A “Captain Scarlet” Halloween story
By Caroline Smith
“You’re not seriously expecting me to eat that, are you?”
Rhapsody Angel wrinkled her nose at the frothy pink tower of spun cotton-wool on a stick that her companion gaily presented to her.
“Go on, re-live your youth,” Captain Scarlet replied, with a devilish twinkle in his eyes.
“Look, I was quite happy to go on that contraption that passed for a roller-coaster, bounce up and down on a children’s carousel, and watch you for a whole ten minutes while you decimated the coconut stand to win this.” She waved a large synthetic panda at him. “But this is the last straw. It’s nothing but sugar, and I can feel my teeth trying to escape just looking at it, never mind expecting them to chew on it.”
Scarlet shrugged. “Suit yourself, my darling.”
Rhapsody’s face screwed up as he took a huge bite of the candy-floss.
“Don’t you ever stop eating? You’ve already packed away two hamburgers, though I refuse to believe they actually had anything remotely resembling a decent part of the cow in them, a deep fried pretzel, and ice-cream –”
“Take no notice of that ‘Guess your Weight’ machine, Dianne, it probably needs recalibrating.”
She swung the panda at him. ”I’ll recalibrate you!”
Scarlet ducked the offensive weapon with ease, although he did lose part of his sweet-treat, and Rhapsody looked with disgust at the panda, whose head was now covered in pink goo.
Scarlet grabbed the toy from her and threw it and the candy-floss into the nearest refuse receptacle. She stood staring at him in surprise and he returned to put one arm around her and kissed her cheek gently.
“Let’s not quarrel, oh-light-of-my-life. Not when we only have but a few hours to recapture the joys and follies of youth at Brighton Pier.”
She broke into giggles. “This wasn’t what I had in mind, you know. You said it was going to be a surprise for Halloween.”
He kissed her again and grinned. “You should have seen the look on your face when we arrived.”
“Ha ha, very droll.”
“Where else could we go on a bracing October afternoon with only a twenty-four hour pass?”
“Paris, Rome, Stockholm?” Rhapsody retorted. “Any one of them is just as easy to get to from you know where.”
“Yes, but then I’d have to speak a foreign language.”
She punched him playfully. “Oh, you!”
“Although I’d do just about anything to get out of ‘up there’,” he flicked his head at the sky, “at this time of the year.”
Rhapsody nodded rather more seriously, as she linked one slender arm through his. Halloween wasn’t Scarlet’s favourite holiday season, since for some unknown reason, he almost always seemed to be the focus of many of the japes, usually played by the American contingent, and one captain in particular…
“Anyway,” Scarlet continued, “this evening I intend to wine you and dine you at the South Coast’s most exclusive restaurant, just to prove I’m not a complete oaf. “
Rhapsody’s smile brightened. “So I can wear my new dress after all?”
Scarlet bent his head and whispered in her ear, “Only up to the point where I rip it off…”
He felt the shiver that went through her as she gripped his arm tighter. “Barbarian,” she whispered back happily.
They strolled along the pier, arm in arm, surrounded by the jangling of slot machines and the electronic din of the virtual-arcades; the smell of vinegar and fish, greasy burgers and burnt sugar.
Scarlet still had his memories of family trips here, and later still in his mid-teens, with school friends, for a weekend of pretend-rebellion before he knuckled down to do what everyone expected of him.
He squeezed Rhapsody’s hand with a youthful joy that he thought he’d lost when he had become a ‘Reluctant Hero’. She was mostly to do with that, he knew, she’d made him the happiest man in the world when she told him that she loved him, many months ago. Since that time he’d been asking himself the question: ‘Where do we go from here?’. In his heart, of course, he knew, and he suspected she did too. It was just a matter of finding the right time and the right place to pop that eternal…”
“Oh, look, there’s a fortune-teller, Paul.”
Scarlet’s gaze followed her pointing finger to the sign above an ornately carved green caravan at the pier’s edge. Madame Rosa – Past, Present, Future.”
She gave him a mischievous look. “Well…you said we had to recapture the follies of youth – so what do you say, shall we go see what our future holds?”
