The old hinges of the rusty cemetery gates groaned in protest as they were closed and locked after visiting hours. The air was damp and musty and the cemetery itself had an air of neglect. There were seldom any visitors and the local amenities committee that oversaw maintenance had long ago withdrawn funds for even the most basic level of upkeep. Weeds grew around the graves and some of the headstones were unreadable or had tumbled down.
As darkness descended Captain Black walked slowly across the grounds, his boots crunching on the weed-infested gravel pathway as he made his way to the old crypt he had adopted as a temporary home.
“’Ere, where d’ye think you’re goin’?” a voice angrily called out to him.
Black turned and stared coldly at the figure before him. He waited, silently appraising the stranger.
A few more individuals arrived and formed a circle around the taciturn Mysteron.
“Look at him,” said one.
“He’s not one of our kind,” said another arrogantly.
Black stood his ground. “Be careful… Earthman,” he hissed.
“Who are you calling ‘Earthman’? I’m no ‘Earthman’!” said one scornfully.
“Ghosts, we are! Restless spirits,” cackled an old hag, “and you don’t belong here.”
“Especially not tonight!” said another. “Tonight belongs to us.”
Black grunted. Of course - it was All Hallows’ Eve. Annoyed at having his peace disturbed, he pushed past the ghostly apparitions, through a rusted broken section of the cemetery fence and out into the night.
The hotels, restaurants and shopping precincts were full of partygoers, many dressed in outlandish costumes. The difference was they were very much corporeal, unlike the equally bizarre-looking but hazy creatures that flew around them. In the heart of the city most of the human costumed figures were adults rather than small children.
It was early in the evening and with time to kill, the former Spectrum agent wandered through the city until a wave of noisy revellers coming towards him caused him to take steps to avoid them. Captain Black found himself in a small coffee house. He looked around and spying an empty table in the corner he bought a coffee and made his way there. He absently sipped the hot drink and gazed around the room.
He wasn’t alone for long. Two gaudily dressed women sauntered over and sat down at his table. Black tried to ignore them.
“What costume are you wearing?” the female dressed as a witch asked Black, grinning at him as invitingly as she could manage, with several of her teeth blackened to complete her outfit.
He turned away and picked up the coffee cup.
The witch shrugged. “What do you think, Mel?” she asked her companion.
The other woman, dressed in a glittering beaded dress in the manner of a 1920s flapper, topped off with an enormous white feather boa draped around her neck, looked at Black with interest. “Hard to say, really,” she replied.
“He looks like some kind of Dark Avenger in that outfit,” the witch remarked.
“He’s the Black Avenger!” the flapper replied, noting the Mysteron’s dark leather clothing and brooding expression.
Captain Black carefully put down his cup. “What did you say?” he demanded as he placed his arm across the back of her chair, lightly grasping the feather boa as he did so. His grip on the boa tightened and he twisted it once around his fingers as he moved his hand closer to her throat.
Mel was surprised at the tone of his voice but thought he was playing up to her comments. She was totally unaware of the threat he posed as she stared up into his eyes with a look of complete innocence and some puzzlement.
Black relaxed his grip. She knows nothing, he thought. With a disdainful look at Mel and her companion, he got up and walked out into the street.
The city was bathed in a strange light, with orange coloured lanterns hung from every available post and tiny white fairy lights draped over every tree. The effect was festive and odd at the same time. The orange lanterns threw off strange shadows as they fluttered in the slight breeze.
As a noisy conga line of people weaved their way down the street, Captain Black stopped and stared in a shop window, not really seeing the displays, but using it as a way of avoiding eye contact with the Halloween revellers. He walked on a bit further and found that the next window had been coated in some kind of reflective film. Instead of seeing the interior of the building Black had a clear view of the people in the street. He began to turn away when something oddly familiar caught his eye. He stopped, hardly daring to believe his eyes. There! On the other side of the road…Captain Scarlet! Black turned and stared across the street in disbelief. It couldn’t be!
