Tag Archives: zombies

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

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Marcus Chapter 11 Overcome by Blank Faces

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

Theo wanted to help his friend but this was beyond anything he had expected:

“Find their bones? You think Daniel is beside their BONES!? What’s are they planning on doing with him?”

Marcus didn’t have any nice answers. He had some nasty ones but he didn’t want to say them out loud. Instead he focussed on what they could deal with right now:

“Maybe they’re just used to gathering children. I don’t know. Whatever it is, they won’t stop until they have four. It’s always four.”

Marcus looked at Andrew and sighed: “We’ll have to deal with Andrew’s ‘whispers’ later.”

James coughed:

“I wanted to ask you about something. Last time; we all felt something. We all lost a bit of energy. It worked a little didn’t it? It’s how you’re still here. Now it’s all happening again and we’re going to stop them. What happens if there’s no energy this time? Will you run out? Would you…”

Marcus interrupted:

“To be honest James I have no idea. For now lets save Daniel. We can discuss whether this will kill me later.”

That was the end of the discussion. Marcus was on his way to the exit as he spoke. The others followed followed close behind then stopped dead as Marcus shoved the emergency bar on the door and motioned for them to follow:

“Stay low. Keep hidden. I have some power. I can probably ward off two or three ghouls. If any more turn up take my advice; run.”

They rounded the corner. A boy and a girl, silhouetted by distant street lights, blocked their way. Black, lifeless, unblinking eyes took them in. The only sign of recognition; the slightest tilt of their heads. Marcus dissolved into smoke and swirled towards them, flinging them at the walls to either side.

The small group saw their chance and hurried past. Picking up the pace as they looked back to see the ghoul-children dusting themselves off. The school gates were locked, leaving them with a scrabbled climb over the fence. Steps away from the fence Tash stopped and pointed.

From the other side of the bars four blank faces slid into view, unblinking ghoul-children, each with a slight head-tilt of recognition. Each developing the smallest hint of a smile.

Marcus turned on his heel and made for the lane down the side of the school:

“Change of plan. Get out over the front fence. Any way you can. If we get split up, meet at the old graveyard on Church Street. I have an idea.”

They climbed the low fence that led to what Theo and Andrew had known as the ‘junior’ playground; their old playground.

As they set foot on the concrete. Two of the ghoul-children turned from the others and made their way down the hill; that route also led to the front of the school. Marcus saw them:

“OK, guess they’re smarter than I realised. RUN!!!”

James and Tash helped the kids over the locked gate and down the lane to the front. Every person that climbed through the narrow gap gave the ghoul-children more time to get ahead of them.

By the time James had climbed over to join them the other ghoul-children had disappeared too. This plan had flaws. Tash had one question:

“How strong are those things?”

Marcus shrugged:

“Never saw them up against an adult but they are strong. Whatever you do don’t let one grab you. I don’t think you’d get away if it did.”

The first two ghoul-children were there to meet them at the bottom of the lane. Marcus ‘smoked’ them, re-materialising instantly in a pained crouch on the ground:

“Can’t do that again. Like my insides were hanging out. It’s all on you guys now.”

James and Tash raided an old shed that used to contain play equipment for the nursery school. They got an abandoned scooter and a metal bucket. No one wanted to belittle their cache of ‘weapons’ but they all thought it; things could be better.

The other two ghoul-children had placed themselves at the old school gate. The group had no plans of going to the gate though. They laughed at the ghoul-children’s foolishness as they jumped over the low fence.

They heard the giggling before they landed. A group of eight or ten ghoul-children huddled out of sight under the wall. As they jumped down the children grabbed at their clothes, their hair, their ankles.

Tash swung the scooter on it’s axis like some giant, rusty nunchuk. It cracked one of the ghoul-boys right across the head. James whacked one of the ghoul-girls in the hand with the bucket. Her knuckles made an meaty ‘crunch’.

