A “New Captain Scarlet” story for Halloween
By Cat 2
I didn’t use to believe in ghosts.
But then again I didn’t use to believe in people coming back to life, or life on Mars. If both of those can happen, then I guess ghosts can too.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t use to be a sceptic. Indeed as a kid I was convinced of the existence of ghosts, much to my father’s annoyance. But something happened to change all that.
I guess I’d better explain.
My dad’s in the military. That goes without saying in a family whose roots stretch back to the Vikings (or so my grandmother tells me. He’s a general now, but at the time of my story, he was just a captain.
One thing you get used to in the army is moving around a lot. That was how we ended up at Santa Julia. I’m not telling you where it is, and I’ve changed the name, cos it’s still used as a training post by the army, and they wouldn’t like it.
It’s a huge place now, but back then it was a training camp with a few huts for the men and a couple of houses for the married officers. It was also basically in the middle of nowhere.
Maybe that was why mom hated it. She was pregnant with my brother, and having a difficult time with it. Maybe she didn’t like being so far away from anyone or anything, maybe the heat got to her, as that summer was a scorcher. Or maybe it was the commanding officer, Captain Apay.
He was an oldish man, fairly short I suppose, but with that strength of character that makes a man seem tall. He had been, I was told, or more accurately overheard in later arguments between my parents, a brave and brilliant soldier, until a Hir bomb had shattered his left leg, forcing him to retire from active service. He always seemed pleasant enough to me and my mother, but I didn’t like him. At the time I hadn’t enough experience of life to put a name to feelings of disgust and fear that he instilled in me, but later I understood it better.
In simple terms, the man was a bully.
He was in charge of the new cadets and his method of gaining their respect was to select one of them as a victim. From dawn to dusk that soldier would be tormented, punished, humiliated and generally persecuted until he broke. I understand that most victims of this treatment either resigned, went mad, deserted or committed suicide within a year. The few, who survived this treatment, usually were winners of medals for bravery, often post mortus, as they were more afraid of their own side than of the enemy.
I learnt all this later on. As I said, the man was always pleasant enough to me, but I didn’t like him.
The cadets for that year arrived the day after we did, and as my mother was sorting out the house, I was sent with my father to meet them.
There was one, who even now, having met many soldiers, I cannot understand why he joined the army. He was a solitary, dreamy man called Charles Grant, who instantly earned favour with an 8 year old child by giving me a Mars bar behind my father’s back. However, he was completely unsuitable for army life and even I, at 8, could see it. The other cadets seemed to know it, too as they avoided him, especially the local boys. Later on, I would understand that they recognised him as Apay’s next victim.
I don’t know if he was treated any worse than any of Apay’s other scapegoats. All I knew was that the end came quickly, even by the base standards. And I saw it happen.
Mom had woken up in pain, which at nearly eight months was worrying. She was taken to the hospital, and as it was the summer holidays, I was sent on to the base with Dad.
We arrived just as the morning parade was finishing. Apay had a foul mouth on him and he was screaming abuse at the cadets. My father began to lead me rapidly in the direction of his office, no doubt intending for me to stay there. Suddenly, a strange noise came from the lined up men. It was the moan of an animal in pain, and drew all eyes to the crouched and broken figure of Charles Grant, lying in the dust, sobbing his heart out. This only made Captain Apay’s anger worse.
“Get up!” he bellowed. “You miserable dog, you yellow bellied snake, you blubbering baby, you….”
My father, moving over, interrupted him, and ordered a sergeant to remove the unfortunate young man. He also told me to go with them. Apay huffed and puffed, but as they were of the same rank, there was little he could do.
I didn’t understand half of what Charles said as he staggered along supported by the sergeant, but the general gist of it was what I’ve already said above, and that he couldn’t bear it any more. Suffice to say he was so bad, that when we reached the barracks, the sergeant left him and me there, while he went to find the doctor to give him a sedative. I sat tentatively on the edge of a bunk. I’d never seen a man cry and it was confusing and scary, I admit that. Slowly through, he started to pull himself together. That should have made things better, but it didn’t. As he rocked himself back and forth, back and forth, an expression came on his face unlike any I’ve ever seen before or since. I still don’t know how to describe it. it was primitive, animal and yet human. I never seen the like before or since, not even with the Mysterons. I didn’t understand it, but I knew it meant no good.
