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Inktober 2021

Chapter Text

Scratching his chin in thought, looking upon two necklaces on the alien market stall, Ian Chesterton couldn’t make up his mind. There simply wasn’t an item of jewellery good enough for Barbara.

“We’ve been here hours! Just pick something!” Vicki cried as she circled him and shivered in the cold alien weather.

“It has to be right, Vicki. Do you think crystals?”

Vicki’s eyes cast over a particular necklace, one with shimmering crystals along it and a focal crystal in the centre of the pendent. “This is marvellous, Ian, get this one.” She glanced at the trader with a knowing look.

“Oh yes, sir, that’s a delight, that one.”

“I’m not sure,” Ian replied, placing the necklace in his hand and inspecting it closely.

“Oh come on! My feet are freezing and the Doctor and Barbara said be back in two hours.”

“Patience is a virtue, Vicki, and I did tell you your shoes were all wrong for this terrain and nippy weather.”

“Barbara will love that necklace and maybe she’ll even love you for buying it for her.”

Ian smiled. “Cheeky madam. Fine, you’ve twisted me around your finger again. I’ll take this one please.” He watched in amazement as the trader wrapped up the gift in a few seconds due to its many arms and before he knew it, they were on their way back through the snow to the TARDIS.

“When shall I give it to her?” Ian said as they entered the doors of the blue box.

“Right away. A present like that needs to be given.”

“What if she makes too much of it or thinks me foolish?”

Vicki rolled her eyes. “Oh god!”

“Alright, alright, young lady.” He playfully tapped her head and then smiled nervously as Barbara and the Doctor came into view, each sipping a cup of warm tea.

“The travellers return,” Barbara said, “hope you brought goodies.”

Ian shimmied up to Barbara with a wide grin on his face, hiding something behind his back. “I may have.”

“What is this, what is this?” the Doctor said as he flipped the switch to close the doors. “I really insist I must inspect all items before departure.”

“This isn’t customs, Doctor.”

“Chesterton, after our last trip with Vicki and that small creature, I think it’s only wise, don’t you, hmmm?” He glanced down at his young companion who was already attempting to press a button on the console. He swiped her hand away.

“It’s nothing like that, Doctor,” Vicki said, nudging him. “It’s a present for Barbara.”

“For Barbara?” the Doctor replied.

“For me?” Barbara asked.

“For you.” Ian produced the box and held it in front of her. “A token of friendship.”

“Where’s mine?” the Doctor mumbled.

“I wasn’t under the impression you’d like a necklace, Doctor,” Ian said with a grin.

“It’s a necklace?” Barbara said. “Ian, you shouldn’t have.” She averted her gaze from the Doctor and Vicki, feeling her face flush with embarrassment.

They all watched eagerly as she unwrapped the box and stared at the jewellery inside. “Oh Ian, it’s beautiful. Crystal. It sparkles so wonderfully.”

“Let me see, let me see,” the Doctor said, placing on his monocle and rudely lifting the necklace into his hand. “Fascinating.”

“Recognise it?” Ian asked. “It’s a beauty.”

“I have come across them, yes, uh, did you know, Chesterton that this particular crystal is one only found in this galaxy? It differs from your Earth variety.” He placed the necklace back into Barbara’s palm.

“There you are, Barbara, one of a kind, just like you.” Ian stood proudly.

“Though you are aware of its…properties?”

Vicki grabbed the Doctor’s arms. “Ian’s a scientist, he can worry about properties later, come on Doctor, I want to tell you all about the market. Let’s leave them in peace.” She pulled him along leaving the teachers alone.

“Here let me put it on you,” Ian said as he carefully placed it around her neck.

Barbara shivered as his fingers made contact with her bare neck. She made a little squeak realising how cold his hands were.

“Sorry, bit cold, are they?” He did up the clasp. He then made his way to Barbara’s front to inspect it. “Barbara, it looks wonderful on you.”

“Why thank you, Ian, but you really shouldn’t have, I mean I didn’t…” suddenly her voice trailed off and she was staring ahead vacantly.

“Barbara, is there something wrong?”

Within a few moments of trying on the necklace, Barbara’s whole body-language seemed to shift. Where she had been upright, she was now loose. She winked at him.
“Is there something in your eye?”

“Don’t you worry about me, handsome,” she replied, whispering slightly, and her voice was different. She was speaking in a seductive way, pouting her lips in some strange manner.

Ian took a step back. What was happening? Why was Barbara looking at him like she wanted to devour him on the spot? He shuddered as her eyes gazed up and down his body. “Uh…Barbara, are you alright?”

“You’re very attractive, Mr. Chesterton,” she said, running her finger across his cheek.

“I am?” he said, barely daring to breathe as her face came in inches from his, her body up close and personal in a way he’d never known. “Are you… alright?”

“I’ve never been better to be this close to you, Ian, to be…” she gazed into his eyes.

“Barbara, are you pulling my leg?”

“Of course not. How can you not see how I am drawn to you? How I worship you?”

Ian stood back a pace, more frightened than ecstatic. His Barbara would never be so forward.

“Vicki!” He called loudly as Barbara brushed up against him until he was pinned against the console. “Something’s wrong with Barbara, she’s all over me!”

It was then that Vicki and the Doctor burst into the room. Vicki was creased over with laughter, pointing at the scene in amusement whereas the Doctor was barely able to look at the sight. He quickly took the necklace off of Barbara and tried not to chuckle as he thought about what had occurred.

“Oh goodness, what was I doing?” Barbara said, stepping back, realising everything she had just done. “It was like that gold bracelet on Vortis, I seemed to lose all control.”

“You very much seemed in control to me,” Ian said, gulping.

“I didn’t expect it to be that strong,” Vicki said with a smile.

“You knew!” Ian said. “You knew and you let me buy it, knowing it’d have that effect on Barbara?”

“It was a harmless joke,” she said sheepishly. “How was I to know it’d work so well?”

Barbara folded her arms and looked at Vicki the way she looked at a school pupil when they’d been caught doing something naughty. “You took away all my agency. That was very wrong of you, Vicki.”

“In my defence, it really does act on impulses that are already there. It just gives a helping hand if you’re shy about making the first move.”

“Vicki!” Barbara shouted, feeling her face flush with embarrassment again. “Apologise to Ian too.”

“Why? I think he liked it.”

“Now, now,” the Doctor said, “no need for all these raised voices. Let’s just put this all down to experience. No harm was done. Chesterfield acted as a gentleman. Barbara is fine. Though, child, you need to have a few lessons on tact and manners.”

Ian and Barbara nodded in agreement.

“I am sorry. It’s not my fault the necklace reveals how you feel about someone deep down. But if I’ve offended you, then sorry.”

Barbara softened. “Alright, Vicki, we’ll speak no more of it. I certainly want to forget it. It’s not right to play with people’s emotions though.”

Ian looked at her. “I’m sorry, Barbara, I was just trying to find a nice gift.”

She smiled shyly.

A moment later, Vicki, clearly having not learnt her lesson was placing the necklace around the Doctor’s neck before he had time to protest.

“Vicki, what have you done?” Barbara said.

The Doctor’s eyes were looking at Ian curiously. “My, my Chesterton, you are an incredible help on my ship you know?”

“He is?” Vicki called.

“I am?” Ian said, dumbfounded.

“Yes, intelligent, brave, resourceful.”

Barbara frowned. “What have you done to him? Why is the Doctor now singing Ian’s praises?”

“It’s the necklace. Whoever wears it becomes enamoured by the one who purchased it.”

“Well take it off him, it’s unnerving.”

“Now steady on, let’s not be too hasty, Barbara,” Ian said as he watched the Doctor pull out a chair for him. “I can see this turning out quite nicely.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Barbara said, taking the necklace off him before he started to bow at Ian’s feet. “No one should hold that much power over someone, play god, I should know. I’m going to destroy this silly thing.”

Vicki frowned. “Spoil sport.”

“Well unless you want to spend all day fawning over Ian,” she told her.

“No, you’re right, it’s only funny at first,” she said as she caught the Doctor glaring at her and edging towards her.

“Child, come back here, I need a word with you!”

Ian and Barbara laughed as they watched them leave the console room, still arguing as they became distant.

Ian rubbed the back of his neck. “Alien things, eh?”

“We’re still learning I suppose. Still getting conned by Vicki.”

“I’m sorry you don’t have a gift now.”

“That’s fine, Ian, I don’t need expensive jewellery.”

“Vicki says the necklace wearer becomes endeared by that person.” He sighed. “I suppose that means that I’d need you to wear it all the time to feel that way.”

Kissing his cheek, she smiled. “I don’t need any silly crystal to tell me how to act around you or how to care.” She took his hand. “Come on, you could do with a nice cup of tea.”

“I could but where are we going to find one? Don’t suppose they do crystals for that?”

Chapter Text

Hunter smirked, sitting across the desk from his two best men. “Is it really such an ask?”

“Listen carefully,” Callan said, not at all worried about how he spoke to his superior. “Meres and I have been mixing with those poshies for over a week now at the country club. We’ve dined with them, played golf with them, and now you’re saying we’ve got to do some bachelor auction for charity?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying, Callan.” Hunter took off his glasses and placed them on the table.

“Out of the question. I’m not a piece of meat at the market.”

“Scared you’ll get less bids than me, David?” Meres said, tapping his chin with a pen.

“No, just rolling my eyes at the prospect of another posh suit, another phoney party, another night out with you.”

“Even for charity?” Meres said tutting. He looked Callan up and down. “And let’s face it, with you involved, it is charity.”

Sighing, Callan agreed to the charity auction, but only because it was charity and how would it look if he turned it down?

As Callan dressed backstage at the event in question a few days later, Meres arrived in the room beside him, carrying his suit and shoes.

“Can’t you see I’m changing here?” Callan said, as he quickly pulled up his trousers.

“Hide your blushes, David, there’s nothing I’ve not seen before.”

“Give over.” As Meres began to strip out of his day suit, Callan averted his eyes. “You on the other hand have no inhibitions.”

When he was in nothing but his birthday suit, Meres smiled.

Callan smirked as he turned around and caught sight of the back of the naked Meres. “Full moon tonight, is it? Where you going to put your gun?”

“Why? Want to frisk me?”

“Put your suit on,” Callan said, laughing, throwing him the trousers. “Where are your pants?”

“Don’t worry, I know how to dress myself.”

