December 10 1888.
I’ve just finished reading all the pages of this journal, all the things I wrote when I was still innocent and every day seemed to bring momentous, or at least noteworthy, events and impressions to record. I wrote in it daily before I eloped, but irregularly afterwards as my life was too full to spend time writing, and then not at all when my life became so circumspect that there was nothing I cared to record. But now the story is ending and I must explain how it came to be so.
My parents named me Louise after Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, who married the Duke of Argyll in 1871, the year I was born. They must have had great hopes for me; perhaps they dreamt that I might marry a man of rank and wealth. Yet they did not approve of the man I fell in love with.
I grew up in a respectable, middle-class house in Burslem in the region called The Potteries. Buyers came from all over the world to the Potteries to inspect the factories and the wares they produced, fine chinas and high-quality stoneware. My father, a factory manager, sometimes entertained them, so by the time I was seventeen, I’d met many foreigners.
But none of them had been like my Richard. He was an American, tall, broad-shouldered and slim-waisted, with red-brown hair and moustachios, and a full beard carefully trimmed in the height of fashion. He was much older than I, in his early 30’s, not much younger than Father, I suppose. But my Richard was so handsome and charming that any maiden would have swooned. I fell in love with him, and he with me.
How my heart sang when Richard asked me to go to London with him! But, oh, how Father raged at me! When I told him I loved Richard and would stay with him, with or without his and Mother’s blessing, Father called me a stupid, straying, ungrateful girl, and such hurtful names, I don’t try to recall them. Mother crumpled into a chair and wept as if she’d never stop. She asked the Lord God what she had done to deserve such an ungrateful and defiant daughter. They would not listen to me when I tried to tell them how happy I was, and how much I wanted to be Richard’s wife. I told Richard that I would elope with him, and if my parents would not give their consent to our marriage, then I would lie about my age, rather than wait the three years and more until I was twenty-one. I would show my parents how wrong they were to doubt my wisdom in my choice of a husband.
Father must have guessed what I planned to do. He locked me in my room at night and would not allow me to go out in the day unless the maid went with me. She tattled on me to Father every night, telling him where I had gone that day and who had spoken to me. Fortunately for me, the maid was also a silly, biddable creature. She believed me when I said I was meeting a friend at the train station. I wonder how long the little fool sat on that bench in the waiting room for me to return, while I found Richard and boarded the train to London with him?
I could not pack many of my belongings in my reticule, only some jewellery that Grandmamma left me. My Mother kept them in her wardrobe, and had often said she would give them to me when I was twenty-one or on my wedding day. But because I intended to marry Richard, she would not give them to me at all, I was certain. I could not go to my husband undowered, so I had to stoop to theft and steal what was rightfully mine out of Mother’s room. I could not take any clothes except those I was wearing that day. But Richard had ordered clothing for me from my dressmaker and others, and packed it in a new trunk, so I did not leave Burslem without a trousseau.
When we emerged from the rail station at St Pancras, Richard pointed to the Royal Victoria Hotel and announced we would be staying there. It took my breath away. Surely this was a palace and the royal family lived here!
It was made of beautiful red brick with Gothic towers and cathedral windows. The gothic-style Great Hall (so I called it) gleamed with marble — red, green, white, black, and more, shot through with contrasting colours. The columns and friezes were heavily gilded. Where the floors were not covered with Turkey carpets, they showed elaborate patterns in colourful Italian tiles. We walked along the curved path from the entrance hall to the base of the Grand Staircase, which divided into two, then spiralled upward story after story. The walls were covered in deep red paper with golden fleur-de-lis. The ceiling above had been painted a beautiful celestial blue and gilt, complete with stars so that I felt as if I was ascending to heaven. Indeed, with Richard by my side, I imagined that it was so.
Our rooms, number five, were glorious! The sitting room was papered in the most fantastic Jacobean stencils in soft reds and blues on a cream background, touched with gilding to bring out the details. From the huge bow window, we had a splendid view. The bedroom was a fantasy in red-and-gold-striped wallpaper and heavy gold velvet draperies over the cathedral windows. The fireplaces in the sitting room and in the bedroom were Gothic marvels of sculpted stone and marble. The furniture was formal, yet lavish and comfortable. Our rooms were also very expensive: a guinea plus five shillings per day! And all our meals were to be sent up, with waiters to attend us, and a maid would come in every morning to tidy up the suite and help me dress, like a grand lady of quality.
The porters carried our luggage up, and my Richard carried me over the threshold of the bedroom like a giddy bride! For such, I believed, I would soon be. Richard convinced me that there was no reason to postpone our wedding night, because God knew that, in our hearts and in His sight, we were man and wife, even if a clergyman had not yet officially sanctioned our union. And if I were not his wife, he could not stay with me, for it would be unlawful, and he would return me to my parents. He wanted me and I could not let him go. So I yielded to Richard and gave myself to him. In a night I became his wife in all but name.
We’d had only a few weeks of joy together, hardly enough time to call a honeymoon, when Richard had to travel for his business. I missed him with all my heart when he was away. We had still not decided on a date for our wedding or looked for a suitable house. It was all so complicated! Because Richard was an American, he told me, he had to dwell in England for a certain length of time and then obtain a special license to marry me. I thought that our rooms at the Royal Victoria served to give him a reasonably permanent address, but Richard assured me it was not sufficient in the eyes of the law, and I believed him. There was also the problem of my youth. My parents would not give their consent, and I was too young to give myself in marriage for three more years. We would have to find witnesses who would swear that I was twenty-one. Richard assured me that, for enough money, he would be able to find such false witnesses. I worried about the effect of perjury on the validity of our marriage, even though I had said I would lie about my age myself, but I loved and trusted Richard so much, and, like a good wife, left everything I could not hope to understand in his hands. And because he wanted to take me to America after our marriage, he had to get permission at the American Embassy, and try to arrange for a home for me in Detroit, and, oh, so many complications! My head whirled, and I didn’t understand it all anyhow. I trusted Richard to make all the arrangements. In the meantime, I did my best to behave as I believed a good wife should, waiting patiently, loving him dearly, submitting to him body and soul.
Richard told me never to leave the hotel when he was not there. London is such a large, confusing city, and respectable women do not usually walk out alone. An obedient wife, I promised I would not wander, that I would always be there waiting for him. The hotel has its own library for the entertainment of guests, and I passed much of my time reading in our rooms. There was little else I could do, really.
My clothes, the clothes Richard bought for me, are good, but not quite good enough to mingle with the ladies in the Ladies’ Lounge on the first floor. They lack the elegance of London fashions. In that lovely room, with its turquoise walls, heavy gold velvet drapes, lemon-and-cream striped satin davenports and chairs, and Turkey carpets, I felt drab. I have no jewels that could compare with — never mind out-shine! — the crystal gas lamps, as those of other lady guests do. My auburn hair lacks the gloss of the polished cherry wood; I wonder how other women manage the trick? Even though I did my best to sit ramrod straight and appear to be a lady when I was in public, I longed for conversation, but I was too timid to speak to anyone and constantly afraid that someone might speak to me. I know that compared to London Burslem is almost a village, and I feared my manners wouldn’t pass in London’s refined atmosphere. So I spent little time in the Ladies’ Lounge, rarely sat there to read or to take tea. To be seen so much in that public place, sooner or later the other guests would have realized that I am a long-term resident, one with no ring on her hand and no male escort. “A kept woman!” they would have thought, and scorned my presence.
For the same reasons, I did not often visit the hotel library, not in the daytime at least. But in the evenings, I often went down and borrowed some books to take back to my rooms. I favour popular authors like Dickens, Collins, and Bulwer-Lytton, and poets like Donne and Keats. The library attendant knows me well enough by now, and makes no comment on my habitual late visits or their frequency. He is always polite, but distant. All the hotel staff have become accustomed to me. I’m sure they are aware of my status, that I was Richard’s fiancée, but not yet his wife. Although they treat me coolly, they are not uncivil. And they have been discreet, at least when above stairs. If they say anything about me, they never say it where I might hear.
I wrote to my parents sometimes. I wrote about how happy I was with Richard, how I hoped that someday they would forgive me for eloping, accept that I did the right thing, take me back as their daughter, and welcome Richard as their son-in-law. I even addressed and sealed the envelopes. But I never sent them. A few months after I ran away, my father placed a notice in the London newspapers and declared that he was disowning me. I saw it while I was in the Ladies’ Lounge one afternoon, reading the newspapers to fill my time while Richard was away. I must have attracted attention when I gasped in horror and fled the lounge, stifling my sobs until I was back in my rooms but I did not look around me. Nor did I return to the lounge for several days, lest someone had looked at what I had been reading and exposed me to ridicule. I did not tell Richard about the notice because I was afraid he would think I regretted my decision and was not happy with him after all.
Richard wrote to me frequently when he was travelling. I looked forward to his letters almost as much as I looked forward to seeing him again. For any letter might tell me when he was coming back again, or when we would be able to marry.
Richard’s last letter said he would be with me again today. I ordered my maid about imperiously, and made her do and re-do my hair in the most formal style. I donned my best gown and used some of my precious lavender perfume that Richard said had come all the way from Paris. And I waited.
This afternoon, there was a knock at the door. It was a page delivering a letter and a small velvet bag. They were from Richard.
In his letter, he said he was returning to America, to a wife he never mentioned to me. His wealth, his fortune, actually belongs to his wife, he explained, who has sent him money for his support during his travels in England but now refuses to send anymore. He said that he would someday, perhaps, return, though he hoped I would forget him and make a good marriage with someone else. He said that he had paid for room 5 through the end of the week. He said that I should return home.
I was in shock after reading his letter for the first time. I tried to tell myself that I had misinterpreted it somehow. But as I read it again and write down the gist of it now, his message is so plain. I will never see or hear from Richard ever again.
Where can I go now?
I cannot return to Burslem. Unlike London, it is not so large that I could hide upon my return, and my elopement will have been gossiped about in all the pottery factories. My parents will not take me back; once my father makes a decision, he never changes his mind. The bag Richard sent contained a double handful of gold sovereigns, not enough to provide me with independent support in London. I have few skills and no one to recommend me to a respectable employer, nor can I explain why I have come alone to London in search of genteel employment.
I am ruined, a fallen woman. I have no prospects. No hope. No future. I threw it all away on a feckless adulterer who has blithely deserted me. Where, then, can I go but the streets? I shudder. I have read in the newspapers of a murderer who stalks the streets of London. Few people cared at first because the victims are all fallen women like me. The murderer has not been caught. Will he be waiting for me, a foolish girl, blinded by notions of romance, brought down to the gutter because she broke God’s laws? I cannot surrender to such a fate. I cannot! I will not!
“The next day, in the morning, the poor lady was discovered dead in room 5,” intoned the hotel-tour guide, dropping his voice. “Some say she died of a broken heart. Actually, she took poison, an overdose of laudanum, although since she never left the hotel, it’s uncertain how or where she got it from. They found the journal and letters she had written, but never sent, to her parents, so they were notified of her death. But her family didn’t claim her body. Richard, her lover, was never heard from again. Louise was buried in a pauper’s grave, unmarked and unmourned.” He paused for effect. “Sometimes, her ghost was seen in public places like the lounge, the lobby, and here in the library, usually in the evenings and at night. Why she chose to haunt these places more than the rooms she died in, no one knows.”
One of the older tourists raised a hand. “Was anyone ever put in room 5 after Louise died?”
“Oh, undoubtedly. Louise’s body was removed discreetly during the night, concealed in a cart covered with a cloth, and taken down the back stairs so the other guests wouldn’t be aware of her death. And so new guests wouldn’t be aware they were being assigned to a room containing a deathbed.”
A teenager gasped. “They left all the furniture and stuff after she died?”
“Her personal things were removed, of course. The linens were changed and the room was cleaned, but, yes, they left the furniture, including the mattresses on the bed. The Victorians were more practical and less squeamish about such things than we are. Besides, they wouldn’t have seen the point in dashing out to Harrod’s to replace a perfectly sound bed, just because its last occupant had died!”
There was a murmur of uncomfortable chuckling from the guide’s audience. “Can you show us Louise’s rooms?” someone asked.
“Unfortunately, no. Over the years, the room numbers have all been changed many times. The oldest floor plans showing where room 5 was were destroyed during the Second World War. But no one ever complained about Louise’s ghost appearing in their room. She seemed to prefer showing herself in the public areas.”
“Has she been seen recently?”
