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Five Times the Captain Gave Someone a Hug, and One Time he Needed One

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It was Alison who first noticed something was wrong, after he didn’t turn up for his daily run. There were many things she didn’t know about the Captain, but what she did know was that he had never, ever been late for his run, not in all of the nearly 2 years she had known him. He was punctual to a fault, be it for Pat’s activities or his weekly tank programme. While he needed his space sometimes, he would never miss a scheduled event with no explanation - it just didn’t make sense. Whatever it took to break his routine, Alison knew it could not be good. She set off around the house, trying not to panic.

Pat was also concerned. He hadn’t seen the Captain since early afternoon the previous day, and this set alarm bells ringing in his head. Perhaps it was the Scoutmaster training in him - he had had to make sure every child was accounted for at all times or there’d be angry letters from parents at the very least. But this wasn’t an energetic child, this was the ghost of a WW2 Army Captain, and he was missing.

On her search for the Captain, Alison almost walked straight through Pat, who had begun his own checklisted search. The two shared a look of concern.

‘He wasn’t there for his run this morning, was he?’

 

Pat asked, the worry visible in his voice.

 

Alison shook her head, face grave.

 

‘This is worse than I thought. Let’s get the others.’

 

Nobody knew where he was. By this point, it was noon and he still hadn’t turned up. Kitty rushed around the house, checking under every bed and inside every crack, in case his non-corporeal form had got stuck there. Thomas waded through the lake and visited all his sighing spots, but no luck. Robin tried in vain to recruit Barclay’s dogs on the hunt, while Julian braved the plague pit peasants to see if he was down there. Lady Button was surprisingly silent and non-judgemental as she joined Pat on his search, which showed how worried she was. Mary took Humphrey up to the roof for a better view of the grounds, staying there until it got too dark to see in the hope he would turn up. He didn’t. In desperation, Alison tried to recruit Mike to help, but as he would have no way of telling if he even found the Captain there was no point.

It was evening, and the ghosts were sitting in the living room in silence. Robin was the first to speak, voicing everyone’s unspoken concerns.

‘This make no sense. I know him long time, he never do this.’

 

‘Robin’s right, you know.’

 

Added Thomas.

 

‘’Tis passing strange, but he is a strange creature, is he not?’

 

Kitty spoke up from the sofa. Out of all the ghosts, she had taken this hardest. The Captain was like a father to her.

 

‘The Captain may be strange, but he is kind. He found me, once, when I was missing. I thought nobody cared enough to look, but he did.’

 

Thomas looked down, feeling sad all of a sudden. He remembered how he had been all prepared to spend eternity in the cold, unforgiving depths - until the Captain appeared. He had been the last person Thomas expected to see, and yet he was exactly what Thomas needed to snap him out of his sulk and give him a new purpose. Thomas wished he had thanked the Captain more.

 

A muffled voice came from Mary’s lap - it was Humphrey’s head.

 

‘He may have his moments, but he has a good heart. He put me back together again, didn’t he? He noticed I was left behind all the time, and found a way to solve that. Of course, after a few weeks the tie came loose, but it’s the thought that counts.’

 

Fanny, usually the most vocal of the ghosts, had been silent for most of the day. Now she added her own experience with the Captain.

 

‘He is a peculiar gentleman, that I will grant you, but he did me a great service once. It cost him much, but it made an immeasurable difference. I wish he knew what it meant to me - what he means to me. To all of us.’

 

The ghosts and Alison sat in silence, thinking about the man they had come to know very well in all these years. He was fussy, sure - intolerably so at times. But he was practical, and his leadership was invaluable in times of crisis. Perhaps he came across as rude or uncaring, but that didn’t mean he was either of those things. He needed order and control, but he noticed when others were sad and tried his best to help. He was frustrating to live with, but the more they thought about it, the more they realised they couldn’t live without him.

 

They were so lost in thought that they didn’t notice a small figure creep into the living room.

 

‘You’re looking for the Captain, aren’t you?’

 

Once he had recovered from the shock (quicker than some of the others), Pat nodded.

 

‘I know where he is. Follow me.’

 

 

 

The Captain looked out through the small, grimy window in the attic room. Heather Button had rolled up her old curtains and dusty carpets and leant them against the corner of the attic some 20 years ago, and the Captain was sitting in the makeshift barricade this created, his shoulders phasing in and out of the walls. He had spotted this place long ago and marked it as somewhere to hide away from it all; a habit from his youth which had never left him.