But it was, and Black quickly followed his quarry keeping pace on his side of the street. Then he noticed the Spectrum officer was not alone. He watched in frustration as Scarlet, smiling, stopped to listen to something whispered in his ear by his pretty red-haired companion. Rhapsody Angel, guessed Black. He gazed around the street, noting the crowds and heavy traffic. He paused, wondering what to do next. He had to get across the road somehow. He needed a plan of attack. He needed a weapon. He needed… instructions.
In those few moments of indecision a large truck rumbled by obscuring his vision, and when the traffic cleared and Black could again see across the road, Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel were gone. Captain Black stood on the edge of the footpath, anger and a feeling of frustration utmost in his mind. He gazed up the street in the direction his quarry seemed to have been headed, but there was no sign of either of them. Angrily, Black resumed walking, turned off the main road and headed away from the city lights. In his current frame of mind he felt compelled to get as far away from such a missed opportunity as he could manage.
As the night dragged on the city’s inhabitants became increasingly noisy and very drunk as they stumbled from the restaurants to dance clubs to bars, feeling a measure of safety in numbers and the sense of bravado that came with drinking copious amounts of alcohol.
With his face set like stone, Black was still angry at letting Scarlet get away. Suddenly a drunken youth veered towards him. The Mysteron stopped.
“Give me all your money!” the youth hissed, as he fumbled awkwardly for his knife.
Black looked at the boy contemptuously as he swayed unsteadily on his feet, waving the knife in what he hoped was a threatening manner.
“One wrong move and I’ll cut your throat, so give me all your money now!” the youth menaced. Eliciting no response he shouted, “Are you deaf or something?” Angered by the lack of cooperation he clumsily lunged at Black with the knife.
Captain Black deftly avoided the knife, raised his right arm and with one blow felled his assailant. There was a sickening crack as the mugger’s head hit the pavement. Black looked around and with no one else in sight, he stepped around the now silent body that had fallen inconveniently across his path, and he continued on his way. Not even the Mysterons would bother with this piece of flotsam.
The former Spectrum officer would have made this trip through the city alone, were it not for the tortured spirits who were initially drawn to him, then repulsed. He detested the creatures but he found it difficult to avoid them. Perhaps because his features seemed more unyielding than ever and the fact that the speed he was walking had gradually increased, they guessed he sensed their presence, though he gave no clear indication he knew they were there. There was just an indefinable something in his eyes that told them he was not unaware of them, so they continued to heckle and jeer. It was much more fun taunting him than trying to harass the throngs of people who, disappointingly, remained completely unaware of their existence. But as time passed even they tired of the game and eventually they flew away.
Captain Black’s unplanned journey continued until he came to an area of the city that he’d known very well before he’d made that fateful mission to Mars. Black paused and gazed down a familiar road. He looked up into the night sky, mentally framed a question and listened intently, but when no response was forthcoming he turned into the narrow street that contained a few departing revellers and was, for the moment at least, devoid of ghosts. Black considered what conclusions he had drawn after two years of All Hallows’ Eve. It seemed that not even the Mysterons could control Earthmen who were already long dead. And their silence might even suggest it was as though on this particular night their power was somehow diminished. If not, why hadn’t they told him Scarlet was nearby?
He shrugged; it was just a thought and probably the wrong one. It was impossible to know the full extent of the Mysterons’ power. All he knew was, on All Hallows’ Eve he was left alone.
The former Spectrum officer stopped in the alleyway and looked right and left. He gazed up at the windows of nearby buildings. Some offices were brightly lit and clearly occupied but most were in darkness. Cautiously he pushed open the door to a long derelict building and walked up the stairs to a room he knew he was likely to have all to himself. Carefully he sidestepped the holes in the floor as he made his way through what had become a useful place to rest and recuperate. He scanned the room - it was empty just as he’d hoped. Wearily, Black sat down on the dusty floor with his back against a wall. Pale moonlight cast shadows through the grimy cracked windows and he had chosen a place in the darkness from where he could still see the door. It didn’t pay to be careless. After a few hours of silence he judged it was secure so he closed his eyes and dozed. It was only a fitful sleep as the sounds of breaking glass, laughter and the wail of police sirens woke him many times over. At one point he could discern a misty outline as an apparently lost spirit drifted into the room but Black, by remaining in the shadows and scarcely moving, did not attract the creature’s attention and it soon departed. Captain Black closed his eyes again, though the noises outside made true sleep impossible.
All around him the night raged on. The partygoers kicked up their heels until the pubs closed, their money ran out, or the police came and moved them on…the more belligerent members spending their last hours of Halloween in the local watch houses, to be bailed out by unimpressed family members in the morning. Theatres and concert halls emptied and taxis ran into the early hours, until eventually the number of people waiting to go home began to thin out. When the last train for the night trundled out of the station it was barely occupied. A sense of quiet gradually returned to the city. The streets were littered with rubbish which would have to be cleared away before the shops and cafes opened the next morning.
The spirits, knowing their time on the streets was also drawing to a close, howled in protest; unheard and unseen by the general public, until eventually they too faded into the night.
In the last hour or so before daylight, Black lightly dozed only to be woken again by the wail of an ambulance siren. Finally, the former Spectrum captain wearily opened his eyes fully and tried to focus on his surroundings.
In the early morn the sun’s rays crept gradually over the city. Before the first pale signs of dawn had reached this particular corner of the Earth the deathly ghouls and ghosts had long gone. The dark had receded and the full extent of the dilapidation of the old building was revealed.
Captain Black stood up but stayed hidden in the shadows, waiting for the next onslaught. All too soon, in the dazzling morning light he would have to face a different kind of apparition - the kind that was determined to seize control of what remained of his fractured soul.
Gradually sunshine filtered through a broken window in the old office block and with it came new spirits bathed in a white light all of their own. Pityingly they stared at Black, as he stared defiantly back at them.
“Listen to us and you will find peace. We can save you,” said one of the spirits.
“But you must repent,” exhorted another.
The Mysteron ignored them.
“You must beg forgiveness for the evil you have done,” their leader said, his soft melodious voice sounding like an echo of some heavenly choir. Black winced, the sound hurt his ears.
The spirits slowly gravitated towards him.
“Repent!” the leader urged Black, “then you will be free. We will pray for you. We know you, Conrad Turner.”
Captain Black had faced spirits like these before so he was no longer surprised that they knew his name. One member of the group reached out and touched him on the shoulder. He felt the pressure and in revulsion he violently shook free. Black gradually edged towards the door. Several more of the spirits moved closer.
“You are not real,” spat Black contemptuously.
“We have come to save you.” they replied. “The masters you serve are false.”
“I will not waste my time with you,” Black replied coldly. “You cannot win.”
He turned away and stared out the cracked and grimy window into the street below as they again urged him to repent. Black tried to block them out. He wasn’t sure which was worse - the tormented ghouls of All Hallows’ Eve or the pious do-gooders of All Saints’ Day. He wanted to lash out and destroy them, but how could you destroy something on which neither bullets nor even electricity had any effect?
Captain Black knew it was time to move on. Their whispers and pleadings began to seep into his very being and he felt uneasy, a chilled feeling settling in the pit of his stomach. He had to get away.
In one fluid movement, he had brushed past his tormentors and was out of the room and down the stairs, hoping that they would not follow. He paused at the final landing and glanced back over this shoulder…and groaned. They were still there, bathed in an ethereal glow that almost hurt his eyes. Black sensed their determination not to let him escape, and their conviction that what they were doing was righteous and just. He despised them for it, more than he despised the ghosts in the cemetery.
“Conrad Turner,” the leader called, “you must renounce the evil that binds you. Listen to us. You can be saved.”
The former Spectrum captain, his face twisted in an expression of hate, turned back towards the building entrance and swiftly navigated the remaining stairs. All at once he was out in the street, having slammed the door behind him even though he knew it was an empty gesture. A shut door would not stop them if they still intended to pursue him.
Out in the sunlit street Captain Black gazed almost beseechingly up into the cloudless blue sky. And thankfully his prayer, if that was what it was, was answered.
Before his ghostly tormentors had reached the doorway Black was gone - away from the bustling human activity, the gated cemetery, the derelict city building, the restless angry ghosts of All Hallows’ Eve and the shining beauty of the long-forgotten saints tasked to save his soul. Finally he was back where he belonged.
The Mysterons had heard his plea and had reclaimed their own.
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