A “Captain Scarlet” story for Halloween
By Chris Bishop
SNAKES AND RAINBOWS
Other military and security organisations have called Captain Scarlet ‘the luckiest man on Earth’, after having witnessing him run straight into deadly danger and coming out of it unscathed.
That was, of course, a flawed perception. They didn’t know about Captain Scarlet being indestructible, and didn’t know it was the main reason behind his continuous survival. He would argue that he wasn’t that ‘damned lucky’ to begin with, that being retrometabolic wasn’t in any way an indication of good fortune. On the contrary, he considered that Fate had dealt him a cruel hand, by making him so different from the rest of us. He was the one taking most of the risks on missions, keeping for himself the deadliest assignments, which meant that the rest of us wouldn’t have to die. He never complained about it; he just knew that it was what he needed to do to get the job done, and he was doing it.
In retrospect, that made the Spectrum organisation the lucky party.
But still, Scarlet’s perceived ‘luck’ often rubbed off on all of us, and we would find ourselves rather surprised, in the aftermath of a mission, that we had survived circumstances we truly thought would be our last moments on this Earth.
That’s how I felt when I woke up in that dumpster, aching everywhere, and smelling like I had indeed died.
I realised the many garbage bags filling the container had burst under the shock of my rough landing and had actually served to cushion the worst of my fall. But I had been unconscious for a long time – hours – as night had fallen, and I was now looking up at the dark sky, dotted with brilliant stars. Obviously nobody had seen my fall from the roof into that dumpster – or nobody cared enough to contact the authorities about it.
I didn’t seem to have broken anything, but I hurt like hell. I had no way to tell at the moment, but I was pretty sure I was several very interesting shades of black, yellow and blue. I had cuts on my arms and face, but fortunately, nothing very deep, and there was no risk of me bleeding to death. My uniform was a mess, torn, dirty and soaked in various places, and there was such an awful smell pervading it, it was making me sick. Not that anyone would have noticed it, if I had thrown up in the middle of the surrounding garbage.
As fast as my present condition would allow, I extricated myself from the dumpster. The alley was dark, and there was no one in the immediate vicinity; I could hear cars passing by in the main street, beyond the nearby corner, and the talk and laughter of late bystanders. Nothing to indicate that there was any danger nearby.
The first thing I did after I regained my focus was to return to the roof I had fallen from, using the escape ladder I had seen earlier, and gritting my teeth all the way up. My back was killing me, but the worry I felt for Caleb was pushing me on. I wondered what could have happened to him, during all that time I had been unconscious.
He wasn’t on the roof. The only thing I found of him was his broken pair of glasses, lying not that far from where I had fallen. There were signs of a struggle, but fortunately, no trace of blood on the surface of the roof, as far as I was able to see. This might sound strange enough, but it was a relief in itself. It meant that there was a good chance that my brother was alive – although he had been taken to some unknown location by that weird-looking guy who had attacked me.
Across the rooftops, I traced my tracks back to where I had last seen Captain Scarlet, and went down into that now empty and silent alley where he had been overrun by so many aggressors. Like on the roof where my brother had disappeared, there had been a struggle there – much more violent, as I expected Scarlet to have fiercely defended himself. I found a few traces of blood there, but nothing to indicate that someone had been seriously injured, either Scarlet or his aggressors. The bullet from that gunshot I had heard when he was attacked obviously hadn’t found anyone in its path.
That meant that Scarlet had been taken too.
I wondered why our assailants had not taken me as well. Unless, that guy who threw me from the roof had not seen exactly where I fell, or he thought me dead – or he couldn’t be bothered to even look for me. Or maybe he wasn’t just bright enough to decide to go down to check on me. I had seen his eyes, and there didn’t seem to be any will, or intelligence behind them.
Those eyes had the same expression I had seen in the other men down in the alley…
Who were they exactly – or rather, what were they? The description given to us by Caleb earlier that day wasn’t that far from my mind, and although I didn’t want to contemplate the very idea, I couldn’t help myself thinking what these emotionless-looking and haggard-eyed men might actually be.
Well, it shouldn’t have been so difficult to imagine they could be zombies, rather than Mysteron agents; but when someone had lived my kind of life for the past two years or so, ‘Mysteron’ is certainly more common in my vocabulary than ‘zombie’. I believed Mysteron agents existed, I had seen them before, interacted with them at times, and seen them in action. I’m even working daily with a man who had escaped Mysteron control. Zombies… well, that’s different. I’d heard about the phenomenon well before Caleb explained to me what they were exactly, but I’d never been confronted with them.
Until today. There was no doubt in my mind that the men I’d encountered were not Mysterons, but could very well be zombies. I’ve never seen Mysteron agents travelling in pack – not as large as this gang, anyway. And truly, these guys didn’t fit the descriptive bill you would apply to Mysteron agents. Strangely enough, Mysteron agents, despite their macabre origins, were… livelier. You couldn’t distinguish them from ordinary human beings – until it might be too late.
These other guys, with their haggard expressions and the way they moved could be spotted in a crowd instantly.
This was giving me the creeps.
So what did I do after having found all this? I didn’t have much choice in the matter, really. I didn’t have my cap, which I’d lost during my fall from the roof. I had quickly looked around for it when I had woken up, but I couldn’t find it. That meant I couldn’t call either Cloudbase or the WAAF base. I didn’t think it was a good idea to knock on any door and ask to use the phone. At the moment, I looked dreadfully frightening, and I didn’t expect anyone would open their door, at this hour of the night, to a complete stranger. The jeep was gone – I returned to where we had parked it and it had disappeared too – stolen, and it was a toss up as to whether it was by a street gang or by some of the guys who attacked us. The only option left to me was to return to base – on foot, while trying to attract as little attention to myself as possible.
I was fortunate that it wasn’t that far, so about an hour later I arrived at the gate. The night sentry looked at me with a suspicious eye, and wasn’t that sure he would let me go through; I looked the worse for wear, tattered, dirty and smelly. I showed him my Spectrum I.D. and used the most authoritative voice I could muster under the circumstances. He seemed to understand that I had gone through very harrowing moments, and agreed to call General Metcalfe to check me out. When the general confirmed my identity, the sentry let me enter the compound.
I was on my way to the main building when I saw General Metcalfe walking out of a door and coming towards me. Behind him, followed a man wearing a pale Spectrum uniform. It took me a while in the semi-darkness to recognise Doctor Fawn and I smiled with relief. I felt so sore all over that the sight of the best doctor I knew, and the prospect of being treated by him, was almost enough to make me feel better.
The general was the first to talk to me. And quite frankly, I should have expected what he’d say.
“Lieutenant, where have you been?” he asked, standing in front of me, forcing me to stop. Fawn, visibly worried by my appearance, strode to me and started assessing me quickly. “You and Captain Scarlet have been gone for hours, and haven’t made any reports, except for that one you sent Doctor Fawn and that was a long time ago! We were about to contact your base.” The general looked beyond me and around. “Where is Captain Scarlet? Isn’t he with you?”
“General,” Fawn interrupted him before he could continue or I could answer, “surely, you can see the lieutenant is exhausted, and that he needs medical help. We have to at least get him inside and give him some care – then you’ll be able to interrogate him.”
General Metcalfe hesitated. He gave but one look at me; I was in a sorry-looking state and he must have taken pity on me. “Of course,” he agreed quickly. “How thoughtless of me… Forgive me, Lieutenant. We’ll go to the medical centre. I’m sure Doctor LaSalle will give us space for you to take care of him, Doctor.”
I was grateful for Fawn’s intervention, but at the same time, I could understand General Metcalfe’s worry about the absence of his son; and he had good reasons to be concerned. I was worried too.
“I’m sorry, General,” I said as I hobbled between the two of them on our way to the main building. “I don’t know where Captain Scarlet is. We were victims of an attack from an unknown party. I fell from a roof, and I think I was left for dead. Your son and my brother were taken away.”
I glanced in the general’s direction; there was no emotion apparent on his face. He was looking straight ahead, towards the building we were approaching, his eyes almost hidden under his cap, and lips drawn a straight line. He simply nodded slowly at my quick preliminary report, and he gave me an encouraging pat on the shoulder.
“You can tell us all about it inside, Lieutenant,” he said with an even voice. “I’m coming to the medical centre with you. I want to know the details of what happened to you and my son.”
I felt somehow elated at the prospect of seeing Doctor LaSalle’s beautiful face again, thinking that it would act like some kind of a balm on my multiple aches and pains. However, I was rather put off when I discovered that she wasn’t even present at the medical centre when we arrived. A nurse told us she had been called away to the barracks at the other end of the base to treat a few cases of bellyache which had emerged amongst the military personnel shortly after dinner. Apparently, the cook wasn’t much good, and indigestion happened on base on a regular basis. Doctor LaSalle was expected to return later in the evening. Despite my disappointment, I had to admit that her absence was making things easier for us: we could be more at ease to discuss the case, without worrying about saying too much in front of her.
While Doctor Fawn requisitioned a room, I made a quick visit to the shower; he had agreed because I didn’t, at first glance, appear to have anything seriously wrong that would prevent me from getting a thorough clean up. Additionally, it would rid me of any nasty germs he suspected might have been in that dumpster. He didn’t mention anything about the smell, but I could easily guess what he thought about that just by the way he was scowling.
Although swift, the shower did me a lot of good, and soon after, wearing a large towel around my hips, I was in the room where Doctor Fawn and General Metcalfe were waiting for me. As the good doctor examined me and treated my various – luckily relatively minor – injuries, I made a full report of what had happened to us. Fawn was too busy to comment at first, and the general preferred to keep silent, simply nodding once or twice to acknowledge the information.
“When I came to,” I finally concluded, “everyone was gone. I searched for both my brother and Captain Scarlet, but they had disappeared – no doubt, taken away by our assailants. The jeep had been stolen, so I had to come back to base on foot. I couldn’t radio for a pick up – my communication cap was lost in the fight.”
“You’ve been lucky to survive that fall with nothing but bumps and cuts, Lieutenant,” Fawn told me as he finished patching me up. “You could have broken your neck.”
“I figured I had been left behind, because they thought I was dead,” I said.
“Possibly,” General Metcalfe commented, pensively rubbing his chin. It was a gesture that was very similar to his son’s when he was in deep reflection. “We’ll have to send people down there and search the area, to try to find these people – and your brother and my son.” He gave a low grunt. “I’ll have to inform Major Perrin about these new developments. He’ll provide personnel for a search party – I presume that since it doesn’t appear to be a Mysteron incident, Spectrum won’t mind the help.”
“We won’t mind, no,” Doctor Fawn confirmed, before I could answer. “One of our men is missing, after all – and a civilian as well.” He exchanged glances with me. “The men from this base probably know every inch of this island better than any Spectrum members. So their collaboration will be appreciated.”
I nodded my agreement. “I have to report this to Colonel White, as well,” I said gloomily. “He won’t be very happy to hear I’ve lost his best man.” I lowered my eyes, so as not to meet General Metcalfe’s probing gaze. “Would you call Cloudbase for me, Doctor?”
“Of course, Lieutenant.” Fawn went to fetch his cap that he had put down on a table at the other end of the room and put it on. I watched as he lowered the microphone in order to contact Cloudbase; at that moment, I felt a hand clasping my shoulder. I looked up to encounter General Metcalfe’s deep blue gaze. He was looking at me with concern.
“Are you all right, son?”
I lowered my eyes again. “Yes… no. Well, under the circumstances, I would say that physically I’m as good as I could be. But…” Hesitantly, I looked up at him again, genuinely apologetic. “I’m sorry, General. I shouldn’t have left your son behind…”
“He gave you a direct order, Lieutenant,” General Metcalfe reasoned. “I know my son and how he is. Considering what he’s able to do, he would never have allowed you to come to any harm. He did what he had to do.” He paused a second. “And you had to protect your brother,” he added quietly.
“A lot of good that did Caleb, sir, considering he’s been taken too.”
“From what you told us, you did the best you could.”
I nodded. That was true; but whatever I had done, it still wasn’t good enough, and I couldn’t help feeling guilty about this. Now my brother was in danger – and might even be dead, as far as I knew. And the man I was talking to might have lost his son too. He knew less about the extent of Scarlet’s powers of recovery than those of us in Spectrum who were in on the secret. In situations like this, when he was missing, it was always a worrying time for us, until we found him, and was sure that he was all right – more or less.
I imagined that when Colonel White had my report, he would send down someone else from Cloudbase to take the assignment over; either Captain Blue, or Captain Ochre, or whoever else was available. Frankly, I didn’t care that much that I would be sidelined. At least, all this would be taken out of my hands and into theirs – they were certainly more capable than me. They were better trained than I was, better suited to face this kind of situation. All I’d need to do then, would be to step aside and wait, while worrying about the safety of my disappeared brother.
“How odd,” I suddenly heard Doctor Fawn say as he was coming back towards us. I looked in his direction and saw the perplexed look on his face. “I can’t make contact with Cloudbase.”
“Defective radio?” General Metcalfe asked, with a frown.
“No… I don’t think so. It was working well enough earlier, when I reported my arrival in Haiti to Cloudbase. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be working now.”
“Give it to me,” I asked. Fawn handed me his cap, and I put it on my head. For a moment, I fiddled with the controls hidden under the black edge, and listened to the distortion coming from the inbuilt speakers. I tested the connectivity of Fawn’s epaulettes with the cap, by pressing the buttons in a certain sequence. I saw the epaulettes flash the same colour as Fawn’s uniform.
I knew what all this meant. And I was more than happy to be able to make use of my real expertise in this damnable assignment.
“The equipment is working fine,” I explained. “It simply doesn’t seem to be able to make a connection with the base comm.link.”
“I thought Spectrum had his own communication system,” General Metcalfe observed.
“We do, but the cap will first link any World Government system in the vicinity to then establish a secure and encrypted access to our own,” I explained. “Well, the caps were built that way at the start, to cut down on expense and increase speed of access, but gradually, we upgraded our communication systems and the caps for more direct access.” I gave his cap back to Fawn. “You haven’t made the latest required software updates on the cap, have you?”
He frowned. “Green, I do not leave Cloudbase on assignment often enough to think about that. And the cap works fine on base.”
“It would, even without any updates,” I reasoned, “since it accesses our own comm.link there.” I frowned. “But we should be able to make contact anyway. I don’t understand why it can’t connect. It’s like the whole base system is down. Have you tried your portable?”
Fawn turned around and went to pick up his small portable computer from the same table he had taken his cap earlier. He pressed a few buttons, looking at the screen, but shook his head after a few seconds. “No contact,” he said. “It was also working fine earlier when I received your report, Lieutenant.”
“It does look like the base’s network is down,” I confirmed.
“I’ll inform Major Perrin of that as well,” General Metcalfe said. “He should still be in the command centre. He told me he had some important business to attend to tonight.” He reached for his own cap, and then turned to me. “I think you should get some rest, Lieutenant. You look like you need it. If we find anything concerning the whereabouts of these people who attacked you, we’ll inform you.”
“General, I don’t think I’ll be able to get any rest,” I replied gravely.
