It looked like a haunted house.
Or possibly more accurately, thought Elaine McGee, also known as Captain Ochre, as she stared up at the blank windows, it looked like the sort of house you expected to be haunted.
“Creepy isn’t it?” said Iain Taggart, Captain Grey, his voice at her elbow making her jump.
“Hmm,”she replied, taking in the crumbling columns that supported the front porch, the ivy smashing into the windows, the missing tiles from the roof. Yeah, creepy was certainly a fair description of it. The only problem was that the house also felt familiar. “Almost makes me wish I’d stayed back at Dragon Airbase with Paul and Simone and Adam and Serena,” she added as an afterthought.
Grey laughed. “I dinae
think they’d have thanked you for that,” he said, his warm Glaswegian accent
washing away her fears. “In fact, I think Adam was prepared to pay us to leave
for a wee bit of privacy.” He smiled. “Anyway, touring a haunted house isn’t
the worst idea Mario could have come up with for things to do.”
Thinking over the things her partner, Mario Moro, also known as Captain Magenta, might have suggested on how to spend a cold, wet October evening in the middle of Wales while they waited for the fog to clear so that they could return to Skybase, Ochre had to agree. Visiting a haunted house was definitely not the worst.
In fact, it might relieve some of the tension of the last mission. That had being what Lieutenant Peach had suggested, when he arranged this, contacting the guide to arrange to take them and to overlook the fact that they were all still armed and in uniform. The fog was due to lift in a couple of hours; they just needed something to do with the time until then. Magenta had jumped on the idea, and even Ochre and Grey had had to admit it didn’t sound too bad. That was before she saw the house.
“I think our guide has finally arrived,” she said, pointing to where Mario stood with Rhapsody and Harmony Angels, along with Captains Indigo and Brown. Mario was waving rapidly in their direction.
Grey held out one hand. “Ladies first.”
Ochre smiled and walked towards the group, taking comfort in the steady plod of Grey’s footsteps behind her.
Their tour guide was a kid who didn’t look old enough to be out that late at night, although appearances were probably deceptive. She grinned as she saw the two of them approaching.
“This the last of your party?” she asked. When Mario nodded, she began: “OK, My name is Alison, welcome to Moyle’s Hall, possibly the best and most thoroughly documented haunting in Britain…”
She undoubtedly said a lot more, but Elaine didn’t hear anything else. Moyle’s Hall. Suddenly she knew why this house seemed very familiar.
It was the coldest October since records began. At least that was what the BBC said, as security checked us out at the guards’ post.
Officially we should have reported them. Radios weren’t supposed to be used at the posts. Too distracting in the event of an attack. But out here, the radio was probably being used to ward off the sleepiness of hypothermia and the boredom of watch.
Certainly they looked at our papers with more caution than was necessary, peering into the freezing jeep to confirm that I was Elaine McGee, and my partner was Caroline Gorlisis, both of the UN Security Forces, nicknamed “The Genevas”. They stared at those bloody awful photos until Caroline lost her temper and snapped at them: “Arrest us and get us in the warm or let us go.”
That made them laugh, as they handed back our papers and raised the barriers before retreating back to their hut.
“Bastards probably have a fan heater in there as well,” Caroline muttered once we were on the road again. I didn’t comment on her language. We were both tense.
Out here, surrounded by the Welsh hills, it was supposed to be safe, supposed to be a rest centre. A break before you slipped back into the madness of the Terrorist Wars.
The thought that the madness could find us here was… unnerving, to put it mildly.
Caroline drove along the steep Welsh roads, cursing the black ice and the gritters in equal measure, while I studied the reports from the base. We had interviewed all the witnesses before we left; this was just to refresh my memory.
The accounts were simple enough. Over the last few weeks, figures had been observed entering and leaving the house. They were generally thought to be students or young people in their early twenties.
They were described as wearing outlandish and bright clothing and everyone who had seen them had said there was something odd about the figures.
