A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons story for Halloween 2006
by Tiger Jackson
Few people ever visited the tiny nation of Molvania. Those who did uniformly pronounced it an anachronism. Although the Bereznik Republic had annexed its territory and declared it a satellite nation, in many ways Molvania changed very little. It accepted the teaching of the Bereznik language and embraced the modern technologies offered to it, but still clung to its old customs and beliefs, and did not actively seek contact with the modern world. Tucked into a pocket among the rugged mountains by the Bereznik border, unreachable by train or air, and without any modern roads leading into it, most travellers who were determined enough to make the days-long journey had to use sturdy ponies and wagons or hike on foot over the treacherous slopes of several mountains before reaching one of the narrow passes high above Molvania.
Those who finished the journey did not find a warm welcome. Strangers were not mistreated, but they were neither encouraged to stay nor to speak of the world beyond their mountains. Yet, from time to time, travellers came.
When he arrived in Trablok, Manfred presented himself as a student of folklore, doing a tour on his summer holiday and intent on visiting every nation in Eastern Europe, however large or small, to collect folklore and local beliefs. Although he’d been warned of Molvanian taciturnity, he found that many villagers were voluble when asked to tell stories, especially of the supernatural.
He was in the village tavern, listening to two storytellers argue about which version of a tale was the true one, when another traveller came in. “Dirk! Come have a drink with me,” called Manfred. “We met briefly at the village hostel yesterday, you’ll remember.” Dirk acknowledged that he did. “I noticed you had mountaineering gear. Are you a climber?” They chatted about mountain-climbing while the villagers’ argument continued unabated.
When the tavern closed, the two men agreed to walk back to the hostel together. “But it’s still early, so let’s stroll the village for a while first, until the beer settles,” suggested Dirk. They wandered along the streets, talking lightly, and eventually paused by the cemetery.
Dirk nodded. “We can speak safely here. No one’s likely to pass by here now. You are my contact?”
Manfred glanced around to assure himself that they could not be overheard before he replied. “I’ve been here for weeks waiting for you. I was beginning to believe the Bereznik Republic does not want the plans after all.”
Dirk glared at him. “If you are losing faith in your employers, perhaps your employment should be terminated.”
Manfred gulped. “I didn’t mean to criticize the Republic! I meant to say, I was wondering if you’d been captured by Spectrum agents.”
“Spectrum? Are they here? Have you seen them?”
“No, but they pursued me all across Europe. I shook them in Serbia and then had another of our agents lay a false trail from there to Finland. Even if Spectrum discovers the deception, they’ll never track me here. Our masters were right to arrange the handoff here in Molvania. It’s the last place anyone would look.”
“Very well then. Do you have the plans with you?”
Manfred shook his head then held up a hand to stop Dirk's angry exclamation. “They’re safely hidden, here in the cemetery in fact. There was a death in the village ten days ago. I learned from my folklore sources that it’s traditional for the living to avoid cemeteries for at least a month after a burial, unless, of course, someone else dies in the meantime. And no one ever enters the graveyard after dark. They’re afraid of meeting ghosts or ghouls or demons. I’d been carrying the packet of plans with me, but it’s so bulky it’s impossible to conceal. I was afraid there would eventually be questions asked. I realised the grave was the safest place to stash the packet, so I attended the funeral.”
Dirk’s face was red as a beet. “So the packet is buried two metres underground?”
“No! No! I volunteered to help cover the coffin, and carefully dropped the packet at the base of the tombstone, then shovelled some dirt over it. It won’t be more than a couple of feet down.”
“And how will you find the right tombstone?” Dirk asked icily.
Manfred smiled and pointed to a stone topped with a massive cross. “It’s hard to miss. All we need is a shovel and a little time, and we’ll both be out of here.” They agreed to meet, separately, late the next night near the grave.
Manfred smoked a cigarette as he waited, thinking longingly of returning to Vienna, where he could enjoy a proper meal in a café, far away from this wretched land and its peasant fare. He heard a man’s steps and smiled. “I was beginning to worry.”
