A short story by Sue Stanhope
Sometimes I wonder why I even started writing this diary, I mean, whoís it for? I donít need to read it; Iíve had the experience after all. I tell myself that it gets it all out of my system, and to an extent, thatís true, but I wonder if thereís any way Iíll ever really get this experience out of my system. It shook me, I tell you. Listen! Who am I talking to? Well, it helps to think someoneís listening, so, dear diary, indulge me, just this once.
Itís hard to talk sometimes, I canít expect anyone to really understand, or even care. Now, donít take that the wrong way, Iím not saying that they donít care, just that I donít expect anyone to put their problems aside for whatever my current issue may be. Perhaps I keep too much to myself; perhaps Iím as transparent as glass. I donít know. After all, weíre as much how others see us as what we think we are ourselves. Itís quite surprising how different that image can be.
I had a twenty-four hour pass, and was looking forward to spending it with a very special lady. Naturally as bad luck would have it, her leave was cancelled only the day before. Thatíll teach me to joke about black cats! What am I talking about? Oh, itís just something silly, she had a cat when she was a kid and what with it being Halloweíen this week, I made a pretty lame joke.
Anyway, I still had my leave and Iíd intended to pick up some decorations for the annual Spectrum Halloweíen Party. It wouldnít be the same without her, but I had to go to pick up the stuff, I couldnít let everyone down could I? So with a brief but passionate farewell to her, I set off. I wanted to get the decorations first, get that out of the way. It was easy enough, the shops were full of all the paraphernalia of Halloweíen and many were having sales as the day itself was drawing so close. I picked up some real bargains, making the collection money stretch much further than we had anticipated. I was actually excited and looking forward to a great party by the time I bundled everything back to the hotel. Now to buy a gift! Iíd rushed around all morning and had purposely left myself with several hours Ė plenty of time to buy her the perfect gift. A little something to make up for not being able to come with me. We both needed cheering up on that score, but for me, imagining the look on her face when she opened whatever it was I bought for her.
The trouble is, I donít remember any more. I woke slowly to find myself lying on the floor, and a particularly cold and uncomfortable floor at that.
I had no idea how long Iíd been out of it, but when I woke I was confronted with the strangest landscape. It looked, for all the world, like a variation on the surface of the moon. Grey crags and mountainous outcrops as far as the eye could see, above me the starless sky was as black as coal. From somewhere a dim light, but clearly not dawn or twilight as it seemed too uniform, offered enough to me to see. Looking around, I could see not a speck of colour or sign of life anywhere. All around me, nothing, no one.
"Well? Arenít you going to introduce yourself then?"
The voice came quite literally out of nowhere. Scrambling to my feet, I spun on my heels, my hand reaching for my pistol, and realising with frustration that I was without it. My eyes scanned the low rocks around me.
"Oh, donít worry. That wouldnít have worked here anyway." The voice seemed to move to be forever behind me as I turned.
"Where are you?" I demanded.
"Iím behind you."
I spun once more, but again nothing.
"No, behind you," the voice said again with a little sigh.
This time turning only my head, I saw him. He was tall, apparently human, with shoulder length wavy blond hair framing a face that was at once handsome, yet at the same time somehow unnerving. Something about him seemed unnatural, but I couldnít place why at that point.
"Who are you? Where am I?"
"Only one question at a time. Pick one."
"Who are you?"
"Iím your guide."
"Guide? What do you mean? Where am I?"
"I told you," he answered in an infuriatingly even voice, "only one question at a time."
"Why?" I snapped. "What happens if I ask more then one?"
He shrugged as he looked at me, a passive smile on his otherwise blank face.
"Thatís two questions."
I almost screamed in frustration.
"Who are you?"
"I told you, Iím your guide. You know, you should pay attention. Fewer questions and more listening, but thatís always been your problem, hasnít it?"
"Where am I?"
"One question, well done."
"Well, answer it then!"
"Iím afraid I canít," he replied tapping his fingers together, before turning and walking away.
"Where are you going?" I demanded, snatching at his arm, pulling him back.
"I told you, Iím your guide. What kind of guide would I be if I didnít lead you anywhere?"
"Okay," I sighed, "what are you going to show me?"
"Iíve seen it!" I snapped angrily.
"Not like this, you havenít," he replied with a small laugh.
I narrowed my eyes suspiciously before asking the question I couldnít believe I was asking.
"Is this Hell?" I finally asked with more than a degree of uncertainty in my voice. In fact, as I recall, I almost laughed.
"Hell?" my guide responded with a low chuckle. "That would make me the Devil, then?"
"Youíre not answering my questions! Not one!"
"Iíve answered all of your questions!" He replied with an indignant tone. "You know who I am, where you are and why youíre here."
"No I donít!"
He waved a hand dismissively. "Youíre not listening, thatís why."
I thought over what had been said. Somehow, I knew this was real, or as real as it could be. It was no trick, this person was real and genuine and I was experiencing something that I felt sure had never happened to anyone else.
"Of course it has!" He frowned. "Do you think I came into existence at the drop of a hat solely for your benefit?"
"YouÖ" I was lost for words. "You read my mind?"
"Yes," he shrugged, "well, no."
"Is there a straight answer to anything?"
I sighed. This was positively infuriating.
"What do you want to show me?" I asked with a resigned sigh.
He set off at quite a remarkable pace and I struggled to keep up. We walked for what seemed like hours and all the while the landscape remained unchanged, with nothing on the horizon for miles in any direction. Eventually Iíd had enough and I called to him to stop. Not that he took any notice at first.
"Hey!" I yelled for the second time. "Weíve been walking for ages and weíre getting nowhere."
He turned and gazed at me with an expression of simple incredulity. "You think so?"
