This story is based on characters created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson for the TV series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.
Some events and characters Copyright © of all trademarks materials (Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons, all characters, vehicles, crafts, etc.), owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton. Information of the series are all been taken from copyright © materials (books, magazines, videos, T.V. media, comics, etc) owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton.
REVISED VERSION - OCTOBER 2014
“I can’t see a damned thing. Are you sure we’re even on the road?”
Melody Angel drew her coat closer around her shoulders, the dampness chilling her nearly to the bone. She didn’t like the weather, nor the atmosphere, nor the place, as she looked nervously around, trying to see beyond the thick fog surrounding the car. The only things she was able to discern were the silhouettes of trees, closer to the road side. They looked like grotesque and distorted skeletons of some unknown and very scary creatures. That did nothing to reassure her at all.
“We’re definitely on the road,” Captain Ochre, sitting by her side, dressed, like her, in civvies, answered quietly. “So far Paul hasn’t driven us into the ditch, so…”
“Very funny, Rick.” Paul Metcalfe – Captain Scarlet – who was seated in front behind the wheel, with Rhapsody Angel by his side on the passenger seat, gave a nasty glare at his friend and colleague, through the rearview mirror. “You can drive if you want.”
“I’d rather not. I’m comfortable where I am, thanks.” Ochre drew closer to Melody, and put his right arm around her shoulders. She gave him a mean look.
“Watch it,” she said with a warning tone.
“What?” Ochre replied, opening his eyes wide in perplexity, as if he didn’t understand the reason for her protests. “I thought you were cold. I was just trying to warm you up a little.”
Melody snorted, not really sure if Ochre was sincere or not. With Ochre, one never knew. In any case, she didn’t want to elaborate. “I’m not cold,” she answered dryly. “Just not comfortable, that’s all. I think this setting is getting to me. It’s not really reassuring.”
The car took another bump and then a hole, just the latest of a long series it had encountered since it had taken that last turn, nearly a half hour ago, following Rhapsody’s last directions. The vehicle’s various jolts didn’t seem to faze her three Spectrum colleagues, but they were getting on Melody’s presently frail nerves. And she was known to have quite a fiery temper.
“Dianne, you’re sure we’re on the right road?”
Rhapsody made a last verification on the onboard computer map. She nodded her head in the affirmative. “According to the map, we’re going the right way,” she answered in her quiet English voice, which contrasted with the unnerved tone of her fellow pilot. “But I must admit, I don’t recognise most of it.”
“With all this fog, that doesn’t surprise me,” Scarlet noted.
“Even without it, I’m not so sure I would recognise it anyway. It’s been fifteen years since I came here last with my mother.” Rhapsody looked around, and further down the road, narrowing her eyes. She nodded thoughtfully. “I do remember that we passed through a forest, and that the road was as bumpy then as it is now.”
As if on cue, one of the wheels rolled into a new hole, and Melody almost jumped from her seat. She emitted a dissatisfied grunt. “Why couldn’t we chosen a place where we could FLY IN, in a plane or a chopper, to have a few days off, anyway?” she grumbled in a very dry tone.
“Because my cousin’s inn doesn’t have a place for an aircraft to land,” Rhapsody deadpanned, rather amused by her friend’s misfortune. “And it’s been a long time since I’ve had any news from her… let alone an invitation to visit and stay at her place for a few days!”
All of them were on Cloudbase when Rhapsody had received the invitation, some days ago. With Captain Scarlet – to whom she was secretly engaged – Rhapsody was planning a couple of days’ furlough, the first the two of them had had for a long time. They had not decided yet on a specific destination, when the letter from Rhapsody’s American cousin in Maine arrived by the courier plane, forwarded by the British pilot’s mother. Olivia Merritt was cousin to Rhapsody’s mother. She had married a famous writer/movie director by the name of Harlan Merritt, and had been living in the United States for the last thirty years. Rhapsody had not heard from her cousin for a very long time – the last she had seen of her was about fifteen years ago, when she was only a young teenager. She had fond memories of Olivia and her place somewhere near the coast of Maine – a former inn, transformed into a mansion to fit her late husband’s curious taste.
Rhapsody had talked at some length of Olivia and her place, enough to stir her fiancé’s curiosity, and to compel him to propose that they accept the invitation to go visit her during their next furlough. Captain Ochre, present in the officers’ lounge when the two were debating the subject, had found a way to get himself invited, as he would also be off duty at that exact period. Neither Scarlet and Rhapsody were too sure they would appreciate Ochre’s presence, as they would have preferred to be alone, all by themselves, and take advantage of those few precious moments they were seldom able to steal for themselves. But Ochre had been rather convincing – and neither of them was too sure exactly how he persuaded them to agree. They felt for sure they had been taken for a ride by the quick-witted ex-policeman that was Ochre. They couldn’t believe either that he actually found a way to talk Melody Angel – who also had a three-day furlough coming at about the same time – into coming with them. It was clear from the very beginning that the young black woman had accepted the proposition reluctantly. How Ochre had wheedled her was a complete mystery.
So Rhapsody made a single phone call to her cousin Olivia, and a few days later, the four of them were on their way to Maine.
As soon as they left Bangor International Airport, they rented a car to drive to Merrittsport, the harbour village next to which was situated the old inn owned by Olivia. A town, Rhapsody reported, that had been founded by Harlan Merritt’s ancestors, sometime in the 17th century. Despite the directions given to Rhapsody by her cousin, and the help of the onboard computer map, they still had to ask some inhabitants of the small town for further directions to the inn. Curiously, when they asked for a guide, they found nobody ready to take them there. Two people feigned to ignore them, and one other said he didn’t know where the mansion could be. They were finally given the needed information by the man tending the gas station, rather quickly, but very precisely. That was quite bizarre, but they thought they understood the reason for such behaviour as they started passing through this very dark and creepy forest. It was probable people weren’t comfortable trekking through it.
Melody knew she wasn’t comfortable riding through it, and she suddenly made her displeasure obvious. “And this place HAD to be in the middle of such a sinister forest!”
“Come on, Mag! Where’s your sense of adventure?” Scarlet admonished her with a faint smile.
“I left it on Cloudbase,” Melody grumbled. “I was planning on a couple of days of peace and quiet… I didn’t count on trekking through woods that would make a horror movie producer proud.”
“That’s what Harlan Merritt was, you know?” Ochre said matter-of-factly. “And nobody forced you to come with us, my dear.”
The look Melody gave him was simply murderous. “Thank you so much for your concern, Captain Mustard!” she scoffed loudly. “Need I remind you that YOU coaxed me into coming?”
“My, we really are in a grumpy mood, aren’t we?”
“And now you know whose fault it is!”
“Come on, you two, stop it!” Scarlet couldn’t help but be somewhat amused by his two passengers’ behaviour. “We’ve only got a couple of days. We should be enjoying ourselves, not jumping down each other’s throats. What would Rhapsody’s cousin think of us?”
Melody made some kind of a face at Ochre and turned her back on him, without caring to answer Scarlet’s remark. As for Captain Ochre, he seemed to be enjoying himself tremendously.
“Is that a windmill?”
The car was passing by a very old construction, about ten metres from the side of the road, in the middle of a clearing, still very noticeable, despite the fog. Rhapsody looked in the direction Scarlet had indicated. She could see the tower, made of old stones, with its four motionless sails. The whole building seemed supported by a wooden scaffold on one side. Rhapsody grinned broadly.
“It is a windmill,” she confirmed. “Still out of action too, I see.” She smiled, reminiscing. “It’s just the way I remember it, scaffolding and all, when I used to play there fifteen years ago.”
“Quite a place for an adventurous girl,” Ochre noted with a smirk of his own.
Rhapsody chuckled. “You don’t know the half of it! The reason I have such fond memories of my cousin Olivia’s place may be because I had so much fun there, exploring its surroundings. There’s a cemetery behind that windmill where you can find the best raspberries I ever ate.”
Melody gave her fellow pilot an odd stare. “Cemetery?”
“An old one. I don’t think it’s in use anymore. Like this windmill. Must come from the same era, if you want my opinion.”
“Quite picturesque,” Ochre noted, examining the windmill as they were driving away from it. “I’ll have to come take a closer look at it.”
“You’ll have a chance. It’s not far from Olivia’s house. But you’ll have to go through the cemetery to get to it.”
Ochre scoffed. “You think that scares me?”
“That’s really great,” Melody mumbled again. “A cemetery so near to the house. As if this place wasn’t sinister enough with this fog and these woods.”
“You’re afraid of cemeteries?” Ochre asked her, lifting an eyebrow.
“They make me feel uncomfortable.” Melody shivered. “You got to admit, they’re not very lively places…”
“Well, filled with dead people, I shouldn’t think so… But why would you be afraid of cemeteries, anyway? It’s not like those people would rise up from their tombs and come after you.”
“Don’t be stupid. I know dead people don’t walk!”
“Most of them, anyway,” Scarlet grumbled from up front. His remark won him a murderous look from Rhapsody and a violent elbow nudge between his ribs.
“Ouch! What did I say?” he asked, frowning at the young woman.
“You know perfectly well,” she admonished him. “Sometimes, Paul, you’re as subtle as a brick!”
“That’s quite all right, Dianne,” Melody smiled faintly. “There’s no harm done. You can say anything you want, I don’t mind at all.”
“You’re sure?” Ochre inquired, frowning with doubt. “I thought you said the setting was getting to you. And now, with the mention of that cemetery…”
“I said I’m not afraid of cemeteries!”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Will you leave her alone, Rick?” Rhapsody said, sighing. “Sometimes, you can be such a kid!”
Out of the fog, right at the moment the car was negotiating a last curve, straight ahead at the end of the road appeared a big old-style mansion, with many windows, almost all lit up, and dark gables set over the row of windows on the top floor. There was a very curious construction on the east wing of the mansion, looking strangely like some kind of medieval tower. Rhapsody confirmed it was her cousin’s inn, much to the others’ relief. The road had been a long and very difficult one, and they all were eager to get out of the car.
Scarlet parked the vehicle not far from the front door – the drive was almost big enough for ten cars. The four got out. The slamming of the doors echoed through the fog, and Melody found herself looking around nervously. She shrugged derisively, and admonished herself inwardly for acting like a frightened little girl. For God’s sake, she was an Angel pilot – one of Spectrum’s finest!
She joined the others as they came to the front door, and Scarlet rang the doorbell. A loud enough, old fashioned ‘ding dong’, made itself heard from the interior.
Ochre had sneaked past Rhapsody to approach Scarlet from behind. As the last echo of the bell died away, Ochre puffed out his cheeks, and suddenly, from out of his throat came a deep, low and very sinister voice, that made Scarlet nearly jump out of his skin: “YOU RANNNNG?”
Scarlet turned around quickly. From the look on his suddenly pale face, the others could have sworn he had seen – or rather heard – a ghost. That was enough for Ochre to burst into a loud laugh.
“That’s not funny, Rick!” Scarlet almost yelled, realizing he had been the victim, yet again, of his friend’s intensely annoying taste for pranks. “I thought I had the Mysterons breathing down my neck!”
“No, Paul, you’re mistaken!” Rhapsody came into the defence of a broad-grinning Ochre. She was obviously having difficulty keeping a straight face and Scarlet could see that even Melody was trying her best not to chuckle – and wasn’t succeeding very well. “Rick wasn’t doing the Mysterons’ voice.”
The English captain frowned, obviously perplexed. Melody smiled in turn, nodding. “It was Lurch, the butler from that old ‘Addams Family’ show.”
“Big, tall, Frankenstein-type fellow,” Melody explained, “who played the harpsichord, and said that same line – You rang? – every time a bell rang in the house?” She turned to Rhapsody, producing a faint apologetic smile. “You gotta admit, THIS place does have the same kind of creepy feeling.”
“Don’t know anything about that,” Scarlet noted grumpily.
“‘The Addams Family’, Paul. It’s an old black and white television classic,” Rhapsody explained. “An American comedy series. More than an hundred years old.”
“Still doesn’t ring a bell.” Scarlet swiftly pointed a warning finger under Ochre’s nose, seeing that he was opening his mouth to say something. “And don’t you start again!”
Ochre shook his head, still with that same amused smirk on his lips. “How sad it must have been for you, Metcalfe, to grow up in such a strict military house, where you were devoid of the joy of television.”
Scarlet’s brow furrowed deeply. “First of all, I’ll have you know that I had a very happy childhood! And second, if that’s all the culture you can dredge up from American television –”
He didn’t have the opportunity to finish his sentence as the door behind him opened wide. He turned around. A slim woman of about Rhapsody’s height, dressed in a long, black dress, with straight, black, grey-streaked hair and fine blue eyes, was looking straight at him. She had a very large smile on her gaunt face, showing up two rows of pearly white teeth.
It was impossible to put an age to that woman. She could as easily have passed for forty, as for sixty.
“There you are, my darling!”
She had a very stylish, very English accented voice, as she suddenly discovered Rhapsody, not far away, next to Ochre. She passed by Scarlet, almost without seeing him and walked – no, glided – toward the young woman, before taking her into her arms. She was apparently overjoyed to see her cousin.
“Cousin Olivia, how nice it is to see you, after all these years!” Rhapsody said with a smile as her cousin embraced her – she found her to be extremely strong.
“It is nice indeed!” Olivia took a step back and looked at the younger woman from head to toes and then back again. “But you’ve grown up to become a very beautiful woman, my darling! I hardly recognised you from that tomboy you used to be. That red hair gave you away, though.” She turned around quickly and went back into the house, nearly bowling Ochre and Scarlet over. “Come, come! You must not stay out like this! All of you, you’ll be better in the house!”
Scarlet smiled, amused by the enthusiasm demonstrated by Rhapsody’s cousin, then turned towards the two Angels, who were hesitating to follow suit. “Go in, girls. Rick and I will get the luggage.”
Rhapsody nodded, smiling in turn, and she entered the house with Melody. Scarlet and Ochre went back to the car, and opened the trunk to take out all the luggage they had put in there for this little trip. It always surprised them, how many clothes women packed for even such a short trip.
“Now I remember that television show,” Scarlet confessed to Ochre, as he was struggling to tuck under his left arm two of Rhapsody’s four suitcases. “That Lurch character was married to a woman who looked a lot like cousin Olivia, right?”
Ochre sniggered, closing the trunk. “No,” he said shaking his head. “That would be Herman, from ‘The Munsters’. He really looked like Frankenstein.” He chuckled openly. “And yes, his wife Lily looked a lot like Rhapsody’s cousin. In the sense that she has something ‘Yvonne de Carlo’-like about her.”
Scarlet shrugged, directing his steps toward the door, followed by Ochre. “I never really cared for Frankenstein, anyway…”
Both men entered the house one after the other. Ochre was struggling to close the door with his foot when Olivia came toward them, arms open this time, as if she had just noticed them. Behind her, standing under a big arch beyond which was a large living room, Rhapsody and Melody were watching, expressions of amusement upon their faces. Olivia embraced Ochre, nearly making him lose his footing. She then turned to greet Scarlet, who was feeling quite awkward, with his arms full of luggage.
“I’m such a bad hostess… Please excuse me, gentlemen, for not receiving you properly. And with you being friends of my little Dianne… But I hope you understand, it has been such a long time since I’ve seen her!” She noticed the luggage and gestured negligently. “Leave that anywhere. We’ll have plenty of time to take care of it.”
“We wouldn’t want to make a mess around the place, Ms. Merritt,” Ochre noted with a shy smile. “Why, what would your guests think?”
“Guests?” the older woman repeated, as if she didn’t understand.
“This is an inn, right? You must have customers.”
“What, didn’t Dianne tell you? There haven’t been paying customers here for donkey’s years! You are my ‘guests’ for the next few days.” Olivia smiled back at Ochre. “It never really was an ‘inn’ since my dear Harlan bought it, so many years ago – God rest his soul. From time to time, I receive visitors, but that’s all. We’ve never rented the rooms out ourselves.”
“That’s very generous of you, Mrs. Merritt,” Scarlet remarked, putting down the luggage.
“Olivia, please, call me Olivia.” She eyed the black-haired young man carefully. “You must be Paul,” she decided. She turned to Ochre, who was closing the door, after having carefully leant his luggage against a nearby wall, “and you are Richard.”
Ochre smiled with amusement. “You must be a mind-reader, Olivia.” There was a good chance that Rhapsody would have told her cousin of their identities in the first place, and probably of their respective nationalities. After hearing Scarlet’s English-accented voice, the guess wasn’t too difficult, then.
“You young people must be starving!” Olivia continued. “Dinner is ready, and Tania was about to serve. Really, I was despairing of seeing you arrive to keep me company.”
Scarlet’s smile widened. This cousin Olivia, although apparently eccentric and certainly colourful, seemed like a very sympathetic person. He could see why Rhapsody was so fond of her.
“I must admit, Olivia,” he told the woman with a nod, “I am famished. We had a long drive…”
“Not to mention difficult,” Melody added quickly.