“Hand over the plans.”
The Bereznik spy froze, then turned slowly towards the cultured British voice. His eyes dropped to the gun in the scarlet-clad man’s hand.
Captain Scarlet extended his free hand. “The stolen plans, please.”
The other man demurred momentarily, then thought better of it. “I’ve got them inside my coat. In an inner pocket.”
“Reach for them very carefully.” The Spectrum agent focussed on reading the spy’s body language, expecting him to draw a weapon rather than the packet of stolen plans. He had momentarily forgotten that there were two spies when he heard the rustling of leaves behind him. He jumped to one side, but it was the wrong way. The shovel wielded by man who had surged out of the bush connected solidly with his head. Scarlet fell to the ground and lay on his back, stunned. He saw stars and the shovel descending, then there was only darkness.
“That’s enough! That’s enough!” said Manfred in a harsh whisper. “He’s dead!” He grabbed his companion’s arm as he swung the shovel over his head again. “ENOUGH,” he hissed. “We’ve got to hide the body and then find our way out of this Godforsaken place before any more Spectrum agents come looking for him.”
Dirk lowered the shovel and leaned on it, panting hard. While he recovered, Manfred kept a lookout, on the off chance that someone might come to the graveyard, even though the sun had set. When Dirk got his breath back, he nodded. “Okay. So where should we hide him?”
By now, Manfred had thought of an ideal place. “The grave where the plans are hidden. We can dig the hole a little deeper, throw him in, and cover him up, and no one will ever notice the difference. Even if they do, these peasants are extremely superstitious. They certainly aren’t going to disturb a grave, even if it doesn’t look quite right.”
“Let’s do it then.” He retrieved the shovel and they quickly found the fresh grave. The soil at the base of the tombstone was loose, as Manfred had expected; very loose. For every shovelful taken out, at least half a shovel’s worth slid off the mound and into the hole. The men took turns working, but both were soon soaked in sweat. Manfred cursed. “It would take all night to make this hole much deeper! If that Spectrum agent’s body turns stiff, we’ll never get him in there.” He drove the shovel in deep and groaned as he lifted another load of dirt. “We’d better drag him over here so we can toss him in as soon as the hole’s deep enough.”
Dirk nodded. “I’ll fetch him. You keep digging.” Twilight was long past and the moon had begun its slow rise. The tombstones, many at crazy angles, cast strange shadows on the ground. After his eyes tricked him several times into avoiding nonexistent obstacles, Dirk stepped cautiously. When he reached Captain Scarlet’s body, for the first time he saw the gory mess he’d made of the Spectrum agent’s face. Even in the moonlight, the dark oozing red made his stomach heave, and he turned away, retching. He regained his self-control, steeled his nerve, then pulled off his jacket. Turning to the body again, he threw the jacket over its ruined face, then dragged it feet first to the fresh grave.
Manfred frowned at the jacket. “What if someone traces that to you? Your value as an agent will be finished. You might even be connected with me.”
Dirk shrugged. “You said yourself that no one will find him. Anyway, it’s all bloody now. Somebody in the village is bound to notice that.”
“Right, leave it then. Let’s get this guy buried, quick.”
The two men seized Captain Scarlet’s body and folded him into the hole as best they could. It was several feet deep, but not quite as wide because of the sloping sides created by falling soil. They had to seat the body in it, knees up against the chest, arms over the ruined face, its head lolling forward and resting on the knees. The moon was setting by the time they finished filling the hole. Dawn wouldn’t touch the valley nation for a few hours yet, but the men had learned that in Molvania, morning chores began in the darkness.
They were almost back to the hostel when Dirk pulled up short. “We’ve got to go back,” he hissed. “We didn’t clean up that guy’s blood. Somebody sees that, they’ll know there’s been trouble.”
“Dirk, I’ve been listening to these peasants spew nonsense for days. I told you what they think about graveyards. What are the odds that someone will die in the next few weeks?” He looked up at the sky and smiled at the gathering clouds. “Besides, it looks like nature is going to give us some help.”
