With sweat running into his eyes, Captain Wood, from his cramped horizontal position, feverishly cut his way through rotten floorboards using a serrated-edge tool, pulling and snapping pieces of wood to create enough of a gap for eight individuals, size M to XL, to squeeze through. Corporal Hart, bringing up the rear, was still up high on the repurposed crane ladder in the hangar, passing his backpack to Tim Healy who was lying in the shallow world of underfloor pipes and cobwebs above. Healy used every ounce of power in his biceps to lift the backpack free of Hart’s outstretched fingers and dragged the bag into the tight space by his side.
To Hart’s befuddlement, a vibration suddenly reverberated through the metal of the ladder and with consternation he gazed downwards. To his disbelief, the tormented face of a blond German aviator, no longer wearing headgear, was staring up at him, a body devoid of legs, shreds of flesh smearing the floor red like a bizarre mop. White hands slapped agitatedly at rungs of the ladder but unable to climb, the living torso instead tried to scupper the escape by pushing the ladder along the wall. Hart sought to quicken his ascent, beckoning Healy to grab his arm. The ladder slid sidewards and rocked momentarily on one leg. Hart’s wrist slipped from Healy’s grasp, but the SAS man grabbed for the Geordie’s fingertips and was able to steady the ladder. The aviator made another attempt to disrupt the show by shifting the lower jaw of the deceased sperm whale so he could gain better purchase on the metal.
On a night of unwelcome surprises, the material of his Luftwaffe uniform snagged on a whale tooth and the Fourth Reich pilot soon felt the sensation of a dislocated shoulder as the whale’s mouth snapped shut with force, the result of an electrochemical reaction in the creature’s nerve endings. The German became trapped in a fishy smelling hell from which he’d never escape. He couldn’t have imagined a worse conclusion to an already bizarre life.
A precarious reverse manoeuvre by Healy in the netherworld between floors allowed the SAS corporal to fix his elbows above a beam and lever himself upwards to safety amid a volley of gurgled German profanities from below.
“I should say something James Bondian, like, ‘Luftwaffe pilots aren’t half the men they used to be’, but I won’t,” Hart panted.
“We’re past jokes now, bonny lad,” Healy replied. “Our sense of humour vanished many moons ago.”
Suddenly movement started and once through the sawn-through tight hole that tore and tugged at clothing, each found themselves in the unnervingly familiar surroundings of Hangingbrow Hall’s wide kitchen, back among its twisted Uri Geller cutlery, wartime tinned food and abandoned wall-hung pans. Cupboard doors gaped open fresh from a ransacking the previous day when the idea had been hatched to catch rainwater in a variety of receptacles. Despite the grimness of the workspace, it was a relief to be able to stand upright and stretch once more, but now shorn of outer layers of clothing, the chilled air brought on shivers and set teeth chattering.
Torch beams shone through the visible breath trails. Captain Wood studied a map of the building’s layout using his light, familiarising himself with the floorplan. Meanwhile, Hart bent down to cover the hole they had just crawled from with pieces of timber. A set of drawers was then scraped across the aperture and left as an added obstacle should anyone reach the kitchen through the unorthodox route of the aircraft hangar ceiling. Wood brought a walkie-talkie from a pocket and pressed a button on the set. Seconds later a dzzzz was heard in return.
“That’s our taxi booked,” Wood stated. “OK, gentlemen, this way – we need to leave,” he beckoned, and they pushed through the kitchen’s double doors and entered into the excessively creepy, wide passageway.
“Ah, Spook Alley,” Healy quietly grumbled. “We meet again.”
With the scent of freedom in their nostrils, they scurried towards Hangingbrow’s main hall. The crackle of gunshot and tinkling of broken glass was by now a constant background soundtrack as British and German soldiers traded fire in the grounds of the troubled building. Reaching the main hall, Wood, a Browning High Power single action pistol in hand, slowly pushed the door ajar, which naturally gave a bone-chilling, haunted-house waaaaaaahhhhh.
“You’re better off pushin’ damned doors quick in ’ere,” Boycott stated. “They make a right din. Every one’s alike in this place. A bit of ’ousehold oil wouldn’t go amiss in my view.”
“He’s not wrong,” affirmed Smith. “Whenever you open a door and it creaks, somethin’ wrong follows a few minutes afterwards.”