“Of course.” The general nodded. “I understand perfectly.” He put his cap on. “I’ll let you know when you’ll be able to contact Cloudbase again.”
With that, he left the room, and closed the door behind him, leaving Fawn and myself alone.
“So you received my report?” I asked. “What do you make of it?”
“I’m not sure,” Fawn said, rubbing his chin. “I found it fascinating, and I‘ve heard about those Haitian zombies and the theories about how powders were used to create them.”
“You knew about this?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. I should have figured that. If Scarlet and I had had any inkling that Fawn already knew, we might not have gone to my brother to get information. That could have avoided a lot of problems in the first place.
“Only very little,” Fawn added quickly, with a shake of his head, as if he had guessed my thoughts. “Your report was very thorough, Lieutenant. It could be helpful in trying to explain what is currently going on here.” He nodded quietly. “Those guys who attacked you and you described to us…”
“They did look like zombies, Doctor.”
“If indeed zombies exist.”
“You still doubt that?” I frowned. “Even after what Caleb told us about them?”
“Well, zombies are still pretty much part of folklore,” Fawn replied. “In Haiti, more than anywhere else on the globe. There has been talk about them for over the past two or three centuries, but there’s never really been a reliable first-line witness account of their existence. And that’s really the crux of it.” He leaned against the table behind him, and crossed his arms on his chest, thoughtfully chewing on his lower lip. “Now, knowledge of herbology, and other such pharmacognosis, especially for medicinal purposes, has existed since the very beginning of humanity. You find it on every continent. Some of these ancient and obscure wisdoms are still in use today, fine-tuned to an art that only a few initiates are able to master. So admittedly, it is conceivable that Haitian medicine men, for their own dark purposes, have been using some ancient knowledge, probably passed on by African so-called witch doctors, to create powders or potions that could create a form of stupor so deep that it gives the appearance of death. And of course, to also concoct whatever drugs they need to keep an innocent victim under their control.”
He marked a short pause, obviously to put his thoughts into order, before continuing: “Now let’s consider that all this is possible. The question would then be to find out if indeed we’re currently faced with a genuine case of zombification. It could be something else entirely – and I’m not talking about Mysteronisation. It could be some kind of brainwashing method. Unfortunately, we know that exists too.”
I nodded thoughtfully. “Have you been checking Lieutenant Simon’s body?”
“I made a full autopsy of it.”
Now that was surprising. “Didn’t Doctor LaSalle do one herself, when he… well… ‘died’ the first time around?”
“Apparently not. She saw no point in it. The cause of death seemed pretty obvious at the time. Besides, apparently, the family was against it. So she humoured their religious beliefs.”
I nodded again, remembering that she hadn’t clearly mentioned an autopsy as such – but simply, that she had checked the body. That didn’t specifically mean an autopsy.
“And what did he die of exactly?” I asked Fawn.
He shrugged. “Upon examination, it seems pretty clear that he died from multiple gunshot wounds.”
I rolled my eyes. “That would be from his ‘second death’, Doctor.”
“Well,” sighed Fawn, “as far as I’m concerned, it was his one and only death. I could see no traces that he might have died of a fever before being shot – I know that sounds strange to say. There was no trace of drugs in his bloodstream either. Oh, his blood was rather low in sodium, but that was about all. I imagine that the kind of drugs needed to give someone the appearance of death, and to then turn him into a zombie, must be extraordinary powerful. And as such, I expect it would leave some kind of a trace. Although, it is conceivable to create drugs that will quickly and completely disappear from a body after a certain amount of time.”
“Well, the drug mixed in Scarlet’s water did seem pretty powerful,” I said pensively. “You know better than me how drugs can’t get hold of him – at least, not for long. He was still feeling the effects of that one after many minutes – and even after a rush of adrenaline.”
“In that case, Lieutenant, you should consider yourself very lucky that you didn’t drink any of it,” Fawn told me gravely. “If you had, you could have suffered serious consequences. You don’t have Scarlet’s resilience to drugs. Who knows, maybe it was meant to be fatal? And Scarlet only survived because of his unique condition.”
“Somehow, I doubt it,” I murmured. “There’s still what that false waiter said, when we caught up with him. A bokor wanted Scarlet… Him, but apparently not me. But my glass was probably drugged as well... Well, actually, I can’t be sure of that, since Scarlet sent flying off the table before I could drink from it.”
“Maybe they didn’t ‘want’ you, since you had not drunk the water after all?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. But you must admit, after what Caleb told us about zombies and bokors, what this guy said was rather unsettling. I know Scarlet was upset.”
“By any chance, could anyone have heard the two of you talking with your brother?” Fawn asked. “Maybe someone was using that bokor story just to try to impress you in some way.”
“That’s possible. The walls of Caleb’s apartment must be like paper – and it’s right next to his landlady’s store. I guess anyone from there could have heard all of what we talked about.” I frowned. “That still doesn’t explain those strange men who attacked us.”
“Whom you said looked like zombies. Maybe they just wanted to make believe they were, Green,” Fawn suggested. “They could have been faking.”
“So it would be nothing but a gigantic hoax?” I shook my head at the idea. “No, I don’t think so, Doctor. The guy who attacked me on the roof was inhumanly strong and when I hit him, he gave no reaction at all. It was as if I was hitting a brick wall. Extraordinary strength and no pain. That does fit what is said about how zombies are – added to the rest, that is. And there’s the case of Lieutenant Simon to consider as well.”
Fawn nodded slowly, taking a mental note of this information; then he looked at me the way he looked at any of his other patients. “Well, I think we might argue all night and won’t come up with answers for the moment. You look exhausted, Seymour. You should get some rest. Sleep the rest of the night.”
Fawn had a point; although I hated to admit it, I really felt bushed. The events of the day had tired me more than I expected. “Maybe you’re right,” I murmured. “But I won’t sleep here in sickbay. Not with Lieutenant Simon lying next door on a slab.”
“He’s unlikely to stand up and walk, Green,” Fawn replied with a faint smile. “Certainly not after the autopsy I gave him.”
“Well, nevertheless… I’d prefer to get quarters for the night.” I looked down at myself. I didn’t really feel comfortable in this towel I was wearing and with the ambient air-conditioning, I was shivering. I gave a glance in the direction of my dirty uniform, laid in a heap next to the door leading to the adjoining bathroom.
“I hope they have a good dry cleaning service on base,” I said gloomily. “In the meantime, I should find some clothes that fit me, so I don’t have to go around base in nothing but this towel, or a medical gown.”
“I’ll go ask the sentry at the door,” Fawn replied. “Maybe he’ll be able to find something to accommodate you.”
He left his cap on the corner of the examination table and went through the door, not completely closing it behind him. Pensively, I looked at the cap, wondering why the comm.link wasn’t working on base. Perhaps I could offer my assistance to Major Perrin in checking that out; that would give me something to do, while the search operations were proceeding. Anything would do, to keep my mind off this mess.
I returned my attention to my uniform, and decided I might as well empty my pockets before it was sent to the laundry. I jumped down from the table, and grimaced when I felt the pang of pain that reverberated through my spine. Doctor Fawn was right in saying I was lucky to have survived that fall: it sure did a number on my back. Grumbling, I went to my uniform and leaned to pick it up, between my fingers; it really smelt awful, and was in the worst possible state. It wasn’t only dirty: there were multiple tears through it. The green vest was a total loss – it wasn’t green anymore, but a sick mix of colours, roughly reminiscent of a camouflage uniform. One side was torn from under the arm to the seam of the belt. One of the epaulettes was broken, hanging loosely on the shoulder pad. I grunted in disgust, opened the vest’s sole pocket, and got my Spectrum I.D. and my personal wallet out, before tossing the thing aside.
The shirt had suffered less from the ordeal, but the trousers were not any better than the vest. Quite frankly, about the only thing intact were my boots and they certainly wouldn’t be that difficult to clean up.
I checked the pockets of my trousers, grimacing as I did, wondering in what state I would find the effects I was keeping in them.
Fortunately, there was nothing of real importance. I only found the paper on which I had written Caleb’s address earlier, a handful of coins, and the two talismans that my brother’s landlady had given to me back at her shop.
I tossed the trousers onto my vest. Holding the talismans by the leather laces attached to them, I raised them to eye level and looked at them with some bitterness. Jujus, Mama Leona had called them. I snorted with derision. They didn’t do such a good job at protecting us. I mean, I didn’t actually believe in that stuff, and when you considered it, the saddest thing was that some people did believe. I had the impression that Mama Leona herself genuinely believed in them. She had to, I imagine, with her supposedly being a ‘mambo’, as Caleb had told us.
If ever I saw her again, I would tell her these jujus of hers were highly overrated.
Doctor Fawn returned at that moment; closing the door, he came right to me, carrying a pile of clothing neatly folded in his arms. I put the talismans on the side of the counter.
“General Metcalfe had already made arrangements for you,” he said with a smile. “I saw a corporal arrive with these, as I was talking to the sentry. I hope you don’t mind the fact that it’s a WAAF private’s uniform.”
“That’ll do just fine until I’m back on Cloudbase.” I started putting the trousers on under my towel. “Quite frankly, I have other more important concerns in my mind than the worry about the rank of uniform I’m wearing.”
“Your brother, of course,” Fawn noted. I didn’t answer; it was so obvious that I didn’t need to confirm. Losing my brother while he was under my protection was a sore subject, never mind that he had showed up when he shouldn’t have. And I also felt responsible for Scarlet’s disappearance as well. We were partners in this assignment; I should have been able to back him more proficiently than I did.
Sensing that I would rather not talk about it now, Fawn cleared his throat and pointed to the small objects I had left on the counter. “What are those?”
I shook my head as I discarded the towel and unfolded the shirt lent to me. “Talismans, given to us by Caleb’s landlady,” I explained with a dismissive shrug. “They were supposed to keep ‘the evil eye’ at bay. You saw how efficient they were…”
“Well, I can see what this is,” Fawn said, taking the shiny stone painted in the likeness of an eye and looking closely at it. “Very artistic. They even painted tiny veins into the white.”
“Whatever.” I shrugged again. “It’s too real for my taste. It’s giving me the creeps.”
“And what is this supposed to be?” Fawn had turned his attention to the pouch and took it as well.
“I don’t know exactly,” I answered as I put the shirt on. “It contains some kind of protective powder, I guess.”
Fawn opened the pouch, and carefully poured some of the contents into the open palm of his hand. I looked with curiosity at the small quantity of tiny, translucent white grains he was now examining.
“That’s no powder,” I said.
“No,” Fawn confirmed. “It looks like –”
I dipped my fingers into his palm, making some of the particles stick to the skin and before Fawn could stop me, I tasted them.
“Salt,” I said.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Fawn replied with a frown. “We didn’t know for sure that it was salt, to begin with.” That didn’t stop him from tasting the sample himself. “Salt,” he confirmed with a nod. “And there doesn’t seem to be anything peculiar about it. It’s just plain, ordinary table salt.”
“Why would Mama Leona give me a small pouch of table salt?” I wondered out loud, as I buttoned my shirt. “That doesn’t seem to make any sense.”
“I wonder…” Fawn seemed pensive, as he often was when he had something on his mind. He was obviously trying to sort his thoughts out. “Green, remember what I told you earlier? About Lieutenant Simon’s blood having a low level of sodium?”
I nodded. I was actually coming around to that. “Could there be a link there somewhere?” I asked.
“Just thinking,” Fawn said thoughtfully. “Salt is often considered an important and powerful magical element. You can use it to repel evil, curses, counter witchcraft – many supernatural threats that may come to you. And that’s in many traditional cultures, not only African or Haitian. Now, scientifically speaking, a low content of sodium in a body might result in many symptoms: confusion, dizziness, nausea – lethargy. Of course, if we take the problem in reverse, something might cause low content of sodium in the blood… Something like illness, bad nutrition –”
“Drugs,” I quickly added. “Doctor, Captain Scarlet felt similar symptoms when he drank that drugged water.”
“Many drugs might cause the same kind of effects, Green – without also causing a low level of sodium. But you might be on to something…”
“And what if salt, while considered as a talisman, might actually be used as a possible way to counter that something?” I suggested.
Fawn nodded slowly. “If the drug used to achieve the zombification effect causes a low level of sodium, you’re thinking that restoring the level of sodium in the blood might prove successful to draw the zombie from his lethargic state.”
“Right – well, maybe not in so many words. But that might be helpful?”
Fawn frowned. “Restoring sodium to its proper level in a human body is relatively easy to do. Unfortunately, we don’t have a living zombie on whom we might try this. No pun intended.”
“Maybe we’ll be able to capture one or more of them when the search for Scarlet and my brother begins,” I reflected gloomily. “Oh, we should tell Major Perrin that his troops should not shoot at them, like they did with Lieutenant Simon. It’s likely that they’re mainly innocent victims – of that bokor that the false waiter mentioned or whoever else. I don’t see anyone wanting to volunteer to become a zombie.”
Fawn nodded again in agreement. He reached for his cap, and put it on his head, lowering his microphone to try and contact the base command centre. I heard the static from where I was standing and saw him grimace in frustration.
“Still nothing,” he said. “Which also means we still can’t contact Cloudbase.”
“That doesn’t seem right,” I reflected. “No WAAF base worthy of that name would allow a communication system to be out of action for such a long time.”
“This is Haiti, Lieutenant – not London. Or even Trinidad, for that matter. I suspect that this base’s equipment might not be the most reliable you can find on the market.”
“Just as the commanders are probably not the best you can find either,” I muttered, remembering about what General Metcalfe had told us on the subject.
Fawn pushed his microphone back onto his visor. “How about we go to the command centre directly then, and tell Major Perrin about our finds?”
I grabbed my nearest boot and pulled it on. “I agree. And I might as well offer my expertise to help repair this deficient communication system, while I’m at it.”
Fawn scowled at the suggestion. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea. You should go directly to bed after talking to Perrin, Lieutenant. I thought you agreed to that?”
I gave a half-hearted laugh as I put the second boot on. “I know. “I’m sorry, but I probably won’t be able to sleep at all tonight. So I might as well make myself useful. Believe it or not, working on the communication system will help me relax.”
“Oh, I do believe it,” Fawn replied, rolling his eyes.
“The sooner this system is back online, the better. We still have to contact Cloudbase to make our reports and request backup, remember? Then I might be able to get some sleep.”
Fawn considered this and finally conceded I was right.
We left the room, and asked our sentry the way to the command centre; it was, he told us, located at the other end of the compound, in a building of three storeys high, with its walls all covered with windows, and brightly lit, night or day. He was starting to give us directions, and then finally offered to guide us there.
He preceded us, as we left the medical centre in the main building and started walking across the courtyard, our steps echoing on the asphalted surface.
It was a very gloomy night, hot and uncomfortable. Parts of the compound were floodlit by powerful spotlights, which seemed to make those dark places where no light shone appear even darker than they really were. It was an ominous atmosphere if ever there was one – one of those nights when you feel edgy for no particular reason. Like somewhere, in the back of your mind, you knew there was something bad waiting to happen.
That was how I felt that night; I didn’t know why I had that distressing feeling; it was as if I was observed.
And suddenly, I knew why.
