by Isabelle Saucier
It was a gorgeous day in Montana. The sky was a deep shade of blue, acres of golden wheat, as far as the eye could see, brushed a postcard-perfect tableau… in a clearing, a small crop duster was parked, adding a touch of vibrant red to the scene.
It looked like one of those old biplanes that were once used to do the field work, but had a modern, edgier, flair to it. A large dragon was painted across the fuselage; when airborne, it could almost seem as if the beast itself was flying. But for now it was resting.
And on its wing, resting as well, was the pilot. Young Wesley had always wanted to be a top gun and while he completed his studies and tried for military school, he flew all that he could, including this duster. However, this type of work was repetitive and somewhat boring… after dusting some of the local fields for one of the farmers, he felt he deserved a break and had set his plane where it was currently parked to have lunch and, why not, a short nap.
Using his shirt as a blanket under him, he was lying down, looking at the sky, the portable radio he had brought with him playing some rock music at full blast. This was the life…
He started when he felt his cell phone vibrate in his pocket and scrambled to pick it up, nearly knocking his function walkie-talkie off the wing as he did so. “Wesley here,” he answered, lowering the volume of the radio to a murmur.
He grinned when he heard the voice. Sweet Mary-Jo… She was new in town and Wesley had naturally volunteered to show her around. Of course, it didn’t hurt that she was cute… they chatted amicably for a few moments. “So are you going to Cliff’s party tonight?” he asked. “Hey, it’ll be wild.”
“I can’t. My sister’s here,” came her reply.
“Your sister? Well, we’ll bring her too!” If she was as cute as Mary-Jo, this could be interesting… his face scrunched up when he heard her reply, and exclaimed: “What do you mean, she’s only six!”
In the nearby wheat field, there was a slight movement, almost like a ripple. It could have been caused by the wind, but the ripple was headed in a precise direction… the plane. Out of the crop cover came a large rattlesnake, making its way steadily, stealthily, towards the closest wheel. Wesley, occupied as he was by his phone conversation, didn’t notice anything while the snake was out in the open, and even less after it was hidden by the wings of the plane. He continued talking, unaware of the imminent danger. “Come on, Mary-Jo, there must be someone else who can look after her…” he pleaded.
“Wes, I can’t…”
“I’m not getting heavy on you, but Kimberley Keebler’s gonna be there…”
He realized it probably wasn’t the best thing to say when the walkie-talkie next to him crackled up to life: “Hey, Wesley! Wesley, can you hear me? Wesley, come in! Do you hear me?” a gruff voice yelled at the other end.
Wesley rolled his eyes, muttering a curse. “I got to go, Mary-Jo. I’ll catch you later.”
Sitting up, he pocketed his phone and picked up the walkie-talkie. “I got you, Mr. Keebler.”
“I’ve been looking all morning, but I ain’t seen you dusting my crops yet…”
Wesley checked his watch. Okay, so he might have taken a little too long… “I’m just finishing off the Drexlers’ place, Mr. Keebler, but I’ll be with you real soon,” he assured his employer, knowing the Drexlers’ fields were far enough for the lie to be plausible.
The snake, now wound around one of the plane’s wheel struts, continued its progression upwards in an impressive display of strength and agility that no one saw. On the plane wing, Keebler’s voice resounded from the walkie-talkie: “Well, you better be, Wesley! Over and out!”
Keebler cut the communication as abruptly as he had begun it. Wesley put his shirt back on, then started gathering his things. One of these days, I’ll dust you, you old bast—
He didn’t finish his thoughts, busy climbing down the wing and into the small cockpit. Packing his lunch pail away, he connected the portable radio back into the system and did his pre-flight check quickly before bringing the plane’s propeller to life.
The small aircraft rolled in the field, gathered speed and took off in a smooth movement. Wesley circled the fields, positioning himself over Keebler’s crops, and began to spray the pesticides.
Inside, the rattler crawled over the gear and panels at the back of the cockpit. Wesley, busy with his dusting duty, singing along with his rock music and bobbing his head, didn’t hear the light slithering noise as the snake made its way to the rack on the ceiling.
It stopped briefly, as if calculating its next move; its eyes glowed an unnatural shade of green. Then it dropped suddenly, mere inches in front of the young pilot. Wesley saw the large diamond-shaped head and the menacing fangs, and horror registered on his face, but it was already too late to react. He didn’t even have the time to scream before the rattler lunged for his unprotected throat.
The crop duster jerked suddenly, then dove to the ground, turning on itself and exploding on impact. Everything was silent in the field when two large and menacing green rings passed over the wreckage.
The red crop duster, looking as if nothing had happened to it, flew along the fields for a while, before veering off to follow a long stretch of empty, slightly uphill road. The forest on each side was flashing by as the shadow of the plane zipped along on the asphalt.
In the distance, alone on the road, was a four-wheel drive, its occupants unaware of the approaching aircraft. In the passenger seat was Captain Scarlet, consulting a guide on the area. To his left, his sister Carrie was driving and her eight-year old son, Mikey, was on the back seat. Scarlet had waited impatiently for this leave, delighted to finally be able to spend quality time with his family. As soon as he’d arrived from Skybase, they had packed the leased four-by-four with camping gear and left for Montana, intent on having a fun vacation away from everything.
The entertainment system was set to a low level in the vehicle, so as the biplane gained on them, they all heard the roar of its engine. Carrie looked in her rear-view mirror at the same time Scarlet did the same thing in the passenger side-mirror; Mikey dropped the book on jet aircrafts he was reading and twisted around to try and see as well.
The plane was flying low. The dragon on its fuselage soared over them, almost lunging at them as it passed by. Its shadow darkened the inside of the cabin of the four-by-four and Carrie instinctively ducked a little at the wheel. “Wow! He’s a little low!” she exclaimed.
Scarlet watched the plane as it pulled up, banked and moved off. He blinked, feeling a little nauseated. That’s what you get for reading in the car and suddenly have to look up at something, he scolded himself.
Behind him, Mikey was delighted. “It’s a Caesar-50! Crop duster!” he all but screamed into his uncle’s ear.
The little boy tried to follow the plane for as long as he could, but lost it when it disappeared over the tree tops. His eyes fell on the side-view mirror, where he saw concern etched on Scarlet’s face. “Are you okay, Uncle Paul?” he asked.
Scarlet caught himself and smiled. “Fine as a dime, Mikey!”
They both looked out for a little while longer, but the plane was long gone over the forest. The four-by-four’s cabin grew quiet again. Mikey picked his book back up and leafed through it, searching for something. Scarlet’s nausea subsided and he decided not to read again. He addressed his nephew: “So, do you want to fly a crop-duster when you grow up, Mikey?”
The boy looked up from his book. “No way! I’m gonna fly jet fighters like my dad did.”
