Original series Suitable for all readersFantasy/light horror





The Certainty of Return - A Spectrum story for Halloween by Marion Woods



Yet while there is time, there is the certainty of return.

Gavin Maxwell.


Patrick Donaghue pulled up outside the isolated cottage and turned to his companion with a smile.

“Here we are, then. Our country retreat for the weekend.”

“I’m mad; it’s official, I must be,” Richard Fraser replied, peering through the car window in dismay. “I let you talk me into driving out into the middle of nowhere on the pretext of seeing a meteor shower, when I could’ve stayed in Dublin. I’m mad, most definitely.”

“Stop your complaining,” Patrick replied amicably. “You were going stir-crazy cooped up in the office all day and the hotel all night.”

“I can see meteor showers any time I like from Cloudbase,” Rick wailed. “What made me think it’d be more fun stuck out here in the damp and the dark… with a mobster for a companion?”

“Erstwhile mobster, please.” Patrick remained unmoved by this all theatricality.

“The hotel had warmth and light and room service,” Rick repined, dramatically glancing at his companion with a hang-dog expression.

“Don’t be so bone-idle. We’ve got a 48-hour-pass, a car full of booze, ready meals, snacks and provisions. The place has wi-fi, so we can watch the big game and then play poker - for real money.”

“I’m not playing you for real money, you degenerate card-sharp.”

“I won’t cheat if you won’t,” Pat replied.

Rick snorted.

Patrick continued, “Let’s get the stuff into the cottage, turn the heat up full-blast, stick a pizza or three in the oven and crack open several beers. You’ll feel right at home then.”

“What option do I have? I’m mad, I tell you, but I shall just have to live with it, I suppose.”

“Too right. Come on, Rick… I’m getting hungry.”

It didn’t take them long to bring all their gear in and, to his relief, Rick discovered the place was warm and what his mother would’ve no-doubt called ‘cosy’. The furniture, although not new, was clean and comfortable, the carpets were relatively new and the lighting perfectly adequate. The owner had left a basket of goodies on the kitchen table as a welcome gift to his holiday-makers, and a small folder with instructions for working all the appliances, useful phone numbers in case of an emergency and details of local events, hostelries and restaurants.

Not that there were many of them or that local.

“Nearest public house, shop and restaurant, three miles,” Rick read aloud. “Good job we bought provisions; that’s too far to stagger home after a night on the tiles, Pat.”

Pat was fiddling with the oven controls. “That should warm up soon and we’ll put the pizzas in straight away. I’m going to take my stuff up to the bedrooms and unpack. Should be hot enough by then…”

Rick followed him up the narrow stairs.

“Where’s the bathroom?” he asked.

“Downstairs,” Pat replied. “House’s too old for an upstairs bathroom. Which room d’you want?”

Rick peered into the two rooms across the small landing. “This one,” he said, with a nod of his head towards the left-hand room and a careless shrug; there was no difference between the small, low-ceilinged rooms each with a small wardrobe, a single bed, and a plain bedside table, adjacent to an uncurtained window.

“Don’t they believe in curtains here?” he asked.

“Who d’you imagine’s going to be peering in? As you so rightly said, we’re in the middle of nowhere,” Pat replied. “If you’re that modest, you can always get undressed in the dark…” He grinned at his friend’s crude response and went into his allotted room, closing the door behind him.


Thirty-five minutes later, Rick made his way to the kitchen and nodded with approval at the sight and smell of the three pizzas in the oven. He opened the bottle of beer that was waiting for him and wandered back into the living room, where Pat was busy setting up the Wi-Fi connection, feeding the signal into the large TV screen that hung on the wall.

Feeling mellower by the minute, Rick sat down on the sofa and put his feet on the low coffee table.

“Bring it on, Paddy-boy,” he said, with a grin.


The pizzas and various savoury snacks had been consumed, along with an indeterminate, but certainly substantial, amount of beer. The ‘big game’ had not disappointed and the two friends were now seated at the dining table, playing cards.

Rick threw down his cards and ran his hands through his hair.

“Luck of the Irish, be damned! You’re cheating, Pat. I’m sure of it, but I’m damned if I know how you’re doing it!”

Patrick gathered the cards and began to shuffle them.