“Complete tosh, if you ask me.” Even as he said it, he knew it sounded lame, coming from someone who had received the ability to return from the dead from a race of beings who had the power to destroy and recreate matter. However, he hadn’t believed astrology, Tarot, predestination or any of that stuff in his youth; and not even his relatively-new status was going to make him change the way he thought it was populated by a bunch of charlatans, preying on people’s naivety and desperation.
“Oh, go on, Paul, what harm can it do? After all, it is Halloween.”
He gave her a look, as if to say, are you kidding? I left Cloudbase to get away from Halloween!
But she had already moved towards the stairs. “Come on, I’m interested to see what she has to say about my future.”
He sighed at the whimsicality of women. “Wait a minute. I’ll go in with you - if you must.”
She stopped mid-step and rolled her eyes. “Come on Paul, I’m hardly going to get into trouble.”
“I’ve heard that one before.”
Rhapsody hesitated before the beaded curtain that served as a door, and called in.
“Cross my palm with silver,” Scarlet whispered in her ear.
He received a sharp dig in the ribs for a response.
“Hello, Madame Rosa? “ Rhapsody called.
“Come in,” a voice replied.
Rhapsody swung the curtain aside, and the beads clicked together as she passed through the entrance to the caravan. Scarlet followed her in, wrinkling his nose at the smell of incense. His eyes slowly adjusted to the gloomy interior, lit solely by flickering candles, and he heard soft, New-Age music playing in the background.
Madame Rosa sat at a small table in the centre of the single room. She was probably in her early seventies, and fitted every cliché in the book, right down to the headscarf and dangly gold earrings. She was shuffling a pack of Tarot cards and looked up with a calm gaze in her dark eyes that impressed Scarlet, despite his natural inclination to debunk all things astrological. All around her were shelves stacked with books on astrology, magic, and mysticism, and above her head hung several wall hangings portraying the signs of the Zodiac. A glass ball sat on the table in front of her, resting on a wooden stand with pawed feet.
She indicated the two empty chairs for them to sit, and from the corner of his eye Scarlet swore that she was regarding him with a peculiar look on her face, as if she saw something about him that bothered her. When he caught her gaze the expression vanished.
“I ask for payment in advance,” she said, “Not everyone is willing to reimburse me for the service I give them.”
Scarlet thought if she could really ‘see’ the future she’d know that neither he nor Rhapsody were the sort of people to steal from an old woman. “How much?” he said, aloud. She told him the amount, which was way too much, but, resigned, Scarlet swiped his card.
“So, do you want a reading from the crystal, the cards, or your palm?”
Rhapsody glanced at Paul, who shrugged in reply.
Her gaze fell on Scarlet. “I sense you do not believe in the art of divining the future.”
“Sorry to be so obvious.”
“You are a man, it’s to be expected. The male of the species always believes that he has the same control over his destiny as he has dominion over all aspects of this earth. “
Scarlet crossed his arms, and with what he considered to be supreme self-control on his part, managed to avoid rolling his eyes.
“We’ll have the crystal ball, if you don’t mind,” Rhapsody said quickly.
“Very well. Be patient while I re-energise it.”
She placed the palms of her long hands on the top of the glass sphere, and closed her eyes. Scarlet caught Rhapsody’s gaze, and waggled his eyebrows at her. Stop it, she mouthed, with a mock frown.
Scarlet turned back to look at Madame Rosa’s crystal ball. Re-energise, indeed.
What he saw next made him stare.
The globe was actually glowing.
He tried to say turn and say something to Rhapsody, but his lips were fused together, immobile, as was he. Transfixed by the glow, growing brighter and brighter, a ball of light that swallowed him whole, leaving him in darkness.
Darkness, save for the visions.
They moved, all around him. Silent. Burning into his brain.
His father, clutching his chest in the back garden and collapsing, and the dog running in crazy circles around him; Karen waving the diamond ring on her finger at Dianne – he and Adam exchanging handshakes; His own death, twice, once by drowning, once by crushing; Captain Magenta splayed on the ground, the blood pumping from two bullet holes in his head and chest. Dianne wearing a wedding dress, her mother fussing around her, her father pointing at his watch; and then, lying in a hospital bed, the monitor above her head flat-lining, a nurse lifting the blood-covered stillborn away….
