A “New Captain Scarlet” story for Halloween
“The Headless Woman,” Mario read, as the building whizzed past them. “Wonder why anyone would choose such a gruesome name?”
“Local legend,” Paul Metcalfe, Captain Scarlet, replied, keeping his eyes on the road. “The story goes that a witch was beheaded at the cross roads, and now walks there, swearing revenge on the town.”
“That’s right; you’re from round here originally,” Adam muttered, consulting the directions again. “Turn right here.”
“You alright Adam?” Serena Lewis leant forward; gently resting her hand on Captain Blue’s shoulders. “You seem a little stressed.”
Adam sighed, annoyed that his concerns were so visible. “It’s just...I called Julia 6 weeks ago, when we first got the leave to see if she had anywhere we could stay. She said she was booked up until Easter. Then last week she calls me and says she has somewhere big enough for all of us.”
“Maybe she felt guilty about bailing out on a friend,” Destiny Angel, Simone Giraudoux, suggested, from the back seat where she and two of the other Angels were sitting with Serena and Mario.
Adam snorted. “Julia is literally the lady of the manor. She runs her family’s estate, plus the boarding business, plus is a chemist over at Adlerson.”
“The World Weapons Development agency?” Scarlet asked, raising an eyebrow. If Julia was working there, then she had to be good.
Adam nodded. “Trust me; she’s no reason to be sentimental.” Especially not about me, he thought.
“Who cares?” Mario demanded, waving his hand at the countryside speeding past their window. “Two weeks’ leave. No Mysterons, the heart of the English Countryside, what could be better?”
“If the weather breaks anything.” Adam glanced around. “This place looks pretty enough, and there’s loads to do when it’s fine, but once it starts to rain...” He trailed off.
“So you know this area?” You could hear the eagerness in Serena’s voice, at discovering more of Adam’s past.
Adam sighed. “I was stationed at Adlerson for a year.” He glanced down at the directions in his lap. “This is the turning.”
The house loomed over the high green hedges of the lane, glowing in the sunlight. Its red brick work, interspaced with huge black beams, sat smugly under a grey slate roof.
“It’s beautiful,” Serena gasped. Yoko apparently agreed, leaning forward to get a better look. Adam was grateful, as it meant his face couldn’t be seen.
Scarlet carefully pulled the car to a halt, as a man stepped out of the thatched porch to meet them. He had black hair, and blue eyes that sparkled as they spotted Adam.
“Adam Svenson. Good to see you.” He was American, but his accent had been softened and manipulated so that it sounded like a strange cross between English and American.
“Don.” Adam forced himself to smile, shaking the other man’s hand. “Looks like Security agrees with you.”
The other man grinned, his eyes sparkling. “And looks like Spectrum agrees with you.” He glanced around, spotting Scarlet standing nearby looking amused by the exchange. “Paul Metcalfe? You probably don’t remember me, but we have met.”
“Commander Don Sinclair.” He hadn’t actually remembered the man until Adam had said his name. Then it all came flooding back. “How are you?”
“Fine thanks, though it’s just Don Sinclair, these days.” At Adam’s raised eyebrow, he shrugged. “Love makes a man do strange things, Captain”
“So where is your wife?” Adam asked, keeping his tone light. He wanted to have a talk with Julia about her recommending this house of all houses.
“At work. She’s furious that she couldn’t be here to greet you, but,” He shrugged. “Duty calls. So what do you think of the old place?” his question was directed at Yoko, Simone, Serena and Mario, who had climbed out of the car, and were staring up at the house.
“It’s huge.” Mario’s voice had a hint of awe, backed up by Yoko’s “And so beautiful. I thought we’d be in a tiny cottage that flooded when it rained or something.”
“Well, we do have a couple of those, and I know the owners would be happy to swap with you if you want to.” He could feel Adam’s eyes drilling into him, as he sighed. “Alright, maybe not happy.”
He paused. “Look, I’ll be honest with you. Jules and I kind of need you to stay here as a favour to us.”
“Why?” Simone asked, confused. “A beautiful house like this, in the middle of the countryside, I’d have thought you’d have had no problems letting it.”
“Normally no.” Don sighed, rubbing the back of his head with one hand, a gesture Adam remembered being linked to extreme nerves. “It’s just...” He sighed. “Look, the house has a reputation locally of being haunted. The last tenants claimed they saw something, and they’re threatening to go to the media with it. So Julia reckon that if we offered it to you guys, and were able to show that some Spectrum agents had spent a couple of weeks there and seen nothing...”
He trailed off.
“Why are you so keen to get rid of the rumours of a ghost anyway?” Mario asked, as Don reached down, grabbing the bags. “Would have thought a ghost would be great for business.”
Don paused, looking at the other man.