Carrie looked at her son lovingly through the rear-view mirror. “You wanna fly Angels for Uncle Paul up on Skybase, huh?”
Mikey rolled his eyes. Sometimes, his mother was so embarrassing. “Guys can’t fly with the Angels! Guys are too heavy, they slow the planes down!” he protested, earning an amused smile from his uncle, who tried to hide his chuckle with a bout of coughing.
Carrie’s attractive face remained impassive, but her blue eyes twinkled with mischief. “You always did prefer fast women, didn’t you Paul?” she asked in a sweet voice.
He decided not to bite. “It’s gonna get dark soon. We’d better head for the camp site,” he commented, bringing her attempt to throw daggers at his love life—at one particular person, actually—to an abrupt halt.
Destiny was a touchy subject, and surely not one he wanted to bring up in front of Mikey, even if the little boy would probably deem that adult nonsense boring and not really listen.
Carrie shrugged and paid attention to the road; it was becoming steeper and there were a few bends, so she had to be more careful. There would be other times to discuss her brother’s less than stellar choice in women…
The red aircraft flew over the bends in the road, then came upon a gas tanker that was steadily making its way downhill in the opposite direction, a few miles away from the four-by-four. In the cockpit, Wesley’s eyes glimmered with a strike of green and he smiled evilly, before pushing on the plane’s controls to put it into a dive.
The aircraft hit the tanker with a loud noise, and the fuel from both vehicles ignited, creating a huge ball of fire. The tanker, now driver-less, continued its way downwards on the road, like a meteor set on a deadly course.
The explosion was so strong that its sound carried all the way to the four-wheel-drive, albeit quite muffled. Scarlet, his senses naturally on alert, frowned, then turned to his sister. “Hey! Did you hear something? A bang?”
Carrie shrugged. “Thunder, I guess. There must be a storm coming.”
Scarlet faced the road again, looking up at the sky. It was still blue, not a cloud in sight… well, perhaps that gray area ahead of them. It didn’t look quite like a cloud, though, almost… Carrie took the next bend in the road; when they came out, the cover of the woodland opened, and they saw it.
It wasn’t a cloud. It was the thick trail of smoke the burning tanker left behind itself as it barreled down the road toward them, full speed ahead. The young woman screamed in terror at the incoming menace, feeling powerless and unable to move.
Scarlet’s reaction, however, was like lightning. He popped his seatbelt off and grabbed the wheel from his sister’s petrified form and pulled hard toward himself, yelling at her to lift her foot from the gas pedal.
The rolling fireball surged past them, so close they felt the heat inside the vehicle before the four-by-four lurched off the road and headed straight for the woodlands. Scarlet, gritted his teeth. Bent at an awkward angle, he struggled to retain control and managed to avoid the first line of trees, but then Carrie, in a knee-jerk reaction, slammed on the brakes, taking some of the steering capacity from him.
Time seemed to slow down as he saw they were headed straight for another tree, and there was nothing much he could do to avoid it. “Ah, sh—“ he let out, before the vehicle smashed into the trunk. This is going to hurt, he added to himself, as the impact projected him forwards.
Without the restraint of the seat belt, he flew through the windshield like a ragdoll, bounced off the tree, then lay motionless, slumped over the hood of the four-by-four.
The silence that followed was deafening. Even the birds had grown quiet. Carrie and Mikey sat in their seats, stunned. The young woman was staring at her brother’s foot in front of her, at the piece of gum he had stepped on and that she could see encrusted into the sole of his hiking shoe. She couldn’t remember when he had stepped on gum; she would have told him to get rid of it so he did not dirty the rental car mats… she shook her head, trying to chase the shock away, not to mention the silly, unimportant thoughts it brought.
She turned around in her seat to look at her son. He had dropped his book again and was holding the top part of his seatbelt, which had done its job, apparently. “Mikey, are you all right?” she managed to ask.
He looked at her with sad eyes. “Yeah, but…” He couldn’t finish his sentence, pointing ahead of him.
Carrie’s heart sank. “I know, honey.” She unbuckled herself. “Wait here.”
She exited the four-by-four. Scarlet hadn’t moved. She swallowed painfully, making her way slowly towards him. She didn’t need her medical training to know there wasn’t much hope… His handsome face was pale, there was a large, bleeding gash on his forehead and his mouth was agape. His eyes were closed.
“Paul?” she called out gently.
No response. She reached out, touching him, searching for a pulse in his neck. The skin under her fingers was warm and a little scratchy from his five o’ clock shadow, but there was nothing, even when she moved her hand, desperately trying to find the faintest sign… “Oh no… no!” she hiccupped, refusing to believe that he was gone.
She started when Mikey, who had got out of the four-by-four despite her instructions, took her hand and huddled against her silently. She felt him shake and reached out to him, hugging him and turning him away. He didn’t need to see that. Didn’t need to see his uncle like this, after he had selflessly acted to save their lives. I didn’t need to see that either… Oh, Paulie… she thought, biting her lip so she wouldn’t break down.
She needed a moment to figure out what to do… Mikey was crying, his nose buried in her shirt. She stroked his dark hair. She would have given anything to get her big brother back at this point.
There was always a moment of disorientation when Scarlet returned to life. Often, he was not in the same location or position he was in when he died, so he had to get his bearings. He groaned in pain, protesting against the throbbing in his head and rolled off the hood of the devastated four-by-four, falling to the ground heavily. He winced at yet more pain coming from his torso. Probably a couple of bruised ribs, he thought absentmindedly, cracking his eyes open.
He was greeted with the sight of his sister holding on to the side of the car, staring at him with wide eyes and seemingly on the verge of fainting. Mikey, quicker to react, squealed in utter joy. “He’s all right! Uncle Paul!” he cried out, before rushing to Scarlet and sliding to his knees in a perfect baseball stop to hug him.
Scarlet steeled himself against the pain, managing a weak smile, and ruffled his nephew’s hair. “Rough landing, eh Mikey?” he mumbled.
When he looked up, Carrie was still staring at him with shock and disbelief. She wasn’t stupid… she knew something was off. He prayed he’d be able to weave a convincing lie.
He tried to stand up, feeling a little cheap for using Mikey as the reason he was hindered in his movement, but it seemed to work and set Carrie in motion. She came to help him and they slowly made their way to the passenger seat, where he sat with his legs outside of the vehicle.
Still silent, Carrie retrieved water and the first aid kit from their camping gear. Mikey stayed by his uncle to keep an eye on him and watched with interest when Scarlet took his Spectra-tech from his jacket pocket and tried to get it to work. The device had taken some damage in the accident and the top expandable screen part was cracked, but it didn’t mean the communication element didn’t work… Everything remained blank. Sighing, Scarlet re-pocketed it while Carrie approached him. “I guess we can’t call AAA,” he said in an attempt to lighten up the heavy atmosphere.