“No, she hasn’t. The hotel declined after World War One and closed in the 1930s. It was briefly reopened in the late 20th century, then closed again when World War Three broke out. Since restoration began two years ago, there have been reports of strange women hanging about,” the tour group tittered at the insinuation in the guide’s tone, “but none in antique clothing. We think Louise may have moved on, perhaps out of sheer boredom or maybe displeasure at how dusty and decrepit the place became.”
“Told you we shouldn’t have bothered booking a room for the grand reopening!” a man muttered under his breath to his companion.
“Oh, be quiet, Peter,” admonished the other. “You wanted to be here and you know it!”
“Now I can’t show you Louise’s room,” the guide continued, ignoring them, “but I can show you one of the restored suites. The restorers and decorators went with a modern neo-Victorian theme . . . .”
Oh, I can’t abide those rude, noisy clusters of ill-bred people! They never care that I’m sitting here trying to read in peace. How I long for the quiet times, when the hotel never admitted such people.
Life in the hotel has changed so much since Richard left me. It began the day I received his letter and final gift.
I must have cried myself to sleep and slept through the rest of the day. It was dark when I awoke and I felt very strange. I didn’t feel ill, exactly, but light-headed and confused. Something seemed to be calling me. No, that’s not right — it was attracting me, enticing me. I got out of bed and looked around but the only odd thing I could see was a silver cord fastened at my waist. I don’t know why, but I tied the cord’s loose end to the bedpost before I walked up to the bedroom door, a gilded door with geometric patterns carved into it. Without thinking, I opened it and walked through into another dark room, softly lit and full of shadows. It should have been the sitting room, but it was not — it was a room strange to me. Behind me, the door swung to but did not close completely; it rested against the tautened silver cord. There was a door in the distant wall, a red door carved with roses. It opened at a touch, and lead to yet another room. Again, the door tried to shut and was prevented. I marvelled that the cord did not snap nor did it tauten so much as to impede me; I did not even feel it. In the soft light of this room, too, I could see a brilliantly coloured and decorated door in the same wall as the one through which I passed. I opened it and found beyond that, there was yet more dimness, another room, another door, and another, and another, beyond count. It was like walking in a hedge maze, turning about, doubling back, going forward. But something drew me onward, I know not what it was.
In each room, I stopped to examine my surroundings. Oddly, many rooms had mirrors but mirrors such as I have only heard of in fairy tales. They reflected the room until I looked in them; then they did not show my face or the room I was in, but room 5 and also scenes from my life and of what I left behind when I went to London. Looking in one mirror, my heart panged as I watched myself and Richard boarding the train in Burslem, beginning our runaway marriage. In another room, another mirror, I was shocked and saddened to see the image of my mother sitting in my old bedroom, hugging a doll I had long outgrown, and crying.
In the last room I reached, the door before me was the strangest of all. There was no door like it anywhere in the hotel, I was certain. It was of a plain wood, but wider and taller than any other I’d seen, and it seemed to glow. There must have been a very bright light behind it, for I could virtually see it through the door. Nothing I knew of could make such a bright light. Nothing of this earth!
I was very, very frightened of this door and tried to back away from it. I was certain it would lead me into Hell. But something kept drawing me forward, the thing that had attracted me from the start of my journey through the maze, and I found myself reaching for the doorknob. I screamed and screamed, then turned and ran back through the doors, following the silver cord that had held the doors open behind me, out of my rooms, and down to the library. I must have looked like a madwoman, with my hair down and my clothes in disarray, my face white with terror. Fortunately, the library was empty but for the attendant who diplomatically pretended not to see me. I began to feel foolish, realizing that I had only had a nightmare, but like a child I had thought it was real and run away. I straightened my appearance as best I could and slowly made my way back upstairs, back to room 5, and to bed.
My life changed dramatically. The management must have known that Richard abandoned me but, to my surprise, I was not cast out on the street. Nor was I asked for money or labour to pay for my continued residence. Still, a price was exacted of me. The servants no longer answered when I called, but that was the smallest indignity I was made to suffer. From time to time, I was forced to share my rooms. When couples stayed there, I was undoubtedly expected to serve as a maid to the wife, if she had not brought her own. But when men stayed there . . . I will not speak of the sort of services that were expected of me. Suffice it to say, that I refused to bow my head and become a servant or worse, no matter how dire my poverty. I could never give myself to any man but Richard. I would rather have died. None ever made demands upon me, but I stayed away from my rooms whenever men were there, preferring to stroll the lobby, or visit the ladies’ lounge or the library, although sometimes I crept back in when the intruders slept.
I do not sleep much myself. When I do, the nightmare plagues me. I find myself being drawn through those endless rooms again, back towards the glowing door. So far, I have always remembered to tie my silver cord to something before I respond, and I have always managed to resist the glowing door and find my way out again, but it gets harder and harder.
Although nothing was ever said to me, there must have been complaints lodged against me and my failures to oblige. As a punishment for my recalcitrance, the desk clerks stopped sending the most respectable people to share my rooms and began sending eccentrics, people who wore increasingly outlandish clothes. I was shocked by the number of women who exposed their ankles then their calves, wore their hair short like young boys, and smoked like men. Fewer of them brought their own maids, but those who didn’t often didn’t seem to care.
Eventually, the persecution stopped. I was left to reside alone in my rooms for a long time. I enjoyed the peace, but I now seemed condemned to solitude. I am losing hope that I might ever see Richard again. I am no longer angry with him. I only want to feel his arms around me again, to hear his voice, to love him and make him desire me again. If he comes to the hotel and asks for me, he might not be sent up. I wanted to see the manager, and tell him to send Richard to my rooms if he comes again, but I could never find anyone on the desk. The lobby was almost always empty when I went down, and when there were people there, they ignored me. They must have been shown my picture and told of my disgrace. I cannot think why else they would refuse to look at me.
And the nightmares have gradually become more intense. It becomes harder to resist the glowing door. I feel I am growing weaker and fear that soon I will not be able to escape its lure. I am becoming forgetful; the last time the nightmare came, I forgot to secure my silver cord, my anchor, and only remembered when the door began to close behind me; I blocked it with my body, but the strain tired me. If only Richard would come back. I know I could keep him with me this time.
The reopening of the fully renovated and restored Royal Victoria Hotel had drawn worldwide attention. Dozens of celebrities had reserved suites and rooms. And the world government selected the Royal Victoria as the site for the week-long World Trade Conference, which would be attended by hundreds of representatives from dozens of nations.
Spectrum was to provide security. Besides controlling an expected crowd of protesters on the street, agents would have to keep disruptors from getting into the conference itself, and constantly screen hotel guests and employees for Mysteron infiltrators. Captains Magenta, Grey, and Ochre were assigned as field commanders, rotating in shifts. Each would be seconded by one of three junior captains: Celadon, Sienna, and Vermillion. Although the security arrangements were all in place and satisfactory, there had been communication errors on other matters. Because the hotel’s gala reopening was heavily booked, a shortage of rooms to house the Spectrum agents had resulted. They would have to share quarters. Captains Magenta and Ochre were assigned to suite 180.
I am caught up in the nightmare again, but I know I can still find my way back; the doors cannot close on my silver cord, although it no longer glows so bright as it did. I want to get back to my rooms. But I can hear men’s voices coming from the mirror of this room I am in now. I am horrified to hear them. Are they in my rooms? Or are they in Burslem? The mirrors show me both. I do not want to look at them. I will sit and listen until they go away.
On the first evening of the conference, Spectrum’s officers of all grades were required to attend the formal opening reception. Captain Ochre had groaned at the orders. He hated wearing his dress uniform.
“I’m just a middle-class guy. I didn’t even go to college. I’ve never liked these fancy dos. Damn monkey suit!” he groused as he struggled with the stiff collar. “Why couldn’t Blue and Scarlet have gotten this assignment? They were both born to this kind of thing.”
Captain Magenta, immaculately clad in his dress grey uniform with its colour-coded piping, struck a menacing pose. “Have you no pity, man?” he growled mockingly, shaking a finger at his fellow officer. “Paul and Adam have had to endure dressing up in monkey suits, making vapid small talk, and consuming hors d’oeuvres all their lives. You’ve been lucky, Richard Fraser!”
Richard Fraser? Have I heard truly? Timidly I seat myself by the mirror and look into it: it shows me my bedroom, hazily, but well enough. I do not know if the mirror on my bedroom wall shows me, so I peep carefully. The man speaking is tall and well-built, dark-haired with brown eyes, his features neatly chiselled, and his voice has a touch of Ireland. He is dressed all in grey but for a thin stripe of a bright shade of purple the name of which I cannot recall. I do not know him. The other man has his back to me. I watch as he pulls on a grey jacket, identical to the other man’s, but on his the thin stripe is a dark mustard colour. He is as tall as his companion though a little lighter in build. His hair is brown but I can see glints of red as the light catches it when he turns his head. It is familiar to me.
“Ready, Pat? Then let’s go and get this over with.”
His voice is American! But they are leaving the room. I did not have a chance to see the other man’s face. Rising from my chair, I fight the pull of the glowing door and struggle to make my way back to my rooms. It is always an exhausting task but I am determined to escape. I must see him. I must know.
The lifts were crowded, and the agents let several cars continue down without them. Captain Ochre fidgeted. “If not for the 1929 Crash, I’d probably be used to living like this. I’m told my family had money until then. Not that I’m sorry. I like being just a regular Joe. It’s just times like this I dread, trying to remember which fork goes with what.”
“You’ll do fine, as always,” rejoined Captain Magenta. “Just stand perfectly still and don’t say anything.”
Ochre continued grumbling under his breath as they headed for the grand staircase down to the lobby.
I am free again! But I feel so weak now. I am so tired. I do not want to sleep. I cannot. If I sleep, I will be drawn back into the nightmare and fear I may be lost forever. The silver cord I have relied on for so long has grown dim as if tarnished but it resists polishing; the bright glow is gone. As it dims, I fear it might soon snap and leave me trapped in the maze. Unless my Richard has returned? Could it be? Please, God, let it be so! I will give myself to him again freely, if only he will stay with me!
Outside, reporters, paparazzi, and protesters competed for attention and opportunities to penetrate the cordon Spectrum had placed around the hotel. Indoors, Spectrum agents circulated among the guests. In their staid dress uniforms, Captains Sienna and Vermillion felt like mud hens in a flock of birds of paradise.
“I’d hoped I could finally have an excuse to wear something that would really impress Captain Grey,” sighed Sienna.
Vermillion sympathized. “I know how you feel. I’ve got a gorgeous little evening gown collecting dust in my closet. On the other hand, I’d have had to rob a jewellery store or at least disassemble a crystal chandelier to match some of the ice in here tonight!”
Captain Sienna noted that one surprisingly young woman, probably a conference delegate’s daughter, had chosen to wear modest period dress rather than something glamorous, perhaps in honour of the hotel’s origins. Her pale skin and glowing makeup made her look ethereal, yet no one but Sienna seemed to pay any attention to her. The Victorian lady, as Sienna mentally dubbed her, had a hand to her mouth, as if something had shocked or intrigued her. Sienna tried to figure out what it might be: there were several ladies wearing scandalously wispy and expensive shreds of clothing, others with magnificent jewels, quite a few distinguished looking men, some wearing ribbons with ancient orders displayed, and two Spectrum captains, Ochre and Grey. She couldn’t decide which of those people the Victorian lady found so fascinating or revolting.
It is him. I never saw Richard without his beard and moustachios, never imagined that they hid a firm, square jaw, or how different he would look without them. But his eyes are the same, that beautiful gold-touched brown I so often found myself sinking into. He has returned. Soon he will come looking for me! But I am suddenly so tired. So tired. I cannot stop my eyes from closing and as they do the nightmare begins again. I am surrounded by all these people. They bar my way to anything I can anchor myself to with my silver cord. Richard! My love, please help me!
The Victorian lady had disappeared when Sienna tried to spot her again in the crowd.
Hours later, the men returned to their suite. Captain Ochre wanted a sound night’s sleep. Captain Magenta immediately changed into his work uniform since he’d drawn the night shift. Captain Grey would take over from Magenta in the morning, then Ochre would relieve Grey.
“Good night, Pat.”
“Good night, Rick. Sleep well.”
It had been a demanding evening by Captain Ochre’s standards; he’d have preferred to be dealing with crowd control or surveillance. He changed into his pyjamas and crawled to the middle of the huge four-poster bed. He fell asleep almost immediately.