The Captain had always needed a quiet place where nothing and no-one could get to him. At first, this was for self-preservation more than anything - he needed somewhere he couldn’t hear his parents arguing, somewhere he wouldn’t be found by the other boys. It was those other boys he was thinking of now. He tried to push them out of his mind, but they refused to leave him alone. He could almost hear their jeers and taunts, feel their fists hit him, taste the blood in his mouth. He shut his eyes tighter and put his fingers in his ears, trying to block it all out.

People thought the Captain was cold and uncaring, but they never stopped to think why that was the case. Those boys at school had forced what was left of his childhood out of him. They had made him hate his differences and become determined to rise to the top, so nobody could ever make him feel so weak and powerless again. That was why he buried his feelings deep down and never let them out, not for anyone. The downside of this, of course, was that sometimes things got too much, and that was why he needed a hiding place. He didn’t want to be a burden, after all. Yesterday he had felt those buried emotions and traumatic memories come dangerously near the surface, so he’d hidden up here and had remained here ever since. Lost in the past, he hadn’t heard the voices of the others as they called for him. He hadn’t been expecting anyone to come looking for him, or even notice he was missing.

So when he heard the sound of voices coming closer and closer, he didn’t know what to do. He rubbed his eyes and walked through the rolled-up curtains, trying to appear as if he was in the middle of a routine inspection of the attic room.

‘Captain!’

It was Kitty, tears streaming down her face. She ran towards him and enveloped him in a bone-crushing hug. The Captain felt the blood drain from his face. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He didn’t know how to explain to her that physical touch was unbearable to him; that his whole body felt like it was on fire; that he needed her to let go right now-

 

‘Kitty, let’s give the Captain some space, shall we?’

 

She stepped back, and he tried to calm down. He looked around the room to ground himself, and saw Pat carrying Humphrey’s head, then Alison, then Thomas, and then Fanny, Robin, Julian and Mary. Jemima was there, too, standing slightly apart from the others.

They looked at him. Their faces showed concern, relief, and even guilt. He didn’t quite know why.

 

‘Captain, we’ve been looking everywhere for you.’

 

The Captain stared quizzically at Alison. Why had they put themselves to such trouble? He was barely an essential part of their daily routine. He was sure they would have been glad of the chance to have some time without him cluttering up the place.

 

‘We were so worried, Cap, we really were. You can’t just run off like that, with no warning - we didn’t know what had happened to you!’

 

Pat had his hands on his hips and was using his Scoutmaster Voice, the one that made even the most defiant of children admit they were wrong. The Captain thought he was angry with him, but he just saw concern in Pat’s eyes, and it made him feel strange.

He drew himself up to his full height, and was all ready to mutter a line about how his affairs were no business of theirs and march off, when a voice stopped him in his tracks.

 

‘Captain, we care about you. You’re part of the family, and that’s not something that will just go away. When you’re upset, you can talk about it, and we’ll always be here to listen.’

 

He looked at Humphrey, and felt a lump form in his throat. Kitty was next to speak up.

 

‘You were there for me when nobody else was, and - and I want to be there for you.’

 

Thomas nodded.

 

‘We all have troubles, my dear fellow. Indeed, I am frequently drawn to my sighing spot whenever the pain of my tortured past becomes too much for me to bear…’

He paused dramatically, hand on his heart.

 

‘And does that make me any less of a man? No, sirrah! It does not.’

 

‘What that dreadful poet is trying to say, Captain, is that you cannot keep everything locked inside. That is no way to spend your life - or, indeed, your afterlife.

‘You have helped us all, and we want to help you. You cannot give out so much kindness to others and expect none in return, now, can you?’

 

Lady Button smiled at him. It made her features look softer, less intimidating. The Captain felt warm inside. He had gone his whole life thinking he was deserving of nothing, believing in his heart that nobody cared for him. But these people had spent all day looking for him. They had come up here and told him he was worth something, that he meant something to them, that he wasn't a burden. He looked at the other ghosts, and felt, for the first time, that he was loved. Kitty held out her arms, ready for another hug. But before he could thank them, or tell them what he was feeling, he had something very important to say.

 

‘Thank you, all of you. But I must request never to be hugged again.’