“Another hand?”

“No.” Rick stood up. “I’ll be living off what I can cadge from the Cloudbase Canteen for the rest of the month if I lose any more to you. Besides, I need to take a leak.”

Patrick went to the door and opened it, stepping outside into the small, well-tended garden. He gazed skywards. There was some cloud, but it was minimal and the half- moon gave enough light to lift the darkness from pitch-black to jet-black.

A flash of light streaked across the sky for a split second. Pat smiled.

“Rick, get out here! The Orionid is starting. I just saw a shooting star!”

Rick ambled out to join Pat and they both stood, necks craned back to watch the dark, empty sky.




They pointed out the meteors streaking earthwards until the celestial activity slowed and the cold began to bite.

“Was it worth it?” Pat asked, as with one accord, they turned to go back into the cottage.

“Well, it wasn’t bad. You get a different perspective from the ground, I guess.”

Rick had already gone into the cottage when Magenta noticed a light in the distance. A torchlight coming along the road from the direction of the village. He knew it was a long walk to anywhere, so he waited, interested to know who was out and about this late in the evening.

A burly man with dark, curly hair approached. He was carrying a traditional jack-o’-lantern on a tall pole, carved from a pumpkin and was dressed in leather trousers, boots and jacket.

“Good evening to you,” he called, as soon as he saw Patrick standing in the pool of light cast by the open cottage door.

“Good evening,” Pat replied.

“You’re out late tonight, sir,” the stranger called. He had a lilt to his voice that suggested he was more used to speaking Gaelic than English, but he was proficient in the language.

“Yes, my friend and I were watching the shooting stars.”

“I wasn’t aware the cottage was let. I was hoping I might beg a night’s rest from the owner. She’s not here?”

“No; we’ve rented the place for the weekend.”

“To be sure, I did wonder if she might be busy tonight – of all nights.”


“Halloween, sir.”

“Of course. How could I forget, especially with your magnificent lantern there?”

The man lingered by the gate, obviously reluctant to continue on his way. “Missus Mabily is a kind woman and she generally doesn’t object to me dropping by.”

Rick appeared in the doorway. “Why’re you hanging about outside, you idiot? You’re letting the cold in.”

“I was talking to this gentleman. He was hoping to see the owner and maybe stay the night,” Pat explained.

“Nobody here but us,” said Rick. He glanced at his friend and they reached an unspoken consensus. “But you’re welcome to come in and have something to eat and drink, if you want, and I guess nobody’ll know if you doss down on the sofa. It’s going to be a cold, clear night.”

“That it is, sir. Thanking you for your hospitality.” The man opened the gate and walked up to the cottage. “My name’s Jack Smith. I’m by way of a blacksmith in Ballybeg, over in the next valley.”

“I’m Patrick Donaghue and this is my friend, Richard Fraser.”

“Rick. Pleased to meet you, Jack. Come on in.”

“I’ll leave this lantern outside, with your permission?”

“Probably best. Wouldn’t want Mrs Mabily’s cottage burning down,” Rick joked, as he led the way inside.

“Don’t you want to blow the candle out?” Patrick asked, as Jack stood the staff in the soft earth some way from the door.

“No. It’ll burn all night. Don’t you worry about it, Patrick.”

Pat followed their guest inside and closed the door.

“We’ve got bread, ham, cheese…” Rick was explaining, “Or we could put something in the microwave oven, if you’d prefer something hot. Mrs Mabily left us some soup and, eh… bacon.”

Jack smiled. “Ah, she’d have guessed I might be passing by. She’s a grand lady, if you don’t cross her.”

“Soup and bacon it is then,” Patrick said. “Sit down, Jack and have a beer while it warms up.”

“It is mighty kind of you, gentlemen, and appreciated.”

Rick handed him a glass and a bottle of beer, while Pat peeled off rashers of bacon and put them on a trivet under the halogen grill and poured some of the homemade soup into a microwave bowl.

“You gentlemen are Americans?”

“I am,” Rick said. “Pat was born in Dublin but he came to the States when he was a kid.”

“A good many Irishmen did just that,” Jack said. He drank a deep draught of the beer and smacked his lips appreciatively. “Are you here on a holiday?”