He dreamt that he heard a woman calling his name from somewhere far away. She sounded afraid. He listened then got out of bed and went to the gilded, carven door into the next room. As he passed through the doorway, he felt a cool breeze waft over him. He looked around him. The light was dim, like candlelight; he could see hints of gold as the light flickered and shadows danced.
Richard! the voice cried.
He followed it to another door, painted deep red and also carven. Part of him knew that this door had to lead into the hallway, that the suite only had two rooms. Ochre hesitated, wondering if someone was playing a joke on him. The woman sobbed. Joke or no, it sounded like she was in genuine pain. Ochre seized the door’s handle and plunged into the darkness beyond. Again he felt a soft breeze, colder than it had been before. He couldn’t see much in the dim light, except that he was in another room, and there was another door in the wall to his right. He could still hear the woman’s voice although it didn’t seem much closer. He quickly opened the next door, ignoring the cold wind that swept around him, and continued into the next room and on and on, leaving the doors open behind him.
Eventually, Ochre came into a room dominated by a huge, glowing door that dazzled his dark-adapted eyes. As they adjusted, he could just discern a person trying to shrink into the shadows as far from the door as the room would allow. The person turned, stifling a cry as she saw him. “Richard!” the woman cried. “Please, take me away from here! I’m so frightened! The door . . . The door! It draws me against my will! I have not the strength or will to resist anymore.”
She was very young, Captain Ochre realized, although her antique dress and hairstyle made her look more mature at first. Probably she had somehow lost her way in the hotel’s maze of corridors. Captain Ochre took the woman by the arm and tried to lead her back to the door he had come through. He felt resistance, but it didn’t seem to be coming from her. The glowing door, he thought, seemed to be exerting a magnetic pull on the woman. Slowly, they walked side by side across the room and through the doorway into the next room. Ochre shut the door behind them, then half-lead, half-carried his companion through the next door, and the next, murmuring words of comfort as they went. The young woman clung to him and trotted to keep up with his long strides.
“Will we be out of here soon?” she asked breathlessly.
“Yes. Yes, I’m sure we will,” replied Ochre, although he had no idea how many rooms he had passed through or how long it had taken. “Just trust me.”
“I do, Richard. You know I do.” She looked up at him beseechingly through eyes red-rimmed and swollen from crying.
Ochre was about to say something more when the crash of thunder raged around them. The young woman screamed as she and the room vanished before the American’s eyes.
He opened them slowly to sunlight as the thunderous knock at the door rolled again.
“Rise and shine, Rick!” shouted Captain Magenta. “We’ve got a morning briefing to get to.”
I’m not ashamed to say I screamed. I was holding tight to Richard as we fled from the glowing door. He was so solid, so real, beneath my hands. I knew he would take me to safety. Then, suddenly, we were surrounded by thunder, and he disappeared.
I’m alone now. I can’t find the next door. I don’t want to move for fear I’ll take the wrong way. I can still feel something pulling me to the glowing door again, drawing me, trying to take me back again.
If I’m not standing, it can’t make me move, so I collapse in a heap of skirts and petticoats. And I’m crying because Richard is gone again and I’m more alone and frightened than ever. Where am I? Please, Richard, come back for me!
The dream resumed the next night.
Captain Ochre had little time to realize where he was before he had to lunge to catch the young woman as she crumpled to the floor. She reached up to touch his face as he knelt beside her. “Richard,” she gasped. “It is you!” Her voice was rich with emotion and with promise. Ochre embraced her and was soon drawn into a rapturous kiss. “I knew you’d come back to me. I knew you love me. I’ve waited for you.”
“I . . . I didn’t mean to leave you here before,” Ochre said slowly. “I’ll get you out of here. Let’s go.”
His words sounded brave, even in his own ears, but Ochre was unsure of himself. That magnetic force was still affecting his companion, forcing him to practically drag her along. But finally they stepped through the last doorway, into the sitting room of the suite he shared with Captain Magenta.
“Richard, my darling! I knew you’d rescue me! How shall I thank you?” She drew near to him, so near he could detect her lavender perfume. And her green eyes glittered with something Ochre didn’t want to respond to. Yet . . .
He felt as if he was under a spell. And slowly the spell broke as he came fully awake.
Ochre’s shift had been uneventful. Unless there were cameras about, the demonstrators did little more than chant, wave their signs, and occasionally block the main doors or the road. Inside, the conference delegates who were not friendly were at least civil to one another. The biggest incident he’d had to deal with was assigning an escort to a Hollywood movie star who had had too much to drink before going out to party. All in all, a dull evening.
But Ochre felt tired. He hadn’t had a refreshing sleep in the last two days and his shift had hardly been stimulating. He glanced at the late news reports, and decided to go to bed. He began to dream.
Getting up, he walked into the bedroom and looked around the sun-filled room. Ah, there she was, at the window, her back to him, pretending not to notice his arrival. He could tell she was playing — he’d noticed that she began to turn when he entered the room, then quickly away again. Observing that she was wearing her hair up, Ochre approached the woman stealthily, wrapped his arms around her, and began to kiss her alabaster neck.
“Richard,” she purred. “Promise you’ll never leave me again.”
He merely murmured her name. “My silly little Louise.” How did I know her name? I must be dreaming.
She laughed as she turned to embrace him. “Do you remember the first time we met, in Burslem?”
“Remind me,” he said, gently brushing a few stray hairs from her forehead, and continued to plant fluttering kisses on her cheeks and throat, listening with only half an ear as she spoke of a past he had not lived through.
“I defied my parents for you,” Louise said, the catch in her voice bringing Ochre’s attention back to her words. “I couldn’t wait three more years to be twenty-one and free to marry you without their blessing.”
Three years? She’s what, seventeen? eighteen? What am I doing? The rational part of Ochre’s mind recoiled even as he continued seducing the girl.
Louise continued speaking, telling him of their life together, her shock when she believed he had abandoned her, her joy at his return, how she had stayed faithful to him despite pressure. “Promise you’ll never leave me again,” she repeated, her eyes glistening with tears. “Stay with me, Richard. I will give you what you want, everything you want. Take what I give you. Please don’t leave me again.”
He could feel the girl’s passion rising, matching his own. The still-rational part of Ochre’s mind asserted itself briefly. She’s too young, only a teenager. The fancy dress and hairstyle only make her seem older. This isn’t right! Ochre knew he would never be attracted to such a young woman in his waking life. But this is only a dream and dreams are irrational. Whatever I do in a dream means nothing; no one gets hurt.
Ochre began to undress Louise. The fastenings of her antique clothing were alien to the 21st-century man, but dress, corset, petticoats, melted away under his touch, until she stood naked before him. Somehow, his own clothing had disappeared, as happens in dreams. He proceeded to make love to the young woman who was amazingly responsive. The experience was strangely real and intense, unlike any dream he’d had before, yet there was a surreal quality as well, a feeling that the girl was taking something from him, something vital.
When he woke up in his bed, nude and drenched in sweat, he was momentarily surprised to find himself alone. As he came fully awake, he wondered how he had managed to remove his pyjamas in his sleep. He lay exhausted, wondering at the dream’s intensity, the sensation of being drained, and the sense of loss he was experiencing. It had only been a dream, after all.
This really is a beautiful room, thought Peter, looking about the Ladies’ Lounge, mentally adding that he should have asked the guide if men were allowed here in Louise’s time. He smirked at the thought of invading an exclusively female bastion.
He wasn’t the only tourist enjoying the morning light that came through the floor-to-ceiling windows. A little gaggle of women was exclaiming over the ornate carving of the panelling on the walls. One woman standing apart from and beyond the group drew his eye, although he didn’t seem able to see her quite clearly. He could tell she was wearing a 19th-century dress, with leg o’ mutton sleeves and a long but pinched waist. There was an aura about her, a radiance. Peter caught his breath just as she vanished. He thought he smelled lavender, but the there weren’t any flowers in the room.
Something touched his face. Peter experienced a moment’s terror, thinking the ghost was running a cold finger along his cheek. When a drop rolled into his eye, Peter realised he’d broken a cold sweat; it was only water trickling down his cheek. He laughed weakly at himself. He didn’t believe in ghosts, but the guide’s silly tale had obviously planted a suggestion and the lingering effects of last night’s partying had tricked his mind into seeing things.
Yeah, that was all it was. Had to be.
Captain Ochre dreamed of Louise every night. Always the dream would begin with him meeting Louise in the bedroom or the sitting room of room 5.
There were variations in the beginning. Once he had found her gazing out the windows of the bedroom. Another time he had heard singing and found her in the magically redecorated 19th-century sitting room. She was playing a pianoforte that had not been there when he passed through the room on his way to bed, but somehow seemed to belong. He had listened to her play and sing then applauded enthusiastically as she blushed and dropped curtsies.
However they met, Ochre would give Louise his arm, and together they would leave room 5. They walked through the doorway and along the streets of a town he’d never seen but which Louise assured him was Burslem, the town where she’d been born, the town where he, Richard, had met and courted her.
At this point, the dream would vary in small but significant ways. They would stroll demurely through a park, they would stop for tea and cakes, he would purchase flowers. Louise would point out places and things and people and talk of the meaning they had for her. And should have had meaning for Captain Ochre. Beneath that elm, Richard had first kissed Louise. Ochre had no memory of that kiss. Here, by the church, Richard had first dared to hint to Louise of marriage. Why could he not remember? Ochre wondered guiltily. Why had it made no impression on him at all? He, Richard, loved this woman, so she kept reminding him. He felt like a fraud, or maybe like an actor.
Then there would be a shift in the dreamscape, and Ochre would find himself back in room 5 with Louise. One time there had been music playing and they were dancing. The girl tripped over his feet and laughed as he tried to catch her, then fell himself. They sprawled together on the floor in a tangle of skirts and legs and arms. Ochre had managed to twist himself so that he could break Louise’s fall with his body. She lay atop him now, gasping for breath between shouts of laughter. He laughed, too, as he held her. Before he knew it, she was kissing him passionately, murmuring his name over and over, demanding to use his body. No matter how it happened, in every dream Louise contrived to seduce him or let herself be seduced. When they twined, she would murmur or laugh or cry out that they were united — one in body, one in soul. And always she was demanding, insisting that he unite his body with hers and take what she wanted to give. She drove him to exhaustion and still forced herself on him. He did not resist her advances but with every erotic encounter he could feel his strength fade and his fear grow.
He woke every morning as tired as he’d gone to bed. Perhaps more so.
It had been a long night, mused Captain Magenta as he strode along the corridor towards the suite. It had been a mild night for September, so more protestors than usual had opted to stay in the makeshift encampment on the pavement and hold a private party. The beer and wine had flowed freely. Shortly after midnight, Splendour, the currently reigning rock diva, had unexpectedly returned from clubbing with her escorts and entourage. Numerous paparazzi had been keeping the hotel staked out, just waiting for candid photo opportunities, and found both the camp and its inhabitants made good cover for lying in wait. When Splendour emerged from her limousine, the paparazzi burst out with their cameras, sending campers and gear flying. Not surprisingly, the owners of the various damaged tents, stoves, and body parts objected. So did Splendour’s bodyguards. In no time, a donnybrook was underway. Spectrum’s guards had strict orders not to admit anyone until they had been cleared by the Mysteron detector. Unfortunately, in a large and clumsy way, the detector resembled a camera and the sergeant attempting to use it was attacked by a bodyguard. Splendour and most of her entourage managed to get into the hotel and away upstairs without clearance before more Spectrum personnel arrived to secure the doors. Much of the rest of the night had been spent locating Splendour and the others, persuading them to open their doors (or, when necessary, breaking them down) and checking them with the Mysteron detector. All had been cleared. But Captain Magenta’s ears were still ringing from the remarkably imaginative and varied stream of invective Splendour herself had hurled at him.
He heard a door close firmly ahead of him and looked up to see a young woman in an eccentric floor-length gown exiting a room. She picked up her skirts and rapidly glided away from him down the corridor, so smoothly that she hardly seemed to be touching the floor, and so lightly that she moved without sound. She left a trace scent of lavender in her wake.
Magenta got out his card-key, passed it through the reader, and entered the suite. A hint of lavender lingered in the sitting room. The door to the bedroom was closed; he couldn’t hear anything behind it, which didn’t surprise him at all. He did wonder, though, who Captain Ochre’s lady friend was. And just how much longer Rick was going to lie in bed. With a sigh, he flipped on the telly. He wasn’t ready to sleep yet anyway; he was still too keyed-up from the night’s excitement.
But hardly a half hour had passed before the bedroom door opened and a dishevelled, tired-looking Captain Ochre emerged. “Good morning, Pat” he mumbled.