The other ghoul-children closed in. Surrounded by grasping hands on all sides, they were running out of options. Neither adult could swing their weapon without hurting one of their group. Marcus sighed:

“I’m going to try something. It might not work and when I’m done I need one of you to carry me. It’s going to use everything I’ve got.”

The smoke cloud erupted around Marcus again. He vanished from view as black mist closed around their group.

Inside the mist they smelled moss and dampness; clean, natural, and old. Strangely calming in its own way. They felt the sensation of movement and the next thing they knew they were about a half-mile away in Market Park.

The cloud gathered into a pile on the ground. Marcus lay motionless. Louise leaned forward to check on him:

“He’s got no pulse! He isn’t breathing!”

Her mum shushed her:

“He’s a ghost Lou. I don’t think he ever breathes.”

They laughed nervously. Tash crouched down to pick up the boy:

“Oh, he’s heaver than I thought. James could you give me a hand? James?…”

James wasn’t there.

*

Daniel woke up and wished he hadn’t. He couldn’t move again. There were no ropes, he wasn’t tied up. All the same, the only parts of his body he could move were his eyes. They made him do what they wanted, so long as those four things were there, he had no choice. Daniel could barely see through the tears.

When they left the room he could move around. He had looked for a way out, tried all the doors but only the cupboard was unlocked. Others like them, more black-eyed creatures, watched from outside the barred windows but these others didn’t have the power. He missed even that taste of freedom.

His knees ached. His muscles twitched. He wanted to stretch his legs but he could barely control his own breathing. There wasn’t enough air. They were doing it on purpose. Suffocating him. Knocking him out, again.

*

When you don’t care who you hurt it’s surprising how much damage you can do with a metal bucket.

James was in a bit of a frenzy now. Most of the ghoul-children were flat on their backs but they didn’t stay that way for long.

One tried to stand up and met the mighty wrath of the bucket right to the temple. James swung round and caught another of them square in the chest. Knocking them directly into the middle of Commissioner Street. It left a gap for him to slip through.

He got a few steps away and stopped. Where should he go next? They were to meet at the graveyard in Church Street but he didn’t want to lead the ghoul-children straight to the others. Instead he went in the opposite direction; towards the Market Park.

James’ pondering had left the ghoul-children enough time to gather around him again. Why hadn’t he just ran? Why did he have to overthink everything? All he needed was enough space to run through. He swung the bucket again. The handle had grown misshapen. This was the last straw.

The twisted handle released the bucket as James arched it towards a ghoul-child. Bucket and handle were parted forever as it flew over the ghoul-child’s head and landed with a ‘clunk’ in the distance.

The handle was not an effective weapon. As the ghouls inched closer James looked around for something, anything, he could use to open that gap.

Keep up with the story

Click here to read on to ‘Marcus: Chapter 12: The Sheriff’.

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 10: Hiding from Lifeless Eyes

john bray local author nanowrimo national novel writing month scotland perthshire

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

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

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

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

Both adults answered in chorus:

“We are!”

Louise was not impressed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Used to play ‘tig’ over there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you told them any of it?”

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

“Did you do this?”

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

“WELL??!”

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

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

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

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

Marcus sat down on the floor beside them:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus beamed at them:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus jumped in:

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

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

“So what now?”

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

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

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

*

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

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

Marcus shrugged:

“I’m sorry Andrew. I wish I knew.”

Marcus looked to his old friends for help:

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

James frowned:

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

Marcus screwed up his face:

“Declared him dead? What does that mean?”

James shrugged:

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

Marcus’ face lit up:

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

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

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

Marcus frowned:

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

Marcus ignored the blank faces of the others:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one else could.

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

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

Marcus shook his head:

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

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

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

Marcus braced himself:

“We need to find their bones.”

Keep up with the story

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

Social media feeds are an oddity. What you say can be seen by millions but it can also slip away and be missed with ease. I always post new chapters on social media (Facebook and Twitter) but there’s no guarantee that we’ll both be on at the same time.