“Yes,” Olivia noted with a thoughtful air, “The road here is not an easy one. But Tania will make it up to you. She’s such a wonderful cook. Come now… We don’t want to keep dinner waiting, don’t you agree?”
“Lead the way, Olivia,” Rhapsody told her cousin with fond amusement.
Olivia had not waited for her input. She was now walking toward a door, and her guests followed suit, Scarlet and Rhapsody, bringing up the rear. The former leaned toward his fiancée, and spoke to her in a confidential tone.
“I think I’m going to like your cousin.”
“Really?” Rhapsody answered with a smile.
“Well, she’s a little bit strange, but –”
“Watch it,” Rhapsody warned, hearing perfectly well the teasing in Scarlet’s tone. “Don’t forget… she’s part of my family.”
He chuckled. “Okay, I’ll behave. But I just have to ask her about your childhood. I have a hard time picturing you as a ‘tomboy’.”
“Paul, to a woman like Olivia, every girl climbing a tree qualifies as a tomboy.”
“I wonder what she would say then, if she knew about your chosen profession…” Scarlet mused. “She’d be shocked…”
“Don’t you dare tell her!”
“What’s in it for me for not telling her?” he teased her.
She smiled knowingly. “What do you want for keeping your mouth shut?”
Scarlet answered with a smile of his own, and took her by the shoulders to go join the others. “I’m sure we’ll come to some sort of arrangement…”
The dinner was a real feast. None of the four Spectrum agents remembered having eaten so much and so well in a long time. Tania – Olivia’s cook – had a real gift that would have made her the envy of the most renowned of restaurants. After staying at the table for over an hour, and eating all the good food served to them, everyone had forgotten about the difficulties of the trip to the inn. Even Melody was now in a rather good mood. The dinner was very lively, with discussions of all kinds – especially between Rhapsody and her cousin, who had not seen each other for such a long time.
After dinner, Olivia took everybody to the living room, where a warm fire was burning in the fireplace. All the furniture in the room had an old style to it; there were two black chesterfield sofas, where Scarlet, Rhapsody and Melody sat, and a very large leather armchair, that Captain Ochre immediately chose as his own. Olivia came to join them after a little while, bringing a silver tray, with a crystal decanter of brandy, and glasses. She served her guests, like the good hostess she was, and then came to sit on the sofa occupied by Scarlet and Rhapsody – right between the two of them. That was at that moment that Scarlet realised that their bags weren’t where they had left them anymore. Olivia then explained that they had been taken upstairs to their rooms by James, the manservant of the house.
“You have many employees?” Ochre asked her, with curiosity.
“Not as many as we used to have, when Harlan was still with us,” Olivia confided. “He loved having people around the house to serve his every whim. That was his only flaw, I’m afraid. No, now I only have James and his wife Tiffany, who clean the mansion and do most of the chores, Stanley, the gardener, and Tania, of course, my cook – I couldn’t live without her!”
“Make sure to give her our compliments,” Melody said. “Everything on that table was absolutely fabulous!”
“Well, you certainly are in a good mood, now!” Ochre remarked, winking at the Angel pilot and saluting her with his glass. “I guess it doesn’t matter anymore for you that this house is near a cemetery?”
Melody felt herself becoming very hot. She shot the culprit a murderous look. “Do you have a death wish or what, Cap… Mister Fraser?”
“You shouldn’t be afraid of cemeteries, my dear,” Olivia told her. “And this one… Well, it’s very old. They do not bury anyone there anymore.” She smiled slightly. “In any case, my neighbours are very quiet.”
“I’m not afraid of cemeteries,” Melody defended herself, seeming to take offence at the assertion.
“Of course, you’re not,” Ochre piped up. “Why would we doubt you?”
“Rick, stop teasing her,” Scarlet admonished his colleague.
“Thank you, Paul, but I can defend myself.” Melody turned back her attention to Ochre, with a challenging glitter in her eyes. Rick’s in trouble, Scarlet thought. “What is it you want?” Melody asked her compatriot.
“Proof that you’re really not afraid,” he answered quietly.
“Is that all? I’ll give it to you. We’ll go take a walk in that cemetery, together.”
Ochre lifted an eyebrow. “This evening?”
“Yes, tonight. Around midnight, if that suits you.”
“Ah… the witching hour,” Ochre said, with a slow understanding nod.
“Yes, the witching hour… And since you were so interested in that windmill we saw earlier, we’ll go there, and then come back, right through that cemetery.”
“It’s nearly an hour’s walk to get there,” Rhapsody noted. “And one more to come back.”
“That suits me fine,” Ochre answered lifting his glass to the young woman and grinning mischievously.
Rhapsody rolled her eyes. “Will you two stop acting like children? This is all going to end in tears, I just know it.”
“Leave them alone, Dianne,” Scarlet said with an amused smile. “What could happen out there, anyway?”
“You’ve obviously never seen Mag really angry,” Rhapsody replied. “If you go too far, Rick, and play one of your insufferable jokes on her, she’s liable to hurt you.”
Ochre scoffed loudly. “I don’t intend to do anything to her,” he protested. “I’ll just stay near her, and make sure she doesn’t hurt herself, if she happens to panic out there.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” Melody answered between her teeth. “You should know by now that I’m not chicken, Fraser.”
Ochre was about to say something – anything, just so he could have the last word – when a voice suddenly boomed from behind them all, coming from the hall, and startling everybody. It was a deep, rich, English-accented voice, barely able to conceal the chuckle behind its slightly bemused tone: “That’s the way to tell him, my dear lady. A woman of fire, ready to take up any challenge. That’s always something worth seeing!”
Everyone turned around to look upon the newcomer. Standing next to a crooked little man, a well-dressed younger man of about six feet tall, in his early thirties, was standing under the big arch between the hall and the living room; his eyes were about as dark as his hair, with an amused glitter in them, that matched the sly grin on his thin lips. Seeing him, Olivia visibly shivered, but her face almost instantly lit up, and she rose to approach him. “Archie! What a marvellous surprise!”
The man’s smile broadened as she reached him, her arms opened in a welcoming gesture. He gently caught up her right hand and grazed the back of it with his lips.
“My dear Olivia! It’s always a pleasure to see you!”
He was a rather handsome man, if somewhat pale, that being accented by his long dark hair, caught back in a ponytail on his neck. Olivia seemed caught up in his charm. And Ochre and Scarlet, noticing the way Melody and Rhapsody were looking at the newcomer, could see they were finding him quite appealing as well. Both men felt suddenly disgruntled by this man’s mere presence.
Olivia had answered his smile with one of her own. “I really wasn’t expecting you to come back home for a long time,” she noted. “How was your trip to England?”
“Eventful,” he answered cheerfully, showing two lines of pearly white teeth. “I’m just off the plane, actually. I’ve come directly here, before going back to my house.”
“To fetch the mail you asked me to pick up for you?” Olivia asked with a falsely pouting face.
He laughed, and wagged an index finger at her. “Ah, you know it’s not just for that! Any excuse is good for me to visit you! But unfortunately, I still have so much work to do, and I won’t be able to stay.”
“Oh, you work too hard! And you’re such a recluse! That’s not good for a young man like you!”
“And I see you have some guests,” the man continued, looking into the living room, where he could see the four Spectrum agents. “I wouldn’t want to impose myself…”
“Oh, tish, tosh!” Olivia turned to the older, little man, still standing nearby. “James, would you go into my office to fetch Mister Leach’s mail for him? It should be in the first drawer of my worktable, on the left.” The man nodded his understanding and went his way, up the stairs. Olivia took the hand of her visitor, and led him into the living room, toward her guests, who, watching him approach, politely got to their feet. The looks in the men’s eyes were somewhat different from that in the women’s. “You certainly can stay a little while, at least for long enough for me to make the introductions…”
They stopped in front of both Rhapsody and Melody. Behind the two Angels stood Scarlet and Ochre. “Archie, this is my cousin’s daughter, Dianne Simms, from England.”
“Miss Simms…” To the Spectrum agents’ perplexity, the man slightly bowed his head to Rhapsody.
“…And her friend, Miss Magnolia Jones…”
He turned to Melody. Then his eyes rose to meet the latter’s, and his smile broadened even more. “From down South, I presume… Georgia, isn’t it?”
“Atlanta,” Melody confirmed, rather astounded that he would have guessed so precisely.
“A lovely city,” the man continued, not taking his eyes off Melody. “I should think of going there more often… Maybe I would have encountered you?”
“She doesn’t live there, anymore,” Captain Ochre suddenly declared with a dry enough tone.
That annoyed Melody greatly; she had heard the hostility in her compatriot’s tone. Olivia, on the other hand didn’t seem to notice.
“Mister Richard Fraser,” she presented, gesturing toward the American captain. “And another compatriot of ours, Mister Paul Metcalfe.” She put a hand on the man’s arm. “This is Mister Archibald Leach, a very old friend.”
“Mister Leach…” Scarlet extended his hand to the man who briefly stared down at it, before finally taking it. Both shook hands, looking into each other’s eyes. “What part of England are you from, Mister Leach?” Scarlet asked with curiosity. He couldn’t put a region to the man’s accent, as much as he would have liked to do with him what Leach himself had done with Melody.
“Around, actually…” Leach replied, rather vaguely. “I don’t stay long in any one place…” He simply nodded his acknowledgement to Ochre. The latter briefly answered back in the same fashion, if only to stay polite. It was, however, obvious he really wasn’t fond of the man.
“Archie has a house some miles from here,” explained Olivia, who didn’t seem to be able to detach her eyes from her visitor. “It’s beyond the woods, up on the cliff… Actually, that was the mansion of the original owner of this inn.”
“I’m not there often,” Leach noted. “But when I am, I regularly come to visit my dear friend Olivia. And it’s not only because she’s my nearest neighbour.”
“Old friend of the family?” Rhapsody remarked with a large smile. The man didn’t seem much older than herself.
“Olivia’s introduction was quite right, Miss Simms,” he answered quietly. “I… look considerably younger than I really am.”
“How considerably?” Ochre asked.
He received an irritated Melody’s elbow in the stomach; somehow, he was expecting it, so he had braced himself for the impact. That didn’t make it hurt any less, however. Apparently, Leach noticed him flinch, by the smile that quickly swept over his face. But he didn’t say anything.
“Archie has lived in that house for many years,” Olivia explained, giving a glass of brandy to her new guest. “But we never saw him. We met when our car broke down in front of his house. That was… what, eight years ago, Archie?”
“Nearly ten, my dear.”
“Archie worked with Harlan during his last movie,” Olivia continued.
“You’re an actor?” Scarlet asked with curiosity.
Leach scoffed. “Frankly, Mister Metcalfe, would the name ‘Archie Leach’ be suitable for an actor? No, I was merely a consultant for Harlan Merritt. Such a talented producer – and writer.”
Ochre himself wasn’t so sure about Harlan Merritt’s being so talented; he had seen some of his movies and read some of his books. Granted, the man had some talent, but it never seemed to Ochre that he had fully demonstrated it. And some of the scenes he described, in books and movies, could have been taken as the manifestation of a very sick mind. In deference to Olivia, he didn’t say a word about it; he watched with growing displeasure, as Archibald Leach sat down on the chair he himself had occupied a few minutes ago. He sat down on the sofa, next to Melody, keeping a sharp eye on the man. There was something about him that he didn’t like; he couldn’t say what exactly. Maybe it was just the way the girls were staring at him…
“What kind of movies did Mister Merritt produce?”
Ochre gave an odd look at Scarlet, who had asked the question. “You’re kidding, right?” he asked his colleague. “You’re telling us you never heard of Harlan Merritt?”
“Well, maybe I have,” Scarlet defended himself. “The name is certainly familiar but…”
Olivia could see the embarrassment on the young man’s face. She smiled slightly. She didn’t take offence of his lack of knowledge concerning her late husband. “Harlan specialised in horror movies,” she explained.
“Horror movies?” Scarlet seemed puzzled.
“Big, fancy, gory movies, with lots of blood splashing around,” Ochre specified with a malicious grin.
Melody opened large eyes of horror.
“You mean… those movies where a girl is usually chased around by a maniac brandishing a hatchet?” Scarlet asked, frowning.
“The last one I saw, the killer was armed with a drill.” Ochre just kept going on for Melody’s benefit. It worked.
“Please! Will you cut that out?” she protested vehemently.
“Afraid, my dear?” Ochre inquired.
“No. Sick. I’ll remind you that we just ate, less than an hour ago.”
Ochre chuckled; Melody seemed much more furious than sick or afraid, in reality. She had turned to address Leach; now that wasn’t at all what Ochre would have preferred…
“And you were consultant to Mister Merritt for that kind of movie, Mister Leach?”
“Call me Archie, please,” he answered with a smile. “No, only for his last one…”
“‘Alley of Blood’,” Ochre specified, without apparently needing to tax his memory very much.
Rhapsody narrowed her eyes at him. “Why am I not surprised that you should know that precisely, Rick?”
He shrugged; he didn’t want to elaborate on the subject that, if now he didn’t think much of Harlan Merritt’s productions, there was a time, when he was much younger, where he had been fond of them. And there were movies, he had to admit, which had broken away from Merritt’s usual mold. ‘Alley of Blood’, his last movie, was one of those. It was his testament. Merritt had died just a few days before it hit the theatres. He probably just had time to see the finished product.
“What was it about?” Melody asked with curiosity.
Ochre smiled mischievously. “You’re sure you want to know?”
She sighed tiredly. “I realise that with a title like ‘Alley of Blood’, and considering Mister Merritt’s expertise, it can’t be a cartoon,” she grumbled. “Now will you stop acting as if I were a coward?”
“It was about vampires,” Olivia answered quickly.
“Vampires?” Melody stared at Leach, with curiosity in her eyes. “You were consultant on a vampire movie?”
“I made lengthy studies of vampires,” Leach answered quietly. “I even wrote a book… You could say I’m rather a leading authority on the subject.”
“As fact or fiction?” Ochre deadpanned. He could feel three pairs of eyes turning furious or annoyed gazes at him, but curiously, it was not the case with Leach. He simply smiled, the kind of smile coming from someone who thinks he knows better, and then shrugged, almost indifferently.
“Both, actually, Mister Fraser. Surely, you’ve heard already of people who think of themselves as vampires, to the point that they drink human blood, stolen from blood banks, or even attack unsuspecting souls, to satisfy their morbid taste?”
Ochre nodded his understanding. Indeed, he had heard about that. In fact, he had even been confronted with a case, in Detroit, early in his career, where a serial killer had acted in a way quite similar to what Leach was describing. The sick criminal had mutilated four people to drink their blood, before he was eventually found out and brought to justice. That was one of the saddest cases he had ever worked on.
“Wasn't there some old wives' tale about that around here?” he then heard Rhapsody say. “I seem to remember it when I was here last.”
“Oh! That was just gossip, my dear!” Olivia replied, waving her hand negligently. “I think those stories existed many, many years before Harlan and I bought this old place. Why, people have always been afraid to go too deep into these woods… There were legends they were inhabited by bloodthirsty ghostly beasts. Old fears are hard to overcome, I suppose. Especially those which have no justification!”
“That’s right,” Archibald Leach added, nodding. “Local legends are often considered as diehard facts by the natives. Try to tell them they’re only nonsense, they’d burn you at the stake!”
That piqued Ochre’s interest. Could that be why everybody in this town gave us the cold shoulder, when we asked for directions to this house? That would explain it…
James was coming back, with a thick stack of envelopes kept together by an elastic band. He quietly approached Olivia to give them to her, and then left as quietly as he had come, not looking behind him. Olivia handed the stack to Leach, who thanked her with a nod. He gave just one glance at his mail, then put it on the table next to him, taking a sip from his glass. Melody thought that now he had what he came for, this interesting man would soon be on his way. She didn’t want to see him leave right away, if only to wind Ochre up a little. She had noticed how her compatriot seemed to display an immediate dislike of Archibald Leach. Which, she had to confess, she couldn’t understand. The man was charming. Strange, but charming.
“It seems odd,” Melody then noted, “that you should interest yourself in that subject…”
“Do you really think so?” Leach asked with a quiet smile. He gestured, showing his unnaturally pale face. “Even considering my… appearance?”
Melody suddenly felt awkward. Not only she, but the others exchanged embarrassed and perplexed stares. Leach chuckled. “Don’t worry. You could say I’m used to it.”
“Archie is afflicted with a rather rare ailment,” Olivia explained. “It’s called porphyria and is commonly nicknamed ‘the vampire sickness’.”
“But it has nothing to do with vampirism, really,” Leach continued quickly. “Victims of this strange condition are stricken with various and differing symptoms, but one of the most common and noticeable effects is cutaneous-related.” He produced a very faint smile. “For example, my skin is very sensitive to sunlight. It will burn easily, to the point of putting my life in danger.”
“Do all victims of that disease have the same problem?” Rhapsody asked with a frown.
Leach nodded quietly. “That’s why people who have porphyria don’t go out in the sun; they can’t stand it and prefer to wait for the sun to set before going outside.”
“That must be awful,” Melody noted with sympathy.
“I’ve got used to it, dear lady,” Leach smiled. “I just have to be very careful…”
“Are there other symptoms?”