The other man looked at the sky and sniffed. “It won’t start raining until much later today, if at all. Maybe in a few days. Look, let’s at least strew some dead leaves and grass around. They’ll stick to the blood until rain washes it away.”
His companion protested, then, after reconsidering, grudgingly agreed, and they hurried back to the scene of the murder.
“Christ, it’s a good thing we did come back!”
Lying on the grass, plainly visible, was a bright red cap. Dirk hurriedly shoved it beneath his shirt while Manfred kicked old leaves over any dark patches he could find. It cost them another precious half hour, but they were both satisfied by the results.
They made it back to the hostel without incident and, as far as they could tell, without being seen. Exhausted but nervous, neither man slept more than a few hours. They packed their rucksacks and checked out of the hostel.
The Molvanians were not sorry to bid their visitors goodbye. Saying they were afraid of the rains that threatened to keep them in the valley longer than they’d planned and that the mountaineer could guide the other man out of the valley, they took their leave and headed for the northern pass towards the Bereznik Republic.
It would be summer before a hiker discovered Manfred’s remains.
Something stirred in the graveyard.
Captain Scarlet slowly awoke. He remembered what had happened. Damn. They got the drop on me. He was surrounded by something, something yielding yet firm, and holding him down, pressing down on his head and neck. He couldn’t see and could barely breathe through the cloth over his face. He could tell his radio cap was unfortunately gone, so he had no way to call for help. I’m a prisoner and on my own. Hardly the first time. He tried to move, tried harder, managed to move his hands a tiny bit, felt the slithering something caressing them. It was getting hard to breathe. His lungs burned, then screamed for air. He tried to shout but he had no breath to spare. His heart raced, and behind his closed eyes, the darkness turned to red then to black again.
Something stirred in the graveyard.
Again Captain Scarlet awoke, still held tight in the embrace of a thick, cold shell. It felt cool against the back of his neck. The cloth over his face stuck to his nose and mouth as he tried to take a breath. What kind of prison is this? Desperately, he tried to thrust his arms upward, managing to bend his fingers slightly, trying to seize and fight back against whatever had trapped him. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t br — Darkness again.
Something stirred in the graveyard.
What’s happening to me? How long can I go on like this? thought Captain Scarlet as his heart stopped and he died again.
Something stirred in the graveyard.
He woke and struggled then died, again and again and again. He couldn’t count how many times it had happened now. The man had no more coherent thoughts, just a desperate desire to get out of his terrifying prison. He woke yet again, moved his arms again. But this time, one hand suddenly broke the surface. Then darkness again.
Slowly, slowly, slowly, waking and dying and waking again, he got both hands free, followed by both arms, pushing and throwing aside the soil that covered him, until upon yet another awakening, he could pull away the cloth that was stuck to his face and fill his lungs with cold precious air! Even through closed eyelids, he could tell it was bright and he opened his eyes. A full moon rode high in the sky, but thick clouds scuttling across its face were heralding a storm. The man was still half-buried, but now that he could breathe, he worked harder to dig out his legs. His muscles felt a little stiff and cramped, but not terribly. Only fleetingly did he think that it was unnatural; the thought was gone before he could grasp it.
At last, he managed to pull himself up out of the hole, aching all over and utterly exhausted. The lightning bolts had become more frequent, accompanied shortly by claps of thunder. Rain began to fall, and the soil that coated him turned to mud. Looking up at the sky again, he tried to estimate the time, but the sky was completely obscured by storm clouds. He could not tell whether it was day or night. He lay prostrate, trying to gather his strength.
After a short time, dazed and confused and shivering as the rain penetrated to his skin, he got to his feet and stood shakily. He had no idea where he was or which way to go. After a minute’s indecision, he began to walk with no idea of where he was going, only that he had to go somewhere. In the darkness, he had several collisions with tall, hard objects before running up against a crude stone wall, too high for him to climb over in his weakened condition. He retraced his steps and tried again, this time walking downhill.