“Really? I thought you had a fag for that.” Callan averted his eyes again as Meres finally put on his suit as Callan made the finishing touches on his own, placing on a smart tie. “How do I look?”

Arriving behind him at the mirror, Meres scrunched his face up. “You’re not quite straight there, David.”

“You would know.”

“Tie’s a bit skew-whiff. Let me help.” He placed his arms around Callan, still looking in the mirror where he sorted out his tie.

“Thank you, that’s enough, people might talk.”

“There, don’t we look a handsome pair?” Meres said, staring at their reflections. “We’ll be eaten alive. Have you seen some of the women out there, desperate rich elderly ladies, biddies with no company? We should go for hundreds. Well, me, maybe.”

“I scrub up well, mate and unlike you, I know how to treat a woman.”

“Oh, no doubt. It doesn’t matter how handsome you are, David or how chivalrous you are. You’ve already pissed off most people here.”

“What are you talking about?”

“They all overheard you remember when that microphone was left on? They all overheard you say how stuck-up they were.”

“Yes, and how was that microphone left on, Toby, do refresh my memory?” Callan scowled as he took a deep breath. “I never wanted to do this in the first place, mate, you remember that?”

“Don’t worry, I’m sure someone will bid for you, some desperate lonely old girl with only a budgie for company. Especially if she favours a bit of rough.”

“You know there are times when I could quite easily ram my fist down your throat.”

“No time, old son, I’m up first. Wish me luck.”

A while later, Meres returned to Callan in the backstage area, covered in lipstick marks over his face and his tie askew. “They’re like wild animals out there, David.”

“Bloody hell. How much you go for?”

“I lost count near the end, hundreds at least.”

“Some bird paid hundreds to spend an evening with Toby Meres? How is that even possible? Have they got a death wish?”

“I’m a ten, David.”

“Never mind the looks, what about that killer personality? You’re horrible, just an arrogant, sadistic, prick.”

“I do love it when you speak fondly of me.” Meres laughed. “Yes, I am quite a stinker but that lot don’t know that do they? They think I’m heroic, dashing, courteous. I’ve been sucking up to them all week. I’ve never kissed so many arses for a job before.”

“So that’s the secret is it, sucking and kissing? No wonder you’re good at this.”

“Honestly, David, it’s quite easy. You play nice guy and get whatever you want. They don’t know you think they’re a bunch of hideous sea creatures. That’s your trouble, they can see you don’t like them. You’ve never been good at doing what you’re told, putting on an act.”

“And you think that will hinder my chances here?”

“Afraid so, old son. The only chance for you is if you show a bit of something.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Take the suit jacket off very slowly. Here let me show you.” Meres slipped one arm out of the jacket and then another until at last he casually flipped the jacket over his shoulder.

Callan felt his headache coming on again. Why did he always have a headache where Meres was concerned?

“And undo those top two buttons, you’re not a monk for crying out loud.” Meres began to undo his buttons for him but Callan slapped him away.

“Bloody get off! You’re getting on my last nerve. Come on, let’s get this over with.”

As Callan stood on stage, sweating under the lights, his mouth dry, his eyes wide like a startled animal in front of a car on the motorway, he awaited his fate as the crowd of country club guests stared at him, ready to bid, ready to pay the price. Meres stood at the back of the hall, watching as the bidding was started and not one person raised a hand to pay. At first, he found it amusing but then agonising minutes passed and Callan’s unpopularity began to make him embarrassed. Even in his smart suit, looking quite handsome, he couldn’t gain any interest. It didn’t help that he had the biggest frown ever seen. Meres buried his face in his hands.

“For crying out loud, David, do something. Shake your behind, anything,” he whispered to himself.

Beside him as if from nowhere, Lonely appeared and Meres smelt him before he saw him. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m supporting Mr. Callan. Oh, it’s embarrassing, Mr. Meres, not a single bid.”

“I agree and at this point I think even you could do better.”

“Oh gawd, I can’t watch. He’s dying out there.”

Lonely averted his gaze as Callan stood still on the stage like a statue, sweating more and more— his face in a scowl, his eyes closing as the boredom kicked in. Finally, Meres could take the silence no longer and held his hand up in the air.

“You sir, are you making a bid?” asked the auctioneer. “Do you wish to purchase this gentleman?”

That was a sentence he never thought he’d be asked, whether he was willing to buy David Callan for the evening. But there he was, doing just that, all for the job and to spare Callan’s blushes.

“Yes, I bloody do,” he shouted. “Two hundred quid.”

“Sold!”

“Two hundred is all I’m worth?” Callan said as he paced the backstage area, pulling off his tie and wiping his sweaty brow with a handkerchief.

“Be glad it wasn’t two pounds.”

“But why did it have to be you? Where were the desperate lonely women you were talking about?”

“I suppose the desperate lonely women weren’t quite desperate and lonely enough.”

Callan sighed. “And what am I supposed to do now?”

“Well, I paid for you so you have to do anything I wish.”

“Did I ever tell you I have nightmares that start like that?”

“Don’t worry,” Meres said, grabbing his arm. “I’ll be gentle with you.” He laughed.

Chapter Text

There was a feeling of great joy that morning when Raffles and I— quite unexpectedly— decided to take a boat trip along the Thames. It was therefore not so joyous when I discovered that it was not quite so unexpected— and Raffles had already expected it and organised a boat the day previously. Fortunately, the sun was shining on us, both literally and figuratively and I felt content as we sat in that boat, we two, drifting leisurely along the Thames, Raffles with the oars in his hands and me laid back upon the cushion, taking in the sights of nature around me.

I watched him for a few moments— his strong arms mesmerising as they gripped those wooden oars with such majesty and then used all his might to push back and forth. And the sweat on his brow as he used all his exertion to row me along where I could relax and take in the sights.

“A.J, I can take over if you like,” I said, secretly hoping he would refuse. “You really ought to put on your boater, it’s getting very hot.”

His striped blazer was soon discarded and he took a moment to wipe the sweat from his brow with one quick swipe from the back of his manly hand.

I wobbled to the front of the boat and placed that hat on for him. “Like me to help?” I said, grabbing an oar until we were side by side, rowing in a rather uneven rhythm.

“We’re rather out of step, Bunny,” he said with a chuckle.

We both laughed as, yes, we were terribly out of step and terribly drunk on excitement. The boat was moving in completely the wrong direction. The other boats that passed us were amused by our hopelessness, and jeered or cheered either annoyed by our being in the way or entertained by our incompetence. When Raffles and I were together, we were so focused on each other that everything else seemed to no longer matter, including the control of the vessel.

“Let me take both the oars then,” I said, and he agreed.

He wobbled to the end of the boat where he then resumed the position I had been in moments earlier.

I sighed happily as we passed Thames Ditton, gazing upon the water and how beautiful it looked with the sun beating down upon it in the way it was. Raffles was smiling. I was smiling. It honestly felt the perfect time to take a boat trip. Ladies walked arm in arm with gentlemen on the bankside and there was a feeling in the air, a feeling of summer, of being alive, of being at one with nature.

And it stayed that way for quite some time until of course the inevitable happened, the inevitable change in the English weather which was not content to let us enjoy the sunshine any longer and decided to rain. It started with a few drops. Then some sideways rain which was soft and not altogether unpleasant in the hot weather. But then it fell heavily. It was relentless. Lashings of water upon us forcing us to make our way to the muddy bank and head ashore. Luckily, we’d had the foresight to bring a tent and so we hitched it up by the water’s edge, both becoming more and more damp by the minute.

Inside the tent, we snuggled together under blankets, our clothes wet and clinging to us. The wind battered the sides of the tent and the beautiful trip was suddenly, unexpectedly, not so beautiful. It was cold. Very cold. So cold in my damp clothes that even the proximity to Raffles could not heartily cheer me.

“The sun shall shine tomorrow, Bunny.”

“Are you clairvoyant?”

“No, just a believer in the positive.”

“Well, I’m glad you think so because I’m ready to pack it all in.” I folded my arms, refusing to smile.

Raffles faced me in the tent, rolling over so our eyes were looking directly in one another’s.

“Bunny, Bunny, how can you give in so easily? It is but our first day. Every cloud has a silver lining.”

I grumbled. “And every cloud has a bloody lot of rain, most of it on my clothes.”

Suddenly Raffles’ fingers were on my cheeks, tenderly stroking. “Now, now, my quick-tempered Rabbit, come, enjoy the thrill of it.”

I tried to ignore the thrill of his touch which excuse the pun was clouding my judgement. “What thrill is there in being cold and damp?”

He sat up suddenly, as though he’d been re-animated in a laboratory. “The thrill in not knowing, my dear, Bunny, in the surprise and spontaneity of nature. It all happens at night!”

There was something about his enthusiasm that made me endear to him, so I kissed him as my nature intended me to, for I could not ignore the impulse. Then we slept, sheltered as one, warming ourselves together.

When I awoke, there was the glimmer of light peering through the crack in the tent, a beam of hope, a sign that he was right that the sun had followed the cloud and now as dawn was breaking, we were ready for a new day on the river.

“Come, Bunny, come watch the sunrise,” he said, taking my hand.

And there we sat, he and I on that riverbank, watching as night finally passed and day finally begun, warming us with early rays that I’d almost forgotten. It was quite spectacular.

And so we waited for the early morning to pass before we decided to get back on the boat to disrobe for an invigorating swim. We discarded our clothes and dressed only in our underwear we climbed overboard, gently dipping our bodies under the water, tensing as the cold hit us, until at last we were mostly submerged.

“What did I say, Bunny? The sun always shines again!”

Sometimes when he said such things I wondered if he was talking about life as well as the weather and I couldn’t help but ponder on what he had said. Did the trip on the river symbolise some greater journey for him?

“A.J,” I said playfully, gaining his attention before splashing him.

“You rascal!” He splashed some water in return until we were flailing about in the blue like schoolboys on a day trip to the sea.

We were so caught up in our rough-housing that we hadn’t noticed the dog that was now on our boat, rifling through our belongings as though looking for sausages. His barking alerted our attention. We looked up and saw him standing there, tongue out, tail wagging, a mischievous look in his eyes. He turned away as we called, and the next we knew, he was tearing at something with his teeth.

“My shirt!” I cried as we fumbled from the water back onto the boat, me helping Raffles as the boat lurched from side to side, nearly sending us both back in.

