“Well?” asked Paul Metcalfe, also known as Captain Scarlet of Spectrum, as he wiped the sweat from his brow. “What do you think?”
Destiny Angel looked at the huge chest of drawers that had been dragged into her quarters by Captains Scarlet, Blue and Orange, and bit down on her lip. The chest was old, at least Victorian, made from highly polished mahogany which bowed out slightly, whether from age or design, she couldn’t tell. The bottom three drawers were single drawers, running the length of the chest, but at the top were two drawers. All had circular carved handles on them. It was a well cared for piece of furniture and would not have looked out of place in a thousand museums or antique stores across the world. Just not in her quarters.
Destiny was the first to admit that her tastes in interior design ran to minimalist and space age. Her room was a mass of gleaming silver and white. The chest of drawers was beautifully made, she knew enough about furniture to tell that, but it stood out in her pristine quarters like a sore thumb. But it was a present, from Paul. She knew it had been in his family for a long time, knew how much trouble he must have taken to get it here. She’d watched the three men, none of whom were exactly small, struggle with it down the corridors. At the very least, she needed to appear grateful.
“It’s very…” she began and then shook her head, lost for the appropriate words. In the end, she settled for saying simply, “It’s beautiful, Paul. Thank you.”
From the bed, onto which he had collapsed almost as soon as the drawers were finally in position, Captain Blue raised an eyebrow at her, as if to say, “Who are you trying to kid?” Captain Orange, Robert Hathaway, ducked his head to hide a small smile.
But Scarlet’s face seemed almost split in two with a grin. “I knew you’d like them.”
“Yes,” Destiny agreed, shooting the other two men a look. “Yes, I love them.” She ran her fingers across the drawers, feeling the smooth wood beneath her fingers.
“They’ve been in the family for ages,” Scarlet continued. “Carrie’s never liked them. She put them in storage for me after Mum and Dad died. I think the man nearly had a heart attack when I said I wanted to take them out.”
Destiny silently groaned, realising she might have finally found something she and Scarlet’s sister agreed on, and she couldn’t tell him. She moved across the room and began opening the drawers. The first two were still lined with what she presumed was the original forget- me- not spotted paper, but others reflected the later history of the drawers: some early twenty first century wrapping paper, and a layer of white tissue. Then she pulled out the bottom drawer and gave a startled gasp. “Paul, look at this.”
Grey, crumpled objects lay vertically across the wooden base, packed almost as tightly as parachutes.
“What on earth?” Scarlet knelt down, pulling one of the bundles out. “They’re sheets. Carrie said she cleared everything out of it when she packed up after Mum and Dad died. Why would she leave these?”
“Can I see?” Captain Orange knelt down beside him. “Strange question for you, Scarlet,” he said, shifting through the musty, dust encrusted sheets. “Anyone in your family have any connections with coal mines?”
“Or mines of any description, really?”
Scarlet shook his head. “Not as far as I know.”
“Huh.” Orange smiled. As with all of his smiles, it had the unfortunate effect of making him look like a wolf. “My grandmother used to have a chest of drawers almost identical to these in her house. She kept sheets in the bottom drawer too and she always said it was because her great-grandmother was the wife of a pit manager.” He rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. “The sheets, you see, were in case there was an accident in the mines.”
“For bandages?” Blue asked.
Orange shook his head gravely. “Nothing quite so optimistic, I’m afraid. Shrouds. So that the widows didn’t have to fork out so much for a decent funeral, when money was going to be tight going forward. Also acted as a kind of comfort, almost offering I suppose you might say, for those who had no bodies to burry.”
Silence hung in the room, then Orange got to his feet.
“They’re good linen sheets,” he said, almost apologetically. “Just need a decent wash.”
“You can have them if you want them,” Destiny muttered. She couldn’t describe or admit the sense of revulsion the grey objects gave her, though she knew it was ridiculous.
Orange shook his head. “I couldn’t. They’re a part of Paul’s family history.”
