“What’s the strangest ghost story you’ve ever heard?”
The question was posed by Captain Grey, leaning back against the couch in the off-duty lounge, watching the group with an almost lazy expression.
With Halloween less than a week away, the subject was almost unavoidable, and apart from maybe Scarlet, no one had made any real effort to. Now Captain Brown’s tale of the Terrorism war was over, the conversation among the off duty Captains and Angels had died down, until Grey posed his question.
“A friend of mine once claimed her bathroom was haunted,” Harmony offered. “Said she could feel someone standing just behind the shower curtain, almost like that guy in Psycho when she was in the shower. Almost drove her to a breakdown. Then again,” she admitted with a shrug, “There was enough stuff going on in her life to do that without a ghost.”
“I didnae mean the strangest place for a haunting, I meant the strangest ghost.” At the expressions on the others, Grey elaborated: “What about a ghost helicopter?”
“What do you mean?” Melody Angel asked, leaning closer.
Grey shrugged. “Exactly what I said. A ghost helicopter. The spirit, the essence, the spectre whatever ya want to call it of a helicopter that had gone down years ago.”
“No way,” Blue said, staring at Grey like he’d spouted a second head.
“Why not?” Grey demanded. “We’ve had ghostly cars, ghostly ships, ghostly planes. Why should a helicopter be any different?”
“Helicopters.” Blue shook his head “They’re too modern.”
Grey shrugged. “Older than planes, if you believe Da Vinci’s drawings. But I take your point. A helicopter seems too modern, too mechanical, and yet we all know that they can go down. We’ve all known the terror of a medical evac. Why shouldn’t they become ghostly as easily as any other vehicle? Yet you never hear of them. Or I never had. Would nae have believed it, but…” He shrugged, staring straight at the table in front of him and the steam rising from the coffee cup there without really seeing them. His mind was in the past.
“You and your friend were lucky.” The doctor, dressed in a pitch patch of uniforms straightened up. His badge declared him to be a volunteer doctor, but whether he was with the St Johns Ambulance, the Red Cross, Médicine Sans Frontières or any of the other organisations that littered the emergency hospitals and aid posts set up around Britain in the wake of the crisis of the Terrorism Wars was anyone’s guess, as he seemed to be wearing parts of the uniform of each. His face was young, but his eyes looked old and exhausted, as they peered down at the SAS Officer lying on the bed in front of him.
“Another hour, maybe less, and you and your friend wouldn’t have made it.”
Captain Iain Taggart shook his head, trying to clear it. His head hurt, as did most of the muscles in his body. Three days, at least according to the nurses, he had kept himself and his second in command and best friend, Fred Ebenezer, alive, dragging the injured man across territory that had once been the Snowdonia National Park, though pouring rain and icy temperatures. He was, at least according to the notes, the doctor was now examining in preference to his patient, suffering from exhaustion and borderline hypothermia. There was also evidence of an almost healed concussion, probably gained in the Welsh Nationalist attack that had separated the two men from their unit and forced them here.
It was a mystery and a miracle how either of the two were still alive.
“There was a helicopter,” Taggart muttered, not sure how to explain it.
A helicopter this far into Welsh Nationalist territory was an unusual sight in itself. The high hills made flying problematic at the best of times, and the Welsh Nationalists, the Daffodil Brigade and the various other groups that plagued the countryside shot down anything that dared venture overhead.
Most of the troops around here moved on the roads, preferring to take their chances with the roadside bombs and ambushes that were a constant risk to their lives over fiery death in the air.
That had being been his and Fred’s first mistake. The second had being been Fred not looking where he was putting his feet.
What happened after the explosion was a blur. He didn’t remember the battle with the group, though he knew it must have happened. The evidence was in the fact that they had been left behind, abandoned when both had clearly been in need of medical attention.
He didn’t remember pulling Fred off the road, and he swung him over one shoulder like they’d been taught, didn’t remember much really, until he heard it.
The sound of a chopper, that insistent whirring noise that everyone knew and recognised. He’d looked up automatically, screwing his eyes up to spot what he knew he was looking for.
Black and yellow like some mutated bumble bee, it had hovered overhead, like it knew they were there. But it was impossible. By then, dusk was falling and both he and Fred were in the dark uniforms of the SAS which would have been hard enough to pick out against the dark clay mud in the light, but in the half-light it would be borderline impossible.
He considered yelling, even had his mouth open, but decided it was pointless. The chopper was too small; too far away they’d never hear him. They’d lost most of their gear, including flares in the explosion, so there was no other way of attracting the helicopter’s attention.
Suddenly the helicopter had begun to move. Iain had even thought about it, he’d started to follow it. With no compass and no map, in unfamiliar and hostile territory, any sign of people, help for him and Fred no matter how bizarre had to be followed.
He moved perhaps five steps, when Fred gave a soft moan. Iain looked back and in a move born of pure instinct, walked back and pulled Fred up over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift. He had gauged the rough direction of the helicopter, he could follow it, pick up the trail later.