The leading SAS expeditionary nodded and asked his gaggle of famous adventurers to take a step back. He then gave the door a heel-kick and, from a low, crouched position carefully edged forward, checking to his left and right with alert eyes and gun outstretched. The procession filed into the wide expanse of the main room, with its grand carpeted staircase, its timber walkways held aloft by oak beams and its painted portraits and battle scenes that ought to have been on permanent display in a Carlisle museum. The chandelier was lit, its dull glow throwing a yellow pall across the wide space.
“Why are the lights on?” Wood asked in low tones.
“We switched ’em on on Friday when we got ’ere,” Boycott replied. “I don’t like wastin’ electricity like next man, but you learn to make exceptions with this ’ouse. There’s a stack of candles over there an’ all if you want more light.”
“Smells like the fire’s been lit recently,” Wood commented.
“Oh, we had all the comforts of home, Captain,” Healy smiled. “It was a real five-star attraction after we’d been here for a few hours.”
Despite the low illumination from the dust-caked chandelier, SAS torches remained on, shifting across the interior walls, but even the trained killers were shocked by what they saw. Skeletal arms, legs and skulls hung from smashed plastering, trapped in a bone-knitted crowd scrum following Geoff Boycott’s forthright batting. Discarded bottles and torn curtains littered the floor, while at the top of the stairs sat the ventriloquist’s dummy with a wide smile, its back resting up against a spindle. It seemed pleased to see them.
Hart, handlebar moustache twitching, turned to O’Toole and said, “This is the malicious dummy you told us about, right?”
“Malicious is an understatement,” O’Toole grimaced. “It has a pet Rottweiler too, ten feet tall, that’d rip your throat out just for looking at it. Be ready for that pisser showing up too.”
Wood motioned to his fellow soldier and said, “Keep an eye on that bastard. If it moves, zap it.”
From his small backpack, Hart retrieved a screw-together weapon that, when complete, looked as if it had been made during an infant school’s craft morning from washing-up liquid containers and toilet roll tubes. It seemed a tricky device to set up as well, for it required much pushing of buttons and sliding of panels. A digital display with futuristic red LED numbers sprang into life.
“Battery time 11 minutes, maybe 12 if we’re lucky, Cap,” Hart announced.
“We won’t be hanging around that long,” Wood called back.
“What has he got in his hands?” Tony Wilson enquired. “A ray gun?”
“We call it the ‘Double D’ or ‘Dobbin Destroyer’, y’know, after Rentaghost, but its actual name is the NSAF Tactical Anti-Spectre Rifle,” Hart confirmed. “NSAF is the Nottingham Small Arms Factory. Still in trials – maybe by the mark II it’ll be smaller and look more suited to its task. Even so, it packs a punch. You wouldn’t want to be a spook with one of these around. It dissolves them.”
“What?” O’Toole guffawed. “Can I have a go? I’ll wipe the smile off that heathen’s clock.”
“There’s only a few of these weapons in existence, and this is nuclear powered, so you need a bit of training,” Hart explained, although he appreciated O’Toole’s willingness to muck in.
“Nuclear powered?” Wilson frowned with alarm. “That doesn’t sound completely safe. Should you not be wearing gloves?”
“It’s worth half-a-million quid,” Hart said. “Only us and the Yanks have got them, but they’re manufactured up in the Midlands. Keep that to yourself for now. Anyway, enough chatting. We need to get out of the main entrance door to meet up with our bus drivers.”
Wood led the way across the filthy parquet floor and shuffled towards a partially opened door at the opposite end of the main hall – the door that led to Hangingbrow’s entrance with its Ministry of Defence warning sign. The SAS captain halted briefly to marvel at a Shredded Wheat box that had been taped into a window panel to prevent cold air from further chilling the building’s interior – what was the point?
The leading SAS man waved an encouraging arm as the throbbing wuppa-wuppa of a pair of mighty Boeing Chinook HC Mk Is approached the grounds. A leisurely jog to the camouflaged helicopters should have followed but Wood’s exit to Hangingbrow was suddenly blocked by a miniature individual with Santa Claus-style hair and a bushy beard, albeit all in a firey ginger. Bathed in soft yellow light from the chandelier, the pint-sized obstacle was wearing a brown cassock that reached down to his sandals, which themselves acted as a frame for a set of gnarled grey-brown toenails. Wood instinctively took a step back and raised his Browning.