I heard low moaning coming from my right and I jumpily turned in that direction. The gate giving access to the base was about thirty meters from us; it was wide open, and the sentry normally keeping guard there was gone. There was no light in the entrance, but as I narrowed my eyes to see better, I suddenly distinguished shadowy silhouettes moving.
I suddenly stopped in my tracks, and Fawn and the security guard did the same.
People were passing through the open gate, and were walking towards the middle of the courtyard – straight in our direction. They were totally silent, and were walking very slowly, dragging their feet. The light from a nearby spotlight shone onto their faces; they were slack-jawed, and their eyes were haggard.
I felt the short hair on the back of my head standing up straight.
“I can’t believe this…” I glanced in Fawn’s direction; he was watching the approaching crowd with eyes wide-open with incredulity and obvious horror. There were twenty, maybe thirty, of these people, all men. A handful of them wore rags or civilian clothes; most were dressed in WAAF uniforms – and a white man, in the very first line, towering a full head over his nearest companions, was wearing a distinctive red uniform.
That forced a cry of recognition out of Doctor Fawn’s lips:
But Captain Scarlet didn’t react to the sound of his name; he kept walking that slow zombie walk, his blue eyes dead of any expression, like those of all the men surrounding him. He wasn’t seeing us; he wasn’t recognising us.
But he was marching towards us with the others.
The guard with us knew a moment of panic and raised his gun, turning it on the approaching zombies and getting ready to fire.
“No!” I reacted quickly, grabbed the barrel, and pushed it up. The shot lost itself in the sky, harming no one.
The guard was too afraid to argue. He let go of his weapon, which clattered to the ground, and turned around and ran away as fast as his feet would allow. The last thing I saw of him was the terrified expression on his face as he glanced one last time over his shoulder before disappearing into the shadows.
So much for the much-vaunted bravery of WAAF soldiers. But then again, I couldn’t really blame him; he was obviously Haitian and the fear of zombies was probably ingrained into his being from the moment he was born. And even if he had not believed in them before, tonight might have changed his mind on the matter.
I couldn’t deny that I was myself really freaked out.
“You wanted a zombie specimen, Doctor,” I said with a catch in my throat. “I guess someone heard you… You only need to take your pick.”
“Scarlet is amongst them,” Fawn said. “Maybe we can…” He took a step towards the zombies, but I caught him by the arm and stopped him.
“I think the guard had a better idea,” I replied quickly. “We’d better get the hell out of here.”
Fawn didn’t find any argument against that; despite the fact that they were moving slowly, the ‘zombies’ were getting dangerously near to us.
We turned on our heels and started running towards the three storey building where we knew we would find the command centre.
“Where’s the rest of the base’s personnel?” Fawn asked me as we ran. “Didn’t they hear that shot? The courtyard should be crawling with WAAF soldiers!”
“Haven’t you noticed?” I sharply retorted. “Most of these guys are WAAF soldiers!”
“They’re the base personnel?”
“Most of them, perhaps.” We reached the main door of the building. Behind us, the zombies were slowly but surely following, Scarlet still in the first line. I pressed the opening button of the door and we barely waited for the opening to be wide enough to let us through. We slipped in and I punched the button from inside. The door slid closed, a little too slowly for my taste, as the zombies were nearly on it. Doctor Fawn and I didn’t need to consult each other to decide it was safer not to hang around. We rushed down the corridor, following the indications on the wall in order to reach the command centre.
Something suddenly came back to my mind, and I stifled a curse.
“What is it?” asked Fawn, panting.
“The dreadlocked waiter. How could I have forgotten?”
We turned into a new corridor and I stopped, forcing Fawn to do the same. I was nearly out of breath; it wasn’t that we had been running for long, but I guess the high anxiety we presently felt was making our hearts pump a little faster than they really should. It wasn’t every day you were chased by walking zombies. Even considering that, by now, we ought to be used to the idea because of the Mysterons’ incredible powers of recreating dead people…
“I mean, the false dreadlocked waiter,” I specified, as I was trying to catch my breath. “The one that gave Scarlet that glass rubbed with poison?”
I heard low moans, and the sound of dragging feet approaching from the main corridor nearby. I didn’t need to look round the corner to be sure that the zombies had entered the building. I urged Fawn to start running again as I continued my explanation: “When we caught him – he was wearing soldier dog tags around his neck. WAAF dog tags. Scarlet said that either he’d taken them from a WAAF soldier, or…”
“… He was a WAAF soldier?” Fawn finished for me.
I nodded. “But he wasn’t a zombie, that I’m sure of. Doctor, there is something definitely going wrong on this base. And it’s not its inefficiency.”
Fawn understood straight away what I meant. “Someone here has his own agenda.”
“And I have a pretty good idea who it might be,” I said darkly.
“Do you think there’s a possible involvement from the Mysterons?” Fawn asked.
“I don’t know, but I aim to find out.”
We reached a door, on which was posted the sign ‘Command Centre – Authorised personnel only’. I looked back. The zombies were turning the corner behind and coming straight at us, Scarlet leading the pack.
I turned the handle, and pushed the door open wide. Fawn and I hurried inside and I closed behind us instantly, slamming the door loudly. I locked it and let a deep breath out, trying to regain my calm. My heart was thumping against my ribcage, as if it wanted to escape my chest.
Doctor Fawn was leaning against the wall by the door, breathing hard. I turned around to see that our sudden and loud entrance had attracted the attention of the four people inside the room. A young communications officer, with earphones on, was seated on a revolving chair in front of her station, and was watching us with obvious surprise. The three men standing by a work-table, Major Perrin, Lieutenant Saturnin and General Metcalfe, were also looking fixedly at us, obviously stunned by our presence – but there was also a trace of annoyance visible in their eyes.
“Lieutenant Green, Doctor Fawn,” General Metcalfe asked, his brow deeply furrowed, “would you mind telling us the meaning of this?”
“I suggest you ask Major Perrin, General,” I replied, and the intonation of my voice probably conveyed enough vexation to make the general believe I was being overtly insolent. I had to admit I was myself very surprised by my own audacity.
“You’re out of order, Lieutenant,” he said with irritation.
“No,” Doctor Fawn replied, still breathing hard, and shaking his head. “No, he’s not.” He pointed Perrin with an accusing finger. “Do ask the major, General. He’s got a lot of explaining to do.”
“For example,” I continued, “ask him why the comm.link suddenly went off line recently – and hasn’t been fixed yet? This isn’t a coincidence. It can only be sabotage.”
Metcalfe turned to the major, who was rolling bothered and angry eyes. “Well?” he asked in a commanding voice, very similar to his son’s when he was annoyed.
“I don’t know what they’re talking about!” Perrin protested loudly. “And if they don’t explain themselves shortly – ”
“There are more than two dozens zombies approaching on the other side of this door!” I interrupted suddenly, leaving my position to stride in the direction of the three men, who looked at me with astonishment. Doctor Fawn followed me quickly, as if he didn’t want to be left alone by the door. “And very soon, they will break into this room!”
“Zombies?” General Metcalfe scoffed, opening his eyes wide. “Are you insane, Lieutenant?”
“I wish we both were,” Doctor Fawn replied. “What Green says is true. This room is about to get invaded by people who appeared to have been zombified.” He hesitated. “And Captain Scarlet is amongst them, General.”
The general blinked in shock at the news and paled horribly. I don’t know if he managed to keep his emotions in check – or if he was simply interrupted by Perrin’s sudden explosion, as the latter addressed me with vitriolic fury:
“Even if what you say is the truth, however ludicrous it sounds, what makes you believe I’ve got anything to do with their presence here? In any case, my men will –”
“Most of these zombies are your men, Major,” I interrupted abruptly, icily staring straight into his face.
I saw his expression change instantly, from anger to apparently complete disbelief. His voice dropped down to a murmur: “What are you saying?”
He really didn’t seem like he was faking it; he genuinely looked shocked. I frowned, suddenly doubtful: “You mean you really didn’t know about this?”
Before he could answer, there was a loud crack from the door, and that made all of us jump and turn around. The panicked shriek of the female communications officer shrilled into my ears, as she jumped to her feet, watching with horror as the door burst open under the irresistible force of many strong shoulders pushing into it.
We stood there rooted to the spot.
The powerful frame of Captain Scarlet stood in the opening, the other zombies gathered in a close pack behind him. His glassy eyes looked unemotionally in our direction, without recognising any of us.
I heard the gasp of dismay and horror coming from General Metcalfe at the sight of his son, and the low prayer in Creole coming from Major Perrin’s lips.
Scarlet stepped into the room, and the others followed, silently. Taking me by complete surprise, General Metcalfe made a dash in the direction of his son, I imagine in a foolhardy attempt to try and reason with him. I was very concerned that it would not work, and that it might have dire consequences, so instinctively, I darted after the general, caught him by the arm and forcefully pulled him back before he reached Scarlet. I had, this way, put myself in the first line in front of everyone, and for the second time that day, I froze as I faced a zombified adversary – feeling even more overwhelmed this time around, because this man now standing menacingly over me was Captain Scarlet.
I never truly realised before that moment how much taller and stronger than me he was.
I didn’t stand more than a second; with a swipe of his arm, he slapped me across the face, so violently that I staggered, half-stunned. I stepped back to avoid his hands that were trying to grab me by the throat, and I attempted to rejoin the others, as the rest of the zombies filled the room and spread around.
As I was preparing myself to face the zombies’ approach, something hit me violently on the back of my head and my knees buckled underneath me; I couldn’t keep my balance and I fell face first onto the floor. Multiple hands grasped at me; as incapacitated as I was, I attempted to resist, but it was in vain. I could hear the communications officer still screaming in terror, and the shouts and scuffles made by my companions as they desperately fought back. I caught a glimpse of Doctor Fawn, who was driven to the floor by three zombies. He quickly disappeared from my view.
Then as I was turned onto my back and lay there on the floor, restrained by so many hands that I couldn’t keep count of them and barely able to move, I saw someone approach casually, oblivious to the crowd of surrounding zombies; that someone was wearing a WAAF uniform, and came to stand over me. I looked up, and the eyes that I found glaring down at me with such conceit in them were definitely not those of a zombie.
I felt a shiver coming up and down my spine.
“So it was you…” I gasped.
I saw the loathing smile appearing on his thin lips.
“You really thought you knew what was going on, Lieutenant Green?” he asked disdainfully in his irksome nasal voice. “You still don’t know how wrong you are…”
The booted foot of Lieutenant Arturo Saturnin came right into my face and I instantly lost consciousness.
I was annoyed with myself.
I should have seen this coming. Really, I should have considered that the quiet one was the culprit. In whodunits and thriller novels, it was always the quiet one, the person you never suspected, who always kept in the background. Colonel White told me that often enough and he was some kind of an expert on the subject. He loved mystery novels, and had even followed a writing course in that genre, some years ago, before joining Spectrum, with the hope that one day he would be able to pen his own bestseller – a revelation that stunned me when he confided it to me one Sunday at tea, on the Promenade Deck.
I supposed that considering how bad this assignment was going, he would chide me for not seeing the obvious.
I woke up lying on the cold marble floor of a semi-dark room, with my hands tied behind my back. My head was pounding painfully, and the sound of chanting and drums not really beating in unison wasn’t helping in the matter.
I wasn’t alone. I could hear Doctor Fawn’s low voice, gently encouraging me to emerge. When I opened my eyes, I saw him seated on the floor, by my side; he too was tied up. Beyond him, I could see General Metcalfe, also seated on the floor and tied up as well, and leaning against a stone wall behind him. He was looking towards me with a grave expression.
“How are you, Lieutenant?” he asked in a voice as low as Fawn’s.
I frowned, trying to clear my mind of the fog it was still in. “I… I’ll be better when I’m able to sit up…” My voice was a slur; I could barely recognise it.
I struggled to get into a seated position; Fawn did his best to help, shouldering me up. My head was threatening to split; the chanting and drums were now clearer as my brain started to focus. At least, I noticed, my feet were free; not that it would help me get very far from this place.
I was now leaning against the same wall as my two companions; in front of me, I could see the side of an altar made of solid wood, set in the middle of the large room. Beside it, on a high table, which seemed made of stone, there were a multitude of heteroclite objects, some of which I couldn’t even recognise. There were ceremonial rattles, bells, and coloured stones, talismans attached to leather laces, painted chicken feet and even an old bottle of rum, with the imprints of hands in the dust covering its surface. There were also candles, of all colours, shapes and sizes, on that stone table and all around the room, all of them lit and throwing an eerie light on a series of skulls – human and animals – lined at the altar’s foot.
Men were standing in a semi-circle around the altar and stone table, in several lines, their eyes glazed as they watched the burning candles. Most of them were wearing WAAF uniforms – and amongst them, on the first line, as mesmerised as all of them, stood Captain Scarlet. Right next to him, there was the man who threw me off that roof in Port-au-Prince.
I felt my heart rate increase, as I realised they were all zombies.
“Where the hell are we?” I whispered.
“The base chapel, I believe.” The voice coming from my immediate left made my heart jump and I turned my head in that direction – far too quickly, as my headache suddenly became too vivid and almost made me throw up. I closed my eyes against the pain for a second or two, resting my head against the wall behind me, and composed myself before looking again.
My brother Caleb was seated by my side; his hands were obviously tied behind his back too, and he was now looking at me with a deep frown of concern.
“Seymour, are you all right?”
“I am,” I answered with a weak voice and a forced smile. I felt a surge of relief to have found him – but at the same time, I was also deeply alarmed that he was a prisoner as well. “Caleb, I’m so glad you’re okay. You don’t know how worried I was for you!”
“Well, I wouldn’t say I’m exactly okay,” he muttered under his breath. “But at least I’m alive. And I was worried for you too. The last I knew, you were falling from that roof, and I thought the fall might have killed you – or injured you seriously.”
“I was lucky. I landed on garbage bags. They cushioned my fall.” I nodded in the direction of the two men on my right. “You’ve met Doctor Fawn, a colleague of mine – and General Metcalfe?”
“We’ve met, yes,” Fawn replied tersely. “While you were out of it.”
I looked around, trying to get a better understanding of our situation. The constant pounding in my head wasn’t helping any. “Where do these drumbeats and chanting come from?” I asked, frowning.
“Speakers,” Fawn said, nodding in the direction of the wall behind the altar. “They probably put some kind of recording into a player somewhere… Sounds like tribal drumming of some kind…”
“I hate drums,” I muttered. “Reminds me of the alert system we had in Marineville. It used to give me such headaches… You say this is the base chapel?”
“It is,” General Metcalfe said in his deep voice. “Those men grabbed us in the command centre, and before we knew it, we were trussed up like pigs. Lieutenant Saturnin had them brought us here.”
“What did they do with Major Perrin?” I asked. “And that communications officer who was with us?” I was searching around with my eyes and couldn’t see any of them with us.
“We don’t know,” General Metcalfe answered. “They were alive when they separated us, though Major Perrin received a hard knock on the head and was unconscious. We’re hoping they simply took them somewhere else and that they are being held prisoners. If not…” He let the sentence hang. We all knew what the alternative was.