His eyes flew open and he blinked, disoriented, and looking around found he was exactly where he should be, in Madame Rosa’s caravan. His mouth felt dry and he could feel his heart pumping adrenaline around his system. What the hell was that?
He felt gentle fingers cover his. “Are you all right, Paul?” Rhapsody asked, “You’ve gone quite pale.”
He gave a self-conscious laugh. “Of course, I’m fine. “
He glanced swiftly at Madame Rosa, and thought: What did you do to me – you old witch?
She held his stare; with coal-dark eyes, and fed his sudden, desperate need to get out of the claustrophobic interior, with its cloying odour.
“Come on, Dianne,” Scarlet said, and grabbed her arm, hauling her to her feet.
“Paul, wait, I haven’t even asked a question yet…”
“I think I’m allergic to incense,” he said, as he practically manhandled her out towards the door.
“Wha..?” she mumbled in confusion.
He led her down the three short steps, and well away from the prying eyes of Madame Rosa, before he stopped by an ice-cream vendor and took several deep breaths. Rhapsody continued to look at him with concern.
“Paul, what’s the matter?”
“I don’t know, I must have had some sort of reaction to the incense, I’m sorry.”
She moved closer and placed her hand on his brow. “No, I’m the one who should be sorry. I didn’t realise. I mean I wouldn’t have gone in there if I’d known that you–”
“It’s okay. I’m fine now, really.”
“Are you sure?”
“Sure, I’m sure.”
“Do you still want to go for dinner?”
He forced a smile. “Of course. Do you know how much grovelling I had to do in order to get a table at this restaurant?”
Scarlet came to, feeling the warmth of the soft body wrapped closely around him, as if they didn’t have acres of space in the king-sized hotel bed. Old habits died hard - regulation Spectrum bunks weren’t exactly designed for twosomes.
His eyes alighted on the divine blue dress that Rhapsody had worn last night at dinner, draped over a chair. A sigh escaped him. The meal had certainly lived up to expectations, but he hadn’t enjoyed it as much as he’d hoped he would when he’d planned it all those weeks ago. The first bottle of red wine had turned into another, as he attempted to purge the vague sense of unease that had clung to him ever since he’d left the damn fortune-teller’s caravan. On their return to the hotel, they’d made love, and, pleasurable as it was, throughout it that note of anxiety never left him, no matter how much he reasoned it away. Luckily Rhapsody was tipsy enough not to notice his less than enthusiastic performance.
As he felt her breath on his shoulder, the memory of that awful vision reared up in front of him – of her lying pale and silent on another bed. He gritted his teeth, furious at himself. Whatever I think I saw, it wasn’t real, any of it. Most likely a hallucination or something, maybe even a weird auto-suggestion by that old crone of a fortune- teller trying to get back at me for making fun of her craft.
Rhapsody murmured beside him. “Mmm, I drank just a bit too much wine, I think. I don’t want to get up.”
He kissed her tenderly. “Well, we’re going to have to, I’m afraid. We have an SPJ to catch at London Airport in four hours.”
She hugged him tighter. “Thank-you for a lovely twenty-four hours, kind sir, and I didn’t really miss going to Paris, after all.”
“Did you notice anything funny, about that fortune-teller’s crystal ball?”
She leaned up on one elbow to look at him. “No. Why?”
The situation seemed ridiculous in the cold light of the morning. “I thought – I thought I’d seen it start to glow….”
“I think you must have been imagining things, it looked perfectly normal to me.”
He gave her a weak smile. “I suppose so. Maybe that blasted incense made my eyes water or something.”
She continued to look at him with sudden concern in her eyes. “Paul, is something bothering you?”
“No, Angel. Nothing at all.”
After the SPJ touched down safely at Cloudbase, and he returned to the normality of his everyday life, the mysterious encounter with the fortune-teller began to blessedly fade from his mind. One Mysteron threat later it was as if it had never happened.
Another three months later, Scarlet received an urgent private call from his mother. His father had been taken into hospital with a heart attack.
Scarlet’s own heart beat faster, a sudden flash of fear making his body go rigid while he listened to her voice.
“He was in the garden when it happened. I heard Sheba barking her head off, it’s what made me look out of the kitchen window. She was running around him in circles, frantic…”
He heard her voice break, as if she was about to burst into tears, but when she spoke again, after a few seconds pause, her voice was quiet but even. “I dread to think what would have happened if the ambulance hadn’t got here on time.”