“This isn’t an ordinary ghost.”
“There are three rooms on this floor,” Don said, leading them up a massive oak staircase “And two smaller rooms in the attic.”
“Smaller than this won’t be hard,” Mario observed. “It’s huge.”
Don shrugged. “Big families in those days. Plus most of the time the rooms aren’t used as bedrooms. They act as gyms, offices, so on. Julia and I converted them back into bedrooms when Adam confirmed you were staying.”
Mario wasn’t listening though, he was moving around the room, examining the panels that lined the wall.
“Is this where the ghost appears?” he asked, apparently oblivious to Adam’s angry glare. Don paused, rubbing the back of his head again.
“Not exactly.” He sighed, moving over to the window. “Look, Julia already told me to invite you guys for dinner tonight, up at the manor. Professor Almond’ll be there. He’ll give you the history of the house.”
“The manor.” Simone moved over to begin digging through her bags. “Guess we’d best change then.”
“You’d never guess from the outside that this house is less than two hundred years old.” Professor Almond was holding court, stroking his beard and looking around the house like a cat that’d got the cream. “Built in 1853, on the site of a much smaller Saxon Manor house, known locally as Werburg’s Rest.”
“So the family hasn’t actually been here that long?” Scarlet asked, attempting to be polite. Professor Almond raised an eyebrow.
“Most assuredly not. The family has been around in one form or another since at least the 12th Century. In fact, if you have time, there is an excellent memorial in the church to Peter Defy, who died on crusade.”
“So why did they have this house built?”
Julia Sinclair Defy bustled over, trying to pretend she hadn’t been listening. Her hair was dark and cut short, and her fingers were covered in stains and scars. In spite of that, she gave a sense of confidence and determination that he was used to associating with Lieutenant Green.
“The Rectory, while a beautiful and historic building, wasn’t very fashionable. The family had come into money and was mixing with those who had more. They built the new house to show their wealth and status to the surrounding countryside, rather than relying on the old house, which was on land granted to them by Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries.”
“Why not just modernise it?”
Julia smiled, dryly. “Our ancestors were not sentimental. Indeed, given the time we were just lucky that the building was not demolished. Instead it was given to the church as the rectory.”
“Not that any of the ministers remained there long,” Professor Almond observed.
“Because of the ghost?” Mario interjected eagerly. Julia sighed.
“No, because the house was ancient, and uncomfortable,” she began, sighing as she realised that everyone was staring at the pair of them. “Look, can the ghost stories wait until after dinner? Mrs Macgry is about to dish up, and I don’t want to be the one to explain to mother why dinner gets cold.”
“The story goes,” Julia said, as they gathered by the drawing room fire. The room was huge, lined with oak panels and full of knickknacks and squashy arm chairs. Julia sat on the red divan, with Don next to her. She pulled her jumper around her a bit more securely. “That during the Civil War the house was occupied by an ancestor of mine called John Defy. The family were Catholics, recusants, but in spite of that John’s best friend was Paul St. John, a Protestant. The St. Johns were in parliament, so they were rich, but they lacked the pedigree of the Defys. The boys were apparently inseparable, and vowed to let nothing come between them. And it probably wouldn’t, if it hadn’t been for a woman.” She got to her feet and walked over to a curtained alcove.
“Jeanne D’Or.” A woman with pale blonde hair hung in ringlets around her face stared out at them. She was dressed in blue silk, and looked seductively out at the world. “Bet the chroniclers of the time had a ball with that.”
Professor Almond took up the story. “Arrived in England in 1640, to a country that was hostile to her and all her countrymen. There were fears of Papist plots, and a lot of anger against the king of the period, Charles I.” He smiled.
“Legend has it, that while she was engaged to John Defy, even at that point there was evidence of an attraction to his best friend, Paul.” He sighed. “In 1641, as part of concessionary methods to parliament, aimed at securing funding for the king, John Defy, along with others was exiled under sentence of death. He fled to France.” He paused, chewing at his lip. “It’s unclear why John did not take his new bride with him into exile, but he didn’t, unwisely.”
“I kinda feel sorry for her,” Don observed, lounging and looking at the picture. “She was trapped in a strange country that was hostile to her and her culture; she was newly married, but had no way of telling whether she was a bride or a widow.” He shrugged, turning back to look at his wife. “I know it would be hard for her. Remember, when you and I first met,” He reached out, gently stroking her finger. “Only proof I had that you were still alive would be a field postcard every six months. It was…” He shook his head. “Hell.” He glanced around the room. “I’m not saying I agree with what she did, or is alleged to have done, but…I don’t think it was as black and white as people claim.”
“Possibly not,” Professor Almond agreed, “Certainly, there is no doubt that she was extremely isolated. The only person she knew in the area was Paul St. John. He used to ride over to the house.” The professor shook his head. “You can probably guess how that ended.”