“We’ve been working on a contract in Dublin – we thought we’d take a break on our last weekend here. We’ll be finished next week and then it’s on to the next mission,” said Rick.

“And you chose Mrs Mabily’s cottage?”

“Pat saw an advert online and it was just the thing we were looking for and at a bargain price. Last minute booking, you know?”

“Mrs Mabily always gives value for money, Rick.”

“It’s a comfortable cottage,” he agreed.

“Have you known Mrs Mabily long, Jack?” Patrick asked. He suspected that there must be some relationship between their unexpected guest and their unknown landlady.

“That I have.”

“Then please tell her how much we’ve appreciated staying in her cottage and the kind welcome she gave us. We never expected such a basket of food.”

“It smells good,” Rick agreed. “I think maybe I could join you in a bowl of that soup, Jack.”

Patrick looked surprised. “Fraser, you’ve eaten the best part of three pizzas, not to mention nuts and pretzels by the hundredweight. You can’t be hungry.”

Rick shared his surprise, but he said: “Odd, but I am. Must be the country air, or standing about in the cold watching those meteors.”

“I think you’ll find it’s the tempting smell of that soup,” Jack remarked. “It’s making my palette slaver.”

“Here it is,” Pat delivered it to the table in a deep earthenware mug and placed a plate with some of the soda bread next to it. “The bacon’s almost ready.”

Jack raised his beer glass and toasted them both: “To yourselves, gentleman, and to Mrs Mabily.”

“Mrs Mabily,” they chorused in unison.

The lights in the cottage flickered and at the edge of their hearing they both heard a sharp, twittering noise.

Jack sat back in his chair. There was a satisfied smile on his face that seemed to be related to far more than the satisfying taste of the soup or the tempting smell of the grilling bacon.

“Three times is the charm,” he muttered.

“What’s that noise?” Rick asked.

“What noise?” Jack asked, chewing on a slab of bread.

“There’s a sort of… twittering… like…” Rick looked at Patrick. “Laughter?”

Pat nodded. “Yes… like a thousand laughing voices, but a long way away.”

“That’ll be Mrs Mabily,” Jack said casually. “She’ll be coming now you’ve called her.”

“Called her? What’re you talking about?” Rick demanded, getting to his feet. He felt a sudden unease, born from years of instinctive wariness of dangerous situations. He moved towards Patrick. “What’s going on?”

“No idea…”

Jack finished the soup and bread and stood.

“Gentlemen, it is Halloween and you are in the house of Mrs Mabily.”

A frown deepened on Patrick’s brow. “Who is Mrs Mabily and what’s she got to do with it?”

Jack turned his head and gave a wry smile. “She’s coming… see for yourself.”

The door to the cottage opened and in a swirl of cold air, a tall, elegant woman seemed to float into the room. She was wearing a long, silver-grey woollen coat, with a high collar and a neat, Cossack-style fur hat, which increased the impression of slim height. The long hair that emerged from beneath the hat and fell around her shoulders in luxuriant curls was a copper-red. Her oval-shaped face was beautiful, with large, amber-coloured eyes and a small, delicately pointed nose above rose-bud lips.

ᴉAy caramba!” Rick breathed. A connoisseur of women, he knew a Grade A beauty when he saw one.

Mrs Mabily came towards them and extended one thin, long-fingered hand to Rick. He took it and kissed the delicate fingers.

“Richard.” Her voice was soft and enticing. Her gaze was fixed on the handsome American. A playful smile parted her bee-stung lips to reveal small, perfectly white teeth.

Patrick watched in silence as his friend drew closer to the mesmerising woman. He felt unable to move or speak, but every sense was screaming danger. He looked towards Jack, who was still standing, watching Mrs Mabily with some anxiety.

As if she had read his thoughts, Mrs Mabily turned her gaze to Jack and she said:

“You have done well. The house is yours – for another night. We shall meet again, Jack.” Then she turned back to Rick and silently placed her hand on his arm.

Without speaking, Rick followed her as she glided back towards the door, which blew open at her approach.

Pat tried to call out, struggling against the strange paralysis that still held him in its grip, but to no avail. Rick went out with Mrs Mabily and the door slammed shut behind them.

