Kindred spirits II
Author's note: this story is the sequel I was asked to write to 'Kindred spirits'. I decided not to add it as successive chapters to the first story, as that can be read as a stand-alone. However you will need to have read the original before you read this.
My thanks to Purupuss and Jules for proofreading, and to Gerry Anderson and his team for creating the TB world. I do not own the TB characters or any other publication mentioned below.
With an exasperated sigh, John sat up in bed, running his hands through his hair. He glanced at the bedside clock. 2.17 a.m. He had been lying there for over three hours, but was no nearer sleep than when he had first climbed into bed. And no wonder, when he was as tightly strung as one of Virgil's piano wires. He flung back the covers and padded across the room. Standing with his forehead resting on the cool glass of the window, he gazed out at the stars. Even this view, so much brighter than when seen filtered by the Earth's atmosphere, could not soothe him tonight. How much more of this could he take before he cracked?
It had started innocuously enough. He had been back on Thunderbird Five a couple of days when the familiar voice had come over the radio. "John? Are you there? Can you talk to me tonight?" He had been half-expecting it, but the sound still sent a shiver down his spine. He stood there, frozen, grasping the microphone but unable to speak. What could he possibly say?
After a couple of attempts, Ellie's voice went quiet, much to John's relief. He was disgusted to realise that when he put the microphone down, his hand was shaking.
A couple of days later, he had a similar call, and still found himself unable to answer.
Then the calls started to get more insistent.
"John, it's Ellie. I was hoping you'd have time for a chat."
"John? I'm getting worried. I'm sure you should be there by now."
"John? I'm sure you should be back on duty by now. Are you there? Are you off sick or something?"
"John, I'm getting really worried now. Please talk to me!"
"John! What's wrong? Why won't you talk to me? Have I done something to upset you? Please answer!"
When she called yesterday, he could hardly make out her words as they were interspersed by sobs. That was too much – he couldn't bear it any longer. He knew it was wrong, he knew he was putting people's lives at risk, but he reached for the master control switch that turned off all incoming calls. At once the background hum of voices in the control room ceased. However, the sound of a girl's sobs could still be heard. "P-please, J-john, I can't b-bear this."
John stared at the speaker grille, a look of horror on his face. He switched the master control back on, then ran from the room.
This morning he decided to avoid the control room as much as possible. The Emergency Alert would be repeated all over the station, so he could always get back there if a call came through from someone needing International Rescue's services. He was cleaning out the cupboards in the kitchen (high time this was done anyway) when the speaker on the wall crackled into life. But instead of the beeping of the alarm, he heard the familiar voice again. "John, please talk to me. I'm so lonely."
John stared at the speaker in horror. There was nowhere on the station he could go out of range – he and Brains had designed Thunderbird Five with that purpose in mind. He had gone to bed that night with a pillow stuffed over the speaker by his bed, but even so he had lain there tense, alert for the smallest sound.
Now he stood gazing out at the stars. Abruptly he turned and started pacing up and down the room, the tension in his muscles too high to let him remain still. His brain, though fogged by lack of sleep, was still working in its logical way, and he could see two possibilities.
One, he was going mad, hearing voices that weren't there.
Two, he was being stalked….by a ghost.
Theory #1 was not an attractive prospect. He had no proof that he had been hearing Ellie's calls for the past six months or more. On the contrary, he had made sure that no record of them appeared in the station's log, as he knew he shouldn't have been talking to her in the first place.
Theory #2. Well, that wasn't exactly something he was keen on either. But how to prove it either way?
Dammit, why had he ever taken that trip to Mull? If he hadn't been there, hadn't discovered Ellie's history, their conversations would have carried on just as before.
Hang on, there was something he could check. Still in his pyjamas, he made his way to the control room and sat down at the computer. It took a bit of digging. First he had to find out the name of the newspaper that covered the isle of Mull, and even with that he only had a rough idea of the date. But he soon found himself staring at the headline 'Family killed in tragic blaze'. Mull was not a place where a lot happened, so the story of the discovery of the tragedy, the inquest and the funeral, took up several issues of the paper. John stared at the text, half-wishing that the website showed photos as well – he would have liked to have seen what Ellie had looked like.
He sat back, rubbing his eyes. Stories like this always made him feel frustrated, wishing there was something that he, that someone, could have done. But there had been no chance of International Rescue coming to the aid of this family – even if the fire had been discovered in time, this was well before Jeff Tracy had even thought of the idea of a rescue service.
But at least it proved that Ellie was not some figment of his own fevered brain. Not that that was much help. He still had another ten days to go of his shift, and at this rate would be a nervous wreck by the time Thunderbird Three came to collect him.
After a few hours fitful sleep, he woke at his normal time and tried to go about his duties. Today his uniform sported an extra feature. Clipped to his belt was his personal stereo, blasting away as loud as he could bear it. He would rely on the visual display from the Emergency Alert to warn him of any rescue calls.
But even this gave him no respite. In the middle of the morning the music suddenly faded out and a familiar voice came through the headphones. "John? I know you can hear me. I just want to talk."
This was the last straw. John wrenched the headphones from his ears and flung them across the room. He grabbed the microphone and thumbed the switch. "Leave me alone! I don't want to talk to you!"
"John? What's wrong?" Ellie sounded genuinely confused.
"Go away! I can't talk to you!"
"Why not, John, What's the matter?"
"You're dead! I can't talk to a ghost."
"What did you say?" There was a catch in her voice.
"You're dead, Ellie."
"No!" her voice was a sob now. "Don't say that. I can't be dead. I never got chance to live."
"I'm sorry, Ellie," his voice was calmer now. "I went to Mull to see you. I found your cottage. You died nearly twenty years ago. That's why you haven't been able to talk to anyone on your radio. I don't know how or why, but only I seem to be able to hear you."
"No, no, you're lying! I'm not going to listen to this any more." There was a click as the transmission ended.
John sat down, feeling totally drained. When he put his hand to his face he found his cheeks were wet. In all his years of dealing with calls from rescue victims, he doubted if he had ever had a call that had shaken him quite so much.