“They’ve obviously done some redecorating of the place,” Doctor Fawn said, looking around. “They’ve removed all benches and ceremonial Christian objects. Looks like they’re preparing for a pagan ceremony or something…”
“They’ve transformed the chapel into a hounfort,” Caleb then explained. “A ‘voodoo church’, if you will.”
“We should have guessed,” Fawn replied with a gloomy expression on his face. “With that altar in the middle…”
But Caleb shook his head at these words. “No, you have it wrong. This is not the regular altar of the voodoo religion. That high stone table over there,” he added, nodding towards the said object, “that’s a voodoo altar.”
“Then what about that wooden table, in the middle of the room?” I asked. “It looks like a regular Christian altar…”
“It is,” Caleb agreed. “The one from this chapel, probably. Why they had pushed it there next to the pé, I have no idea…”
“The pé?” Fawn asked.
“The voodoo altar. The stone table. That’s what it’s called. That’s where they put their most precious ceremonial talismans.”
“A bottle of rum is a ceremonial talisman?” General Metcalfe asked acerbically. “I wouldn’t mind getting a sip of it right now…”
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Caleb replied. “If it does contain rum, it’s more than likely spiked with some hallucinogenic substance – the likes of which they probably fed these men. And Captain Scarlet.” He nodded in the direction of Scarlet, who wasn’t even paying us any attention, so engrossed was he in gazing in apparently deep contemplation at the burning candles on the altar. “If you don’t want to end up like him…”
“We tried to call to him,” Fawn said. “He’s so deep under the control of whatever they gave him that he doesn’t know who we are. Not even…” He looked to his right at General Metcalfe. I saw the latter give a furtive glance to his son, before quickly looking the other way. It probably wasn’t easy for him to see his own flesh and blood like this.
“He didn’t even recognise me,” he said with a catch in his voice. “He even helped in tying us up…”
“Green, here…” Fawn was leaning heavily on my shoulder, and the whisper he addressed to me was barely audible; I frowned when I felt a cold object being slipped into the palm of my hand. When I closed my fingers around it, I found that it had a jagged edge that might actually be sharp enough to go through the ropes binding my wrists. I surreptitiously looked at Fawn who gave me a curt nod. I got a glimpse at his moving arm as he returned his left hand behind his back. I understood instantly: he had somehow successfully freed himself using this object he had given me. It was up to me to do the same now. Hope flared in me.
Fawn slightly moved his position. “Be quick about it,” he said from the corner of his mouth, in a voice lower than before.
I answered with a nod and started working on my ropes, nicking both my hands in the process. I bit my lip to stifle a grunt of pain.
“Are you okay?” Caleb asked in concern.
“Still a bit sore,” I answered. I made believe I was trying to get myself into a more comfortable position. I didn’t want to tell Caleb anything of my attempts to get free yet, so as not to give him false hopes if I should not succeed. “What happened exactly?” I asked him instead. “I mean, after I fell from that roof? What happened to you?”
Caleb kept silent a short moment, lowering his head. “I’m sorry, Seymour, I couldn’t help you,” he said in a very low voice. “I could only watch when that zombie threw you off the roof. I was frozen with fear – I couldn’t move.”
“Easy, Caleb,” I said soothingly. “It wasn’t your fault. I didn’t expect you would be able to help. You’re not trained for that.” I was inwardly adding that neither was I. Not as well as I wanted to be, anyway.
Caleb stifled a sob and looked away. “I thought… I really thought you were dead, Seymour.”
“Well, I’m not,” I replied in a firm voice. “And I don’t intend to die easily.”
“You already have a plan to save us all?” Caleb asked me with a faint smile.
“I might have,” I answered calmly. I still didn’t want to commit myself. At least, my apparent confidence seemed to give some courage to Caleb; I could see the start of some hope in his eyes as he looked straight at me.
“You’re always playing the hero, Seymour,” he said. “Even as a child, you were always there, looking out for us. It’s no surprise you’re a Spectrum officer now. I just hope that won’t cost your life one day…”
I didn’t reply. The ropes restraining my hands were difficult to cut through, and so far, the only thing I was absolutely sure of was that I had inflicted on myself a series of painful cuts, and that the sharp object I was holding was threatening to slip from my blood-covered palm. There was no way to know for sure if I had made some progress. It didn’t feel like it; on the contrary, my bonds seemed to have tightened around my wrists. I carried on nevertheless, not wanting to give up hope.
“Tell me the rest,” I asked quietly, ignoring my brother’s comments. “Caleb, I need to know what happened.”
He nodded. “The zombie came after me,” he answered in little more than a whisper. “I tried to fight him off, but he was too strong and I didn’t have a chance. He hit me only once – I guess I must have lost consciousness then, because I don’t remember much from there. When I came to, I was already here – trussed up like this.” The expression in his eyes became distant, as he looked in the direction of the zombies standing not that far away from us. They were still not taking any interest in us, or what we might be talking about. They were far too busy staring straight at the burning candles – like moths, they seemed to be fascinated by the fire.
“There weren’t as many of these guys in here when I woke up,” Caleb continued. “There were about six, or seven – half of those who attacked us in the alley. Not all of them are zombies.”
“No?” I asked curiously.
Caleb shook his head, and nodded in the direction of the group of men standing around the altar. “Look, you can see them. Those guys, with white paint over their faces? Like tribal markings?”
I narrowed my eyes and saw the men he described. They were standing at the end of each line, and their bearing was quite different from that of the zombies beside them. They wore no shirts, had their head and chest shaved completely, and wore what I would call ‘war paint’ on their faces. They had their arms crossed against their chests and each of them held a wooden staff. Their eyes had nothing of the glazed expression seen in zombies.
There’s at least three, maybe four of these men here,” Caleb explained. “They seem to be the ‘guardians’ of the zombies. They control them – boss them around.” He scoffed derisively, with some nervousness. “They cheekily called themselves ‘hounsis kanzo.’”
“Hounsis what?” I repeated with a frown.
“A hounsi kanzo is a fully initiated member of the Voodoo church… Someone who has followed an initiation to participate in the ceremony. But these guys… they’re not really hounsis – their main purpose seems to be to keep the zombies in line. But they’re not their real masters. That I know.”
“The bokor?” I asked. Caleb shivered at the question, and I could see he was hesitating. “Please, continue, Caleb,” I encouraged him gently.
He nodded and swallowed hard. “When I woke up, your friend was here too. But he wasn’t… like them yet.” He nodded in the direction of the zombies. “He was with me, on the floor where you are. But he was barely conscious, and delirious. He was hallucinating. A couple of zombies were watching us. Then the bokor came…”
I heard my brother take a shaky and sharp intake of breath, and in the semi-darkness, I saw him shiver.
“The zombies were ordered to take your friend to the altar; he wasn’t in any position to resist, and they dragged him there. I watched as the bokor administered some kind of drug…” His voice broke and he turned away. “When the bokor had finished with him, he dropped to the floor. He stayed there for a moment, not moving. Then they pulled him to his feet, in front of the bokor… And I could see his eyes… Glassy, dead – without any expression. He didn’t speak, nor react when the hounsis, instructed by the bokor, took him away. He simply followed submissively. He was just like the other zombies.”
“I’ll make them pay for this.” General Metcalfe’s voice was now hollow, and was dripping with anger and hatred. He had been listening to Caleb’s explanation up until now in complete silence.
Now as I turned to him, I could see the hard, determined expression on his face. It was an expression I had seen often on Captain Scarlet’s face, when he had set himself to carry out a task, whatever the price might be for him – even when it meant his own death. “I swear, when I get my hands on this bokor, I’ll make him undo what he did to my son, or I’ll wring his miserable neck.”
“He’s your son?” Caleb asked, turning a horrified look to General Metcalfe.
The older man hesitated, probably wondering how much he could reveal in front of this civilian he didn’t know. But then, he probably figured out that if he was my brother, he could probably be trusted with the identity of his son.
“He is,” he answered, lowering his head.
“I… didn’t realise,” Caleb said. “I’m sorry, General. I shouldn’t… have told this story, I…”
“You don’t have to feel sorry for anything, son,” General Metcalfe grunted. “It’s not as if you were responsible for what happened to him. We have to get out of this and free him from this trance before he does something he is likely to regret when he regains his senses…”
“Maybe I am responsible. If I had not revealed all I know about zombies, and bokors and…”
“Stop this,” I ordered in a stern voice, hearing my brother’s voice break in panic. “You are not responsible, Caleb. This would have happened regardless. Pull yourself together, please. Now is not the time to lose your nerve.”
“I… You’re right, Seymour. I’m sorry,” Caleb said, his voice still catching, but obviously calming down. “It’s just… It’s hard, you know? Recalling all that happened. You don’t have any idea how afraid I was. I thought they would turn me into one of these zombies too.”
As if in answer, a high-pitched laugh echoed through the room, covering the chanting and the beating drums. And then a voice attracted our attention; it was mocking and taunting us.
“You didn’t really think we would need a weakling like you?”
Someone had approached us silently during our conversation and was standing in the shadows, apart from the zombies, a short distance from us. He stepped out of the gloom and came closer, followed by another, shorter, silhouette, who came to stand by his side as they stopped directly in front of us.
I recognised the latter man instantly: it was the false waiter who had spiked Captain Scarlet’s glass of water. Like the hounsis that Caleb had indicated to us, he had no shirt on, but he was wearing the trousers, boots and gun belt of a WAAF soldier and around his neck hung the two dog tags that I was sure were the same Captain Scarlet had taken from him earlier that day. He had a red bandana on his head and was looking down at us with hatred in his eyes.
The taller man by his side was a rather impressive – and surprising – sight. He too was dressed in WAAF trousers and boots, and he also wore an open jacket, that looked like the upper half of an old, tatty tuxedo. There was a skeleton’s torso painted on his upper body. The pattern went up to his neck with false vertebrae, and a skull was painted over his face, which was white all over, with precise drawings of teeth, and black patches over his nose and around his very bright eyes. He had a top hat on his head and was holding a six feet high wooden staff.
It took me a few seconds to recognise who this man was.
“So, Lieutenant Saturnin,” I said bitterly. “You are the bokor, then.”
That earned me a vicious kick right into my exposed abdomen from the false waiter. I couldn’t avoid it, and it took my breath away; it nearly sent me sprawling on Fawn. The sharp object in my hand slipped and cut deeply into my palm. I gritted my teeth to stifle a cry.
On the plus side, however, I felt one of the ropes give; I wasn’t free yet, but I was making progress.
“Be silent, dog!” the little man yelled at me. “Show some respect in the presence of Baron Samedi!”
I blinked in surprise. “Baron Samedi?” I wheezed.
I felt some alarm when I heard my brother speak then: “Baron Samedi – loa of the dead and cemeteries… Bokors need his permission to create zombies… so during ceremonies, someone dresses up as Baron Samedi so that the loa’s presence will be felt.”
I didn’t need my brother to attract attention to himself like this. I shot him a cross glance. “Shut up, Caleb…” I warned him.
“Your brother knows his voodoo, Lieutenant Green,” Saturnin told me in his nasal voice. “You should listen to what he has to say, it could be instructive.”
“I know quite enough to be sure you have a sick sense of humour,” I replied, as I struggled to get back into a seated position, while trying to cut through my bonds again. “ ‘Samedi’ in French means ‘Saturday’ – Day of Saturn… Saturnin?” I raised a brow. “So that was an early calling for you?”
The false waiter lashed out at me again. This time, I braced myself, expecting it, and I went with the kick. That last jerk permitted me to slash through the knots holding my wrists together, cutting deep into my flesh as the same time. My hands were now free. But I didn’t make a move yet; I thought the best thing was to just do like Fawn and bide my time, until the best moment to strike came.
“From the moment I was born, Lieutenant,” Saturnin said quietly, “I just knew I was special – different from everybody else.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said bitterly. “Houngans are chosen at birth, are they not? You became a bokor later, when you chose to use ‘dark magic’.”
“He is not the bokor,” my brother then said.
This revelation surprised me. I frowned and looked at Caleb. “He’s not?”
My brother simply shook his head, and I returned my attention to Saturnin.
The latter smiled at me, with a tiger’s sneer, and nodded in confirmation. “I am not. I’ve told you already that you don’t know everything that is going on, Lieutenant. Now you’re just starting to realise how little you know.”
I shot an incensed look at Saturnin. “You said you’re different?” I repeated angrily. “You’re not that much different from other thugs I’ve had the displeasure to encounter. Except that maybe, you like to keep your hands clean, and you need hired help to do the dirty work for you. Am I wrong, Lieutenant?”
Saturnin smiled evilly; under his make-up, it looked as if he had four lines of teeth. “If it was the case, Lieutenant, I wouldn’t have knocked you down myself at the command centre. I would have left my zombies to tear you apart. It’s still not too late for that.”
“What have you done with Major Perrin?” General Metcalfe asked sternly. “And the communications officer? You’ve had them killed?”
“They’re safe for now,” Saturnin answered quietly. “Don’t worry about them. You should rather worry about yourselves. I have a special treat for the four of you.”
“You will ask your bokor to turn us into zombies?” I commented dully. I looked directly to the shorter man by his side. “I believe I’m right. You are indeed the hired help. But I don’t think you could be the bokor.”
The ‘waiter’ made a third attempt to strike at me, but Saturnin stopped him, calmly pushing him back. “Indeed, Alain is not the bokor, Lieutenant Green. But he is no ‘ordinary help’ either. He is the houngenikon.”
“What the hell is that gibberish supposed to mean?” I grumbled.
“The hougenikon is the houngan’s – or bokor’s – assistant,” my brother specified. “He assists the high priest in his rituals.”
Saturnin nodded slowly. “Alain is brother to the bokor. So that makes him the ideal choice for this highly exalted position.” He smiled again as he put a protective hand on the shoulder of the young man who was still looking with anger at me. “I arranged it so that he would be stationed at the base, with us, so we’d have the help when the time came to put our plans into motion.”
My frown deepened as I was trying to make sense of all this. “Who are ‘we’?” I asked. “Who is this bokor who helped you create this… army of zombies?”
“Frankly, mon cher Lieutenant Green, you have no idea at all?”
That soft voice coming from behind both Saturnin and Alain made me shiver from head to toes. Suddenly I understood completely; the last piece of the puzzle was falling into place. Maybe I suspected already, but my mind was refusing the obvious.
I heard General Metcalfe uttering a low curse behind me, as he recognised the voice too. Fawn kept silent, but I could guess what he was thinking; as for my brother – he had shivered at the sound of this voice, as if he was expecting the worst from it.
Saturnin and Alain drew apart and gave way to the third member of their evil team of conspirators. The slender figure of Doctor Henriette LaSalle walked between them, in an enticing way.
She no longer looked like the composed and dedicated WAAF doctor I had met the day before, who had entranced me with her beauty. Her long, curly hair was now loose on her shoulders, and she was dressed in revealing attire with a neckline so low it reached to her navel, and a long skirt split up high on her hip where a long, pointed dagger hung. A multitude of pearl necklaces, chains and talismans decorated her neck and rested on her half-displayed breast, and rings hung from her ears; her make-up was outrageous.