“He’s got my trousers!” Raffles said, wobbling as he made way to where the dog held our clothes in his mouth.

“Give him back his trousers at once!” I said firmly, looking at the dog like a naughty child. “How dare you steal his trousers! Don’t you know who he is?”

The dog stopped for a moment, looked up at me and barked once.

“Well then, do as you’re told!”

The dog rolled onto its back, dropping the clothes and instead showcasing its fluffy belly. He stared at Raffles for the next few minutes.

“It’s friendly really,” Raffles said, stroking its belly.

“It knew who you were.”

“Don’t be an ass, Bunny, it’s a canine, not a spectator at Lords.”

“He might attend the cricket with his owner.”

Raffles laughed. “Recognised me from the terraces you mean? I rather think he’d be more interested in the ball.”

And with that, we chased the dog from the boat and watched as it scurried along the bank, ready to return to wherever it belonged which in this case was three men in striped blazers, climbing into their own boat further along the bank. I looked down at my shirt which was now ripped in two places. Raffles looked down at his trousers which was torn in a rather unfortunate place to have a tear.

“Ah,” he said.

“Looks like he was after your sausage after all,” I quipped.

“Good job I have a spare pair…of… trousers that is.” He looked at me, his face as still as the water until suddenly a smile erupted and he descended into deep throaty giggles. “Come on, Bunny, let’s get back rowing.”

And so we did, taking it in turns for much of that morning, in a stride we were, both working hard and then relaxing as the other took the reins. I relished the opportunity to take in the sights as the sun hit the water and the green of the landscape around us brightened every part of me. All around me there was beauty. The sparkling river, the blue sky, the image of my Raffles in his striped blazer and straw boater. He was the image of the summer himself as he radiated warmth from within him, forcing us all to wish to be around him— luring us with his charm and confidence.

That was indeed the case and not before long, that relaxing boat journey was invaded by others who were drawn to him, people who recognised him from the newspapers.

“Yoo-hoo,” called a lady from the next boat as we passed slowly.

“I say, is that A.J Raffles?” came the reply from the gentleman aboard the same boat.

Raffles waved like a king as he stopped rowing to greet them. “Hello there.”

“Why hello,” the lady said, holding a parasol over her pretty pale delicate face. “Herbert, isn’t it marvellous, A.J Raffles on a boat on the Thames at the same time you and I are on a boat on the Thames? What are the chances?”

“Are you alone?” the gentleman said.

Raffles and I glanced at each other and I looked down upon myself to see if I was still visible to the human eye. Yes, still visible, just not apparently to others when I was in the company of Raffles.

“No, no, as you can see, I’m taking a leisurely trip with my dearest friend Bunny.”

The lady, finally realising I was there, laughed. “Oh sorry, I thought you were a picnic basket!”

Like a picnic basket, I wasn’t keen to keep my lid shut but Raffles hushed me before I jolly well told her my mind!

It was with great relief then that they were so distracted by Raffles that the gentlemen began rowing closer and closer to the bank. We decided not to tell them and instead let them collide with the side where with a tremendous plop, the lady fell overboard into the water, her hat floating downstream. Karma they call it. Pure, pure karma. Picnic basket! Of all the cheek!

As tempting as it was to leave her in the water, Raffles insisted on helping her back into her boat so we rowed alongside and we leaned over together, helping to lift her and place her gently onboard. I suppose it would’ve looked bad if the newspapers caught wind of the famous cricketer allowing a lady to float down the river without a rescue so we had no choice. She was overly thankful for this, waving and blowing kisses to us as we began to depart. Aside from no hat, she was intact and no harm had been done.

“Wave, Bunny,” Raffles said as we rowed away, until at last they were a blur in the background, a part of the painting one forgets because they were not the main feature.

At last, we were alone again, the sun shining on us, the water clear and calm, the journey ahead hopefully a journey to remember. But oh, how quickly optimism fades. Oh, how quickly the calm route ahead is anything but.

For it was not two hours later when we caught sight of someone familiar rowing past us in the opposite direction. At first, he could have been any old fellow, dressed in summer wear, rowing leisurely down the river but then as we neared, we caught sight of that unruly grey hair, mutton chops and moustache. His head turned toward us and we all stopped rowing eerily at the same time, our boats stopping dead beside each other.

“Inspector Mackenzie?” Raffles said. “How delightful to see you. And on this glorious day too.”

“Aye, indeed it is a glorious day.”

“Not come to question us, have you? Bit unorthodox. I assure you Bunny and I have been on the river since yesterday.”

“Aye, Mr. Raffles, I do not doubt it. But a spate of robberies occurred last night along the river’s edge, just miles away from here.”

I gulped, even though clearly Raffles and I had spent the night in the tent. Of course, I had fallen asleep in the small hours and suddenly I wondered if it were possible that he had gone into town without me, committed a crime, and then returned at dawn to wake me.

“We were wrapped up in the warm all night,” I said, trying to deflect any suspicion from him. “It was much too wet to venture into town.”

Mackenzie’s eyes narrowed and he waved his hand. “A bit of a strange coincidence wouldn’t you say?”

“My dear Inspector, are you implying that our river cruise is anything but that?”

“That is exactly what I’m implying, Mr. Raffles. Would ye mind if I searched your boat?”

“We would mind,” Raffles said, “but if you must, you must.”

“Damn impertinent,” I added as he stepped over from one boat to the other, rocking our boat with his weight as he arrived.

He searched through our belongings but was exasperated when he found nothing and Raffles lounged against his cushion, yawning.

“Nothing to find,” I said, rather amused, “not even a sausage?”

“What a shame for you. A wasted journey on the river,” Raffles said.

The Inspector grumbled and looked away, irritated that he had found nothing in our bags or on our persons. “Aye, well, good day to you both.” He stepped back to his own boat, mopping his hot brow and clearly agitated and embarrassed that there was nothing to link Raffles to the robberies.

I was relieved that Raffles had not committed the thefts and told him so when Mackenzie was out of sight.

“Who says I didn’t?”

“But he found nothing!”

“He wasn’t looking in the right place.”

“You mean you did do it?”

He didn’t reply then and he rowed in silence, my interrogating stare upon him for several moments.

“Is that why we came on this trip?” I asked.

No reply.

“A.J?”

“Enjoy the sunshine, Bunny, no point in worrying what lays behind us, more important to look to the next bend, wouldn’t you say?”

Chapter Text

Standing at the front of the group of ghosts who were seated on the sofa or standing behind it, the Captain cleared his throat ready for his number for music club. It had been a long afternoon of music, beginning with Kitty’s rendition of ‘Morning has Broken’, Humphrey’s head’s rousing chorus of Madness’ ‘Our House’, and Julian’s version of ‘Sexual Healing’ with appropriate moves, until finally it was the Captain’s turn as his usual orchestral style leant itself to the last piece of the day as though he was at the final night of the proms.

“A rather poignant song for today one thinks,” the Captain said, imitating a musical instrument with his mouth rather than singing it. “Do sing along.”

But as he started to hum along to ‘We’ll Meet Again’, only Pat joined in adding the lyrics whilst the Captain continued to hum until they were harmonising.

“Keep smiling through,” Pat had just sung when suddenly there was a whooshing sound around them and then a bright light and the Captain disappeared where he stood.

Robin pointed, making unintelligible noises. “What…be…just…happened?”

“He vanished into thin air as though by a conjuring trick,” Thomas said, standing to his feet.

“Maybe he went to bed,” Kitty said, “he was rather tired.”

“He didn’t go to bed, Kitty, he was standing right there,” Fanny added, rolling her eyes.

Suddenly all the ghosts were on their feet, looking around the room in bewilderment and soon there was a house and garden search even though none of them had seen him leave. It was a mystery.

“Cap?” Pat called around the gardens. “Where are you, mate?” He could hear the others calling out his name from various parts of the house. He even checked the cellar but the plague ghosts hadn’t a clue.

“So not a sausage?” he asked them as he looked back and forth.

“We haven’t seen him, no,” one of the plague women said softly.

“Yeah, and we’d remember a sausage,” one of the men said.

“He didn’t mean an actual sausage, honestly.”

“Yeah, he did.”

“No, he didn’t, that’s stupid.”

Pat backed away and left them to their argument and he arrived back inside the house to find all the other ghosts had congregated in the drawing room, wandering aimlessly.

“Perhaps he was sucked off,” Mary said. “It be the only explanation.”

They all turned to face her with a gasp.

“Can’t be…can it?” Pat said.

Julian sighed. “Well, he was here one moment and the next…poof… so you know…work that out.”

“Preposterous,” Fanny said, folding her arms, “you can’t just leave this realm like that otherwise we’d all have gone by now.”

“Fanny’s right, it didn’t look like that before,” Kitty said.

“Yes, he was just standing there humming that ridiculous tune.”

“Perhaps it was a significant tune in his life,” Humphrey’s head said from the table.

“The head might speak the truth,” Thomas said, standing in front of the others in much the way the Captain had earlier. “The Captain indeed has been spirited away to his eternal rest in paradise.”

“That’s quite a poetic thought, Thomas,” Pat said.

“It isn’t a good thing, man! That solider of war has been taken before I have.” He touched his wound and sighed. “I have been through turmoil and have been here longer than he. I bore my soul of my story and nothing. He says not a word for years and years and is called up there. It’s not fair dammit!”

“I think it’s wonderful,” Kitty said, swaying. “He might be happy there instead of always grumpy here. Though I will miss him, even his ear hair.”

Fanny held her hands in the air. “Just a minute, are we really suggesting that he’s gone forever?” she looked down at her feet, suddenly saddened.

Pat patted her arm and sighed. “I know I complained about him sometimes but I suddenly feel a bit lost.” He turned to look at the others. “And he knew Fanny better than anyone.”

“And would he feel the same in reverse?” Thomas asked. “I think not.”

“Doesn’t matter, mate. Whether he likes me is beside the point. I liked him and I’ll miss him, I don’t mind admitting.”

“We tell Alison,” Robin said, pointing to the window where she and Mike were climbing out of their car and walking up the driveway.

The ghosts ran to the front door and as the young couple entered, they all swarmed around Alison and spoke at the exact same time.

“Guys, I can’t hear you when you all speak at once,” she said.

“Ghosts are here?” Mike asked.

“Yeah, all of them.” She looked at them. “Well mostly all of them. What is it, one at a time? I’ll catch you up, Mike.”

