(‘Marcus’ is now available in paperback, you can pick up a copy from Fun Junction in either Crieff or Perth)
Nothing in school seemed the same. There was a special assembly. A police officer stood at the front asking people to come forward with any information about the last time they had seen Nicky.
James and Taz got some time out of their class to go and talk to a police man in the staff room. When he found out they were friends of Nicky’s (and Tash’s) he made them a cup of tea and got his notebook out again.
He asked them about the last time they had seen her. Asked if they saw anyone unusual on their walk home from school. He asked loads of questions, and not one of those questions had anything to do with weird whistles or old photographs. Neither of them thought he would take it seriously if they did tell him.
After their interview the boys made their way back up to the classroom. The whole school felt colder. Taz thought it was because Nicky wasn’t there. On any normal day James would have jumped on Taz’s clear love for Nicky and teased him like crazy. This wasn’t a normal day, and James found himself agreeing instead.
The cold got worse after break time and it became clear that the dropping temperature had a lot more to do with faulty old radiators. They had even started ‘clinking’ every now and then.
A few minutes before the lunch bell Mr Thomas appeared at the door of their classroom. The heating was officially broken and their parents had all been called. The school was closing early; just after lunch.
James dreaded going out to the playground. He hadn’t been back since all of this started. Now, with Nicky missing, he was even more reluctant to see Marcus.
He needn’t have worried. Marcus was nowhere to be seen at lunch. It made James realise something; not only was Marcus missing from the dinner hall that day. He had never seen Marcus in the dinner hall. Never seen him carry a packed lunch. Did Marcus even eat?
When he mentioned this oddness to Taz his friend decided to ask around others at the table. By the time they were clearing their plates away, James and Taz weren’t the only ones wondering about what Marcus did for lunch.
A full stomach can be a great way to improve your mood. James and Taz tried to stay positive as they packed up their stuff and waited to be picked up.
Taz watched out the window (he’d finished packing his school-bag in seconds). Occasionally Taz heard some murmurs as kids in the classroom asked each other about Tash and Nicky (Tash had gone home long before lunch). For the most part everyone put away their stuff in complete silence.
Even the building sounded peculiar. Every now and then the silence was interrupted by clicks and clanks. CLICK CLICK CLICK CLANK CLANK CLANK CLICK CLICK CLICK. The old iron pipes weren’t used to cold like this.
James’ car pulled up outside and his mum got out. Taz let his friend know. They were both going to James’ house. Taz’s parents worked through in Perth so it was easier this way. It didn’t hurt to know they’d get some time together, neither of them wanted to be alone thinking about Nicky and Marcus right now.
They clumped their way downstairs. James’ mum signed them out at the front desk and walked them out to the car.
As Taz was buckling his seatbelt his face transformed, his skin grew pale, and his jaw hung loose. James looked around the car, desperately searching for whatever could have frightened his friend so much:
“What is it?”
Taz’s reply left James wondering if his friend had lost the plot:
“Click click click clonk clonk clonk click click click.”
James shrugged. He needed more information that that. Taz shook his head, as though clearing his thoughts:
“I taught Nicky Morse code ages ago. I’d learned it at cubs. There were certain messages that you could use if you needed help and she learned one really quickly. It stands for SOS; Save Our Souls).”
James didn’t go to cubs. He had no idea what Morse code was, and Taz had done nothing to explain his click clonk nonsense. James repeated his shrug and Taz shook his head in exasperation:
“Save our souls! It means help. Someone is hitting the radiators to signal for help.”
James understood now and the two of them looked back at the school as it disappeared from view. Nicky had been there all along and now she was completely alone.
James tried explaining their suspicions to his mum when they got to his house. She tried to stay supportive but he could see she was just humouring him. It did seem pretty unlikely that a kid from school had taken Nicky in the middle of the night and hidden her away somewhere in the school. She lost interest when James and Taz tried to explain that Marcus was no ordinary kid.