A huge, sustained bolt of lightning split the sky and allowed him to see his surroundings. He looked up in amazement at the stone monuments around him until the light vanished. Those are tombstones, he thought in astonishment. And the hole I just climbed out of —. He froze in shock. Was it my grave? Am I dead? O God, am I dead?
Not knowing what else to do, he stumbled on down the hill. Suddenly, a light flared up before him, dazzling his eyes. It seemed to be a tunnel, the one people spoke of seeing in near-death experiences. It’s true. I’ve died. But he didn’t feel drawn into the light; there was no pull at all. I don’t want to stay here. “Help me!” he cried out, lurching forward.
There was a scream as the light dropped, then moved away, bouncing crazily as the screaming continued.
“Wait!” the man in the graveyard shouted. “Help me!” The darkness returned. “Wait,” he repeated more softly. “Help me. Help me.” He fell to his knees in the mud and sobbed.
The priest hugged his coat tightly around him as he hurried towards the graveyard. The air was cool and his night clothes were thin. He wasn’t sure what he was hurrying to meet, but he was certain he’d been right not to spend even the few extra minutes he would have needed to dress warmly.
He had dressed for bed, but then had decided to sit up for a while and think about his sermon on Sunday. The foreign folklorist had been stirring up the old legends again, and the parishioners were anxious, especially at this time of year. According to the stories, this was the season when the veil between the worlds was the thinnest, and the dead — and the living — could cross over to the other side. Superstitious nonsense, of course, the priest knew, but Molvanians clung fiercely to their own ways and traditions. He’d been much the same until he’d heard his calling and gone for training in a foreign seminary. He loved his homeland and his people, but he no longer accepted their customs or traditions unquestioningly.
Deep in thought, he’d been jolted by a pounding at his door and a woman’s terrified pleas for him to answer. She’d been nearly incoherent.
“Father! Father Teodor! In the gr- gr- graveyard! Th- th-” The poor woman had been in a state of near collapse. The priest had taken her hand and tried to relieve her of the electric torch, which she was holding onto as if her muscles had locked.
“Calm yourself, my child. You’re safe here. You’re safe.” He’d gone on speaking to her softly and gently until her hysterical babbling had turned into hiccups and she had stopped shaking. “Now, tell me, what sent you to me? Are you hurt? Did someone threaten you?”
The woman had raised a trembling hand to her mouth, then crossed herself. “The graveyard, Father. I saw a demon! It called out to me in some satanic language!” She’d gulped before describing a multi-armed monster of red and black that had reached out for her before she’d screamed and run away to the priest’s cottage by the church. Father Teodor had settled his parishioner as quickly as possible with a cup of strong tea and a stern admonishment to stay put and not speak to anyone until he returned. She’d been obviously frightened but did not argue with him.
What could she have seen? he wondered as he trotted along the path. Katya was not young or fanciful nor did she lack courage. Having worked in the village tavern since her childhood, she was strong, confident, and capable. She had no fear of walking home at night, as long as she had a torch to light her way. Yet tonight, she had seen something. Something that terrified her.
He hesitated at the gates of the cemetery, then, gently admonishing himself to have faith in God to protect him, he stepped inside and flicked on the electric torch. At first, he didn’t notice anything amiss as he swept the light back and forth. But on the third pass, something reflected his light, something very small and metallic. He found it again and realised he was looking at a heap of something red with a tiny glint of gold and white on each side. As he forced himself to approach it, his heart began to race. It nearly stopped altogether when the red heap moved.
The priest sighed as he saw it was a only a man dressed in red and black whose face was pale, muddy, and streaked with blood and tears. “Help me! Please, don’t leave me here!” he begged.
English, thought the priest, not without embarrassment. He had half-believed his parishioner when she swore the man had spoken with a demonic tongue. Few Molvanians besides himself understood English, even though it was the world’s lingua franca.
The stranger’s voice sounded hoarse and tired. His striking blue eyes were empty of hope but filled with pain and fear. The priest crossed himself to strengthen his sense of duty.
“Here, put your arm over my shoulders. I’ll take you someplace safe.” Slowly, the two of them walked and stumbled to the priest’s cottage.
Katya smiled timidly as she opened the door then let out a scream as she saw that Father Teodor was not alone.
“Be silent!” the priest snapped. “Help me get him to the spare room, then bring warm water and cloths.”
The stranger sat placidly on the edge of the bed, eyes closed, as the priest wiped away the muck from his hands and face. Seeing the quantity of blood that stained the cloth, Father Teodor searched for wounds. To his amazement, he found none. The stranger suddenly opened his eyes. “Is this heaven? Are you here to help me?”
The priest smiled. “This isn’t heaven, just a way station. But I will help you, my son.”
The man looked bewildered. “Dad? When did you die? You don’t look like my Dad!” He was becoming agitated.
“Calm down! I’m a priest,” Father Teodor said gently, placing a hand on the man’s shoulder, and introduced himself. “Who are you? Can you tell me your name? Where did you come from?”
“I’m —” The red-clad man froze. “I— I don’t know. I can’t remember. I was in the cemetery. I don’t remember dying!” His eyes began to fill with tears.
“You’ve been injured,” soothed the priest. He helped the man to undress to the skin, then covered him with the blankets. “Rest now, and your memory will return.” He sent up a little prayer of apology; he wasn’t certain how truthful those statements were.
He found Katya cowering in the parlour. “How can he stand your touch? You’re a man of god and he’s a demon!” she hissed.
The priest sat down wearily and dumped the filthy clothes on the floor at his feet. It was just past midnight, he noted with wonder; it felt much later. “Why do you think he’s a demon?” he asked.
“Because it’s obvious! A stranger in the graveyard on the most evil night of the year. And covered in blood to boot!” she finished with a rising note of panic in her voice.
“How do you know there was blood?” asked the priest, genuinely curious.
Katya snorted, and pointed to the stranger’s clothing. “I’ve been a woman for many years, Father. I know what blood stains look like.” She ducked her head modestly, so as not to see the priest’s blush.
“He is a supernatural being,” the priest conceded. “I couldn’t find any wounds on him to explain the blood. But that doesn’t mean he’s evil. Remember what happened to the town of Bagasin. A saint visited them to test the people’s mercy. He took the guise of an abused, starving man. When the people refused him food and then whipped him for begging, they incurred God’s wrath, and he buried them under the mountain.”
Katya nodded, subdued yet more frightened than before. She had seen the mound of rocks and heard the story, when travelling south with her family to visit relatives. Molvanians were not warm to strangers, yet they feared actively mistreating them, lest they repeat Bagasin’s mistake. “And the saint first appeared mysteriously in the graveyard, covered in mud.” She crossed herself. The priest nodded, pleased that his lesson had gotten across. But it hadn’t taken hold. “But the demon of Skadran! It came out of the graveyard and killed all the villagers as they slept!” Katya’s voice rose to a screech.
Father Teodor sighed. “I will keep the man by me. I will hang a crucifix on his door, and wear one myself, and I will carry holy water. If he is a demon, he will soon be exposed by God’s light. If he is a saint, he will reveal himself when God wills.” And if he is only a man, then God help me to help him!
Katya did not want to do the washing for Father Teodor, afraid that contact with the demon’s clothing would endanger her soul, but she was more afraid to refuse; she had already been exposed to the demon’s presence, and what if the priest became angry and denied her communion? At least he had promised to bless her home once her odious chore was finished. She ran home, anxious to finish as soon as possible.
She smiled briefly as she entered her kitchen; her best friend and neighbour had stopped in to stoke the fire and put the kettle on, as she often did when Katya worked the late shift at the tavern. Usually it warmed her bones and heart; tonight, it reminded her of the hellfire that the mysterious stranger had undoubtedly sprung from.