“Greetings,” Tuisto mischievously introduced himself and moved into the gap of the ajar door. “I wondered if we might mull over a few misdeeds… as friends. As equals.”
“What have you come dressed as?” the SAS soldier barked. “No one told me it was fancy dress.”
“Well, yes, we have some ground to cover,” Tuisto nodded, gazing down at his attire, and further opened the door to the hallway so that he might catch sight of Tony Wilson, whom he considered to be the party’s most senior representative thanks to his impressive, if chaotic, on-stage Q&A performance.
“I wish to speak to the television man,” Tuisto pointed. “I demand a conference with him, and, should an understanding be reached, I might offer my services. A switch of allegiance, perhaps.”
Wood span to face Wilson and said, “We’ve no room for passengers. The helis won’t hang about. This is not in the plan – if he doesn’t get out the way, I’ll force the issue.”
“What’s his bleeding story?” Hart called across.
“He claims to be a sort of demi-god sprite,” Wilson divulged, hands animated in the soft light to power home his words. “The original German, mystical fourth son of Noah, also available for kids parties and bar mitzvahs. Personally, I think he’s nothing more than a murderer with a lucky charm, but if he’s to be believed, shooting him won’t do any good. He’s like something from a video arcade game. He can’t be killed.”
“Double D might have other ideas,” Wood suggested.
At the top of the stairs to the right, the ventriloquist’s dummy slowly rose to its wooden-clogged feet and stood in quiet contemplation, eyes scanning from side to side and splaying its upper lip. In spite of Hart’s training in this astoundingly niche field of warfare, witnessing a possessed child-sized puppet move of its own free will made the hairs stand up on the back of his neck.
“Cap, the ventriloquist’s dummy is now mobile,” Hart relayed. “And I never thought I’d say that.”
Wood flashed his eyes to the top of the staircase and then returned his attention to Tuisto: “Corporal, if it takes another step forward, you know what to do. Right, you, man in a dress, fuck off out of it or I’ll give the order to have you evaporated.”
“Oh no you won’t!” Tuisto said.
“Oh yes he will!” Mark E Smith deadpanned.
“Oh no he won’t!” Tuisto added.
“Bugger me, we’re at the panto,” O’Toole commented.
Tuisto pulled a well-polished lump of bronze from his flabby brown pocket. “Do you forget?” he bellowed. “I have this! The Receiver! Now you people have been most embarrassing to me, for you were to be a gift to the ancient gods, or whatever beasts lay beneath this place, by the removal of your heads vis-a-vis the guillotine. But I am willing to forgive and forget on this occasion – if you grant me freedom!”
“We’ve no time for your bollocksing around,” Wood responded. “You’re staying put with your Nazi buddies. You’ve made your bed. Lie in it.”
With surging interest, Smith’s focus shifted to a section of wall directly above the doorframe. While Tuisto staked his claim for a first class ticket on a Chinook and thereafter a palace that was well stocked with voluptuous courtesans, hair-like cracks suddenly appeared in the plastering and spread like a map of the railways in Victorian Britain. Smith assumed its appearance might be attributed to the earlier plastic explosives in the bowels of the building and he took a precautionary step away from the wall.
The Fall singer placed a warning hand on the arm of Wood, who merely spoke from the corner of his mouth, “Seen it.”
“What if I was to say that I wasn’t who I said I was,” Tuisto continued, almost bashfully. “What if I said that I wasn’t the son of Noah, but I’d told my lodgers, these… these Germans, misinformation so that I might live like a king in their glorious Empire for thousands and thousands of years? I now think that the outcome for these cataclysmic bunglers might not be so triumphant…” – and he gave a nervous giggle. “I read up on the Nazi’s plans, their ideology, their beliefs, and became an expert. I was an avid magazine reader earlier in the century.”
“Who, or what, are you if you’re not this demi-god who can fly aboot on furniture?” Healy asked, temples pulsing with rising anger.