She left them in the living room and went to make a cup of tea. James’ body deflated. He slumped on the couch and looked at his friend for support. Taz flopped back on his seat too:
“What do we do? Your mum has always been a bit nuts. If she doesn’t believe this no one will.”
James straightened up and looked Taz straight in the eye:
“We wait. You ask if you can stay over here tonight. We’ll wait till its late and my folks are sleeping then we’ll head over to the school to investigate.”
It was the obvious thing to do. It was the right thing to do. All the same it happened to be the most terrifying thing they could do as well.
Taz called and got permission to stay the night. They go their tea and were even allowed to eat in James’ room. He popped a video on to pass the time. James’ mum brought in a pair of James’ pyjamas for Taz. He thanked her but had no plans to wear them at all.
The night wore on. James put on another video, it had witches doing horrible things in a hotel. It didn’t help their mood much.
At some point they must have fallen asleep but James had set his alarm to wake them up at 2am. By then everyone would be asleep.
He’d never sneaked out at night before. Every floor board seemed set to ‘creak’ the whole house awake. They reached the front door and unlocked it as quietly as they could. James was sure to lock it from the outside with the spare key so they had a way to get back in later.
Even with their coats on it was a shock to feel how cold the air could be at this time of night. Their muscles tightened against the chill and slowed them down.
They made their way up a dark one-way street about half way to the school. That’s when they heard the first whistle.
It started far in the distance; off near the school. It was brief, too brief (and too quiet) to be sure.
As they got closer to the school they realised how few of the street-lights were working. Only two lights were on in Commissioner Street and both were in front of the school leading the way like a beacon.
James heard something else; a ‘whoosh’ as though something had streaked past him in the darkness. Taz hadn’t heard anything.
The school was closer now. They were close enough to see that a couple of lights had been left on inside, glowing a warm peachy colour against the harsh yellow of the lights outside.
The next whistle came from behind. Taz made a noise like a walrus sitting on a pin and bolted for the school. James stood stock-still waiting for any other sounds. Something that might give him a hint about the direction he should run in.
He needn’t have waited, any direction would have done. The next whistle came from right beside his ear.
James had never ran faster in his life. He lunged for the school in great bounding leaps only to realise that it would be locked.
Where had Taz gone? Had he found a way in?
James’ eyes darted from window to window, desperately seeking some trace of his friend.
There was movement in one of the lower windows. When James got closer he realised the window was slightly open. Miss Bruce must have forgotten to lock ner office window.
The window was already open wide enough to climb through (Taz must have gone in this way).
As James heaved himself through the window his eyes caught a glimpse of the gas mask picture on the wall. It was distorted by the street lamp; Marcus’ smile had grown unnaturally wide and the eyes were black.
James was not going to hang around here more than he had to.
He found Taz hiding in the corridor outside, crouched in a corner with a drained look on his face. James didn’t have the heart to shout at him for running off:
“Come on you idiot, we need to get Nicky. Just don’t run off and leave her behind.”
Taz managed to force out a very dry ‘sorry’ as they made their way to the boiler room. It was the only place where someone could have sent clonks and clicks throughout the school like that. The door was locked.
Their best chance of finding keys was Mr Thomas’ overalls. Taz suggested they might be in the lockers in the staff room.
The staff room wasn’t locked and sure enough there was an old locker in the corner with overalls and a tool box in it. Taz rummaged through the pockets, then dived into the tool box.
Something about the room made James uneasy. It was only a day since he had been here working during break. Something didn’t look right. He scanned the room, trying to figure out what was different.
When he saw it his heart dropped into his guts. Beside the window, lit by the street-lights outside, stood a coat rack. The teachers all hung their coats on hooks beside the door. There had never been a coat rack last time he was there. There still wasn’t.
The distorted shape twisted in the yellow light. As Taz proclaimed ‘found the keys’ James saw the thing’s face. Shadowed, twisted, it’s black eyes glinting:
“I guess it’s my turn to tig you…”
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