Only then did the force field that had held him dissipate and Patrick rushed to the door. He raced outside into the darkness. There was nobody there. He hurried back inside, to see Jack helping himself to the bacon from the grill.

 “Where has she taken him?” he cried. “Who the Hell was she?”

Jack looked up. “Mrs Mabily? You don’t know? Call yourself an Irishman and you’ve never heard of Queen Mab and all her guises…”

Patrick searched his memory. “Queen Mab? The… the Queen of the Fairies?”

Jack nodded. “Over the aeons she’s changed her name to fit the times. Queen Mab wouldn’t do in today’s world, but she’s never changed.”

Finding it hard to believe this was happening, Pat tried to remain calm and get what information he could from Jack. “How do you know her?”

A shifty look flitted across Jack’s face and Patrick lost his temper.

“I want the truth, Smith. Now.”

“Look, Patrick; I can’t help you. Rick’s with Mab now and until she’s tired of him he won’t come back – not of his free will. They never do.”

“Were you one of them?”

Jack laughed. “She wouldn’t look at the likes of me. She likes them pretty.”

“You know an awful lot about her for someone who wasn’t part of this set up. She gave you this cottage.”

Jack sat down and reached for another beer. “For tonight, she did. It’s our bargain. I try to find her a new playmate when she wants one, and, if I’m successful, I leave the lantern outside the cottage. If she’s happy with my… find, she lets me sit the night out inside.”

“Why only tonight?”

“It’s Halloween.”

“Sure. I suppose you and Mab consider this to be trick-or-treating?”

“Sit down, Patrick, and listen.”

Reluctantly, Pat did as he was told. Despite the warmth of the room he felt chilled to the bone and suddenly stone cold sober. He too reached for another beer.

Jack began his story:

“Many years ago – I can’t even tell how many – I worked as a blacksmith in the village. Blacksmiths were considered magical men back then – having the secret of using the fire to work the metals. I was a good blacksmith, Patrick, but I had a great pride in my abilities and my consequence. I charged a lot for my services and I was not generous to my neighbours. As the years went on, I grew too confident and became careless. I was burned and couldn’t work for many months. I needed money and I stole. When the villagers found out, they chased me out into the countryside, beat me up and left me to die. I crawled to a tree and waited for the inevitable.”

“Rough justice, but justice, nevertheless,” Patrick said. He doubted the veracity of this narrative but knowledge of the events that had led to Captain Scarlet’s unique, and undeniably hard-to-believe, situation had left him with an open mind when it came to the out of the ordinary.

Jack gave a rueful grin. “Satan came for my soul. I could see nothing but an eternity of torment ahead of me, so I challenged him. I suggested that he change himself into a silver coin and that I would go back into the village, offering to pay for what I stole. I knew they wouldn’t accept it – they were sure to accuse me of stealing the coin. Their refusal to forgive would corrupt their souls and Satan would be able to take their souls as well.”

“That was neighbourly of you, but what has this to do with Mab and Rick?”

“Patience. The devil is – basically – stupid. He agreed and changed into a silver penny. I picked it up and put it in my scrip, where I knew I had a crucifix. The cross stripped the devil of his powers and he was trapped. Before I would let him out, I made him swear that he would never take my soul. He agreed and cursed me as I let him go.”

“Very interesting, but irrelevant.”

“Hush… time came years later when I died. I had no right to enter heaven and the devil refused to take my soul – he turned my words against me and I was forced to roam the earth for all eternity as one of the undead. When I complained that I had no light to guide me from Hell, Satan threw one of the coals of Hell after me and I carry it with me still, in my lantern. Indeed, the people have long called me ‘Jack o’ Lantern’.”

Pat shook his head. “I don’t believe this… You’re telling me you’re some sort of sprite?”

“I’m telling you my story. Over the millennia, I have become acquainted with other non-humans who also inhabit this dimension. The most powerful is Queen Mab and as I said, I keep on her good side as much as I can.”

Patrick sighed and dropped his head into his hands momentarily. He looked up and said, “Right. Let’s go with the unlikely fact that all this is true. How do we get Rick back from wherever she’s taken him?”

“We can’t. She will let him go when she’s tired of him.”

Pat shook his head. “That’s not good enough. We have to be back at work on Monday morning. I can’t see the col… boss accepting a plea of being ‘away with the fairies’ as an excuse for being AWOL. I have to get him back.”