She quickly programmed the washer and started tossing the clothes into it. By force of habit, she checked the pockets and found a little red book. Fear warred with curiosity until curiosity won out and she opened it. It had a picture of the man in red, writing in a language she couldn’t read, a strange, multi-colour symbol she’d never seen before, and what was unmistakeably a signature. “The devil’s own book!” she cried, half in fear, half in triumph, and threw it into the fireplace. To her disappointment, there was no bright flash, no demonic shrieking, and no sulfuric odour. The little book simply burned to ash.
When she returned to the cottage later with the stranger’s now clean-and-dry clothing, she did not mention the book.
When he awoke, the stranger was much improved physically. But his mental state soon proved to be precarious. He could recall nothing about who he was or where he had come from. He insisted he had a job to finish but when pressed, he became confused. Finally, he wept with frustration.
“I must be in Hell.”
“No my son, you are not,” the priest replied patiently.
“Then this must be somewhere close to it. If I could only remember,” said the stranger, his voice rising, “maybe I could escape! If I can only remember who I am and what I’m supposed to do!” He stopped shouting and buried his face in his hands.
There was a knock at the door. As the priest rose to answer it, he paused to give the other man a gentle pat on the shoulder, then swiftly walked away.
“Katya!” he exclaimed. “Thank you for your hard work.” He took the pile of clean clothing and noticed with concern how weary the woman looked. “I didn’t expect you to work all night, my daughter,” he chided her with gentle concern.
She dropped her gaze and wrung her hands. “I had to, Father. I just had to,” she murmured so softly the priest had to strain to hear her. “Will you please come bless me and my house?” She looked up at him imploringly.
The priest sighed. He had promised last night that he would. That she doubted his word told him she still clung to her superstitious fear of the stranger and his influence. He nodded and agreed to come by later that day, after Katya had slept.
After he gave the stranger his clothes, he prepared breakfast, which the two of them consumed in silence.
“It’s a beautiful day outside,” began the priest. “The rains stopped some hours ago. Do you feel like joining me for a walk?”
The stranger did not answer but he did not ignore the question either. Rather, the priest thought, he seemed to be weighing it. Finally, he nodded.
As they walked slowly along the road, the priest kept up a running commentary about the village’s history and pointed out the church, the fields, the houses, and shops. His companion said little but obediently listened and looked around him, searching for something — anything — familiar. Too soon, he found it.
He stood before the half open gates to the cemetery and stared at them. This place he remembered. “This is where I passed over,” he whispered.
“From where, my son?” asked Father Teodor, leading him forward, hoping that some spark of memory was glowing and that a walk among the graves would fan it.
“From life to — here.” The stranger felt light-headed as his heart began to race. “I remember darkness . . . cold . . . trapped . . . I can’t breathe . . .,” he rasped, his throat tightening. “I can’t breathe!”
“Turn away, my son, turn away! It’s over! You’re all right now! You’re all right!” The priest continued speaking gently and reassuringly to the terrified man as he guided his stumbling steps to the tavern and pounded on the door.
“Get away!” growled a rough voice. “We’ll open when it’s time!”
“Mikhail! It’s Father Teodor! Help me!”
The door was opened by a bear of a man, the sort who was never intimidated by the most pugnacious drunk but he recoiled momentarily when he realized whose arm was draped over the priest’s shoulders. Then, he struck. “Argh! Get off him, ye demon!” As he shouted, he grabbed the red-clad man and flung him against a wall.
“Mikhail, no! I need help with him, not rescuing from him!” He helped the stranger back to his feet while the barman kept a wary eye on him, ready to defend the priest again. “He’s had a serious shock. I brought him here for a stimulating drink.”
The barman nodded and fetched a bottle. He poured a small glass and handed it to the priest, who thanked him. “Here, my son,” he said to the stranger, “drink this. It will restore you.”
The man automatically raised the glass and drained it. The raw liquor burned his mouth and throat, doubled him up with a coughing fit. The barman grinned, then laughed. “Never thought a demon would be unable to stomach that! Maybe he’s a saint after all.” His smile disappeared when the stranger raised his head, and the barman looked into eyes that had seen a vision of hell.