She told her son to go get some juice in the back and turned to face her brother with a set expression on her face. He decided to play the innocence card. “Say, what’s up, sis?”
She lowered her tone of voice so Mikey couldn’t hear her. “Paul, I checked your pulse. You were dead.”
He looked down at himself, then gave her his best, boyish, Metcalfe smile. “You must have checked it wrong. I’m alive,” he commented.
She raised her eyebrows. “I’m a doctor, Paul. I don’t think I get things as basic as life and death wrong…”
He frowned. “So… what are you saying, Carrie?”
They stared at each other in silence. Scarlet prayed that she didn’t insist. She shrugged helplessly. “I… guess… I should go back to medical school for a refresher.” She moved in, water and clean cloth at the ready. “But let me fix that—“
“No! Leave it!” he exclaimed, brushing her hand away and startling her.
Cleaning the wound would show that it had already begun to close and he didn’t want that. He stood up determinedly and went to the back of the vehicle. “We have to move out,” he added.
Her frown deepened. What was going on? What was he hiding?
They walked in the woods for what seemed like an eternity. The good news was that Scarlet’s ribs had improved a lot already, but he was careful not to wipe the blood away from his forehead and reveal the healing cut. It was itchy and annoying, but he had other things to worry about. That ball of fire heading toward them hadn’t been an accident. The bout of nausea hadn’t been because he was reading. They had to be on the move, to reach a location where he could contact Skybase.
The fact that he couldn’t use his Spectra-tech for communicating, or even as a compass was a little distressing. At least, the skies were clear and the silvery moonlight helped to see where they were going. Mostly.
Mikey had taken his hand confidently; the boy trusted his uncle to get them out of this. Carrie, who held his other hand, was more cautious and hesitant. She showed signs of slowing down. “We should have gone back to the road. Someone would have come along!” she protested.
Maybe not who you’d hope for, Scarlet thought, pressing on.
They walked for a while, moving further into the woods, when suddenly, there was the sound of a twig snapping, as if something—or someone—was following them. Scarlet had his sidearm out of its concealed holster in a fraction of a second and pulled Mikey and Carrie behind him to protect them. Carrie opened her mouth in protest, but he shushed her, all senses in maximum alert mode.
They heard a short bark and more scuffling as the critter ran off, away from them. ”That’s just a fox,” Scarlet said, relaxing his guard somewhat and holstering his gun back under his jacket.
Carrie was shocked that he chose to carry a weapon on vacation with Mikey around, but she had also seen the uneasy looks he had given his surroundings. “You think someone’s after us,” she said, pointing in the direction they’d come from. “What happened back there? It wasn’t an accident, was it?”
Scarlet gave another wary look around. His eyes stopped on her. “Spectrum is after something. Some bad people. I’ll just feel happy when we get back to a safe place.” He crouched a little and gestured to Mikey to climb on his back, then straightened up, adjusting to his added weight. “You okay up there?”
The boy nodded, grabbing his uncle around the neck to hold himself steady. Scarlet began to walk again. “Okay Mikey, you watch out!” he instructed the little boy to keep him busy.
“S.I.G., Captain Scarlet!” came the boy’s enthusiastic reply.
Carrie moved a little away from her brother, almost trailing behind a bit. She looked pensive. “Remember Ray Rinisky that used to fly with Alan? I ran into his wife a couple of months ago and she said there were rumors about Spectrum…” she began.
Darn Metcalfe persistence… she would dig the subject out until she reached the bottom. He made a point of staring ahead. “What kind of rumors?” he asked.
“That you were fighting some kind of war? With aliens?” She paused, watching his reaction. “From Mars?”
“Oh wow! Martians!” Mikey exclaimed, fascinated by the potentially heightened coolness of his uncle.
Scarlet turned briefly to glance at Carrie, hoping he looked convincingly amused by her words. “Dad was the first man to land on Mars. Don’t you think if there’d been someone else up there, that they would have come out and said hi?” He chuckled. “You really need your vacation, sis.” Please, don’t insist…
Carrie looked at her surroundings and muttered: “Yeah, the camping trip. Great.”
Her brother was keeping something from her. Rumors indeed. She didn’t have much time to mull those thoughts over, for Mikey’s excited “Look!” made both adults look up.
In the distance, through the trees, they could make out the lights of a house. With renewed ardor, they headed for it.
The situation didn’t look as promising from up close. The grounds around the property had obviously been stately once, but were now overgrown and in dire need of care. The large manor-like house was in no better shape itself and could have been put straight into a horror movie scene.
To add to the eeriness of the situation, the three wanderers had heard and seen thunder and lightning gradually getting closer. The air around them became heavier as they crossed the yard to reach the front door steps. Fat raindrops began to fall and they sought refuge under the porch. Scarlet didn’t waste a second more and tugged on the ancient-looking bell pull.
“Boy! This place has got to be packed full of spooks!” Mikey stated, sliding down from his uncle’s back.
Scarlet considered the paint peeling on the door. “That’s fine, as long as they got a phone and make good coffee.”
Carrie rolled her eyes but smiled at his attempt to lighten up the mood. They waited in the pitter patter of the rain and the occasional lightning strike, but everything seemed dead… until a disembodied voice spoke up, startling them: “Who are you?”
It was the voice of an old and fragile-sounding man. It didn’t add charm to the place… Scarlet looked around the door and spotted a surveillance camera lens above it He addressed the invisible speaker: “Hum, my name’s Metcalfe.” He motioned to his side. ”This is my sister and her boy. We had an accident, we need some help.”
The voice said nothing, but the door swung open, revealing a vast lobby. Scarlet let Carrie and Mikey inside to find that the room was empty. They stopped in the center, unsure of what to do next. “Hello?” Scarlet called out.
The front door slammed shut behind them. All three whirled around in shock. The run-down appearance of the door had been camouflage for a high-tech, heavy-looking steel security door, which was currently bolting down automatically with an impressive display of lights. Instinctively, Scarlet pulled out his gun from under his jacket and sprinted towards it, but soon realized that there was no way he could even try opening it.
“Please, don’t be alarmed.”
At the sound of the old man’s voice, Scarlet, Carrie and Mikey turned around to see the newcomer make his way across the lobby towards them. He was a tall man in his seventies. He had probably looked powerful once, but was now bent with age.
Scarlet held his breath a short moment, trying to sense anything suspicious. But no bout of nausea came to bother him and he felt a little reassured. He holstered his weapon.
“Please don’t be alarmed,” the old man repeated. “Out there it’s such… such a nasty place. I do my best to keep it up, Mister Metcalfe,” he added.
Scarlet smiled. “Then I’m grateful for your hospitality. This is my sister Carrie and Mikey.”
Mikey’s attention had wandered off to take a better look at the lobby. There were some paintings on the walls, a few displays… his eye was caught by a collection of marionettes hanging on a display rack. “Whoa! Cool! Look at these!”