She was still strikingly gorgeous, but it was a different beauty now. It was vile, and evil – not really attractive anymore. There was a definite air of danger radiating from her that was sending a shiver down my spine.
I looked at her with incredulity. “Doctor LaSalle,” I whispered. “You are the bokor?”
She smiled, a distressing scornful expression twisting her beautiful face. “Of course I am. Did you think I could not be because I’m a woman? Mambos are more powerful than houngans, you fool – or didn’t your brother tell you?”
“And you are her brother?” I said to Alain with disbelief. There was very little resemblance between the two of them. While Henriette LaSalle was a very beautiful woman – a fact that was accentuated by the clothes she was wearing – her brother wasn’t that good-looking; not really ugly – but certainly very plain-looking. He was obviously many years younger than his sister; so I imagined that she probably held a strong influence over him.
A very strong and bad influence.
“That should have been obvious,” Fawn said in a dark voice. “I should have realised it sooner, when you reported you didn’t find anything strange in Lieutenant Simon’s body. You should at least have discovered the low level of sodium in his blood. And then you didn’t perform an autopsy on him… You were covering yourself!”
“Of course, Doctor,” she said quietly. “We didn’t want Spectrum to get too interested in our business… We wanted to keep this quiet until we were ready to strike.”
“And what is your business, exactly?” I asked angrily. “Why are you doing all this?” I hesitated. “Does it have anything to do with the Mysterons?”
“The Mysterons?” Saturnin frowned deeply at my question, before shaking his head. “The Mysterons have nothing to do with this, Lieutenant. Actually, you did guess what it was all about earlier. We have indeed been building an army… an army of zombies.”
“You are kidding!” General Metcalfe grumbled. “How can that be possible?”
“It was done before,” my brother then said. We all looked at him; he seemed to have found some renewed courage, but still looked pretty much ill-at-ease with our situation. I couldn’t blame him, actually. It was looking pretty precarious. Of course, he didn’t know that Fawn and I were free, and even if he knew, our situation wouldn’t appear any less desperate, with these armed people surrounding us and the zombies following their every whim. I wasn’t losing hope, but now was still not the time to react. I wanted to know what was going on exactly.
“Or it might have been done,” Caleb swiftly corrected himself. “In the 20th century. Haitian President François ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier ruled the country through state-sponsored terrorism and mass murders, with a private militia under his orders called the ‘Tonton Macoutes’. They wore dark glasses and carried machetes as weapons and were totally ruthless. Rumour has it that they were actually zombies – doing Duvalier’s work without asking questions.” He looked at me. “But that’s probably only rumour… maybe even spread by Duvalier and the Tonton Macoutes themselves to spread terror amongst the populace.”
“I’m willing to believe anything right now,” I said darkly, keeping my eyes on the trio standing over us. “So you’re building an army of zombies… using the WAAF soldiers of this base. That’s what you did to Lieutenant Simon…”
“How could you?” Fawn asked in disgust. “You, a doctor, doing such atrocities… Doesn’t your oath mean anything to you? You should be ashamed of yourself!”
Henriette LaSalle scoffed. “Oh, please, Doctor… You really think these arguments are going to affect me in any way?” She turned to me. “Lieutenant Simon was a problem,” she explained. “Early on, he suspected that the apparent illness of the base’s previous commanders was not really that natural.”
“You were behind that, too?” General Metcalfe exclaimed with indignation.
“Of course we were,” Doctor LaSalle said with no concealed pride. “You would be surprised at the large assortment of drugs, powders and potions a bokor possesses the secret of, General. It was child’s play for me to create a powder that would give each of our previous commanders all the symptoms of a burn-out, or breakdown. And nobody would suspect anything at all.”
“Nobody, except Lieutenant Simon, that is,” I replied.
“Simon was too clever for his own good. He suspected foul play early on, and made his own little investigation. He discovered what we were up to, and wanted to warn Major Perrin. We had to get rid of him. As we didn’t want a good soldier to go to waste, we decided we would be better served to… ‘turn him to our cause’.”
My expression became hard at her far too aloof tone. She noticed, but she actually seemed to take pleasure in seeing me getting angrier by the second. She heaved a deep sigh.
“Unfortunately, he escaped the vigilance of the hounsi charged to keep an eye on him. I supposed his subverted mind at the time only remembered his last lucid thought, which was about warning Major Perrin – so he came here in his zombie state. Not that he could have said anything to anyone in that state…”
“He was walking towards the command centre,” I recalled. “But was killed before he could reach it.”
“What did you expect?” Saturnin asked with a shrug. “The sentries saw a zombie coming towards them… They ordered him to stop, but he didn’t. So they shot him dead.”
I nodded. “But his death didn’t solve your problem, is it? On the contrary – it added a great deal to it.”
Saturnin frowned. “Damn right it did. If it were not for Simon getting himself killed like he did, nobody would have suspected what was going on here. We were not supposed to make our move for some time. In the meantime, we would slowly have turned the soldiers to our cause – only a few at a time…”
“But after the incident with Simon, we had to act quickly, and change our plans accordingly,” Doctor LaSalle agreed. “Fortunately, it proved far easier than we expected… And actually, it gave much more satisfying results than our initial plans.”
“You witch!” General Metcalfe snarled at her. “How did you actually turn them all to your bidding – and so quickly?”
“Don’t insult my sister, you old goat!” Alain raged, taking a threatening step in the direction of the general.
“That’s all right, Alain,” she interrupted, stopping him before he reached his target. “He’s a non-initiate. He doesn’t know any better.” She chuckled and smiled evilly.
Then, in a very quiet voice, she started her explanation, as if all of this was the most normal of subjects to discuss: “Actually, that was surprisingly easy, General. We had free access to the base drinking water reserve. I only needed to add the first drug of the zombification process to it. It’s a very concentrated powder; only a couple of sachets were enough to contaminate the whole reserve.”
“Then, once most of the personnel on base had drunk the spiked water,” Saturnin continued in a equally calm voice, “and started coming down with various symptoms associated with the process, the good doctor, quite naturally, gave them her tender care… and administered the second drug needed to complete the process. It didn’t take that much time at all to get results – and in a few hours only, we had at our disposal a whole army of zombies.”
“You’re nothing but monsters!” Metcalfe snapped angrily.
Saturnin simply smiled again. “Obviously, not everybody on base was affected by the first drug – like yourselves, for example. I disabled the base’s communication system to make sure the alarm couldn’t be raised within the base or to the exterior. Yes, you were right, Lieutenant Green: the comm.link indeed was sabotaged. You just made a mistake in the identity of your saboteur.”
“I guess I’ll have to apologise to Major Perrin,” I groused, “for thinking he was a low, conniving rat. Obviously you are, Saturnin.”
“Our hounsis – who had already infiltrated the base personnel and were waiting for our signal to act – quickly put our new zombies to use, and rounded up those who had not been affected by the drug,” Saturnin continued, ignoring my intervention. “And they were put under lock and key. We have put Major Perrin with them. They will be dealt with shortly.”
“This is insane,” Doctor Fawn then said. “Why did you transform all these men into this vegetative and degrading state? What do you need them for?”
“Don’t you get it, Doctor?” Saturnin replied harshly. “They make the best foot soldiers you can imagine. Obeying our every order, never asking any questions, feeling no emotions or remorse, whatever atrocities they are asked to commit. They’re nearly unstoppable, do not feel pain, and each of them is as strong as three men. They would even die for us. That’s the perfect army that we need to finally bring this island back into the hands of those who are meant to hold control and power over it.”
“And who would that be?” I asked with a derisive scoff. “Certainly not you?”
“Who else, but us?” Doctor LaSalle retorted defiantly.
“With us,” Saturnin added, raising his head high with pride, “the Bizango Sect will revive and regain control of Haiti. As it was always meant to be.”
“Bizango?” Caleb repeated, frowning. “You claim to be Bizango?”
“So the Bizango Sect is not a myth?” I asked, remembering my brother’s lessons.
“They are not,” Saturnin snapped sharply. “They might have been dormant for a time, but they never disappeared. Their spirit lived within those who are willing to pursue and uphold their vision.”
“Like you, I suppose?” I sarcastically asked.
“For centuries, the Bizango Sect secretly held control and power over Haitian society,” Saturnin continued. “Unknown, or with the assent of this island’s many regimes, they pulled strings behind closed doors, so that their ideals would always prevail. As you demonstrated yourselves, to the world at large, when their name was mentioned, they were thought to be a myth, a legend. And especially to the World Government. But the Bizango Sect is not a myth. And it will be reborn from its ashes – to reclaim its rights.”
“For too long, Haiti has been dependant on the rest of the world to survive,” Henriette LaSalle added. “We cannot permit the World Government to keep control on this island much longer.”
“What are you talking about?” Metcalfe retorted angrily. “The World Government is helping your people! Chaos reigned on this island for far too many years, and we are on the verge of bringing you out of it. How can you possibly not want that kind of help?”
“Chaos is needed to keep order,” Saturnin curtly replied. “Only through chaos and fear can we hope to achieve power and impose control. That is why we need an army that will strike terror into the heart of our enemies.”
“You are insane,” I stated. This earned me a third kick from Alain LaSalle. I curled myself into a ball to absorb the shock as much as possible. I clenched my jaws against the pain reverberating through my right side. I raised my head to glare at LaSalle. “That is the last time you strike me, handsome,” I said between my teeth.
He scoffed at me, filled with contempt for what he probably considered as pathetic boasting on my part, and stepped back.
“Indeed, that was the last time,” Saturnin said with an evil smile. “For you have probably guessed that, now that you know what is going on, we can’t let any of you go.”
“You cannot hope to succeed in whatever you’re planning,” Metcalfe lashed at him. “When the World Government knows what happened on this base –”
“And who will tell them, General?” Saturnin scoffed. “You? I think not. The only thing the World Government will know for sure is that you and your Spectrum friends have disappeared. As well as all the personnel of this base. We’ll go underground and take all the zombies with us. The WAAF will send new troops – who will also drink from the base water reserve, and we’ll gain new soldiers for our army.”
“You don’t expect you’d be able to do that very long before someone finally realises your little game?” Metcalfe replied.
“Of course not,” answered Saturnin. “But we’ve already made plans to take over the Haitian government shortly. You see, we also have faithful followers, impatiently waiting for our signal to march on the presidential palace with our army of zombies. Nobody will be able to stop us and we’ll take control, and impose our new order to the people.”
“General Metcalfe is right: if you think this plan of yours will work, you’re deluding yourself,” I said harshly. “When Spectrum doesn’t hear from Captain Scarlet, Doctor Fawn and myself, they will send someone to investigate. Our commander will want to know what happened to us.”
Doctor LaSalle crouched in front of me and teasingly caressed my cheek with her fingers, which now were adorned with impossibly long nails, painted a vivid red. She gave me a wicked smile. “That’ll be all the more interesting,” she said in a husky voice. “New Spectrum officers to zombify and put under my… our… command.”
I gritted my teeth and looked into her eyes with barely contained rage. “Is that what you have in store for me?” I asked tersely. “I am to become a zombie too, like Captain Scarlet?”
“You?” She laughed out loud; it was an annoying cackle, which was obviously meant to ridicule me. “My poor, sweet, innocent Lieutenant Green… What would we do with you? You’re not a field agent. You told me so yourself. And I think you proved that you’re not fit to be a soldier. None of you are.”
Keeping her hand around my chin, she looked at my companions. “We have no use for an old man, a doctor, a puny little scholar – and a communications officer.” Her eyes returned to me, lit with a cruelty I had never seen in them before. “I guess that makes you perfect candidates for the sacrificial ceremony.”
There was a short moment during which silence followed Doctor LaSalle’s words. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. And obviously, I wasn’t alone.
Caleb let out a loud incredulous exclamation. “You mean to use us as human sacrifices? You must be kidding! There have never been any documented proofs that human sacrifices were performed during voodoo ceremonies! Those were only rumours, born out of ignorance and misunderstanding – and lies told by detractors and government officials who hated everything that was Haitian.”
“All this is true, Mister Griffiths,” Saturnin declared in a cold voice. “And so we will strike terror into the heart of our enemies – by becoming everything they wrongfully accused us of being.” He made a beckoning gesture and a nearby hounsi approached, followed by two zombies. Saturnin returned his attention directly to my brother. I started feeling terribly worried, and with the next words he pronounced, I knew exactly why: “And unfortunately for you, my far too clever friend, you will have the honour of becoming our first human sacrifice.”
I had the impression that my heart missed a beat. “No!” I protested loudly.
A devilish smile spread on Alain LaSalle’s face as he moved forwards and seized my brother by the shoulder to pull him up. Caleb gave a frightened gasp, and that was my cue to finally act; I had waited more than enough. I just hoped I hadn’t waited too long.
My arms left my back and I curled one of them around Doctor LaSalle’s throat, before she could even rise to her feet. I held tight to her, threatening her with the sharp object I was holding in my free hand. Only then did I see that it actually was a large shard of glass, apparently from the bottom of a bottle.
“Now, Doctor!” I yelled. The hounsi and the two zombies beckoned by Saturnin were almost on us, but they were taken by surprise when Fawn uncoiled his legs and hit the first zombie right in the knees; he fell without making a single sound. The hounsi was already leaning over General Metcalfe; I realised then that the general too had been able to free himself, when I saw him lending a spectacular punch into the face of the man, which sent him sprawling right into the second zombie who had been standing behind him.
Both Fawn and Metcalfe jumped to their feet, ready to defend their lives. Now all the zombies, as if answering a call, were making their way in our direction. I quickly stood, forcing Doctor LaSalle up as well, pressing the glass shard near her face. Seeing his sister in danger, Alain LaSalle quickly let go of Caleb who stumbled back to my side. LaSalle took one step back, giving me a murderous look.
I ignored him, and I glared at Saturnin. “Call them off!” I said with urgency as the zombies were approaching. “Or I swear, I’ll kill her!”
He crossed his arms upon his chest and looked at me with a defiant smile. “Do kill her,” he said tauntingly and that cool statement took me by surprise. “She holds control over the zombies. If you kill her, there will be no control over them, and they will tear you to pieces.”
I hesitated. I wasn’t expecting this; I couldn’t say if he was telling the truth or bluffing.
Alain LaSalle probably wasn’t expecting this either, and he seemed to like it even less than I did, because he gave a coarse roar of anger and pushed Caleb aside to throw himself at me in a way that indicated that he wanted to tear me apart.
“Let go of my sister!”
I did, and pushed her away from me, so I would be free to deal with him. Alain arrived on me at full speed and seized me. I simply reacted to the attack, and I jabbed at him with my clenched fist; unfortunately for him, it was the same fist that was holding the shard of glass. It buried deeply in his chest, and he let out a muffled moan of pain. His whole body tensed, and so did his hold on me. I saw his eyes becoming glassy, and his head pulled back to look at the ceiling with a disbelieving expression. His grip relaxed and he let me go, before starting to slide towards the floor. Out of another impulse, my hand reached for his gun and snatched it from its holster.
I made a step back towards Fawn and General Metcalfe, pulling Caleb behind me, just as Doctor LaSalle, at the sight of her brother lying at my feet, filled the room with her horrified scream.