With this in mind, if you’re enjoying ‘Marcus’ and you want to be sure you get a link to the newest chapter as soon as it’s out, you can also get an e-mail reminder by clicking this link. Mailing list members also get access to printable files so you’re not forced to read it all from a screen.

Thanks for reading, all the best, John

Marcus: Chapter 9: 25 Years Later

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

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

1st November 2017

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

BING

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original by 'Anton' Titled 'The Steel Cage'

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

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

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

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

Andrew kept adding a progress report in short messages:

“He’s walking towards the trees.”

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

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

“Someone coming.”

“It’s a kid. About our age.”

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

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

“Dad!!!!?”

He yelled down the stairs.

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

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

“Get your coat now.”

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew’s mum appeared from their house next door:

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

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

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

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

“Marcus?…”

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

Louise interrupted the weirdness:

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

Photo © Basher Eyre (cc-by-sa/2.0)

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

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

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

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

Tash didn’t even look back:

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

Keep up with the story

Click this link for Chapter 10: Hiding from Lifeless Eyes

Social media feeds are an oddity. What you say can be seen by millions but it can also slip away and be missed with ease. I always post new chapters on social media (Facebook and Twitter) but there’s no guarantee that we’ll both be on at the same time.

With this in mind, if you’re enjoying ‘Marcus’ and you want to be sure you get a link to the newest chapter as soon as it’s out, you can also get an e-mail reminder by clicking this link. Mailing list members also get access to printable files so you’re not forced to read it all from a screen.

Thanks for reading, all the best, John

Marcus: Chapter 8: Borrowed Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They’ll be below by now.”

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

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

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

Marcus stopped on the bottom step:

“Where is he? Did he go upstairs?”

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

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

Marcus sat down on the step:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicky jumped in:

“…but doesn’t that mean you’ll…”

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

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

3am watch on stone floor

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

Taz coughed, making the others jump:

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

His dad sighed and shook his head:

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

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

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

***

1st November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What kept you so long?”

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

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

James was relieved to be talking about something normal:

“So what’s the new boy’s name.”

Theo and Harry replied in unison:

“He’s called Marcus.”

Keep up with the story

Social media feeds are an oddity. What you say can be seen by millions but it can also slip away and be missed with ease. I always post new chapters on social media (Facebook and Twitter) but there’s no guarantee that we’ll both be on at the same time.

With this in mind, if you’re enjoying ‘Marcus’ and you want to be sure you get a link to the newest chapter as soon as it’s out, you can also get an e-mail reminder by clicking this link. Mailing list members also get access to printable files so you’re not forced to read it all from a screen.

Thanks for reading, all the best, John

Click here to skip on to Chapter 9

Neil Gaiman

stardustDuring my wade through a world of words I somehow managed to finish Neil Gaiman’s book ‘Stardust’. To be honest I’m surprised that it took me this long to pick it up, it’s a fantasy book about a town that lies right beside an opening into the land of the fairies. Familiar as this sounds it’s miles away from my own books in plot, themes, characters, and most of all tone.

It’s a book that’s definitely not for kids and as fun as it was for me to read, at times it could be quite jarring to go from reading Gaiman’s work and then delving into writing the wold of Jack and Thea. Sure there’s magic, other worlds, odd creatures, etc. but ‘Stardust’ was so much more adult that I had to be careful to remember to tone down the themes in ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’.

I normally make a rule of not reading while I’m writing so that I don’t get caught up writing in somebody else’s style but I was half way through ‘Stardust’ when NaNoWriMo started and I found that I needed some type of diversion whilst writing this time. I think I managed to keep the books separate in my mind probably first and foremost because of the main theme of each. Where ‘Stardust’ is a stand-alone adventure into a slightly Victorian take on the fantasy genre, ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ is a modern disaster novel set in a fantasy setting.