The puppets were quite different from each other. There was a witch, with a wrinkly face and wild gray hair—the details of her amber eyes down to the moles on her face were stunning. Then, came a gorgeous mermaid, with pensive eyes and long, flowing green hair… Mikey was almost afraid to touch her shimmering dress. There was also what appeared to be a butler, all dressed up in his livery, but with comical bushy eyebrows and a large nose… a cowboy with his leather chaps and hat that bore four feathers.
But the one that caught the boy’s attention the most was a clown. It was dressed in a blue striped outfit with a large white ruffle at the neck, complete with a blue floppy hat with white trim. It was smiling back at Mikey in a childlike way.
Woodchurch noticed where Mikey had gone and smiled at his evident delight. Carrie’s eyes followed the same direction and she gasped. “Don’t touch, Mikey!” she warned.
The old man shook his head. “It’s all right. They were meant to be played with.”
They all watched the little boy take the clown puppet and try to make it walk. Carrie approached the marionette display. “It’s a lovely collection, Mister Woodchurch,” she said.
“Toys have been all my life,” he replied simply.
Scarlet considered the man, and frowned. “Woodchurch… when I was a kid, I had a magic set…” he began.
The old man’s smile broadened. “Ah… the Woodchurch box of illusions…. Yes, that was mine.”
Scarlet chuckled, amazed to meet the creator of one of his childhood toys. The tension in the room went down a notch. The three adults chatted amicably as Woodchurch lead them into a large workshop area. Carrie made sure Mikey followed, and he walked the clown puppet along with him.
The workshop was quite large and filled with toys in various stages of build and development. The place was like a magician’s den, laboratory and factory all combined. Even Scarlet and Carrie looked around in awe.
“The business is part of a corporation, of course, but as I said, I’ve always loved toys,” Woodchurch explained. “I’ve collected them from all over the world. From right through history.” He embraced the room. “As you see, I still like to… tinker with creating new ones, but only for my own amusement.”
He picked up a small remote on the workshop table. They all watch in anticipation to see what it controlled. Woodchurch pressed a button, saying: “For instance, meet Oliver.”
At the end of the table, a big teddy bear was sitting, slightly slumped over. It was covered in thick, soft, brown fur. When Woodchurch pressed the remote button, it straightened up to look at the three guests, then quickly crawled up across the table towards them.
Mikey’s eyes shone with delight, the puppet clown forgotten and dropped to the floor in an unceremonious heap when he let go of the mechanism holding the strings. “Oliver” sprung into his arms, saying with a sweet voice: “Will you be my friend?”
The little boy hugged the teddy to his chest. This vacation was improving by the minute for him. “Oh boy! It’s alive!” he cried out.
Woodchurch gave him an indulgent smile. “Well, near enough. Your imagination will do the rest.”
Scarlet reached out to stroke the bear’s fur. “This is all amazing, Mister Woodchurch, but I really need to borrow your phone,” he said.
The old man pinched his lips. “Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Metcalfe. The storm has knocked the phones out.” He shrugged. “Happens all the time.” When he saw the younger man’s concerned expression, he hurried to add: “But you’re more than welcome to spend the night here. I live here alone since my wife died and it would be delightful to have your company.”
Carrie looked away from her son, who was still cuddling Oliver. “Well… if you’re sure…”
“You’re perfectly welcome. It’s very safe.”
Scarlet hesitated, then nodded. It’s not like there was something else he could do. He could not take his sister and nephew out there again, the house did feel safe, and there were no signs of the Mysterons. He could use the rest himself, he thought, and get the Spectra-tech to work. Woodchurch might probably even lend him tools to try and repair it.
They shared a light dinner, talking about this and that. It was delicious—all three were famished after their forced trek in the woods—and the coffee was excellent. Woodchurch had plenty of tales to share from his time as a toymaker and bedtime almost felt like it was too soon for the travelers.
Carrie and Mikey shared a room for the night. There was more than enough space in the large comfortable bed and the young woman felt safer to have her son by her side. Mikey had insisted on bringing Oliver along and he now rested on a chair, slouched and lifeless in the corner.
In his own room across the hall was Scarlet. He wasn’t feeling very tired after all—he only needed a few hours of sleep and had plenty of coffee—and he still felt a little uneasy from their close encounter with the Mysterons. He stared out the window, looking across the rain-washed grounds, alert for more trouble. The lightning was helping him to see a little farther, but he couldn’t detect anything threatening. He tried several times to use his Spectra-tech, but to no avail.
Sighing, he gave up and decided to wait for the morning. He prepared for bed, but lay over the blankets, his gun close by should he needed it.
Woodchurch walked back into the lobby, clown puppet in hand, and put it back on the rack with the other ones. He arranged them neatly, fixing the mermaid’s hair on her shoulder, then moved a little farther down the wall. He pressed a small button under the panel molding and it opened, revealing the security controls for the property. He worked the controls, and the system’s electronic readout displayed ALL SECURITY SYSTEMS OKAY – HOUSE SECURED.
Satisfied, he closed the panel and returned to the workshop, where he sat down and began tinkering with one of his new creations. Seeing Mikey so delighted with the puppet and Oliver had inspired him to finish one of his projects. He could give it to the little boy when they left in the morning.
Outside, the rain continued to lash down. The storm had intensified, with thunder and lightning giving a scary, yet fascinating show that no one saw since they were either in bed or in the workshop.
They didn’t see the two large, distinctive, green rings slide across the ground, then over the house, either.
In the lobby, all was quiet. The puppets on their rack were still… until a soft gust of wind—a murmur, really—touched them. A little foot swayed, a lock of hair moved, a neck ruffle rubbed gently against a small face when it lifted itself and turned to look at the workshop door…
The clown swung a little harder on its peg. The motion moved its controls forward, little by little, until the puppet fell down to the ground.
It stood up.
With an innocent, childlike expression on its face, it reached for its strings and snapped them, freeing itself from them. It was still staring at the workshop door.
Woodchurch smiled, putting down the small file he was holding to pick up a soft cloth. Anyone could make toys, but it was the finishing touch that made a difference. He loved those tasks that took all his concentration and shut him away from the external world…
Behind him, unnoticed, the clown was standing at the door. Its little hands were holding the strings, tightened around them. Its face was still smiling, its floppy blue hat a little askew on its head. Its eyes glowed unnaturally green for a moment.
It stepped forward silently, focused on its task, and reached the back of the old man’s chair. This would be easily done… it crouched and jumped up agilely, swinging the strings over Woodchurch’s head.
The old man jerked back and let out a cry of both surprise and pain when the strings wrapped around his neck. He tried to pry them away from his throat, but the puppet was unnaturally strong and its little hands pulled hard, effectively cutting his air supply. It had put one foot between his shoulder blades to push into him and the other was on the chair’s back rest, giving it all the leverage it needed to do its evil deed.