“In exile in France, rumours reached John of his wife’s behaviour. Or maybe he just decided it was too dangerous to leave her in England any more.” Julia shivered, though she stayed silent. “The King had just been executed, and England declared a commonwealth. Most Royalist supporters were fleeing.” He shrugged. “Either way, he returned to England secretly in 1649, eventually reaching The Rectory in April of that year.” He swallowed. “The story goes that he rode all night, though a vicious thunderstorm, arriving in the house, soaked to the skin.”
“He came in the house by the old night stairs down, and walked up the stairs, his boots clumping on the steps. He opened the door to the main bedroom and…” The Professor smiled around the room. “Well the records claim they were in flagrante delicto, so I’ll let you guys figure the rest out. John was enraged. He drew his sword and killed the pair of them. He was tried and executed for the crime less than three weeks later.” He sat back, taking a sip of his drink.
“Reliable sources tell us this much,” Julia said, drawing the curtain over the portrait of Jeanne. “But it’s only a few years later, not long after the restoration of the monarchy that rumours began to circulate that the house was haunted. It varies and ranges though the centuries, but the facts remain the same. A report of strange sounds from the house and someone creeping around the house.”
“You said it wasn’t an ordinary ghost. Sounds fairly straightforward to me,” Scarlet observed.
Julia shook her head. “No. Most ghosts have a set…pattern for want of a better term. Ours doesn’t.” She moved around the room “Some people have reported strange noises; some just get a sense of being watched. Some have seen an actual replay of the events, some have seen a man looking through the window, and it’s unpredictable.” She sighed. “And that’s what makes our ghost so dangerous. A headless woman wandering the crossroads wringing her hands, a black dog whose appearance spells death, the churchyard watched over by the last person to be buried in it, they’re all common, all safe ghosts. Our one is…unpredictable. Some people, some psychics have claimed that we’re lying, that there’s nothing there.”
“But you don’t believe that.”
Julia sighed. “I’ve spent nights in the house before now,” she said, softly. “And I’ve always felt something, someone watching me.”
“I saw something,” Don volunteered. “Once. A long time ago.”
Silence reigned for a few seconds. “If you guys want to change your accommodation, Don and I completely understand and we’ll try and help you,” Julia said, with a glance at her husband, “But it is really a nice house, and there’s nowhere else big enough to hold you all together, and…” She trailed off.
“You’re kidding right?” Mario’s eyes were shining. “A genuine ghost. I’m not going anywhere!”
He glanced around. Everyone else seemed less certain of the situation, but slowly they added their voices to give consent. Julia smiled.
“Well, if you guys are interested in ghosts, Professor Almond does a ghost tour around the village for Halloween, which is always highly praised. I know it’s the wrong season, but perhaps he would consider…?”
With what in other circumstances would have been a laughable example of Feudal spirit, the professor agreed that he would be more than happy to, and the talk turned to other matters.
The horse’s flanks glisten beneath him, even as the rain soaks him to the skin.
The moon barely pieces the clouds, and while he would have once sworn he knew these roads as well as he knew his own name, now the trees that line them become witches’ figures, which rip and tear at his coat.
He wishes he had a guide, wishes he had accepted Old John’s offer to ride with him, but the man is risking enough as it is.
If the bastard Cromwell’s soldiers find him…
Peering through the darkness, he could just make out the track, running off the main road.
Carefully, he edged the reluctant beast towards it, staring as he did so at the tree.
He resisted the desire to scream, as he realised that the tree was staring back at him.
“Morning Paul,” Mario said, sitting at the huge oak table in the kitchen, buttering toast. “Sleep well?”
“Fine.” Paul grunted. He had actually slept the whole night through, but his dreams had woken him in the pale dawn light, sweating, panting and feeling like he’d been awake the whole night. A quick glance in the mirror that morning had confirmed it, and he expected Adam to call him on it. But the other man didn’t, just drinking his coffee at the table.
“What’s for breakfast?”
“Toast.” Simone smiled at him from the end of the table. “Mainly because Mario is in charge of breakfast and activities today.”
“Prof Almond called early this morning and said if we wanted to, he was free to do the ghost tour today!” Mario said, his eyes shining. “Said he’d pick us up in an hour.” He caught the glare Serena and Simone were throwing him and back pedalled. “But if you don’t want to go, it’s no big deal. Yoko’s already said she’s not going to, and Adam’s catching up with Julia and Don this morning. Said he might meet us in the afternoon.”
“It’s O.K. Mario.” He sighed. Normally traipsing around a village on a ghost tour would have been his idea of hell, with the darkness and the cold and the guy deliberately trying to scare everyone. But the sun was shining through the windows and last night’s dreams felt like a mile away. “Should be fun.” Mario grinned like a mad man.