At first he’d convinced himself that the things he saw in the crystal ball were down purely to coincidence. After all, anyone could have a heart attack, especially at his father’s age, and as for Blue and Symphony becoming engaged, Scarlet’s own mind had already been made-up that the two of them were destined to be together, no matter how ill-suited they seemed to be to people on outward appearance.
But then, things happened which made him realise, despite his anathema towards predestination, that he could no longer pretend the ‘visions’ were all just a weird hallucination or a figment of his over-active imagination.
He’d died twice, and both his deaths corresponded with those seen in his ‘vision’; but the final, tragic nail in the coffin of his sanity, was the death of Captain Magenta. He’d witnessed his friend and colleague lying in a pool of blood, murdered by a sniper’s rifle. Just like in the vision.
A crime boss, from a rival gang, who had sworn revenge after Magenta’s testimony had sent him to prison, finally succeeded in infiltrating the web of secrecy surrounding Magenta’s pardon, and made the fateful link to Spectrum. A minor Spectrum agent had been compromised, his family taken hostage and tortured, until the agent was finally forced to reveal a time and place where the ‘hit’ could be carried out. Oh, he’d hunted down Magenta’s killers, assured that the perpetrators were put away for life, but that did nothing to assuage his guilt.
He’d foreseen Magenta’s death, and he might have actually been able to do something about it, but he’d refused to believe, refused to accept that such a thing existed – second sight from a fortune-teller’s crystal ball.
Now, he now faced the terrifying prospect that Dianne was next, and every fighting instinct he’d been born with came to the fore. He may have been unable to save Pat, but he was damned if he’d allow the same thing to happen to her. This time he was determined to cheat fate of her intended victim.
In the vision, Rhapsody’s death followed their marriage, so, he reasoned to himself logically, if he could avoid that pivotal event, then her dying in childbirth could be circumvented. It was still a gamble that the events would follow in that exact sequence, and he found his anxiety went through the roof every time they happened to be in a position to take advantage of being in the same bed at the same time. He knew she must have wondered why he was so reluctant to make love at times, and he felt like the world’s biggest heel, pretending to be tired, or stressed, or giving her some other damn stupid excuse for putting off the dreaded thing.
Sex, he could manage without, but he needed the warmth of her embrace to dispel the dark secret he kept locked up in his head, and the everyday reality of being Lazarus. Her love and Adam’s friendship were the two pillars holding up the foundations of his life, and he found he didn’t have the courage to let one of them destabilise it, not yet. Once or twice he thought about telling her, but something always stopped him, and as for confiding in Adam, well, Metcalfe men didn’t go around confessing their fears and insecurities to their mates, especially when it concerned their intimate relationships. It just wasn’t done.
Just once, he’d gone back to Brighton, on a pretext of visiting his parents, so he could talk to the fortune-teller, hoping she could shed some light on his predicament, but he searched the length and breadth of the pier, and the town itself in vain. There was no sign of the gypsy woman or her green caravan.
The sound seemed to come from far away, an insistent drilling noise. Scarlet felt something brush across his nose and then the sound stopped. He opened his eyes to see Rhapsody leaning over him, her hand slamming into the alarm to silence it.
Last night had been the first time in over a week that they had spent some quality time together. They’d eaten dinner in his quarters, since it was his turn to cook, or at least provide the meal, and afterwards they talked, somehow succeeding in skirting any territory concerning their perceived ‘problems’, for which he was secretly grateful. Afterwards, it seemed churlish not to ask her to stay the night, and he’d made her feel good, even if he refused himself the luxury. She didn’t press the point, giving up when he muttered some nonsense about still being a bit painful after his latest Mysteron- induced mangling.
He’d lain awake long after she’d fallen asleep, holding her in his arms, wondering if the feeling of tenderness she evoked in him was mutual, and if it was possibly enough to sustain them both for much longer.
Now Rhapsody groaned and rolled back into his side to face him. “Ugh, I don’t want to get up yet, it’s far too early.”