Woodchurch stood up in a desperate attempt to escape his murderer, gurgling helplessly, but the puppet held on, now fully braced on his back with both feet. It gave a sudden, hard tug at the strings and the old man fell to his knees in front of the chair, clutching at his throat.
He toppled forward, his life escaping him before his head hit the floor. Now standing on the chair, the clown watched, the childlike smile on its face an ultimate insult for its creator, now motionless in front of him.
Scarlet sighed impatiently. He was probably not going to sleep at all. The room was tidy and neat, the bed was comfortable, the house was secured… their host a little eccentric, but kind and welcoming… he would have felt much better had he been able to contact Spectrum. He stared at the ceiling. How many times had he counted holes and patterns and other oddities on different ceilings in his life? Too many, probably.
He heard Woodchurch’s muffled cry, coming from somewhere in the manor. Feeling the rush of adrenaline and dread for his sister and nephew, he sprang out of bed, his gun already in his hand, and was out of the bedroom in a flash.
He threaded his way down the hallway, then the stairs, cautious not to make any noise. He was successful until one of the steps creaked under his foot. Scarlet froze. The sound seemed incredibly loud in the silence of the house. He waited, certain that the Mysteron agent had heard him—he had no doubts that there was one inside by now—but everything was silent once more.
At the bottom of the stairs, he paused again, looking in the direction of the workshop. The door was partially open, and through it he saw a telltale green glimmer. Scarlet secured his grip on his gun and crossed the hallway, pushing the door open.
He was met by the sight of Woodchurch’s dead body on the floor, in the process of being retrometabolized. On the chair, above the old man, the clown puppet was staring back with an innocent-looking expression. It had obviously been expecting him. It let out a small sound. Laughter.
Scarlet hadn’t seen many replicants being formed. Everything was usually done when he arrived on a scene, so each time he witnessed it, it horrified him, especially since he wondered if he had gone through the same process… He couldn’t let this one complete its transformation.
He reached for something, anything, on the workbench… his hand closed on a jar of paint thinner. Grabbing it, he threw it at the green mass of still insubstantial matter. Apparently, the addition of something that wasn’t there before upset the balance of the replicant, because the process seemed to fail. The green shape, nearly fully looking like Woodchurch by then, imploded and fell back to the floor in an indistinct mass of green sludge. Disgusted, uncertain if that was what was left of the real man or his replicant, Scarlet grabbed a paint-stained lab coat nearby and put it over the remains.
Behind him, the clown puppet let out a laugh that went from childish to maniacal and lunged at Scarlet. It leaped on his back, knocking his gun out of his hand and latched onto his neck, locking its arms around his throat. Under the striped blue romper, the arms were thinner than they seemed and made of solid wood, and were quite efficient in cutting his airflow, especially since the clown was pressing its hands, one closed over the fisted other, into his larynx.
Scarlet began to see black spots dancing in front of his eyes. He struggled, trying to shake the puppet off of him. It was laughing close to his ear, breathing in a feeling of panic and scrambling the little concentration he had left to defend himself. He fell to his knees.
However, has he did so, he saw in his blurred vision something on the workbench and his whole body stretched towards it, barely touching it with his fingers… a small handheld power saw. He flexed his fingers in an ultimate attempt to grab it before it was too late and at last he caught it; he flicked on the power button.
The saw came alive with a reassuring buzzing sound and Scarlet brought it down onto one of the clown’s arms, not caring if he nicked his own neck at this point. The clown shrieked in laughter as its arm was severed in two, sawdust flying out like sinister confetti, and then was thrown off, away from Scarlet’s neck by his desperate gesture.
He watched, wiping some sawdust from his eye and forehead, as the puppet flew into the air, its remaining limbs flailing about, and landed on the floor—close to his gun. It noticed it right away and struggled quickly to its feet, but Scarlet was one step ahead of it. He grabbed the gun and kicked the puppet into an open closet nearby.
Relentlessly, the puppet stood up again and sprang forward, still laughing, but Scarlet cut its escape short by slamming the closet door and turning the key in the lock. He stared at the door, trying to catch his breath, ignoring the small wound on his neck that left a bloody trace on his shirt collar. The clown had been down here… Woodchurch had put it back on its peg because Mikey wasn’t playing with it anymore since he had preferred—Scarlet’s eyes widened in horror.
The bear. The goddamn bear was upstairs. He ran out the workshop and climbed the steps two at a time, his heart pounding in his chest.
In the hallway, on the puppet rack, little feet began to sway. Eyes began to glow that unhealthy green hue. Elsewhere, in the workshop and other rooms, in displays, other toys, robots, soldiers, dolls, followed suit. A small, heteroclite army was forming…
Carrie and Mikey slept through the commotion. The rolls of thunder had covered much of the noise and both were exhausted by their long walk through the woods. In his sleep, Mikey rolled over. Had his eyes been open, he would have seen Oliver stir on his chair.
The bear raised his head slowly. In the near complete darkness of the room, only his eyes were visible… green and shimmering. Lightning struck again, quickly, but long enough to show that his eyes hadn’t been the only thing to change. Oliver now had claws, solid, metal ones and his teeth had grown as well. His expression was a parody of what it once was; he wasn’t cuddly or amusing anymore.
In the blink of an eye, he was gone from the chair. He nimbly climbed on the foot of the bed, where Mikey’s feet couldn’t reach, then pounced, all claws and teeth out, growling fiercely.
Scarlet burst through the door so hard and fast that the handle left a mark in the opposite wall. He aimed his gun at Oliver and fired. The bullets hit their mark and the evil teddy bear was thrown across the room by the impact. Carrie and Mikey woke up, screaming at the commotion, confused and afraid. “What the hell!” the young woman cried out in a terrified voice.
“Come on!” Scarlet urged her on, gathering Mikey into his arms.
She didn’t have time to think. She ran out of the room onto the landing, followed closely by her brother, who pushed Mikey in front of him before striking the incoming teddy bear with a well-aimed kick to get him away from them. He slammed the door shut before Oliver could get out, but all three stepped back when they heard a quick bang on the panel, then the horrifying sound of claws attacking the wood.
Scarlet urged Carrie and Mikey down the stairs so they could try and exit this madhouse. As soon as they reached the lobby, Carrie looked around, muttering: “There has to be a way—“
“Look at the puppets!” Mikey cut her off, pointing at the display rack.
Two of the controls were on the floor. The three others were still on their pegs, but the strings were all loose, hanging there. All the puppets had gone. Carrie ran her hand through her dark hair and saw her brother’s angry, set expression. She had never seen him like this. He was scaring her. “Is this for real?” she exclaimed incredulously. “What’s going on, Paul?”