“Most of the work these days is still for the military, though the focus has changed slightly,” Don said, leading the way along the silver corridors of the Adlerson World Weapons Research facility. He stopped by a window and tapped lightly on the glass, waving as yellow hooded figures looked up. One of them held up a gloved hand in thumbs up. Don nodded, and continued. “These days, it’s more about counteracting the effects of the weapons, or the traces left by them.”
“Hence Julia’s role.”
Don shrugged. “You know she was never that keen on chemical warfare.” They had reached the end of the corridor. Don reached out, and placed his thumb on the small panel beside it.
A scarlet light ran up and down the panel, before a light on the left beeped green.
“You guys still relying on thumb prints for identification?” Blue said, trying to keep the unease out of his voice.
Don snorted, pointing to the panel next to the light. “DNA. Same as on Skybase. Don’t worry; we’re safe from Martians here.”
Don frowned. “Don’t lie to me, Adam. I’m in charge of Security here. I get briefings from Spectrum every week, which occasionally I actually read.” The sarcasm in his voice was audible. “Plus since that bio weapons stint everyone’s been updating security.” He stepped into the office, a desk piled high with books and papers and a monitor and three sleek chairs the only modern furniture in the room. The white walls were lined with small fume cupboards. Old oak cupboards containing ancient looking books and conical flasks, sat next to silver cabinets with their fancy tubes. A periodic table hung on the one bare wall, with an old fashioned hat stand beneath it.
It was, Adam thought, glancing around, very Julia and hadn’t changed all that much since the last time he was in here.
Don he realised was still talking. “Most of the precautions were already in place here. One advantage of having been so close to the front line here with the bloody IRA. Plus these things aren’t just useful to terrorists. There are a lot of drug lords out there, who’d love to get their hands on half of what we ship.” He shrugged. “Feels like half my life is spent checking facts and figures.”
He shook his head. “She’s worried about you,” he said, softly. “Julia, I mean. Even if the Rectory hadn’t come up empty, she’d have...”
He stopped short as his wife entered, a white lab coat thrown over her ordinary clothes. “Adam. It’s good to see you.”
In spite of Paul’s earlier unease, the trip proved to be a good day.
Professor Almond, well used to the vague and waning interest of students in a lecture hall, was an excellent tour guide. He knew exactly how to make even a boring story of the foundation of the church sound interesting, and his ghost stories were spectacular, without being frightening, even in the sunshine.
They saw the churchyard, guarded over by the spirit of Henry Noble, the last body buried in it. They walked down Godman’s Lane, where Old Grim, the devil’s supposed dog galloped to claim souls for hell.
They stopped for a drink at the Headless Woman, where Professor waxed lyrical about not just Matildia Millar, who was beheaded in 1645, swearing revenge on the town, but on the whole history of English witchcraft, going right back to the twelfth century.
They debated endlessly, but ended up stopping for lunch beneath Tatiana’s Bow, just on the outskirts of the village.
“Since prehistoric times at least, this area has been associated with the fairies, though, of course the title of Tatiana’s Bow,” Almond winced. “Is Victorian. There is no written record of what the locals called the place before that.”
“What are these?” Simone asked, reaching up into the branches, where small painted wooden objects hung.
“The eye of Horus.” Almond smiled, indulgently. “Or at least an English equivalent. They’re hung here every year at Midsummer, to discourage evil spirits. Can give you quite a fright on a dark night if you’re not expecting them.”
Scarlet walked away from the group, barely listening to Almond’s lecture. The whole place was giving him a creepy sense of déjà vu. He tripped, almost falling to his knees.
“You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods,” Almond quoted, suddenly appearing beside him. “There used to be a track there, leading up to the old Rectory, but it was planted over years ago, not long after the first vicar arrived with his family. Had a bad reputation locally which is strange as the tree is supposed to bring good fortune, especially to lovers.”
“Really?” Simone asked, sliding her hand into Paul’s. Almond nodded.
“Indeed. It is said that if you stand underneath it on Midsummer’s night, with your sweetheart, then you will be with them forever and a day.” He fumbled in his pockets, like an old pipe smoker. “Certainly seems to have worked for our lovely lady and her beau, even though she was engaged to someone else at the time.”
“Who?” Green asked, wandering over. She had been distracted all morning, hardly seeming to hear what the professor was saying, so it was a bit of a surprise for her to be asking that.
“Some chap in the US army, can’t remember his name.” Suddenly Almond hit his knee. “Adam something, that was it. I remember a joke being made at the time that her mother had really wanted to call her Eve.”
He didn’t seem to notice the sick look on Green’s face.