“A very good morning to you, Rick! Who’s your lady friend? Not someone Melody Angel should know about, I hope?” said Magenta with a grin to show he was only joking.
“What are you talking about?” Ochre snapped.
“Oh, come off it, Rick. You know I won’t say anything about her.”
“About who?” The American captain sounded genuinely puzzled.
“The woman who spent the night here, of course. I saw her leaving just a little while ago. You should have warned me; I almost ran into her! Who is she, some trade ambassador’s daughter?”
Ochre frowned. His bloodshot eyes locked with the Irishman’s. “There was no woman here, Pat. I spent the night alone. If you don’t believe me, then look around and try to find a clue otherwise!”
Magenta raised his arms in mock surrender. If his friend wanted to conceal the young lady’s identity, that was fine by him. It did seem odd, though. Rick had never shown any interest in a woman so young before. That meant she had to be pretty special to him.
When he returned from duty the next evening, Captain Ochre sat up late, resisting the urge to sleep. He did not want to dream. He was, he realized, becoming afraid to dream.
But he was so tired. And the suite’s potpourri bowl must have been refreshed that day, as the room was filling with the relaxing scent of lavender. Perhaps a little doze while sitting up would be safe enough. His eyes closed.
In the morning, he awoke in bed, dripping sweat and shaking with fatigue and pain. He remembered everything that could not possibly have happened during the night. It seemed much too real to be just a dream.
I must be going insane, Ochre thought.
“Rick, you look bloody awful today!”
“Thanks. I did look at myself at the mirror while shaving, you know.”
“I mean you look so tired. Are you feeling all right?”
“Yes, yes. I’m fine. I’ve just been having some restless nights, that’s all. I’ve been having some very vivid dreams. Of a personal nature,” he added, seeing the question in Magenta’s face.
Captain Magenta didn’t think his friend was being honest. Whether it really was just dreams or nights with his lady friend, Captain Ochre had complained of sleeping poorly every night of the conference. Fortunately, this was the last night they’d be staying at the Royal Victoria. Tomorrow, the conference would end by midday and they’d be back on Cloudbase in time for dinner. And a good night’s sleep in their own beds.
Louise was distraught. She burst into tears when Ochre told her he was leaving in the morning. He felt strange; part of him was regretful while another part, an alien mind, was glad to be shedding yet another mistress.
“You’re going back to her, aren’t you?” sobbed Louise.
“Who?” Ochre/Richard asked, genuinely curious to hear the answer.
“What!? What wife?” How did she find out about/I don’t have a wife/stupid little chick is testing me/does she mean Melody/. . . Ochre’s mind was in turmoil. He knew he was not married yet he vaguely recalled a wife who controlled the fortune he also knew he didn’t have . . .
The girl brushed aside his protests. “No. You can’t lie to me again, Richard. You’re going to abandon me again. I can’t live without you!”
Richard seized the girl’s wrists as she raised her arms to hit him. “Louise, you’re hysterical! Haven’t I promised I’d come back as my business allows?”
“If you leave, I’ll make you keep your promise. Somehow I’ll make you come back!” she shouted, her eyes glowing like coals.
Ochre sat up in the darkness of the bedroom, Louise’s words ringing in his ears.
Somehow I’ll make you come back.
“Ah, it’s good to be home!” said Captain Sienna, as they debarked the SPJ.
Captain Ochre was more relieved than anyone to be back on Cloudbase. Surely, now that he was away from the hotel and its atmosphere of antiquity, he would stop having those strange, exciting, erotic, and menacing dreams about Louise. He could look forward to sleeping again.
But the nightmares had come with him. Every night, he dreamt that he and Louise were together in the 19th century. He, Richard, callously planned to make this innocent girl his latest mistress, pretended to be enamoured with her, went through the motions of courting her, then eloping with her, seducing her, using her, all to satisfy his basest instincts. The memories of how he had abused her trust, ruined her good name, abandoned her . . .
Ochre’s conscience ached, even though he was aware he had not done, could not have done any of those things.
In the worst nightmares, Ochre was searching for Louise but unable to reach her, though he could hear her terror-filled voice calling him, see her being dragged inexorably towards the door she feared, see the door open to reveal Boschian scenes of Hell . . . .
You promised you’d come back! You promised! You lied!
From every dream he would wake up, drenched in sweat, feeling an urgency to get back to the Royal Victoria, to Louise. But he didn’t know why. He would spend the rest of the night wide awake or dozing fitfully, afraid to dream anymore. Knowing the lack of sleep would soon affect his performance, Captain Ochre decided to consult Dr Fawn about something to help him sleep.
“I’ve been having some pretty bad nights. I just haven’t felt right since returning from London.”
“How do you mean? Did the problem begin in London or only after you got back?”
“In London. You see — ” He stopped. “It’s going to sound ridiculous.”
Fawn assured him that he would take everything Ochre said seriously, but he couldn’t help without fully understanding the problem. Slowly Captain Ochre confessed everything, all the dreams he had of Louise, the fatigue, the pain, and especially his fear that the lingering nightmares were the result of insanity.
Fawn listened without visible reaction. “I see. I can arrange for you to undergo a battery of tests and we’ll see if you are developing a mental illness. I want to run some physical tests as well to see if there could be an organic cause for at least some of your problems.”
After a week of tests, Captain Ochre returned to Sickbay to review the results with Dr Fawn.
“Your tests show high levels of anxiety and stress, but that’s not surprising given that you’re worried. You’ll be relieved to know you have no symptoms of mental illness. Your physical tests all came back first rate. You’re a prime physical specimen, Captain.”
Ochre was relieved but also worried. If he wasn’t imagining or hallucinating or something, then what was causing his nightmares?
“I’ve read about people with complaints similar to yours. You say the dreams you’ve been having on Cloudbase lack the sexual element that was present when you were at the hotel?” Ochre nodded. “Do you know if the Royal Victoria is haunted?”
Ochre was startled. He hadn’t anticipated such a question.
“You mean I might not be sick, just haunted?” He laughed sardonically.
Dr Fawn smiled. “It’s not as bad as it sounds. If you were victimized by a succubus…”
“A what bus?”
“A succubus. A female spirit who, according to legend, has sex with sleeping men and absorbs their strength and vitality. Legends about them go back to ancient times and occur in every culture. This ‘Louise’ could have been one.”
“I didn’t think modern medicine recognized such things as ghosts, Doctor.”
“Most modern doctors haven’t spent time learning from native Australians. They taught me to open my mind and look beyond the immediate world. Since you’re quite sound mentally, the alternative diagnosis your experiences suggest is a haunting.”
“So how can I be cured of a ghost? Does Spectrum have a staff exorcist?”
Both men laughed, then Dr Fawn became serious again. “You’ve left the ghost behind but the experience was harrowing at the time and has left you with post-traumatic stress. That’s why you’re having nightmares now.”
“What about the rest of it? Her telling me about a town I’ve never been to, telling me I’m someone else? Sometimes I even believed I was someone else!”
“I suspect your conscience has been over-stimulated. When you’re on duty, you never stray. And technically, you were on duty 24/7 at that trade conference. You wouldn’t have willingly arranged an affair, so when ‘Louise’ came, the physical sensations triggered dreams in which it was safe to do and experience those things. And you became someone else, too, someone not bound by duty.”
“I’ll admit it was okay the first time and maybe the second. But after that, it was hell.” Ochre grimaced as he recalled the pain and exhaustion he’d been through.
“It might be that your conscience is so strong you couldn’t fool it; even while you were being victimized by the succubus, your conscience punished you for any enjoyment by creating nightmares,” Fawn explained.
“It’s still punishing me.”
“The nightmares’ll fade with time. I can give you a prescription for a mild sedative. It will deepen your sleep so you spend less of the night dreaming. That’s just a temporary measure.”
“Got anything more permanent?” Ochre asked with a weak grin.
“There’s death, but I imagine you want something short of that. Have you heard of lucid dreaming?” Ochre hadn’t. “It’s a therapy course in which you learn to control bad dreams — or good ones for that matter — by becoming aware that you are dreaming.”
Ochre accepted the pamphlet Fawn gave him. “Thanks, doctor. I think that may be just what I need.” But Ochre wasn’t entirely certain. Whether Louise was some kind of thrill-seeking ghost or just a figment of his imagination, why did she have such an elaborate persona and background? And not just about herself but about him? It didn’t add up.
With Halloween approaching, it seemed only natural for the topic of the supernatural in general and ghosts in particular to come up. A surprising number of people had had experiences they wanted to share. Captain Blue, for instance, talked about a malicious ghost he had once encountered during a house party; Captain Scarlet silently noted that Blue diplomatically omitted mentioning that he had been a guest of the Metcalfes at the time. Rhapsody Angel recounted how since childhood she had been able to see — and talk with — an ancient ghost called the “White Lady” in her family’s ancestral house, and other ghosts she had met elsewhere. Even Scarlet told a story about his first year as a cadet at West Point, dwelling in a haunted dormitory.
Most of the storytellers had to report for duty or had other engagements, so the group dwindled until only Captain Scarlet, Captain Ochre, and Rhapsody Angel were left.
“Rick,” said Captain Scarlet, “is something wrong? I mean usually you’d be scoffing at ghost stories, but you’ve been very quiet. I’d swear you’ve even been listening closely,” he added with a smile.
Captain Ochre glanced nervously around the Officers’ Lounge, to see if anyone besides Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel was in earshot. “Last Halloween I would have been laughing. I didn’t believe in ghosts then. But now I’m not so sure what I believe.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Ochre shrugged and smiled sheepishly. “It sounds stupid, even to me. But I had some strange dreams every night while I was staying at a hotel in London. Dreams about a woman called Louise. She knew my name, kept calling to me and coming to me while I slept. We, uh, were intimate almost every night.” Ochre glanced over apologetically at Rhapsody and saw that she was studying him closely. He felt his face grow hot and looked away quickly.” He summarized what had happened to him, what Louise had done to him. “Sometimes, I keep thinking I hear her calling me in my sleep.”
“When did that last happen?” asked Scarlet.
“A few days ago,” replied Ochre with a vague gesture, “but the nightmares’re tapering off, especially since I started learning how to dream lucidly. It’s amazing, really, being able to recognise something is just a dream and then make the story turn out the way you want it to. Dr Fawn was a genius to suggest it.”
Rhapsody was still studying Ochre as she changed the subject. “Melody said that you’ve been sort of avoiding her since you came back from London. She’s been wondering if she said or did something to upset you?”
“No, of course not. I’ve just had a lot of other things to do. That reminds me. I promised to meet Brad for dinner. And I’m late!” he exclaimed after a glance at his watch.
Rhapsody frowned as she watched him go.
The United States Embassy in London was planning for a reception for an unnamed Very Important Person who would be acting as the lead mediator in vital peace talks among several warring African nations. Colonel White had agreed that once her identity was known, she could become a prime target of the Mysterons, perhaps at the embassy itself. Anticipating the threat meant that, on this occasion, Spectrum could be a step ahead. And, Colonel White had explained to the two agents he had selected for the assignment, it showed that the national governments were taking the Mysteron threat and Spectrum more seriously than they once had. If Spectrum denied a request for assistance with security arrangements until after a threat had been made, when it was sometimes too late to take effective action, the organisation’s reputation would suffer.
Captain Scarlet and Captain Ochre met on the hangar deck and waited for the deck hands to release an SPJ to them.
“Rick, are you sure you should be going on this mission?”
“Why shouldn’t I be?”
“Those dreams you talked about last week. Mightn’t a return to London trigger them again?”
Captain Ochre angrily threw his flight bag to the deck. “Look, Paul, if I thought I was going to have any problems with returning to London so soon, I’d have begged off, gotten Dr Fawn to give me a medical excuse or something. But I don’t and I didn’t. I’m fine, all right?”
Captain Scarlet shrugged. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that Ochre should not return to London.
Captains Scarlet and Ochre were welcomed to the American embassy, and offered quarters to use during their week-long stay, so that they could become as familiar as possible with the complex.
The first day had been predictably busy, Ochre reflected, while preparing for bed. But it had been very productive; he had already formed some opinions about the embassy’s security weaknesses. Reminding himself to compare notes with Captain Scarlet in the morning, Ochre fell asleep.
Richard! You promised!
Oh God, no. Ochre dreamt that he could hear Louise calling him, that he could feel her need for him. She’s only a few miles away. I could be there in minutes. He woke abruptly, gasping for air, his heart racing. It was a dream. I can control my dreams, he reminded himself. I’ve certainly practised enough. If it happens again, I’ll concentrate on making it someone else’s voice, make myself dream of me and Melody. He smiled at that.
