Detective Inspector Jones rushed into A & E, almost colliding with Doctor Styles, who was heading in the other direction.
“What happened?” he demanded roughly. “Heard there was an accident at Monk’s Wood.”
Doctor Style raised one elegant eyebrow. “That is correct. Two casualties, brought here just over an hour ago.”
Doctor Styles sighed. “You know I can’t violate Doctor/patient confidentiality.” At the stressed look on the inspector’s face, she relented slightly. “Beyond that, I don’t know. All I know is what I told your boys already. Two casualties, both Spectrum captains. One, the passenger according to the ambulance’s reports, has three fractured ribs and nasty concussion, and is still unconscious. The other, the driver, has a bump to the head and some nasty bruising. Looks like he was able to brace for the impact, which might explain the less injuries. All standard tests for drug and alcohol were negative.”
“So like all the others then.”
Styles smiled. “That I leave up to you, Inspector.” She walked away and Jones proceeded at a more leisurely pace into the main room.
It was easy to spot the Spectrum agent, his red body armour lying on the chair beside the bed where he sat, while a nurse (Mindy? Sindy? Something like that) was still carefully removing glass from the cuts on his body.
Jones had read the reports. At least three of the screens in the Spectrum vehicle had shattered, along with the vehicle’s windows. He glanced down at the crash site photos he’d brought with him and winced.
This was one lucky guy.
“Captain.” The head jerked around, making Mindy/Sindy frown at them both. “I’m Inspector Jones. I’d like to talk to you about what happened.”
For a moment he thought the guy was going to say, “We crashed” or something like that, but instead he sighed.
“Yeah. That’s fine.”
“Right.” Jones grabbed another of the horrible orange chairs and pulled it close to the bed. Cindy (?), perhaps remembering her training, pulled the curtains around.
“Can I start with your name?”
Jones smiled tiredly. “That’s all I’m cleared to know, right? And your partner is?”
“Captain Blue.” Scarlet glanced around nervously. “Is he O.K.?”
“Concussion, according to the doctors. They’re keeping both of you overnight for observation.” Jones continued: “Can you explain how the accident happened?”
He watched as the other man closed his eyes. “We’d been to DEXA.”
Defence Extension X-Ray Alpha- 2200hrs. Location Classified.
The rain ripped at Paul Metcalfe’s, also known as Captain Scarlet, face, as he stepped out of the Cheetah and moved the short distance to the exit check point.
Checking the security precautions of the Department of Defence Research facilities had being supposed to be an easy assignment, a break for him and for Blue.
But the English weather was making a simple assignment challenging. They had walked the perimeter of the base in the rain with the wind cutting though them.
A job that should have taken them two hours – maximum – had taken most of the afternoon. And they still had to drive to Alderston, the World Chemical research facility before nightfall.
He handed over the papers giving DEXA a clean bill of health and watched as the commander scribbled his signature over them.
“You’ll be heading up to Alderston next then?” he asked, folding his copy of the report in two and handing the other back to Scarlet.
Scarlet smiled. “Can’t say.”
“Right,” the commander said, drawing out the word. “Don’t envy you, not in this weather.”
Scarlet shrugged. “We’ve faced worse.”
The commander was still looking at him. “Long way or short way?”
Scarlet blinked. “I was only aware of one route if we were going to Alderston.”
“Well,” the commander had eased back into his chair. “IF you were going to Alderston, I’d recommend cutting through Monk’s Wood. Cuts a good hour off the journey.” He smiled at the Spectrum captain. “But of course, you can’t say if you are or aren’t.”
Jones was fuming. He promised himself as soon as he finished here, he’d drive to DEXA and have a word with Commander Marvel. A personal dislike of Spectrum interfering in his operation was no reason to put them in danger.
He was certain that none of that showed in his voice though, when he asked: “What made you decided to take that route, rather than the one you’d originally intended to?”
Scarlet rubbed at a temple.