I checked the documents again. The house in question, Moyle’s Hall, was empty after a family dispute over a will, which had been ongoing for the last thirty years. It was a largish place, and at least according to the solicitors, still connected to the mains and the water board, though neither showed any use over the last few months.
“The source of the haunting remains unidentified to this day.” Alison had finished, staring round at the group. “Now, if you want to follow me around the back, I’ll tell you a bit about the house and stories that surround it.”
The group of Spectrum captains and agents trooped amiably behind their guide. The drive, which they had walked down to get to the house, was muddy, a testimony to the wet October which had being plaguing the British Isles this year.
Grey pulled a face, as a particularly nasty clump nearly yanked his boots off. Ochre ducked her head to hide a smile as the guide called them to stick close together and not to get lost.
“Eve of Destruction?” I suggested, looking at Caroline, running though the list of the extremist organisations in my head as she guided us slowly up the drive. “Or Flowers of the Forest? They’re supposed to use very bright colours.”
“Question then becomes what would either of them be doing in Wales?” Caroline asked, almost absent-mindedly as she surveyed the driveway in the beam of the headlight. “Eve of Destruction is North American, primarily, and Flowers of the Forest started in Scotland.”
Other than our tyre tracks, the driveway was clear. Whoever had been here, they hadn’t come in a vehicle. Either that or the ground was too frozen to show up any tracks.
“They’re both fairly stringently anti-war,” I observed. Bombing for peace is a contradiction in terms, but these guys could justify it somehow. “And the base isn’t that far from here.”
Caroline gave a nervous grunt of agreement, as we climbed out of the jeep.
Both of us wore the Geneva coats, huge navy padded things that went down to just above the top of our knee length boots. Originally they had been designed and issued for use in Russia and Northern Europe, but the weather had made them all but standard issue across the board.
Once wrapped up in them, it was borderline impossible to tell if the person you were questioning or even facing, was male or female, particularly if the hoods, with their drop down gas masks, were up.
We both checked our sidearms and opened the door with the key the solicitors had dropped off earlier. The front door swung open, flinging up a cloud of dust.
“OK,” Alison said, smiling. “Like I said at the start, the true history of the haunting is unknown.”
“Didn’t know a haunting could have a true history,” Grey whispered in an undertone. Ochre grinned, but again, lowered her head to hide it as the guide’s eyes fell upon them.
“However, there are several theories, based on the description of the ghosts, that the house may be built on the remains of a monastery or priory, but recent archaeological excavations in the area have found no evidence. Others connect these mysterious figures with the so-called ‘Bloody Acre’, one of the many suggested sites for a battle where King Arthur is supposed to have defeated Mordred. It is suggested that these figures may be searching for dead friends or family. Again, there’s no proof. What is certain is that they have been witnessed by numerous people, sometimes in groups, on several occasions. The earliest report we have of these sightings, and the most details, came from the United Nations Security Forces, or Genevas. But it’s wasn’t the only one, by any means.” Alison smiled apologetically, reaching into her pocket for a key. “After the initial Geneva report, the solicitors in charge of the property sealed the front door and it would be too expensive to unseal it.”
If Ochre recalled correctly, they had been only too glad to, hoping that if the property was uninhabitable, the dispute between the legatees would sort itself out. Evidently they had been partly correct.
“It’s quiet,” Caroline remarked.
“Too quiet,” I agreed. Houses have their own rhythms, their own pace. Even when they’re empty, there’s still life in them, still noise, but this one was silent. Silent as the grave.
Almost immediately I wished I hadn’t thought that.
“Split up?” I suggested, tentatively.
Caroline nodded, briskly. “Split up. I’ll go left, you go right. Meet up at the stairs.”
“You find anything, you yell,” I said with a false cheerfulness. I believe that either of us would have been happier if the other had vetoed the idea of splitting up, but the truth was we both knew our duty. There was nothing to suggest that anyone had been in here. The dust lay undisturbed about an inch thick across the walls and the banisters. The key had been stiff in the lock. There was in short absolutely no evidence that there was anyone in the house but us.