When he fell asleep again, the dream returned. Before he could take control of it, he was engulfed in memories of a 19th-century life. Of being china importer Richard Fraser, faithless lover of a girl named Louise . . . .
The first few days of the assignment had gone well, although Captain Scarlet suspected something was not right with Captain Ochre. He was unusually brusque and critical, although not quite to the point of offensiveness. It was fortunate that the embassy staff, being Americans like Ochre, took Ochre’s attitude and comments as professional observations, nothing more. Only Scarlet knew that Ochre was not his usual laid-back, fun-loving self off-duty, but remained surly. He had asked Ochre if he was having any problems sleeping and been curtly told off.
By the evening of the fifth day, Captain Ochre had become noticeably restless and irritable. Captain Scarlet finally lost patience with him when the American balked at dressing for dinner, complaining about how much he despised wearing his dress uniform, figuring out the forks, and so on. Scarlet sharply called his fellow agent to order, demanding to know why he was behaving so unlike his usual self. An argument ensued.
“This is just too much for me,” snarled Captain Ochre. “I’m going out for a walk. I’ll be back late.” He seized his coat and stormed out.
Since Ochre’s departure would have been recorded by the embassy’s gatekeeper, Scarlet gave out that Ochre had been called to Spectrum’s London headquarters on urgent business. It was a story strong enough to excuse Ochre’s continued absence through the next two days.
He had alerted Colonel White when Captain Ochre had not returned to the embassy by the morning after he left. Spectrum’s London agents had begun searching for him. But as yet there was no trace of the missing man.
Captain Scarlet alone completed the preliminary security arrangements and returned to Cloudbase.
“Here’s your key, Mr Fraser. I hope you’ll enjoy your stay with us. We’ll inform you when your luggage arrives. I do hope the airline will find it soon.”
Captain Ochre nodded and headed for the lifts, waiting impatiently for the car doors to open and carry him back to the familiar corridor leading to room 5. To Louise.
Ochre had not returned to the embassy. He had not contacted Cloudbase or responded to attempts to contact him. Ninety-six hours passed without word from him. A rumour began that Ochre had been victimised by the Mysterons.
Captain Scarlet was in the Control Room, standing watch while Colonel White was off-duty. He and Captain Magenta were discussing an assignment when an urgent report came in.
Lieutenant Green turned to Captain Scarlet. “Sir, Spectrum London reports that Captain Ochre has been located. He used a personal credit card four days ago, but the hotel mislaid the receipt and didn’t submit it to the bank until this morning. Captain Ochre’s registered under his own name, Richard Fraser, at the Royal Victoria Hotel, suite 180.”
Captain Magenta gasped. “That the one we stayed at during the trade conference a couple months ago. Ochre started acting a bit funny while we were there.”
Scarlet nodded his acknowledgment. He remembered that just before Halloween Ochre had told him and Rhapsody Angel about having strange experiences in a London hotel. Scarlet felt a sense of foreboding.
“Sir, London wants to know if they should send agents to arrest Captain Ochre,” said Lieutenant Green.
Captain Scarlet made a decision. “No. Have them observe the Royal Victoria and watch for him to leave. If he does, they can arrest him then. But they are not to enter the hotel.”
“Lieutenant, contact the Royal Victoria and find out everything you can about the it, especially any peculiar stories or incidents associated with it. Don’t dismiss anything, however strange. And follow up on anything that looks interesting.”
“Yes, sir.” It was a puzzling assignment but Lieutenant Green went to work. He was still working when Colonel White arrived for duty. Captain Scarlet informed the commander that Captain Ochre had been located.
“Good. Have our London agents taken him into custody yet?”
“No sir. I ordered them not to unless he tries to leave the hotel.”
Colonel White raised an eyebrow. “Explain yourself, Captain Scarlet.”
“I can’t just yet, sir. Not fully. But I’m certain Captain Ochre can’t leave the Royal Victoria without help.”
The Colonel frowned. “You’re being unnecessarily mysterious, Captain.”
“I’m sorry, sir. Lieutenant Green is preparing a report that I believe will shed some light on Captain Ochre’s actions. If my suspicions are correct, I’ll be able to explain. But not yet.”
At the end of an hour, Lieutenant Green was ready to report his findings to Colonel White and Captain Scarlet. “Sir, I believe I’ve found a possible connection between the Royal Victoria’s history and Captain Ochre. My contact at the hotel told me it used to be haunted, apparently by a woman who committed suicide in the 19th century.” Lieutenant Green capsulised Louise’s story, adding, “Her lover was an American, and his name was Richard Fraser.”
Colonel White had been listening impatiently but leaned forward when he heard that. “Just like Captain Ochre! But it’s not exactly an unusual name.”
“That’s true, sir. But I pulled up information on Captain Ochre’s family tree; it includes a Richard Fraser who lived from the mid-19th to the early-20th centuries. He made a fortune importing English china to the United States, which means he probably would have travelled in England. I found a photograph of him as well. Captain Ochre and his ancestor don’t look exactly alike but there’s a family resemblance.”
Colonel White mulled over the information. “Even if Captain Ochre’s ancestor was the dead girl’s lover, and we don’t know if that’s true, I still don’t see why this information is significant. Are you ready to explain it, Scarlet?”
“Yes, sir,” said Captain Scarlet. “But I’d like Dr Fawn to join us. He was seeing Captain Ochre regularly before his disappearance.”
Normally, Dr Fawn would have been unwilling to discuss a patient’s history, but after Captain Scarlet explained the circumstances and what Lieutenant Green had discovered, Fawn agreed that disclosure was necessary for Ochre’s well-being. He told Colonel White about the nightmares and difficulty sleeping Ochre had complained of since his last assignment in London, when he and Captain Magenta had stayed at the Royal Victoria.
“At first I thought it was temporary, a product of stress. The ECG showed a disturbance in his normal brain patterns; there was stress, but something else, too, something I’ve never seen before. It didn’t match any known form of insanity, so I diagnosed stress and recommended training in lucid dreaming. Ochre’s worked very hard to master the techniques and we thought he’d succeeded. But I wasn’t satisfied with my diagnosis, I kept reviewing that inexplicable element in Ochre’s ECG. I’ve ruled out every cause but one. Colonel, as strange as it sounds, I believe Ochre is a victim of something supernatural.”
Colonel White’s voice was icy. “Something supernatural. A ghost?”
The doctor was unshaken. “Yes, sir. I’m certain of it.”
“Captain Ochre told me and Rhapsody Angel about what happened to him at the Royal Victoria because Rhapsody and I have both had experience dealing with such things, Colonel,” Captain Scarlet broke in. “He knew we’d understand. She and I and the doctor can help Captain Ochre deal with whatever is troubling him now. Right now, he needs people he knows and trusts, not unfamiliar security guards.”
The commanding officer considered the situation. It was preposterous, yet . . . whether Captain Ochre had deserted for some rational reason, was mentally ill, or even haunted, it would likely be easier for Captain Scarlet, Rhapsody Angel, and Doctor Fawn to bring him back than anyone else.
“Very well then.”
Captain Scarlet rushed off to inform Rhapsody Angel that they were going to London and why. Dr Fawn returned to Sickbay to assemble the tools and supplies he anticipated might be needed. Once on board the SPJ to London, he would learn everything his fellow agents already knew about Captain Ochre’s situation, about Louise, and fill them him on any details only he knew. He didn’t doubt they were going to confront something supernatural. But exactly what it was and how they were going to overcome it, he didn’t know. He hoped that Scarlet and Rhapsody had some ideas.
When he arrived in the suite, Captain Ochre experienced a mixture of emotions — guilt, anticipation, and fear all warred within him. But he had to end this unnatural relationship with Louise. He’d never be able to rest until he did.
As soon as Ochre slept, he found Louise waiting for him. She had lost much of the vitality she had had when he had left. And she had also lost her sweet, conciliatory nature. She was very angry, angry at him for abandoning her again. What would stop him from leaving her again? What would stop the glowing door from claiming her at last? she demanded.
Ochre told her he could not be her guardian forever. He could not promise to stay or to return. He had duties elsewhere. He told Louise bluntly to let him go.
Louise swore that this time she would not let him leave. When she was with him in bed, he was never eager to leave her, never even spoke of leaving. She would keep him there until he realised he was meant to be with her. For always.
The three Spectrum agents approached suite 180 cautiously. They listened before Captain Scarlet slid the hotel’s master card-key into the lock then tried the door handle. It opened easily; the deadbolts had not been thrown. No sound came from the sitting room, which a quick search confirmed was empty. The door to the bedroom was shut. Again, they listened, holding their breaths so they wouldn’t miss even a faint sound. They heard someone, possibly a man, speak indistinctly. It sounded like he was pleading.
“Captain Ochre?” whispered Rhapsody Angel.
Captain Scarlet shook his head slightly, indicating uncertainty. He didn’t know who else it might be, but the voice was not clear. Then he froze, as did the Angel. They both heard a woman’s voice saying something in reply to another plea from the man, followed by a deep groan. This time, they all recognized the man’s voice: Captain Ochre. Cautiously, Scarlet tried the door and inched it open.
The heavy curtains had been drawn over the windows, but some light still seeped around them. As their eyes adjusted, the trio could see someone lying on his back in the bed. He groaned again, a sound of intense suffering. They saw no one else in the room.
“He needs my help,” declared Fawn, nodding at the man in the bed.
“That woman we heard might be hiding under the bed. Watch yourself,” said Scarlet.
Dr Fawn had not heard a woman, but approached the bedside cautiously. When he reached toward his patient, he found himself engulfed in a sheet of light. The sensation was not quite painful; more of a tingling. But he could not see or hear or feel or even think. There was nothing but the light and the tingling.
Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel watched in horror as Dr Fawn convulsed and staggered backwards. His medical bag flew out of his hand and burst open when it hit the wall, spilling medicines and instruments across the floor.
When the sheet of light faded, Fawn found himself lying flat on the floor with no memory of falling. Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel were bending over him, their expressions concerned.
“I’m all right,” Fawn mumbled, not really sure he was telling the truth. “What happened? Did you see what hit me?”
“Not yet,” replied Rhapsody, “but I will directly. As for what happened, I think we interrupted something.” She closed her eyes and summoned her inner eye, the power of second Sight, just as her grandmother had taught her. When she opened them again, she looked at the man in the bed. He was no longer lying alone. There was a woman with him, apparently wholly occupied with her lover. Rhapsody had no doubt that she was a ghost, visible only to those with the Sight. “I see the woman now,” she whispered to Scarlet. “She must be Louise. I’m going to call her.”
Rhapsody got to her feet as Louise rose from the bed and stretched luxuriously. She looked as solid as a living woman but for a radiance that made her appear unworldly. As she reached out to her lover, Rhapsody looked at Ochre with her Sight. His own spirit was beginning to separate from his body, though it was still connected by a thin silver cord. Rhapsody knew that if that cord was broken, Ochre would be lost.
“Louise!” she called softly. “Louise, can you hear me? Can you see me?”
Distracted, the ghost turned and glared at the new intruder. “Who are you? Why are you here?” she growled.
“Louise, my name is Rhapsody. I’m an Angel. I’ve come to guide you away from here.” She kept her voice kind and gentle, but her concern for Ochre was growing. Beside the ghost, a mist was growing, apparently trying to coalesce into a solid form.
“Guide me? Guide me?” repeated the ghost. “But I’m not lost!”
“How long have you been here, Louise? In this room, this hotel?”
Louise thought for a long moment. “I was here with Richard for eight months. Then I was here alone for what seemed a long time. A very long time.”
By asking leading questions, Rhapsody encouraged the ghost to describe the many changes she’d seen in the hotel. She tried to make Louise see that the changes in fashion, the redecoration of her rooms, and the lack of people were signs that decades had passed, but the ghost became confused. “That isn’t possible. I’d have to be an old lady. I’m only seventeen.”
Rhapsody decided to try another tack. “You’ve been alone here because Richard left you, haven’t you?” When the ghost reluctantly answered in the affirmative, Rhapsody asked, “What did you do the first time when you realised he wasn’t coming back?”
Louise looked nonplussed. “I . . . I . . . cried. I was scared. When my head started to ache, I . . . drank some medicine. Then I fell asleep. I felt better when I woke up.”