“Ad…_Blue didn’t want to,” he said, slowly. “He said that the road was narrower and full of bends, a tougher route to drive on than the A222.”
“Captain Blue is a local?”
Scarlet grinned. “No, but he was stationed near here during the War.”
Jones made a mental note of that. He might need it later on.
“But you still decide to go with it?”
An English road, East Anglia, Late at night.
Being virtually indestructible did not apparently prevent your muscles from cramping in protest at being used so soon after they had been pushed to their limits. Scarlet rolled his shoulders, muttering darkly under his breath. Beside him, Blue slumbered, showing his mastery of the soldier’s trick of sleeping anywhere.
The rain had eased off, leaving the Fens, and their road in particular, an inky black mass. The Cheetah’s lights were the only source of illumination, letting Scarlet see just enough of the road ahead to keep them on it. Rationally, he knew they were less than twenty miles from the main road, but it felt like a lifetime.
The headlights caught on the sign: “MONKS WOOD ˝”. Even down the turning, he could see the faint lights of civilisation. Ahead of them was only blackness.
Blue had moaned about moving jeeps and trucks down these roads, but the Cheetah was more moveable than either of those. And an hour off the journey might mean they actually hit a proper bed before midnight.
With a quick glance at his sleeping partner, who was sleeping like a baby, Captain Scarlet turned left, following the signs for Monks Wood.
After all what was the worst that could happen?
“The village itself is pretty enough, even at night,” Jones agreed softly. “But the road afterwards can be a bit challenging.”
Scarlet snorted. “That’s one word for it.”
“How would you describe it then?”
Scarlet shook his head.
The lights of the village were soon gone and trees grew up on either side of the road restricting the view more than usual. The Cheetah’s lights showed the huge ditch that separated the trees from the road and helped drained the fens. Rationally, Scarlet knew all that, but in the darkness, with the vision so limited, it felt like he was driving over a suspension bridge.
He remembered the Flowers for Armageddon group; a North American Protest group originally, although they’d had branches all over the world by the end of hostilities, had made a trick of tying bombs to the supports of bridges. When the trucks drove over them, the vibrations would set off the bombs. The first truck might make it through O.K., but the people in the second or third truck would almost certainly being killed.
He wished Blue was awake. Blue was an expert at driving anything under almost any conditions, but his partner was still slumbering in the seat next to him. Scarlet shook himself. He was being ridiculous. It had being a long week and the darkness was bringing back memories, playing tricks on him. The fears were all in his head. This was not Berklin, Afghanistan, Egypt or even Russia. This was the heart of England, East Anglia, at nearly 10 o’clock at night. There would be no one out of doors here...
He trailed off as the Cheetah’s lights fell on a figure standing on the side of the road.
It was a girl, a young woman really, maybe twenty years old. She was standing by the side of the road, sobbing, her dark hair falling over her face. She didn’t seem aware of the approaching car, too caught up in her own grief. A part of Scarlet wanted to speed up, to pass her quickly, as he would have done on active service, but he shook himself. The woman was standing far enough back so that she wasn’t in danger from the car. She’d probably had a fight with her boyfriend or partner, and either got out of the car to get away from him or he had left her there. The town wasn’t that far, she could call a taxi from there; there was absolutely no dang –
The girl stepped out and walked straight in the middle of the road. Scarlet slammed on the breaks, serving the Cheetah desperately, bracing himself for the inevitable thud. Blue jerked awake.
“Paul, what the...?”
Scarlet paused, trying to control his breathing. The road was dark and deserted.
“Thought I saw something.” He shook his head, scanning the road. There was no sign of any one, no signs even of footsteps in the damp soil at the edge of the road. He sighed. “Guess I was wrong.”
Blue put his head on one side, looking at Scarlet with concern. “Paul, you sure you’re O.K.?”
“I’m fine.” He glanced out at the deserted road. “I’m fine.”
“Can you describe the woman you saw?” Detective Jones asked. Scarlet shrugged, earning him another glare from Indy (?)