His expression didn’t change. “Remember those rumors about Spectrum?” He looked at her. “I guess Dad was lucky…”
He scanned the lobby for anything that could be of help to them. If only he knew how to open the door… a window! If he could break it, they’d get out. No doubt Woodchurch had a car hidden somewhere in his decrepit-looking garage. Grabbing a large decorative vase, he swung it into the glass, then watched with disappointment and anger as the vase smashed into bits, leaving the glass intact. “Argh! Security glass!” he exclaimed.
He tried again, this time using his gun. He fired a volley of rounds at the glass, trying to weaken it. As if to mock him, the glass absorbed the bullets and didn’t even crack. Right. The old man’s lock up system. No one can get in, and we can’t get out… he thought, knowing they had to find the control panel.
Carrie touched his shoulder to get his attention. “Paul! Look!”
He whirled around. Farther down the lobby, the four remaining puppets were standing. They were motionless, looking quite menacing despite their diminutive sizes. Even the mermaid, as beautiful as it was, had an aura of malevolence only enhanced by the unmistakable green glimmer in its eyes. It was as if it, along with the butler, the witch and the cowboy, were waiting for something.
They didn’t have to wait for long. They heard a slight shuffling noise, then suddenly from behind them, a bulky figure appeared. It was some sort of humanoid, lizard or aquatic monster, nearly reaching Scarlet’s shoulder.
Its plastic joints creaked as it cleared the puppets in a single bound, but it landed solidly on its taloned, webbed feet. It stared at them with large, round eyes, somewhat hidden by a heavy, frowning brow ridge. The scaly, almost crown-shaped crest on its head seemed to lift and shake when it snarled at them, flexing its claws.
Sensing it was about to attack, Scarlet pushed Carrie and Mikey towards the workshop. “Run! Through there!” he yelled, bringing up the rear and firing at the aquatic monster.
He emptied his gun on the awful creature before slamming the door right to its face and turning the lock. Then, eyeing a large cupboard, he moved it to barricade the door. “That ought to hold it for now,” he commented, patting down his jacket to find another magazine.
He winced when he realized that he had already used his spare and immediately began looking at things around him that could be used as weapons. Close to him, Carrie was staring at the door, terrified. “What was that?” she asked fearfully.
“A dragon man. You got me one for Christmas.” Mikey provided. “Only I guess that was a shop display… kinda bigger…”
Carrie snorted. “From now on, no more TV merchandising,” she muttered.
They heard tapping. There was some noise on the other side of the door, but the tapping was closer, inside the room. Mikey looked around worriedly as he found out that the tapping was coming from another cupboard. “There’s something in there!” he cried out, pointing.
Scarlet prevented his nephew from investigating. “It’s okay. Leave it alone. It’s harmless,” he replied.
He noticed the clown’s severed arm on the floor near the workbench. Or is that armless? he added to himself bitterly, tossing it into a trash bin to get rid of it.
He pushed more furniture across the door to secure it. When he looked up from his task, he met his sister’s stern gaze. She had crossed her arms. “An explanation would be good, Paul,” she said tersely.
She wouldn’t let go this time. Scarlet had avoided the subject of his job for a long time. It looked like time was up. “We came across them on Mars, but I don’t think that’s where they’re from. They’re invisible and they can control matter. They can take over anything. People…” he gestured outwards. “… and toys.”
Carrie frowned. That her brother was involved in top secret operations wasn’t all that surprising, actually. Come to think of it, neither was the revelation that there was something— or someone- else out there in the universe. But… “What do they want? To invade us?”
“No. They want to destroy us.”
Mikey huddled against his uncle. “They’re strong! You’re not going to be able to keep them out, are you?”
Scarlet ruffled his hair. “Mikey, they may have aliens pulling their strings, but at the end of the day, they’re plastic and wood.” He hugged the boy to him. “We’ve got something they don’t have. What’s up here,” He pointed at his head, “and here.” He pointed at his chest. “We’re going to be okay, I promise you.”
Even if it meant he had to cut through all of them. He hoped the saw had good batteries.
In the lobby, the toys were gathered. The large aquatic monster was tearing at the wall and door of the workshop relentlessly as the others, including the puppets, and Oliver, who had managed to escape the bedroom, waited. The monster was helped by small rockets, a large bright red one and a smaller gray one, as well as toy planes. Together, they were effectively destroying the barrier between themselves and their quarry.
Carrie shuddered at the noise they were making on the other side of the barricade. Even though she had managed to add a heavy leather chair and a table to their defenses, she didn’t feel confident at all about the strength they really had against the toys’ determination. She had told Mikey to stay away from it and he was exploring the far side of the room, while Scarlet was close to the workbench. He had pulled his Spectra-tech from his jacket and was trying to make it work again.
He could get the lid to open, but no matter which button he pressed, nothing happened. He even tried to pry open the battery compartment with the only result that it wasn’t closing fully anymore. He sighed, frustrated, then looked up at his sister as she approached him. “What is that thing?” she asked.
“Remember that Swiss army knife that Dad used to carry around with him everywhere? Even to Mars? Well, it’s kinda like that.”
She looked doubtful, especially since it didn’t seem to be working. “Yeah, well, it’s going to take us more than that to get us out of this, Paul…”
“Look, Skybase is over the Midwest. I could send a signal to them if it hadn’t been smashed in that pounding when we crashed the car.”
She gave him a look normally reserved for her son when he was telling her fibs, and he nearly retorted that he was open to suggestions at that point, but held his tongue. She was surely not responsible for what was happening. If anything, he was…
The hammering on the workshop door became more intense and they could also hear scratching noises. Carrie and Scarlet shared a look of concern. The old man had to have another exit, or at least another control panel somewhere! Or perhaps Scarlet could lure the toys away from the workshop to spare Carrie and Mikey? He was the prime target after all, not them.
In the meantime, Mikey had continued his exploration of the room and came up to a closed curtain. Could they use that window to get out or send a signal? He drew the curtain back and let out a gasp of surprise. It wasn’t a window, but a door—that opened to reveal a staircase. “Is this the way to the attic?” he asked.
Carrie gave her son a hopeful smile. “I think it is! Maybe there’s a way out up there!” she replied.
The house had been grand once. These looked like stairs servants might use… and if that was the case, they could lead to other parts of the house, including the attic, where there could be more windows and hopefully, other ways to escape this nightmare.
The barricade rattled and began to move. There wasn’t time to think this over. “They’re through!” Carrie exclaimed.
Scarlet gave her a push toward the back of the room. “Up the stairs! Now!”
His tone of voice didn’t leave room for discussions. He tossed his useless Spectra-tech on the workbench, pausing only to stack some of the remaining furniture over the foot of the stairs while his sister and nephew raced away out of sight ahead of him. He didn’t wait to see if his attempts would really slow down their chasers and ran up himself, all too aware of the clawing sounds behind him.