“We must study the panorama and drink in the view,” Tuisto expressed, settling in for a nice discussion. “The Receiver, as you are by now aware, has rare qualities,” he explained, hoisting the bronze object above his head. “It gives its possessor such rich rewards. With it, I am assigned a place at the top table – forever! I discovered it, of course, a millennia ago. I was then a thief, a wrangler – livestock primarily, sometimes children, the latter of which was a profitable sideline for me. Then to find this astonishing tool! To be able to confer with powerful entities, to be granted endless life, to never need to eat or drink – or even defecate! Well, it is impossible to return to normality after that. I had Hangingbrow Hall built to the highest standards so that it might last for an eternity. It is, for all intents and purposes, an extension of my brilliant self. I uproariously offered the space as an execution point for the local authorities many centuries ago and the Cumberland lawmakers readily agreed to my suggestion, especially as I was permitted to keep the bodies for a price, which I used to sate the appetites of the great elder beings in the bowels of the earth.
“This committee you call Them?” Boycott called. “Old gods.”
“Yes!” Tuisto beamed. “They talk to me! I’m sure of it!” And he hid a snigger with a hand.
“I reckon it’s just a shiny seashell you’ve got there,” Smith suggested. “Put your ear to it and it sounds like whisperin’. We’ve all done it as kids on the beach. Now, I don’t doubt it has some power, I’m not daft, but you’re probably overplaying that device.”
“It is not mere whispers,” Tuisto threw back with indignation. “What a time it has been. I summoned the spirits you have witnessed! Such enjoyment could only ever have been dreamt about. The walls here, the floors, the rafters – they’re crammed with the dead,” and Tuisto let out a satisfied chuckle. “Their souls become trapped here. A prison of pain! I remain permanently in good health. My last cold was in 807, which I contracted from a Viking farmer. Then the modern foreigners arrived from the sky in the 1940s in their drab, grey uniforms. I invited them, of course. I saw the advantages of their scheme. These Germans, the living ones, the dead ones, the spirits… they live a managed decline, even though rich industrialists around the planet provide them with financial viability and, yes, personnel.”
From the rear of the hall a rush of air made a lone, still-hanging thick curtain momentarily swish and flollap. There followed the menacing clip-clip of footsteps on the wooden floor. The chandelier began creaking and whining on its long iron chain, its flint glass tinkling. To the astonishment of onlookers, the whole ornamental mass slowly shifted to a 45-degree angle, as if being held aside by an invisible giant’s hand. Strings of dust that had collected over decades easily broke and fell. Into the dull yellow gloom strode the urgent figure of Major Walter Schröder, arm raised, Luger pointing forwards, his pig-like features appearing amused yet business-like beneath a wide-brimmed black hat. He was accompanied by the silent Adolf Hitler who drifted amid a sphere of sparkling red-light energy, eyes assessing the scene, palm up to manoeuvre the chandelier.
“Here’s Darth Vader,” Smith grunted. “And C-3PO.”
“So you vould make fools of us, Tuisto!” Hitler boiled, fist waving madly. “Wiz your magic lump of shinink metal you thrust your dagger into my back and ze back of efery lifink and dead German! Yes?”
Tuisto was considering his explanation when a startling monumental clap and piiiiiing ripped through the hall, forcing the British group to wince and duck. Tuisto staggered in a circular movement and appeared stunned. Schröder lowered his semi-automatic pistol and dabbed his sweating forehead with a handkerchief. Whether intended or not, the Receiver that had been held aloft in Tuisto’s hand had taken the full brunt of Schröder’s shot and diverted the bullet into the network of fresh cracks above the doorframe. The bronze device now lay on the floor inside the main hall tantalisingly out of Tuisto’s reach. Tuisto – or whoever he was in reality – looked shocked and confused. Studying his own cassock, he was relieved to find that the Receiver had saved his life and that the bullet had miraculously ricoched from its true course. However, he quickly realised that the better outcome might have been taking the projectile after all. That way, the Receiver would have remained in his hand and magically fixed his ailing body.
Eyes blazing in maroon sockets, Tuisto gestured to Captain Wood with flapping hands. “Come, come, you dolt, pass the Receiver to me. Quickly! There’s no time to waste. It’s mine! It’s mine!”
The cracks above the door spread and multiplied and the wall let out a stomach-ache groan. Suddenly the doorway slumped and Tuisto, beneath the frame, was violently donked directly on the crown of his woolly head by a timber beam. The bisected oak slab cracked Tuisto’s head with such resounding brutality that his neck disappeared into his shoulders, meaning his height was reduced from 5’2” to 5’1”.