“I’ve given the chest to Destiny; they’re hers now to do as she wants with,” Scarlet said, quickly waiving his family’s rights to the sheets.
“Here.” Gathering her courage, Destiny reached down and scooped the sheets up and thrust them against Orange’s chest.
The colour-coded captain regarded the grey bundle slightly dubiously. “If you’re sure.”
Destiny smiled. “I can’t stand linen sheets.”
“Hmm.” Orange agreed. “Maybe Doctor Gold can find a use for them in Sick Bay, or the chaplain might know of a charity that’d take them.” He began to fold the sheets more neatly. “My sister inherited our chest of drawers when my grandmother died,” he observed, conversationally. “She still keeps the sheets in them. Said strange things happened when she took them out, even just to wash.” He smiled, looking more wolf-like than ever. “Then again, my sister did always have a vivid imagination.”
Destiny jerked awake in the darkness. One glance at the clock told her it was only 1 am.
She stared around the room, breathing deeply, trying to figure out what had woken her. Normally, she was a deep sleeper; Conrad always joked that she could sleep though a nuclear strike.
She pulled herself out of bed, giving herself a mental shake to get rid of the memories. Conrad was dead. Eventually she was going to have to accept that. Only Captain Black, in Mysteron control, remained. The man she had loved was gone.
Not bothering to turn on the lights, she carefully made her way through to the bathroom to pour herself a glass of water. Leaning against the sink, she sipped at it, enjoying the liquid coolness.
Suddenly she was aware that she was not alone in the room. Lifting her head, she saw a figure outlined in the doorway. It was a man, a short man, wearing a flat cap. The pale light that filtered into the bathroom was behind him, so she couldn’t see his face, but there was something about him, about his presence there, which made her skin turn cold.
Noticing her, he raised one monkey-like hand towards his hat.
Destiny shot out her hand, fingers running over the sensors. The lights flashed on. There was no one there.
“Men in flat caps?” Harmony shook her head. “And I thought my dreams were weird.”
“It felt so real.” In spite of the warmth of the canteen, Destiny shivered. She had passed an uneasy night, unable to relax, and had been almost relieved when her alarm went off at six.
Harmony’s face twisted into an expression of sympathy. “It was just a nightmare, O.K. Destiny? It can’t hurt you.”
“I know, but…”
“But nothing,” Harmony said firmly. “You were tired, and you had a particularly vivid dream, O.K.? Nothing to be scared of.”
Destiny tried to hang on to Harmony’s words that night, as she prepared for bed. Rationally, she accepted that the other woman was right. She had simply had a particularly vivid waking dream. There was nothing… supernatural about it.
She didn’t believe in ghosts. On Skybase it was a frequent topic of conversation, especially as autumn and Halloween came closer and it was impossible not to find someone who had had some experience that they couldn’t explain. She never listened to them, preferring to cuddle with Conrad – and then later with Paul –while debate and discussion raged around them. She didn’t doubt that those telling the tales were serious; she just didn’t believe that what had happened had no rational explanation.
She shook her head. Maybe she was just missing Paul, who was on assignment with Adam. Maybe…
She froze. She could hear someone singing. That slightly off-key singing of someone singing along or singing a half-remembered song.
When this lousy war is over no more soldiering for me,
When I get my civvies clothes on, oh how happy I shall be.
She recognised the song, it was still sung occasionally by troops and normally at the same volume and in the same off-key.
No more church parades on Sunday, no more begging for a pass.
You can tell the sergeant-major to stick his passes up his arse.
But she couldn’t see the singer. Destiny breathed deeply, trying to control her fear. There was some rational explanation, someone had a radio on in the corridor or one of the captains had managed to smuggle some alcohol on board, forgetting that at Skybase altitudes less was needed to get you drunk.
A sharp metallic beep made her jump. Nervously, she walked over to the door, pressing the button. Harmony stood there, smiling.
“Hey Destiny!” She glanced around the room. “Everything O.K?”
Destiny smiled. “Fine.”
Harmony’s eyes looked uneasy. “You might want to turn the volume down, before someone complains to security.”