“Why did the road have a bad reputation?” Mario asked. The Professor looked uncomfortable. “Perhaps we should be moving on, a storm is forecast for later.”
“It’s connected with the ghost of the Rectory isn’t it?” Simone asked, possibly to draw attention away from Serena.
Almond dropped his eyes. “They say it’s the road that John Defy rode up. A lot of the villages reported seeing a horseman galloping down it, especially after dark.”
He did stop to wonder to himself why two of his party now looked like they wanted to throw up.
“It’s actually fascinating,” Julia said, replacing the bottle on her desk. “Chemically, it’s virtually identical to the Berklin gas, you remember the stuff they used during the War?”
He did remember. Remembered the almost unnoticeable burning as the stuff slid into your lungs, remembered the visions of horrors it would create, some based on real memories, some stuff of nightmares. Remembered the trembling and the pain that assaulted its victims once the stuff was in their system, remembered the claustrophobic feel of the gas masks they were issued to counteract it. Don remembered too, heck he and Adam had served together a couple of times. So did Julia. She’d actually designed the masks that had saved many lives.
She shook her head. “From a weapons point of view, this gas, Vulcan gas we’re calling it, for want of a better name, is a better bet than the Berklin gas. Its effects are initially less noticeable, but ultimately more effective, it disperses rapidly with oxygen, which reduces the risk to your own troops. Also less need for the gas masks.” She shrugged. “the similarities to Berklin also help explain the immunity demonstrated.”
At Adam’s raised eyebrow, she shrugged. “Like Don, I get the reports and like Don, I occasionally read them”
“Nah, but how do you mean about exposure having an effect on immunity? All of us were exposed, it was kinda impossible not be.”
The Berklins, a group of Russian Separatists who were fighting for the freedom of their homeland, had developed the gas initially as an attack method against the Destnicks. Thrown in to the enclosed tank, the effect rendered the capable vehicles virtually inoperable, until a filtration system was developed. Unfortunately, by that point the Berklins’ chemists had not only refined their formula, but had sold it on or joined forces (no one was entirely sure which) with other groups, including the IRA, Al- Qaeda, and Chinese Liberation army. The gas had quickly became everyone’s weapon of choice, and avoiding exposure as Blue had already observed being borderline impossible.
Julia nodded in agreement. “But you were all exposed to different forms. You and Captain Ochre, if her service record is correct, served mainly in the Middle East and Asia, so you were exposed to Berklin mainly in its gas form. Captain Scarlet’s records indicate service mainly in Europe, specifically Russia.” She paused. “You remember the mysterious sickness that struck forces on the Russian Front in 2066?”
“Yeah,” Adam said, casting his mind back to the rumours flying around the troops of an infection sickening the men who had served in Russia. They suffered from shakes that they couldn’t control and sickness and vomiting. Some reportedly at least, went mad, attacking things only they could see and hear. “Thought to be some sort of virus in the water.”
“Turned out it was actually Berklin gas. This OH group.” She tapped it on the monitor on her desk. “reacts with the water, forming a soluble, acidic salt.” She shrugged. “The gas was released, it reacted with the snow and contaminated the drinking water.” She sighed. “ As a result, guys with service on the Russian front tend to have been exposed to more of the gas, as they took it in through their water, through their skin, through everything really,” She continued. “High exposure, if they survived it, seems to give some immunity to the gas. But it is worth noting that cases of psychosis are nearly doubled in the case of Russian front, as the stuff can leave residue in their system. The Vulcan gas sample you guys brought back, might be useful in helping us find a cure, if the military don’t decide it’s more use as weapon.” There was a bitter note in her voice.
Adam paused. “The guys on Mars thought the mine was haunted,” he said, slowly. “Do you think, that there’s any chance that...?”
Julia shook her head. “Once we’d figured out how this stuff worked, how it affected the brain, I went down to the Rectory and took samples. Samples of the soil, of the wood, of the air, heck even left culture plates there for a couple of days, in case the gas came from some bacteria in the soil. All results were negative.” She glanced at her screen. “This stuff is definitely not responsible for what happened.”
The three of them fell silent remembering past events. Suddenly, a beep interrupted everyone’s thoughts. Don glanced down, swore and left, muttering his apologies.
“He works hard,” Adam muttered, more for something to say than anything else.
Julia nodded. “Too hard, sometimes,” she muttered, before turning to face Adam. “Adam, look, I never had the opportunity to thank you. I know you could have made life difficult for Don, after...what happened, but you didn’t, you were a real gentleman, so thank you.”
Adam shrugged, his eyes roaming the room, before settling on the fume cupboard. “So what are you guys actually doing currently?”
Julia rolled her eyes at the obvious subject change and started discussing the work on the newer gas masks for miners.