She watched Mike leave and then looked at Pat ready to ask him what was going on when suddenly Mary stepped forward.

“It be the Captain, he be sucked off.”

She laughed and then paused. “Sorry, he what?”

“The Captain’s gone upstairs,” Julian said.

“He be upstairs?” Robin said aside to Fanny and then looked upward.

“Not literally, Robin, it’s an expression.”

“What do you mean upstairs?” Alison said as they followed her into the next room.

“The lucky bastard has finally moved on, been spirited away to the heavens or whatever you call it,” Julian said.

“Oh my god. Are you sure?”

Pat paced impatiently. “He just disappeared right when he was singing along to Vera Lynn.”

“Oh. And that’s how it works is it, you just vanish in the middle of a song?”

“Well, no, obviously not, Alison, or we’d all be long gone by now,” Fanny added.

Pat sat down beside her. “We don’t know, Alison, but how else can you explain it?”

Alison held her hands to her face in shock. “I just can’t believe it. I suppose I just assumed you’d all be around forever. It’s like someone’s died but he was already dead. Do you guys miss him? I think I’m going to miss him.”

Kitty suddenly burst into tears and ran from the room. “I’m going to miss him too!”

Pat walked to the window and looked out. “Wherever you are, mate, I hope you find some happiness.”

The Captain walked slowly in the purple haze that greeted him. He was confused. Why had he lost consciousness during his rendition of ‘We’ll Meet Again’? and ended up walking a long hallway of a place he didn’t recognise and that was most certainly not Button House. He gulped. Was this the next stage? He felt fear for the first time since he had died and it was the first time he’d felt completely alone in many years.

But when he found the end of the hallway, it was an ordinary room with people sitting around a circular table, playing some sort of game. He was looking at them as though from above.

“Hello?” he called out but no one could hear him. “I say, what the bally hell is going on here?”

But the people were engrossed in something, their hands clutching onto one another’s and their eyes closed. It was silent and eerie.

“Captain?” a soft voice suddenly said, appearing behind him in the room.

The Captain spun around and saw Havers standing there in the mist, looking as young and beautiful as he remembered him.

“Havers? Am I in heaven?”

“Not quite, sir, still in-between I’m afraid.”

“What are we doing here?” He couldn’t take his eyes off Havers, not quite believing he was really there and not some part of his imagination.

“My great-niece is rather a dab hand at this old medium business. You’re here because of me.”

His lip trembled. “I don’t understand.”

“She brought me here, contacted me so to speak and she’s done the same for you. She’s brought us across plains to be here, has quite the gift.”

“Good lord. But why me?”

“As an extension of me I suppose. It’s only temporary, nothing to fear. She’s contacted me before but I can only pass a few words along at a time.”

“I’ve missed you, Havers.”

“And I you, sir.”

Alison, Mike and the ghosts gathered around the stump of the tree in the gardens, believing it would be a nice place to hold a ‘death death’ service for the Captain who had left them the day earlier. They were all still in a state of shock and confusion and so gathered together to say their goodbyes.

“He loved this garden,” Alison said to Mike, repeating what Fanny had just said behind her.

“I can say a few words if you like?” Mike said, attempting to be supportive.

Thomas snorted. “What could he possibly say? He didn’t know the Captain.”

Alison hushed him. “Mike, you didn’t know him.”

“Nah, but I got the idea.” He cleared his throat and pointed to his left. “I know you’re upset ghosts.”

“We’re over here,” Julian said, snorting.

“They’re over there.” Alison pointed.

“Sorry.” He pointed to his right. “I know you’re all upset to lose one of your mates but I know how you feel. Year six, before big school, losing all your mates before the summer. Not that they died and then died again, but you know…moving on is tough.”

“Thanks, Mike,” Alison said with a smirk. “I’m sure he’d have appreciated that.”

“Is that all he could come up with?” Thomas said.

“Why don’t you start then, Thomas?” Alison said. “You’ve known him many years.”

Thomas looked down at the grass. “I find myself at a loss for words at this very moment.”

“Anyone else want to say something?”

Kitty sobbed onto Fanny’s shoulder. “Why… did… he…have…to…go?”

Fanny patted her head gently. “It was his time, Kitty. Just his time.”

“I’ll miss him bossing us about,” Pat said. “Won’t you miss him bossing us about?”

“Yes, and back up straight and big stick shake about,” Robin added.

“He’ll be up theres, gloating no doubt,” Mary said, “boasting he went first.”

“Yes, while some of us dwell here forever,” Thomas said morbidly.

Robin looked at Thomas. “Oh yes, two hundred years so bad. You try…” he attempted to calculate the number of years he’d been dead but gave up and instead squared up to him. “You have it easy.”

“Nonsense, man, I have suffered!”

“At least you weren’t burned alive so,” Mary muttered and before long there was a full-blown argument among the ghosts.

“What’s happening?” Mike said.

Alison folded her arms. “They’re arguing.”

“At a funeral? Not cool, guys.”

“Not technically a funeral so…you know…” Julian added holding Humphrey’s head in his hands.

“You lot!” Humphrey shouted and then whistled with his lips for their attention. “This isn’t what the Captain would want! He was stuffy, and a pain in the ass, but he was our pain in the ass, and he’d want order and rationality. I think we can give him that.”

“Well yes, quite,” Fanny said. “He was a good man, not like my George.”

“To the Captain,” Alison said smiling, looking up at the sky.

“The Captain!” they all repeated in unison. “Wherever he is.”

 

Having not said a word to each other for several minutes, both lost in a state of longing, Havers finally broke the silence.

“I’ve often wondered about you, sir,” he said, his eyes twinkling even in afterlife.

The Captain coughed. “Have you? Well, I’m very glad to hear that, Havers, for you see, I well…I often thought of you.”

“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”

“Frightfully long.”

“I wasn’t sure if you’d be here. Thought you might have passed over to the next place.”

“No, no, still here, keeping calm and carrying on and all that.”

“Glad to hear that, sir.”

“I do wonder, Havers, I mean, that is to say, are you alright where you are?”

“There’s plenty of chaps about keeping me company if that’s what worries you?”

The Captain laughed. “Oh, not worried. You could always take care of yourself, Havers. No, no, just curious.”

“And you, sir? Anyone to keep you company? I’d hate to think you spending eternity alone.”

The Captain smiled. “I’m fine. Company of sorts. We all muddle together, day after day, night after night, because, well, forever is a long time. But uh…you’re not there and that’s always made Button House seem a little lonely somewhat.”

Havers seemed surprised. “You’re still at Button House?”

“Can’t seem to tear myself away eh? Maybe it’s where I was most happy…with you I mean.” He looked away shyly, realising he’d said too much. He was surprised at his forwardness. He’d never spoken to him so candidly in life but now it seemed easier somehow.

“I was always rather fond of you, sir, if it’s alright for me to say so?”

The Captain smiled gently. “I’m not your superior officer anymore and it’s jolly well nice to hear.”

“Things we couldn’t say and all that. Times have certainly changed around us.”

“And us along with it. As much as we wish to stay the same, we can’t. And sometimes it’s not a bad thing.” He smiled to himself, thinking of the therapy sessions with Alison and the other ghosts. “Someone from where I come from says it’s good to talk.”

Havers laughed. “My great-niece thinks the same.”

“Truth is, Havers,” the Captain said, stumbling over his words and taking a deep breath. “I was always rather fond of you too, more than fond really.”

Havers took his hand and kissed it.

Mike kissed Alison’s hand as she sat in the kitchen having barely touched her cereal, simply pushing the spoon around the bowl.

“Everything alright?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. Suppose I was just thinking about the Captain. He was quite a character and it feels very quiet without him here. Wonder what it’ll be like if they all leave.”

“Sure that won’t happen for a good while yet,” Mike said, grabbing her bowl and drinking the milk.

Alison sighed. “Maybe, but it still feels wrong somehow.”

“Know what you mean.” Pat was suddenly sitting at the table next to her. “Cap was my friend.” He looked at Mary, Robin, Kitty, Thomas and Fanny who were all now sitting at the table. “How do you get used to it, to watching others come and go?”

“Same with lifes I suppose,” Mary said, “has to lose many peoples there too.”

Julian, who was standing up by the toaster, rubbed his chin in thought. “Always thought I’d be elated seeing any of you moving on but well…not as satisfying as you’d think.”

“You get used to someone for few hundred years and then no longer there,” Robin added.

Alison stood up. “We can’t get depressed about this, guys. He’s in a better place and we have to be happy for him. But we could talk about him more in our weekly meetings.”

“I have written a poem of remembrance,” Thomas said.

“Ah here we go,” Julian moaned.

Thomas paced the room. “So dear Captain departs, breaking our hearts. From this death he leaves, whilst we must grieve. No war to fight, the end in sight, toward the light with all his might…he walks the road to paradise.”

The Captain and Havers stood in an embrace for several moments until at last Havers broke free, realising that something was happening around them.

“The mist is starting to clear.”

“What does that mean?”

“The connection wasn’t strong enough. We can’t speak to them. We’ll break away and be taken back.”

“But I’m not ready,” the Captain said with desperation in his voice.

“But we saw each other again.”

“Indeed, and it was like I was taken to heaven and you the angel.” The Captain coughed, surprised at what he had confessed. “Good lord I think there’s something in the air.”

Havers quickly kissed the Captain on the lips and then smiled. “We’ll meet again, Captain, I’m sure of it. No matter how far apart we are.”

The Captain touched his own lips softly, wanting to remember that kiss forever.

“I hope you’re right, Lieutenant.” He nodded and then felt a peculiar sensation travel down his body. Suddenly everything was a blur and he found himself walking down that long hallway he’d been in earlier. Finally, he walked through a door and he stepped into the drawing room of Button House— that familiar, warm house— that place he called home.

“Anyone there?” he called out, feeling his voice echo through the empty space.

Within moments Alison and all the ghosts were in the room, staring at him, gasping, pointing, shocked and confused.

“What are you all jolly well standing there for with your mouths open?”

“You…be…you…be…” Robin began but couldn’t finish the sentence.

“You were sucked off!” Mary said.

“No, I wasn’t!” the Captain said, blushing, thinking of Havers. “It’s a rather long story I’m afraid.”

“But we thought you’d moved on,” Pat said, placing his arm around the Captain in excitement.