“Patrick, I honour your commitment to your friend, but even I don’t know where Mab goes when she is not in this house.”

“Would you help me if I find out?”

Jack hesitated. “Ah, why not? An eternity of being servile to a woman is no way to spend the aeons.”

Patrick’s first port of call for any problem he could not see an immediate solution to, was the internet. He opened his powerful personal computer and began his search. The information available was comprehensive and contradictory, but a lot of it was fanciful and talked about the ‘fae’ folk and the beautiful people. Nowhere was there anything about rescuing someone from the clutches of the fairies.

“At least, Rick was stuffed with food,” Patrick muttered, reading that anyone who ate anything while in the fairy realm could never leave. “Even he couldn’t still be hungry.”

“I hope so,” Jack replied. He was fascinated by the machine that could reveal so much of the world he inhabited: the ingenuity and imagination of people never ceased to amaze him. “Is this all true?” he asked.

“As true as anything on the net. As true as what you’ve told me. You have to take some of it with a pinch of salt.” Frustrated, Pat slapped his open palm on the table. “Why can’t I find out how to find Rick?”

“Nobody comes back unless she tires of them,”Jack repeated.

“I’ve told you – that isn’t good enough! Come on – we’re going out to search.” Patrick stood and reached for his coat.

“Where’re you going to start?” Jack asked, following Patrick, as he made for the door.

“Here, there and everywhere.”



Colonel White listened to Captain Magenta’s report with a stern frown on his face.

“Captain Ochre is absent without leave?” he concluded, as Magenta’s explanation stuttered to a halt.

Magenta shook his head, anxious to make sure his report was clearly understood. “He was kidnapped, sir.”

“By someone who your local ‘informant’ identified as the Queen of the Fairies?”

“I know it sounds crazy, sir; but I swear, she led Ochre out into the garden and they vanished.”

“As Mysteron agents vanish?” White suggested, after a slight pause.

“Possibly, sir. I’d like permission to carry on with my search here.”

“No, Captain. I need you to finish the Dublin report. Go back to the city now and complete your mission, and I will overlook this delay. I will send Lieutenant Amaranth down to assist you. He should arrive by the time you’re back in Dublin and he’ll meet you at the Security Complex.”

Magenta knew he had no choice but to obey this direct order, but he pressed on: “And when that’s finished, sir?”

“You will proceed to Vienna for the next investigation.”

“But, Colonel…”

“I will ask the local Spectrum ground force to conduct a thorough search of the area and report back. Carry on, Captain Magenta. White out.”



Spectrum finally closed Captain Ochre’s personnel file with the words: Missing in Action, and concluded that somehow, and for some unknown reason, The Mysterons had taken the gallant captain. He was sorely missed by all of his colleagues who, for many years, continued to hope that they might be able to rescue him from the thrall of the malevolent aliens.

The only person who refused to accept the official verdict, was Captain Magenta. The guilt he felt for taking his companion out into the wild countryside on Halloween, refused to subside. He blamed himself for what had happened and swore to continue the search.

For that reason, every year following that fateful night, he took his vacations in Ireland. He drove out from Dublin to the village which was three miles from the cottage they’d stayed in: the cottage that was nothing but an old ruin when he returned and which, he learnt from the rather bemused locals, had been a ruin since the Great Hunger in the 1840s. Nobody had heard of Jack Smith, either as a present-day or past blacksmith in the area, and Patrick never saw him again. Despite this, every Halloween he spent the night camped at the site in the hope that Mrs Mabily and Rick would return.


Eventually, Patrick bought a small cottage in the village and retired from active service to live there. The villagers all knew and had long accepted his honourable quest, and they grew to be very protective of him. Some even helped him in his ceaseless search for his missing friend. He became something of a local celebrity to be pointed out to the rare tourists and infrequent visitors who came to stop in the village. Ultimately, he was buried in the churchyard, in a ceremony where almost all the locals turned out. Included in the congregation was Pat’s young English friend, Paul Metcalfe – his most frequent visitor – to whom he left his cottage, along with most of his money.