“White, maybe five nine, five ten. Brown hair, I never saw her face.” Scarlet paused, frowning slightly as he tried to remember. “She was dressed strangely or at least not dressed for walking in the fens. White dress and low white flats, almost pumps really.”
Jones shifted uncomfortably, but there was no trace of that in his voice as he said, “Sorry to interrupt...”
It was a mark of how tired Blue was, or maybe how much he trusted Paul, that he fell asleep again within a few minutes of the incident, his head lolling softly against his chest.
‘You are too young to fall asleep forever, and when you sleep you remind me of the dead.’ The line of poetry flashed through his mind and Scarlet shook his head firmly to vanish it. This place was getting to him. The sooner they were out of Monk’s Wood the better. He’d almost swear he could feel eyes watching him from among the trees.
He longed to up speed and get them out of here and on to the well-lit main road that he knew had to be close, but the road had worsened as they drove deeper into the woods. It twisted and turned, sometimes as much as 90o. Doing anything close to the speed limit was impossible and dangerous, as the few times the Cheetah’s lights fell far enough to illuminate the edge of the road, he could see a huge ditch, so deep it could go down to hell.
Scarlet fought these thoughts with all his might. Again, he was being ridiculous, worst, paranoid. This was posttraumatic stress, a residual effect of the terrorism war and the exhaustion of the last few weeks. He’d need to talk to the counsellor when he got back to Skybase, but there was nothing sinister about these woods.
The Cheetah suddenly swerved to the left.
“Where were you when this happened?” Inspector Jones asked.
Scarlet blinked. “About a mile from the village, maybe a little closer.”
Jones nodded, apparently unconcerned. But he scribbled down on his pad, “Just past Jesu Pond.”
Scarlet steered to the left, cursing under his breath. What on earth had happened? Black ice? But a glance at the Cheetah’s system showed an external temperature of 5oC. Cold, but not cold enough for ice.
The trees had lost their leaves, but the road was clear and, besides, when he had steered into the skid, it had felt like the car was fighting him.
He shook his head. The steering was probably just out; he’d had to speak to Monty Baker when he got back to Skybase.
The Cheetah served again.
Blue jerked awake. “Paul! What’s going on?”
“It’s not me!”
Blue’s eyes narrowed. It was obvious he didn’t believe Scarlet. “Maybe you’d better let me drive for a bit.”
Paul was about to agree, when the Cheetah served again, the back wheels almost sliding into the ditch. This time, Blue didn’t wait, didn’t bother to ask for permission. He just reached over and pulled at the small lever, forcing the controls over to him, his eyes resting worriedly on Scarlet. He almost managed to get them out of the skid, but it was as if by releasing the lever, Adam had shown whatever they were fighting how to control the vehicle.
The Cheetah was serving, veering wildly from side to side.
Blue was... fighting, that was the only word for it, fighting for control of the Cheetah; the steering column was jerking and moving under his hands. If he hadn’t seen it himself, hadn’t felt it himself he would never have believed it.
The Cheetah speeded up, without warning, throwing them both back into their seats. Scarlet could see Blue slamming his foot down on the break, hitting the emergency override, doing everything he could think of to force the vehicle to slow down, but to no avail.
The trees were clearing up ahead, street lights dimly visible, but something told Scarlet that they weren’t going to get out of this wood, at least not in one piece. He glanced across. At the speed they were travelling, if they crashed, the steering column would almost certainly be forced into the driver’s chest. Adam couldn’t survive that, but if he was the driver?
He leant over and hit the lever again, pulling the controls back to his side.
The road ahead veered into another ninety-degree bend. Dimly he heard Blue call out “Paul! No!” and darkness fell.
“That’s the last thing I remember until waking up in the ambulance,” Scarlet finished. It wasn’t, strictly speaking, the truth, but explaining the process of retrometabolisation to Doctor Gold was difficult enough without trying to tell this guy. They were just lucky that the ambulance and the doctors hadn’t picked up on anything fishy. And anyway with a story as unbelievable as this to start with, complicating matters wasn’t a good idea.