Leach shrugged. “Anaemia, insomnia, sensitive eyes and stomach, abdominal pain… But I can’t complain. I’ve got a good life, really. I don’t have the most serious mental affections, like anxiety, depression, or hallucinations, like some poor souls are affected with. Other known symptoms are restlessness, sensory loss, irritability, increased hair growth. When you consider all this, you’ll have no trouble understanding why this terrible disease earned its nickname. It is even believed that porphyria may be the origin of all those dreadful vampire legends.”
“Hence your interest in it,” Scarlet noted quietly.
“Exactly the reason for my interest in vampire legends. Yes, Mister Metcalfe. You’re right.”
“What about Dracula?” Ochre suddenly asked. If Leach had thought of raising some compassion from them with this story about his ailment, and seemed to have gained both the girls’ and Scarlet’s, it certainly wasn’t working with him. He still felt some hostility toward the strange man. “Are you telling us he suffered from that sickness?”
His question didn’t meet the approval of his colleagues, as he saw the look Scarlet gave him and the way both Rhapsody and Melody rolled their eyes. “Please, Rick,” Rhapsody began, “Dracula’s only a fictional character.”
“Well, in books and movies, his characterisation may have been fictional,” Leach interjected, with a faint smile, “but the man existed. Not as a vampire, mind you.”
“He was a Wallachian prince, a warrior of the fifteen century, by the name of Vlad Drakula,” Scarlet confirmed. “Or Vlad Tepes – which means ‘Vlad the Impaler’.”
“I like the guy already,” Melody mumbled. “With a name like that, I suppose he…?”
“…Impaled his enemies alive,” Scarlet confirmed.
“Charming man,” Rhapsody noted.
“Indeed,” Scarlet replied. “It’s said that he was responsible for many massacres. He impaled complete armies of enemy soldiers, and even went to the extent of dining in the middle of the dying victims, enjoying the spectacle. One of his guests, one day, complained about the awful stench… Vlad was very considerate when he ordered him to be impaled too, higher than the other victims, so he wouldn’t be disturbed by the smell.”
“That’s absolutely gross!” Rhapsody exclaimed, opening her eyes wide. “And how do you know so much about this despicable character?”
“Remember, I’ve got a degree in History?” Scarlet reminded her. “And Vlad Tepes was a soldier – an appalling character, but also a renowned warrior and military strategist. And he is considered a historical hero in Wallachia.” He stopped for a moment to turn toward Leach and Olivia. “Military History has always fascinated me,” he explained.
Archie Leach narrowed his eyes at him, seeming to carefully gauge him. “Indeed, you surprise me, Mister Metcalfe. There’s more to you than meets the eye…”
“You have no idea,” Ochre murmured with a knowing smirk, taking a sip of his brandy. If Leach turned a deaf ear to his remark, it was certainly heard by Melody, who turned a murderous and warning glare at him. He quickly moved on: “So, if I understand correctly, this Vlad Drakula guy didn’t really have anything vampiric about him… Aside from his obvious blood thirst?”
“Oh… There were rumours that the prince drank the blood of his enemies,” Leach noted matter-of-factly, “but nothing’s ever really been proved. But those were barbaric times, and that kind of behaviour wasn’t really uncommon, coming from a man like Vlad Tepes.” Leach put his empty glass on the table beside him, and rose to his feet, addressing a broad smile to Ochre. “And to answer your earlier question, Mister Fraser, no, there’s nothing in the historical data that says that Vlad Drakula was stricken by porphyria.” He turned to Olivia. “I really must go now, my dear. As I said… I have still a lot of work to do tonight.”
“Will you come back soon to visit me?” Olivia asked him with hope clearly evident in her voice.
“Soon, my dear, I promise you.” He gallantly kissed the back of the woman’s hand, then turned toward her guests. “And I hope to be meeting you again in the near future,” he added with another grin. “Especially the ladies.”
He didn’t need to add that last line. Both Ochre and Scarlet had perfectly understood that it was what he meant to begin with. The intent look he addressed almost exclusively at Melody made Ochre’s skin crawl. He definitely didn’t like that man.
“We’re sorry, but I don’t think we’ll be staying more than a couple of days,” he stated, matter-of-factly, much to Melody and Rhapsody’s embarrassment.
That didn’t seem to deter Leach in the least. “In that case, we’ll have to meet very soon.” The glare he addressed to Ochre was as full of resentment as the captain’s. But it was very brief. He nodded his last salutations and went his way out of the living room and into the hall, escorted by Olivia. As soon as the two of them were out of earshot, three Spectrum agents turned disapproving looks toward the fourth who, as if he couldn’t care less, was quietly taking another sip of his brandy.
“Rick,” Rhapsody whispered with obvious displeasure, “why did you have to be so rude to him?”
“He’s a nice man,” Melody continued in turn. “And considering that illness he’s got…”
“Oh please!” Ochre protested. “You want me to feel sorry for him? I don’t like him. And it’s got nothing to do with that ‘porf-ing-something’ he has. Don’t you see he used that to make himself sympathetic towards you girls?”
“What kind of a heartless man are you?” Melody grumbled, furrowing her brow. “Now this is a side of you I’ve never seen before!”
“Now I’m heartless because I have the common sense not to trust just anybody!” Ochre scoffed loudly. “My dear Melody, I would never have imagined you would be so naïve!”
Melody was about to reply, and knowing how she was when she was very upset – like the present moment – her colleagues were about sure she would say something harsh and maybe not very lady-like. She didn’t have the opportunity, as Olivia came back into the living room. Her smile was still as broad and delighted as before, and she didn’t seem to notice the uncomfortable aloofness that had fallen in the room. She sat down theatrically on the now vacant seat, left by Leach.
“Now, that was a charming surprise!” she declared. “Archie doesn’t come to visit me very often. I’m just sad he wasn’t able to stay longer.”
“Just grand,” Ochre murmured under his breath, causing Melody to quiver, probably taking offence at his remark. Olivia didn’t hear him, apparently, but in any case, Scarlet was already covering his friend, clearing his throat to attract the woman’s attention: “How did Mister Leach get that condition of his, Olivia?” he asked with curiosity.
“It’s genetic, I’m afraid,” she answered. “And hereditary. It’s a metabolic disorder… As I understand, there’s many forms of this ailment, quite different, but all with certain aspects in common.” She sighed. “Such a shame. Archie is such a nice, charming young man. And so cultivated and bright! He knows so much about everything!”
“About vampires more than anything else, according to him,” Ochre noted. “I suppose he was very helpful for that last movie your husband produced…”
Olivia nodded, thoughtfully. “Yes, he was. Archie pointed out to Harlan the misconceptions people often have of the vampires of legend. He presented a point of view that helped Harlan very much. I’m not blind, nor am I a fool, Mister Fraser, I know my dear husband didn’t always make great movies, and that some of them could even be considered mediocre. But… he was very proud of his last one. He knew it was his best, and I dare to think he went away with a contented heart. And it’s probably thanks, even just in small part, to Archie. I’ll always be grateful to him for that.”
Ochre nodded thoughtfully, along with the others. He still wasn’t sure if his feelings of distrust concerning Archie Leach were genuine, or if they originated from another feeling altogether. They certainly weren’t because of the man’s condition, no… Maybe because of the way the girls seemed attracted to him. He knew that had bothered Scarlet a little, when he noted the interest in Rhapsody’s eyes as she looked at Leach. Ochre suppressed an amused smile, thinking about that. Scarlet’s reaction to Leach wasn’t surprising to him. He knew of Scarlet and Rhapsody being secretly involved with each other, of course, although they didn’t seem to be aware of him knowing.
As for himself, Ochre was still wondering. His instincts were normally right on the spot, although it had happened in the past that he had been wrong in his conclusions and too quick about them. He thought it could be quite possible that his natural distaste for the man would colour his judgment.
Then, as the conversation gradually changed to other subjects, Ochre’s eyes wandered toward the low table next to the chair occupied by Olivia Merritt, the one that had been Leach’s, during his short visit. Ochre frowned deeply, seeing something very curious.
On the table, Leach had left the stack of letters he had originally come to take.
Sitting on a stool in front of the mirror, Rhapsody Angel was thoughtfully brushing her long red hair that she had just dried. She was feeling relaxed, after that hot shower she had taken, in the bathroom adjacent to the room Olivia had given to her and Melody.
Dressed for the night, and wrapped in a bathrobe, Rhapsody was presently alone; Melody had just left for her stroll in the cemetery with Ochre. That thought forced an amused smile to Rhapsody’s lips. She had no idea how that strange ‘date’ between the two would turn out, but she could only guess that it would be interesting. Knowing Ochre, it would be unlikely that he wouldn’t pull one of his notorious pranks on Melody. The occasion was certainly too perfect for him not to try anything. If he came back with nothing more than a black eye after that stroll, he would be lucky.
Rhapsody heard a faint knock at the closed door, behind her, which brought another smile to her face. Right on time.
“Whoever it is, come back later,” she called out loud. “I’m not decent at the moment.”
In the mirror, she saw the door open a crack; then a dark head appeared in the narrow gap, smiling blue eyes set on her.
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you to be careful not to say that sort of thing to a closed door?” Captain Scarlet admonished joyfully. “You never know what kind of strange man could be on the other side.”
She looked as if a major question in her life had just been answered. “Oh! No, she didn’t. It’s all clear now… that must be why I’ve led such a dissolute life until now.”
Scarlet chuckled. He entered, carefully closing the door, and approached his fiancée from behind. He was keeping his right hand behind his back, as if he was hiding something. Rhapsody noticed, but didn’t say anything for the moment.
“Well, I reckon it’s about time a trustworthy man made an honest woman out of you,” he stated, briefly kissing her on the nape of the neck.
“You have a high opinion of yourself, Captain,” she replied cheerfully. “What makes you think you could change me?”
“Maybe because I doubt your life was so dissolute?”
Rhapsody chuckled openly, and dropped the brush onto the dresser, before turning to face him. “I think I’ll give you a chance, then,” she said, eyes sparkling, getting to her feet.
“That’s all I’m asking for, Angel.” Scarlet kissed her again, this time on the lips. Then, leaving her, he brought his right hand out from behind his back, producing a bottle of champagne and two glasses. “How about we drink to that?”
Rhapsody smiled her consent, and went to sit at the foot of the bed; Scarlet followed, to crouch in front of her. She watched as Scarlet, putting the glasses on the floor, went to work on the cork. The Spectrum captain saw the thoughtful frown of concern on her beautiful face, and wondered what could be on her mind. He didn’t have to wait long to find out. “Paul, what do you make of Rick’s behaviour tonight?”
“You mean with Melody?” he asked matter-of-factly.
“I mean with Archibald Leach.”
“Then you do mean with Melody.” Rhapsody gave him a curious and doubtful look. The cork popped out of the bottle and a small geyser of champagne erupted from it. Not so much as to make a mess. Smiling, Scarlet dutifully filled one of the glasses. “I think it was simply jealousy.”
“Jealousy? You mean, Rick… and Mag? Come on, Paul! That seems so unlikely!”
“Why?” Scarlet asked while pouring champagne in the second glass.
“Well… They can’t have a conversation without ending up making cheap digs at each other. They’re always at each other’s throats… They can’t get on.”
“Your point exactly?” Scarlet put down the bottle, took the glasses and handed one to the young woman, smiling. “Reminds me of us, at the beginning.”
The odd way Rhapsody was looking at him changed and she nodded thoughtfully, thinking of those early days, and the way they acted toward each other, from the first moment they met. She smiled congenially. “Rick and Mag,” she said, musing about this. “Interesting… So you think that’s the reason why Rick acted so badly toward Mister Leach?”
“He certainly noticed the way he was staring at Melody,” Scarlet nodded. “I noticed it. And I didn’t like the way he was looking at you either.”
“Oh really?” Rhapsody replied with an impish glitter in her eyes, and making a show of sounding interested. “How was he looking at me?”
“In a way that made me want to punch him in the mouth,” Scarlet answered ominously.
She laughed. “So you were jealous too? I didn’t know you were that possessive, Captain!”
“I’m not possessive,” Scarlet protested. He saw the disbelieving look on his fiancée’s face and shook his head. “It’s just that I thought he seemed… I don’t know… a little too interested in you girls? And I didn’t like it.”
“You should know, Captain, that we ‘girls’ are quite able to take care of ourselves,” Rhapsody gently admonished him. “And you shouldn’t worry about it. First of all, I think that Mister Leach was simply being charming.”
Scarlet scowled. That he didn’t want to hear. Rhapsody chuckled, seeing his pouting expression. “…And my second point: no matter how charming he might be, I’m not in the least interested in him. I’ve got you.” She smiled gently, reaching to caress his cheek. “So I don’t need to look at anybody else.”
Scarlet answered with a smile of his own. “You’re coming on strong to me, dear lady,” he said. They clinked their glasses and took only one sip each, locking eyes with each other. Scarlet then took his fiancée’s glass and put it onto the floor, alongside his, before turning to look longingly into her eyes.
“Does that stroll in the cemetery to the windmill and back really take a couple of hours?”
“I’d say a little more than that, for someone who doesn’t know the area… and through that fog…” She saw the rascally flash in Scarlet’s eyes. “Do you have something in mind, Captain Scarlet?” she teased him.
“I’d say we’d better take advantage of every opportunity, love.”
He bent over to kiss her again, this time with passion. She answered to the kiss, then gave a faint giggle when he leaned closer and went to rest his head on her shoulder, nibbling at her throat.
“You know, Paul… You’d make a fine vampire,” she noted pleasantly.
“And why’s that?” she heard him say, through what sounded like a mouthful.
“Well, with a name like ‘Scarlet’ and –” She stopped, unable to pursue, as Scarlet’s kisses were inflaming her senses.
“…And the fact that I’m indestructible?” he continued for her, taking her silence as a hesitation.
She thought she heard a brief note of pain in his voice. She drew back a little, and took his face between her hands, to gaze into his blue eyes. She couldn’t see any wounded emotion, but still, she thought she had to reassure him. “I was going to say,” she said with a faint, apologetic smile, “‘those devilish good looks of yours’.” She frowned. “What is it, do you still feel isolated because of your condition?”
“Isolated?” he repeated, frowning.
“From other human beings. Because of those old doubts you had once had about your humanity. I mean, you shouldn’t feel any different from any of us. You know you’re not. And anyway, even if you were, you know it doesn’t change anything for us, I –”
“Don’t worry,” Scarlet suddenly cut her off. They had had this conversation numerous times before. He always knew by heart what she was about to say. He couldn’t help smiling, thinking that, right this moment, they didn’t have to discuss it. He shook his head, and kissed the palm of her hand, before taking her into his arms and drawing her close to his body. “No,” he whispered confidently, looking deep into her eyes. “I don’t feel isolated. Not anymore. Not since I found you…”
Midnight had struck its last a good ten minutes ago. The fog coming from the sea had thickened since the four Spectrum agents had arrived at the inn. After making sure her guests were comfortable, and wishing a pleasant stroll to both Captain Ochre and Melody Angel, and confident that the two of them were resourceful enough not to get lost and would be back soon, Olivia Merritt went to bed for a good night’s sleep. She had also dismissed her employees for the night, and so they had gone to their rooms in the servants’ quarters in the west wing of the inn.
There weren’t many lights left burning in the house; on the first floor, there was only the one in the living room, another in the hall and a last one on the porch. That one was kept constantly lit anyway, but it would also be helpful to Melody and Ochre, to guide them back to the house. On the second floor, there was only one very faint glow, passing through the thick fabric of heavy curtains. The curtains covered French windows, which led to a very narrow balcony. That was the window of the room that Olivia had given to Rhapsody and Melody Angels.
A dark figure was crouched on the stony guard-rail of the balcony, using talon-like feet and hands to cling to the stones with the greatest of ease, with seemingly no danger of losing its equilibrium. Its features, as black as the night, were concealed by the surrounding darkness. Strangely glowing and inhuman eyes were peering deep into the room, and a rumbling, bestial growl rolled in the watcher’s throat. He raised one of his dark hands, adorned with long, razor-sharp nails, to his chin, rubbing it thoughtfully; he bared very long, sharp teeth in a sly smile of intense contentment at the scene unravelling itself before his eyes. The two English were in this room, on the bed, sharing a sweet, tender embrace of passion and love. The observer wasn’t surprised to find them in such an intimate moment. He had already felt the strong link between these two. And his instincts were presently telling him this was, for them, something rare and precious that they couldn’t afford to lose.
His smile broadened into an evil grin; it was so tempting to barge into this room, breaking the window and putting an end to this sweet moment. So easy would it be to kill the man, and take the woman as his own… There was nothing they would be able to do to prevent this. But it would be too easy, unworthy of him; there would be no sport in this; he wouldn’t be able to feel the thrill of the hunt, the rush of satisfaction at the moment of the kill.
Later. There was still time for those two. Let them enjoy this brief moment between them. The one he sought was the dark-skinned girl with the bright brown eyes. She was out, somewhere in the cemetery. With that insufferable compatriot of hers.