“Good heavens, no. I suppose you were all glad to see the back of me for those minutes I was away.”

Everyone looked at each other.

“Minutes?” Kitty said. “You were gone days!”

“Good lord. It was mere moments for me.”

“Where were you?” Fanny asked to which everyone murmured in agreement, keen to know the answers.

“I’m not quite sure but I think it might have just been heaven.”

“So how are you back?” Alison asked, just as curious as the others.

“I’m not sure really. I will tell you about it, I promise but I’m rather tired.”

“So did you miss us?” Kitty said, smiling widely.

The Captain smiled. “I certainly missed that smile of yours, Kitty, though I was only gone moments. But I’d rather be here of course. Lots to sort out and you lot to organise. You wouldn’t last five minutes without me. Button House needs the correct leadership.” He lifted his chin into the air.

Julian sighed. “Well, he’s back.”

“So, you’re not going to tell us where you’ve been then?” Thomas moaned. “What effrontery. I was glad you were gone,” he hissed, turning his back on him.

“The bally nerve!” the Captain replied.

The scene soon descended into chaos then, voices raised and the ghosts arguing with whichever ghost was nearest. They didn’t even know why they were arguing aside from knowing each other so long. They knew that they had been with each other for many years and that when one disappeared it felt wrong somehow, as though a part of them was missing.

“Back to normal then,” Alison said aside to the Captain who was deep in thought, looking at the others.

“Yes, back to normal,” he replied with a smile. He looked upward. “We’ll meet again.”

Chapter Text

In the mist towards Camelot, strong and brave Lancelot carried the injured body of his squire Brian, the faithful friend who had been wounded in a heroic rescue attempt. When he reached the castle, King Arthur was waiting with Guinevere and they greeted him as he entered the castle gates.

“He lives?” Guinevere asked, running her hand across Brian’s cheek.

“He does but he’s weak. I must get him to master Merlin with hopes of some potion.” Lancelot’s voice cracked as he continued to carry the boy in his arms.

“We wish him well, Sir Lancelot,” the King said. “The boy shall be rewarded for his brave endeavours.”

Lancelot smiled but could barely hear his king in that moment, all his energy focused on the boy in his arms, the boy who had rushed into danger, the boy of small stature, no noble birth but a boy of great courage and a heart bigger than any other. Brian was almost a man but had the courage of ten.

“Goodness, what’s happened?” Merlin said as Lancelot carried Brian into his laboratory. He placed him down on the table, knocking all the bottles over and pushing aside the scrolls.

“He jumped onto a horse to save me and was thrown off. He’s hit his head and is unconscious. I’m rather worried, Master Merlin, worried he may not wake. I don’t think I could live with myself if any such thing should befall him.”

“Then I shall brew a potion and we shall let him rest. He may be well in time. Shall I watch over him for you?”

“No, no,” Lancelot said, brushing the blonde hair from Brian’s eyes. “I’ll do that.”

It was hours before Brian finally woke and Lancelot had watched him that whole time and had seen Merlin administer remedy after remedy. He’d sat there in silent contemplation, remembering all the good times with the boy from the very first meeting to the recent months. He also thought of his bad behaviour, his pranks on Merlin, the many cross words. He was far from perfect but he was his prince of pots and pans.

“Lancelot?” Brian said with a hoarse whisper. He rubbed his eyes. “That’s better. You were a blur.”

“Don’t try and move,” Lancelot said softly. “You’ve had a nasty fall.”

“But we saved the day, didn’t we Lancelot?” Brian said, trying to sit up.

Lancelot’s gloved hand pushed the boy’s shoulder until he was laying again. He laughed. “We did save the day. I think it was you, Brian, who saved us all.”

“I was only doing as you would do, Lancelot.”

“I was worried about head injuries so I asked Master Merlin to concoct something. I’m glad there’s no damaging side effects.”

“Knowing Master Merlin there will be! I might end up a toad or have eighteen toes!”

“Brian don’t talk foolish. You will thank Master Merlin.”

Sulking, Brian rolled his eyes. “Yes Lancelot.” He paused and then smiled shyly. “Have you been watching me this whole time? It’s not a knight’s duty to watch a squire, it’s beneath you.”

“Ah but you’re no ordinary squire, are you?”

“I’m not?”

“You’re Brian and Brian’s need to be looked after.”

“You’re joshing.”

Lancelot ruffled his hair. “Get some rest, that’s an order.”

Chapter Text

James Eliot ran up the stairs, up and up, not even aware of where he was going but just needing to get out. He had tried to go downward but there had been so many people there and he was caught among them, unable to move or breathe or think. So, he chose up and there he went until he found himself on the roof, through a heavy door at the top of the building. He wasn’t even sure if he was allowed to be there but he’d had enough of the law and people and the trivialities of life.

When he stepped out into the night air, there was a biting chill but he didn’t care. He felt free. He took a deep breath and then slid slowly onto the ground near the edge. Looking at the night sky, he sighed, loosened his tie and then closed his eyes.

He was lost in his thoughts when suddenly he heard the sound of the door swinging open behind him. He didn’t turn around, instead he just waited for whoever it was to either join him or push him off—he wasn’t sure which was more preferable in that moment.

“James?”

It was Harriet’s voice. He turned to see her standing behind him, smiling sympathetically.

“Ah, Harriet.”

“Was I such bad company?”

“No, no, nothing like that.” He looked down to his feet which were dangling over the side.

“I wish you’d get away from that drop. Not thinking of throwing yourself off, are you?”

He didn’t reply, rubbed his nose and then let out another sigh. “Don’t think so but the night’s still young.”

Sliding to his level, attempting not to fall over in her high heels, Harriet rested near the edge, holding onto a railing for safety.

“What’s the matter, James? You ran out of that party like you’d eaten bad seafood.”

“I do feel sick, but not that kind. Oh, I don’t know, Harriet. Do you ever just find yourself surrounded by people but they’re always the wrong people?”

“I hope you’re not including me in that.”

“Heaven forbid!” James teased lightly. He grabbed her hand and squeezed it for a moment. “No, no. It’s just, all that noise, all that fake-ness, all that nothing. What’s it all for?”

“Ah well that’s the million-dollar question, James. A question I don’t think I can answer.”

“I used to know exactly what I wanted, who I wanted. Now I’m sitting here, looking down on the streets below and realising I haven’t a clue.”

“None of us do, James. I’m a little older than you—”

“—A little?”

“Yes, a little, James, don’t argue it.” She smirked and against her best judgement she shuffled closer to her friend and managed to sit on the floor, ruining her elegant gown in the process.

“Harriet!”

“What?”

“Your dress!”

“A trivial matter, James.”

“But you wear it so well.”

“You wear a smile well, but it seems to have disappeared.”

“And you’ve decided to get on the case?” He smiled briefly.

“There it is!”

“I’m not unhappy as such. I’m just not—”

“—Happy?”

“I’m restless, Harriet, I’m unfulfilled. I want to write. I don’t want to write. I want to be a barrister. I don’t want to be. I want love, I don’t want love, does it make sense?”

She shook her head and sighed. “You don’t get to my age without knowing exactly what you mean but you need to work it out for yourself. Only you know what you are and what you want. You’re a clever man, James, you don’t need me or anyone at chambers telling you what to do.”

“Probably get it from my father I suppose.”

“I mean if you want me to order you about, just say so.”

James laughed. “I’d only be ordered about by you, no one else would get away with it.”

“How very true.” She shivered in the night air. “I will say it is a beautiful night even if it is terribly cold out on this quiet roof.”

“Oh Harriet, I’m sorry, you must be freezing in that gown. Here, take my jacket.” He slipped off his blazer and placed it around her shoulders.

“Very gallant but now you’re cold.”

“Ah, I’m made of sterner stuff.”

Her eyebrow rose. “Are you indeed? You’ve just been telling me you’re not sure you care if you fall off this building.”

James let out a soft laugh where he fell into deep contemplation.

“Well, still feel like it’s a possibility? Ready to jump?”

“Almost sounds like you want me to.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, James, who would I argue with at chambers?”

“Well then. I can’t leave you with Bill to argue with. He has no wit.”

“And poor Rosie would never stop crying!”

They both started laughing until at last they were silent and they both looked up at the moon and stars, just watching for a moment, listening to the sounds of the city, observing as people scurried about, getting into cars, running, walking, rushing around.

“It’s peaceful up here,” James said. “In court or out there, so much going on.”

“Yes, but you can’t live on a roof, James. I know you’d try anything but that might be a step too far.”

“A step too far and I’d be off the roof. What do you recommend?”

“I recommend you take my arm, come home with me, get a stiff drink and then we have a long talk about just what James Eliot wants.”

“Thank you, Harriet.”

Chapter Text

“I think I’ve bally well developed a facial tic, Jeeves,” I said as I glanced at my pale, sullen reflection in the bedroom mirror.

Jeeves arrived behind me, peering into the mirror, a raised eyebrow. “It looks that way, sir.”

“Well, what am I to do? I can’t venture outside with this glaringly apparent deformity. I’m meeting Marjory Purse-Witherspoon later this morning and I can hardly say ‘What-ho, Marjory! Do you notice my facial tic? I’m not winking at you but my face simply has a life of its own!’”

“It is a conundrum, sir. And might I add, very unfortunate.”

“More than unfortunate, Jeeves, jolly well catastrophic—the type of thing one talks about at the club but doesn’t dream of actually happening to him. The chortling I’ll hear, the whispers from behind crisp ironed newspapers, remarks from men seated in leather armchairs. Jeeves, it’ll be unbearable!”

“I dare say you’ve dealt with worse, sir.”

He was silent for a few moments but I spun around, niggled and dismayed at his cavalier attitude.

“You know there are times, Jeeves, when I could do without your judgement.”

“I never said a word, sir.”

“You don’t need to, Jeeves, I can see you thinking.”

“I’ll try not to think too obviously in future to spare your blushes.”

“Quite right.” I laughed. “A servant thinking, a very un-spiffing thought, eh what?”

“Horrific.”

I glanced at my reflection again and my cheek jumped three times, causing my eye to twitch like a drunkard who’d forgotten the use of one’s faculties.

“There… is… something I can recommend, sir,” Jeeves said, helping me into my blazer.

“Out with it, Jeeves. This is a calamity of the most calamitous calamities that could befall an Englishman.”