“Ha-ha!” Smith privately laughed and looked to Geoff Boycott in order to share the mirth, but Boycott found little humour in the events and merely scowled back.
Rivers of thick red blood trickled down Tuisto’s temples and cheeks, and soaked into his bright bushy beard and cassock. He was able to stumble forward and mumble, “I’m ntttt rddddy,” before lifting inquisitive fingers to the top of his head. It was a horrific spectacle to behold. Tuisto’s ginger mane had been parted, revealing a mishmash of shiny grey brain, specks of bright blood and off-white skull. Once again he beckoned for the return of the bronze device – his only hope of survival. “Re… cei… vhh,” he forced through clenched teeth.
“I warned you about that lintel, cocker,” Smith reminded. “I was doin’ you a good turn.”
“A… gdddddd… trrrrnn,” Tuisto repeated and looked imploringly for help. To the onlookers’ surprise, Tuisto began ageing as if on fast forward, orange hair turning to a cobwebbed mat, then white strands, and finally ashes, while his grey cadaver skin sunk into his cheeks and his mouth gaped for air. He raised his skeletal arms and for a moment he seemed trapped in the force of a wild storm as his ragged clothing shook and tore. Wooooaaaahhhhhhhh!
There came another ear-splitting creak followed by a ground tremor. At that point, the wall above the door buckled further, sending an avalanche of masonry crashing down onto the decaying figure of Tuisto, who collapsed and vanished amid the ensuing turmoil of brickwork, centuries-old concrete and smashed timber. Beyond the debris, Hanginbrow Hall’s exterior wall sighed and a whole section of the hallway thumped to the ground, leaving a gaping hole that gave views of the black sky. The exit to the grounds and the landing Chinooks was now barred. The Receiver, Tuisto’s protective force for so many years, was nowhere to be seen, completely smothered by rubble. The danger now was whether the whole building would collapse around them.
It was a complicated stand-off. SAS stalwart Captain Wood, who had seen service in the Falklands, Northern Ireland, Dhofar and that tricky assignment in a ghost-filled mansion house near Dover at Christmas in 1982, was pointing his pistol at Major Schröder, who, in turn, had his Luger aimed at Corporal Hart. The resolute Hart still had his ghost-busting apparatus directed at the ventriloquist’s dummy, which remained standing eerily at the top of the wide staircase, gazing down at the melee in its midst, raising and lowering its eyebrows. Hitler, who had committed suicide in his Führerbunker in 1945 to prevent himself being paraded through Moscow like a caged animal, upped his ethereal crimson glow to that of a warning beacon. Using his supernatural powers and waving his wizard’s arms as if conducting an orchestra, he gradually forced the muzzle of Wood’s pistol away from its intended victim – Schröder – and it once again seemed that escape from Hangingbrow Hall was impossible and that the Germans had miraculously wrestled back control.
The SAS soldier shook with exertion as he fought Hitler’s beyond-the-grave force. O’Toole and Healy leapt to the SAS captain’s assistance but even with the three of them straining to re-direct the weapon, its barrel continued to lurch inch by inch away from Schröder and towards Wood’s own head. Meanwhile, to Hart’s dismay, the LED read-out on his ghost-melting instrument flickered and failed.
To add to the calamity, an unruly clattering of doors haphazardly opening and closing started from the upper floor as if an entire hotel was emptying of its paying guests due to a fire alarm set off by a drunken prankster. The doors ceased their racket as quickly as they had begun and the ensuing silence was broken by a low-frequency roar of depressing ferocity. Slowly, a great white-glowing being, larger than a polar bear, with a skeletal head, swirling white hair, two great black sorrowful holes for eyes and a wide open mouth revealed itself on the upper walkway and strode across the landing on long V-shaped praying mantis bone legs. It was as if someone working nights had been woken up by noisy children.
Boycott, crouching, eyes searching desperately for an escape route, motioned to Brian Clough, “Christ, that’s all we need, that big bloody moose showin’ up – and that’s swearin’. We’ll never get out of ’ere at this rate, Bri! Do you think it’ll recognise us?”
Manoeuvring to the summit of the grand staircase and snarling like a dog on a chain in a scrap merchant’s yard, the beast rounded the ventriloquist’s dummy and began crawling down the staircase, it’s maggot-like body trailing behind on shorter spindly legs.