Silently, the form jumped off the balcony and extended black, leathery, bat-like winged arms to glide into the night. This would be a good hunt, came the thought to the creature’s cold mind. One he would enjoy. He would have what he wanted.
Never before had a prey escaped him.
“Mag, my dear, I’ve got some bad news for you.”
Dressed in casual but warm clothes for the evening, both Captain Ochre and Melody Angel were strolling across the fog-covered old cemetery, trying to find their way toward the windmill. The only equipment they had, apart from a small piece of paper bearing Olivia’s quickly drawn map of their itinerary, was a hand compass and an electric torch. Despite that, and probably because the torch wasn’t able to light more than about six feet in front of them, they found that the task they had assigned themselves to was harder than they had anticipated.
“Don’t tell me,” Melody answered Ochre’s declaration, walking right behind him and taking good care not to let him out of her sight. “We’re lost.”
“Well…” Ochre stopped suddenly to check his compass. Melody nearly bumped into him.
“Don’t do that, please!” she said between her teeth. “So, are we lost or not?”
“What do you mean, ‘not exactly’?” Melody asked in an annoyed tone.
Ochre pointed in one specific direction. “Well, that the East. The Atlantic Ocean’s that way…”
“You’re really helpful, Rick. That much I can figure it out!”
“South this way,” Ochre continued, apparently oblivious to his companion’s anger. “Merritsport’s in this direction. Olivia’s inn is northwest from the town, and the windmill is this way, beyond the cemetery.” He grinned broadly. “We’re still in the cemetery –”
“Umph… The tombstones are certainly a dead give away,” Melody dryly commented.
“…But according to the compass, we went a little up northeast, toward those woods, there.” Ochre showed Melody the plan drawn by Olivia. “Beyond that, there’s the road, and the cliff, and that tiny house down there…”
“That should be Archie Leach’s house,” Melody noted.
“Right,” Ochre grumbled. “Archie Leach’s house.” He put the plan into his pocket, and pointed in another direction. “The windmill should be over there.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure! Just follow the guide, sweetheart.”
He started walking, and Melody, not wanting to lose him, quickened her pace to keep up with him. She came up beside him, and matched her steps to his. He was looking down at his compass and checking the path ahead of them.
“Rick?” she called to him, tugging his sleeve.
“You don’t like Mister Leach very much, right?”
“I don’t like him at all,” Ochre answered bluntly.
She scoffed loudly. “That’s not a reason. Can’t you be more specific?”
Ochre stopped in his tracks and turned toward Melody. “Look, can’t we talk about anything else aside from this Mister Leach?”
She threw up her hands. “Okay, okay! I won’t mention him anymore!”
“Many thanks!” an upset Ochre exhaled.
He started walking again, and Melody, chuckling with amusement at his bad mood, almost ran to join him again. He was playing the torch’s beam up the path in front of them, narrowing his eyes, trying to see as far ahead as he could. For Melody, it was as if they were walking into a thick blanket that opened up before them at each step.
“Don’t you think we should go back to the inn?” she asked.
He looked down at her, grinning. “Why? You finally concede that you’re afraid?”
“I don’t concede anything!” she protested, bristling at the insinuation. “How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not afraid of cemeteries!”
“What about fogs?”
“Captain, I’ve flown in thicker clouds than this one!”
Ochre smiled again, roguishly; Melody realised he was needling her, trying to anger her on purpose. She scowled, wondering what his motive was for doing so. Not that Ochre usually needed any reason for his mischievousness. But this time, she had a feeling it was different. She narrowed his eyes at him, a suspicion forming in her mind.
“You like doing that, don’t you?” she remarked.
“What?” Ochre asked innocently.
“Upsetting me like that,” she sighed. “Making me lose my head over nothing.”
“I’d hardly say you would lose your head over nothing, honey,” he replied sweetly. “You’re one cool-headed lady, if I ever knew one.”
“Yeah, right. You would say that, but you’re not really thinking it!”
“Honest, Melody. I have the greatest respect for you!”
“You called me a coward, and then you say you have respect for me. There’s something here that I don’t get, that’s for sure. Now I may be dumber than some –”
“You’re NOT dumb!” Ochre protested.
“…But I’m beginning to think you took advantage of that dare as an excuse to get me out of the house tonight,” Melody continued, without hearing him out. “Now why, would be the question.”
He shrugged, indifferently. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Then, contrary to your objections, I must be as dumb as I claim.” Again, she scrutinised him closely. “What is it, Rick? Why did you want to take me out tonight?”
“Because you’re my favourite Angel?” he replied sheepishly.
“You say that to all the Angels.”
“Maybe I mean it with you?”
“Rick, I’m serious.” She moved on: “I think it’s fairly obvious you’re keeping me on edge because you don’t want us to go back to the house right away.”
“Maybe I just wanted to have some time alone with you and I’m not that ready to go back?”
“Please, stop. That’s not funny.” Melody failed to see the hurt in Ochre’s eyes. She thought she had the answer to her question. “If all this is just to give Paul and Dianne some time alone together, you didn’t have to go to all this trouble. You simply had to say so.”
Ochre suddenly stopped walking and turned a disbelieving stare at Melody. “What? What do you know about them?”
She laughed victoriously. “What you’ve just confirmed to me right this moment,” she declared with a smile.
“But I didn’t –” Ochre fell silent, seeing the look in Melody’s eyes. Whatever he might say, like trying to deny that something was indeed going on between Scarlet and Rhapsody, he could see Melody would never believe him. Her mind was set, and knowing her, he just knew that she was now certain in her assumption.
“So Paul and Dianne are a couple, huh?” she stated musingly, before a disgruntled-looking Ochre. “Well, what do you know…”
“You didn’t hear it from me,” Ochre warned her, concerned that both Rhapsody and Scarlet – especially Scarlet – would be upset at him if they should learn he had blown the whistle on their secret.
“Lay off, Rick,” Melody admonished him. “You’re not responsible for me discovering it… Not really. I already had a feeling something was going on between those two. So it doesn’t come as such a surprise to me.” She grinned. “So that’s it: you wanted to give them some space, right?”
“Yes, I wanted to give them some space,” Ochre replied, with annoyance. “I thought I owe them that much…”
“Considering you imposed your – our – presence on them, I would certainly think so.”
“DON’T tell them anything!” Ochre warned Melody again. “They don’t know I know!”
“No. And don’t ever mention it! Forget the whole thing.”
“You think it’s an easy thing to forget?” Melody’s face took on a moping expression, as she looked away, apparently thoughtful. “I guess that means that Paul isn’t free anymore. That’s a real shame, though…”
“Why?” Ochre asked with perplexity. “Were you interested in him?”
“Of course I was,” she replied, almost matter-of-factly. “He’s good-looking, very charming, and a real gentleman. Any woman would be crazy not to be interested in him!”
“I wouldn’t know,” grumbled Ochre.
“Oh well!” Melody sighed deeply. “I guess that leaves only one interesting prospect amongst Cloudbase senior staff…”
“Really?” Ochre asked, obviously interested in what her train of thought might be.
“Well, he’s an American,” Melody pursued, eyeing Ochre’s reactions. “And he’s tall, handsome, very intelligent…” She looked in amusement, as Ochre was throwing his chest out, his smile broadening and she was describing the man she had in her mind. She took her time to finish him up, nice and proper. “… And blond…”
“BLOND?!” Ochre’s chest and smile fell; he looked down in incredulity at a smirking Melody. “You were talking about Blue?!”
“Who else would I have been talking about?” she asked, rolling indifferent eyes. “Oh wait… Surely you didn’t think I was talking about you?”
“Oh, right!” Ochre snapped angrily. “That would be too much to ask, is it?”
“What’s the matter with you, anyway?” Melody asked, faking surprise.
“Nothing!” he answered grumpily. “Let’s find that windmill.”
He turned around, smartly, and started walking; Melody stood there for a second, musing on his rather harsh reaction, a faint smile on her lips. She moved on to catch him up again, as she didn’t want to be left behind in that fog. He didn’t even look at her, nor did he acknowledge her presence by his side. He gazed stubbornly ahead.
Suddenly, he heard something, which made him stop in his tracks.
Melody nearly bumped into him once again. She was about to admonish him when he hushed her quickly: “Wait!”
She saw that he seemed to be listening carefully. Her brow furrowed. “What’s the matter?”
“I heard something. Movements.”
Melody rolled her eyes in annoyance. “Rick, if you’re trying to frighten me…”
“No, honest. I did hear something.”
She looked closely at him. He seemed serious. So she pricked up her ears too. Then she heard it. Like a shuffling sound, disturbing pebbles on the ground, crackling dry leaves underfoot.
“There’s somebody here,” Ochre whispered.
“Now who could be strolling in a cemetery at this hour of the night?” Melody answered in the same tone.
“Strange people, no doubt,” he deadpanned. “Should I call out?”
She scowled. “If it is somebody suspicious, don’t you think you would be giving us away?”
“So will the flashlight,” Ochre replied. He nodded, anyway. It could also just be lovers taking a midnight stroll too, he noted to himself. He didn’t voice this, however. It came to his mind that there weren’t many houses around this place. Olivia’s inn being one, and Archie Leach’s being another. He didn’t know of any others, but he remembered that Leach had said that Olivia was his closest neighbour.
The sound made itself heard again. Curious, Ochre walked in the direction where it seemed to come from, Melody keeping close to him. The young woman didn’t want to be left alone, the captain noted with satisfaction. One look at her told him, however, that she didn’t appear nervous or concerned. She was probably just as curious as himself. That made him smile with fondness. Rough and tough as nails, Melody Angel. There wasn’t much that could faze her.
They walked silently through the cemetery, searching through the fog for the origin of those sounds they had heard. The fog was thinner now, but they couldn’t see anything but the surrounding tombstones and statues. There was an eerie atmosphere floating around the cemetery, and it was making them feel rather uncomfortable.
The sound made itself heard again. This time, it was coming from very near. Both Ochre and Melody, following each other, were now very close to a pedestal supporting an enormous angel figure, sculpted in stone. Time had covered it on one side with a deep layer of moss, and it was heavily chipped. The sound seemed to come from the other side. Ochre gave the torch to Melody and motioned her to stay where she was. He could see she was reluctantly obeying him, as he approached the statue, alone. Again, the sound was heard.
“Hello?” Ochre called out carefully. “Is there anyone there?”
He didn’t hear any answer. Reaching the statue, he leaned on the pedestal, and carefully walked around it, craning his neck to see ahead what could be behind it. He made a full circle, without finding anything, much to his puzzlement. He stopped where he had started, his hand still leaning on the stone surface.
I DIDN’T imagine it! he mused. I DID hear something! He looked in Melody’s direction. And she did too…
“Have you found anything?” the Angel asked with curiosity.
Ochre opened his mouth to answer. That’s when he felt something dropping on the hand he was resting on the statue’s pedestal. Something warm and wet. He brought up his hand to look, wondering what it was and where it came from. Was it an inconsiderate bird, or…
The substance he had on the back of his hand wasn’t from any bird, that seemed to be a certainty. It looked like… some kind of saliva.
A sudden, deep growl made Ochre look up. He saw a dark figure perched atop the sculpted angel’s shoulders. He blinked, at first, thinking it was part of the statue, some kind of a gargoyle, maybe, but then, he saw the red eyes set on him, flashing ominously, and the long canine teeth bared at him.
Stunned with surprise, Ochre just reacted, by stepping back instinctively. The figure suddenly came to life and leaped toward him with another deep, feral growl. Ochre barely had time to register Melody’s gasping cry of surprise, as sharp, black nails, on extraordinarily long fingers, came straight at him. He side-stepped, and they narrowly missed him. Ochre backed away, lost his footing and fell against Melody’s legs, his sight not for one instant leaving the creature, with eyes wide-open in shock and incredulity. He heard Melody call his name in concern, and then noticed she had knelt beside him, her eyes also set in complete horror at the thing that had lashed at him.
It was crouched very near to the ground, its red eyes staring at them, its long sharp teeth glittering. Its ears were enormously large, like two triangular sails, completely framing the head from one side to the other, making it appear at least twice as large as it should be. The grotesque face was a genuine vision of horror. The nose was nearly non-existent; it was but a simple appendix, with two small holes as nostrils, quivering nervously, as the creature kept still to the ground, where it had landed, apparently getting ready to attack.
“My God, what is that thing?”
Ochre didn’t answer Melody’s shaky enquiry. He had quickly got to his feet, his eyes fixed on the creature. It leaped again toward him, stealthily, fangs bared, his arms outstretched, showing bat-like black wings attached to them; Ochre, again, reacted on instinct by getting out of the way, taking Melody with him, so she wouldn’t get hurt. He escaped the sharp nails, but the creature’s body made contact, and sent him rolling on the ground, separating him from Melody. He heard the young woman’s scream of horror, as she thought he had been hurt.
“Melody, keep back!” he shouted to her. He regretted his words when he saw that the creature, now standing up on two very human legs, had turned its attention to the frozen Melody. It made a step toward her, and she drew back; seeing as it was still advancing, she flashed the light of her torch right into its face. It growled in annoyance and stepped back, hiding its eyes from the too-bright light. In the meantime, getting quickly back to his feet, Ochre looked around for some kind of weapon which he would use to repel the creature’s assaults. In desperation, he grabbed the first thing that came into contact with his hand – a staff, a branch, he didn’t know exactly what it was – and pulled it out from the ground. He came in to attack from behind.
The creature heard or sensed him coming, and simply swatted him aside with a large, strong gesture. A leathery wing literally slapped Ochre in the face, stunning him and he stumbled. He struck blindly; his improvised weapon made contact, and he heard a loud shriek coming from the creature’s throat, as it was thrown to the ground, rolling in apparent pain. An astounded Ochre, who knew he had not hit the creature that hard, didn’t have time to ask himself what was happening. Melody grabbed him by the hand, and they made a run for it, as far away from the scene as their legs could carry them, the echo of the creature’s pained cries pursuing them into the fog.
It seemed to them that they ran like that for long minutes, before they finally reached a high construction that seemed to suddenly appear before them. Melody’s torch was now illuminating the outlines of the windmill that they had been looking for this night. A feeble wind was playing with the half broken sails, whining in their wooden structure, but they weren’t moving much; the mechanism must be broken.
They approached the windmill, searching for a door, or any kind of opening. They needed to hide from the creature in the cemetery, and maybe they would be able to barricade themselves in here. Ochre looked at the scaffolding against the side of the tower and at the stone wall of the windmill, flashing his torch toward it. He could see loose stones, and half applied mortar on it, as if the repairs had been suddenly abandoned. Nothing seemed to have been touched in many years, apparently, seeing the spider webs and the general state of the construction.
They didn’t have to search for long, as they quickly found a closed wooden door, just beneath the scaffolding. Ochre only had to push it; its hinges creaked noisily, as it opened to reveal a pitch black interior. Ochre shone the light of his torch inside; satisfied that it was safe to go in, he pushed Melody inside, entered, and pushed on the door, closing it. Only at that moment, did he realise that Melody and he were panting, out of breath and out of fear of the unknown.
“What was that thing?” Melody asked, her voice a faint, quivering murmur. Ochre looked at her, trying to regain his breath, and calm his rapidly beating heart. The light of the torch gave the young woman’s normally dark complexion a strange shade of grey.
“I don’t know,” he whispered between breaths. “It… It looked like a giant bat.”
He looked down at the staff he had used as a weapon against the creature and that had been so strangely effective. His eyes went wide in astonishment as he recognised a wooden cross, which had previously marked one of the graves in the cemetery. Melody’s face became even paler.
“Oh, no,” she said, shaking her head and frowning in disbelief, frowning and trying to regain her usual self-confidence. “Oh, no, don’t tell me…” She looked straight at Ochre. “Rick, that can’t be possible! You don’t believe that thing could be –”
“I don’t KNOW!” he nearly snapped. “I don’t know what to believe!”
Forcing his mind to not trying to find an explanation at the moment, Ochre used the cross to block the door. He realised it wouldn’t be as effective as he would want it to be. He looked around them, desperate to find something solid that they would be able to use. He pointed to a wooden beam, lying on the ground, asking Melody’s help to put it against the door. He secured it as tightly as he could, then stepped back next to the young woman. He gave a deep sigh, finally finding his normal breathing rate.
“Now what?” Melody asked.
Ochre put his hand in the pocket of his pants, and got a small device out of it, to show it to Melody. “We’ll contact Scarlet and Rhapsody. We got to tell them about this creature and ask for their help.”
Melody nodded, but she couldn’t help wondering what kind of help they could expect from their fellow officers. That creature out there… neither of them had ever faced a thing like that before.
“That creature,” she said, “It’s a vampire, Rick. Think about it! The bat-like features, the fangs… the cross, for God’s sake!”
Ochre shook his head in negation. “Don’t let your imagination run wild, Mag… Just because we talked about it earlier doesn’t mean this creature is indeed a vampire. That would be too much of a coincidence.” One hell of a coincidence, he added inwardly. “Vampires don’t exist. There must be a logical explanation –”
Suddenly interrupting him, loud thumping made itself heard behind the closed door, which started trembling. Both Ochre and Melody stepped back, their eyes riveted in horror at the door.
