31st October 1.15 pm
All I can hear is the wail of sirens, and the acrid stench of smoke fills my nostrils. I know I’ve been hurt but my first thought is for the others. When I try to move I find I’m unable to; something large is pinning me to the ground. Skittering on the edge of consciousness, shapes and forms blurring around me, only force of will pulls me back from the edge, and I open my eyes and try to focus.
I sense it’s bad, from the lack of pain and the wet sensation all the way down my lower body. All I can think of at that moment is how the hell I’m going to make love to Karen when I don’t have any legs. Stupid, I know, but you don’t always think straight when you’re pinned beneath the wheels of an SPV.
Somehow, I force my eyelids open, see a blot of figures all around me. They move in slow motion, their voices distant, but maybe that’s just me losing it.
Help Ash, help Professor Myerling! But the words sound only in my head, my lips refuse to work, as if I’ve already been plugged full of morphocaine. My only hope is Scarlet, he’s got to be okay; he’ll sort everything out, he always does.
I can feel myself slipping away, but for a few seconds I hang, suspended between reality and dream-state, and sense the weight pinning my lower body to the ground being lifted away. A face looms towards me, but the rush of blood to my brain makes my vision fuzzy, and I can’t tell who it is.
I blink, involuntarily, and move my head a fraction, as if impelled by some inner notion, and I see him, beyond the swirling smoke and the indistinct figures around me. He starts off small, since he must have been over thirty feet away, but as he keeps coming towards me, his form grows larger in my vision, something billowing out from behind him, some sort of coat, or cape. My throat goes dry and my heart starts mistiming in my swollen chest. I realise the figure is dressed completely from head to toe in black.
Now I’m panicking, my heart about to burst from my chest, and I struggle to speak, to warn everyone around me. It’s obvious he’s coming back to finish the job, kill us all. The Professor! Nothing can happen to him – otherwise all our efforts will have been for nothing.
Scarlet, anyone, don’t you see him? Why don’t you all turn around?
I can feel myself scream the warnings, but there’s no sound, yet every one of my muscles are stretched like an elastic band to its utter limit. Another figure bends over me, as if oblivious to the monster in their midst. There’s a sudden shocking jolt as the needle rams into me, and they move away, only to be replaced by the outline of him – now so close as to be almost on top of me. I can’t make out any detail on the face, just those dark, looming eyes, and the pale lips growing wide, filling my vision.
Finally – nothing.
31st October 7.00 pm
I drift out of cotton-wool surroundings at the sound of the insistent voice. I know that voice. Strong, determined, I hear it nearly every day, demanding my attention, cajoling me, encouraging me.
Somehow I manage to open my eyes.
“Oh, thank God…” I hear the worry in her voice.
“Hi, Karen.” The words croak out of me, I don’t sound too good, but at least I have the power of speech. My vision still isn’t doing too good though, I can barely make out details on her face; Fawn’s drugs were doing a good job. Still, the touch of her hand on mine, the perfume that trails in to tickle my nostrils, is evidence enough that it’s my girl sitting there on a chair beside the bed.
Behind her I see a figure in red, and the relief flows through me as I realise my best buddy is still in the land of the living.
“Hiya, Paul,” I rasp, “Nice to see you escaped for once.”
“Yes, it makes a pleasant change,” he jokes deadpan. “I just don’t want you making a habit of this. I’m the one who should be spending time lying on my back, not you.”
“Is the Professor okay?” It’s my first coherent thought.
“He’s fine, thanks to your quick thinking. We foiled them again, Adam. Nice job.”
“Damn Mysterons, when are we going to see an end to all of this?”
“What, and be out of a job?”
That brings a chuckle bubbling to my lips, but the effort starts a feedback loop to my brain, countermanding the medication, and my screwed up face must be evident, for Karen makes an annoyed clucking sound. Paul will be for it later.
“What about Lieutenant Ash?”
There is a pregnant pause. “She’s not doing so well,” Scarlet says finally. “Fawn and his medics are with her now.”
“Blast it.” I feel another weight settle down on my chest again, threatening to crush me. Karen squeezes my hand gently.
“It’s not your fault, Adam. She knows how this game works. We all do. I’m just glad that you’re okay, you didn’t even ask how you were doing?”
I realise with surprise that I hadn’t. And then I wonder fleetingly, if subconsciously, I’m afraid to ask the question in case I don’t like the answer. I’m not sure how I’ll cope if it’s bad for me; if I can’t walk, or surf, or do any of the things you take for granted as an able-bodied person. But I look down anyway, and see the familiar outline of my legs under the sheets, and let go an audible sigh of relief.
“How bad was it?” I finally have the nerve to ask.
“Not as bad as you might think,” Paul answers. “A couple of breaks in your right leg and one bone shattered in your left, but Fawn’s biomechanical implants will take care of those injuries. Important thing is you didn’t lose too much blood.”
“Unlike Ash?” My voice sounds harsh.
“Yes, unfortunately,” Paul concurs solemnly.
The silence stretches out again for a little while, and I feel myself drifting off as the drugs pirouette around my system. Then I remember, and jerk spasmodically.
“Black!” I cry out.
“Adam, sorry?” I can hear the confusion in Scarlet’s voice.
“Didn’t you see him, at the facility? He was there, just after we were ambushed. He got as far as three feet away from me, and then I passed out.”
“We have all the reports in, Adam, there’s been no mention of Black being sighted.”
“I saw him! He was wearing a dark over-coat or similar; someone must have seen him, surely!”