That night I lay awake long after I’d been sent to bed. Mom was back again, but we’d been warned that the baby might arrive any day now, which I think she was pleased about. It was too hot to sleep, so at about midnight I got up and stepped out on to the veranda, hoping to cool down a little. Instead, I saw a figure hurrying towards the artillery range, carrying something. I don’t know why, but it made me hurry back to bed and pull the covers over me. It was a long time before I fell asleep.
The explosion happened about an hour before dawn. I remember that, because Mom went into labour at the same time, and it was chaos with both my parents running around in the dark, trying not to wake me (like anyone could have slept though it), Dad torn between his duties as a husband and officer. My brother Luke was born that day and I remember someone, and it might have been my father, saying “every moment a man is born, every moment one dies.”
It was a messy way to go. Charles Grant had apparently taken two bombs from the arsenal, strapped them to his body and blown himself up. They couldn’t find enough of him to send home to his family, not that they would have wanted it. By all accounts they were Jehovah’s Witnesses and, had disowned him, when he joined the army.
That would normally have been that. As I’ve said, suicides were not uncommon in Captain’s Apay’s unit and while there were several, including my father, who put in for transfers, no one said anything.
However, soon people noticed that Captain Apay was looking paler, thinner. There were dark circles under his eyes. I remember hearing Mom declare that he must finally have developed a conscience, and my father shushing her.
The weeks passed and Apay got worse. He was more bad tempered than he had ever been and while the recruits still suffered worse than anyone, his fellow officers were now also on the receiving end. His behaviour became more erratic. He would forget he had given an order, or worse still, give a contradicting one.
The crunch came on 31st October. Halloween night. There was a party in the officer’s mess, and I was there, hoping determinedly that no one would notice it was past my bedtime. A lot of alcohol had been drunk, even my mother, with a sleeping Luke in her arms, had one glass. It was dark and the curtains had been drawn, but you could still see through a small bit of window where they didn’t quite meet…
I don’t know what made both of us look up at the same moment, maybe that sense that lets an animal know it’s being watched, but I know what we saw.
Through the gap in the curtain, I saw the face of Charles Grant. I can’t describe how it made me feel. Nothing, including the first resurrection of Scarlet, has ever come close. I backed away, scared, but it was nothing to the reaction of Apay. He fell to the floor with a cry of “Oh God, not again!” The others tried to help him, but he kept screaming, “Leave me alone. Leave me alone.”
Mom grabbed my hand very tightly and all but dragged me out of that room.
After that I didn’t see Apay on the base. I heard he’d been ordered to take enforced psychiatric leave and if rumours were to be believed, was in the hospital for a few months, fighting for his sanity.
I overheard my parents discussing it late at night.
“…Exhaustion, coupled with Post Traumatic Stress, that’s what the quacks say.”
“Who knows? Remember, officially I don’t know anything. But,” there was a soft clink of a glass, “I almost feel sorry for the guy.”
“Sorry for him? After everything…”
“Shh. Adam may still be awake. Yeah, I know, but he’s really convinced that this Charles Grant is haunting him. Even visited a medium. Needless to say, that didn’t help matters.”
“Scared the poor woman half to death. When I visited her, showed her my ID, she all but flung holy water over me. That’s the last place anyone can remember seeing him.”
“Did you find him?”
“Not a trace. I’ll have to declare him A.W.O.L in the morning…”
I crept back up stairs.
It was early the next morning that they found him. No one told me anything directly, but I heard the rumours. That Apay had been found in the back of a taxi in San Francisco, his throat cut. If the rumours were to be believed, the cab man, an illegal Mexican, had seen the ghost of Charles Grant…
I suppose the second part of this story took place nearly eleven years later. By a bizarre coincidence, I found myself as a young cadet, back at San Julia. It had increased massively in size and sophistication, but the rumours of what had happened to Charles Grant and Captain Apay still haunted the base.
On the last Wednesday of each month, tours were given, as part of the recruitment campaign, and it was on one of those Wednesdays, around the time of Halloween, that I was assigned to guide an expatriate American around the base. He was an old man, with a face like a wrinkled chestnut, and hands like monkey’s paws. I was convinced I knew him, though I couldn’t quite place him. He accompanied me in silence, while I conducted the tour. He looked around, but he said nothing. Not until we reached the laundry.
“You like the army, son?”
“Ever been bullied?”