Destiny blinked. “You can hear it too?”
“Yes,” Harmony said, drawing out the word as if she thought Destiny was being stupid or playing a joke on her. “And you better turn it down. It’s a bit…” She paused. “Creepy.”
Destiny shook her head. “It’s not me.”
Harmony paused. Her eyes travelled around the room, stopping in front of the chest of drawers. Her face turned pale. Nervously, Destiny turned.
There was a man standing there.
It was not the same man as before. Or at least he wasn’t wearing a flap cap. He was bare-headed and he had a suit on with a long tailed coat. He smiled, showing his teeth.
Almost without thinking, both women backed cautiously out of the room.
“Woohee!” Harmony said, sitting on the edge of her bed. “I mean, I’ve heard of haunted houses, but a haunted piece of furniture?”
Destiny managed a weak smile. “I don’t know that I’d believe it if I hadn’t seen it.”
Harmony nodded slowly. “You said that Orange told you that his sister had a similar chest of drawers and that “strange” things happened when his sister took the sheets out of it. And there were sheets in that drawer?”
Destiny nodded, shuddering at the memory of the grey things in the drawer.
Harmony rubbed her face. “And we can’t ask Orange because he’s at Castle Ash at the moment,” she muttered to herself. She paused and added, “Do you know where Paul’s family is originally from? I mean the village or the town?”
Destiny nodded. “But why…?”
Harmony smiled. “One thing I know is that ghost stories stick around like flies around a honey pot. And if we find out why the ghosts are haunting, then we stop them.”
Destiny said the only thing she could think of. “The colonel won’t like it.”
Harmony smiled. “You leave that to me, sugar,” she said, deliberately thickening her southern accent.
Winchester was the grey that only English towns could achieve in October. The grey of the pavement under their feet seemed to stretch and blend with the grey of the sky as they walked down the high-street.
Destiny was about ready to suggest they admit defeat. They had spoken to the guides in the tourist information centre, at the small local museum and at the library. No one had ever heard of a haunted chest of drawers or even rumours connected to such a thing.
Harmony was standing in the middle of the street, though, grinning as she stared across the road.
“I think we just got lucky.” She pointed to a sign on the notice board of a nearby church.
ST MICHAEL’S CHURCH 500th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION EXHIBITION, it read, with a smaller sign below reading OPEN 10AM – 4PM.
Destiny raised an eyebrow.
Harmony smiled. “Trust me. These places are gold mines about the past.”
They stepped into a yellow painted hall, with parquet floors. Blue felt boards decorated with laminated sheets and photos filled the room.
Destiny blinked as she noticed a photo staring at her from a board just opposite the door. It was a picture of a man who looked very much like Paul, only slightly older and with an old fashion British military cap on his head. She walked quickly, pushing her way through the throngs of older people and mothers with small children, to read the board’s title: “St Michael Protect us”.
Underneath in smaller script, the words read:
“An exorcism in Winchester?
In October 1919, Rev. David Grayson was summoned to “The Lymes”, Victoria Street, after a report of unusual happenings. The owner, Mr Albert Brightman, believed that only a priest would be able to deal with the strange events that had plagued the family for the last year.
Rev. Grayson’s notes are scant on the details of the haunting, but thankfully for the historian, the local papers showed no such resistant.
The haunting began in early January 1918, when the neighbours reported hearing bawdy songs being sung at unsociable hours. Within a few weeks, Mr Brightman had summoned a passing constable, having noticed a figure standing behind the curtains at a time when he knew all the family and servants were absent. A search of the house, however, revealed no trace of this intruder.
Things had, according to reports, worsened from there. The songs increased in volume and language, objects, particularly knives, appeared to move around of their own accord.