For a short moment, as I looked down at the dead body, I felt petrified. I wasn’t a killer; I rarely needed to go to the extreme of killing in the course of my duty. I mean, I knew that by pressing a button, or relaying an order, I might condemn someone to death. I accepted the result of my actions, on those occasions, but to actually do it with my own hands… that was totally different. I had done it only once before, and it was in self-defence. And I had only reacted by instinct, following the harsh training I had received. Exactly like now. I didn’t care for it the first time around, and I certainly didn’t care for it right now either. It felt just necessary to do so.
Maybe I really wasn’t meant for field assignments; I was better off in front of my console, on Cloudbase.
My hesitation, I realised almost instantly, however short it had been, seemed to have cost me and my companions much more than I truly expected, as suddenly, a tall silhouette appeared seemingly out of nowhere, and a grip of iron clutched at my throat, and squeezed so tight that I nearly didn’t have time to gulp for air before it was too late.
I was bewildered to see Captain Scarlet standing in front of me, his two hands now around my throat. His eyes were cold, as dead as before, and seemed to look straight through me, as if he wasn’t even seeing me; he held me tight, intending to strangle me right there, on my feet. I seized his arm with my free hand and tried to make him let go; he wouldn’t budge.
“Paul!” General Metcalfe suddenly appeared in my line of vision, and tried to pull his son’s hands off my throat. “Let him go! You don’t want to kill him!”
Scarlet didn’t even give one look at his father; he removed one single hand from my throat and struck at him, swatting him away as if he were an annoying fly. General Metcalfe stepped back, obviously stunned that his son would hit him. He tripped over the still body of Alain LaSalle, and fell to the floor.
Scarlet was still holding me firmly with one hand, and his hold weakened, if only slightly. However, I didn’t even have time to use this momentary reprieve to get some much needed air and make an attempt to free myself; both hands were back on my throat the next second, squeezing me even tighter than before.
I was choking.
From the corner of my eyes, I saw Fawn making an attempt to reach Scarlet, only to be intercepted by two zombies who proceeded to restrain him. Even Caleb, with his hands still tied, was trying to get to me, struggling against a hounsi who was pulling him back, while General Metcalfe was picked up from the floor, fighting to escape the hands that were trying to hold him.
I knew I was in deep trouble, and that I couldn’t expect any help from anyone.
As I looked into Scarlet’s emotionless features, my vision started to blur. He was going to kill me; I knew he was going to hate himself for it once he was back to normal. If he ever got back to normal. He was obviously under the influence of an incredibly powerful drug, if he couldn’t shake free from its control. And if they were continuously feeding him this drug, he might very well never be able to regain his freedom.
“Captain…” His thumbs ruthlessly pressed against my windpipe, and I strangled on the word. I was completely unable to breathe now. I had no choice; I didn’t want to do it, but I didn’t want to die either. I was still holding in my right hand the gun I had taken from Alain LaSalle’s belt; I raised it and pressed the muzzle against Scarlet’s abdomen.
“I’m sorry, Paul…” I managed to utter, the words dying on my lips.
I closed my eyes and pulled the trigger.
The loud thunder of the gun filled the echoing room; it took four bullets before I felt Scarlet’s hands relaxing their grasp from my throat to at last let me go. Gasping for much-needed air, I stumbled back and slumped against the wall behind me. I opened my eyes only at that moment, just in time to see Scarlet collapse in a heap on the floor, in front of me.
But it was only to be a short reprieve, and I didn’t have time to congratulate myself on this narrow escape.
I was still trying to pull myself together when the other zombies came at me, and seized me; multiple hands roughly pulled me up and before I could make use of it again, the still-smoking gun was snatched from my hand. I was too weak to offer a good enough resistance, and too dazed to fully understand what their exact intentions might be, as they dragged me away from where they had picked me up.
“Bring him to the altar!” I heard the enraged voice of Doctor LaSalle echoing through the room. “He will pay for killing my brother! I will make him suffer!”
Pulling and pushing, they took me to the wooden Christian altar, and effortlessly heaved me up and laid me on my back. I tried to break free, but no amount of fighting was enough: they were inhumanly strong. As the zombies kept me in place, their hounsis tied my wrists to two corners of the altar, while my ankles were bound to the feet at the other end, the altar not being long enough for my body to lie at full stretch on it. I was in an awkward position. I strained against the ropes holding me, but they held tight; even if I had the time to work on them, I wouldn’t be able to free myself.
And I just knew I wouldn’t have the time.
From my position, I could see Doctor Fawn and my brother Caleb trying to escape the zombies holding them back; they were shouting, objecting against whatever treatment our enemies were planning for me, and trying hard to reach me.
Even General Metcalfe, who was restrained on the floor by the strong hands of his zombie guards, was protesting. His eyes were going from me to Captain Scarlet, who had not moved from where he had fallen. I could see on his face the expression of total dismay and loathing for those whom he knew were responsible for this. He probably regretted having left behind the quiet retirement of his home in Winchester, to accept this assignment; it would have saved him the horror of seeing his son shot in front of his eyes.
I lost sight of my companions when Lieutenant Saturnin came to stand next to Scarlet, his back turned on me, and his full frame, with his arms extended into the air blocked the others from my view.
“Silence these unbelievers!” HE ordered in a strong commanding voice. “They must not disturb the ceremony! Gag them, but don’t hurt them. They must stay alive, until the moment when they will follow their friend to the sacrificial altar…”
I imagined that his order was carried out swiftly, because I soon didn’t hear anything but protesting and angry moans from my companions. Saturnin turned around to look in my direction; even from this distance, I could only see on his painted face the loathing and deep satisfaction he felt at the notion of my approaching death.
I glowered back at him with barely-contained fury and pulled on my restraints once more. If only I could bring about this repugnant man’s death, I would die happy.
I saw Doctor LaSalle approach from the other side of the altar, her eyes set on me and filled with hatred. She was holding the dagger she had taken from her belt in her slender hand.
At her command, one of her hounsis tore my shirt wide open. As she came to stand close by the altar, the woman I once felt so attracted to spat into my face; I gritted my teeth, stifling my own anger, and glared at her with disgust and resentment as the hounsis helped her climb onto the altar, and she knelt astride me. She leant down over me, and started to caress my cheek with the point of her knife, while the fingernails of her other hand were scraping my exposed chest.
She leaned closer, until her face was barely two inches away from mine.
“You will suffer, mon petit Lieutenant,” she promised. “I will make this very slow and painful for you…”
If she thought I was going to break down in fear, she was much mistaken. I couldn’t deny I was afraid, but my anger was stronger and gave me a courage I didn’t know I possessed. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a fully-trained field agent; I was still a Spectrum officer. If I was to die by the hands of this mad woman during an absurd pagan ceremony, I would die as a Spectrum officer.
“Go on, then, bitch…” I said between my teeth. “Do it and stop yapping…”
She offered me a contemptuous smile and straightened up slowly; almost gently, the knife followed my cheekbone, then the outline of my jaw, before sliding down my neck. I shuddered at the thought that she would slit my throat without an afterthought. But then, she would probably consider that to be too quick a death for me; she had said she wanted me to suffer.
The knife nicked me as it slid over my collarbone, and she stopped suddenly; she smiled and drew a deep shaky breath, as if the sight of my spilled blood was giving her great pleasure.
Very slowly, she started to extend the cut; it wasn’t very deep, but it was painful, and I had to clench my jaws not to give her the satisfaction of hearing me utter a single sound. She tilted her head to the side, watching me, and her evil smile widened. She leaned against me again, even closer than before, her breasts resting on my chest.
“You will scream,” she said in a voluptuous voice. “You certainly will, when I start to skin you alive… And then, you will beg for a swift death.”
Keeping close to me, she pressed the knife a little more firmly against my chest and I grunted, bracing myself against the coming pain.
Suddenly, there were shouts from nearby, and that made her stop before she would go further.
“Look! Look! It’s a miracle!”
We both turned our heads towards the voices; we saw one of the hounsis, his eyes wide open with bewilderment and jumping with agitation, pointing at something that was so astonishing to him, as the surprise spread to his companions.
Captain Scarlet was rising to his knees, supporting himself on one arm, while pressing the other against his bleeding abdomen. Lieutenant Saturnin was still by his side and was now watching him with disbelief plain on his painted face.
I heard the gasp of surprise escaping Henriette LaSalle’s lips as she straightened up, suddenly forgetting all about me.
Scarlet struggled to his feet, leaning on the nearby wall to help himself; everyone in the room who was not a zombie was watching in wonder. Even Scarlet’s father, Doctor Fawn and my brother Caleb, gagged and restrained by their zombie guards, were wide-eyed at the scene.
From the distance, I could see the confusion in Scarlet’s face, as he looked down at the blood covering his abdomen and dripping to the floor at his feet; his eyes were still sunken, and surrounded with black circles, and he looked weak – or tired, it was impossible to say. But I would be damned if I was totally sure if he was himself once again – or still under the influence of the zombifying drug.
Suddenly, rising over the stunned silence that had fallen into the room, we heard the high-pitched laugh of Lieutenant Saturnin. His head thrown back, his arms raised in triumph, he was waving his staff excitedly; he crossed the short distance separating him from Scarlet, and started walking around him, watching him in a way that reminded me of a mad scientist admiring the creation to which he had given life, as it took its first steps.
And I realised it was exactly the way Saturnin was seeing himself, when I heard his victorious cry:
“Yes! Yes, this is a sign! This is a sign! See the power we hold! Greater even than any bokor ever held through all Haitian history! We are the chosen ones! We can truly raise the dead! Henriette, the loas have spoken! They have spoken!”
“I didn’t do anything…” Doctor LaSalle started in a murmur, her eyes wide, almost horrified, and shaking her head in disbelief.
“The loas gave you the power! They gave us the power!” Saturnin replied, turning to face her with an expression in which we could clearly read the almost endless fanaticism. “Don’t you see? We are indeed the chosen masters of this island! Nothing will stop us now! NOTHING! We wield the power to make invincible warriors – such as this one!”
He turned his attention back to Scarlet, who was now reaching for his head with his hand, as if attempting to regain his focus; I felt my heartbeat increase, as I didn’t dare speculate on what this hopeful gesture could mean.
“Yes! Rise, my soldier!” Saturnin said encouragingly, raising his arms high towards the sky. “Rise and stand, and show these non-believers! Show them the extent of the power we have over the dead! Show them how death now holds no power over you!”
Scarlet was swift as a cobra – so fast, that nobody even had time to blink. His arm suddenly uncoiled, and caught Saturnin by the throat, choking his next words and throwing him off-balance. The next second, the so-called ‘Baron Samedi’ was roughly thrown against the wall, his staff escaping from his hand, and found himself staring with stunned shock into the eyes of the man he thought he had totally under his control.
“I’ll show you power, you despicable bastard!” Scarlet’s voice was a shaky rumble, and even from where I was lying, I was able to see the fear in Saturnin’s eyes, now so wide that the whites were contrasting deeply with the dark make-up of his orbits.
The hounsis were in a state of semi-panic, but even so, they attempted to dash to the rescue of their master, the zombies automatically following them. Those who were holding my brother, Doctor Fawn and General Metcalfe let go of their charges, tagging along as well. The prisoners quickly removed their gags, still watching with morbid enthralment, uncertain of what they could do to help.
Scarlet’s free hand drew the gun from Saturnin’s belt; still holding his prisoner against the wall, he shot three of his closest adversaries in the legs – one hounsi and two zombies – one after the other, in one fluid movement. They fell to the floor, the hounsi crying in pain and clutching his injured leg, the zombies in complete silence. Their fall hindered the other zombies’ approach, and the remaining hounsis hesitated, unsure if they wanted to risk taking a bullet.
“Stay where you are!” Scarlet roared brusquely, putting the gun under Saturnin’s jaw. The hounsis froze completely, and the zombies stopped their approach, as if they somehow understood the threat to their master.
Scarlet turned an enraged look towards Doctor LaSalle, who was still seated astride me, holding the knife close to my chest. For a moment, she seemed petrified as she was now watching him. I didn’t dare even breathe, as I wondered what she was going to do.
Then I saw her expression change suddenly, into one of pure rage. She gave a blood-curdling yell as she raised the knife high in the air, holding it with both hands. My heart started racing as she prepared to drive it down. I distinctly heard Scarlet utter a loud curse as he swiftly turned the gun on her, letting go of Saturnin.
The gun thundered again, and a fraction of a second before the knife reached my chest, the bullet rammed into Henriette LaSalle’s shoulder; she cried out in pain and was driven back by the force of the impact; she fell from the altar and onto the floor, the dagger escaping her hand. The point drove itself into the wood of the altar, nicking my arm in the process.
I thought my heart would stop beating, so close had I been to seeing my death.
However, I knew we still weren’t out of the woods yet, when I heard the unexpected and enraged cry of Arturo Saturnin filling the room next:
“Kill them! Kill them all!”
Scarlet turned to him, with the obvious intention of silencing him once and for all, when the zombies started moving again, answering their master’s call and urged by the hounsis kanzo. Scarlet backed away towards his father, Fawn and Caleb, raising the gun again, and preparing to defend his own life and protect those behind him against the approaching zombies.
It did look like it would be the end of it – when suddenly, something unexpected happened:
“Stop!” a loud female voice ordered firmly, echoing from the far end of the room. “I order this insanity to stop right this instant!”
Everyone froze. Even the zombies stopped their advance and stood still on their spots; they were the only ones not to turn around, and wonder who could have suddenly spoken with such an authoritative voice. I looked about, pricking my eyes at the gloom beyond the crowd. At first, just over the heads of the zombies standing in lines, I only saw a high staff, the top of which was decorated with rattles and painted and feathered chicken feet. Then I saw half-a-dozen tall, broad-shouldered men wearing white shirts, and grave expressions on their faces, advancing between the zombies, splitting the ranks apart to clear a path, as the person holding the staff approached.
We finally saw her; still wearing her large straw hat, that almost hid her features, and a different flower-patterned dress, the short but imposing Mama Leona was making her way towards us, walking tall, and unbothered by the surrounding zombies who didn’t make a single move to stop her. Behind her, the young man that we had seen at her store was following proudly and with assurance; he didn’t look anymore like the sleepy teenager who had manned the shop counter.
Mama Leona reached the altar; the men in white shirts – obviously her followers – spread around her. She spun around, and struck the floor with the end of her staff; the sound echoed through the room.
“Let there be an end to this madness!” she exclaimed in a loud voice. There was cold anger in her eyes when she glared at the hounsis kanzo who were quite easy to recognise amongst the silent and rigid zombies. She pointed at each and every one of them, in an accusing way: “You all know me and you know the power I hold! Do as I say or you will all regret ever being born! And you know I don’t make idle threats!”
She gestured in the direction of my companions who now seemed as fascinated as everyone else by her timely arrival. “These people are now under my protection! They shall come to no harm! You must let them go!”
Saturnin uttered a curse, before taking a step towards Mama Leona. He found in his path three of her followers, who simply stood as a wall between them. “Who are you to interrupt this ceremony?” he snarled, pointing a finger at her.