“Did you enjoy yourself with your friends?” Serena’s voice was as near to a sneer as you could get without actually doing so. The jealousy she was feeling towards Julia Defy surprised even her. Adam shrugged.
“Yeah, Julia’s working on the gas Gold found in the Vulcan mine. Interesting to see the stuff when it’s not trying to kill you.” His joke fell flat. “How about you guys?”
Like a child oblivious to the tension in the room, Mario began babbling about the ghost tour, giving Adam condensed versions of all the stories Almond had told them.
“He was good,” Scarlet agreed, glancing at his friend across the drawing room, where they had all gathered. Outside the rain poured down, turning the sky black, but inside the lights gave the room a rosy glow. “You should have come Adam.”
Adam shook his head. “Thanks but I’ve heard them before.”
“How, Almond said he only moved to the area a couple of years ago?”
Adam shrugged. “He and a couple of his students were still running tours when I was stationed here, every Halloween. Plus, my old man knew Julia’s old man. Think I spent about a dozen summers here as a kid.”
“Really?” Serena hissed. “You didn’t mention that!”
Adam finally seemed to pick up on the tension in the room. “I told you Julia was an old friend. Honestly, Serena what’s got in to you?”
A bang of thunder echoed overhead. The light flickered, and died, plunging the room into darkness.
“Easy.” A sound in the darkness told Scarlet that Adam had got to his feet. “The wiring in this place was done in the 2000s, when there’s a storm occasionally it gets knocked out.” A bump and a muffled curse told him that Adam had attempted to move and knocked into something, which sounded like a chair.
“Anyone got a flashlight?”
Paul had. He turned it on, the pale light spilling around the room, worsening the eerie feel of the room if anything.
“The fuse box is under the stairs,” Adam said, rubbing his leg where he’d bumped it on a small coffee table.
“Course, could be the power lines have come down in the storm,” Mario observed. Adam shrugged. “Possibly, but unlikely. Come on, it’s this way.”
Paul turned the torch, focusing on the women to check they were o.k. before he began to follow Adam.
The hall was in darkness, worse than the drawing room as there were no windows there. Paul’s torch moved over tables, hat stands and chairs, before resting on a door. Adam pulled it open and began fiddling in the closet. Paul held the torch steady, trying to shake the feeling of being watched. He was a Spectrum agent dammit, not a kid to be scared by ghost stories.
“Storm must be bad,” Adam muttered, withdrawing himself from the cupboard for a second. “Taken out three fuses. Bring the torch around will you?”
Scarlet grunted, moving the light.
The lightning flashed outside the room, making Adam swear even louder, as another two fuses fell victim.
As the flash and the sparks faded, a scream rang out across the house.
Adam jumped. “What the...?”
“It came from back there,” Paul said, spinning around with his torch. “Destiny!”
“I saw him.” Destiny all but fell into Scarlet’s arms as he ran back into the drawing room. “Outside, in the window, I saw him.”
Destiny’s eyes were wide.
“Hate being the one to ask, but what would Black be doing here?” Mario asked, moving alongside Scarlet, as they walked though the soaking gardens.
“Adlerson is only a few hundred metres away,” Paul pointed out, squinting into the darkness. The wind and lashing rain was making it impossible to see more than few feet in front of him. Adam had stayed indoors to try and get power back in the house, and to alert Adlerson, while Serena, Simone and Yoko tried to locate some candles.
“Maybe the Mysterons are planning an attack.”
“Then what’s he’s doing here, rather than up the road?”
Scarlet shrugged. “Access codes?”
He paused, frowning as the light from the torch fell on some steps, half hidden against the house. Ivy covered, and soaked, they didn’t look like they’d been used for centuries, glancing up in the darkness, he was able to make out the faintest outline of a light above them.
“What are these?” He asked.
“The night stairs,” Mario said, coming up beside him. “You remember? Adam’s friends mentioned it.”
Adam cursed as the fuse slipped out of his hand again, falling beyond the small circle provided by the candle light.
“Adam?” Don’s voice came over the comm., sounding concerned. “Quick question, the Mysterons’ agents don’t have the ability to be in two places at once, do they?”
“Not as far as we know,” Adam said, leaning down and moving the candle forward, still searching for the fuse. “Why?”
Don sounded more agitated. “Because I just contacted your Colonel White to see if he could send us some back up, I mean my guys are good, but we’d be out of our class, you know?”
Don sighed. “He was very surprised to hear my report, as he’d just got a report of Black breaking into the Chechnya Nuclear facility.”
There was a pause, before Don continued. “Look, sorry to ask you this Adam, but was Serena involved with anyone else when you met her?”
“No,” Adam said, the horror of the situation dawning on him. “But Destiny was!”
“You have to get them out of there.” Don’s voice was firm. “I’m sending a couple of my guys to help you, but with the storm...”