Patrick had discussed Rick’s fate with his Spectrum colleagues many times, but to his surprise, the most sympathetic of them had proved to be Captain Scarlet. When he gave it some thought, which was not often, he considered that Scarlet’s own fate had given him a broad tolerance of the inexplicable. The Englishman might not believe that what had happened to Captain Ochre was at the hands of a supernatural being, but he knew only too well that there were more unfathomable things in the universe than was commonly accepted. Scarlet also understood Pat’s need to try and make amends for what had happened, which echoed his own field partner’s guilt for the part he had played in his Mysteronisation. When Captain Blue died, Scarlet and Magenta found they had more in common than they’d ever realised.

Under the terms of Patrick Donaghue’s will, Paul Metcalfe inherited his home and wealth on the condition that, whenever possible, he return to the ruined cottage every Halloween to look out for their missing friend. Patrick’s decades-long research had led him to believe that once Queen Mab tired of Rick, he would be returned to the place he had left and at the same time of year.

Ten years after Patrick’s death, Metcalfe visited the village once more. He had not been able to make it every year, but he strove to comply with his friend’s wishes as often as he could. Those who recalled him from the days when he first came, said he’d hardly aged at all.

On the afternoon of Halloween, Metcalfe hiked out of the village to camp beside the ruined cottage. He lit a campfire and settled down to watch the night out. Overhead the Orionid display was illuminating the sky with flashes of light. He watched them as they darted overhead. One grew brighter and larger than the others and seemed to strike the ground a short distance away.

Intrigued, Paul stood and peered into the darkness, wondering if he might find the meteor as a souvenir. He had taken a few steps towards the landing place, when his acute senses picked up what sounded like the clump of horse’s hooves on the spongy turf. He retreated to the fire, his hand – from decades of habit – hovering at his hip where his Spectrum pistol would’ve hung, had he been in uniform.

A grey horse emerged into the glow of the campfire and stopped. Someone got down from the horse’s back and immediately it turned, springing away into the darkness.

As the sound of its hooves died away, Richard Fraser walked towards the campfire.

“Hiya, Paul. What’re you doing here?” he asked. He looked around at the ruined cottage, confusion on his face. “Where’s Pat and what the hell happened here?”

Scarlet studied the man for a long moment, until he was convinced, by the lack of any feeling of the nausea he associated with the presence of Mysteron agents, that this was not a Mysteron agent.

He gave a slight smile. “Hello, Rick. Welcome back.”



At first, the American refused to accept that he had been away for longer than 24 hours. He spoke – a little vaguely – of a night of passion with Mrs Mabily in a luxurious room – with the most amazing room service. He explained to Scarlet that he had confidently expected to return to the cottage in time to drive back to Dublin with Patrick and continue their mission.

Metcalfe struck his camp, and as they walked back towards the village, he tried to explain the situation to his sceptical friend.

“Rick, you’ve been ‘missing in action’ for about forty-five years; I’m almost ninety. Spectrum decided that the Mysterons had taken you – wiped you out. It was only Pat who refused to accept that, and stuck to his story. He believed that you would come back. He was here every year at Halloween, in case it happened. He even retired here, to the village, and kept up the search.”

“Don’t yank my chain, Metcalfe.”

Despite his brave denial, Scarlet could see the beginnings of fear in Ochre’s face, so he strove to keep his tone rational and calm.

“I wouldn’t joke about such things, Rick. Time is something I don’t take lightly: I can fight the Mysterons, whatever they throw at me, but I can’t stop time from robbing me of all I hold dear.”

“Trick or Treat! That’s what this is - Pat put you up to this, didn’t he? Stupid bog-trotting-Paddy… Let’s all make a monkey out of Rick. Very funny; I don’t think.”

Scarlet sighed: This’s going to be harder than I expected.


It was only when Metcalfe had shown him irrefutable evidence of the date that Rick began to accept the truth.

“So, you’re telling me that Pat – and all of the others – are dead? There’s just you and me left?”

“More or less. Those few who are still alive, aren’t in Spectrum anymore.”

“How did Pat die?”

“Natural causes. He was 82, I think, but sharp as a needle and in good general health. It was a short illness.”

“What was it?” Rick persisted, sensing that Scarlet was reluctant to reveal the cause.