He began to dust down my jacket casually. “I’ve heard of a similar spate of occurrences of facial tics in wealthy gentlemen in recent years. Us butlers are privy to the complexities of the epidemic as it were.”

“Good grief, Jeeves, you mean I’m the latest victim in a long line of wealthy gentleman with unsightly facial tics?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“What can be done?”

“By first determining the cause, sir.”

“Good gracious, Jeeves, this is getting rather complicated.”

By now we were in the living room where the sun shone through the window lighting up Jeeves as though he were an angel with a halo.

“You see, sir, it appears that all these gentlemen were to be visited by elderly aunts on the morning they developed such afflictions.”

“Good lord, Jeeves. Aunt Agatha is due a visit this evening. Do you suppose it’s the same?”

“I expect so, sir. Relatives visiting can often result in a sudden flare up. Would you like your green tie this morning, sir?” He held up the tie.

“I can’t think about ties! I’m beginning to feel the tic more fervently now. I think it’s spreading, making my chuffing face feel like a wibbly-wobbly jelly. Is it getting worse?”

“I’m afraid it appears to be progressing to the next stage, sir.”

“By Jove, Jeeves. You mean this gets worse?”

“One wouldn’t want to worry you but on occasion, a tic which originates in the cheeks can sometimes migrate to other areas of one’s body.”

“Other areas of my body, Jeeves?” I looked down at myself. “But my body is my temple, a place I worship alone. I can’t have a tic riddling around my never-regions, Jeeves.”

“No, that would be altogether troublesome.”

And with that the tic seemed to make me excessively blink, over and over most annoyingly.

“Are you quite alright sir?”

“Still on stage one I think Jeeves, my eyes won’t stop blinking. On and off like a bally electric light switch.”

“I do have an idea, sir,” Jeeves said, pushing me onto the settee before I started to pace back and forth in panic.

I couldn’t reply as my lips were suddenly beginning to dance with one another. I then felt as Jeeves so grimly predicted, that it had moved to other parts of my body. My legs began to spasm, and then a tingling sensation developed in my toes.

Jeeves looked at me and then I watched through one eye at a time as he walked to the kitchen for a moment and then to the front door, where he opened it and came back seconds later, carrying a note. I hadn’t heard the doorbell but then my ears were closing up to outside stimulus.

“This telegram arrived for you, sir,” he said, placing it into my trembling hands.

“I cannot read this, Jeeves, my hands are jingling and jangling like a—”

“—set of keys, sir?”

“Quite so. What does it say?”

Jeeves looked down upon the contents of the telegram. “It appears your aunt will not be dining with you this evening as planned.”

“She won’t?” I sat back for a moment and suddenly my eyes stopped twitching, my face felt still and soft and calm. “Good heavens, Jeeves, I think you’ve cured me.”

“Really sir?”

“I can’t feel the tremors anymore.” I ran to the mirror with excitement. “And the old dinkity-dink in the cheek has stopped. Whatever did you do?”

“It was the telegram, sir, with news that your elderly aunt was otherwise engaged. It has cured all the men with similar afflictions.”

“Then what stroke of luck, eh Jeeves, that old aunt Agatha should find herself otherwise engaged on just the morning I was struck down by a whopping whiffy facial tic of monstrous proportions?”

“It is indeed a serendipitous moment, sir.”

“Well, then, don’t just stand there, Jeeves, fetch the green tie. One needs to look spiffing for old girl Marjory.”

“Very well, sir.”

As he placed on my tie, I looked at him. “I say, Jeeves?”

“Yes sir?”

“The doorbell didn’t ring.”

“Didn’t it, sir?”

“Wait a minute. You can’t pull the wool over my eyes this time. You wrote that telegram, didn’t you?”

“Exceptional circumstances, sir.”

“I see. Yes, I suppose it rather was. You’re forgiven, Jeeves. You got me out of a frightful pickle.” I paused and then gulped. “But does that mean that Aunt Agatha is still dining here this evening?”

He raised an eyebrow. “I did wish to spare you until the last moment, sir.”

“Holy crickets, Jeeves, it’s coming back.” I felt my eyes blinking rapidly and my cheek start to jump and my fingers and toes tingling all over. “Jeeves!”

Chapter Text

Hunter placed a file into Meres’ hand as Callan smirked from over his shoulder, having read the contents already. Meres perused the file and then his eyes were wide with shock.

“Is this some sort of joke?” He looked to the calendar on the wall. “It’s not April Fools.”

Hunter coughed. “I’m afraid it’s very serious, Meres. There are several Meres doppelgangers that have been snatched from various time periods with the intent to manipulate their minds to make them our enemy. We have intercepted their experiment and are now in possession of the men who look like you. You must question them and make sure they have not yet been manipulated, drawn to the other side.”

Callan, shaking his head in disbelief, smirked. “Doppelgangers? Have we entered a parallel universe, sir?”

Hunter took off his glasses. “I think we have rather.”

“And you want me to interrogate…myself?” Meres asked.

“They’re not actually you, Meres, they have entire lives and personalities away from you. They simply look like you.”

“You’re telling me,” Callan said, “that there’s potentially some nice ones of him out there?”

“I didn’t say they were all nice,” Hunter said with a smile. “But that’s for you to find out. We have scientists trying to work out how to send them all back and whether we should. You’re my two best men. This is all riding on you.”

Behind door 1-

Callan looked over the notes of the first man known as simply Maurice M— A wheeler and dealer type from the near future who on first glance looked like a slightly older Meres, grey at the temples but with essentially the same face. He sat differently though, laid-back demeanour, legs wide apart.

“This is terrifying,” Callan said observing the scene. “One Meres is enough. He looks just like you.”

“I think you’ll find he’s past it, old son. And what’s with the awful jacket he’s wearing?”

“It’s the fashion,” Maurice said as they hovered over him. “Listen mate,” he said looking at Callan, “I was in the casino and next some blokes got me in a headlock, bag over me head. If it’s about the pony I scored it was a legit result, no need for the rough stuff, eh lads?”

“We’re just asking you a few questions,” Callan said.

“Here, hold on,” Maurice said, finally noticing Meres. “What kind of game you got going on here? Did Tel put you up to this? He’s a right crafty geezer is Tel. Go on then, what have I done?”

Meres crouched down onto the floor, looking at Maurice carefully from his level, examining the face he knew well. “Have you been approached by any other organisations?” There was a pause so Meres leaned in closer. “Well, go on, answer me. Have you been approached?”

Callan was perturbed by the image of Meres so close to a man who was his double.

“Organisations? Look mate, I just play cards. I don’t know why you look like me or why you’re giving me these verbals, but lay off.”

Meres sighed and looked at Callan, placing his hands into his pockets. “I believe him.”

“Me too.”

“He’s far too much of an idiot to be involved with a complex operation.”

“I heard that!” Maurice said. “Bloody cheek! You been talking to my missus?”

Callan smirked. “Hear that, Meres, in one time period someone wanted to marry you.”

Behind door 2-

Arriving in the next room, the Meres doppelganger was sitting, folding his arms, waiting impatiently for whatever was to happen. The man was similar age to Meres, dressed in a fine suit and coat and not much to distinguish them in looks.

Callan glanced at the file. “James Eliot, barrister. Pretty good it seems.”

“Would you mind telling me why I’m here when I’m due in court in an hour?” James said, tapping his watch. “Who are you?”

Meres came into the light. “Your worst nightmare.”

James Eliot leaned back in confusion, staring at a man who shared his face. “You look like me.”

“Aren’t I lucky?” Meres replied. “You’re quite the dish.”

Callan snorted. He was unnerved by the sight of Meres flirting with himself, well sort of.

“Oh, don’t tell me this isn’t your biggest fantasy, old son?” Meres said at Callan.

“He’s even wearing your trench coat,” Callan said, looking back and forth between them. “You sure you’re not related?”

James could barely take his eyes off the man who looked like him. He shuddered. “I’m not sure what’s going on here but I’d like to make a phone call to my friend Harriet. You do realise I’m a barrister? I can have you two up in court for any number of breaches?”

“And we can have you up on that wall for any number of reasons,” Meres said.

Callan sighed, looking at him. “You’re getting some weird kick out of interrogating men who look like you, aren’t you?”

“Who wouldn’t? Be honest, David.”

“You sick bastard.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing. Anyway, I think he’s clean.”

“Yeah, think you’re right, mate, he’s the good version of you. He’s the one in the parallel world who is a decent bloke.”

Behind door 3-

“This one’s not a decent bloke,” Callan said as he paced in front of the Meres doppelganger who was dressed in German military uniform. “Says here, he’s second in command at Colditz castle during WWII. Bloody hell.”

Meres leaned in towards Mohn’s face, examining him, looking at the scar at the side of his eye. He then without warning punched him in the stomach.

Mohn creased over in pain, his face contorted in agony. Finally, when he was able to breathe, he sat up and looked Meres in the eye. “Who has sent you?”

“That’s none of your business, sunshine, is it?” Callan said sitting next to him and leaning in with intimidation. “We ask the questions. You’ll tell Meres what you know.”

Mohn’s lip quivered and he realised for the first time in ages he was on the back foot. He was captured and the one being interrogated. He gulped. He had no power and no idea when and how the British forces had captured him. Still, he would not give them the satisfaction of his fear. He was defiant in his cause.

“Your plans are futile. I will not answer your questions.”

Meres circled him, a slight smile finding his lips. “A Nazi version of myself, I’m not sure whether I’m repulsed or excited.”

“We are not the same,” Mohn shouted, breaking his promise of remaining calm and defiant. “You are weak. You mimic me somehow to intimidate me, but I’m not able to submit.”

Grabbing Mohn by the shoulder, Meres looked into his eyes. “Has anyone approached you?”

“I refuse to answer.”

Callan watched as Meres took another swing at Mohn, this time across the face, leaving a bloody nose. Still, Mohn refused to speak though there were tears in his eyes and a tremor on his cheek as he desperately tried to remain calm.

“Are you going to tell us what you know? You’re scum,” Meres said.

Mohn’s lip curved into a smile. “Carry on your violent antics, Mr. Meres, for which of us is really the baddie?”

Behind door 4-

The last room held the most dashing of the Meres doppelgangers, the Victorian gentleman thief and cricketer known as A.J Raffles who sat there next to another man, a fair-haired gentleman who resembled a startled animal.