Oliver was the first one through the barricade since he was smaller and could squeeze through the piled up furniture. He stopped in the middle of the room and looked around, growling in frustration at finding it empty… save for a light blinking on the workbench.
The bear climbed up on the chair to have a better look and found the Spectra-tech. The lid was open and the screen half-deployed. Oliver growled again at the blinking light on it and swiped at the device, knocking it to the floor and breaking it into several pieces.
Then he looked up, noticed the other barricade at the back of the room, and moved forward as the rest of the toys emerged into the workshop.
Scarlet, Carrie and Mikey found themselves in a large room directly under the roof. It was filled with boxes and chests, but had a few windows that let in some light when there were lightning flashes. They could still see a little in between the flashes, enough to see each other, but it was also dark enough for them to be hard to find if the toys made it up there.
Scarlet began stacking crates and chests against the door to buy as much time as he could, but he was running out of ideas. Carrie seemed to share his sentiment. “I guess this is as far as we can run,” she commented in a defeated voice.
He stopped what he was doing, wiped his sweaty brow with his sleeve and went towards her to give her a hug. She turned to him to seek comfort, but stopped suddenly, her expression frozen in shock. At first, he thought she had heard the toys come upstairs, but she was staring at him as she backed away.
“What is it?” Scarlet asked, not understanding her sudden change in attitude.
She pointed at him “Your head… that gash you had… it’s gone! Not a mark! That’s impossible!” she replied accusingly.
The wound had been deep and would have required stitches. He had gone through the windshield, for crying out loud! Carrie backed further away, keeping a scared Mikey to her protectively. “The car crash… you were dead!” Her chest heaved. “What are you? You’re not my brother! What are you!”
He didn’t know what hurt the most. Her mistrust? Her pain? Her rejection? He said nothing. His throat felt too tight for speech, anyway. This was probably the worst way to break the news to her and he had dreaded that moment out of fear of her reaction. And her reaction was even worse than he had anticipated.
The thought of her seeing him like a monster was simply horrible. He fumbled behind himself to find a crate, and let himself fall on it, looking at her with sad eyes. Would she still be willing to listen?
A strong flash of lightning lit the attic. Carrie was on the verge of crying. Come to think of it, so was he. He took a deep breath, listening to the thunder roll that followed, then dove in and explained what had happened, starting at the beginning on Mars. His voice broke a few times, but he forged ahead. Carrie listened. She sat on another box, holding Mikey to her. They were astonished by his tale and stared at him, wide-eyed.
"So you say I'm not your brother? He's here." He tapped his chest. "But this is the body the Mysterons gave me. It's virtually indestructible, but I'd give my life right now if it meant I could destroy them. That's all I want in the world, Carrie, to destroy the Mysterons and keep you and Mikey safe." He looked down at his hands now resting on his lap. "And to be all… human again."
Carrie got up, not even trying to stop her tears. She went to Scarlet and held him wordlessly, leaning her cheek against his head. He clung to her. Getting her acceptance had meant much more than he thought and he felt drained emotionally. If—no, after—they got out of this, they would need to have a very long talk…
Mikey was still sitting on the case, looking at them with mixed emotions; it was beyond anything he could have imagined… He felt sad, afraid, and at the same time was in even greater awe of his uncle. Scarlet opened his arm to him, and the little boy was about to join them in a group hug, when the lid of the case he was sitting on started to jump under him.
Screaming, Mikey scrambled off to seek protection behind the adults while the lid flew open and the hand of an ape reached out. The large action figure tried to come out, but Scarlet lunged out to snap the lid shut and trap it. Carrie looked around and found a metal bar lying in the attic junk and hurried to push it through the catch of the chest to secure it. They backed away from the case, all watching as the lid continued to move, with the little relief of knowing that the lock held.
Their respite was only temporary, however. Soon, lids from the other boxes in the attic began to rattle and move, as if triggered by some unseen signal. “Oh no…” Carrie uttered, starting to back away towards her son.
Scarlet ran his eyes across the boxes. The old man had kept prototypes and leftovers that didn’t sell… “They’re all toys!” he realized in horror.
How was he going to fight them all? There were too many boxes! He didn’t even have his gun anymore! An assault rifle could have probably broken the glass in the windows if he shot many rounds up close… He looked around the attic, searching for a weapon, and spotted a weighty iron bar lying on the floor. He picked it up and placed himself in front of Carrie and Mikey, shielding them from the boxes, whose lids were now all shuddering.
They backed into a corner, where he could protect them better, or at least as much as he could. The lids rattled again and the barricaded door began to shudder as well. The lot downstairs had caught up with them.
A sound, like a roar, built up quickly. The lids of the boxes were thrown back one after the other and the door opened at the same time. There, in the front, was the aquatic monster. Its expression was menacing as it scanned the room. Behind it, the other toys, including Oliver, were waiting.
The rumble was now much louder. It was probably a tactic to make them panic even more… The aquatic monster let out a blood-curdling scream and gathered itself, ready to pounce. Scarlet raised his metal bar, already assessing how he could use the creature’s, or even the bear’s, talons as weapons if he got his hands on them—but he never had the time to act.
Part of the roof exploded, between them and the door. The attic was flooded with a shaft of blinding white light coming from overhead, along with rain, as two figures slid down ropes into the room. The toys stopped, unsure of how to react to this new situation, and that proved to be their mistake.
Captain Blue and Captain Ochre opened fire on them as soon as their feet touched the floor. Scarlet had the fleeting thought that if the situation wasn’t already so dramatic, this would have actually been entertaining to watch. Blue’s assault rifle found its mark right away as he blew the aquatic monster to pieces, muttering something Mikey was best not to have heard. There was also immense satisfaction to draw from Ochre’s well-placed aim that sent Oliver sprawling back into a corner, where he lay motionless. Between the two of them, both Spectrum Captains handled all of the toys in a snap as they tried to come through the door.
They didn’t spare the cases either, making sure none were left untouched. When Ochre reduced the last one to matchwood, there was a flash of blinding green light as the Mysterons abandoned their failed mission, leaving a desolated attic behind.
Ochre turned to Scarlet, who was holding Carrie in his arms to protect her from harm. They were both staring wide-eyed at the scene, not believing their luck.
“I guess playtime’s over,” the Irish captain commented with a roguish smile.
She has been spending too much time with Blue, Scarlet thought, smiling back despite himself.
Behind him, Mikey was gaping at her, probably having his first crush at seeing this formidable lady drop down from the sky to save him. Ochre tipped her cap to him before disappearing down the stairs to clear any remaining threats. Once the way was declared safe, Scarlet, Carrie and Mikey went down as well, with Blue covering their backs.
They found Woodchurch’s security system behind the hidden panel and it was quickly disabled once Ochre connected her own Spectra-tech to it and worked on the circuit. They were finally able to open the large bolts on the door and stepped outside.