“Sorry, Angel, you have to be on the flight deck in an hour, and I have a group of junior lieutenants to –”
She cut him off with a punch to his chest. “Spoilsport.”
“Ouch, that hurt!” he exclaimed, and retorted by grabbing her and tickling her under the ribs, hard. For a moment they wrestled on the bed, amid her muffled gasps. “Bet…the junior…oww…lieutenants wouldn’t be in quite so much awe of you if they could…..stop it… see you now…”
“They’d probably just all be jealous.”
“Maybe I need to make you jealous, mister.”
He avoided another of her punches and heaved himself off the bunk. He hopped into his sweatpants and sauntered over to the mini-kitchen in his quarters to start the brewer. Rhapsody finally dragged herself out of his bunk, and joined him at the small fold down table, looking oddly adorable with her long hair mussed and dressed in one of his old shirts.
“Here you are,” he said, handing her a cup of coffee. “Get that down and you’ll feel better.”
She took it and sat opposite him, and he felt his heart pound with the certainty that she was about to broach the subject he’d been dreading. He gripped his own mug like a drowning man holding onto a raft.
“Paul….do you love me?”
He kept his voice light with force of will. “Now there’s a question to deck a chap with when he’s about to walk into the valley of death.”
She made a face. “Valley of death indeed. It’s a training course, not a firing squad.”
“I’d rather face a firing squad; Adam knows fine I hate telling them about my…unique abilities.”
“You’re changing the subject.”
“Don’t come all innocent with me, Paul Metcalfe, I’ve known you too long.”
At the pregnant pause that followed, he felt a sense of being trapped, with nowhere to run.
“I’m just wondering if…our relationship is going anywhere,” she said with a sigh, her gaze dropping to the table-top. “We just seem to be…drifting apart without really talking about it.”
“Dianne, you know I love you, more than you can ever know.”
“If you loved me then you’d…”she trailed off, self-consciously.
Scarlet knew exactly what she’d been about to say. Despite her thoroughly enthusiastic approach to sex, Rhapsody was still a romantic at heart, and believed that it was the man’s job to get down on bended knee and propose.
“Dianne, we’ve talked about it…”
“Oh, yes, we’ve talked about it, and I still don’t understand your reluctance. You know the colonel didn’t frown on Karen and Adam when they finally let him in on the big secret…”
“It isn’t just that…”
“Then what? Do you know I how I feel? Do you even care?”
“Of course I bloody care!”
“Something changed between us, Paul, after Pat died. I know it hit you hard, and goodness knows, I still can’t believe he’s gone either, but I don’t understand why it should affect us so much?”
Scarlet sat, powerless in the face of her obvious misery, wishing he could just come out with it…but the words stuck in his throat, refusing to budge. Was he afraid of looking like an idiot in front of her? She probably thought he was that already, the way he was behaving.
“I mean, we barely make love any more, for God’s sake,” she was saying, “not that our love life has been something likely to set the Thames on fire even before that. I’m beginning to wonder if I should just cancel my next transdermal.”
“No! Don’t do that, I mean, we don’t want…”
“A Mysteron baby? I’m not sure I can face that argument again, Paul. Not that I subscribe to your theory anyway. Doctor Fawn assured me that there’s no reason –”
Scarlet moved without thinking, leant across the table to grab her nearest wrist, causing her coffee to spill. “When were you talking to Fawn about this?” he demanded.
He let her go almost immediately, when he saw the shocked and hurt expression on her face. A burning sense of shame filled him at that childish action – he’d never before been aggressive towards her.
“A couple of days ago,” she said, rubbing her arm. “I just mentioned it in passing, I wanted…I needed to talk about it, try to understand it, for myself.”
It was Scarlet’s greatest fear - that the Mysterons were behind all of this, somehow, and with their warped, twisted abilities, would use him to destroy Rhapsody, by spawning an alien foetus that her physiology wouldn’t be able to deal with.
“Don’t worry Paul,” she said with a note of sarcasm in her voice. “I’ve no intention of bringing a baby into this world as a single parent.”
He sat and watched, mute, as she rose from the chair and collected her clothes from a chair near his bed. She disappeared into his shower-room, and a few minutes later emerged fully-clothed.
“Dianne, please, don’t go yet; I hate when we argue.”