Again, she pounded the floor with her staff, this time in anger. “Blasphemy and sacrilege! You dare call this travesty a ceremony?” She walked purposefully to him, pushing two of her men aside to get through. “I know exactly who I am! Who do you think you are?”
“I am Baron Samedi, and I am to return order to the island of Haiti,” he replied, raising his head and looking down at her with arrogance. “I order you –”
“You would order me? You, who used the dark magic of the left hand to hurt people and bend them under your control?” Mama Leona proclaimed forcefully. “You are not Baron Samedi. You are but an impostor, and I order you to cease this sinister farce and to release your prisoners!” She glanced in my direction for a very brief second, and added, with a grandiloquent gesture: “All of them!”
It was as if this last command gave an invisible and unknown signal; the zombies who surrounded my brother, Doctor Fawn, General Metcalfe and Captain Scarlet slowly stepped back. Fawn and Caleb – whose hands were now free – rushed towards me, while General Metcalfe hurried to his son’s side. Up until now, Scarlet had been able to keep on his feet by making use of outwardly superhuman reserves of energy, but now that the danger was dissipating, his strength seemed to betray him and he suddenly looked so tired that he found the need to lean against the wall behind him. His father reached for him, and gently helped him to sit down on the floor.
As my brother and Fawn hastily untied me from my precarious position, I looked at Mama Leona, who was standing nearby, watching in silence; she looked incredibly serene, but I could see a trace of concern in her dark eyes.
“Mama Leona,” I asked in a hushed voice, smiling with gratitude, “how –”
“Hush, child. I still have work to do.”
“No!” Saturnin suddenly lashed out, attracting Mama Leona’s attention back to him. “They must not go!” He grabbed the nearest of his hounsis by his shoulders and shook him as if he had been a kitten, trying to force him to listen to him. “Don’t let them go! They know too much! They have to die!” He let go of the man who didn’t seem to react to his words and tried to catch another one. But the latter quickly turned away from him.
“They’ll ruin everything!” Saturnin shouted furiously. He faced Mama Leona again. “YOU will ruin everything. It’s all your fault!” He made a threatening step forwards, but he never reached her; Mama Leona’s followers had swiftly caught him by the arms and pulled him back. “No! Let go of me! How dare you put your hands on me? Don’t you know who I am? I am to return the Bizango order to this land!”
“You are but an arrogant fool!” Mama Leona replied with cold anger. “You would unashamedly lay claim to the Bizango name? You, who want to rule this land through chaos and terror, for your own purposes? The Bizango Sect is about upholding morality and ethical conduct for the people. This…” she waved her hand around angrily, “…has nothing to do with the Bizango!” She came closer to the restrained Saturnin. “The Bizango Sect does not approve of your sinful ways,” she stated gravely, “and does not appreciate that you act in its name. You will have to answer for your actions!”
“Wait,” Saturnin protested, a quiver of fear suddenly appearing in his voice, as he suddenly understood the full meaning of Mama Leona’s words. “You do not understand… I was only doing this for our people…”
“No,” Mama Leona interrupted him with disgust. “You were only doing this for yourself.”
She turned her back on him and waved impatiently. Her men pulled Saturnin back, and dragged him, kicking and protesting, out of the room.
In the meantime, Caleb and Fawn freed me of my bonds, and helped me into a seated position on the altar; I grimaced and reached for my injured chest; the cuts Doctor LaSalle had inflicted me were burning like crazy. I felt for sure they would leave scars.
“Are you all right?” Fawn asked with concern, quickly assessing me.
I nodded. “I will be, Doctor,” I said with a renewed grimace when he gently examined my cuts with his fingers. “They’re only flesh wounds…”
I looked as Mama Leona rounded the altar to stand behind it; she gazed down with a dark, ominous, expression at the moaning Henriette LaSalle who, sprawled on the floor, was nursing a bleeding injured shoulder.
I didn’t feel a single ounce of compassion for her. She was easily, and by far, the most evil, deceitful and manipulative woman I had ever met. And to think I had been attracted to her. I should probably feel ashamed of myself for feeling disappointed, even for a brief instant, that Scarlet had not killed her. That she was still alive didn’t surprise me that much, though. That was Scarlet for you: he couldn’t easily bring himself to kill a woman in cold blood, even someone as thoroughly rotten as Henriette LaSalle, and never mind that she had turned him into a zombie.
That’s probably part of his English ‘officer and gentleman’ upbringing. Quite frankly, I sometimes wish he would be less of a ‘decent guy’; it would be far easier to be unsociable towards him, in those moments when he exasperated me.
But right now, I didn’t feel that way towards him; he had been through Hell with this zombie experience, and if I knew him, he’d feel guilty over what he had been forced to do while not in control; and I had shot him – and he had saved my life. It would be very difficult to act in other way but friendly towards him in the days – even weeks – to come.
He was in a rather sorry state now, seated on the hard floor, leaning against the shoulder of his father who was cradling him and tending to his wounds, by pressing a piece of cloth against his bleeding abdomen. General Metcalfe suddenly looked older to me – on his face there were mixed feelings of relief and concern. He knew his son would eventually heal from his injuries, however serious they looked, and that he would be as good as new, as if nothing had happened to him. He simply didn’t know how to deal with it at the moment.
I glanced in the direction of my brother. Caleb would not know how to deal with it either; as a matter of fact, it occurred to me that he shouldn’t learn about Captain Scarlet’s powers of recovery – Spectrum’s most jealously kept secret.
“You’d better check on Captain Scarlet instead, Doctor,” I said to Fawn. “He’s surely in a worse state than I am…”
Doctor Fawn exchanged glances with me; it only took a second for him to understand exactly what I meant. He patted my shoulder encouragingly, muttered something about returning shortly, and left my side to stride in the direction of Scarlet. I followed him with my eyes, and Caleb did the same. We watched as Fawn leaned over his patient.
“I genuinely thought you had killed him,” my brother said, and I could hear the awkwardness in his voice. “I mean… you had no choice, you had to save your life…”
“It’s the vest,” I answered, trying to sound casual about it. I didn’t want Caleb to think I was grossly lying to him. “It’s kind of bullet-proof…”
“‘Kind of’?” Caleb seemed sceptical. “But… I saw the holes… And what about all the blood?”
“Well, at point-blank range, it’s not as effective as it should be. The bullets would have gone through, but would not cause as much damage as you think,” I said, weaving the story as I went along. “And I shot to wound only…”
“You’re good, then,” Caleb remarked. “I wouldn’t know where to shoot to cause only minor injuries. Although I have to admit, they don’t look like minor injuries to me. He lost quite a lot of blood.”
I shrugged, trying to be dismissive. “I had to make it convincing. Don’t worry, Caleb, Captain Scarlet is one of the toughest men I know. And Doctor Fawn is the best doctor you can find. He’ll get over it very quickly.”
Maybe I appeared incredibly aloof in my brother’s eyes, but I don’t think that at this point, I could avoid it. It was on these occasions that I truly disliked Captain Scarlet’s retrometabolic abilities; while he would throw himself in the thick of things, knowing that he would recover where we couldn’t, he would typically emerge like the fearless hero – while those of us left to pick up the pieces afterwards, looked like heartless sods.
I had to be fair to Scarlet – he didn’t like it any more than we did, and he knew as well as we did how necessary it was. But he was about the only one not living with a sour taste over the bad impression that our apparent indifference made on witnesses.
Behind me, two of Mama Leona’s companions were pulling Henriette LaSalle to her feet, taking no care for her wounded shoulder. She stood in front of Mama Leona who was glaring coldly at her.
“I expected better of you, child,” she told her in a dark tone. “You had the gift, but you chose to use it for your own personal evil gains.” She waved in the direction of the now silent and immobile zombies, who now seemed to have turned into living statues, waiting orders to simply make the merest of moves. “You used the magic of the left hand to turn innocent people into zombies. They did not deserve such a fate.” She glanced at me. “And you prepared to do the unspeakable by sacrificing a human life to the dark forces, in a Voodoo ceremony – and this for vengeance?” Her voice had dropped an octave and taken an incredulous timbre, as she uttered these last words, as if she couldn’t believe any of it.
Henriette LaSalle shot me a murdering look. “He killed my brother,” she stated, with poison dripping from her every word.
“And you were planning to do no less to him and his friends, before your brother was killed,” Mama Leona icily replied. “Your brother merely received just retribution for his sins. You shall receive yours as well.” She shook her head in disgust. “One cannot do what you did in all impunity.”
She turned her back on LaSalle, and her men pulled the young woman away; At this point, I had understood that they were Mama Leona’s own hounsis.
LaSalle addressed a last venomous stare in the direction of Mama Leona, before passively letting the men take her towards the exit. I followed her with my eyes, wondering if I should intervene or not.
“She has to answer for her crimes,” I finally said gravely, attracting Mama Leona’s attention to me. I jumped off the altar and came to stand in front of her, Caleb following behind. “To both civilian and military authorities. That goes as well for Saturnin – and all their accomplices.”
“Do not worry,” Mama Leona replied. “They will be properly punished for what they did.”
I raised my eyebrow, looking solemnly at her. “So I take it the Bizango Sect is not very tolerant of people using its name to commit atrocities?”
She offered a thin smile. “Why, child – you should know the Bizango Sect does not exist. It is but a legend.” She marked a short pause. “But if the Bizango Sect did exist, it would certainly not approve of the actions of these two sinners.”
I didn’t want to ask further questions on this subject; nor to argue with a woman who obviously had enough power – whatever kind of power that might be – to impose her authority on people prepared to kill us without blinking, and who also seemed able to make herself obeyed by the zombies Henriette LaSalle had previously controlled. I remembered my brother telling me that Mama Leona was said to be a powerful mambo. She was probably some kind of a bokor as well, if she made use of the ‘magic from the left hand’. I imagine that however ‘dark’ this magic was, the use one person would make of it would decide if it was good or bad.
I didn’t think Mama Leona was a bad person – but she certainly wasn’t someone I wanted to cross swords with. Whatever justice Henriette LaSalle, Arturo Saturnin and their hounsis were going to meet, I wasn’t going to dispute it. So I let Mama Leona’s men take the witch away, without any more recriminations.
I looked around, searching for a change of subject. It wasn’t that difficult to find one.
“Is there a way to draw those poor people out of this zombie state?” I asked Mama Leona, giving a curt nod in the direction of the zombies who still stood silent and immobile all over the room.
“Of course there is,” she answered quietly. “Only those deserving the fate will forever remain zombies. Those are innocent souls. I already offered you the means to save them.”
I gave it some thought. “The salt,” I said, nodding slowly. “You mean to tell us that in order to ‘wake’ them, we have to give them salt? Or to adjust the level of sodium in their blood?”
“There are many ways to do that. I’m sure your doctor will find the solution.” Mama Leona looked in the direction of Fawn, who was crouched in front of Scarlet, patting his shoulder with satisfaction, and addressing a reassuring smile to General Metcalfe.
“Your friend is a remarkable man,” she noted. “He seems to be getting better.”
“No thanks to you,” I responded curtly.
“Seymour,” Caleb whispered to me, “I don’t think it’s a good idea –”
“You sound angry, boy,” Mama Leona said, with a smile that she wanted to be appeasing. “I did give you talismans to protect you against the evil eye… And they worked, didn’t they? You and your brother – and all your friends – are alive.”
This argument wasn’t really working on me. “A lot of good your talismans were to us,” I replied. “It didn’t stop my colleague from falling under the spell of that witch to begin with! It’s only by some miracle that he escaped from her.”
“So you do believe in miracles,” she said with a warm smile. “You see the talismans did work.”
I scowled, more than annoyed by her insistence. “Am I mistaken when I think you knew about these bastards’ plans all along?”
“Knew, no… suspected that something was going on, yes,” she answered truthfully. “But one cannot act on suspicions alone, child. In your line of work, you certainly know that.”
“You should at least have warned us. That might have saved us a lot of grief.”
“I could not. The loas were not very specific in their warnings and they would not permit me to confide in a non-believer.”
“The loas, really?” I asked, with a doubtful frown.
“I understand your scepticism. I cannot hold this against you. And it serves only to prove my point: would you or your friend have believed me?”
“Maybe.” I wasn’t about to admit that she might have been right in her assumption. “You might be surprised what we are liable to believe, Mama Leona.”
At these words, she openly laughed at me. But her laugh had something benevolent in it; she no longer sounded like the harsh mambo I had seen in action only a few minutes ago. She gave me an encouraging thump on the shoulder – so strong that it nearly knocked me over.
“Give these poor souls plenty of isotonic drinks,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes, pointing in the direction of the zombies. “That should help them recover from their condition.”
“Isotonic drinks?” I repeated with disbelief.
“As much as they can drink,” she answered, as she started walking towards the exit. The remainder of her men followed, gathering LaSalle and Saturnin’s hounsis on the way. “And don’t be surprised if they look confused at first. That should clear up completely in a few days.” She stopped after a few feet, before she looked over her shoulder and smiled at me again. “You are a good man, Seymour Griffiths,” she said, and I wasn’t even surprised that she would know my name. “You have won Mama Leona’s respect and admiration.”
She briefly glanced in Scarlet’s direction. My colleague, still under the care of his father and Doctor Fawn, seemed to have drifted into his usual rejuvenating and peaceful-looking sleep.
“And so did your friend,” Mama Leona added, turning on her heels and resuming her walk. “Tell him that when he wakes up. And tell him that you both have my blessings. May the good spirits assist you both, and all of Spectrum, in your good fight against evil. And give you victory.”
With that, she crossed the exit’s threshold, her followers behind her, walking in reverent silence. We all watched them disappear into the shadows, almost as mysteriously as they had appeared, taking their prisoners with them.
We didn’t try to stop them.
Before we did anything else, we took Captain Scarlet to the base medical centre, where we found a quiet room for him; Doctor Fawn stayed with him to clean and dress his wounds, dismissing all offers of help from General Metcalfe and Caleb. The important thing now was to keep my brother away from Scarlet, so he would not witness his powers of recovery – which had probably already kicked in just as Fawn was bandaging his torso.
I could see that Caleb was irate with me for my apparent coldness when confronted by my colleague’s condition, so I didn’t need the aggravation of him discovering that I had lied to him on top of that. I needed to occupy him, to distract him in the meantime – and General Metcalfe as well, so he would not worry needlessly about his son. So the three of us went in search of Major Perrin and the rest of the WAAF personnel whom we knew had not fallen victim to the drugged water.
We easily found them – all ten of them – detained in the base prison, all waiting with various degrees of trepidation to know what would happen to them. The majority of these people had seen their zombified comrades-in-arms suddenly turn against them, attack and capture them under the orders of the hounsis who, with the help of Saturnin, had infiltrated the base. One hounsi and two zombies had been left to guard the prison, but the hounsi had disappeared before we arrived. We were told he had fled only a few minutes ago, and that the zombies, left with no-one to control them, had simply stood rooted in place, in complete silence, waiting vainly for orders that would not come.