“It’ll go right through it,” Melody murmured.
Ochre looked around, before nodding toward the spiral staircase running up around a long post, right in the centre of the windmill. That seemed to be the only way to go. He took the torch in one hand and the Angel’s hand into the other, and they started climbing the long spiral staircase. The old wooden steps creaked loudly underneath their feet, and both Spectrum agents were wondering if the stairs would support their combined weight.
They reached the top of the stairs, to find themselves in the room where the windshaft was fixed to the tower. There was one window, but it was sealed from the inside by large and solid boards. No way out. There was nowhere else to go.
We’re trapped in here, Ochre noted gloomily. But at least, this creature can only follow the same path in order to get to them, as there was no other way in. They would be waiting for it. It wouldn’t surprise them.
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
There was a sound of splintering wood when the boards blocking the window seemed to explode suddenly, and a dark, tall figure came shooting into the room, with a roar of both fury and victory. Gasping with shock, Ochre and Melody turned around. To Ochre’s horror, the dark creature was standing in front of him, his bat-like face only inches from his own. Ochre could have sworn it was smiling at him. A very cruel, too human smile, despite those over-size fangs protruding from each side of its mouth.
Ochre was too frozen to react immediately to the monster’s presence. When he did react, it was to try to punch its ugly-looking face. The creature caught his fist a split second before it connected. Ochre thought the bones of his hand were being crushed under the pressure applied to it. He saw the huge mouth opening larger still and dangerously approaching his exposed forearm. In desperation, he pulled hard on his arm, and succeeded in freeing himself. The fangs managed to tear through his sleeve and Ochre felt the pain as they grazed deep into his skin. He grunted and stepped back to escape, and that left him open to the creature’s next blow; he saw the sharp nails coming at him once again. He tried to avoid them, and felt the burning sensation as the claws slashed at his back, tearing right through his vest, shirt, and deeply into his skin. Ochre cried out in pain, and nearly fell to his knees.
He was at the mercy of the creature, who only gave him one brutal shove, so fast that he wasn’t able to avoid it. That sent Ochre against the railing of the stair behind him. It creaked loudly, and broke under the pressure.
With a cry of surprise, Ochre toppled over into the stairwell. His shoulders connected roughly with the first few treads, which broke his fall, but they gave way under his weight. He found himself falling again, his body passing through rotten wooden boards, unable to stop himself. He made a desperate effort to stay conscious, despite the punishing treatment imposed on his body.
Ochre finally hit the ground, with less force than he should have, considering the height he had fallen, but still, he was out of breath, out of strength, his body hurting all over and his consciousness nearly gone.
The second she had seen Ochre falling into the staircase, Melody had run to look down, oblivious of the creature’s presence, so concerned was she for the captain’s well-being. She had seen his terrible fall, with eyes opened wide with horror, and now, she was looking at him, as he was lying down there, surrounded and covered by dust and by the broken pieces of the stairs. He wasn’t moving. Her heart skipped a beat, thinking that he might be dead.
She turned around suddenly, hearing the shuffle of steps coming her way. She had not forgotten the creature, as she was horribly aware that she was now facing it alone. It was so close to her, staring at her with eyes reduced to a thin line, and it was approaching closer still. Her heart racing with fear, Melody backed away, looking desperately around to find a weapon or a way to escape. It seemed so hopeless.
Don’t be afraid…
The voice seemed to come from within her own mind. Melody thought she had dreamed it. She shook her head, nervously, stepping away as the creature approached her. It wasn’t making any threatening gesture; it was just trying to get to her.
“Keep away,” she warned, out of ways to defend herself.
The creature stopped, and simply looked at her. It knows I can’t go anywhere, a distraught Melody thought, unable to get her eyes away from it. She saw a dark winged arm straightening in her direction, and a sharp-nailed hand reaching to her, into an almost pleading gesture.
I won’t hurt you… Please don’t be afraid.
She looked in complete incredulity at the creature. It couldn’t be. That voice inside her head… That whispering, very soft and quiet voice addressing her… That couldn’t be coming from that horrible creature that had just hurt Captain Ochre… It took just one step in her direction.
A stunned Melody stared in incomprehension at the creature whose deformed mouth had just pronounced her name. No, it was not only in her head; this time, its voice had made itself heard too. It was a deep, gravelly voice, with a strange echo to it, seeming to speak with great difficulty. And yet, at the same time, the voice in her head was so different, soft, with a caring, non-threatening tone.
The creature had approached again, and she didn’t back away. Her eyes were riveted on the burning red eyes set on her. She was unable to tear her eyes away, losing herself in those haunting eyes, drowning in them. They were mesmerizing her.
“Come with me… Don’t be afraid.”
Melody had reached the point where she couldn’t tell if it was the creature calling to her or the voice in her head. This time, however, she thought she had recognised it. She thought it was familiar, but she couldn’t think of where she had heard it. She gave only one blink of perplexity as the creature stepped closer; she stayed where she was, unable to move.
The whisper she uttered seemed to have a strange effect. Through a haze that thickened second by second, she saw the creature’s features change quickly and drastically, as it approached her, coming nearer… By the time the creature was in front of her, only inches away, it was completely different, and she found herself gazing, without any reaction, into the deep black eyes of Archibald Leach.
Of course… That wasn’t a coincidence after all…
“You don’t have to be afraid, my love. I would never hurt you…” The words were a promise that seemed to leave Melody completely unresponsive. She didn’t move when he leaned toward her, his face close to hers. She was still spellbound by the fire in his eyes. His lips caressed hers, timidly at first, then more insistently. She found herself responding to the kiss, despite herself. She was absolutely unable to resist, and could only comply.
When their lips parted, Melody found herself staggering, apparently dazed. She fought desperately to stay conscious, to understand what was going on, but found it very difficult. She would have fallen to the floor, if Leach had not caught her in time, and gathered her frail form into his strong arms.
“You’re safe with me,” his voice told her gently. “I won’t leave you. I’ve been waiting for you too long…”
With that, unable to cling to consciousness any longer, Melody let her mind fall into a pool of complete and merciful darkness.
Standing in front of the French window and looking out into the night, Captain Scarlet checked his watch once more and grumbled his discontent. Captain Ochre and Melody Angel should have been back a long time ago, but they hadn’t showed their faces, yet. He was wondering why they were so late.
“You shouldn’t worry like that. I’m sure there’s nothing wrong.”
Scarlet pricked his ears, hearing the soft voice behind him. Rhapsody had got out of bed, and putting on her robe and slippers, came to join him at his observation post. He felt her hand reaching for his tense shoulder muscles. He shrugged at her remark.
“No,” he admitted, “there’s probably nothing wrong. But I can’t help feeling worried.” He squeezed the hand that rested on his shoulder, then turned around to pull the young woman closer to him. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
“I thought you went back to your room ages ago,” she answered.
Scarlet nodded. Neither of them wanted to let either Ochre or Melody find out about their special relationship. So, although he would have preferred to stay with his beloved Angel, Scarlet had slipped away, back to his room, after spending some precious moments with her.
“I did, but you know me, I couldn’t sleep. So I started playing solitaire, until Rick and Mag came back.”
“And when they didn’t come back, you started to worry, and came back here to check on me.” Rhapsody smiled lightly. “That’s what I love most about you, you’re always full of concern for everyone.”
“That’s really what you love most about me?” he asked naughtily, leaning to kiss her on the forehead.
“Let’s say it’s one of the things I love most about you.” She paused a second. “Paul, really, don’t worry about Rick and Mag. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation why they haven’t come back yet.”
“I can think of one, yes, but…”
“You’re still clinging to that little theory of yours about them?”
“Seeing the present development, more than ever. They could have stopped somewhere to… mmm… get to know each other better?”
“Well, you may be right, after all,” Rhapsody conceded, nodding with an amused glitter in her eyes. “Still… they would make such an odd couple.”
Scarlet nodded at that remark. Stranger things have happened, he mused to himself.
“You’d better get some sleep,” he gently admonished the Angel pilot. “Didn’t you tell me you wanted to get up early in the morning?”
“Would you care to tuck me in, then?” she asked, a mischievous smile playing upon her lips.
“Okay. But I’ll only tuck you in,” Scarlet smiled. “Rick and Mag can’t be very long now. We wouldn’t want them to find us in a… shall we say, a ‘compromising position’?”
“You really have a way of saying things, Captain Scarlet!” Rhapsody answered with a chuckle. She turned toward the bed, his arm around her shoulders. “All right, I’ll behave, then.”
They moved away from the window and had only walked a few feet when a thundering, crashing sound made them turn suddenly. The window had smashed, and a rain of glass and wood was now falling into the room. Instinct drove Scarlet to put himself between the debris and Rhapsody, as he pushed both of them to dive over to the other side of the bed, to keep clear of the falling glass. He glanced up just as a tall, dark figure stepped into the room, in the wake of the explosion.
Leaving a surprised Rhapsody in hiding, Scarlet rolled out and quickly sprang to his feet, ready to face whoever had come crashing down like that into the room.
He wasn’t ready, however, for the vision of horror that presented itself to him.
He stood in complete stunned shock and silence as he found himself facing the strangest-looking creature he could have imagined. It was as if something akin to a demon was standing there in the room; it was entirely black, with leathery skin, clawed hands, winged arms and talon feet. It had a face that reminded Scarlet of some kind of hybrid of a human and a bat, with very long and sharp fangs coming out of his mouth.
Almost despite himself, the earlier conversation of the evening flashed into Scarlet’s mind, and he instantly suspected what this creature could be.
“Give the woman to me and you’ll live!”
The fact that the demon was able to speak, with that deep, echoing voice, absolutely stunned Scarlet. And that it would ask for Rhapsody was even more surprising. Not to mention revolting. Scarlet didn’t answer the threat; instead, he reached to grab the floor lamp standing next to him, knocked off the shade and the bulb inside, and used it like a weapon to keep the creature at bay. He had no intention of acceding to its demands.
The bat-like creature growled; there seemed to be some satisfaction in its terrifying face as it stared ominously at the determined features of the man defying it.
So he has chosen to fight…
Rhapsody had raised her head from behind the bed to check on what was going on; she gasped in horror when she saw her fiancé facing an extraordinary and fierce-looking creature that seemed to come straight from Hell.
“My God, Paul… What is that –”
“Stay where you are, Dianne!” Scarlet warned her, not taking his eyes off the creature. “I won’t let this thing near you!”
The ghost of a smile crossed the creature’s thin, nearly non-existent lips. Despite the resolve behind the man’s tone, it could feel that he was unsure, and certainly scared to face this nameless enemy; he couldn’t even begin to understand where it came from. However, he was standing his ground, and the creature couldn’t help admiring the man’s courage. He simply had no idea how pathetic and futile his resistance would be.
With a roar, the demon leaped at his opponent, trying to reach him; it was surprised when the man made a move it had not anticipated, and actually succeeded in using the post to hit it once over the head, and then straight into its right side. Scarlet expertly turned the lamp-stand in his hands, swiftly using it to sweep the creature off its feet. It fell heavily to the glass-covered floor, with a dissatisfied grunt.
“Dianne! The door, quick!”
Rhapsody was torn between giving in to her natural and understandable fear of facing this unknown threat, and her desire to stay and somehow help the man she loved. She soon realised that it was an impossible thing to do, and that, most probably, his concern for her would only hinder Scarlet’s efforts to resist and subdue the creature. She scrambled to her feet and ran toward the closed door.
The creature saw her escape attempt; it picked up the stool in front of the dresser and threw it in her direction. It caught her in the legs and sent her sprawling on the floor, with a pained cry, clutching at her left ankle.
Seeing her lying there, with her face creased with pain, and apparently unable to get away, Scarlet became livid with anger and came in to attack the demon, still on the floor.
The creature had recovered from its surprise. It understood, upon witnessing Scarlet’s moves, that he wasn’t facing ordinary prey. A warrior, it realised instantly. And a skilled one. It had underestimated him. It wouldn’t make the same mistake again, and wouldn’t give him the opportunity to strike again.
A clawed hand caught the lamp-stand Scarlet was swinging and brutally tore it from his hands. The creature was up on its feet, unbelievably quickly, and was now on the man, crashing him to the ground, and pinning him there with all its weight. Claws and talons ripped through Scarlet’s clothes and flesh, causing him fiery pain, as he tried to keep the ugly face away from his own. He could see the creature was going for his throat.
“Mortal, I haven’t fed tonight, and I hunger. If not the woman’s blood, yours will do!”
The cavernous, victorious voice had an ominous ring to it. Its rather unpleasant and deadly intents were painfully evident. Despite all his efforts, Scarlet couldn’t free himself from the creature’s grip, and couldn’t even repel it; it was far too strong. With an intense growl, the ugly head suddenly plunged toward his neck. He felt the long, sharp fangs closing on his jugular, piercing his skin, biting and tearing deep into his flesh with untold savagery. Under the excruciating pain, Scarlet let out a brief, agonised cry, that quickly changed to a moaning grunt. Blood instantly rushed out of the large wound punctured in the vital vein, and the demon greedily gorged itself on the life-giving substance.
Rhapsody, who had witnessed the creature’s attack on Scarlet and heard its menacing words, went deadly pale with horror and alarm when saw its jaws open unbelievably wide to close on her fiancé’s neck, stifling his cry of pain in his throat. With growing concern and terror, she saw Scarlet’s hopeless attempts to fight the creature off him, with no more success than if he had been a mere child trying to repel a giant’s assault. The demon wasn’t going to let go of its victim, imprisoning him in a deadly hold, quickly sucking the life out of him. Scarlet’s strength was ebbing dangerously fast; his grunts of pain were growing weaker by the second, at the same rate as his resistance. She saw his hand desperately trying to grasp his foe, in order to push him back, but gradually slipping from it.
Rhapsody felt the panic flowing into her heart. That thing was killing Paul. She had to do something, and do it quickly, while the creature, intent on its gory repast, seemed to have forgotten about her. Not thinking about it twice, she grabbed the stool and, forcing herself to forget about her injured ankle, she dragged herself up and she stormed at the demon, swinging the improvised weapon right onto its back, as hard as she was able to, breaking it in pieces. Adrenaline seemed to help her, as the results were much more successful than she had hoped for. With a shriek, the creature let go of its hold and fell heavily to the floor, face first, clear of its prey. It stayed there, apparently stunned, while a bewildered Rhapsody, aware that it couldn’t be for long, fell to her knees, next to a trembling Scarlet. She looked with shock and horror at his now deathly pale face; his bloodless lips were shivering uncontrollably, and the ugly-looking wound on his neck, where the creature had bitten him, was bleeding profusely.
“Paul… Oh my God, please, answer me!”
He obviously couldn’t speak, but she felt his hand closing on hers, squeezing it as strongly as he could. But that was all he could do with the remainder of his strength, and she could feel it was threatening to leave him fast.
“Please, hang on,” Rhapsody urged him. “We’ve got to –” A loud screech made her look in the direction of the vampire creature, which was raising itself to its knees. “We have to get out of here,” she continued quickly in a hushed tone. “I can’t carry you! Get up, please!”
Scarlet’s eyelids fluttered; her words were reaching his misted mind, but he couldn’t speak. He was too weak, and his throat injury too deep. He wanted to tell her to leave him, to get out and save herself. Knowing that she wouldn’t, he tried to get up from where he was lying, Rhapsody doing her best to support him; but it was hopeless.
The creature raised its head and let out a victorious roar, as if defying the skies. It felt suddenly so intensely alive, as if the soldier’s blood had revived him, as no other blood had done before. It was a strange, powerful sensation that was now running into its own bloodstream, so unlike any others he had felt during previous hunts. The vampire felt uncommonly good, and satisfied.
It turned its ugly head to look at the young woman kneeling near Scarlet; the latter had somehow succeeded in dragging himself up the side of the bed to a precarious sitting position. The soldier himself wasn’t a threat anymore. He was far too weak now. As for the woman…
Rhapsody’s eyes opened wide upon seeing the creature staring right at them, blood dripping from the corner of its mouth. It growled deeply, and gathered itself ready to pounce. Paul will never be able to fend it off, she realised. He would be killed within seconds.
Rhapsody took up what was left of her stool, in order to fight off the creature, her eyes flashing with a mixture of fear and determination. She was going to fight it, no matter how terrified she was of it.
“Keep away from him!” she yelled with anger, keeping close to her fallen companion, ready to defend him at any cost.
She didn’t have the time to move, as the creature’s stealthy form was already mere inches away, its clawed hand shoving her useless weapon aside and sending it flying to the other side of the room. Almost as quickly, it had grabbed her by the arms and was forcing her up on her feet. Unable to move, paralysed with terror, she found herself staring into the bat-like face. She couldn’t keep her eyes from the blood-stained fangs.