Schröder squeezed the trigger of his Luger and clipped Corporal Hart in the right deltoid, sending his out-of-order ghost-busting washing-up liquid weapon crashing to the ground. Hart let out a brief, contained yowl but despite the shards of hot-splinter pain in his shoulder, he retook hold of the anti-spook device in an attempt to re-start the faulty electric system.
Schröder eyed the approaching beast with curious interest. He knew of its existence but had never had the honour of seeing the phantasmagorical entity in the flesh before. “It’s beautiful!” he rejoiced.
Despite its alarming appearance, Schröder felt no immediate danger from its nefarious presence. Both living and deceased Germans fully expected that the evil spirits within the house were in full compliance with their extravagant claims for complete rulership of the planet, with the add-on of an everlasting alliance with whatever realm existed beyond the reality of Earth.
On a roll, Hitler began his much-practised party piece, lifting the scant items of furniture, framed paintings and discarded heavy curtains left in the main hall and directing them with his old-fashioned iron will towards the would-be escapees of stage, screen and sport and their highly trained hostage-release experts. There was little shelter for O’Toole, Clough, Boycott, Wilson, Smith, Healy or the SAS duo. As the indoor whirlwind grew in intensity, the glowing monster methodically moved towards Hitler, opened its mouth and simply took hold of the raving mad deceased dictator like a Hallowe’en reveller bobbing for an apple. Hitler appeared confused. He struggled and grunted insults in German before succumbing to wild shrieks and barked orders to let him go. Psychopathic Schröder merely drunk in the spectacle with greedy enjoyment and even let out a high-pitched giggle as Hitler was mauled. The Führer’s celestial red light dimmed and shone in irregular patterns as he was shook, waggled and chomped.
“Schröder!” Hitler screeched. “You vill do my biddink! Destroy zis slaferink beast! Aaaaaaaggghhhh!”
The irresistible force on Captain Wood’s Browning pistol was suddenly released and once again he was able to direct the weapon as he chose. Having a wail of a time, Schröder unleashed a close-quarters volley into the caterpillar rear of the glowing beast, which in response let out an almighty roar at the insolence of such action and dropped the tattered electrical heap of Hitler onto the parquet filth. It turned with some degree of awkwardness due to its bulk to face Schröder and let out a thunderous bellow that was so MGM-roar loud, the chandelier trembled and chunks of ceiling fell down. Then, with its bony praying mantis V-shaped arm, it struck Schröder across the shoulder, sending the Nazi official sliding headfirst to the foot of the stairs, losing his wide-brimmed hat in the process.
Sensing an opportunity, the evil ventriloquist’s dummy descended the stairs and made for Schröder, stomping down the centre of the carpeted incline like a posh child chasing a ball – a deplorably hellish reminder to Peter O’Toole and Tony Wilson of the previous day’s fracas. The dummy danced towards Schröder who, shorn of his hat, revealed his baldness. He now bore a striking resemblance to Bill Badger from the Rupert Bear comic strip rather than farmyard swine. The dummy’s overbearing smile turned into a grin that stretched wider and wider revealing sharp, needle-like teeth and he addressed Schröder with a growling, “I’m going to eat you!”
Amid the confusion Corporal Hart tapped and shook his nuclear-powered anti-spectre device and after resignedly shouting, “Come on, you bastard!”, the red LED figures miraculously reappeared on the control panel. A flick of a switch and the weapon was once again live. Suddenly a red, white and blue toothpaste surge of twisting bright light swished from the end of the weapon and caught the dummy square in the head. It shrieked as if trapped in a fire, beating its own head to deal with imaginary flames, its angry expression altering to one of alarm – and its eyebrows fell to the floor. From the tip of its side-partinged hairstyle downwards, it gradually started turning to ash, all the while snarling like a vicious animal.
At the sight of this, Schröder let out another high-pitched titter, which grew into voluble hooting as the dummy was reduced to a pile of granules on the floor beside him. Another roar blasted through the room and the glowing ghostly creature, having flung the barely existing remains of the former German chancellor into the fireplace, strode purposefully towards Schröder, seized him by the legs using its illuminated jaw and dragged the spiteful German major up the stairs. Schröder screamed with terror, mouth wide open, while desperately grabbing at spindles to prevent his transit to the first floor and the grisliest of grisly deaths. “Stoppen, stoppen, halt, ahhhhhhhh!” It was to no avail.