“You never woke up, Louise. You took too much medicine and it killed you. Do you understand? You died almost two centuries ago. You’re a ghost now.” Rhapsody spoke as gently and reasonably as possible to cushion the shock.
“That’s a lie!” shrieked the ghost. “A lie!” Beside her, the mist was taking on a distinct — and recognizable — form.
Dr Fawn was sitting up on his own, though leaning against the wall. He was watching Rhapsody curiously, aware that she was communicating with some entity, but unable to see or hear anything of it for himself. Captain Scarlet, on the other hand, could. His Sight was not as keen as Rhapsody’s, but he was far more experienced in reading opponents and anticipating their next move. He got to his feet and slowly moved nearer to Rhapsody. His training and instinct both told him things were not going well.
“It’s the 21st century now,” the Angel persisted. “That glowing door you’ve seen is the gateway to the next world, where your loved ones are waiting for you. You don’t have to be afraid.”
Louise didn’t reply. She looked confused and panicky. Rhapsody inhaled sharply as Captain Ochre’s ghost materialized beside Louise. A silver tendril stretched from the ghost to his motionless body. “Louise,” he whispered, his voice an echoing parody of normality. “My love.”
“Louise, listen to me. I’m an Angel,” Rhapsody repeated urgently. “I’m here to guide you away from the hotel, Louise. To Heaven.”
“NO!” screamed Louise, linking arms with Ochre. “You’re not! You’re Richard’s wife, trying to trick me. He’s left you and come back to me. I’ve won! He’s mine now. I have him. And I won’t give him up!”
As she shrieked the last few words, Louise flung up her free hand and pointed it at Rhapsody. For a moment, both ghosts flared with energy, then a bolt of pure white light shot from the woman’s fingertips.
Captain Scarlet reacted. There was no time for a warning; he simply threw himself sideways, knocking the Angel out of the way, and took the full force of the psychic blast with his own body. It lifted him off his feet and smashed him against the wall, breaking a light fixture before he fell heavily to the floor.
When he regained his senses, Captain Scarlet found that his Sight was still functioning. He could see Captain Ochre standing beside Louise but both now appeared to be as solid as living people, albeit dressed in antique fashions. Ochre had eyes for nothing but the girl, whom he held close to him. The two of them were moving towards the door. Scarlet quickly got to his feet to block their exit.
Visibly surprised, Louise tried to ward him off, but her hand flapped ineffectively. Perhaps, thought Scarlet, she had no reserve energy to draw on. She had wasted it all trying to stop Fawn and Rhapsody.
Louise shrank against her lover. “Richard, protect me from him! He means to hurt me!”
Captain Ochre had seemed dazed, oblivious to everything around him except for Louise. For the first time he noticed Captain Scarlet. “Paul?” He blinked. “Paul?” He pointed to something behind the British captain, who turned to look.
Dr Fawn and Rhapsody were bent over his body. It’s neck was tilted at an unnatural angle, but otherwise his body was unmarked. His facial expression was one of wide-eyed surprise. Captain Scarlet had no memory of pain. He usually didn’t. But he also couldn’t recall standing over his own dead body, not since his first death, when he had been replaced with a Mysteron replicant. He felt curiously detached from it. And now he noticed something seemed to be pulling him, a sensation he’d experienced once before.
“Paul, why can I see two of you?”
“Come, Richard, we must leave!” said Louise, tugging urgently on Captain Ochre’s sleeve.
Dianne — She looked up at him and he signalled her to remain silent. He would see the mission through to its end. “Ochre — Rick! You can see two of me because I’m dead. That’s my body there. I’m a ghost. Just like Louise. And like you.”
Louise raised her hand to stifle her horrified gasp. Ochre stared open-mouthed. “I’ve died?” he finally asked, a slight quaver in his voice. “How?”
Scarlet glanced at the bed again. “I’m not sure. But it has something to do with Louise.” He studied both Ochres, ghost and flesh. “I think you’ve still got a chance, Rick. I don’t think you’re quite dead. But you will be if I don’t take Louise away.”
Ochre stared at his motionless body. He tried to take a few steps towards it, but Louise held him back.
“Richard! Don’t listen to him! Please! Stay with me!” she pleaded.
“Louise,” said Scarlet sharply, forcing her to look at him instead of her lover. “The Angel told you the truth. You died almost two centuries ago. This man is not the Richard Fraser you knew. He’s a descendant.”
Captain Scarlet felt the strange pull intensifying. He didn’t really want to respond to it, but it was the only way Captain Ochre might be saved. “We have to go now,” said Scarlet, taking Louise by the arm. “You know we do. Rick, you shouldn’t come.”
“Richard,” the girl whimpered pitifully as she tightened her grip on Ochre’s arm. “Don’t. Please.”
Captain Ochre did not respond. Instead, he looked back at the ghost and body of Captain Scarlet, then stared once more at his own unmoving body. He made his decision. “I know the way, Paul. Back to where I found Louise. It’s the right thing to do. Even if it means I have to stay there, too.”
“Let’s go, then.”
The men ignored the woman’s screams as they half-dragged, half-carried her through the doorway.
From where she knelt beside Captain Scarlet’s lifeless body, Rhapsody Angel had watched and listened, her hands pressed over her mouth to keep any sound from escaping.
“They’re leaving,” she finally whispered.
“All of them. Louise and . . .” Rhapsody blinked back tears. “And Paul . . . He’s really . . . gone.”
The Angel looked at Ochre through her inner eye. There was still a thin silver strand stretching from his body and through the doorway. “He’s gone with them in spirit, doctor,” she said. “But his soul is still tethered. He isn’t quite dead.”
“Then we still have a chance to bring him back.” The doctor rushed to Ochre’s side. The captain’s skin was cold, clammy, and ashen, all clear signs of shock. “He’s stopped breathing.” Fawn pressed his fingers against Ochre’s throat. “His pulse is fading. Damn it!” the doctor swore. “I’m losing him! Rhapsody, come here and breathe for him!” He pulled the covers off the unconscious man’s naked body.
Rhapsody rose slowly from the floor, reluctant to leave Captain Scarlet.
“He’ll come back eventually, Rhapsody. He always does,” snapped Fawn. “But Captain Ochre won’t unless we bring him back now. We’re his only chance.”
Rhapsody nodded and crept across the sprawling bed as Fawn began CPR. The Angel pressed her mouth to Ochre’s and breathed for him each time the doctor paused in administering chest compressions. Fawn felt for a pulse. Nothing.
“Rhapsody, have we lost him?”
“No. The tether is stretching but it’s still there.”
“It won’t be for much longer if we can’t get a pulse back. Can you do CPR?”
“Yes, Doctor Fawn.”
“Good. I’m going to prepare an injection that might help restart Rick’s heart. Keep up the compressions. You’ll find it easier and more effective if you straddle him. Just do it, mate!” he barked, seeing Rhapsody hesitate. “This is no time to be shy!”
“Do you feel it, too?”
“Yeah, Paul, I do. Funny, I’ve never felt the magnetism pulling me before, just Louise.” Captain Ochre adjusted his grip on the woman’s right arm. Her struggles had diminished; she seemed to be in a state of shock. Or maybe she’d decided just being with Ochre was enough, no matter where they were.
“How far into the maze are we?”
“Maybe halfway. I — ” Ochre stopped moving and clutched his chest as his eyes grew wide with surprise. He opened his mouth as if to say something but drew a deep breath instead. Abruptly, he vanished.
“One, two, three, four, five,” Rhapsody panted as she pressed firmly on Ochre’s bare chest with each count before covering his mouth with hers. “One, two . . . ”
Ochre suddenly drew a rattling breath and opened his eyes. He blinked uncertainly several times then focussed on the woman sitting astride him, her hands now resting on his stomach. His face twisted with surprise and distress.
“Dianne?” he whispered. Ochre raised an arm in a feeble warding gesture. “Dianne, please stop. Leave me alone. I want to wake up.”
He sobbed weakly as
he drew another breath and closed his eyes tightly, squeezing out the tears
that ran freely down his face and into the pillow. ŕ
When Captain Ochre disappeared, the door behind Captain Scarlet and Louise slammed shut. They could hear doors slamming in sequence more and more faintly. No silver cord held them open this time. There was no going back. But another door had opened in front of them. Captain Scarlet could feel the magnetic pull beyond it and started forward, tugging Louise along with him.
The woman screeched and brought her free arm around to scratch Scarlet’s face. She kicked and bit while she punched him. Locked in combat, they spun about the room, upsetting the few furnishings and ornaments it contained. When he managed to get both of her arms securely locked behind her, Louise continued crying and fighting like a tigress to break free. Scarlet ignored her cries and forced her through the next open doorway, and the next and the next, on and on, until they reached the room of the glowing door. It was no longer shut.
The door was barely cracked open but rays of light blinded the couple who stood transfixed. Louise stopped struggling to escape; instead she clung to Captain Scarlet and whimpered in terror as the door swung wide open. Scarlet was finding the lure irresistible. And somehow he knew that Louise had to go through that door, that she belonged on the other side. As he did. He took a step towards the door; Louise immediately collapsed.
“Get up,” Scarlet ordered.
“No. No, I’m not going in there! Let me go back! I’m afraid!” Louise looked up into her countryman’s face, her eyes huge and swimming with tears. She seemed more like a defenceless child than a very young woman.
Had she also appealed to Captain Ochre’s sense of chivalry? Scarlet wondered. He found himself wanting to rescue her, to take her back. But more, he wanted to walk through the glowing doorway, to walk into the light. And he had to take Louise. So she could never harm Rick — or anyone else — ever again.
He wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her to her feet. She beamed at him, certain that they were going to leave the room. So when he instead dragged her forward, she was not prepared to resist. Too late, she resumed her struggles. When they stepped through the door, it closed behind them.
Captain Scarlet released Louise, who stopped crying and screaming, and gazed about in wonder. It was warm, and there was soft but indescribably uplifting music playing. The light that surrounded them now was not steady; it moved and swam about them like a playful school of fish. There were people in the light, visible only as tall, distorted silhouettes. Their faces were obscured, but although they stood in silence there was nothing menacing about them. One silhouette began to shrink as a woman dressed in late 19th-century costume stepped forward, her hands held out before her in a welcoming gesture.
“We’ve waited a long time for you, my darling child,” she said.
“Mama?” said Louise in a small voice. “Oh, Mama! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! So much has happened to me since I left home! I’ve been so lonely!” She began to cry softly.
The woman’s countenance was gentle, her smile sad. “My poor dear! I know you’ve suffered. You will never be lonely again. I promise.” The two women embraced, the mother stroking her daughter’s hair, and making soft shushing noises to calm the girl. “Come now: your father is waiting.” The pair slowly disappeared behind a curtain of light. Louise did not look back once, but she radiated an aura of contentment and of peace.
Scarlet watched her go, then sighed, feeling that something wrong had finally been put right. But all around him now, voices were murmuring; they sounded concerned. Something was still unsettled.
Startled to hear a clear voice address him from behind, Captain Scarlet turned and stepped back at the same time, automatically shifting to a fighting stance.
The man who stepped out of the light before him smiled. “Your reflexes are as good as ever, I see.”
Scarlet felt astonishment. The man was familiar, very familiar, but Scarlet did not recognise him. Nonetheless, sensing no hostility, he dropped the fighting posture.
“You don’t quite remember me. Well, it doesn’t matter. I remember you, and I know what happened after I left.” The man’s smile broadened then faded. “Paul, you don’t have to stay here. You can go back.” Captain Scarlet looked in the direction that the man pointed. “The door didn’t shut tight. You can still go back.”
Captain Scarlet was puzzled. Why would he want to leave? He felt at peace here, as if he’d been relieved of a heavy burden he’d been carrying for much too long.
“I know,” the other said, as if he could hear Scarlet’s innermost thoughts. “But you’re still needed back there. Go. You’ve got work to do.” He put a hand firmly against Scarlet’s chest and began propelling him backwards towards the doorway.
“There may be another time for you to come here, Paul. But this time, go back if you can find the way. Reflect on your choices from time to time. Do you understand? Reflect and choose your path carefully. Or you may eventually have nowhere to go.”
With one strong thrust, the man forced Captain Scarlet to stagger back. The door shut. The glow disappeared. Scarlet was left standing alone in a cold and dark room.
More than twenty-four hours had passed since Captain Scarlet’s body had been brought to Cloudbase from London. Dr Fawn was growing increasingly concerned. Scarlet had died after being struck by a powerful blast of psychic energy. Could it have had the same effect as a high-voltage electric shock?