He glanced up again; surprised to see the helicopter hovering as though it was waiting for him.
Ian shook his head, trying to clear the ringing in his ears. There was something wrong with this, he knew that, but he couldn’t figure out what.
Against his shoulder, Fred moaned softly. Above them, the helicopter’s blades whirred insistently. It spun twice on the spot, looking more like a demented bumblebee than ever.
Ian grinned. “O.K. I can take the hint.”
He set off at a steady pace or as steady as he could manage with Fred’s unconscious form slung over his back.
The helicopter went ahead, like something out of Sunday School stories. It moved quickly across the sky, leading him away from the roads and out into the country side, across farmers’ fields and wilder country. Though copses of wood and over rough terrain, always hovering like an anxious mother.
Dusk turned to night, but still Iain could see the helicopter and it encouraged him to push onwards.
Once he thought he saw figures moving in the darkness, heard voices calling in Welsh. He froze for a moment, but the chopper was still leading ahead and he pressed on, trusting that they could see he was wounded, that he was unarmed, but the chopper passed upwards leading them up the hill, mountain, he couldn’t honestly say which it was and the voices faded into the distance.
The rain started the next morning, a driving rain that soaked them both to the skin within minutes. The wind picked up too, cutting through them both like a bullet.
He thought the helicopter would have to land, surely it was too windy, too dangerous for the chopper to be in the air, but it kept pushing forward and because in this weather stopping was as dangerous as going forward, Iain kept following it.
Against his shoulder, Fred groaned.
“Yeah?” he asked, keeping his voice low, though he wasn’t sure why. The weather was too bad for anyone but them to be out there.
Iain tried to move one of his hands up towards Fred’s arm, but his fingers were too stiff. He wasn’t cold any more. Enough of his first aid training remained for him to know that was a bad thing.
Above them the helicopter whirred loud and impatient. Iain tried to move but the cold and stopping for those few seconds had frozen his limbs.
“I can’t,” he whispered, unsure who he was speaking to. “I can’t!”
The helicopter whirred angrily above him.
“Do you hear me?” he demanded, his legs falling forward. “I can’t!”
There’s whirring and noise and a light, and voices.
“Can you see the uniforms?”
“Does it matter?”
“If they’re going blow us up, yeah!”
“British. Sir, sir can you hear me? We’re with the Voluntary Aid Detachment, can we help you?”
He must have made some form of grunt or other noise. Or they thought he was unconscious. Either way, he’d woken up here three days later.
“I should thank the pilot.”
“I don’t think you can.” The doctor smiled. “Not unless you’re into séances.”
He made a note on the chart and smiled at the confused Special Forces Officer. “What you saw was Oscar Tango.”
Seeing that this meant nothing more to Iain than the first part, the doctor continued. “Oscar Tango was the rescue helicopter around here nearly 20 years ago. Based out at Anglesey. Oscar Tango was the call sign, but according to tradition, it was also the name of the pilot.” He shrugged as if to say he didn’t know or care either way. “One night, Oscar Tango got a call. Party of kids on some orienteering exercise had failed to report in. It was early May, snow supposed to be over by then, but that year…” He sighed. “Weather turned. Helicopter was launched. Came back to base three hours later claimed they found nothing. Next morning, search parties went out. They found the party easily, all dead.” He paused. “The helicopter should have picked them up. They were all in those old orange bags. Evidence showed that they’d managed to get one of the stoves working, so the helicopter should have seen them. But they claimed they didn’t.”
Silence hung in the air for moment. Iain could have sworn he could hear the snow winds blowing and a group of kids barely out of their teens lying frozen like something out of a Grimm’s fairy-tale.
“What happened exactly, no one knows. Oscar apparently admitted on his death bed that they had seen the kids and left them. No explanation was ever provided as to why; there were a lot of theories, but nothing definite. They claimed Oscar made a pact with God. Scared of Hell, he offered to save as many lives as it took to make up for the ones he took. Since then,” he shrugged. “Well, let’s just say we’ve had a few too many miracles around here. Plenty of First Aiders and ambulance crews reporting search lights that led them to the casualty, or casualties finding posts when they shouldn’t have been.”
He glanced at the chart again. “We’ll move you and your friend in the morning,” he said and walked off without a backward glance.
“I was moved out the hospital the next day. Never went back to the area,” Grey said with a shrug. “Cannae tell if he told me the truth. But I saw the helicopter.”
“Did your friend, Fred?” Harmony asked curiously.
Grey paused. “Fred thought he heard a whirring noise, but his injuries were too severe for him to remember much.” He lifted his head, his eyes meeting Blue’s. “I don’t try and explain it. I know what I saw. And I know he saved me.”
This story is the
fault of Robert Aickman and the Fontanta Books of Great Ghost stories. In one of
them, he mentioned that no one had ever written a story involving a ghost
helicopter. A quick Google search seemed to confirm this, but I was fascinated
with the idea. So here is the first ghost story involving a helicopter.
I own nothing, but my thanks to the Beta Team.