“I’ll stop them,” Adam promised, softly. “I’ll stop him.”
The stairs are slippery in the rain, but the stone gives no sound.
It is easy to persuade this one’s companion to wait at the bottom of the stairs, so overcome by fear is he in this abysmal weather.
12 steps up. Once they would have been for the 12 apostles, guiding the monks who slept above their eating hall downwards for prayers at midnight in the church. Now they guide me and thee up to face the faithless creature in the room above. Her outline is quite clear against the window curtains.
His hand grips at the ancient iron knocker, shaped like a cock, the bird’s beak clasped around the knocker. The old oak moves as silently as it did that night, in spite of the years that have passed.
It was lucky that Yoko remembered seeing that candle box in her room, Simone thought, as she lit another placing it on the table in Paul’s room, as though that simple action could banish her fears, could keep Black at bay.
Not that the candle seemed to be helping much here. In every other room they’d put a candle, including the landing and the hall, it had helped, seeming to force the shadows out of it. Here, it seemed to be lengthening and twisting the shadows into horrible witches’ faces and monsters.
She shivered slightly, moving towards the door, almost running headlong into a mountain of solid muscle.
“Paul,” she said, stepping back and catching sight of the mountain’s face “Thank God, I thought...”
She froze, looking up into the man’s eyes. They were dark and unfocused, like when he had been under the control of the Mysteron Virus, except then the anger and the pain had been directed inwards. Now it was focused on her.
She could only stare in horror as he raised his weapon, pointing directly at her.
“Paul.” She could hear Adam’s voice from the corridor as she backed further into the room, like a cornered animal.
“She’s a Mysteron Replicant Adam.” Paul’s voice was chillingly calm. “The Mysterons have killed the real Simone. I saw her up here, with Black.”
Then there was the soft pop of the gun, and Paul staggered forward, as Adam burst into the room, his gun still raised.
Paul blinked, his eyes focusing back on his friend, confused and slightly scared. “Adam, what the..?”
Adam didn’t give him an opportunity to respond, reaching down to grab the other man, heaving him bodily to his feet.
“Come on. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
“I’m truly sorry,”
Julia said handing out blankets. Sitting on sofas, on chairs and on the floor,
all soaked to the skin from the rain, wrapped in a variety of coats and
blankets, Adam was fairly certain that they looked less like Spectrum Captains
and more like refugees he remembered seeing in the Terrorism war. “But I was
sure, if there was any reason, that Adam would have mentioned it.”
She glanced, half nervously, half accusingly at him. “Especially after what happened.”
“What did happen?” Paul asked. He was lying half propped up on the divan that Julia had been sitting on when they first heard the ghost story, with Simone sitting on the chair opposite, her eyes still wide with fear.
Julia sighed. “It’s complicated.” She sighed, moving over to stand beside her husband who stood, leaning against the mantelpiece. “I’d heard the stories since I was a child, but I never truly believed them until...” She paused, glancing first at Adam and then at Serena. Don reached out gripping her shoulder.
“Until Adam and Julia got engaged.”
“I will say,” Julia said, glaring at her husband and glancing nervously at Serena, who was shaking slightly, though not from cold. “That the event was more to do with our parents than us.” She shrugged. “Adam’s parents thought being engaged would help his career, and mine...” She shrugged again. “I never knew to be honest. I suspect they thought he’d be a good catch.” She sighed. “It didn’t make a lot of difference at first, we got “engaged” just as I turned 21, which was the year I started at Adlerson, and the Terrorism war started, so dating was fairly low on everyone’s priority list.” She paused. “Then Don came.”
“For the record,” Don said, “I didn’t know she was engaged.”
“I know,” Julia said, gently.” And Adam does too.” She continued: “Nothing happened. I mean there was chemistry, but that was it. Until...” She shook her head. “Until things got hairy. I worked on the gas masks, because I was in the group who detected the fault.”
“The one that...?”
“The one that was reckon to be “not significantly significant,”” Julia confirmed, bitterly. “Even though it cost nearly a million men their lives.”
“They realised their mistake,” Mario offered.
“Only after the deaths,” Julia snapped. She shook her head. “I just...I wanted some comfort. Everyone, scientists, security, was stationed at the Rectory. I went here when we heard what they were saying about the fault we’d found, that they weren’t going to withdraw the masks, I...I wasn’t taking it well.”
“I’d call attempting to destroy your quarters a bit less than well,” Don observed, but there was no malice in his voice and he pulled his wife close and kissed her hair. “I’d been injured and along with a lot of my unit including Adam who was my CO,” he winced slightly, “was stationed as security for Adlerson. I just came in, grabbed at her, trying to calm her down. And...Adam came in.”
Scarlet risked a glance at Blue who’d been unusually silent throughout the proceedings.