Two Hummingbirds had settled on the manor’s lawn, their powerful lights illuminating the garden with an artificial daylight. Mikey was drawn to them as soon as he set eyes on them. “Cool! Choppers! Wow!”
He ran towards them enthusiastically, as if their ordeal had never happened. Carrie reached out somewhat in panic when she saw her son bounce away from her, but Blue gave her a reassuring smile, following Mikey closely to make sure he wouldn’t be able to explore the helicopters unsupervised.
Both passed Doctor Gold, who was approaching from the opposite direction with his medical bag. He stopped next to Scarlet, Carrie and Ochre, who was still with them. “The doc’s gonna want to check you over,” the latter advised.
Carrie shook her head gently. “We’re alive. We’re fine,” she assured the medical officer.
Gold said nothing at first, merely leading her to a rickety-looking garden bench so she could sit down. He examined her quickly, then took out a hypodermic. “Here is a little something to help with shock,” he said, injecting her in the shoulder.
Scarlet bit his lip, knowing what this meant. But it was better that way. If he were to tell Carrie about himself and the Mysterons, he needed to chose a better time, or a better way—if that was possible. She’d feel drowsy soon and they would be able to put it down to the adrenalin wearing off.
And if she was already a little gone when Mikey came back and they injected him, she wouldn’t protest.
Everyone was safe. That’s all that mattered.
Apparently, the Spectra-tech had worked for a few moments, sending Lieutenant Green a signal, then Oliver’s growls as he found the device and destroyed it. This had triggered an immediate response and the Hummingbirds had been dispatched to the location she had managed to trace. Since Skybase had been relatively close, they had arrived on time to save Scarlet, Carrie and Mikey.
The old man’s house had been condemned, and the legal team would search for a next of kin to present them with options. A report was sent to the Spectrum R&D department to perform further drop tests on the Spectra-techs.
Scarlet was astonished at the power Spectrum had and at what lengths they could go to hide things. Or put things back the way they were, as they said. They had found another identical four-by-four, put the camping gear in the back… they had even found him another shirt because his had been torn during his fight. They were on the Montana road as if nothing had happened the night before, only a little further off as if they had driven all night… The sky was a gorgeous shade of blue again. They had passed wheat fields and woods, signs for local attractions including U-pick and ranches. He shook his head. He almost believed it himself.
As the road straightened, he took the time to look to his right. Carrie was sleeping with her head against the window. He felt a burst of love for his little sister, smiling sadly. The Mysterons had given him a wake-up call. He should see his family more often, let them know that he was still there for them… the challenging part would be to include Destiny in the equation… he decided to let go for now.
Carrie stirred, her eyes opened slowly.
“Good sleep?” Scarlet asked, now looking back at the road.
She frowned a little, as if something was nagging her, as if she had missed something, but it passed and she stretched, “accidently” sending her hand in the direction of her brother’s head in a mock punch and smiling when it connected. “How long was I asleep?” she asked.
He pushed her fist away with the side of his head. “A while.”
Gold had said that it would take some time for the effect of the injections to wear off and that they wouldn’t remember what had happened. So far, so good. He looked in the rear-view mirror. Mikey was still sleeping, his head at a crooked angle, but soon woke up as well, probably from hearing them talk in the front of the vehicle. “Hi there, champ!” Scarlet said enthusiastically.
The boy rubbed the sleep from his eyes, yawning. “I had a weird dream,” he mumbled, “There were toys trying to kill us.”
Scarlet swallowed, but said nothing. Carrie turned in her seat to look at her son. “Toys?” she asked.
She frowned again, as if a memory was tugging at her, but it passed. She laughed, turning back to face the front of the four-by-four again. “You watch too much TV, Mikey,” she commented.
Scarlet held back a sigh of relief. He drove a little further, then spotted a sign on the horizon. He made a quick decision. “Hey! I got an idea!”
He turned where the sign indicated into a side road. Soon, they went under a large sign that welcomed them to the Iron Horse Ranch. On each side of them, horses were grazing in pastures. Scarlet looked in the rear-view mirror again. “How ‘bout we ride these nightmares into the ground, partner?” he asked, his lips turning up in the attractive Metcalfe smile.
Mikey perked up, his smile matching his uncle’s. “Yee-haw, cowboy!” he exclaimed, as the four-by-four accelerated towards the ranch.
In the unkempt garden, Woodchurch manor stood empty and silent, a huge tarp covering the hole in its roof like a bandage on a gaping wound. The cleaning and evaluation crew had done the minimum and things would probably remain that way until the insurance companies and the next of kin decided what to do with it.
If they had stayed a little longer, they might have heard faint hammering. In the deserted lobby, it was almost unnoticeable, but in the workshop, it was louder. The door to the locked closet moved a little.
The knocking stopped for a moment. A childlike, musical chuckle sounded from the other side of the door.
The hammering started again, stronger, steadier. And with it, came a sudden burst of unholy, maniacal laughter.
Author's Notes and Disclaimer
Thank you Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and the CGI team for creating such a beautiful playground! The characters are not mine, I'm having a great time writing the stories, and no profit is intended from this.
This was an interesting challenge! I had heard about the “missing” NCS episode that was replaced by Gray Skulls, seen some of the reading done at Fanderson in 2006 on YouTube, but I was fortunate to come upon the whole performance lately and thought it would be a perfect Halloween challenge for me, so I gave a go at adapting it.
Many thanks to many people are in order here… first, thank you Phil Ford for writing the script. I tried to be faithful to your text and dialogues--or what I could hear on the recording—any transcription errors are mine! I mixed or grouped a few scenes so it made more sense in the written form, and voilà! That’s what I came up with. If you ever read this, I hope you think I did a good job.
Thanks also to the voice artists who did the reading of the script:
Mike Hayley as the narrator (who else than Colonel White could narrate this?) and Mr. Keebler
Chris Finney as Wesley, Oliver and Dr. Gold (and let’s not forget the clown’s maniacal laughter!)
Wayne Forester as Scarlet (who also provided quite a few sound and visual effects—I don’t think Scarlet’s expletive when he died was in the script, but I kept it anyway, it was so fitting!)
Jules de Jongh as Carrie (her portrayal of the attractive woman in her late sev—twenties was spot-on)
Julia Brahms as Mikey and Captain Ochre (assault rifle special effects included!)
And last but not least, Shane Rimmer as Alexander Woodchurch (I guess he ended up being the voice of a dead man after all…)
Without this fab presentation, this story would have remained unknown to the fans!
As usual, my beta-reader Skybase Girl did a wonderful job reviewing the text and help me make it better. Any remaining mistakes are mine.
And thank you Chris Bishop for the opportunity to showcase my stories, image-modifying tips and the sparkle Photoshop brushes. They really do make a difference!
Any comments? Send an E-MAIL to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site