Lindy nodded. “Bruised ribs, a mild concussion and fifty-six, no sorry, fifty-seven small cuts from glass.” She shook her head. “Both you and your friend were very lucky.”
“And will hopefully exercise better judgement in future.” Detective Inspector Jones got to his feet, shutting his notebook with a twang.
Jones looked down on him with the eyes of officialdom. “Captain Scarlet, to put it bluntly, your account shows all the symptoms of Hypnagogia.”
“An altered state of consciousness between dreaming and waking where the barriers between the two become blurred,” Lindy volunteered. “In other words, the inspector is suggesting that you dreamt it all.”
Jones shrugged. “With medical tests ruling out drink or drugs, and by your own admission both you and your passenger were exhausted, I don’t see what other explanation there can be.” He patted Scarlet’s shoulder in a conceding manner. “Tiredness kills, Captain. You should know that as well as I do. Good night, Lindy.”
He walked out.
Scarlet glanced up at Lindy. “Do you think I dreamt it?”
Lindy began to clear away, gathering up the medical equipment.
“You know the strange thing about Monk’s Wood? There aren’t any monks. There’s no abbey or priory associated with the area nearer than Ely, and the land definitely wasn’t owned by any of those, or there’d be a record. Archaeologists have been all over the area with geophysics multiple times and found nothing.”
“Really?” Scarlet said, slightly confused as to the relevance of the remarks.
Lindy nodded “There’s only one reference to monks in connection with the area, and that is a court record, from 1464, I think, referring to a gang preying on travellers in the marshes. One member would join a part of travellers as a wandering friar or a monk, and force the horses off the road, leading them into the gang’s clutches, where they would be robbed, and their bodies dumped in the Fens.”
A horrible cold feeling settled in the pit of Scarlet’s stomach as he began to realise what she was trying to imply.
“They were finally brought to justice for the rape and murder of a young woman. She managed to get away from them, though she was fatally injured and was found the next morning by a carter on his way to work. According to the accounts, she was found wearing ‘a white shift of goode linen and white slippers’ and was found “about half a mile from the pond known to locals as the Jesu pond, which from the quantity of blood observed was where the foul deed was done.”
“You think I saw a ghost?”
Lindy shrugged. “I know Monk’s Wood Road is dangerous. There have being nearly a hundred accidents there since I’ve being working here, nearly all fatal. Looking further back, there’s been even more. A lot of the survivors describe the same thing you did: something taking control of the car. It actually happened to a doctor here, when she was doing her residency. She was learning to drive and both she and her instructor swore blind that someone forced their car off the road.” She paused to draw breath. “The instructor was going through a messy divorce, and her ex-husband did have a restraining order against him, so the police blamed him, but both the student and instructor swore that there was some kind of a force inside the car. Whatever it was, it was nasty. The student ended up with her arm through the side window; she claimed it felt like someone was trying to drag her out of the car, She’s still got the scar.”
“How’s the patient?” Doctor Style walked over, smiling down at Scarlet. “Your own doctor has just taken charge of your partner, so I suppose I’m supposed to sign you out. Lindy, the papers, if you please?”
Lindy quickly handed over the paperwork and Doctor Style signed them with a flourish. “A word to the wise, Captain, please be more careful on these roads. East Anglian roads can be very dangerous, if you don’t know them.”
As she handed the papers back to Lindy, the sleeve of her coat slipped, revealing a long jagged scar running down her arm.
Scarlet had seen that sort of injury before.
It was the kind you got from putting your arm through the broken glass of a car’s side window.
Having learnt to drive in East Anglia, I can vouch that there are many rural roads exactly like the one I have described. A place called Monk’s Wood also exists in East Anglia, but I believe its history is considerably more conventional than the story I’ve told. That said, the story is certainly possible as there were gangs of monks who broke their vows and did turn to robbery to survive though out England.
Everything else is fiction, and I own nothing.
Thanks, as ever to Chris and the Beta panel.