The disturbances appeared to focus around the Brightman’ middle child, Paul, who had returned from France in October 1918, having been caught in a collapsing trench which had killed three other men. While there was no doubt that he had been at the epicentre of the events, he appeared almost unaffected; indeed some accounts referred to him appearing comforted by the strange events plaguing his family. According to his own notes, Rev Grayson spent a great deal of time questioning Paul and found him, “In very low spirits, but at the same time quiet, calm and appearing to be rational”. After some cajoling, he persuaded Paul to confide in him. Paul admitted to knowing what the cause of the incidents was
He claimed that it was the three men who had died in the trench and whose bodies were never recovered, Ian Standing, Daniel Lane and Simon Hatford, were responsible for what was happening. That they had returned with him. When Rev Grayson challenged Paul’s assertion of this, pointing out that the men were dead and buried, Paul enquired: “How can they be buried when they have no shrouds?”
The steps Rev Grayson took to ensure the peace of the house are not recorded in his diary, nor in the detailed letter he wrote, appealing to the bishop for help. However, local Winchester resident, Phyllis Karr, claims that the priest was eventually forced to admit defeat and that it was Bethan Jones, the old family nanny, who came from a Welsh mining community, who managed to solve the problem by giving the men shrouds. How she did this is not recorded.
The Lymes was eventually sold by the Brightman family in March 1930 and has changed owners many times since then. None of the other inhabitants have reported any unusual happenings, so it would appear that Nanny Jones’s solutions worked.”
“Until I removed the sheets,” Destiny muttered, a cold hand gripping her stomach. She felt a rush of pity for those three men, Ian Standing, Daniel Lane and Simon Hatford. Being buried alive, suffocating with earth filling her lungs was one of her biggest fears. Whoever had set up the board had put photos of the three men beneath the text. She noted, almost mechanically, that it was the middle one, Daniel Lane, who she had seen in her room. He was older than the other two, a miner from Durham, who had behind left a wife with five children. Ian Standing had been a music hall performer from London, who had left behind a common law wife and illegitimate son. Hatford was a gangster, a runner for one of the Glasgow city gangs. His face seemed to sneer at the photographer, even in army uniform and Destiny couldn’t help shivering. She was prepared to bet that no-one was particularly sorry he hadn’t come home.
A hand on her shoulder made her jump and she turned to see Harmony. “That was him,” the other Angel said, pointing at Ian Standing’s picture. “The guy in your quarters last night.”
“And his friend,” Destiny observed, pointing to Daniel Lane’s. “The night before.”
Harmony read through the text and glanced at Destiny. “You realise what Nanny Jones did, don’t you?” she asked quietly.
Destiny swallowed. “She put sheets in the bottom drawer. She gave them shrouds and then I…”
“You didn’t know!” Harmony said firmly. She glanced at the board. “So it’s fairly simple, right? Put the sheets back in the drawer and the problem goes away.”
Destiny nodded. “I suppose so.”
“Good,” Harmony said. “Let’s do it before tonight then, because I don’t fancy meeting that fellow.” She tapped Simon Hatford’s picture with one finger.
“Hi, Simone, Rebecca.”
“Adam.” Destiny smiled at Captain Blue as she and Harmony disembarked in the Hangar Deck. “You’re back then.”
Blue smiled in answer to the real, but unasked question. “Yeah, the mission was uneventful.” Scarlet’s fine, he didn’t say, but she could hear it in his voice. He glanced at her and Harmony. “Everything O.K.? Did your fact-finding mission go well?”
“Fine.” Destiny looked at him again, as the American tried to avoid her eyes. “Adam, what’s wrong?”
He shrugged. “It’s just that while you were out, someone broke into your quarters.”
“It’s not so bad,” Blue said hastily, in an attempt to reassure the clearly alarmed Destiny. “They trashed the place up, but Captain Lime doesn’t think they took anything.” He smiled. “She’s treating the thing like a personal insult, even got Orange crawling through the evidence with her.”
“Orange is back from Castle Ash?”
Blue nodded “Couple of hours after we were. Destiny, what’s going on?”
Destiny didn’t reply, rushing past him. Confused, Blue glanced at Harmony, who muttered something about explaining later.
Destiny dashed through the corridors, coming to an abrupt halt at the entrance to her quarters.