And yet, I was fairly certain both of us were thinking that the guys we had spoken to back at base had been telling the truth or if they hadn’t, they were the best liars I’d ever encountered. And as I already said, there was something about the house that didn’t feel right. Atmosphere is the wrong word; it was more like the house was separate from the real world outside. Or maybe that’s just projecting.
“See you in a bit,” Caroline said, an almost undetectable note of unease slipping into her voice. I just nodded and turned on my torch, shinning the low level beam around the right side of the huge entrance hall.
The windows were covered in grime, meaning almost no light penetrated. There were four rooms, leading off the entrance hall, two on each of the side walls, with the stair case which dominated the middle of the hall. The doors were either propped open, or missing, it was hard to tell in the poor light.
I paused at the first one, shining my torch around, but it was as empty and dusty as the main hall. There was a door at the end of the room, leading into a room beyond and suddenly I saw a flash of colour, like someone walking in front of the door.
I slid my hand down and reached for my sidearm. The dust muffled my footsteps, as I moved to the door, keeping my back against the wall, and leaned around.
Nothing. The room was dark and empty, the dust undisturbed. Yet I was certain what I’d seen hadn’t been a hallucination or a trick of the light.
I knew someone had been here.
“The first reported sighting took place in this room.” Alison shone a torch around. It was still dark, but the room looked considerably cleaner than the last time Ochre had been in here. The cobwebs hanging from the corners had the solid look of cotton wool, rather than the floating flimsiness of spider’s webs.
“31st October 2060, Emma Jackson and her friends were playing around the house. They freely admitted to having broken a window to gain access and were exploring. One of Emma’s friends, Sophia Kind, said she saw a figure in the parlour, which is just across the hall, but Emma’s experiences were the most dramatic. She said that she had brought her roller skates with her and finding the dining room here has a wonderfully smooth pine wood floor, she decided to use them while her friends explored the rest of the house.”
The guide paused for dramatic effect, swinging her torch beam towards the door furthest away from the group.
“Emma skated to the middle of the room, at which point she noticed that the temperature had dropped by several degrees. Then a figure robed in black entered through this door here and walked towards her.” Alison looked around to make sure that they were taking this all in. “Emma was terrified and hid behind that old arm chair.” She pointed her torch at a moth-eaten chair, draped with cotton wool cobwebs. “From there, both doors are clearly visible. There was nowhere for either the figure or Emma to go without being seen. Instead, the figure just vanished.” She looked around the group with a smile. “Emma admitted that she didn’t hang around, she just got the hell out of there. I’m aware that on its own, this incident probably wouldn’t have made much impact on the world of the paranormal. Certainly, we wouldn’t have achieved our reputation as a bona fide haunted house if it hadn’t being for the release in 2064 of classified documents from the UN which related those kinds of events in the UK. These included the Southampton UFO, the vampire of Glamis Castle and…” Again, she paused for dramatic effect. “The report of two Geneva or UN Security Service police officers, which took place in the 2050s. Unfortunately we don’t have either officer’s name, for reasons of their privacy, but…”
From somewhere a projector whirled into life, making Harmony grab at Mario in fright at the sudden noise.
“… We have this.”
Two images flickered onto the back wall. The Spectrum officers could easily identify them as military photos, probably from the late 2050s from their colour and focus. They had been cropped to remove the date, but the time stamps were clearly visible at the bottom of the photos. They showed that the two images had been taken a minute apart. Clearly visible in one were the tracks of small wheels and some footprints. In the other, there was only white dust. Ochre leaned closer for a better look. She could remember the photos being mentioned, but this was the first time she had seen them.
Caroline was waiting for me by the stairs. “Find anything?” I asked.
“Not sure.” Caroline paused and asked, “You?”
“Not sure.” I sighed. “I thought I saw someone, but it must have just been a trick of the light.”
“Hmm.” Caroline didn’t sound convinced.
Caroline hesitated and then said, “I thought I saw marks in the first room that looked like wheels. I took a picture and followed them into the centre, where they just stopped.”
“And?” I asked nervously.
“When I turned around, there were no marks in the dust.” She added in an undertone, “Not even my boot prints.”