“Your loyalty and courage do you honour, woman!” the creature’s growling voice told her. “But you cannot hope to escape me. Yet, you are fortunate that I’m replete tonight.” Rhapsody was fully expecting the fangs to go straight for her throat; one of the clawed hands released her arm and swiftly slapped her across the face, with such strength that it instantly knocked her senseless. She sprawled in the arms of the creature, which lifted her with great ease.
The vampire looked down at the soldier, half-lying on the floor, and clutching the bed sheet, trying desperately to hang on to what was left of his consciousness, and rolling angry and dismayed eyes in the direction of the thing that was now holding the woman he loved. He tried to speak, but that mere effort was already asking too much of him. The vampire nodded.
“I expect we’ll be seeing each other soon, warrior.” With that, it turned its back on the weakening Scarlet and walked toward the French window.
Understanding that it was going to leave, taking Rhapsody with it, the Spectrum captain made one last supreme effort to stop it. But he had already exhausted all that was left of strength in his body; the mist covering his eyes thickened, as he saw the creature reaching the balcony and leaping from it. That was the last thing he saw, before his hand let go of the bed sheet and he slid to the floor, unconscious.
Limping heavily, his body hurting all over, a grateful Captain Ochre was finally approaching his goal. Through the fog, now thinner than it had been earlier that night, he could see the light of Olivia’s inn, bidding him welcome, some yards in front of him. He had doubted, during the last moments of his journey back, that he would be able to reach it, as he was expecting the vampire-like creature to appear from behind and attack to finish him off. He was thankful that it didn’t happen, but it didn’t stop him from being deadly concerned for Melody’s fate.
When he had woken up from his forced slumber, he had found out that the creature had fled, taking the Angel with it; he had a pretty good idea where it had taken her, as he had heard some of the words that had been exchanged at the top of the windmill, between Melody and the creature. But he had no chance of rescuing her all by himself. He needed help desperately. His communicator gone during the fight with the creature, he then had dragged himself back to the inn.
Now this is strange, he reflected as he neared the house. There were many lights at the window, far more that he would have expected to see. A dreadful feeling insinuated itself into his mind. And if something had happened…?
He hurried his steps, praying he was wrong. Reaching the door, he found it wasn’t locked, so he simply pushed it. The hall was lit, but nobody was there. Same as the living room, that Ochre could see, beyond the giant arch. That was unsettling. Ochre looked up the stairs. There was light too, on the second floor. He climbed the stairs as fast as he could, and directed his pace toward the east wing, where the two rooms that had been assigned to himself and his three colleagues were. He saw the light through the open door of the girls’ room and rushed toward it.
He stopped at the doorway; the room itself seemed to have been the site of a violent fight, judging by the debris lying everywhere. But that wasn’t what shocked Ochre the most. His eyes went wide with bewildered surprise at the scene he discovered, in the middle of it all.
Scarlet was lying on the floor, on his back, his face pale as death itself, with a deep, ugly-looking injury in his neck. Olivia Merritt knelt by his side, holding a wooden stake in her hand, keeping it steady upon the man’s chest. In her other hand, she had a mallet, ready to strike. Ochre’s anger and worry raised one degree at the realisation of what she was preparing to do.
“You crazy woman! Keep away from him!” he yelled so forcefully that it made her jump in surprise, freezing her instantly. “Don’t you hurt him!”
He walked briskly into the room and, enraged, snatched both stake and mallet out of Olivia’s hands, throwing them to the other side of the room. She blinked at him, as if not understanding what he was doing, and saw the concern in his eyes as he dropped to his knees by the unconscious Scarlet’s side, and searched for a pulse in his wrist.
“You’re completely nuts!” he shouted again at Olivia, his eyes flashing. “He’s still alive, and you were trying to –”
“You don’t understand, Mister Fraser,” she protested at that moment. “He’s already dead, he –”
“I’ve heard that one before!” Ochre snapped. “Listen, lady, I don’t have that many friends, and I won’t let anything happen to this one, do you hear me?”
She sighed. “Mister Fraser… Rick… Your ‘friend’ may not be that friendly toward you before long. I was only trying to do what must be done in his case…”
“I know what you were trying to do!” Ochre deadpanned. “You wanted to give him ‘eternal redemption’. I doubt it would work.” But then again, he wasn’t willing to let her try to find out. He leaned toward Scarlet, checked the gravity of his wound and winced. The blood was still fresh on it, although it didn’t seem to be bleeding as heavily as before, as the state of the room was leading him to believe. “When did this happen?” he asked hastily, looking at Olivia.
“I… I don’t know exactly. An hour ago, maybe… I heard a commotion and I came in here, to find him… like this.”
Ochre looked more closely at Scarlet’s injury, with growing concern. An hour ago? The wound showed no sign of starting to heal yet…
“Dianne. Where’s Dianne?”
“I… I don’t know. Rick, I –”
A moaning sound interrupted Olivia before she could start her explanation and both she and Ochre looked down, as Scarlet began to stir. He tiredly opened his eyes, and tried to move, but Ochre stopped him in mid-movement. “Stay calm, Paul. You’re in no shape to move…” He turned to the woman at his side. “Olivia, do you have some sterilised bandages around? Disinfectant, antiseptic, that sort of thing?”
“Really, Rick, I think that would be useless –”
“Just get them!” Ochre ordered her angrily. “I don’t care what you say, he needs our help, and that’s just what we’ll give him!”
Olivia got up and disappeared through the door.
Ochre leaned over Scarlet once more. “Here, buddy, let me help you.” He took Scarlet under his arms and heaved him up from the floor, forcing a grunt from his lips. Ochre murmured a bashful apology and, as carefully as possible, dragged his friend, onto the bed where he helped him get comfortable. Scarlet’s head fell weakly onto the pillow, and his hand reached heavily for his wounded throat. He was obviously forcing his eyes to stay open. He looked around, as if searching for something to focus on, then stared straight at Ochre, before closing his eyes. The American captain swallowed hard. His own sorry condition had now been completely forgotten. His friend needed help more than he did himself.
Olivia quickly came back, carrying a medical kit, some sterilised bandages, and a bowl of water. She put that all down on the table next to the bed, and Ochre didn’t waste any time in putting this into good use, muttering his thanks to the woman.
“Where are the servants?” he asked her, with less edge in his tone.
“They’re sleeping in the other wing. It’s probable that they didn’t hear anything from there. Do you want me to get them or –”
“No. Nobody else in here but you and me, you hear? And I think you agree with me about that, right?”
There was an accusation in Ochre’s voice that didn’t go unnoticed by Olivia. She didn’t know Ochre’s reasons for such secrecy, but she didn’t protest, and that didn’t surprise the Spectrum captain. To her credit, and despite her previous protests and concerns, she helped him tend to the wounded man’s injury. A shivering Scarlet was drifting in and out of consciousness; he barely reacted when Ochre cleaned the deep wound in his throat, before covering it with a sterilised dressing, the first layers of which were quickly soaked with blood. It was only when they had finished that Scarlet opened his eyes once more, and tried to get up, startling a still concerned Olivia.
“Easy, Paul,” Ochre told his friend, gently pushing him back onto the bed. “Don’t move. You’re very weak.”
“Dianne…” Scarlet’s voice was so weak, nothing more than a murmur, and barely recognisable. It obviously was an effort for him to speak. “That thing has her…”
Ochre nodded. That much he had guessed. “He has Mag too,” he answered gloomily. “But I was luckier than you, and escaped him. Barely.”
Scarlet looked at his friend, took note of his sorry state, bruises, cuts, and ripped clothes. He forced himself to sit up. The effort made him wince. A red dot appeared in the centre on the bandage covering his throat, right where the wound was. He groaned and reached for his throat. “It bit me…” His eyes opened with disbelief. He turned toward Olivia, seated on the bed, still staring at him with concern – and some fear. “Vampire…” Scarlet murmured, remembering how the creature had gorged itself on his blood.
“Looks like it, yeah,” Ochre noted, his expression still grim. “And I’ve got a pretty good idea where that ugly bastard came from…” He looked at the woman, accusation in his eyes. She knew from the beginning; seeing how she had tried to drive that stake into Scarlet’s heart, it was obvious what could have been motivating her to do so. She was now looking uncomfortable, and plainly guilty. “That was your friend Leach, wasn’t it? He transformed into that thing…”
She started to protest. “How can you make such an accusation –”
“Cut the crap, Olivia. I know it’s him!” Ochre interrupted her angrily. “I heard the creature speak to Mag, when it attacked us. She called his name. All that talk about ‘vampires’ during the evening… And he’s supposed to be an ‘expert’. Well, no wonder! He’s a blood-sucking vampire himself, and you knew it, from the beginning!”
“Really, this is absolutely ridiculous…”
“I know it sounds crazy, and I have trouble believing it myself, but there’s no denying the evidence! And I’ve seen enough strange things in my life not to deny the truth, even if it seems impossible! So don’t take me for a fool, Olivia! ’Cause I sure as hell am not!”
She sighed, giving up. “Yes,” she admitted, “yes, you’re right. Archie is… that creature. He is a vampire.”
“And you knew.”
“Yes. Yes, I knew. I’m sorry. I didn’t think he would be any threat to anyone. I thought that Archie had long overcome his hunger for blood.”
“You thought what?”
“It’s been so many years since he had felt the need to feed,” Olivia explained. “When I first met him – when Harlan introduced us – Archie was already desperately fighting against the hunger. I thought he had beaten it, and that he was now living a semblance of normal life. I guess it must not be that easy to forget and keep clear, after centuries of preying on human blood.”
“Centuries?” a disbelieving Ochre repeated, frowning.
“Centuries, Mister Fraser. As he had said himself, Archie is much older than he appears. He was born in 1781. It was during the Napoleonic wars that he became a vampire.”
Ochre scowled, hearing that. Of course, he would never have imagined such a thing. “You knew all that,” he accused Olivia. “You knew, and you invited us and Dianne – your cousin – to spend a few here. What were you planning to do, give your ‘friend’ some new blood to feed on?”
She gasped in outrage. “Mister Fraser, what do you take me for? I never intended any harm to any of you – especially not Dianne. Archie wasn’t even around when I made this invitation! I told you, I never thought Archie would threaten anyone. I was convinced that he was cured. There has been no ‘incident’ around these parts for years. And Archie never told me that he had felt the hunger again.”
“You really expected him to tell you about it?” Ochre scoffed loudly.
“He always confided in me. No matter what you think of him, Mister Fraser, we’re friends. He knew he could count on me. I was always there to help him.”
“I bet. And you’re certainly his accomplice. You were always willing to cover for him. That porphyria story you gave us, with him… That was a lie.”
“The condition exists, Rick. Archie came up with that excuse many years ago, to explain his appearance, and the fact that he never went out into the sun, and kept to a nocturnal life.”
“Perfect excuse…” moaned Scarlet. He winced again. Speaking was such a stress on his injured throat. He groaned, and then heaved himself up from the bed, swinging his legs over the side, with the obvious intention of getting up. Ochre protested loudly.
“What do you think you’re doing? You can’t get up! You’ve lost too much blood, you need to rest!”
“Have to… help Dianne and Mag,” Scarlet answered in a murmur.
“Don’t worry, I don’t intend to abandon them. I think I know where to find them. But you’re in no shape to come with me.” Ochre stared at Olivia for a brief second. “Would you mind checking the door, Olivia? I thought I heard a sound…”
She complied, even though she had not heard anything and went out the door. As soon as she was out of earshot, Ochre put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Your wound isn’t healing properly,” he said, stressing the last word, making it painfully clear that he was referring to Scarlet’s special abilities. “I checked,” he added in a lower voice. “Your retrometabolism seems to be working, otherwise you would have bled to death, but it doesn’t look like it’s working as fast as it should… Maybe it’s because of the unique circumstances of this monster’s attack, I don’t know…”
“Doesn’t matter…” Scarlet said obstinately.
Ochre clicked his tongue with irritation. “Don’t be so stubborn, Paul,” he said more roughly than he intended to. “That monster nearly tore your throat out. You know you must rest, and get your strength back.”
“Not while Dianne and Mag… are in danger,” Scarlet insisted.
“There’s nobody in sight, Rick,” Olivia then said, coming back into the room. “The servants must still be sleeping.” She didn’t hear most of the two men’s conversation, just the last words, that plainly told her that Ochre was trying to convince his friend to stay put. She couldn’t agree more. “You must listen to your friend, Paul. You can’t go anywhere.” She shook her head. “I’m surprised that you’re even alive, let alone conscious. This is unprecedented…”
“So, you don’t want to stick that stake through his heart, now?” Ochre asked bitterly.
“I never wanted to hurt him, Rick. I just was concerned that he… well…”
“That he would become a vampire, too, right?”
“Yes. That’s how it happened with Archie, centuries ago. In the field of battle, by the bite of a Russian vampire… It’s called the ‘vampire’s kiss’. Of course the victim has to die to become a vampire himself.”
“Well, he’s far from dead, as you can see,” Ochre scowled.
“I’m going,” Scarlet stubbornly insisted. Before Ochre could utter another protest, he turned toward Olivia. “Where… would that monster have taken them?”
“My guess would be his house,” Ochre stated.
Olivia nodded. “Yes, that would be more than likely. But, Paul, you must listen to me: even if you had escaped death by the vampire’s kiss, you’re not out of danger yet. You have been in contact with the vampire. He has wounded you. Which means he may be able to take control of you and use you as his minion…”
“He’s welcome to try…” Scarlet replied in an ominous tone, getting to his unsteady feet.
“You shouldn’t take this too lightly,” Olivia insisted. “And, I don’t mean to sound pessimistic or anything, but it’s very possible that both Dianne and Mag are already… beyond any help.”
Scarlet turned around quickly to address her a very cold stare. “Don’t ever… say that!” he snapped at her, although with great difficulty.
“Easy now, Paul,” Ochre told him, putting a reassuring hand on his colleague’s shoulder. He was concerned that he would stress himself needlessly, and use up his still-returning strength. He could understand his friend’s worries, as he shared them. And Olivia’s declarations weren’t helping any.
Scarlet turned to face him. To Ochre, he appeared even paler than before. “They’ll be all right… The vampire… said he hadn’t fed yet, before attacking me… And after… he said to Dianne… that he was replete for tonight.”
The relief was fairly apparent on Ochre’s face. He let out a deep sigh. The girls have to be okay, then. But for how long?
“We can’t wait much longer,” he stated gloomily. “We have to go search for them right now. At Leach’s house. Shouldn’t we call the police…?”
“Would they… believe us?” Scarlet replied. “And… is there any chance… they’ll arrive in time?”
Ochre nodded his understanding. That last statement would also apply to Spectrum, he realised. Considering the circumstances, he and Scarlet wouldn’t dare call for back-up. By the time they had reported the incident, including the savage attack Scarlet had been victim of, it was possible that Colonel White – provided he believed them – would forbid them to go alone to the assailant’s house, and, on the contrary, wait for help to arrive. That would be a terrible waste of time, before Spectrum agents showed up, and by then, it might be too late for both Rhapsody and Melody.
That was a risk neither of the captains was willing to take.
Ochre squeezed his colleague’s shoulder, staring him right in the eyes. He could see they had followed the same line of thought, and that they had reached the same decision.
“You’re sure you’re up to it?” Ochre asked, still concerned by Scarlet’s present weakened state.
His friend glared fiercely. “Try and stop me,” he replied, his voice still faint, but carrying the same determination that Ochre knew so well. The American captain nodded, knowing better than to try again to convince Scarlet to stay behind.
“I’ll be driving, then.”
The room was very comfortable, and tastefully decorated with vibrant colours, expensive furniture, and beautiful paintings and other accessories. The only odd thing about it was that all the glass in the windows had been painted black, and covered with thick velvet curtains. Like all the windows of the house, she had been told. By day, the sun would never be able to enter any rooms. By night, even the stars and the moon were inaccessible.
Seated next to the bed, a very concerned Melody was checking for the nth time on Rhapsody, lying there, still unconscious. The English Angel had been like this since she had been brought in, and had still not made any movement that would have indicated that she was about to wake up. She didn’t appear that hurt, except for the large bruise under her eye, but Melody couldn’t help worrying. She didn’t know what might have been done to her friend.
“Do not concern yourself. I told you, I didn’t harm her.” It was as if Melody’s apprehensive thought had been voiced out loud and heard. The gentle tone used by her ‘host’, standing a few feet away, by the closed door, didn’t impress her much. She stared at him furiously. There was only coldness in her dark eyes.
“Oh yeah? What about that shiner she has? You’re gonna tell me she did it all by herself, by colliding with a door?”
Archibald Leach took a few steps in the young woman’s direction; seeing her suddenly shudder at his approach and getting ready to put some distance between them, he stopped. “I regret to say I was forced to insist that she came. She would not have followed me willingly.”
“Unlike me, you mean,” Melody growled, glaring daggers at him. “I swear, if you hypnotise me to follow you again –”
“I have already promised you that I won’t.”
Melody glared briefly at him, then turned her attention back to Rhapsody; she gently stroked her friend’s hair, hoping she would regain her senses. Still, no movement. “You didn’t have to hit her that hard,” she murmured. “What do you want with her?”
“I thought she would keep you company.”