There was only one way to find out. He collected tissue samples from the body and examined the cells to see if they showed the disruption found in the cells of electrocuted mysteronised humans. They did not.
Yet Scarlet had not revived or shown signs of reviving. His body was undergoing changes, but not those indicative of an active retrometabolism. Rigour mortis had set in and lividity was occurring. Neither had ever happened before.
Despite the absence of cellular disruption, Fawn could not overlook the unmistakable signs. He had to pronounce Captain Scarlet truly dead.
The darkness was not absolute. When his eyes adjusted, Captain Scarlet could make out large shapes, including the doors in the walls. He stood back and looked at the doors. Besides the one he had just passed through, there were three others to choose among. He hadn’t had time to look around while dragging Louise through the rooms. Nor had he been concerned about which door to choose. He hadn’t even noticed that there had been more than one. He had simply felt the right way to go, and the doors had opened or been standing open. Now, confronted with choices, he wasn’t sure what to do. What was it the man had said? To reflect on his choices.
Reflect. There was a mirror in this room. It looked to be dark with age but still had some silver backing. Scarlet looked at it wryly. Only a fairy-tale mirror would show him anything worthwhile. What should he do, approach it and say “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, show the path that’s right for Paul?
Even as he sardonically said the words in his mind, Scarlet noted that the mirror showed only himself and the room he was in. Or not quite. It showed the room and a moving figure dressed in red walking up to a door and leaving. The door was carved with oak leaves.
In the dim light, Scarlet could not immediately see if any of the doors were carven so he touched each one and felt for a pattern with his fingers. Ah, this was it! He traced an acorn and the distinctive serrated edges of oak leaves. He opened the door and crossed into the next room.
This room also had doors in four of its six walls. And there were four mirrors to look into. Each one showed him choosing a different door. And then a glimpse of the eventual consequences of each choice. In one, he continued to wander from room to room, apparently hopelessly lost. Scarlet immediately rejected the door the mirror had shown him. Another showed him emerging from the maze and into his uninterrupted career with the World Army Air Force. The third showed him with Rhapsody, neither of them in Spectrum uniforms. The last lead him back to the glowing door. He considered his options, and chose the third door.
Every room offered choices, sometimes many, sometimes only a few. The mirrors showed the way to many possible presents and many possible futures. Several times, he saw himself in his Spectrum uniform, hideously wounded, sometimes dead, sometimes not. Other mirrors showed him living a more peaceful life as a successful businessman, a WAAF general, a husband and father. In every one of those, he was human. He had never joined Spectrum, never encountered the Mysterons, never been cursed with near-immortality.
He considered each choice carefully. Not every door had a mirror; he had no clue what those doors might lead to. But sometimes, he rejected all the choices shown by the mirrors and chose a door leading to an unknown outcome. And after a long time, his choices narrowed to a few. Yet each one was a matter of life and death. Or, possibly, an eternity in limbo.
Acting on Dr Fawn’s advice, Colonel White had arranged for news of Captain Scarlet’s death to be quietly diffused through Cloudbase. Captain Ochre, recovering in Sickbay from his near-fatal encounter with the same force that had killed Scarlet, had not been told. He would not be told until he had regained sufficient strength and health. Both physical and mental.
Captain Ochre lay fretting in his private room. He didn’t like being alone. It was when he was alone and in bed that Louise came. But Dr Fawn said, and Ochre had reluctantly admitted, that he was too sick to have many visitors. His physical ills were responding rapidly; he’d been re-hydrated, carefully fed, and chemically blessed with dreamless, healing sleep. But the psychological wounds went much deeper. The first time a female nurse had tried to attend him, shortly after he’d arrived, Ochre had become hysterical. His screams had brought half of Sickbay running to his aid. He’d improved over the last two days; he could just tolerate a woman’s presence, at least briefly, if she was accompanied by men. But he could not stand to be touched by a woman.
Ochre was bored. He found it too taxing, mentally and physically, to concentrate on a book or magazine. He tried looking at banal programmes on the televiewer, but they made him drowsy, and he was still resisting falling asleep naturally. He was grateful when Captain Magenta came to visit.
After some small talk, Ochre recalled that he had not seen Captain Scarlet since returning to Cloudbase. “The last time I saw him, we were in the maze with Louise. Next thing I knew, I woke up in bed. Is he all right?”
“Dr Fawn’s limited your visitors, Rick. He doesn’t want you getting too tired or upset or excited.”
Ochre sighed. “Yeah, I know. But I wish Scarlet would come by anyway. I have to know what happened to Louise.” He shuddered violently and Magenta saw the fear in the back of his eyes.
No one except Captain Scarlet knew, thought Magenta. And Captain Scarlet was dead. “I’d better go, Rick. Fawn’s wants all visits kept short. He’s threatening to bar any visitor who stays too long. But I’ll see you again soon.”
“Sure thing, Pat. If you run into Captain Scarlet, ask him to drop in, OK? I have to know.” Captain Ochre’s eyes glittered and his tone was urgent.
Magenta hesitated. “Yeah, sure, I’ll do that.”
As arranged, he met Melody Angel near the Amber Room and gave her what news he could about Ochre’s condition. “He seems to be recovering well,” Magenta said cautiously.
“Good. Maybe I can finally get in to see him.”
After her shift in the Amber Room ended, Melody went to Sickbay. She became quite angry with the duty nurse who refused to tell her where Captain Ochre’s room was and would not explain why. True it was late, but the nurse insisted that if she was going to visit Ochre she would have to clear it with Dr Fawn first and also have male escorts. Dr Fawn was off-duty and the night staff was too busy to supervise a visit with Ochre. It would have to wait. Melody felt she had never heard such nonsense, but before she could explode, another nurse came in seeking help with a laboratory accident. The duty nurse repeated that Melody could not visit Ochre until tomorrow at the soonest and then rushed away to deal with the emergency.
Melody was tired of being put off. She’d already asked to see Ochre a half dozen times over the last four days and been given a similar ridiculous excuse each time. There was no good reason in the late 21st century to require a woman to have a male escort. She seized the opportunity to look at the bed-and-room assignments chart, and was on her way to see Ochre before the nurse returned.
Although a light was burning in Captain Ochre’s room, Melody opened the door slowly. He appeared to be dozing.
“Rick? Hey, Rick, you awake?” she called softly.
Ochre sat bolt upright. “Louise?” he shouted in a cracked, fear-filled voice.
“No, it’s me, Maggie,” said Melody. And who the hell is Louise? she wondered.
Ochre stared at her. His heart raced and he broke a sweat. “Hi, Mags,” he managed to get out through clenched teeth. He slowly reached for the nurse-call button.
“I’ve been wanting to visit you but no one would tell me where you were.”
Ochre grunted, a noncommittal sound. He had pushed himself back into the farthest corner of his bed and was now pressed against the wall as far away from Melody as he could get. He pressed the nurse-call button again and again as she approached the bed and leaned against the side rail. No no get away from me get away . . .
“Please, Mags, it’s good to see you but I’d rather be alone, okay?” His voice quavered. “But if you see Captain Scarlet, would you tell him I need to see him? I need to know about Louise. What’s happened to her.” He had begun to tremble and was suppressing the desire to scream at Melody. Don’t hurt me please don’t hurt me get away from me get away get away . . .
“Captain Scarlet? Rick, hasn’t anyone told you?”
Ochre blanched. Bad news always follows something like hasn’t anyone told you. He shook his head.
“He died four days ago in London.”
“Oh. Well, when he recovers, would you ask him to come here?”
Melody began to feel exasperated. “That’s not possible, Rick. Captain Scarlet is dead. Really dead.”
Ochre stared, open-mouthed. His eyes unfocussed for a few seconds. Louise. He swallowed hard before asking, “Did he… did he say anything before he died?” Melody shook her head. “Did he . . .” Ochre drew a deep breath. “Did Scarlet die at the hotel? No. No. You’re lying,” he protested weakly. “You’ve got to be lying, Mags.”
Her stern face told him she wasn’t. Ochre began to shake violently. “NO!” he screamed. “NO!” Melody tried to comfort him but he struck her hands away. “Don’t touch me! Get away from me! Get out! GET OUT!” He buried his face in his hands and sobbed. “I just want to be free.” He kept repeating it like a mantra.
Male attendants came running in and quickly ushered the protesting Melody out. She could still hear Ochre screaming as they hustled her to Dr Fawn’s office. She fumed as she waited for the doctor. Why hadn’t anyone warned her that Ochre wanted to break up with her? Why had there had to be this screaming scene?
When Fawn arrived, Melody’s anger deflated some. She had never seen Dr Fawn angry before. He was absolutely livid with rage. Melody admitted that she’d been refused permission to see Ochre and had taken it on herself to find out where he was. But, she added in her defence, no one had explained why, despite her repeated requests to see him. And certainly no one had said that Captain Ochre hadn’t been told that Captain Scarlet was dead. And, who, she finished indignantly, was Louise? She certainly seemed important to Ochre!
When Fawn allowed Melody to leave Sickbay a long time later, she still didn’t know exactly what had happened to Rick; Dr Fawn had refused to give her any details. But she knew it was something terrible, and it had opened a gulf between them. She had much to think about.
Another door, another room, another set of doors. Which way did the maze turn now? How much further would he have to go? Captain Scarlet wondered. Fewer rooms had had mirrors to guide him, and there were often more doors than mirrors. He had a gift for discerning trends and patterns, even from slender data, so he had thought back on the choices he had made thus far, looked for correlations between them and the doors. He wasn’t sure if he had accurately discerned a vague pattern or if he merely imagined one. This pentagonal room had five doors and no mirrors at all. Only the doors differed in their colours and patterns. Which one should he choose? One door had a brilliantly painted study of a butterfly flying toward a rising sun. Another was covered with living holly. The third showed an inverted and extinguished torch from which real smoke was still rising. The fourth displayed a bird that appeared to be on fire, rising from a nest. The last showed a wreath hanging on a broken column. He walked through the fourth doorway.
He was in a room of steel. Steel floor, steel walls, steel tables covered with unfamiliar steel instruments that reminded him of medieval torture chambers. Even the lamp that hung from the ceiling was plain, stark metal with a bare white bulb. The light cast a bright light but the room was cold. Every surface returned a reflection, albeit distorted, but there were no doors. No choices to make. Nowhere to go. He had reached the end — or perhaps it was the centre — of the maze.
With a sigh, Captain Scarlet lay down on an empty table and waited to see what would happen now.
Dr Fawn waited until the orderly had finished arranging the body on the steel table and left the morgue. Twice before, this man had been brought here to this cold, sterile room. Today would be the last time.
The formalities were complete. They had been unpleasant, as they always were. Rhapsody Angel had taken the news well; she had expected it, because she had not Seen a tether between Captain Scarlet’s body and ghost. Supported by Captain Blue and Symphony Angel, she had formally identified the body, maintaining an admirable composure until after leaving Sickbay. Colonel White would dispatch Captain Blue to visit Scarlet’s parents as soon as the cause of death was determined. There was only this last task for Fawn to do.
“I really never thought I’d see this day.”
“We’ve all known it was a possibility,” his assistant, Nurse Wheat, replied softly. “We know so little about the limits of retrometabolism.”
The doctor said nothing as he studied Captain Scarlet’s face. It was true. Even after more than two years of close study, they didn’t know much more about retrometabolism than when it was first discovered. In London, Fawn had made a choice to save Captain Ochre’s life because he assumed that Captain Scarlet’s retrometabolism would manage without medical intervention. He had recovered from a broken neck before. And without a doubt, Ochre would have died if Dr Fawn and Rhapsody Angel had not helped him. But should Fawn have done something for Scarlet? Why had Scarlet’s retrometabolism failed this time? Could he have been brought back by other means if only Fawn had tried? The doctor sighed. Second-guessing would not clear his conscience nor solve the riddle.
“You could assign another doctor to do the autopsy,” suggested Wheat.
No, thought Fawn. I couldn’t. He was my friend as well as my patient. And this will be the last service I can do for him before saying goodbye.
“Is the tape running?” Fawn waited while his assistant fumbled to turn the video recorder on. In a detached professional monotone, he identified himself and Nurse Wheat, and described the body he was about to autopsy. “A well-nourished formerly retrometabolised Caucasian male, thirty-four years old, about six feet one inch tall . . .” He continued speaking as he picked up the scalpel and made the first incision just below the hollow of the throat. He was almost to the base of the sternum when fresh red blood began welling up along the scalpel’s track.
“Jesus Christ!” Fawn felt the artery in Captain Scarlet’s neck and discovered a steady pulse. “He’s reviving!”