We both digested this in silence. “Can I see the photo?” I asked, nervously. Caroline reached into the folds of her coat to hand the camera over to me when we both heard it.
A woman’s scream.
“Upstairs,” Caroline barked and we both ran up like we were fleeing the devil himself.
“I’m starting to wish I’d stayed at Dragon Base, until the fog cleared,” Grey groused to Elaine as they headed up the stairs. “Even being glared at by Blue is better than this. Ghosts? I doubt they’ve seen any spirits in this house unless they were the liquid kind.”
“Hmmm,” Ochre’s reply was non-committal, but that didn’t seem to bother Grey.
“Those photos could show different parts of the room, and the girl was probably spooked by a curtain or something.”
There had been no curtains downstairs, but Ochre didn’t mention that. Beneath their feet, the stairs gave a deliberate creak.
Grey frowned down at them. “No ghosts here some oil and a duster wouldn’t fix.”
Upstairs was worse than down.
We’d been told that the guy whose death had started the will dispute had spent most of his last few weeks in a couple of rooms downstairs. The upper floors had been unoccupied ever since, so the dust and grime was thicker. Plus, when we’d run upstairs, we’d kicked up a storm of the stuff.
We must have discussed it, but I don’t remember it, because we both had pulled our gas masks down from the thick hoods, before we hit the landing. Didn’t help with the visibility, but at least we weren’t coughing and wheezing.
I’m not entirely sure what either of us expected. After hearing the scream from downstairs, it could have been anything from some teenagers messing around to a torture workshop.
At the same time, I’m sure neither of us expected them.
The lighting upstairs was designed to be even more atmospheric than downstairs, which meant there was less of it. They walked closer together, eyes scanning the darkness to try and figure out what came next.
At a doorway, Alison paused.
“This is where undoubtedly the most dramatic of the sightings took place. Again, it comes from the Genevas’ reports. Both agents, interviewed separately, stated that they heard a scream.”
She pressed a button and a woman’s cry of terror echoed around the upstairs.
“They ran upstairs to this very spot, where they saw…”
Suddenly a pounding of feet on wooden stairs could be heard.
“Very good!” Grey muttered to Ochre. “That sounds almost real.”
Ochre was about to reply, when she noticed something. A white cloud was rising up the stairs.
One glance at the guide’s horrified face removed any suspicion from her mind that this was part of the tour. Then, from the depth of the clouds, two figures emerged and froze, like the cloth-draped black pillars they resembled.
Huge dark circles
peered out beneath black hoods, looking as though they were as confused by the
situation as the Spectrum agents.
Ochre watched, as from the second figure came a strange gabbling of words. The voice was familiar. And then she looked at them.
She really looked at them.
They were older than we expected, mostly in their mid-thirties, though there was a teenager with them. Most wore bright tabards over black clothes and American style baseball caps in the same bright colours, though some, exclusively women, I remember noticing, wore white tight fitting jumpsuits.
And they were all armed.
“Throw down your weapons and identify yourself!” I barely had the puff to force those words out through the mask. They stared at us, confused.
For a moment I wondered if there was a problem with the radio in the mask, and if that was why they didn’t obey my order.
Then the figure nearest us, a man with a bright pink tabard, began to move a hand towards his waist.
Caroline raised her pistol.
“Caroline! No!” a voice called out.
Caroline was startled and her finger slipped, firing the pistol. There was a second where everything, even the bullet travelling through mid-air, seemed to freeze.
Then the figures vanished and Caroline and I were alone in the dark hall with no clues as to what had happened.
The bullet missed, striking against the wall and tumbling to the floor, rusting before their eyes, until it lay smooth and silent, as though it had lain there for years.
The figures were no longer there and the cloud had vanished.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” Grey turned around to look at Ochre. “Elaine? You alright?”
Ochre was laughing, a low, breathless, hysterical laugh. “It was us all along. Don’t you see? It was us!”
Grey grabbed her arm and glared at the guide. “I think we’d better cut the tour short, don’t you? Do you have a first-aider?”