Blue hadn’t exaggerated; the place had been thoroughly trashed. Almost everything moveable had been thrown about the room, or smashed up.
Captain Lime, head of Skybase security, stood in the middle of the mess, talking to a technician. “What do you mean, there are no prints besides Destiny’s?” she said sharply. “I don’t think it’s very likely that she trashed her own quarters, do you? Besides which, she’s been off base all day and the room didn’t look like this when the cleaning crew finished this morning.”
The hapless technician muttered something about gloves.
“No-one is to gain entrance. You go back and redo the door panel. Because someone got in here, Lieutenant, and I intend to find out who and how.”
She lifted her head to look at Destiny. “I’m afraid there’s no chance of you staying in your quarters tonight, Destiny. We’re going to need at least another couple of hours here and clean-up will take another couple after that. I’ve arranged for your stuff to be moved to one of the visitors quarters temporarily.” She smiled dryly. “Luckily, the damage was mostly to the room and the furniture. Very few of your personal things are spoilt. Even the books and clothes were just thrown on the floor, not cut up.”
Destiny looked puzzled. “Why would they be cut up?”
“We found this knife lying almost in the centre of the chaos,” Lime replied. She held out an evidence bag, containing a black-handled knife with a star carved at the top of the blade. “You recognise this?”
Destiny shook her head. Lime shrugged as though she wasn’t surprised. “Looks like mischief more than anything serious. Someone just destroying things for the sheer hell of it. We’ll find them, don’t worry.” Her grim tone and expression belied her attempt at reassuring words.
Destiny was about to ask if Lime had seen Captain Orange, when the man strode out of the bathroom, smiling at the two women. “You need to go easy on your techs, Lime,” he said, good-humouredly. “Looks like that last one was just about to burst into tears…” His voice trailed off as he spotted Destiny.
“The sheets...” She was too het up for any preamble. After what she had seen and read, she believed… she was sure this was the work of Simon Hatford’s spirit, and it seemed he was considerably stronger and, more destructive than the spirits of the other two men. “Do you still have them?”
Orange nodded slowly. “Just got them back from the laundry today.” He glanced across the room at the chest of drawers which stood unharmed and untouched amid the chaos. “Strange goings-on, huh?” he said, dropping his voice.
“I’ll put them back soon”, Orange promised. “Don’t worry about Lime; I’ll explain it to her.” He smiled. “Lime’s not as cynical as she appears in these matters.”
“Mum mentioned she’d had a relative who’d been in the trenches,” Scarlet said slowly, as he and Destiny ate breakfast together the next morning. “But that was before the family emigrated.” He glanced at her. “You sure you’re O.K?”
Destiny nodded. “It was scary for a while,” she admitted softly. “But I’m actually becoming quite fond of those drawers now…” She looked up, noticing Captain Orange hovering over their table.
“Everything all cleaned up?” he asked. As they nodded, he smiled. “Lime’s tenacity never ceases to amaze me. She managed to track down the origin of that knife they found in your quarters.”
“Really?” Scarlet’s tone suggested that perhaps this could wait until another time, but Orange continued.
“It was traced to a police museum in Glasgow. Seems it vanished the day before it turned up here. They’re as baffled as we are as to how it ended up on Skybase.” He put his head to one side thoughtfully. “Got quite an interesting history, that knife. Seems that an army officer, a policeman in civilian life, who’d served in the same regiment as Paul’s ancestor during the First World War, found it stuck into the support beam of a collapsed trench, not far from where they found your namesake.” He nodded at Scarlet. “When he took it home, it turned out to have quite an impressive pedigree: it was the suspected weapon in about a dozen murders.” He looked gravely at the two Spectrum officers. “Maybe that trench collapse wasn’t as accidental as it appeared.
This chest of drawer is based on a real set of drawers with a real history like the one described. Thankfully, the “strange going on” exist only in the author’s imagination.
Thanks as ever to Chris and the beta-reading team. I know we don’t make life easy for you.
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