“Why’s there two of them?” Meres asked.

“According to these notes,” Callan said, “blondie wouldn’t leave Raffles’ side.”

“Oh, how touching!” Meres mocked.

“His name is Bunny,” Raffles said, folding his arms.

“You dare touch a hair on A.J’s head and I’ll…” Bunny began before noticing the gleam of Meres weapon.

“Aren’t they sweet?” Meres said. “Reminds me of you and me, David.”

“The Mills and Boon version you mean?” Callan said with a grin.

“Gentlemen,” Raffles said with a smile that was so glorious, Meres quite fancied him. “I rather think there’s been some misunderstanding. We did not steal anything of yours.”

“Yes!” Bunny shouted with a panic. “We were having supper at Willis’. If anything, you stole us.”

Meres took a moment to look at Bunny. There was something extremely attractive about the innocent looks but rabid courage of this so-called Rabbit.

“What you looking at?” Callan asked aside.

“Nothing, old man, nothing.”

“Bloody hell, you fancy him too,” he whispered.

“Well, he isn’t my double, I’m allowed.” Meres smiled. “Tell you what, David, I’ll lean on him in private and you can have.. me…well him…Raffles.”

“I’m not letting you or any of you out of my sight,” Callan said, “I don’t trust the lot of you.”

Raffles raised his hand casually and looked at Meres. “I did notice that you and I seem to share a remarkable resemblance.”

“I definitely noticed,” Bunny said, staring at Meres and feeling guilty for appreciating his fine face and body when he was such a ruthless individual.

“I think we’re safe from them,” Callan said, “clearly have eyes only for crime and each other.”

“Are there any more?” Meres said. “I’m getting sick of myself.”

“That makes a change. And yeah, still a whole bunch of them. We’ve got a Frederick or something, a Stanton, some composer bloke, a Baron of some kind and even a man simply called ‘Camp chauffeur’ so I’m assuming he’s not a driver taking kids on outdoor activity weekends. How are there so many doppelgangers?”

Meres bristled with pride. “Clearly I have the right face for every situation.”

“Yeah, yeah, you do have a lot of faces.”

“God needn’t create new ones when this one is perfection.”

Callan rolled his eyes. “Just get to it. We’ve got a load more of you to interrogate but perhaps for another day!”

Chapter Text

For mere weeks, Bunny Manders, the helpful and loyal little fag at my old school had returned into my life, and for those few weeks, as well as committing a crime to save his skin and reputation, we had spent many moments together, re-acquainting in a way that made me, I must admit, extremely contented.

The sight of him standing in my doorway on that night, the night he threatened to take his life, had sent a pleasurable shiver down my spine and oh how I couldn’t believe how big my rabbit had grown, how handsome he looked, how innocence shone from within like a crystal under the light.

And in those early nights how we laughed, remembering the old school, the superlative days, and the silly days and the little moments we shared together when we were but boys. Back then he had seemed so much younger than me, but now the age gap between us felt nothing at all, and we were so unlike those two passing ships in the night— rather instead two mooring vessels, settling down together in a sense of domesticity I had not experienced before. He had somewhat anchored me. I’d started to wonder what it felt like before he came back into my life, pondering on the lonely nights at the Albany and what I had done to entertain myself before he returned. I hadn’t realised quite the extent a man gets used to isolation and looking back, I wondered how I’d lived day to day without a soul to share my deepest feelings, without a friend to unburden my troubles, without a living breathing person beside me to listen to my words as I spoke them. I’d always been fine on my own, I’d always coped alone, navigated through life alone, but when it came to it, I couldn’t help but admit that I now took pleasure of sharing my existence with Bunny, having someone at my side to share my spoils and my life.

It was those early nights, the nights where we drank whiskey and talked all night that I felt truly alive. Solitude was something I craved sometimes, even from Bunny, but not in those early days, not in those reacquainted blissful times, back then it was all I wanted and nothing seemed to exhaust me.

He was climbing out of the bath one such evening, wrapping a towel around his middle and exiting the bathroom as I was passing.

“Everything up to standard?” I said with a large smile. “Not the Turkish baths I’m afraid.” I took a sniff and the fragrant aroma greeted my nostrils. “Lavender?”

“Good nose,” he replied and I noticed his cheeks had blushed though it was hard to tell with Bunny. He had one of those complexions in which embarrassment, frustration, anger and any other emotion resulted in rosiness. “I’m grateful for you letting me use your facilities,” he told me.

I looked at him standing in the towel. “My pleasure.”

“My goodness, I’m dripping on your floor.”

“I think we know each other well enough by now to not worry about such things, Bunny.” I tapped his shoulder which was still clammy. “I say, Bunny, you are rather furry and fuzzy up here.” He had the sweetest dark hair growing fully on his shoulders.

“Oh yes,” he said, looking down.

“It’s quite flattering I assure you.”

But he seemed embarrassed by my assessment and looked quickly at me and then away again. I wondered if I had said too much. Was it too forward to comment on a good friend’s furriness whilst he stepped out of your bathtub?

“Well, thank you, A.J, I grow it myself.”

I laughed then. He had a wonderful sense of humour and I found myself finding everything he said and did endearing. I suppose there’d come a time when everything he did annoyed me as relationships tend to do but in these heady joyous days, nothing he could do could warrant any animosity towards such a heavenly creature. Everything, and I mean everything about him, was perfect. And most of all that fuzzy shoulder hair that seemed to fall in tufts, scattered in various positions on his skin around the freckles was like looking at a painting, finding a myriad of textures and patterns that elicited thoughts and feelings within me.

“Need any help?” I blurted out then, as though he, as a grown gentleman, was unable to dress himself.

“I think I’ll be fine, thank you,” he said shyly. Even the shyness of his words was divine.

So, I waited for him in the sitting room, drinking scotch whiskey and thinking about those manly shoulders. How had that short, pudgy and spotty youth grown into such a fine man? I downed my drink quickly, wondering whether he was thinking of me too, whether there were facets of my character that attracted him or whether it was all me.

“You fallen over, dear chap?” I called out to the bedroom. “You’re taking an age.”

“Couldn’t find my shirt!” he shouted back.

He arrived in the room a moment later, doing up his buttons and rubbing a towel over his damp hair. “That’s better, fresh as a daisy. I can’t wait until my bathroom’s fixed at Mount Street. Jolly nuisance coming here to bother you.”

“I am unbothered. And we can always go along to the Turkish baths next time. However, my bath is your bath, dear fellow.”

He smiled and accepted a whiskey. “Thanks, A.J.”

I can’t remember the moment he had begun calling me A.J instead of Raffles on every occasion but it was a thrilling new development. Every time he said those two initials, shivers travelled down my spine with alarming speed. I looked at him then, his fair hair darkened by the water, his eyes slightly bloodshot and then noticed then smell of him both manly and fragrant in equal measure. And the sound of him taking little slurps of the whiskey that no doubt if I wasn’t so enamoured, I would find excruciating. But even Bunny’s flaws were wonderful to me at that precise moment.

“I’m glad you’re here, Bunny,” I said softly.

“I’m so glad too, A.J. It feels like I’ve never been anywhere else.”

Chapter Text

The night was upon us, and underneath a misty blanket we stood, Raffles and I, caught in a web of fog that surrounded us quick and fast. There was an uneasiness for me in its sudden appearance, the way the dark of night conceals monsters in the shadows. The fog did the same, blinding us to the world around us, covering our eyes to all but a few steps in front. The greyness was almost never-ending, around every inch of us like thick odourless smoke, but where it did not choke, it disturbed, and as I traversed with Raffles along the cobbled streets, hearing but our heavy echoing footsteps to know where we walked. I felt apprehensive. For by sight, we had no clue as to where our feet were stepping and where the path lay ahead.

I reached for his hand though I knew not where his hand was until I felt his fingers caressing mine. I sighed with relief. I shivered with pleasure at his tender touch. It was a moment later that I considered however that the hand that gripped mine didn’t necessarily have to belong to Raffles. I could not see or hear him beside me, so it wasn’t altogether strange to believe I was holding the hand of another. My thoughts ran away with me in such weather, almost as though the fog were clouding my mind as well as the sky.

“A.J,” I said softly, “are you holding my hand?”

There was a light chuckle from beside me. “I am, Bunny, who did you think was holding it? A madman? An escaped lunatic from the local asylum?”

“Don’t jest, A.J, you know how stories of such things put the wind up me.”

“Quite. I recall one such newspaper article about a killer escaping prison which quite sent you under the bedcovers!”

“Yes, and you’ll recall it didn’t help somewhat when it turned out you’d made the whole thing up.”

I heard his deep laugh again and knew I could never stay angry with him. Though of course it was he who had led me out into this night to be greeted with the ghostly fog in the first place.

“You do realise what day it is, Raffles?” I said, still clinging onto his hand.

“Thursday,” he replied most unhelpfully.

“Yes, but the night when the living and the dead are but connected, intertwined, the veil between life and death so thin, at its weakest point.”

“Ah yes, I see what you mean. Then what a splendid night it is, Bunny.”

“It is?”

“Yes, Bunny, a night when all but ordinary matters of the year vanish with the fog and one can do things one never could before.”

I chuckled. I knew him too well. “No other day on the calendar stops you from doing what you like.”

“True. But with the night and the fog and the chill in the air, it’s so freeing.”

I shivered. “Freezing more like. You like this fog?”

“There is a romantic pleasure in its mystery, don’t you think?”

“I suppose so.” I said as we continued to walk. “It makes sense for you, A.J, not knowing what lurks behind the corner, you enjoy the unknown whereas I hate mysteries.”

He led me in silence then, pulling me along, seeming to be able to navigate the streets in the dark and fog like some kind of nimble cat.

“Where are we going?” I asked as we seemed to weave in and out of thin alleyways.

“Anywhere and everywhere, can’t you hear that Bunny?”

“Hear what?”

Suddenly he stopped us still and his cold finger was on my lip, hushing me. I listened and true enough there were footsteps. Rhythmic footsteps— one, two, step, step, step, coming from behind.

“We’re being followed,” he said with a whisper.

“Well perhaps someone’s just passing.”

“No, I’ve been listening with curious ears, Bunny as though I had your big ones.”

I touched my ears, scrunching up my face even though he could not see my offended expression.

“And they’re following us?”

“Afraid so.”