“And what do you want with me?” Melody answered, her head snapping in his direction. “I still don’t understand what your interest in me is.”
The cold expression of his eyes softened drastically. “You really have no idea?” he asked, his voice still gentle.
Melody’s eyes trembled. All she knew was that a bat-like creature had attacked Rick and herself in the cemetery, and then in the windmill. That it had sent Rick falling down into the windmill staircase, right through the steps, and that she didn’t even know if he was still alive. That the creature turned out to be a metamorphosed Archibald Leach, who had reverted to his human appearance, that he had somehow entranced her to the point where she wasn’t even able to resist him, and had finally lost consciousness. He had brought her here, to this room, where she had awakened, free of his mesmerising power, but a prisoner of these golden walls, and seeing not a trace of her abductor. It had not been that long before Leach had come back, this time carrying the unconscious Rhapsody. Melody could only guess what Leach had done to Captain Scarlet in order to get to the young red-haired woman. That wasn’t a reassuring thought.
And even less reassuring was the uncertainty of her situation, and what this… creature could want out of her.
Because it was fairly evident he wasn’t even human.
“You’re a vampire,” she stated callously.
He nodded. “That much is true.”
“I’m not the best of detectives, but considering the conversation we had at the inn earlier, I think that’s obvious.”
“Does that change your opinion of me?”
She scoffed, derisively. “Why, I wonder? You attacked my friends and myself, with the intention of sucking the blood out of us!”
“I do not intend to hurt you.”
“What about my friends? What about Rick, who you sent falling to his death down that staircase? And what did you do to Paul?”
He didn’t answer. That was a good indication that something had indeed happened to Scarlet. Melody shivered, when she saw the man approaching her. She stood up quickly, and he stopped again. He tilted his head to one side, examining her.
“Why did your friend Fraser call you – ‘Melody’?” he asked with curiosity, his voice ever so soft.
“It’s a nickname, nothing more,” she answered quickly. “Why should it concern you?”
“I like it. ‘Melody’. That’s even more charming than ‘Magnolia’.”
“Don’t try to sweet-talk your way out of this mess, buster!” she answered angrily. “I don’t take it too kindly when my friends and I are under attack! Now I insist that you let me go, or –”
“Sadly, I can’t do that.”
“You mean that you don’t want to do that.”
He nodded. “Yes. That would be more appropriate.” Seeing the still defiant and cold stare of the young woman, Leach sighed heavily, and turned away to walk toward the window. He drew away the drapes a little, showing the black-painted window panes. He gestured toward them. “See this, Melody. For the last three hundred years, I haven’t been able to see the blue sky, or one single sunrise, with my own eyes. I didn’t choose it, I was forced into it. The night is my eternal kingdom. This is my life. This is my curse. And the cruellest irony of it all is that I’m fated to live it alone. With no one to share it with.” He looked back at her, his eyes shaky. “At least, that was what I thought, until tonight… Until I saw you.” He came back to her. This time, she didn’t back away. For that, he was grateful. “I don’t know if it was fate that compelled me to come back from England a couple of days earlier, or if it was behind my visit to Olivia’s house tonight. But… the second I heard your voice, and set eyes on you… I knew. I knew with absolute certainty, that you were there for me.” He was close enough to reach and try to caress her cheek, but she stepped back. No. Too soon, yet, he realised.
“Why me?” she asked, still suspicious and defiant toward him. “What is it with me that you find me so damned interesting?”
He sighed again, shaking his head, with a sad expression on his face, and moved away, quietly. “Of course, you wouldn’t know,” he said with an almost whispering voice, stopping just in front of the window. “You’re my Sabina, come back to life.”
“What?” Melody murmured in disbelief. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re the living image of my beloved Sabina,” he explained, turning to face her. “She was a slave girl on a cotton farm in Georgia, in the 18th century. The unacknowledged daughter of the owner, with whom I had business interests. I was in love with her, and never saw her as a slave. I wanted to take her back to England with me, give her her freedom and marry her…”
Leach’s voice was shaking, as he spoke quickly, persuasively. He took a step toward Melody, but again, she drew back. He could see she was still very afraid of him, although she was trying her best not to show it. He stopped his approach. “I wasn’t able to do it. The Napoleonic wars erupted and I was called to arms. It was during the Russian campaign that I… was attacked by a vampire, and became one myself.”
Melody was feeling somehow awkward hearing all this. It was a sad story, and she was wondering how much of this was the truth. She had no reason to believe that Leach was lying to her – if only in order to make her feel sorry for him. Which, actually, was on the verge of working. But it didn’t seem to her that he was lying.
“I didn’t lose hope, altogether,” Leach continued. “I thought that wouldn’t make a difference to her, that our love was strong enough to overcome it. I… found a way back to Georgia. In the hold of a merchant ship. I stayed there for the long trip across the ocean. It had been many years since my departure, and when I finally arrived in Atlanta, and went to the farm…” He hesitated. Obviously, it was a painful memory for him. His eyes were trembling; he swallowed hard, before turning away from Melody, to hide his distress. “…I discovered Sabina had been dead for almost a year, killed by the owner’s legitimate daughter, her own half-sister. She had been jealous of Sabina because of my interest for her. So she had her flogged to death… And her father – father to both of them – he stood there watching, and did nothing to stop this abomination!”
Leach’s voice had taken an ominous, almost growling tone, that reminded Melody of the creature she had encountered earlier – the demon he was able to transform into. Almost despite herself, the young woman stepped back, when he looked again in her direction. The flash of anger in his dark eyes, now moist with the pain inside his heart, matched his voice. She couldn’t help feeling threatened.
“I killed them!” he lashed out. “Every last member of that damnable family! The father, his wife, his son… his whore of a daughter. All the people in the house! I killed every last one of them, and set their property on fire! I couldn’t let them get away with killing my beloved Sabina! I had to avenge her cruel death!”
“By killing innocent people?” Melody replied, trying to keep herself from stammering from the shock of hearing that revelation. “Surely they didn’t all deserve that you –”
“No one was innocent!” he interrupted her angrily, walking quickly in her direction. “They deserved everything they got! They let my Sabina die! They did nothing to save her! They couldn’t escape my righteous anger!” Melody retreated, keeping her eyes on him, but he didn’t stop this time. She stumbled against a small table, knocked over the flowerpot standing on it, sending it crashing to the floor, and found herself backed against a wall, unable to escape. Leach was right in front of her, only inches away, and she was gazing deep into his dark, furious eyes. She could read madness in them. Whether this madness was due to his particular condition, or to the painful memory of his long-lost love, she couldn’t tell. All she was certain about was that she was in danger.
The ominous glimmer in his eyes softened a little, but did not entirely disappear. He reached for her cheek, and she shivered when he caressed it. His voice became a gentle murmur.
“You, more than anybody else, should understand that, Magnolia… Melody. I couldn’t bear the thought of my love being taken away from me, so cruelly… But now, she’s been given back to me. You have been given back to me. And I do intend to make up for all those lost centuries I spent all alone, without you.”
His touch was warm, contrary to what she would have believed of him. Up close like this, she also noticed how his face had lost some of its earlier pallor. His complexion was now very close to normal. She wondered how that could be; the only explanation that she could come up with came from the ‘Dracula’ book she had once read, a long time ago. A description she remembered the book gave of the title character, in a very similar situation. Her skin crawled as she realised the only thing this could mean.
He had fed.
He was reaching to kiss her; whether it would be a genuine kiss, or if he was trying to mesmerise her again or to feed on her, Melody didn’t really care. She suddenly couldn’t bear his touch. It made her sick. She found the strength and the courage to push him away. “Keep your hands off me!”
He stepped back, an incredulous and hurt expression upon his face. He didn’t seem to understand why she reacted that way.
“I don’t want anything to do with you!” Melody spat, getting herself out of the corner he had pushed her into, and pointing an accusing finger at him. “You’re a killer! You’ve just murdered someone! Look at you! Your cheeks are rosy, your skin nearly normal… As if you just filled yourself with blood!”
“Melody, I beg of you…” he pleaded with a distressed voice. “Don’t push me away… This is my nature… I can’t help myself! The urge –”
“NO!” Melody protested vehemently. “You can help yourself! You would be able to fight this urge, if you only wanted too! But you just give in to your ‘powers’. You give yourself willingly to it, and you enjoy it! You don’t care about the evil you’re doing around you!”
“That’s not true!” Leach responded. “I can see the beauty of the world, I know what’s good and what is not. I knew love… and still do today. Surely, someone who loves like I do can’t be truly evil. I love you, Melody…”
“You don’t love me! You love the ghost of a girl who died a horrible death three hundred years ago! Can’t you see I’m not her? I don’t love you. I can never love you the way she did!”
“Don’t say that!” he lashed out suddenly. “I can offer you more than you could ever dream of. Eternity by my side. Everlasting youth… eternal life!”
“Eternal death, you mean,” Melody answered back, scoffing. “No, I have no intention of becoming like you, a soulless monster destined to prey on others to ‘live’ forever! I’d sooner die right here and now!”
“Please, don’t do this to me…”
Leach made a step toward Melody, his hands held out in a pleading gesture. She backed away again, distrust and hate in all her features. That hurt him; probably more than he had ever been hurt, in all his long undead existence – almost as badly, probably, as when he had learned about the death of his beloved, so many years ago. He could see he would never be able to convince Melody that he loved her more than anything else, that he would do anything for her, as long as she would stay by his side and share his fate.
But perhaps it was too much to ask from her, to willingly forfeit her life and join him. Perhaps he had been wrong to appeal to her understanding and to profess his love to her, hoping that she would love him in return. The wounded expression in his eyes changed then, to be replaced with burning anger and determination.
“So you won’t join me willingly,” he said, his voice charged with frustrated resentment. “You won’t accept the gift I’m offering you, and spend the rest of eternity by my side…”
“Most definitely not,” she responded bravely, although she was shivering with untold fear, deeply aware that he could do anything to her now.
“Don’t challenge me, woman! I have ways to convince you! You WILL join me, I’ll force you to accept!” He looked around, then his eyes found Rhapsody, still lying unconscious on the bed. Melody saw the direction he was looking in, and felt a hint of dread. She saw the sinister smile spreading across Leach’s lips.
“I’m sure you will be reluctant to let your friend spend alone the fate that you have just so carelessly forfeited!” he growled to Melody, in a tone full of vile promise. “You’ll want to join her, I’m sure of it!”
He quickly strode in Rhapsody’s direction, and Melody felt the panic gripping her heart. She moved forward, horrified at what he was planning to do.
“NO! Leave her alone!”
Things suddenly happened very fast. Archibald Leach was already bending over the defenceless Rhapsody when the door suddenly burst open, under a vigorous push, and a tall figure appeared in the doorway, holding in both hands what appeared to be an ancient sword. Melody let out a grateful and surprised gasp when she recognised Captain Scarlet, who had arrived in the nick of time to save them. But the relief on her face quickly faded away, when she noticed how ill he seemed, standing awkwardly, with sweat running down his abnormally pale face. There was a bandage around his neck, so heavily soiled with blood, that it was staining the collar of his shirt. It was obvious to the young woman that he already had suffered one attack from the vampire, and that he had barely survived it.
“Keep away from her!” Scarlet warned, apparently straining to get the words out. His throat, Melody realised, must be hurting him very badly.
Leach stood up, his eyes fixed on the trespasser, glowing coldly, but dangerously. He didn’t seem impressed at all. “I told you we would be seeing each other soon, Mister Metcalfe,” he stated matter-of-factly. “I never imagined that it would be tonight…” He slowly walked toward Scarlet. “But I’m glad you’ve come. This will give me the chance to feed on your blood again. Never before have I tasted such blood. It’s quite… unique. Wonderfully unique. And it gave me such life, such power… as I have never sensed before. I yearn to taste it again.”
“Let the girls go,” Scarlet demanded.
Leach scoffed. “Or what? You’ll run me through with that sword you’ve taken from my weapons collection? Don’t be absurd, Metcalfe! You can’t hope to stop me all by yourself!”
The window right next to where a worried Melody was now standing suddenly burst into tiny pieces, and another figure of a man entered the room, falling on his feet beside the surprised Angel. She barely had the time to recognise him, before he was pushing her behind him.
“He’s not alone!” Captain Ochre declared, brandishing a thick wooden staff as a weapon, his voice as ominous as that of the vampire himself.
Scarlet thought he could take advantage of Leach’s surprise at Ochre’s sudden appearance to launch into attack, swinging the heavy sword. Much to his dismay, Leach saw him coming and moved quickly, catching his hand in mid-air and relieving him of his weapon – much like he had done already at the inn, but this time with the greatest ease, as Scarlet was weaker. He pushed the Spectrum officer away, sending him rolling on the floor and turned in order to take care of Ochre. The latter had sprung into action, seeing his friend in distress. He used his wooden staff to knock the sword out of the vampire’s hand. Leach gave a low, animalistic growl, grabbed the man’s throat with only one hand and heaved him off the floor.
This is going bad, Ochre thought. He had hoped, while coming to Leach’s house with Scarlet, that the English captain would have healed enough by this time for them to tackle the monster easily. But strangely, still probably due to the uncommon nature of the vampire’s attack on him, Scarlet’s wound had not yet healed completely; that had left him in a weakened state – enough for him to be easy prey to Leach.
And Ochre wasn’t faring much better at the moment… His feet were dangling inches off the floor, and he was choking in Leach’s unnatural steel-like grip.
“You’ve been an annoyance since the very beginning, Mister Fraser.”
“Let him go!”
Melody had valiantly stepped forward to come to the distressed captain’s defence. Leach glared at her briefly, then effortlessly threw an out-of-breath Ochre away from him. The Spectrum officer landed hard on a small table, smashing it to pieces and lay amongst the debris, moaning painfully. Melody’s eyes opened wide with concern, then narrowed in anger, as she turned toward Leach, who was smiling coldly at her.
“Your wish is my command, my lady!”
He was deliberately mocking her; enraged, despite the futility of the gesture, Melody hit him right in the face. Not a slap, but a genuine punch, carrying all of her weight behind it. He barely flinched, and that was probably only out of surprise. He looked at her, his black eyes glittering, and then backhanded her, propelling her toward the bed where Rhapsody was still lying. The red-haired Angel was starting to come back to her senses, moaning faintly; she recovered them enough just in time to see Melody fall at her feet, half-stunned. She instinctively reached to stop her friend falling off the bed, and raised bewildered eyes to see Leach coming straight at them, walking slowly, with an evil grin spread across his face.
“Your fire makes you even more appealing, my love!” he declared with a satisfied grunt. “I’ll enjoy spending eternity with you!”
Her mind still half-immersed in a haze, Rhapsody wasn’t too sure of what was going on, but, by seeing the horrified expression of Melody, she could understand perfectly that this man was a danger to herself and to her fellow Angel. She prepared herself for his attack when she saw Scarlet suddenly jump him from behind, trying to bring him down. Leach simply had to shrug him off to send him sprawling on the floor again; the English captain, however, didn’t stay down very long, and quickly got back to his feet, to face the approaching, menacing Leach. He backed away, keeping an eye on the vampire, but quickly checking around, searching for any weapon he could use against his opponent.
“You’re quite resilient, Mister Metcalfe,” Leach noted quietly, with a faint smile. “Far more resilient than any other mortal man I’ve had the pleasure of fighting those long centuries. You’re a warrior… I understood that when we first fought for your woman. You demonstrate extensive experience in combat, and I have to admit, you impress me.” The expression of his face hardened suddenly, as did his tone: “But you are NO MATCH for me.”
Before Scarlet’s unbelieving eyes, the man suddenly transformed himself, his features changing with lightning speed to take on the form of the bat-like monster he had fought before. He saw the sharp black nails coming at him, aiming at his throat and ducked to escape them. Swiftly, he slipped under the vampire’s winged arm, and put some distance between them, keeping the fight away from the two women, huddled together on the bed, with eyes widened with horror at the scene. He came across the sword he had lost earlier and took it up. The creature’s sinister laugh filled the room, seeing his attempts.
“Human, you don’t expect to stop me with that?” he asked in his cavernous voice. “Your efforts are futile!” He raised a long finger at Scarlet, continuing ominously: “You can’t resist me! I tasted your blood! You are mine to control!”
“Better than you have tried!” Scarlet answered, his voice still strained. “And they failed! You will NEVER control me!” The last part of his reply seemed to come from deep within him, and seemed to rally his remaining strength. Scarlet again raised the sword, more determinedly this time.
Interesting… Losing his evil smile, the creature gave his adversary a perplexed look; that lasted only a couple of seconds, then a new grin appeared on his ugly face. Scarlet wondered what made him smirk like that; that was when he felt the blow between his shoulder blades, which sent him sprawling on the floor, losing his sword yet again. Half-stunned, he rolled on his back to look up… and saw Captain Ochre standing over him, staring at him with a blank expression upon his face.
There was no answer. Instead, Ochre picked up the sword, very slowly; seeing him coming toward him, Scarlet crawled on his back, backing away. He heard the vampire’s laugh following him.