I feel like I’ve had a chance to play with some of my favorite movie genres whilst writing the Jack Reusen books. ‘The Fey Flame‘ is a world building book with a big villain but beyond that I’ve had a chance to play around with some other ideas. ‘Spark of Dreams‘ was my take on the zombie genre (but toned down a lot to cater for children of seven or eight years old and up). Next, in ‘Children of Fate’ we get an ‘end of the world’ themed story (don’t worry, everything is kind of alright in the end), after that we have what I’m thinking of as book three and a half, it’s a Christmas/Yule story and for now that’s all I’ll say about it.

Book four is all Thea’s, in many ways (and yes I know this sounds totally nuts) she seems to be helping me write it but overall it will be a quest, one that takes her through many of the other nations to be found in Fey, it’s a strange place and it’s becoming a huge pile of fun to research.

Anyway back to Stardust, if you’re a fantasy reader like myself I imagine you’ll get a kick out of Stardust. The one unusual aspect I noticed about it was just how rigidly Gaiman sticks to the ‘show don’t tell’ rule for writers. Basically we’re supposed to explain the worlds we create using the characters reactions and by highlighting that world using carefully described action sequences.

Ordinarily writers do a good job of this but in fantasy the rules are often relaxed. It’s not easy to build a world in the first chapter or two of a book without having to occasionally allow the narrator to explain what’s going on. J. R. R. Tolkien basically writes a history of Middle Earth in the first few chapters of ‘The Fellowship of The Ring’. It helps you get to know where you are but it’s not the easiest thing to get through.

To be fair to Tolkien he was writing his books at a time when the modern fantasy genre was in its infancy (Tolkien being it’s godfather after all). A lot of modern fantasy harkens back to Tolkien so in a way he was doing a lot of world building for all of us. That said we don’t all deal in elves, orks, dwarves etc. and even if they did there’s still a sizable chunk of the population who still wouldn’t know what these races are. As a result many modern fantasy writers still have to explain the people of their worlds and describe what they can do.

Gaiman doesn’t really do that, you simply see the characters do what they do and it’s up to you to gauge what they are capable of and to establish what power level they have. Sometimes when two characters meet for the first time it can be surprising to realise that you may have misjudged just what that character is. ‘Stardust’ is a fantasy book but if you’re expecting a big expository element in the first chapter or two you’ll be waiting a while, the story just starts and it’s up to you to keep up. It’s an unusual yet refreshing experience for a fantasy reader and I definitely recommend it (I should also point out again one more time: ‘STARDUST’ IS NOT FOR KIDS).

a-burden_cover_smlAnyway, thanks for reading, and feel free to add suggested reads in the comments below (I’m editing now so the ‘no reading’ rule has been officially dropped). Next up for me is Hiraeth: a Burden (the second book in the Hiraeth trilogy), again not for kids but definitely worth a read, it ‘s a modern-day fantasy set in Wales, Ireland, England, (and a wee bit of Scotland too), and focuses on an underground (not literally) group of Druids who hide their true nature by means of working for the lifeboats service.

Let us know if you’ve come across any particularly good reads, after all the nights are fair drawing in (I don’t really remember having a summer) and nothing completes a chilly night-in better than a good book. All the best, John

Printing has begun!

moving letters printing pressThe proofs for ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’ have been approved and sent to the printers (there were a couple of technical issues but I’ve cleared them up). Unusual things happen to almost every main character in this book and I’m looking forward to hearing what readers have to say about it.

I’ve given hints about what the Spark of Dreams will be like at least a few times so I won’t repeat myself here, though I will hint at one little bit of information from the very end of the book. After a quiet few weeks sorting books and helping library patrons, Bob the librarian will meet Granny Reusen. If you haven’t read the first book that won’t much sense, and might sound a lot less interesting than it is, but trust me, it spurs on a really cool story line that I’m writing right now for book three.

I know this wait has been a lot longer than I promised, I just wanted to make sure the story would work properly and I feel like it’s there now. I really hope you enjoy it. I’ll keep you up to date on where the books are and when they’re likely to arrive, and if you want to pre-order a copy you can do that by clicking this link.

I’ll hopefully have more news for you very soon, thanks for being patient with me, all the best, John