Two weeks had passed. Dr Fawn had called Captain Ochre, Captain Scarlet, and Rhapsody Angel into Sickbay to review and debrief on what had happened at the Royal Victoria Hotel and in room 5.
“The experience had its bright side, you know,” grinned the American. “Like when I woke up to find myself in bed with Rhapsody Angel. It was a dream come true!”
“And only in your dreams from here on, Captain Ochre,” rejoined Rhapsody. “You weren’t all that much fun in bed, you know. I had to do all the work!”
“That’s enough from both of you,” growled Captain Scarlet. “Unless you want Melody to hear all about your nocturnal escapades in London.”
“You wouldn’t!” If Scarlet brought that face to a poker table, thought Ochre, he’d make a fortune.
“Don’t mind him! If he even tries to tell, he knows what I’ll do to him!” With a laugh, Rhapsody reached over and lightly slapped Ochre on the knee.
Ochre turned white and recoiled, thrusting his chair back so hard it nearly tipped over. His face momentarily reflected stark terror, then shame as he saw the astonishment on his friends’ faces. “I’m sorry, Dianne. I was . . . um . . . startled.” His heart was racing and his breath was coming in short gasps. He looked at Dr Fawn, who nodded encouragingly. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, drawing a deep calming breath. “Dianne. I’ve got to tell you the truth. I’m not . . . comfortable around you right now. And not because of Paul. I’m sorry.” Ochre had begun to tremble. His knuckles whitened as he gripped the arms of his chair. He tried to look Rhapsody in the face and could not.
“We’re all friends here, Rick,” said Dr Fawn. “It will be all right. You can tell them. You said so yourself a while ago.”
Ochre swallowed hard and made himself look at the woman next to him. He spoke haltingly at first, then more and more rapidly. “Dianne, you’re a beautiful woman, you know. I admit I’ve dreamed about you. They were good dreams before . . . before London. Before I slept in room 5. Louise haunted my sleep. She controlled my dreams. I went back there because . . . because she was calling me, and because I wanted to confront her and finish with her once and for all. I thought that if I controlled my dreams, everything would work out and I’d be free. But Louise got the drop on me. I kept trying to dream lucidly and when I met Captain Scarlet — or his ghost — I thought I’d succeeded. I believed I was controlling a dream and actively getting rid of Louise. Then I found myself back in bed and you were on top of me and I was terrified. I thought I was still dreaming and that my mind had substituted you for Louise, that you were going to make demands of me I couldn’t satisfy. I just couldn’t take anymore!” Ochre shouted the last few words.
He clenched his teeth and pressed his fist against his mouth as he hunched over and folded his free arm across his midsection. “Louise wasn’t something my mind invented; she was real, I know that now. I’m scared that Louise will return in some form. She —” Ochre coughed. “It’s hard to get the words out.”
“Take your time, Rick,” said Scarlet.
Fawn, Rhapsody, and Scarlet remained silent while Ochre summoned his courage and took a deep breath. “I’m still confused. My body responded to Louise’s, even when I didn’t want it to. I was disgusted with myself; she was a teenager, I’m not attracted to young girls!”
“Louise wasn’t what she appeared to be,” said Fawn.
Ochre nodded but did not raise his eyes. “I never really understood before how it could be possible for a man to be raped by a woman. That my body has a mind of its own, that it can reject my emotions and betray my conscience and make forcible sex possible. Even though I was revolted by Louise because she was so young and so . . . brutal with me.”
Everyone was silent as Ochre fought to control himself. “But I don’t think she knew any other way.” He looked up and tried to smile but could only grimace. His ears and face were deep red. “My ancestor apparently wasn’t a very nice guy.”
“His descendant is. Melody thinks he’s wonderful,” Rhapsody told him.
If possible, Ochre’s flush deepened. “I don’t know how I’m going to explain the way I’ve been behaving to Mags. I haven’t even talked to her for almost three weeks.”
Rhapsody leaned towards him, but not too close, and she kept her arms folded. “I could talk to her, Rick.”
Ochre buried his face in his hands as a memory assaulted his mind. “I appreciate your offer, Dianne, but I don’t think she’ll understand. Louise was clinging to me for support, relying on me to save her, and to stay with her. She got all that by draining my life force so she would be strong enough to resist being dragged into the maze by whatever was in there, and making me too weak to get away from her. I don’t know why she tied it up with sex but I don’t want any woman to touch me now. Not even Mags.”
“Don’t underestimate Melody! She’s been very worried about you. And I think she’ll understand what you’ve been through, better than you know. Will you trust me to talk with her?” Rhapsody pleaded.
Ochre felt his heart lighten as he nodded. Before staying in room 5, he wasn’t sure where things were going with Melody. He still didn’t know, but he was certain he wanted to find out. Maybe Rhapsody could persuade Melody to give him a chance and forgive him for neglecting her. And for screaming at her. He could only hope.
“Paul, I’ve been wanting to say how glad I am to see you alive and well. When Mags told me you were dead, really dead, I realised I hadn’t dreamed you up and it was all my fault. If I’d been stronger or just tried harder to resist Louise, you wouldn’t have come to rescue me and died.”
“You were a victim, too, Rick. You didn’t cause my death, not even indirectly,” said Scarlet. “Anyway, it’s over now.”
“What happened after I left you? Is Louise really gone?” Ochre tried and failed to keep a tremor out of his voice. “She was so terrified of that glowing door.”
“Yes,” stated Scarlet firmly. “Louise is gone. She finally passed through the glowing doorway. So did I.” He leaned back, his eyes unfocussed as he turned his thoughts inward. “It was a strange experience. I came closer to a true and final death than I ever have before. Louise had been resisting her own death for more than a century. But I was drawn to it; I let it pull me in. Then, at the last second, I was forced back by someone. He told me how to find my own way back here.”
“Who? Did you recognise him?” asked Captain Ochre.
Scarlet had given that question a lot of thought since his near-death experience. Who was the man who had saved him? He had looked to be about the same age as himself. It wasn’t his deceased uncle; he would have known him immediately. He couldn’t call to mind any other relatives he had known who had died when they were around his own age. Yet the man had looked so familiar. If the nimbus had been less brilliant, he might have seen his face clearly, not just heard his voice. He had replayed the man’s words, his voice, in his mind for weeks now. Abruptly, it registered. It had been years and his conscious memory had faded. But he remembered. God, yes, he knew who the man was.
Seeing Scarlet’s face light up, Ochre asked again, “Well, who was it? A relative?”
Scarlet shook his head.
“Yes,” Scarlet replied slowly, remembering. “A friend. And more. It was Steve. Captain Brown. My partner who was with me when we were killed by the Mysterons.”
More than a century ago, there had been a cemetery here. But London’s constant demands for building space made neglected plots of land valuable. Few of the people who worked in the shining glass and steel tower knew that 19th-century paupers lay buried in the earth beneath them. Fewer cared.
Captain Ochre and Rhapsody Angel stood on the pavement before the office building. The late spring sunshine appeared fitfully as grey clouds moved lazily across the sky.
“It would have made more sense to go back to the Royal Victoria, I suppose, but . . . I just . . .”
“I know, Rick. Just the thought of going back there makes my skin crawl.”
They stood silently for a while, looking up and down the street, watching the city go about its business.
“I’m sorry about Captain Scarlet — Paul. I wanted him to come with us today.”
“Dr Fawn says he’ll be fine again in a day or so.” Her voice caught as she recalled the circumstances of Captain Scarlet’s latest death and recovery. She had learned not to take his life for granted.
Captain Ochre put his free arm around her shoulders and gave her a quick hug. “That’s good to hear. I owe him my life and my sanity.” The American sighed as he released her. “What was she really, Dianne? A ghost? A vampire?”
“A desperately lonely young woman.” The tone of her voice was certain. “I don’t think she really knew what she was doing to you, only that it seemed to work. The more she . . . used you . . .” Ochre flinched. “ . . . the stronger she became and the more quiescent you became, the less anxious to leave her, because you were slowly dying. All she understood was that you would eventually have to stay with her.”
“Forever.” Ochre shuddered. “He did a terrible thing. My ancestor, I mean. Louise was so young and naďve. She really loved him, you know. And he took advantage of her. All he wanted from her was sex and devotion. Maybe she thought that was the only way to get him back and make him want to stay.” He ran a hand over his face. “I should have gone back to the hotel.”
Ochre waved his hand, indicating the scene around them. “I thought she’d be buried in a nice, quiet country-type churchyard, surrounded by trees and tall grass. Not under a million tons of concrete and steel.” He sighed. “I wanted to tell Louise I’m sorry. That I’m sorry for the rotten things my ancestor said and did to her.” He dropped his voice. “And maybe that I’m sorry I couldn’t be him and make it up to her.”
Gently, Rhapsody laid a hand on his arm and waited until he looked up into her eyes. “Rick, you aren’t to blame for the sins of the past. Besides, Louise isn’t at the hotel anymore. She’s finally free, moved on to something much better, I’m certain.”
“I suppose you’re right. You know more about these things than I do.” He swallowed hard, resisting the urge to throw his arm up or push Rhapsody’s hand away. He’d made great progress against his aversion to touching and being touched, but he still had to fight it sometimes. “Do you really think she’ll be all right now? That she’ll be happy?”
“Yes, I do.”
The Angel saw a glistening in her companion’s eyes. He cleared his throat. “Well, if we’re going to do this, we’d better get on with it.” He began to unwrap the large bundle of fresh lavender he was carrying.
The security desk adamantly refused to accept the flowers, since they were not addressed to a tenant, and refused to allow the flowers to be left inside the building. Disgruntled, the Spectrum agents shortly found themselves on the pavement again.
“Well, what should we do now?” grumbled Ochre.
“The next best thing,” replied Rhapsody. “Make a memorial.” Taking the flowers one by one, she arranged them against the wall to spell out “LOUISE.”
The dark-grey mirrored wall multiplied the soft purple blossoms, so that they appeared to float in more than three dimensions.
“Goodbye, Louise,” Ochre whispered. “Goodbye.” He took Rhapsody’s arm as they walked away to continue their lives.
A breeze stirred the stalks of lavender gently and carried the perfume far away.
The inspiration for Room 5 came from two odd sources.
In Fredericksburg, Texas, USA, there is a furnishings shop called Room 5. At the time I visited, some ten years ago, it was in a narrow building and stretched from front to back, one room after another, then a twist back, like in a hedge maze. The shop was arranged to give visitors the feeling of stepping into the past, into a fine hotel, and wandering in and out of rooms that the guests had only just left (and might return to any second!). The proprietor spun a wistful romantic tale, set in 1920s Paris, about how the shop got its name. I used the romantic aspect as a springboard but restyled it into a tragedy and changed the setting to Victorian London, a much harsher time and place for a discarded mistress.
Another other odd source inspired the setting. The Royal Victoria Hotel is based on a real London hotel that stands by St Pancras Station; it’s name in 1888 was the Midland Grand, and presently it is the St Pancras Chambers. I took a tour through portions of it not so long ago. Having misplaced my pictures, I refreshed my memory of it by viewing the photos at The Unofficial Midland Grand Hotel St Pancras Virtual Tour at and also Photos and Features on the St Pancras, Midland Grand Hotel at . I highly recommend both sites. If the Midland Grand did have a room or suite 5, I have no idea where it was located. And so far as I know, St Pancras Chambers is not haunted. But it ought to be.
One of the ghost experiences mentioned in passing was Captain Blue’s. If you want to know more about it, read Marion Woods’ delightfully chilling Christmas 2002 story “.”
The budding romance between Captain Ochre and Melody Angel is drawn from Chris Bishop’s Halloween 2002 story “.” Thanks for letting me run with it, Chris.
Louise is a wholly fictional, original character. I used case histories to develop her backstory, but she is not based on any real person nor is she a composite. Captains Celadon, Sienna, and Vermillion, and Nurse Wheat are my inventions, not borrowings; if anyone else has created characters with similar names, my apologies for the overlap. Other minor characters (Peter, Splendour, the tour guide, etc.) are also my own.
As always, mega thanks are owed to Chris Bishop for beta-reading a late draft and making many helpful suggestions and corrections. Once again she’s saved me from some really bad howlers.
Although the story is original, it is based on characters created by Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson for the TV series “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons”. The copyright to those characters, series title, vehicles, crafts, etc. is owned by ITC/Polygram. No infringement is intended.
I wish they’d consider hiring fan fic writers.
Tiger Jackson, Halloween 2003