"Yes, I think so!"
"Thatís odd, because not so long ago, you said that you didnít know where you were, nor where we were going, yet now you seem absolutely certain that weíre not getting there."
"Donít play games with me!" I snapped, though I have to admit, I felt a little foolish. "I still donít know who you are."
"I told you, IímÖ"
"My guide, yes I know, but what do I call you?"
"Ah! You can call me, Nick."
"Thatís right," he replied with a slight nod and a smile that contained a suggestion of mocking.
"Where are you taking me?"
"Iím not taking you anywhere, youíre following me," he replied with a look of surprise on his face.
"Iíve had enough of this! You were taking me to see something."
"I want to show you something."
"What do you want to show me!"
"Are you ready now?"
"Yes!" I yelled but instantly the blinding light that filled the sky took away all of my resolve. I raised my arms to shield them from the glare and when I lowered them, I was in my quarters on Cloudbase.
"How did you do this?" I demanded, but Nick was nowhere to be seen. Reaching for the communication console, my heart leapt into my mouth as my hand passed straight through. Then I cleared my mind, telling myself over and over that it could only be a hologram.
"You think so?" a voice sighed. "Youíre going to be difficult arenít you? I can tell. I can always tell."
I turned and saw him again sat at the table, his chin rested on his fingers set crossed in a steeple.
"Youíre trying to say Iím dead, or something?" I laughed.
"Well, of course youíre dead! Thereís no Ďor somethingí about it!"
"Iím dead?" The words came out flat and emotionless. I didnít know what to believe at that point.
"Yes, my friend, now, the question is, what are you going to do about it?"
"Do?" I raised my hands, palms up and slowly moved them to my head. I was at a loss to understand what was happening.
Yes, do!" he replied, apparently irritated. "Doesnít anyone ever know the rules?"
"There are rules to being dead?"
"No, there are rules to staying dead. Havenít you ever heard of near-death-experiences?"
"Well, yes, butÖ"
"No buts! Welcome to near-death! Only itís not near-death, itís actual death." he sighed and ran a hand over his left eye. "Same every time! Iíve been with you all your life, but no! Nobody recognises old Nick!"
"Old Nick! You are the Devil!"
He looked at me harshly, almost pouting.
"Do I look like the Devil?"
"You tell me," I snapped. "Apparently, I donít even know what death looks like!"
He broke out into a deep throaty laugh, rising from the chair, he approached and slapped me on the back in a good-natured way.
"Let me explain," he said encouraging me to sit opposite him. "This is how it works," he continued as he took his seat once more and waited while I hesitantly touched the chair.
"Oh, itís quite solid now, Iím here, donít worry. Take a seat!"
"Look, I donít mean to be rude," I began as I sat down gingerly.
"Good, I hate rudeness," he smiled at me, but the smile said Ďshut up and listení more then anything else. "Now, you died, do you remember?"
"No," I frowned, "I canít say that I do."
Rolling his eyes, he sighed heavily. "What do you remember, then?"
"Well, IÖ" I rested my chin on my hand and leaned forward. "I was evacuating a buildingÖ"
"Why?" he prompted.
"It was on fire," I frowned as I suddenly remembered the heat on my face, the singeing of my shirt, the smoke in my nose and eyes.
"AndÖ" my eyes widened with fear and I instinctively raised my arm protectively as I pictured a large wooden beam suddenly break and fall from the ceiling, pinning me to the floor. "The beam!"
"Right!" he nodded. "Now you remember. Okay, now you get the choice."
"What choice? And why do I feel like Iím not going to like it?"
"What did I say about asking multiple questions?"
"You donít answer my questions anyway!" I snapped irritably.
"This one, I will, but you have to ask it first."
I sighed, but I was curious. "What is the choice?"
"Live or die?"
"Well, thatís easy, live!"
"Well," he made an airy gesture with his hand, "itís never quite that easy. If you want to live, someone has to die in your place. Iíve drawn up a list."
I was astounded. The idea was absurd! As he pushed the paper towards me, I pushed it back, refusing even to look at it.
"No, you should look at this!" he insisted. "There are some good choices here. I like you, you know. You could do well out of this. Look, Colonel White, heís on the list. Heís old already; you could live and get promoted, all in one fell swoop. Wouldnít you like that? Go on, admit it, you are tempted!"
"No, Iím not!" I snapped, appalled at the idea.
"Look at the list!" He smiled at me. "Now donít pretend you donít want to take even a glance at it now."
I did, Iíll admit I did, I was curious, but for each grain of me that was curious, there was another part of me that was a hundred times more horrified by the very idea.
"No!" I snatched up the paper and tore it up in his face.
"I can show you what life would be like without any one of those choices, you know. Youíll see itís not so bad, you might even like some of them."
"So, you choose to die? Coward!"
"Itís not important what you think! Whatís important to me are my friends and family, their respect, not yours. I bet half of them were on your list werenít they? You really think Iíd put my own life over theirs? You may like me, but you donít know me!"
Then I was falling, the chair was no longer solid, neither was the floor, nor the whole of Cloudbase and I was falling through the bitter cold.
"Come on!" a voice screamed at me and I felt the agony of a hand pumping my chest. Coughing painfully through a smoke filled throat, I opened my eyes.
"We got him!" a jubilant voice cried out.
"You just rest now, Adam. For a minute, we thought we were going to lose you."
The paramedic was young, with shoulder length wavy blond hair.
He turned to me briefly and winked. "Good choice!"
Some events and characters Copyright © of all trademarks materials (Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons, all characters, vehicles, crafts, etc.), owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton. Information of the series are all been taken from copyright © materials (books, magazines, videos, T.V. media, comics, etc) owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton.