It’s been over ten years and I still dinae have an explanation for what happened that night.
A part of me wants to believe that it was coincidence, but if it was, it was a pretty big one.
It was during the Terrorism wars. I was a Marine back then; a captain long before Spectrum called and named me Grey.
My team had just come off shift at Dunmore, one of a number of chemical research bunkers which scattered the landscape back then.
We were still adjusting to being able to move around, to seeing different faces at breakfast, to being able to talk properly to people. Perhaps that was the idea behind the exercise, get us out in God’s clean air for a bit, or perhaps they wanted to find out whether the reports were true about the lights on Grettir’s Grave were true. I dinae know and I don’t think it’s particularly important.
My team consisted of four men, besides me. There was Fred Ebenezer, my first officer, the unit’s practical joker and funny man. That said, he was a good officer; he had the knack of making people believe him, trust in him. Useful in the field, that.
Then there was Tony Thomson, TT as the guys called him. He was, for want of a better term, our administrator; made sure everything from boots to personnel was ordered as it should be. A little OCD perhaps, but that’s not always a bad thing. His official title was wireless operator, which is why he was sticking close to me that night, as we needed to stay in some form of contact with command.
Then there was Caspar Thompson, our token Pole as Fred liked to call him, even though it was nearly three generations since his family had lived in that land. He would swear in Polish, but other than an infuriating ability to ignore orders, he seemed perfectly normal.
The final and newest member of our team was John Westall. We’d got him when we were at Dunmore to replace Alec Lewis, probably the best friend I’d ever had. He’d had a rough time of it at first; barely eighteen and thrust into an experienced crew who were already mourning the loss of an experienced officer. He felt out of place, you could tell that just by looking at him. I remember watching as he and Caspar loaded the jeep and making a mental note to try to get to know the lad a bit better when we got back. War is never easy, but it’s certainly better if you’re with a friend.
The idea of the exercise was simple enough. You and your team have been stranded in enemy territory. You must split up and make camp to try and give you the best chance of survival. Load of ballocks of course, as Fred said while we were loading up. Your best chance would come of sticking together, like a herd, but I couldn’t comment. After all, it does nae do for a senior officer to question the wisdom of command, or at least it didn’t in the Marines back them.
We drove out to the co-ordinates. It was the middle of October, with a bitter cold wind, a lazy wind as John described it, that cut right through you.
It was the wind that made me make an executive decision, as soon as the Jeep which dropped us off was out of sight. We’d split up, aye, but into only two teams; me and TT in one, Fred, Caspar and John in the other. As Command would be looking for evidence that we had completed the exercise as devised, I instructed them to split up for an hour and light a fire. They would then use the lights of the fire to navigate back to each other, just as they would in a real scenario.
TT pursed his lips disapprovingly when I laid this out, but Fred clapped me on the back, calling me a “crafty devil” and Caspar and John looked relieved not to be spending the night alone, so he was outvoted. And certainly by the time we’d all got into position, even TT seemed relieved not be facing this weather on his own. The rain was coming down in sheets and the prospect of pitching the tents was a dismal one.
Fred had the map. “Hey,” he said, suddenly pointing. “There’s a Red Cross First Aid hut marked on here.”
Caspar’s response was to demand, somewhat rudely, to know why Fred thought that was of interest.
“We wouldn’t be out here for exercises if the post was still active, certainly not with live ammo,” Fred replied pointedly. We all nodded agreement. The Red Cross could be a wee bit heavy handed about things like that.
“So it must be an abandoned building, right?” I said, suddenly following Fred’s logic.
“Perfect to act as a rendezvous point.”
I took a reading from the compass. “Due west about four kilometres. Okay, people, you heard the sub commander. We rendezvous there. Split up and take your routes. Use your torches to locate each other.”
Command privileges, alright I did pick the easier route, meant I was at the hut first.