“Adam, stop.” Karen leans over me, sounding as agitated as I do. “You can’t get over-excited like this.”
“You were badly injured,” Scarlet says, “Lucky to be alive; it’s possible you were hallucinating.”
I sink back on the soft pillows, trembling with exhaustion and pain, and something else – a note of fear that grips me suddenly.
“Maybe,” I manage at last. I try for a smile, since I can now make out the tension on Karen’s face quite plainly now, and decide to change the subject. “So, how are things coming along for the usual Halloween celebrations?”
“They aren’t. We’ve cancelled them,” she says, with a grimace. “It’s not really in good taste with you all banged up here and Ash fighting for her life in the women’s theatre.”
I feel a chill wave of cold run through me. “No of course not, makes complete sense.”
At that moment, someone else comes into the ward, and by the sound of her voice, Chief Nurse Judi Jackson isn’t amused. She shoos my lover and friend out, but by this time I’m barely caring, as the drugs take hold of me again.
31st October 11.50 pm
It’s dark in the empty ward when I awake, and I feel as if someone has poured concrete into every pore of my bruised and broken body. My thoughts drift unavoidably to Lieutenant Ash, and I wonder if Fawn has managed to work his usual miracles and save her life. I slowly, tortuously, try to reach for the call button to speak to someone – to put my mind at rest about the woman, when a movement on the far wall catches my attention.
Even in my state of torpor I freeze – someone is standing there.
How is that possible, there isn’t any way…
Despite the morphocaine, my heart races, and the adrenaline rushes around my system, impelling my body to move, to get out of the bed and run. But my limbs refuse to obey, and I remain helpless on the bed as the figure in black moves inexorably towards me.
Thoughts tumble left, right, all-ways as a sense of dreadful foreboding fills the entire room, as if all the light and warmth has been sucked out, leaving a cold, hard, vacuum in its place.
The dark-pitted eyes regard me for several seconds, and then the figure is moving – floating - towards me, the cloak billowing out behind, dragging darkness with it.
Cold, mortal dread fills me as realisation strikes.
This isn’t Captain Black.
It’s something else entirely.
I find myself fighting for air as the malevolent presence floats to my bedside, and I have the terrifying sensation of something deep within my body – or is it my mind - being pulled away – wrenched out of me to follow in the wake of the black figure, like the rats followed the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
Instantaneously, I’m somewhere else – no longer in bed, or in Cloudbase.
How is that possible? Am I dreaming again?
I’m on the edge of a yawning abyss, while all around me I see nothing but dim shadows – stretching out to vast eternity, and somehow – I realise that I am looking at the place beyond our mortal life.
I’m being called there, but I resist, with every cell and neuron and whatever my body and soul are made up of, I fight all the way.
I don’t want to go yet – I can’t go. Too much left too do, too much left unsaid…
My eyes open, and I’m still here, still on Cloudbase.
But my ordeal isn’t over, as that figure looms over me…
It hesitates – and although I’m probably imagining it – I sense that a decision is being made – a judgement. Stricken with fear and despair, I lie suspended, between limbo and oblivion, still imploring, still pleading for my life – my precious, wonderful life.
Mercifully – the figure turns, to glide on through the wall of the infirmary - and I feel that essence of myself, all my dreams, my memories, my hopes and fears sink back within me once more.
The shock nearly stops my heart.
1st November 5.30 pm
“I think he’s finally waking up.”
That’s Fawn’s voice I hear, and as I blink my way to full wakefulness I’m filled with a blinding euphoria.
I laugh then, a loud, barking laugh that almost makes Fawn start, as I realise that the memory of that awful night was simply that; a horrific nightmare, precipitated by the cocktail of pain-killers sloshing around my veins.
I stare at the clock, shocked at how much time as passed. I must have been really out of it.
“Glad to see you so chirpy,” Fawn says, with a look on his face that makes me wonder. “We almost lost you last night,”
“I don’t understand…”
“Your monitors went crazy, just around midnight, looked like you’d had a seizure. Thankfully we got you in time, you didn’t even need surgery.”
“I had no idea,” I say blankly, yet, a slow dread once again takes an insidious hold over me.
Fawn gave that have smile-half-grimace of his. “I doubt you would have, mate.”
“Am I going to be okay – I mean…”
“You’ll be fine, more or less,” Fawn reassures me. “We got to you in time, so you’ll still be able to knock Mysteron heads together in the near future, don’t worry.”
My exhalation of relief must be evident, for he squeezes my shoulder gently. Edward’s not given to displays of affection very often, much like the Old Man.
“Do you feel fit enough to receive visitors in the next hour or so?” he asks me. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to fend Karen off for much longer.”
“Sure.” My smile is grateful.
Fawn nodded and made to head back to his office, when the thought strikes me. I call out to him.
“How’s Lieutenant Ash?”
Fawn turns slowly and as soon as I see the expression on his face, I know.
You can imagine what I’m thinking.
I face the mind-shattering possibility that what I experienced wasn’t a dream after all.
Someone – something - was in my room last night on All Hallows Eve, a being beyond comprehension. It almost took me from this world, from everything I know and everyone I love.
I fought it and won, but the Grim Reaper wasn’t going to be denied last night. But he didn’t choose my soul to follow him down to dark eternity.
He chose Lieutenant Ash’s soul instead.
My thanks go to Marion Woods for beta-reading and reviewing this short story, and to Chris Bishop for her usual amazing web presentation. She really makes our work spring to life on the screen.
With heart-stopping wishes for a scary Halloween
Caroline Smith 2012