt like it stuck together. He forced himself to look round and found that he was completely alone. He couldn’t even see the librarian.

He got up on legs made of dough. They were numb from sitting in one place for so long but his whole body felt numb too. He leaned on the table giving his legs a chance to get the feeling back.

The library windows were lit by the street-lights outside and the odd passing car headlight. They gave him something to see by. He almost missed a shape in the corner of one of the windows; a blurred face with a look of terror plastered over it. It was on the outside. That meant whatever it was was two, maybe three, stories up.

Perhaps it was a leftover Halloween decoration. Then James saw it move, its black eyes fixed on James. The feeling rushed back to his legs but they wouldn’t do anything he told them to. He watched the face follow him, tried to tell himself it was just a distorted version of his own reflection then a hand landed on his shoulder.

He spun round to face whatever creature had come to take him. The librarian looked down at him:

“Sorry, I thought you left ages ago. Come along, I’ve locked up. I’ll need to let you out.”

James tried to hide his shaking as the librarian led him to the door and let him out into the street. The cold clawed at his cheeks as he made his way home. The whistling wind didn’t help either, it added that extra bit of dread to his current mood.

That got worse when he realised there was no wind. The air was so still the trees looked like statues. The sound he heard was actual whistling, and it was coming from behind him.

He turned his head back and forth, attempting to locate the origin of the sound. It was coming from across the road. But there was no one there. James was alone.

He pictured himself challenging the mysterious whistler. Then his memory lurched back to the black-eyed face in the library window.

James arrived home in moments, his legs aching from the fastest run he had ever done in his life.

 

*

Chapter 3 will be available next Sunday (24th/Christmas Eve) at 6pm. To be sure it gets to you you can sign up for the Marcus mailing list (please click this link for the sign-up form). Being part of the mailing list will also give you access to pdf printable copies of all the chapters so far (if you’d prefer to read screen-free).

Hope you enjoyed this week’s instalment. Please pop a comment in the comments section to let me know what you thought.

As always, thanks for reading, All the best, John

CLICK HERE TO READ ON TO CHAPTER 3

Marcus: Chapter 1: The photograph

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

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