A series of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons vignettes for Christmas 2003
by Tiger Jackson
Winter Solstice: 21 December
Captain Ochre had been here in the Officers’ Lounge during the night again, Captain Magenta deduced from the lingering odours of paint and glue. It would have been overpowering a few hours ago. Now, it was tolerable.
Magenta stretched luxuriously before collecting his cup of Irish breakfast tea. As a rule, he preferred coffee in the morning, but at this time of year he felt a longing for well-steeped Irish tea. Perhaps it was a tenuous link to family. He’d become estranged from his disapproving, law-abiding parents long ago. And after he disappeared into Spectrum, he had cut off all contact, for their protection. There were too many old “friends” who would use his family to reach him if they knew that he still loved them. Even at Christmas, he wouldn’t risk contacting them. Besides, the last Christmas they’d spent together had been awkward and unpleasant for everyone. He sighed. Christmas memories should be good ones.
He selected a large, comfortable chair and leaned back, his tea cup cradled in his hands, and watched the predawn sky for the first rays of sunlight. He did have some good memories, he realized. Of Nana. She had been a gifted storyteller and often spoke of her childhood in Ireland.
“If there is a time in Ireland,” she’d said, “where the veil is lifted and the two worlds of life become one, then it is on the day of the Winter Solstice.”
In the county where she grew up, there was an ancient man-made mound of earth and stone. All her life she had known that people, including her own grandmother, gathered there each December, but she didn’t understand why. “To welcome the return of the sun,” her granny had told her when she asked. She didn’t understand, but she wanted to. When Nana turned fourteen years old, the ancient “age of choice,” her granny had finally agreed to let her be a part of the mystery.
The stars were still shining when Nana’s granny woke her one December morning. Nana was confused; it was very cold outside and she wanted to stay in bed and wasn’t it too early to get up? But granny had insisted: if Nana wanted to join the others at the mound, she had to come now. She would not be offered another chance in another year.
In silence, Nana and her granny had trekked across the heath to the mound where they met several other people. The air was very still and very cold. Each breath was visible, hanging in the air for several seconds before vanishing. The entry to the mound was opened, and everyone flicked on their torches and filed in. No one spoke, but she sensed an aura of excitement. Nana noticed there was an odour in the mound. It wasn’t an unpleasant smell; it was a mixture of ancient forest and stone. She turned her torch to look at the rough-hewn walls, forgetting that the floor was no smoother, and tripped. Granny caught her just in time. She didn’t say anything, just shook her head slightly. Nana was grateful for the darkness that hid her flaming cheeks, and used her torch to watch the floor as she followed the others to the far end of the passageway. She was the last to arrive and the last to douse her torch.
It was completely, uncomfortably dark. Nana was a little afraid, now that she was deep inside the earth, and reached for her granny’s hand; it reassured her to know she wasn’t alone as they waited. And waited.
Someone began to hum softly. Others joined in. It was a familiar tune, Nana realised, one that her granny often sang. She joined her voice with the others. For what seemed like a long time, the music filled the darkness. Then the sky began to get a little light. Everyone stopped humming.
At the entry to the mound, a glow had begun to appear. Slowly, a ray of light entered and touched the wall, as if someone was standing outside and shining a torch through a small hole. Gradually, the light crept down the passageway towards the people standing deep within, in the innermost chamber. As it reached them, for one moment, just one incredible, magical moment, Nana swore, she caught a glimpse through the doorway into Tir-na-Og, the realm of the fairy folk. A moment later, the light began to dim and the doorway had closed. But the sun had returned as promised, to mark this day, the Winter Solstice, as the end of the long nights and the beginning of longer days again.
Magenta was filled with a longing to be in Ireland now, shivering in the pre-dawn cold, waiting for the magic, just as Nana did so very long ago.
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