“Send us a postcard, darling,” Tony Wilson called after him.
With Hangingbrow’s entrance now blocked by rubble, there seemed no easy escape route for the beleaguered ensemble but then, to the astonishment of Tony Wilson, a disguised door at the far end of the hall that was set into wooden panelling suddenly opened and the glowing figure of a tall, hunched individual appeared and called to the Factory Records chief: “Wilson, you’re a c***!”
“I-I-Ian…?” Wilson stammered. “Is that you?”
“This is the way! Step inside!” the ghost sang.
Wilson was dumbfounded. He was being quoted the lyrics to Joy Division’s “Atrocity Exhibition” – the opening record on the band’s much-lauded final album from 1980, Closer.
“Quick now,” the Maxonian apparition warned. “There’s no time to lose.”
Wilson turned to his comrades and boomed, “Come with me! I know this guy. He’s here to save us!”
Scarf trailing, Wilson led a single-file procession along the perimeter of the room and on towards the guiding spirit, who was dressed in shimmering silky shirt and demob trousers. Wood and the injured Hart dashed through the door first, followed by the cricketer, football manager, two actors and singer-songwriter. Wilson brought up the rear but stood for a moment, looking up into the dimly lit face of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis – who, as every NME reader knew, had committed suicide three and a half years earlier.
“We have to talk,” Wilson said.
“No time, Tony,” Curtis shook his head. “Go on. I’ll follow you to the garden and then I’m out of here. That’s my job done – and we can have no further contact.”
Through the dark tunnel the group hurried, the flash of torchlight from the SAS soldiers flickering at the front, with Ian Curtis gently emitting a white-grey glow at the rear.
“You know, you’re a total twat for doing what you did,” Wilson spoke over his shoulder. “For fucking leaving us all like that, I’m fucking furious with you.”
“Keep walking Tony,” Curtis demanded. “How’ve you ended up here, at the arse-end of the universe? And you thought Lower Broughton was bad.”
“All you had to do was go to America on tour, win that lot over, have a break, sort out your family problems, watch Closer get into the top ten of the album charts and then we’d have dealt with your fucking illness, your epilepsy,” Wilson said. “I admit, I should have done more. I should have done more to help you.”
“But it’s all over with,” Curtis replied. “I’ve gone. But I’ll see you again. And you should hear the album I’ve done up there with Keith Moon, Peter Laughner and Stuart Sutcliffe. Started learning a bit more about synths, what with not havin’ Barn and Hooky around.”
The short passageway, choked in centuries of dust, led to a door with a long rusty key protruding from its lock. Wood twisted the key and instantly the cramped space was filled with the ear-filling thump of Lycoming T55-L-11E-powered rotors and the crackle of intermittent gunfire. The SAS beckoned the civilians to follow. Wilson span to Curtis and pointed a finger. “You should have stayed,” he scalded. “‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is already regarded as a classic. I forgive you, of course. We built a nightclub, you know.”
“I know – the sound is awful,” Curtis replied in the darkness of the cold night air. “I pop in most Fridays. You’ve dropped a bollock with Del Amitri. Now, look after yourself Tony. I might come and see you in a dream one of these nights.”
Wilson nodded, breath drifting. “If you ever fancy doing a bit of haunting, you know where I live.”
Curtis smiled at the humour. Wilson ran and with 50 feet covered, he stopped and looked back towards Hangingbrow Hall. Curtis waved and broke into his trademark mad-fly dance amid a halo of disco colours. Wilson could have watched forever but instead dashed onwards towards one of the waiting helicopters. When he looked back again, Curtis was gone.
The pair of Chinook troop carriers rose gracefully into the night air, then tipped forward before gaining altitude. A medic attended to Hart’s shoulder wound, while an eager civilian in a suit and spectacles asked about the effectiveness of the anti-spectre weapon. Viewing Hangingbrow Hall through the circular windows of the helicopter, spectators could see a bright light pulsating from the roof of the old building before the exterior walls started crumbling inwards, as if being sucked towards a central force.
“My God, the place is being consumed!” O’Toole commented. “Look!”
Even from height the racket of grinding and crushing bricks, glass and timber on the ground could distinctly be heard. Electrical flashes and mysterious green and red illumination stained the ground, and then Hangingbrow Hall, or whatever was left of it, was out of sight, hidden once again in its forest setting as the Chinook banked and powered towards Carlisle.