As each day passed, the stranger became more and more distant. And the villagers became increasingly troubled. All over the village, and especially in the tavern, the people whispered about the mysterious stranger’s nature and debated the priest’s wisdom in harbouring him. Was he a saint? a demon? or something worse?
The priest could not confine the restless man to the little cottage, so he walked with him about the village each day. Father Teodor felt that bringing the stranger out in the daytime helped to alleviate some of the villagers’ fears; some would even pause to exchange a few words with him as they stared wide-eyed at the red-clad man. But a glimpse of his chilling blue eyes were enough to send even those brave souls on their way in a hurry.
More than a week had passed since the stranger arrived, and the priest was beginning to despair.
Strangers were rare in Molvania, but the villagers began to feel themselves besieged. There had been three in the past month, and now another was riding up the road from the south on horseback. There was nothing especially remarkable about him; his denim and brown-leather clothing was worn and serviceable; his black hair and brown eyes were not unlike those of many Molvanians. In the tavern, where he stopped that evening, he spoke Bereznik instead of Molvanian, and with a peculiar accent. But despite their usual aversion to strangers, Katya and the other barmaids tried to keep him talking so they could hear more of it. He smiled when they asked about the odd inflections of his speech and attributed it to being born in one country and spending his childhood in another. They listened intently as he made polite inquiries about a dark-haired man dressed in red who might have passed through within the last few weeks.
“Why, that must be the man Father Teodor is taking care of,” exclaimed Katya.
“Taking care of?” The stranger was visibly surprised. “Is he hurt?”
The villagers exchanges wary glances. “Not in any way that you can see,” ventured the bar man. “But he won’t explain who he is or how he got here. Or maybe he can’t,” he added reluctantly, remembering the legends.
“Now I’m curious. I want to meet this strange man. Where can I find Father Teodor?” asked the stranger.
“Don’t go looking for trouble now! You see, the thing is, most of us believe that the man is a...” His voice dropped. “A demon.”
The stranger smiled. “That’s no problem for me. I’m a sort of demon hunter.” More than one nervous villager hurriedly made the sign of the cross at that.
Katya made up her mind. Only a good man could rid the village of the priest’s demon guest, and the hunter seemed to be one. “You can probably find the priest in the church; he’s usually there about this time making his evening devotions. If he isn’t, try his cottage.” She gave him directions.
The self-declared demon hunter found the priest in the church and introduced himself. “I believe I know who your mysterious guest is. I’ve been searching for him.”
The priest immediately agreed to take him to see the man who had emerged from the graveyard. “Thank God you’ve found him, Captain. I don’t know how much longer I could do anything for him.”
The red-clad man was seated in the priest’s study, staring listlessly at a book in his lap. He looked up, dull-eyed and hopeless, at the two men before him.
“Captain Scarlet!” said the hunter. The seated man did not react. “Captain Scarlet! Paul! What’s happened to you?” he continued, extending a hand.
The other man’s eyes began to shine and his breath caught. “Do you know me? My name is Paul?” When the hunter nodded, Captain Scarlet seized his hand. “I can’t recall why I’m here,” he began to sob. “There’s something I have to do, but I can’t remember what it is! What is it I have to do? Can you tell me? ”
“Yes, Captain Scarlet,” promised Captain Black, as a flash of green appeared in his deep-brown eyes. “Soon you will know what you must do.”
Several things terrify me. One is being buried alive. Another is total amnesia, a complete loss of identity and purpose. Another is witnessing is the collapse of a strong person, the kind you believe can never be broken. And a rescue that is not a rescue but only a change of prisons…. At least I’ve never been buried alive. Not yet, anyway.
About “demon hunter.” It has two possible meanings. Captain Magenta would be a demon hunter: One who hunts demons (Mysterons). And Captain Black is also a demon hunter: A demon (Mysteron agent) who hunts. (I love twisting the English language *cackle*.)
I bow to Mary and Chris, my proofreaders, for catching mistakes and improving passages. Any remaining errors or sloppy prose are my own fault.
Enjoy a safe and happy Halloween 2006!