“What happened?” he asked, his eyes fixed on the other man.
“Don let go of me, babbling that this wasn’t what it looked like and...” She paused. “There was a mirror on the wall opposite. An old Victorian thing with lilies carved into the frame. We looked over, and we saw, we all saw...” She swallowed. “We saw the scene, but it had all changed. Don and I...we were lying on the floor, beaten to death. And Adam was standing over us, covered in blood.”
“Hallucination,” Mario suggested. Julia shrugged.
“I might have believed that, if I hadn’t...” She shook her head. “There’s been no less than 10 murders in that house since 1645. All the same thing, the eternal triangle.” She paused. “I have a friend who works out probabilities for us. He’s a dick, but he did tell me that’s statistically significant.”
“So what happened?” Simone asked. “To Paul, to the others.”
“I don’t know,” Julia admitted, sinking down into the arm chair. “I’ve got a theory, but it’s nothing more.”
“That when the elements, for want of a better word, are present, then a reaction will occur. The closer you are to the correct elements then the stronger the reaction.”
“So what?” Mario asked. “You’re saying that Paul was possessed or something?”
“Or something,” Julia replied. “I’m a scientist, so I define my terms. I’ve heard Almond refer to it as past shadow, as though the events, the emotions involved in them, were so powerful they had to play out again and again. I’m not sure, I...” She shook her head. “I did some research after what happened and found an account of basically what happened tonight. A monk climbed the stairs and killed one of his brethren, claiming to have seen him conspiring with the devil.” She shrugged. “Maybe the house is cursed by his actions for that scenario to be played out until the end of time, maybe the brother really was conspiring with the devil and summoned something up, I don’t know. I just know that house is a crucible for things like that. For guilt, anger, jealousy to overflow. I know I can’t prove it, but...” She turned to look at Scarlet. “You said that you remembered climbing up the night stairs and going through the door at the top of them.” At his nod, she asked. “Can you describe the door?”
Scarlet closed his eyes for a moment. “A big oak one that made no noise as it opened. It had a weird doorknocker, I remember that.”
“Something like this?” Julia had got to her feet and moved over to the cabinet beneath Jeanne D’Or’s painting. She withdrew a door knocker, rusted with age, but still identifiable as a bird.
“How did you...?”
Julia ran her fingers though her hair. “This was dug up, nearly two years ago, in the grounds of the Rectory, by Professor Almond and his students. If you’d looked at the door to the night stairs, you’d have noticed it’s a modern white door that opens outwards. Has to for fire regulations.” She shook her head. “This has been lost, according to those who know about such things since at least the 1800s, and it’s being here in the cabinet the whole time.” She paused. “There’s no way you could have used it.”
“I’m sorry you don’t want to finish your leave here,” Julia said, calmly, the next morning as they finished loading bags into the car.
“Do you blame us?”
Julia shook her head. “No. Not at all.” She sighed, and walked over to where Serena was heading out, her own suitcase swung over one shoulder. Julia deliberately bumped into her and clutched at the bag. “Listen to me,” she said, dropping her voice. “There is a final part to the story I didn’t say last night, because it is no one’s business but yours.” She swallowed. “Don still doesn’t know why what we saw in the mirror that night didn’t come to pass, he thinks it’s down to noble sprit in Adam, but I don’t.”
“Go on.” Serena’s eyes had narrowed.
Julia glanced around, making sure the others were out of earshot. “I caught Adam’s eyes for a second, before we saw what was going on in the mirror. I know what I saw there, the second he saw me with Don. Relief.” She let it sink in. “Because he wanted to end the engagement, and now he could without being the bad guy. He’d met someone else.” She paused, letting it sink in. “Adam had been to London that day, meeting with Sir Charles Grey.”
With a shock, Serena realised that she remembered that day as well. An American Captain had been in Sir Charles’s office, giving evidence about the security measures taken to protect Adlerson from attack. She’d been reprimanded by Sir Charles, the only time in her entire career, as her notes of the meeting had been so poor. The man had asked her if she knew anywhere good to eat at lunch time and had invited her to join him. The captain’s name had been Adam Svenson.
Julia watched this play over Serena’s face.
“Adam has never thought of me as anything other than a friend,” she said, softly. “He loves you. Just has no idea how to show it.” Her eyes searched Serena’s face, like a child looking for reassurance. “You do know that, right?”
Serena Lewis nodded, looking towards the car where Don and Adam were finishing off securing the luggage. “Yes. I do.”
My Thanks, as always to Chris and Hazel who put up with my appalling spelling and grammar year after year. The poem Almond quotes is “The way though the woods” by Rudyard Kipling. I don’t own Captain Scarlet, I wish I was talent enough to come up with something like it, but they belong to other people.
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