“How was Curtis?” Smith enquired, leaning across to Wilson. “He still owes me two quid, you know. I suppose it was lucky him turnin’ up when he did, otherwise, who knows… we might never have got out alive.”
“Funnily Mark, it was almost worth going through all that fucking shit this weekend to see him for those two minutes,” Wilson admitted. “I forgot to ask him what his new album was called.”
“No doubt something meaningless and prosaic,” Smith consoled. “Like Seraphic.”
Wilson returned the eye contact: “I suppose when you’re in the afterlife you’ll be making picture disc 7”s called The Bingo Halls Of Stoke-on-Trent.”
“With a bit of luck, aye,” Smith smiled.
Across the main cabin of the Chinook, in the jolting darkness, a soldier sat in silence with searing eyes, mouth a fixed scowl, glancing across at Smith and Wilson, listening but not fully comprehending their excitable supernatural war stories and dry Mancunian ribbing. His battle dress was ill-fitting, his smock just a little too tight across the chest, his flak jacket shabbily unfastened, too much sock on show, with a beret that sat high atop a wide expanse of fair-coloured hair. Clough, sitting by his side, leaned in and, above the relentless cacophony of the aviation engine, said, “Hey, I say, young man, there’s only room for one Big Head in this helicopter and that’s me! You need a new beret – yours has either shrunk in the wash or your head’s expanded.”
The dirt-smeared face turned to Clough. “Vell, you know vhat zay say… Who dares – vins.” In lightning-fast movement, the irked presence thrust upwards, grabbed Clough and rested a Luger pistol to the side of his head. “Nobody mofe a muscle!” the soldier ordered. “Or ze annihilator of Hamburger SV dies in zis helicopter in a hail of bullets. Pass me your guns. Ve are goink back to Hangingbrow where you vill face… justice!”
“You kill that man and you get a bullet between the eyes,” Wood confirmed, his Browning pistol now raised.
“Hey, shithouse, stop tearing at my tufts will you?” Clough raged. “I can put up with just about anything apart from having my bloody hair pulled.”
“Hey now bonny lad, put the gun doon,” Healy reasoned. “Hangingbrow has gone, orkee – it’s no more. It’s been sucked up by a giant Hoover in the groond. Now, I don’t know what you’ve done in that haunted military industrial complex doon there, but there’s no need for this. The game’s up.”
“Not so!” Healy was told. “Germany must prevail – forever! It is nature’s destiny – I am of the chosen few and victory is ze only solution. Zis is a mere setback!”
“Which Germany, East or West, cocker?” Smith enquired.
“A reunified Germany, for sure,” the Nazi affirmed. “Fair-haired people enchoyink ze outdoor life… Rocket ships enablink passengers to reach Tokyo from Europe in an hour… Steins of beer from our great German breweries – Edinger or Beck’s” – and he smiled at this. “Jelly swastikas from Haribo wiz the help of slafe labour… Strong, powerful Arian athletes in Adidas footwear… Ze younk drinkink Fanta after zey have been swimmink in clear mountain pools… Ze folk in ze offices in Berlin in zeir Hugo Boss outfits discussink incredible enchineerink projects… Colonisation of ze moon… Functional, good-workink transportation from zose fellows at Siemens… VWs hurtlink along wide autobahns…” The soldier stifled a yawn and lessened his grip on Clough’s hair – and then, to the astonishment of those inside the Chinook, the German fell asleep while standing before slumping sidewards across Clough’s prostrate body. The day had taken its toll even for the baddies.
Wood swept forward and tightly tied the hands of the exhausted Fourth Reich fanatic, who slept peacefully through the whole procedure.
“Dear God, you cun’t mek it up, could you?” Boycott commented.
“Shall we have a quick drink when we land?” Smith voiced. “I’d say we’ve deserved it.”
O’Toole shifted across. “Count me in.”
“Me an’ all,” Clough added, straightening his tussled hair.
“Aye, that’d do me, bonny lad,” Healy spoke.
“When in Rome,” Wilson chimed in.
“I wun’t mind a cup of tea first,” Boycott said staring through the glass behind his seat at the now peach-coloured sunlight warming the horizon. “I’m absolutely parched.”