She glanced at her watch. “Maybe it’s better to argue and talk about what really matters than just pretending everything’s fine.”
“I… just don’t know why you can’t be happy with things the way they are…we’re together, aren’t we? Why is it women always think they have to get a wedding ring on their finger to prove a man loves them!”
“I see, “she replied icily. “Well, if you don’t know why, Paul, then maybe you aren’t the man I thought you were.”
She left the room before he could say another word in his defence.
She came to his quarters, two months later, dressed in her flight-suit, helmet under one arm.
“Do you have a minute?” she said.
“Of course.” A small coil of fear uncurled in his stomach. Things hadn’t been going at all well between them recently, and there was something in her tone, as if she wanted to use her voice to distance herself from him even more than usual.
She nodded and came in, her movements stiff. She held the flight helmet close to her chest as if it was a comfort blanket.
“Coffee?” he asked.
The silence hung in the air for a moment.
“I’m resigning my commission with Spectrum, Paul.”
It hit him deep in the gut.
She raised her head, unconsciously defiant, every inch the beautiful aristocrat he had fallen in love with, and still did love, damn his traitorous heart.
“I suppose I’ve just discovered I’m actually an old-fashioned girl at heart,” she continued. “I have too much self-respect to stay here and feel everyone’s pitying stare on me as I walk past them in the corridor.”
“That’s nonsense and you know it,” he replied, but alarm overpowered him, only now realising he hadn’t really thought this through.
In all his imagined scenarios, he hadn’t counted on her leaving altogether.
Unthinking, he grasped her arms, losing all sense of reason. “Dianne, don’t go; don’t leave this job that you love.”
She struggled in his grip. “I can fly somewhere else, if needs be, or maybe something else entirely. I’ve changed careers before, I can do it again.”
“You don’t have to do this, not on my account.”
She made a disgusted noise in her throat. “A man always thinks everything revolves around him. Well, I’ve got news for you, Captain, it doesn’t.”
She pulled herself free at last and turned on her heel to go.
He should have swallowed his pride long ago, told her everything.
Maybe it wasn’t too late.
She stopped mid-step and frowned, while he struggled with his decision. “Well?” she said with a note of impatience in her voice.
“Remember the fortune-teller, in Brighton?”
Confusion wreathed her face. “Vaguely, what about it?”
“I saw something.”
“I saw visions – in the crystal ball.”
She stared at him as if he’d gone insane.
“Paul, I think you need to see Dr Fawn, you’ve been working too hard.”
“I really did see them, I saw Magenta’s death, and I saw our wedding, and then I saw you…dead.”
She continued to stare at him.
“You do believe me, don’t you?”
“I think that’s the poorest excuse for avoiding matrimony that I’ve ever heard.”
“I’m not making this up, Dianne, I swear to God. I just didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to think I’m crazy.”
“Paul, I’m sorry, but people just don’t see the future, and you would be the first to say it…or at least you always were.”
She shook her head. “Paul, I don’t want to talk about this any more…I think it’s best if I go.”
“Where are you going?” he said, numbly.
“Back to my stay with my parents probably, until I decide what I want to do next.”
He meant it. Perhaps, ultimately, it was for the best. He might never get over her, but she would be safe from him, and that was all that mattered.
She turned, and didn’t look back, and Scarlet stood for a long time in the centre of his room, with a cold, hard emptiness where his stomach should have been.
Scarlet never heard from Rhapsody again after her departure from Cloudbase, nor for that matter did any of her other Spectrum colleagues – even Symphony, supposedly her closest friend. It was as if she had made the decision to cut all the strings to her previous life in one fell swoop.
Adam never asked him what happened to the two of them for her to leave in such a manner, and he didn’t offer any explanation.
Once or twice he attempted to make contact, leaving voice messages at her parent’s house with the usual stupid pleasantries, just to see how she was. They went unanswered, and, frankly, he knew he couldn’t blame her. He didn’t try again, and attempted to rescue what was left of his life through his job, saving the world against their enemies, always consoling himself with the thought that he had cheated fate from taking her life, praying she was happy without him and would, in time, learn to forgive him.
He was in the middle of a briefing with Colonel White when Lieutenant Green looked up from his control panel.
“Captain Scarlet, I have a personal call for you, from England. It’s from Lord Robert Simms.”