I leaned in close to him. “Who do you suppose it is?” I felt my heartbeat quicken and the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. When he didn’t respond, I reached out and grabbed his arm, clinging tightly. “A.J? Don’t give me the silent treatment at a time like this!”

“It’s quite alright, Bunny, keep calm.”

“Calm? We’re being pursued by an axe murderer and you want me to remain calm!” I began to walk faster but Raffles stopped me and made me walk at a leisurely pace. How could I walk in such a way when we were being hunted like we were the lowest creatures on the food chain?

“Bunny, fear not my precious rabbit, for it is not one who carries an axe. I know who it is.”

“You do?”

“I’d recognise that gait anywhere.”

“Who is it?” I spun around but of course I was greeted with the swirling mist of the bitter evening.

“It’s a friend of ours, Bunny. One who carries not an axe but a badge.”

I was flummoxed. He was talking in riddles. “A friend, stalking us?”

“Inspector Mackenzie of Scotland Yard if I’m not mistaken. Those footsteps are definitely that of an inspector and a Scottish one at that.”

I huffed. “How can you possibly know?”

“I’ve studied the Inspector for a while now and the general consensus is, where I go, he follows. Isn’t that right, Inspector?” He stopped still, spinning around to where a figure loomed beside us. In the mist, we could only see a vague outline of clothes and a hazy sort of featureless face but true enough, Raffles was right, there was something unmistakably Mackenzie-esque about him even in the misty quality of the night.

“Aye, you be right on this occasion, Mr. Raffles, but I wouldn’t be too proud of yerself.”

“Why were you following us?” I asked. “You gave me a fright!”

“I have some questions for you, Mr. Manders, and a wee bit of English fog is not enough to deter my investigation. I heard you both talking through the mist. The sound of your voice seems to carry itself on the wind, Mr. Raffles.”

“How flattering,” Raffles said proudly. “And we will of course offer any such assistance as you require on this most unholy of nights.”

“It will be appreciated, Mr. Raffles, but perhaps back at the Albany where I can see that you’re not concealing anything from me.”

“Me?” Raffles said, feigning that he took offence. “I am just as you find me, aren’t I, Bunny?”

“Oh yes,” I lied, yet again. “Raffles is unlike the fog, Inspector. For he is as clear as a summer’s morning.”

“And as crafty as a witch!”

Chapter Text

The ward was silent. It was dark and solemn. The only sound was outside of the room, down the corridor where quietly, some nurses scurried to-and-fro on their evening shifts.

From his bed covers, Figgis suddenly opened his eyes and sat upright immediately as though he’d died in the night and been reanimated by a bolt of electricity.

“What the?” he said, half asleep, looking around at the shadows dancing on the wall. Outside the room he saw a nurse pass, but other than that there was no one around. But despite the otherwise silence, he could hear something in the room, a groaning, a groaning that did not sound the same as Glover’s snoring or Norman acting out his dreams. It was deeper, all around him, in the air somehow. He couldn’t explain it.

“You two awake?” he whispered, clutching his bed covers to his chin in fright and then turning on the light quickly when no one responded.

“Well, we are now!” Glover complained as he squinted in the light. “It’s three in the morning, Figgis.”

“I know that, but he doesn’t, does he?”

“Who doesn’t?”

“The ghost.”

Norman sat up quickly. “Ghost?” he said, fear creeping into his groggy voice. “Don’t be silly, Fig, there’s no ghost in here!”

“Oh yeah, then what’s that moaning and groaning sound?”

“You, Figgis,” Glover said, folding his arms. “Your stomach probably.”

“I don’t mean that kind of groaning. I mean that eerie low sound. Listen, go on.”

True enough as the men fell into silence, there was a deep groaning sound that seemed to emanate from above and fill the room as though someone was there watching them.

Suddenly, Norman was sitting on Figgis’ bed to which Figgis let out a shriek.

“Bloody hell, Norman, don’t sneak up on a man, thought you was the ghost.”

“Sorry, Fig, it’s just I didn’t want to be too close to the door!”

“You’re not scared are you, Norman?” Glover said. “You know there’s not really a ghost?”

Norman climbed into the bed next to Figgis. “I don’t know anything of the sort. I’ve never seen one so how do I know?”

“I know that if there are ghosts, they don’t spend their time haunting three men in a hospital!”

Shoving Norman aside a little, Figgis sighed. “You know who it is, don’t you?”

“Who?” Norman shivered.

“Mad Bill Donovan,” he replied. “Died here this very night five years ago!”

“If he died here five years ago, how do you know him?” Glover asked.

“I’ve heard the stories, haven’t I? Tragically killed he was.”

“How did he die, Fig?” Norman asked, clutching his teddy tighter.

Glover snorted. “He didn’t really die, Norman—”

“—let the man hear the story, Glover. Well, Norman, he was just like you and me, a regular bloke on this ward when Dr. Thorpe made a terrible mistake. Left a scalpel in Mad Bill’s body!”

“Then it didn’t happen in this ward, did it?” said Glover.

“Yeah, but this is where he died, isn’t it? In agony, bleeding from the inside, crying out in pain. Dr. Thorpe was too busy enjoying himself to hear the cries.”

“What rot! Slander!” Glover replied. “Don’t listen to him, Norman, he’s making it up.”

“So, you don’t believe in the dead coming back then?” Figgis asked.

“I didn’t say I didn’t believe necessarily. Back in my boyhood at the boarding school we did a séance once.”

“How did it go, Archie?” Norman asked.

“Well, it put the wind up us when the old headmaster made contact.”

“Did he heck as like!” Figgis said, waving him away. “Why would your old headmaster haunt you lot?”

“Well, why would Mad Bill haunt us? What did we do to him?”

“He’s mad aint he! He doesn’t know why he does it. We’re taunting him by being alive and he wants revenge.”

Suddenly Norman was under the covers. Figgis pulled him up for air.

“Don’t say things like that, Fig, I’m scared you might be right. I don’t want to die yet, I’m only young.”

“And we’re old and dispensable I suppose?” remarked Glover.

“Of course not, Archie, but it’s always the young ones who die first in the films isn’t it?”

“Yes, the innocent virgin sacrifices,” Figgis said, prodding Norman. “You’re in trouble.”

“Be quiet, Fig, I’ve already had these horror stories from mother. She said if I fraternised with girls at parties then I’d essentially be consorting with the devil. If I am with a woman I’m condemned and if I’m not I’m also condemned.”

“Your mother is as mad as Bill,” Figgis said. “No, the real truth is that Bill is back, telling us he’s mad and wants revenge. Whether he goes for you, Norman, the innocent one, or whether he’s after Glover, the rich man he envied in life. Or maybe me, the regular chap who had the same bed. We just don’t know. We can only wait and try not to get on his bad side.”

With a snort, Glover folded his arms. “Oh, yes, and how is he going to hurt us exactly? Ghosts can’t touch things.”

“How do you know?”

“A poltergeist can,” Norman said. “They throw things and such. When I was a boy, I was convinced we had one. Turns out it was mother throwing vases at father, or turning out my drawers in case I had dirty magazines and cigarettes.”

Figgis and Glover exchanged amused glances.

“He’s not a poltergeist,” Figgis began, “so far he just groans.”

“So, he’s more an adolescent ghost?” Glover asked.

“He’s got unfinished business. Probably wants to kill Thorpe and then kill everyone associated with the ward.”

“Don’t say that, Fig, I don’t want anything to happen to the doctor and I definitely don’t want anything to happen to us.”

There was the noise of banging and suddenly Glover was also in Figgis’ bed beside him. It was a tight squeeze with the three of them wrestling for space.

“Bloody hell, what is this, the Sound of Music? I’m not singing about my favourite things!” Figgis said.

Glover shoved him. “Well, you’ve frightened me, Roy. I don’t even believe in this mad Bill but a story always sets the mind racing. I couldn’t sleep for a week after our boarding school séance.”

“Well, don’t think you’re staying in bed with me and Norman. I can’t even move!”

“If he’s staying, I’m staying, at least until this mad Bill has gone.”

“Let him stay, Fig.”

“Oh alright. But we have to find a way to be rid of him before he rids of us if you know what I mean? I don’t want my dismembered body to be left here in this bed.”

“How do we do that? Contact him I mean?” Norman asked, looking up at the ceiling. “Won’t it offend him?”

“He’s already offended, Norman,” Glover said, “hence the bloody revenge. No, we have to appeal to his gentleman side, offer him something.”

Figgis hushed him and turned off the lamp, taking out a torch from under his covers.

“Where did you get that from?” Glover asked.

“Ted the security guard. He can have it back tomorrow.” He turned the torch on and held it under his chin. “We must contact mad Bill and ask for forgiveness.”

“Maybe if we stopped calling him mad,” Norman offered.

“What you on about?” Figgis said.

“Well, if I was mad, I don’t think I should want someone calling me mad as it might make me…more…mad. Why not ‘nice Bill’?”

“Nice people don’t want to kill you, Norman,” Glover said.

Figgis hushed them again and leaned forward. “Is there anybody there?” he called.

Silence.

“Is there anybody there?!” he said again.

They all listened.

“Is there anybody there?” he said for a third time.

Suddenly a man rushed into the room, a tall figure in a long coat. “Yes, I’m bloody here, I heard you the first time.”

They all screamed before realising it was Gupte. He screamed too and turned on the light.

“What on earth is going on here?” he said, clutching his heart as he glanced at the three men in the bed. Norman was barely under the covers and half of him was hanging out the bed. “What is this nonsense? Why are you all in bed together? What kind of place do you think this is?”

Glover was out of the bed immediately, throwing himself under his own covers. “Nothing of that sort, Gupte. Figgis is just scaring us with tales of Mad Bill.”

“Oh that. Not a word of truth in those rumours, Mr. Glover. Dr. Thorpe has not left scalpels inside patients, at least not since I’ve been here.”

Norman climbed out of the middle bed too and sighed with relief as he made his way back to the safety of his own bed. “You mean we’re not going to be killed?”

“Not by Mad Bill, no, Norman,” Gupte replied, scurrying from the room. “Get some sleep!”

Norman gulped. “From someone else then?”

Figgis rubbed his hands together. “Nah, he’s probably right. Mad Bill was a made-up story, probably just a story they share when the nights are lonely.” He took a pause. “Mind you…there is always the story of old Glenda.”

“Shut-up Figgis!” Glover and Norman said at the same time.