It was strange. In one sense, it was exactly what you’d suspect, what you always expect from a Red Cross emergency post; one room as a treatment room and in the other, a toilet and sink. At the same time, there was something creepy about it. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen posts that had been evacuated in an emergency; anything that couldn’t be carried by hand would have to be left behind. But if there had once been grave danger here, there was no sign of it now. Then I gave myself a mental shake; I was probably being stupid. There were a thousand and one reasons why the Red Cross should leave a post like this.
Then TT arrived, looking for a spot on the dusty counter top on which to set up our radio.
“Tut,” I heard him mutter. “Most irregular.”
I shrugged. “If you want to try and put up a tent in this weather, Tony, be my guest.”
He shook his head. “It’s not that, Captain,” he said firmly. “It’s that there’s another team out there.”
I paused, frowning. “Command said it would be just us out here tonight.”
TT shrugged. “Maybe, but there’s another team out there. I can see their lights.”
I walked over to where TT stood, almost directly in line with the door. He had left his torch alight to guide the men over a difficult patch where a bridge was rotten. Peering into the darkness, I could make out one, two, three, four… five pinpricks of light. I counted them again just to make sure, but the number never changed. There were five lights.
“Get Fred on the radio,” I barked.
Less than five minutes later, Fred’s voice came through. “Ebenezer here, Captain.”
“Is this some kind of joke, Fred?” I asked, putting as much anger into my voice as I could. At the same time, I didnae really believe it. Fred was a joker, sure, but he was also a professional and would never think of playing a prank on a mission.
Plus there was something… odd about the fifth light. It wasn’t as… white as the others, almost yellowy coloured.
“Captain?” Fred sounded baffled.
“Tell me how many lights you can see.”
“How many lights?” Through the doorway I could see Fred’s light spinning around. “Well, there’s one, two, three, four…” His voice trailed off. “Captain, I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s not me.”
I tried John and Caspar. Both reported the same thing, but denied any involvement and, try as I might, I couldn’t suspect TT of a prank like this. I paused, weighing up my options. The weather was turning worse every second, but at the same time, I knew we had a duty. We had to investigate.
“Fred, Caspar. Get up there and find out what’s causing that light. Stay in radio contact. John, sod orders, get over to the hut as soon as you can.”
Three 'Aye sir's echoed through the radio and TT and I stood waiting. John arrived a couple of minutes later, almost shaking as he stepped over the threshold.
“There’s something rotten out there, sir,” he said firmly. “I can feel it in my bones.”
I didn’t contradict him.
The three of us stood in silence, clustered around the radio. Fred kept up a careful stream of chatter, letting us know what was going on.
“Light seems to be on top of a hill of some sort.”
“There’s nothing on the map,” TT said. “Just…” He trailed off, pointing. I bent over and saw the symbol for an ancient monument.
“That’s Grettir’s Grave,” TT said softly. “It’s a barrow, an ancient burial ground.”
“Probably from around 200 B.C.,” John volunteered. At both of our surprised faces, he shrugged. “I did my dissertation on some of the finds from there. Actually was hoping to go on a dig, but...” He suddenly looked uncomfortable. “A lot of bad luck kept hitting it. It’s actually quite interesting. Grettir, the man who’s supposed to be buried there, is a Merlin-type character, supposed to have the power to summon spirits of the…”
“What the hell?” Fred’s voice came through the radio, making all three of us jump. “There’s a sort of camp fire here. And people sitting around in fancy dress. Who on earth would do that on a night like…?”
Whatever he was planning to say was drowned out as Caspar screamed.
“Holy Mary Mother of God, NO!”
‘There was a loud thud, followed by a yell, suggesting something had been dropped, then Fred’s voice came back.
“Caspar’s lost his radio, Captain. He’s heading back your way. And with all due respect, sir, I’d like to do the same.”
That night felt like it would last forever. None of us slept. Caspar arrived back, white with terror and backed himself into a corner, alternating playing with the crucifix around his neck and muttering in Polish. He seemed unable to explain what had apparently scared him so much. Fred came back a couple of hours later, but he also just shook his head when asked.