Scarlet looked at White, possessed at once by a vague sense of unease at Green’s announcement.
Was that a note of sympathy he saw in his commander’s eyes? Scarlet suspected, and not for the first time, that White knew more about the private joys and miseries of the men and women on this base than he let on, or was given credit for.
“Go ahead, Captain.” White nodded. “We can resume after you’ve finished.”
When he arrived in his quarters, Scarlet contacted Green, and the call was transferred to his private phone.
“Hello, Lord Robert?”
“Paul, my dear boy …”
There was a ragged edge to Lord Robert’s voice that sent alarm bells clanging through Scarlet’s head. “Hello sir, it’s been a while,” he answered politely.
“I know, I’m sorry about that, but, you understand, Dianne, when she returned to us, she was adamant she wanted nothing more to do with Spectrum, or any of the friends that she’d made there, especially – you. So we respected her wishes, however odd it seemed at the time.”
“I’m sorry sir,” Paul began.
“I don’t know what happened between the two of you. We, that is, her mother and I – had hoped – well, you understand.”
“Yes, sir,” Scarlet mumbled, rigid with embarrassment.
“Well, Dianne eventually left us; she was never one for living off her allowance. She found herself a good job in the City, and started going to those parties she’d always insisted she loathed. It wasn’t long afterwards that she came home one weekend, with a young man in tow – her fiancé. Well, he wasn’t exactly a stranger - Dianne used to go out with him before she went to work for Lady Penelope.”
“It was a quiet wedding – she didn’t even want it in the papers; we thought it was to do with Spectrum. She seemed happy enough – but I never thought it was a contented happiness. He’s a good man, he loves her – loved her. She was delighted when she discovered she was pregnant – so were we…”
Scarlet listened, only aware of a sense of desperate desolation creeping up behind him, surrounding him in its cold embrace.
“She went riding on the estate; Charlotte and I had cautioned against it, but she was always a determined young woman, as you know. Her horse – it must have fallen at a fence – we don’t really know what happened, or how long she must have lain there…we called the ambulance as soon as we found her….”
Lord Robert’s voice broke and there was a few seconds of agonized silence before he could continue. “She lost too much blood…and the baby…they did everything they could at the hospital, but…”
Lying cold and still – the monitor flat-lining.
Just as I saw in the vision.
“She’s gone…isn’t she?” Scarlet said, his voice a dead thing, while his hands shook and despair scored a knife across his vitals.
“Yes. I wanted to let you know, rather than a note – you understand.”
“That’s very decent of you, sir.”
“The funeral is in a few days, you don’t have to attend of course, we don’t expect it, after all –“
“You can count on me being there, sir, and thank you for – the news. It means a lot that you informed me personally.”
“Thank you, Paul. I’m sorry that our meeting again had to be under such sad circumstances.”
The line disconnected, and Scarlet put his head in his hands for what seemed like a very long time, and barely noticed the tears that slid through his fingertips, wetting the table below. His mind ran riot with all the infinite ways he had failed her.
Perhaps if she’d stayed on Cloudbase, instead of me driving her away. If she’d become pregnant here, perhaps Fawn with all his marvellous technology might have saved her…
If, if, if.
He’d tried to cheat Fate.
But now he realised with a sick, desperate knowledge that Fate was always going to have her way, and he, poor, pathetic sod, with his apparent dominion over death, had always been powerless to save the woman he’d loved more than life itself.
This plot bunny hit me when I was searching for an idea for the ‘Sight’ sense of my Five Senses challenge stories, and then I thought it might actually work as a Halloween tale, so I wrote ‘Seeing Green’ instead and kept this aside for the October challenge.
The mention of the Mysteron-induced pregnancy is a ‘nod’ to Tiger Jackson’s splendid Halloween story, ‘Attrition’.
I’d like to thank my long-suffering beta-reader Marion Woods. I could have gone two ways with the ending for this story, but suffice to say, she helped to point me in the right direction. Without her, I think I might have given up in frustration. Even a short story can tie you in knots!
As ever, thanks to Chris B, for her input, comments and her wonderful site.
All errors and omissions are entirely my own.
A Very Happy Halloween to All
Caroline Smith 2007