“I wounded your friend at the windmill, bite his arm and scratched his back while we were fighting. Minor injuries, but that’s all I need to take control of his mind. As for you, I do not know how you can resist me… But that doesn’t matter any more.”
Scarlet got to his feet; a silent Ochre, his eyes glazed, was still approaching, brandishing the sword. He swung it toward Scarlet, and the English captain had to duck to avoid the blade; it sliced the velvet curtain that hung on one side of the window, and gouged a deep groove in the frame. Scarlet looked at it in concern; had the sword hit him, he would probably have lost an arm. From the corner of his eye, through the other window, broken by Ochre’s entrance earlier, he could see the sky turning red at the horizon. The sun would rise soon, but too late, he was afraid, to actually be of any help.
“Rick, stop, please!” Scarlet’s appeal to Ochre fell on deaf ears. The sword came at him again; he ducked, and attacked, trying to snatch the weapon from his mesmerised friend’s hand. A violent backhand drove him away; Scarlet’s feet entangled themselves in the cut down curtain and he sprawled on the floor, with a loud grunt. Still trying to get away, he found himself backed against the wall. Ochre stood over him, sword raised high in the air, getting ready to strike.
“Rick! For the love of mercy…”
Ochre never brought the sword down. A loud thud made itself heard, and Scarlet saw his friend’s body shiver suddenly. The sword dropped from his hand, falling harmlessly next to Scarlet; Ochre sank to his knees, then dropped to one side. Behind him, holding the staff that had previously had been Ochre’s weapon, stood Rhapsody.
“NO!” The vampire that was Archibald Leach let out a frustrated roar of fury that made both Scarlet and Rhapsody jump. They saw him coming at them, with long strides. “I will not let you rob me of my victory, woman! You two shall die a horrible death –”
His voice suddenly died on his horribly distorted lips and a cry of pain escaped him. He staggered on his feet, and turned around, slowly. Both Scarlet and Rhapsody could see the end of a wooden stick protruding from his back, surrounded by a large stain of blood.
The creature looked in absolute disbelief at the cold features of Melody Angel, who had crept behind him to deal him that fateful blow. The young woman was staring right back at him. She could see the hurt in the vampire’s eyes; it wasn’t only the hurt coming from the wound he had just received. It was mostly because it was by her hand that it had occurred. Then the look changed, gradually, from stupefaction to something akin to hatred. His hand reached for the stake, and, managing to get hold of it, he pulled hard to extract it, giving a loud grunt as he did so. Bringing up the bloodied weapon in front of him, he stared at it, realising it was one of the broken legs of the table he had thrown Ochre onto earlier. He then glared at Melody.
“You should have aimed for the heart!” he growled ominously. He threw away the stake and made a menacing step toward Melody, who braced herself, ready for his attack.
The vampire suddenly stopped in his tracks, and she saw the expression of his face changing once more, this time coming back to the pain. A pain that was much more violent this time, as he staggered, and grabbed for his stomach. He let out a loud moan, which suddenly transformed into a painful cry. He fell on his knees.
“What is… happening to me?!”
He was holding his mid-section, doubled over in agony, growling and crying, tormented by a pain that didn’t seem to be natural to him. Before the three Spectrum agents’ startled eyes, the animalistic cries progressively changed, as he transformed back into the human form that was his own, but slowly, this time… much slower than the metamorphosis from man to creature that they had witnessed earlier.
“What is this pain?” the shivering Archibald Leach cried out between clenched teeth, his face creased under the intolerable pain, his voice still carrying some of the ominous tone of the vampire-like creature. “It’s like… my body’s on fire… I can’t stand it!”
Supporting himself against the wall, in a half-seated, half-lying position, Scarlet looked up toward the broken window. The sun had showed up low on the horizon, but that wasn’t what was causing Leach pain; no sunlight was entering the room yet, the window still largely covered by the velvet curtains. Rhapsody followed his eyes, and suddenly understood what had to be done. She quickly reached the window and grabbed the curtains.
From his curled-up position, his head snapped back at her; she addressed him an implacable look. “Fighting fire with fire, pal!” With that, she tore the drapes from their pole.
The vampire that had been Archibald Leach let out a cry of agony as the sunlight suddenly entered the room and bathed him entirely. He fell flat on the floor, and stayed there, writhing in pain, barely able to move. Scarlet, Rhapsody and Melody watched in total bewilderment and incomprehension, as spirals of smoke started rising from the fallen vampire, who was desperately trying to crawl away from the rays burning into his flesh, bringing the death that should have been his so many years ago.
He only succeeded in dragging himself a few inches away from where the sun had hit him; he was so weak with both that unknown pain inside him and the one brought by the sun that he knew he couldn’t hope to escape. His burned hand struck the foot of somebody standing in front of him. Tiredly, he raised his head; his eyes were hurting him, but he could make out the face of Melody, looking down at him with a mixture of pity and horror, as he appeared disfigured and wounded to her eyes. He produced a faint smile, and raised a pleading and trembling hand to her.
“I loved you so much,” he murmured. “I could have brought you the world…”
And then he fell on his back, eyes closed, and with one last spasm, his body stayed motionless, the sun continuing to eat away at it.
For a short time, nobody dared to move; then, realising that the vampire was indeed destroyed, everybody blew a sigh of relief. Rhapsody crouched near to Scarlet, with concern in her eyes. “Are you all right?”
He nodded, a faint smile upon his lips; yes, he was all right, now. He could feel his throat itching, a good indication that his retrometabolism had finally kicked in as it was supposed to and that the healing process was well on its way. And he was thankful that his beautiful Angel was now out of danger.
“Well done,” he whispered, nodding with his chin toward the window.
“I told you we ‘girls’ were able to take care of ourselves,” she answered with a mischievous wink.
She helped him to his feet and both of them approached Melody, to look down at the still burning body of Leach. The smell wasn’t really pleasant.
A groan coming from nearby attracted their attention; they saw that Ochre was coming back to his senses, slowly. Melody picked up the staff Rhapsody had used to knock him down and stood in front of him.
“I’m warning you, Rick! You’d better not try anything funny. I don’t want to hurt you, but…”
Ochre looked up at her, blinking several times to dispel the last residue of his unconsciousness. “Hey, Mag… I know you’re not that fond of me, but I never thought you’d try to break my skull open!” His voice was slurred, but sounded perplexed enough. And the words were so like him. That brought a smile to both Scarlet’s and Rhapsody’s lips. As for Melody, after a short moment of hesitation, she threw away her staff and knelt next to her compatriot who was raising himself to a sitting position. Before he could react, she was hanging to his neck, kissing him full on the lips. Caught off guard, Ochre nearly overbalanced backward, and only got his balance when his back came in contact with the wall behind him. When her lips finally left his and he was again able to breathe, he looked into her concerned eyes with deep surprise. His brow furrowed and a grin lit up his face.
“Well,” he murmured, “I guess you… care about me a little?”
“Yeah, well,” she grumbled, “a little, yes. Just a little.”
He chuckled. “That’ll do fine, Mag. That’ll do real fine.”
Ochre got up with Melody and came to stand next to Rhapsody and Scarlet. He looked down in curiosity at the last remains of the vampire. He coughed, and covered his nose with his forearm. “Man, the stench!” he grumbled. “That’s appalling! He glanced at Scarlet. “What happened? The last thing I remember, he was throwing me across the room like a rag doll.”
“You mean you don’t remember attacking Paul?” Rhapsody asked him with a frown.
“I did?” a puzzled Ochre replied.
“You did,” Melody confirmed. “You nearly cut him down with a sword.” She nodded toward the sizzling body. “He was controlling you. No doubt because he had bitten you earlier in that windmill.”
“Oh! You mean… those scratches on my arm? I didn’t think they would be that harmful. The slashes to my back were much more painful.” A still perplexed Ochre stared again at the remains. “And the sun… did this to him? And he died like any good little vampire?”
“Not quite,” Rhapsody said. “He was already in pain before the sun finished him off.”
“In terrible pain,” Melody emphasised.
“Oh dear…” Ochre scratched his neck, still looking down at what was left of the vampire. There was nothing left now apart from a blackened crisp. “I wonder what could have been wrong with him…”
“And why’s that? It’s as good an explanation as any other!”
Captains Scarlet and Ochre entered the officers’ lounge on Cloudbase, arguing with each other. Not that it was anything different from their usual behaviour, but Ochre’s new ‘theory’ wasn’t at all to Scarlet’s liking; the English captain didn’t share his colleague’s opinion on that particular subject.
The people present at that moment in the room, Rhapsody and Melody Angels, still off duty and wearing casual clothes, and Captain Blue, playing chess with Rhapsody, looked up at them as they walked in, Scarlet going straight to the coffee dispenser, and Ochre following him. Scarlet poured a big cup, while Ochre was carrying on, insistently: “I’m telling you, Paul. That’s the only possible explanation for what happened.”
“And I say you’re talking rubbish!” Scarlet shoved the cup into Ochre’s hand. “Here, maybe that’ll shut you up!” He turned again to pour himself another cup.
“What’s happening?” Rhapsody asked curiously.
“Just Paul being stubborn,” Ochre answered with a big grin, coming toward the group and sitting down. “I told him about my theory concerning that Leach vampire’s demise and he doesn’t like it at all.”
“I just said it was very unlikely!” Scarlet protested, coming to stand behind the chair occupied by his fiancée. “Really, Rick, that’s a totally absurd notion!”
“Ah, yes, the vampire story,” Blue said, nodding, not even noticing as Rhapsody’s white castle took his black knight. “The girls told me about that, gentlemen. So you had an exciting furlough?”
“Don’t even mention it!” Scarlet grumbled. “I swear, every time anybody takes a holiday around here, it’s bound to turn into a complete disaster!”
“This one sure took the cake!” Melody grumbled.
“You must’ve had real fun reporting that to the colonel,” Blue added with a grin.
“It was absolute hell!” Scarlet declared, emphasising on the last word, finally sitting down. “We were lucky he actually believed us, and didn’t have all of us certified!”
“I bet!” Blue grinned again. “Rather a strange story, wouldn’t you say?”
The door slid open again, and Colonel White entered; the officers present started to rise from their chairs, but he gestured them to stay put. “As you were, gentlemen,” he said with a smile. “Ladies…” He nodded his salutations to the Angels and went to the coffee dispenser. “So,” he stated quietly, choosing a cup from the counter, “I trust you are all recovering from that unusual fright you had in Maine?”
Rhapsody rolled her eyes. He was calling that an ‘unusual fright’?
“I’m sure I’ll have nightmares for months,” Melody declared gloomily, as the colonel poured himself a cup of coffee and added milk to it. “Fighting Mysterons is one thing, but finding myself face to face with a vampire…”
“Don’t forget, you found him charming, to begin with,” Ochre noted mischievously. “And he had set his eyes on you to spend eternity with him…”
“Right,” she grumbled. “Because I looked like his long-lost love. Actually, it was kind of sad, thinking about it.”
“You expect me to feel sorry for him?” Scarlet grumbled. “He nearly tore my throat out!”
“What about that cousin of yours?” Blue asked, turning to Rhapsody. “What will become of her now? Wouldn’t she be considered an accomplice to that Leach guy?”
“Considering the circumstances, that would never hold up in a court of law,” Rhapsody replied, making a face. “And anyway, Olivia wasn’t guilty of anything. Except knowing that that ‘local legend’ of the ‘Merrittsport Murders’ was real, and Archie Leach was indeed a vampire. There’s no way she could have stopped him.”
“Next time a long-lost relative of yours invites you to visit, I’ll pass…” Melody grunted.
“Don’t worry, I’ll think twice about it too! But I can’t really hold a grudge against Olivia. She was sincere. She truly believed Archie had told her the truth, and that he had beaten his… dependence on blood.”
“And that’s what killed him, at the end,” Ochre declared.
“Ochre,” Scarlet warned him.
“What? You know what I think about that. Try to deny that my theory could be right!”
“Is that what you were arguing about when you came in here?” Blue asked.
“No, it’s nothing,” Scarlet replied, waving the implication away.
But the conversation had stirred everybody’s curiosity. Colonel White’s as well. He approached, his brow furrowed deeply. “What theory?” he asked, sitting on one of the empty chairs.
“I think I know what killed Leach,” Ochre explained. “Or at least, put him in such pain, just before the sun turned him into burned toast.”
“Yes, well… Spare us your illustrated metaphors. What is this theory of yours? What caused that creature such pain?”
Everybody stared at Scarlet who scowled, like a pouting schoolboy. He crossed his arms on his chest and grumbled something that nobody was able to make out.
“Or to be more specific, Scarlet’s blood,” Ochre continued, with a large grin, satisfied that everybody was listening to him. “Leach sucked plenty of it –”
“I don’t need to be reminded of that, thank you!” Scarlet admonished his colleague.
“– And he did say that he had never before fed on such blood. That it was ‘wonderfully unique’ and that it had given him such ‘life and power as he had never felt before’.”
“I can’t believe you heard all this from the other side of that window,” Scarlet muttered, rolling his eyes.
“…So,” Ochre continued, not taking any notice of Scarlet’s observation. “So, my guess is that his blood was too much for that poor vampire’s metabolism. Maybe he was too greedy, during that first attack, and took too much of that ‘wonderfully unique blood’ –”
“Ochre!” Melody protested loudly. “Please, that’s gross!”
“To the point, Captain,” Colonel White demanded, frowning.
“I’m coming to it, sir. And it’s rather quite simple: what brought about that vampire’s downfall was simply an acute case of indigestion.”
“What?!” Blue exclaimed, opening wide eyes of disbelief.
Scarlet shrugged. “Told you it was a crazy idea.”
“Indigestion?” Rhapsody repeated. “How in Heaven did you come to that conclusion?”
“Think about it: severe abdominal pains, uncontrollable shivering… Don’t you think it’s obvious, Rhapsody? We all know that Scarlet’s indeed one of a kind. It’s quite possible that, consequently, his blood might be ‘indigestible’ to vampires. That’s a perfect explanation for what happened to Leach!”
There was a stunned silence. Ochre’s theory may have had some truth to it, but just about everybody was wondering if the sole reason for him stating it wasn’t simply to annoy Scarlet. Nobody dared ask the question. Colonel White cleared his throat.
“Well, that’s… an interesting theory, Captain Ochre. That’s something you could… er… discuss with Doctor Fawn.” He caught Scarlet’s look of discontentment, and not wanting to put his number one agent ill-at-ease, he added quickly: “On the other hand, considering that the threat is now gone, the reason behind the vampire’s last, uh, illness, might really be a moot point. I doubt we’ll meet other vampires in the future to verify that theory of yours.”
“I certainly hope not, sir,” Scarlet declared.
“I don’t know, there are vampire legends in every culture,” Blue then said, rising from his seat and going to the dispenser for another cup of coffee. Scarlet’s stare followed him, with an disbelieving and distraught expression. “I mean, there’s that old Scandinavian story, amongst those my grandfather often told me,” the blond captain continued. “It’s Icelandic, I think… Aswid and Asmund… They were two great warriors, who were blood-brothers, and they made a death pact that, when one of them died, the other would be buried alive with him. Aswid died first, and of course, his blood-brother followed him to the grave. Now it turned out that Aswid had become a vampire and that he attacked Asmund in order to suck his blood. The legend says that they fought for three hundred years, before archaeologists found the tomb and unknowingly put an end to the fight…” Blue put some cream in his coffee, and started stirring it absentmindedly, a smile crossing his lips. “Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to go to Iceland, on my next furlough,” he stated. “Going in search of that tomb could be interesting. That would be a nice change of pace. Anybody feel like coming with me?”
He turned around; strangely there was nobody left in the officers’ lounge, except himself and Colonel White. The latter had seen his other officers swiftly rise from their seats at the first lines of Blue’s story, and silently go out of the door, in an orderly but hasty retreat, after nodding their farewells to him. By the time Blue had mentioned the word ‘furlough’ everybody had vanished, without making a single sound.
“Now, where is everyone?” Blue shrugged it off. Maybe these people weren’t that interested in hearing about his grandfather’s story, after all… Quietly, he came to sit next to Colonel White. “Oh well, their loss, then… How about you, sir? What do you say about an expedition to Iceland?”
Colonel White visibly hesitated; he carefully thought about what to say to his junior officer, so he wouldn’t hurt his feelings. He truly couldn’t think of anything, so he cleared his throat, trying not to sound too uncomfortable, and braced himself:
“I don’t mean to sound blunt, Captain, but… why do I have the feeling that I should have done like the others and run like hell before you made that invitation?”
Written in 2002, ‘Master of the Night’ was one of my first Captain Scarlet fan fictions and one of the earliest stories written for the Halloween Challenge. It takes its inspiration from television series and cinema alike, with references to classic series and classic movies – and even from one of my all-time favourite actors, whose real name has been borrowed for the main antagonist of this story. Vampire stories are definitely popular at Halloween time, and although it doesn’t say here that the action is set during Halloween, one could easily imagine pumpkins adorning Olivia Merritt’s old inn… although I can’t really see the children of Merritsport crossing the cemetery leading to her place, just to ring at her door…
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