Alison, who was in shock, seemed to pull herself together, and pushed through the crowd to be at the head of the group again. But Ochre wasn’t aware of her.
“It was us,” she repeated.
I reached out and pushed down Caroline’s outstretched arm, the pistol still in her hand. Gripping her arm, I quickly dragged both of us down the stairs and out of the house.
We got into the jeep, Caroline again in the driver’s seat. For a moment, I reached for the keys, but Caroline turned, glaring at me and I just meekly climbed the passenger’s side.
We drove in complete silence until we reached the gate house. Caroline turned the engine off. We sat there motionless, not speaking, as outside the guards yelled at us to identify ourselves. Then, seeing the pair of us sitting there, covered in an unknown powder, in blank silence, our gas masks still down, they started yelling for the decontamination crews.
“Why did you tell me not to?” Caroline asked. I never asked her what she meant by that.
“It was us,” Elaine repeated, calmer now, as Grey thrust a cup of strong tea into her hands. Contrasting with the rest of the house, the first aid room leading off the old kitchen was clean and brightly lit. “The figures, they must have been us.”
“Elaine.” Grey reached for the blanket on the bed, but Ochre pushed him away as she had done the last five times.
“Emma Jackson was a teenager. She’d have been too young to recognise a Geneva coat. Caroline saw the rollerblade tracks, I saw one of Emma’s friends and she caught sight of me, the scream from upstairs, it all fits.”
“Elaine.” Grey’s voice was desperate.
Ochre looked up at him. “The Genevas’ report. I was one of them.”
“You what?” Grey looked befuddled.
“I was stationed here in 2059. I was one of the two Genevas who came to the house to investigate.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “We had our masks on. There was a fault with mine, the radio wouldn’t work. Caroline heard me call from in front of her, when I was actually standing behind her. It was me who was calling, only it wasn’t really me who was calling. It was… that other me. The older me.”
“The older you?” Grey was more and more puzzled.
She waved to herself. “Me… The present me. When I called just now? Caroline heard that – I heard it too! That was what startled her, why she fired.”
Grey stared at her, unsure if she should believe her; if she was all right. Ochre glared at him furiously, angry that he should doubt her. “Well, if you don’t believe me, check the bullet! You’ll see it’ll match UN Security Services’ records.”
“Elaine.” Grey sounded perplexed. “What are you saying? I don’t get it.”
“I do.” Ochre nodded thoughtfully. “Of course, that must be the only explanation. Time must have…” She waved her hand, “ ... Slipped. We must have gone through something when we ran upstairs, maybe the house is some sort of portal, I don’t know… but I know that’s what happened. Caroline and I ran upstairs in 2059 and some way or another, we ran into a group of Spectrum officers in 2068. The scream… ITV was in its infancy back then. Think of how brilliant MP3 would have sounded to someone used to vinyl, for example… We thought it was a real person screaming. We – Caroline and I – thought they – us – were terrorists. The kids who saw us – Caroline and me – thought we were ghosts. The coats with their hoods made us look like monks, so that’s what they told people they saw. It all makes sense.”
“It all makes sense, you say?” Grey retorted with perplexity. “I think it sounds absolutely crazy!”
“I know.” Ochre shook her head. “It all makes sense… but that doesn’t mean I can explain how it actually happened!”
The idea from this story actually came from another one that wouldn’t go anywhere. I was thinking about what would happen if the ghosts saw us, thinking about how different the clothes from as little as ten years ago look to us today. Would they report people in strange or even historic clothing?
Then I started thinking about what would happen if you saw yourself ten years from now? Would you know yourself? The rest of the story kinda of happened from there. Like Ochre, I don’t know entirely what’s happening.
Don’t ask me what ITV is, other than a TV channel, I just needed some initials for the new sound wave, light years ahead of us. As I said in the story, if you took an MP3 sound track back to when vinyl first came out and played it, it would probably sound good enough to deceive people.
Massive thanks as always to the Beta team. Don’t know how you guys do this year after year, but I’m grateful you do.
I own nothing.