With a resigned sigh and a shrug of his shoulders, Paul explained. “He insisted on camping out at Halloween, as usual. It was a bad year; the weather’d been dreadful all summer. It was tipping it down, but he would go and camp… Sure enough, he caught a chill and it turned to pneumonia.”

“So, I killed him?”

“By no stretch of any imagination did you have anything to do with it,” Captain Scarlet insisted. “He was as stubborn as a mule and he wouldn’t listen. I had said I’d go with him – I did as often as I could, especially when he got so much older – but I was on a mission and… well, I ended up in Sick Bay. By the time I was fit, he was in hospital – intensive care. I came straight down to see him. I think he knew who I was and he was glad to see me.”

“That’s Pat – he never listened to advice.”


“Where’s he buried?”

“Here, in the churchyard. I’ll show you.”

It was a short walk to the church with its venerable graveyard surrounding it on three sides. They crunched along the gravel path, past ornate tombs and elaborate memorial crosses, towards the newer graves at the rear of the cemetery.

“I’ll be waiting by the gate,” Metcalfe said, as they drew up beside a neat plot with a stone memorial headstone and a fresh bunch of pink chrysanthemums in a brass pot. “Take as long as you need.”

“Did you bring the flowers?”

“I pay to have them replaced regularly. I can’t always get down to do it myself.”

“Sure. He’d appreciate that.”

Metcalfe tactfully moved away and left the American standing before the grave.

Rick stared down at the headstone for a long time.

“Sacred to the Memory of Patrick Donaghue. Born 17 May 2034, Died 18 November 2116. ‘Of all possessions, a friend is the most precious’,” he read.

Blinking away persistent tears, Richard laid his hand on the cold stone. “So long, Pat. Thank you for never losing faith in me.”

He walked back to join Metcalfe, who was waiting by the gate.

To break the silence and cover Rick’s obvious distress, Metcalfe said, “The will he left gave me his possessions in trust, for you. He was sure you’d return, Rick, and he wanted to do what he could to help you pick up the pieces of your life again.”

“As far as I know, I’m no more than a day older than I was the last time I saw him. I can’t get my head around this, Paul. Nothing seems real – how can it be that so much time’s gone by without me realising it?”

Paul shrugged. “You’re asking the wrong person. If it is any consolation, I’ve had to go the long way round: I don’t feel a day older, but I know I’ve lived my three-score-years-and ten, and then some. And some of those days… well, you wouldn’t have wanted to live them, Rick.”

“Did everyone think I’d deserted them?”

Paul shook his head vehemently. “We knew that you would’ve been with us if you could’ve been. Whether it was the Mysterons or, as Pat believed, some malevolent fairy that took you away, we all knew you wouldn’t have stayed away if you’d had the choice. Our biggest fear was that we’d end up facing you in some Mysteron attack. You were missed and then - as the years slipped by – genuinely mourned.”

Rick exhaled shakily. “What’m I gonna do? I have no place in this world any longer. Would Spectrum take me back?”

Paul nodded. “I’ll make sure they do. You can work with me, if you want.”

With a shaky grin that was a mere shadow of his usual smile, Rick nodded his thanks. “Yeah, I might need you to talk me through the pitfalls of this world.”

Smiling, Paul nodded again and said, with a determined cheerfulness: “I’ll tell you all about it over something to eat at Pat’s cottage. Then, when you’re ready, we’ll go back to Dublin and contact Cloudbase. We’ll take it one step at a time, Rick, there’s no hurry. We can afford to take just one step at a time.”

As they turned to leave the churchyard, Rick glanced back at Patrick’s grave. “’Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?’” His shaky voice had a sing-song rhythm to it.

Paul smirked, recognising the words from a favourite old song of Patrick’s. He concluded the couplet: “’They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot’…Prophetic words, as you’ll see.”

He put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Come on, Rick; tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life – as Blue would no doubt have said – and you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”



The End



Author’s Notes

My thanks to Skybase Girl for beta-reading this story, and to Chris Bishop for her fantastic website and inspirational friendship.

The Quote on Pat’s headstone is from Herodotus.

The words of one of Patrick’s ‘favourite old songs’, are taken from ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ by Joni Mitchell.

Happy Halloween.

Marion Woods

28 October 2017




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