With the first light of dawn, we headed back to base. Nearby was a Salvation Army tea van, providing comfort and sustenance to all of us far from home. Three Red Cross personnel, ambulance drivers from the look of their uniforms, were sitting outside at a makeshift table, sipping tea.
Without explanation, Fred decided to join them, dragging me with him.
“Good morning ladies,” he said, adding, “and gentleman,” in recognition of the sole male in the group, who just rolled his shoulders as though he’d heard it all a hundred times. “May I buy you a drink?”
“Have to be a quick one,” one of the women said, smiling. “Just come off duty and we need sleep.”
“I would not dream of interfering in your duties; nor would my captain.” Fred made a gesture towards me and I suddenly had an idea of just what it was he was up to.
“I hope you don’t mind,” he continued, when fresh, pale liquid that was billed as tea had been served and we were all sipping at it. “But we were out on manoeuvres last night, near the old barrows. Weather forced us to take shelter in your post there, you know the one near Grettir’s Grave? Of course, if there’s any damage, we’ll pay for it.”
The three smiled. “No skin off our nose,” the man remarked, almost draining his cup. “It’s not like we’re using it anyway. Someone might as well take advantage of it.”
“Chris!” hissed one of the girls. “We’re not supposed to talk about it. Especially to soldiers.”
“Why not?” Fred asked with a smile. “Posts get used and abandoned nearly every day of the week.”
“Not normally so completely.”
“Enough, Vivien.” The first girl was on her feet. “We aren’t supposed to talk about it. If you want to risk trouble with Yvonne, then that’s your affair, but personally I’m going to my bed. Thank you for the tea.”
She marched off, leaving Vivien and Chris looking uncomfortable. “Don’t mind Kate,” Chris said, draining his tea. “She’s just tired. We all are.”
“Plus Grettir’s Grave is a bit of sore point with her, anyway,” Vivien volunteered.
“How do you mean?” I asked, sipping at my drink.
The two ambulance drivers exchanged a look before Vivien began to explain. “The post was abandoned after an accident. An ambulance slipped on black ice, hit a tree. Crew and casualty were both killed instantly.”
“A tragedy,” I said.
“Yeah,” Vivien agreed. “But a couple of hours earlier, Kate and another first aider had been sent to investigate mysterious lights on Grettir’s Grave. Some concern it might be a downed plane. Both swore blind that they saw the two ambulance men and their patient feasting on the barrow, surrounded by other victims.”
They weren’t the first either,” Chris added. “The RAF had a base near here during the second world war. Had to abandon it; too many crashes and reports of strange lights.”
He glanced at us both nervously. “Grettir had a bad reputation in these parts. They claim he was a tyrant and a sorcerer who could summon the souls of the dead and the living to feast with him. Some of the older locals still say that if you climb the hill at this time of year and see someone you know sitting at the feast, then they’ll be dead within a year. Excuse us.” They both walked away, leaving Fred and me sitting at the table in silence.
So that’s what Caspar and I saw,” Fred muttered.
“You saw Grettir’s feast?”
He shrugged. “I saw men in armour, men in flight suits and jackets, men in ambulance uniforms, soldiers and airmen sitting at a feast around a roaring fire.” Then he added slowly and carefully, “And I saw one other thing, too.”
Fred’s face was very grim. “I saw Caspar sitting by the feast giver’s right hand.” He looked at me, as serious as I’d ever seen him. “Caspar saw it too.”
The rest you can probably guess. Caspar died later that month. The truck we were riding in was hit by a road side bomb. John was killed instantly, poor bugger, but Caspar lingered until we got to Aid Post.
His final words to me were simple. “Captain, I see the feast. He’s calling me to sit by him. Don’t let him take me, Captain.” But he died less than five minutes later.
As I said, I dinae have an explanation. I can only stand by what I said. There were five lights in that night.
Fellow Trekkies or Trekkers may be able to grab where the inspiration for this story came from.
I own nothing. My thanks to the Beta-reading panel for putting up with me.
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