“No sir.” I still couldn’t place him, but the voice, I knew it.
“Back when this place was no more than a few shacks in the dust, a man could be bullied to death.”
“You mean like Charles Grant, sir?”
He started slightly at the name.
“You’ve heard of him, then?” he said.
“It’s the talk of the cadets, sir. Some say that he still haunts the base.”
“I don’t think so.” The voice was soft and again, I heard a familiar inhuman quality. “To haunt a place you have to be dead, Cadet.”
The panic was rising in my chest, but I valiantly fought it.
“With respect, sir, the matter was very carefully investigated. Human flesh and DNA found at the scene confirmed the body to be that of…”
“Charles Grant.” The man interrupted, his voice still with the same singsong quality about it. “But hair contains DNA, cadet, and pig’s flesh is very close to human. Why should a doctor stretched to his limits care? He saw what he expected to see.”
He continued, telling how the man “haunted” Captain Apay, how his ghost appeared to him in the dead of night, at an officers’ party and at the asylum in San Francisco. How it had appeared during a séance, terrorising a fake medium and how finally it had appeared to him, no longer the forceful bullying man, but weak, broken and pathetic, in the back of a taxi cab, climbing in when the driver stopped at a red light.
“It told him he would die that night. It drew a finger across his throat.”
“He had fled,” I said, parts of that late night conversation coming back to me. “But you followed.”
The eyebrow rose slightly, but like the ancient Mariner, he had to finish his tale.
“He broke down, like the worthless, lily-livered coward he was. The spirit stood in the cab holding a razor in its hand. It spoke, for the first time in months.”
“What did it say?”
“ ‘Take this.’ Captain Apay was still a good soldier, he did as he was ordered.”
“Then what happened?” My role was that of a Greek chorus.
“It said, “Slit your throat and go to hell!”
I nodded slowly.
“By that point he must have been grateful to do so.”
The man gazed at me for a moment, and I looked back at him. I saw a face old before it’s time. I saw eyes that for all the wrinkles that surrounded them, were still young. I saw with terror and revulsion, the small smile playing at the corner of his lips.
“You.” I whispered softly. The smile broadened.
“Have a Mars bar, Adam,” said Charles Grant.
I don’t remember the rest of the tour. The next thing I remember was being in the infirmary, attempting to convince the Doc that I didn’t have the stomach flu that was going around the base. And that was that, until last night.
Once again, it was Halloween and we were sitting in the Observation Lounge, telling ghost stories.
Scarlet was recounting a case he’d investigated in the Special Forces.
“Completely and utterly insane, this guy. He was convinced he was some kind of wizard who could summon spirits to take revenge on those who had wronged them in life.”
“ ‘So could I or any man,’ ” intoned Captain Grey, “ ‘But will the sprits answer?’ ”
We all laughed, albeit a little uneasily.
“ The guy was a killer, pure and simple. Had been for a number of years, too.”
“How do you know that?” Destiny asked, taking another cookie, while I had a sip of non-alcoholic punch.
“Well, after we found the bodies in the garden, we searched the house. In the attics we found a skeleton. When matched with military records, it turned out to be an American, Charles Grant, reported as having committed suicide. The record said he’d being blown to pieces by a bomb, but the skeleton was intact. Guess the Guy faked his own death and deserted, for all the good it did him.”
I was so surprised I nearly choked on my punch.
“When did he die?” I demanded vigorously, ignoring the strange looks I was getting from my fellow officers.
“When did he die?”
“Take it easy, all right, Adam?” Scarlet said, frowning in concentration. “If the doctor’s notes were to be believed, he died a couple of months after he must have deserted, about twenty years ago.”
I don’t know what excuse I gave, as I made my way back to my quarters and dug that Mars bar out of its hiding place.
It was still in perfect condition.
I never used to believe in ghosts. Now I’m not so sure.
The inspiration for this story was “The Original Revenge” by Thomas Morrow, rewritten in the Usborne book of Victorian Horror Stories. The third part of this story is entirely my twisted imagination. The quote from Captain Grey is Shakespeare, I think it’s Henry V part 1, but wouldn’t swear to that.
Adam’s father’s Quote (“Every moment a man is born, every moment one dies”) is Tennyson. I own nothing, all the characters belong to the brilliant Gerry Anderson. Thank you to Chris Bishop and her team for their wonderful beta reading and encouragement. You guys rule!!!
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