Helped by the personnel, we rounded up all the zombie victims and guided them to the clinic; they were quite docile now, and followed us like faithful dogs. Those who had not fallen prey to the drug didn’t look quite comfortable with the situation, and I really couldn’t blame them. You didn’t need to be Haitian to feel at the same time impressed and shocked by the situation. These people who had acted with hostility towards them – and who now didn’t even react to any presence or contact – were colleagues and friends, people on whom they normally could count.
I could certainly relate to their feelings. I felt the same. Not only recently when Scarlet had been turned to a zombie too, but also not that many years ago, when the Mysterons had taken him over. Although in this particular case, I considered the experience far worse: a Mysteron agent is certainly more deceitful and difficult to detect than a zombie. And considering that he could hide in plain sight before making his move, he’s potentially much more deadly.
Having finished with Scarlet – whose condition, he assured just for show, was less worrying than it appeared as he was improving considerably – Doctor Fawn started busying himself with freeing the zombies from their miserable condition. He took to heart Mama Leona’s advice that I relayed to him, and found all the isotonic drinks he could from the base to give his patients. He didn’t stop there, and also worked on concocting a special saline solution that he proceeded to feed them through I.V. tubes.
He expected that in just a few hours, results would be starting to show, and that the zombies would slowly emerge from their lethargic state, once their sodium levels had stabilised and their system were cleaned of the drugs. He didn’t refuse Caleb or General Metcalfe’s offer of help in this matter. As a matter of fact, he needed all the hands he could find to take care of so many patients all at once.
me, after the cuts I suffered from Henriette LaSalle’s dagger had been tended
to, I kept busy in the command centre, working to put the communication system
that Lieutenant Saturnin had sabotaged back online.
To say that Major Perrin was absolutely furious was putting it mildly. He now knew that his aide, a compatriot, a man he had fully trusted and confided in, had totally deceived him, with the complicity of the base’s medical officer. And when we told him that they had both been preparing this for a very long time, and that they admitted they had a hand in the apparent illness of the base’s previous commanders, his anger knew no limits.
He didn’t doubt this for a second. For him, it made perfect sense: it couldn’t have been a coincidence that all of his predecessors had resigned one after the other for almost the same reason, so it was easy for him to imagine that Doctor LaSalle had fed them some kind of drug that could have affected their health and mental condition.
Major Perrin swore he would find the culprits – extract from them full confessions of their multiple crimes, and make them pay for all they had done to his personnel. As soon as I was able to repair the communication system, he made contact with the WAAF continental HQ in Caracas, and requested new troops to come over and help search for the fugitives. I could have told him I thought it was useless, as I felt pretty sure that we would never see LaSalle or Saturnin again. But I had my own problems to attend to at the moment: I needed to contact Cloudbase, as soon as possible, and make a full and detailed report on all that had been happening in the last twenty-four hours.
As I expected, Colonel White had grown concerned about our prolonged silence and had already considered sending a new team to find out what was going on. I actually called him just in time before he did so. He listened to my report in complete silence, only asking a few judicious questions here and there. I could almost visualise his mounting apprehension, as the story slowly unravelled, and I told him first about Captain Scarlet’s disappearance, then his becoming a zombie, and finally, his being shot in front of witnesses – although only one could have been considered a reliable witness, and therefore a serious liability – namely, my own brother, Caleb.
However concerned White was about this distressing fact, it felt flattering somehow that his worry seemed even more tangible when I made mention of my almost becoming a human sacrifice in a pagan ceremony. He stopped me from being too thorough when I mentioned the dagger cutting me. As I had obviously survived, he said, he didn’t need to be told about all the gory details.
“Good God, man – you’re not even a fully trained field agent. I should really say that I have too much need of you at your station here on Cloudbase, without running the risk of losing you at the hands of some homicidal lunatic! But you did a damn fine job during this assignment, Lieutenant, so obviously, you must have some talents…”
That was rather gratifying, and I couldn’t help but smile.
Although I tried to reassure the colonel that we had done our best to hide Scarlet’s extraordinary powers of recovery from further revelation, he still didn’t sound that convinced that it was safe to leave him on the ground, and said it would be far better to get him back on Cloudbase as soon as possible, before his ‘suspiciously good health’ attracted unwanted attention.
I couldn’t agree more.
Fawn was true to his word, and it didn’t take that long before the first victims of the zombification process started emerging from their condition. According to his prognosis, they would make a full recovery – albeit a slow one. So he suggested to Colonel White that he be allowed to stay a few days in Port-au-Prince, until he could be sure that all his patients would be well taken care of after his departure. The WAAF base in Caracas had sent troops to take over from the recovering personnel, and two military doctors had come as well, to work under Fawn’s direction and help with the treatment.
Colonel White decided to let Captain Scarlet and myself stay another full day, just to keep up the appearances that Scarlet needed to recuperate a little before being allowed to be flown back to base. That was under the strict condition that he would stay in seclusion in his own room, and that there would be no one else from the medical personnel but Fawn to attend to him. I was to make sure he didn’t receive any visitor that might want to ask too many questions and risk discovering his secret. That included my own brother, but, of course, excluded General Metcalfe – who spent most of his time with his son. I thought that Scarlet would certainly appreciate the time alone with his father; quite naturally, he had healed from his wounds in no time, but he was physically and mentally spent, and did need the additional recovery time given to him to allow for a thorough recovery.
As for myself – staying in Haiti for another full day gave me a little more time to pass with my brother.
I felt somewhat relieved, on the morning of the day we were to leave, when Caleb announced to me that he had vacated his apartment in the back of Mama Leona’s shop, to rent a room at a hotel, and that he would be returning to Port-of-Spain, shortly after my own departure.
I was wearing my Spectrum uniform, freshly cleaned from the dryer, minus my cap and my destroyed vest, and we were sharing a coffee in the waiting room of the medical centre, waiting for Captain Scarlet to join us, when he gave me the news.
“It’s not the same now, anyway,” he said, “since Mama Leona’s gone…”
“And I’m sure it’s not your only reason,” I replied, before taking a sip of my coffee. I marked a pause. “She’s not at the shop, then?”
I wasn’t that surprised. I knew that the fresh troops from Caracas had been looking for her as well, as they did for LaSalle and Saturnin, in the vain hope that she would lead them to their whereabouts – or to at least learn from her what could have happened to them.
But Mama Leona had disappeared too, just like LaSalle and Saturnin had – and even their hounsis were nowhere to be found. And no one would be willing to tell where they might have gone.
Caleb answered my question with a dismissive shrug. “She left her nephew Joseph to tend her business at the shop,” he explained. “At least that’s what he told me, after I returned to pick up my stuff.”
“Joseph… That’s the young man we saw there?” I asked. “And who was with her when she made that dazzling rescue operation at the base chapel?”
“No, that would be his brother, Samuel. I think that Samuel was actually Mama Leona’s houngenikon… as far as I can guess, anyway. Joseph would never divulge that information to me, considering all that happened.”
“What else has Joseph told you?”
Caleb shrugged. “The same he told the military who came to the shop searching for Mama Leona: that she’s gone on a retreat somewhere, to a secret place in the country. He didn’t know when she’ll come back.”
“Will she?” I asked, taking another sip. “I mean, come back?”
Caleb shook his head. “I don’t know. Possibly. She will probably wait until everything settles down and people start forgetting about it.”
“I doubt if Perrin will ever forget,” I reasoned. “He will never rest until he gets his hands on Saturnin and LaSalle.”
“Perhaps, but even Perrin could get a transfer and be assigned elsewhere,” Caleb remarked. “Isn’t that how it works in the military?”
“It is,” I admitted. “But the WAAF has a notoriously long memory as well. The next commander might want to continue the search. What Saturnin and LaSalle did cannot go unpunished.”
Caleb shrugged again. “I don’t think they will go unpunished,” he said sombrely. “If Mama Leona is indeed part of the Bizango Sect… Then they’re likely to have already met their just fate.” He paused for a few seconds, turning his cup between his hands, and then cleared his throat. “Anyway, I don’t think the WAAF would pose that much of a problem for Mama Leona. This is Haiti. If need be, it’ll be easy for her to move and settle her shop elsewhere, and no one will be the wiser. She’s obviously a very powerful mambo and people will likely be more than honoured to help her.”
“More than likely,” I said pensively.
“As for myself, I thought it would be safer if I returned home,” my brother continued.
“And am I glad you decided to go,” I said with an approving nod.
“I made arrangements with Virginia to stay at her place, until I go back to Kingston University, in a couple of months. I have amassed enough material here to write my next thesis anyway, so I don’t really need to stay around. And I imagine I attracted a little too much attention to myself with this experience.”
I rolled my eyes, and didn’t deign make a comment.
“This was as close to death as I ever want to be,” my brother continued. “At least for a long time.” He smiled at me, almost shyly. “How do you do it?”
I gave it some thought. “I don’t know,” I finally admitted. “I guess I do what I can. As my commander often tells me: I’m not a field agent, and I’m not as well trained as I ought to be for this kind of assignment. It might be a long time now before I‘ll ask him again to let me go on a mission. I too, have had enough excitement to last me a long time.”
Caleb laughed. “I bet!”
“Promises, promises!” a jovial voice suddenly said from behind. “I’m pretty sure that before long, you will beg the old man to let you go on assignment again, Lieutenant.”
We turned around; Captain Scarlet, fully dressed in his uniform, was coming our way, his father following behind. We stood up from our table, leaving our coffees, and Caleb went to clasp my partner’s hand.
“Captain Scarlet, it’s so good to see you on your feet,” my brother said, genuinely pleased. “Quite frankly, I didn’t expect you to make so quick a recovery.”
“Oh, I’m not quite finished yet,” Scarlet said in a non-committal tone. “I will still need a few more days to make a complete recovery. I’ll do that on Cloudbase.” He pulled on the collar of his shirt. “The climate here is not quite to my liking, you will understand.”
“You’re quite welcome to come back home for your convalescence,” General Metcalfe offered warmly. “I’m sure your mother will be happy to fret over you for the next few days.”
“I doubt I’ll be able to, Dad,” Scarlet answered kindly. “But I’ll try to see if I can manage a visit soon.”
“You would only need a few more days?” Caleb repeated with a frown. “You should probably get a few weeks!” He smiled. “You’re even more remarkable than I thought, Captain. Seymour did say you were a tough man to keep down.”
“He said that, did he?” Scarlet asked, raising a brow in my direction.
“I do admit, I was a bit cross at him for seemingly acting so cold towards you, when I thought you were seriously injured,” Caleb continued. “But then, I saw how much devotion he showed watching over you while you were recovering…”
I opened my mouth to reply, but then thought better of it. After all, I couldn’t very well tell Caleb that I was just following Colonel White’s orders to stay close to Scarlet and keep nosy people away. And yes, I have to admit – I was a bit concerned about Scarlet as well.
But right then, Captain Scarlet just imagined he needed to add something. And that didn’t help to ease my growing embarrassment.
“Well, you have no reason to be angry with your brother, Caleb,” he said gravely. “I don’t hold a grudge at him for having shot me. If he had not done so – maybe I would still be under the control of that witch.”
“And we might all be dead, as a result,” General Metcalfe added gruffly, nodding his approval.
As far as we knew, there was some truth in this assumption. Doctor Fawn theorised that my shooting him might have caused Scarlet’s retrometabolism to ‘kick in’, which served to clear his system of the drug that kept him in the zombie trance. It was pure luck that he regained his senses when he did – pure luck for me, specifically, as I was about to get killed.
And Caleb knew that if Scarlet had not intervened at that precise moment, I would be dead.
“I have to thank you, Captain,” he said. “You saved my brother’s life.”
“It was the least I could do,” Scarlet replied with a smile. “I owed him that much. I wasn’t really looking forward to spending the rest of my life as a zombie slave, and he saved me from that. It’s your brother who’s the remarkable man, Caleb. He’s one of the best people I have had the pleasure to work with.”
I felt myself reddening violently. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to stop there, as my brother found the need to add his own two cents’ worth, in turn:
“I know. I guess I had forgotten that. I should have realised my big brother couldn’t have become such a cold-hearted individual. Not when you think about what he did for us all, keeping the family together in Port-of-Spain like he did…”
At this point, I suspected that they were leading me on; just seeing the smile on both my brother’s and Scarlet’s face was enough to convince me of that.
“Oh, go on, you two,” I muttered a little grumpily. I seized the rucksack containing the C38, that I had left at the foot of my chair, and turned to Scarlet. “Maybe it’s time we took our leave of Major Perrin now, sir?”
Scarlet seemed greatly amused by my obvious embarrassment and by my eagerness to go, and so, he gave his assent with a slow nod. He was obviously struggling to hide a smile.
“Doctor Fawn released me,” he finally said, keeping as straight a face as he could. “So we are free to go… Lieutenant.”
We left the medical centre, with my brother and General Metcalfe following us.
Our meeting with Major Perrin was brief; not really ‘short and sweet’, as Captain Scarlet described it afterwards, as it was plainly obvious that the major was still as eager to get rid of us now as he had been at our first meeting. Quite frankly, he probably viewed us as two birds of ill omen, with all that happened since our arrival, and he couldn’t get us off his base and far away from Haiti fast enough.
General Metcalfe and my brother decided to come with us by jeep to the airport; we were to make our farewells there, before taking the SPJ back to Cloudbase. As agreed, Doctor Fawn would stay an additional day or two, before returning to base.
Our chauffeur drove the jeep through Port-au-Prince, taking in reverse a route quite similar to the one we had taken when we had arrived only two days ago. It was difficult to get through the streets, which were as full of people as always; a few curious pedestrians were watching the military vehicle pass by. I distractedly watched the crowd, and found myself waving back at a little girl in braids who held a scruffy-looking doll.
Behind the little girl, I suddenly saw Mama Leona.
She was standing by a little stall, similar to the one I had seen in front of her shop, busy trying to sell one of her good-luck charms to a customer. Then she saw the jeep, and she left stall and customer to come amongst the numerous bystanders who were obviously wondering about these two Spectrum officers who were travelling aboard this military jeep. She was looking solemn and grave, and there was no smile on her jovial face, half shadowed by her large straw hat. I could see her eyes, and she was looking straight at me.
Captain Scarlet saw her too. He said nothing, but gave her a thankful and reserved nod, while I waved discreetly in her direction. She answered with a nod of her own, barely more noticeable than Scarlet’s.
As she turned back to return to her stand, I noticed a couple in the crowd, standing only a foot or two behind her; a short, black woman, in a dirty shirt, and a tall, thin, black man, who seemed to be wearing the trousers of a military uniform. They had an awful pallor to their features, almost grey under the sun, and they were looking haggardly in front of them, their eyes emotionless, seemingly seeing nothing, and their lower jaws hanging loosely.
I only caught a glimpse of their faces, but I froze, as I recognised them.
Mama Leona walked away, and I thought I saw her signalling the couple with a vague hand gesture. They turned around, side by side, and followed her mechanically, in slow motion.
I was left staring at the crowd they had disappeared into, with a cold, uncomfortable feeling gripping my heart. I remembered Mama Leona’s words to me:
‘Only those deserving the fate will forever remain zombies’.
I believe in poetic justice.
But I also believe that there are such terrible fates that not even the most evil of people deserve to live it.