Ghost of a Dream

Simon R. Green - Author

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ISBN 9781101589502 | 304 pages | 28 Aug 2012 | Ace | 18 - AND UP
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Meet the Carnacki Institute’s operatives—JC Chance: the team leader, brave, charming, and almost unbearably arrogant; Melody Chambers: the science geek who keeps the antisupernatural equipment running; and Happy Jack Palmer: the terminally gloomy telepath. Their mission: Do Something About Ghosts. Lay them to rest, send them packing, or just kick their nasty ectoplasmic arses…
The Ghost Finders are investigating a haunting at the long-abandoned Haybarn Theater, which is being renovated. But work has been thrown off-schedule by the some peculiar and unnatural activities. And after the potentially world-altering recent events of their previous assignment, the team thinks that a haunted theater (aren't they all?) will be a walk in the park.

Until they encounter the Phantom of the Haybarn—an ancient evil whose ability to alter reality itself will test the skills, science, and blind luck of the Ghost Finders to the limit.

Previously, in the Ghost Finders:

One of the Institute’s leading investigative teams consists of JC Chance, (team leader and positive thinker,) Melody Chambers, (team scientist and girl geek,) and Happy Jack Palmer, (team telepath and general miserable pain in the arse.) JC fell in love with a ghost girl called Kim. Love between the living and the dead is almost universally forbidden, for many good reasons. At the end of the team’s last mission, Kim was stolen away from JC by unknown forces. He doesn’t know why or if he’ll ever find her again.

The team also discovered, on their previous mission, that the long–established and much–trusted Carnacki Institute had in fact been infiltrated and compromised by the Bad Guys. Secret people in secret positions who serve something called The Flesh Undying—a terrible creature that fell, or was pushed, from a higher reality into our world. The Flesh Undying sees this world as a prison, a trap, and is ready to destroy our whole reality in order that it might break free and go home again.

JC, Melody, and Happy are on their own. They don’t know what to do or whom they can trust. Or where to look for their missing ghost girl. So for the time being, they’re following their orders and doing their job, finding ghosts and Doing Something about them. And all the time looking . . . for a chance to get even.

Chapter One

One of Our Trains Is Missing

The Past is only as dead and gone as we allow it to be. It has a tendency to cling, to hang on—like lovers who can’t bring themselves to accept it’s over. There will always be some who find the Past more comforting than the Present, people who look back on the way things used to be and make everything make sense with the benefit of hindsight. So it really shouldn’t come as any surprise that there are always going to be people who prefer to give all their spare time, their personal time, to looking backwards instead of forward, investing all their happiness in re–creating some one special part of the Past.

Once upon a time, in the grand days of Old England, there were wonderful things called steam trains: huge steel beasts thundering across the great green countryside, connecting even the smallest of communities, one to the other. They roared like dragons, breathed fire and smoke, and the ground shook at their passing. But time passed, as it will, and steam reluctantly gave way to electricity. Less romantic, perhaps, but undeniably faster and more efficient. And then there came an infamous man called Beeching, in that far–off time called the sixties, and he shut down all the smaller stations, all the lesser–used branch lines, in the name of progress and efficiency. Sacrificing the needs of the smaller communities and the smaller people to better serve the needs of larger communities and more important people. And so the Age of Steam passed, and no–one realised what they’d lost until it was gone. The small railways stations were abandoned, left to rot and ruin in a slow, sullen silence. Ghosts . . . of an old way of life.

But wherever the Past is remembered, and sometimes even worshipped, it is never really gone.

The Ghost Finders came to Bradleigh Halt, in Yorkshire, on a cool autumn evening. Once a small but thriving railway station, in the very north of England, Bradleigh Halt was left behind when the map changed, and its trains were sent somewhere else. Now it was a few abandoned buildings, full of dust and shadows and rusting rails covered in weeds. Set in the bottom of a deep, dark valley between two tall, grassy walls, with wide mountainous slopes stretching away on the one side and great stony inclines on the other; a cold wind blew fitfully through the station gap and sighed mournfully in the single tunnel–mouth.

You could drive right past and never know Bradleigh Halt was still there; and for many years, most people did.

An old–fashioned black taxi–cab delivered the Ghost Finders to the top of one grassy slope, after a lengthy journey down many winding roads, from the main–line railway station at Leeds. The taxi–cabby slammed his vehicle to a halt a more–than–comfortable distance away from the top of the valley and sat grimly in his seat, refusing to emerge, even to help his passengers with their luggage. He stared straight ahead, as though concerned with what he might see, dourly still and determinedly silent, as JC Chance, Melody Chambers, and Happy Jack Palmer clambered out the back of his cab, stretching slowly and massaging aching back muscles. Melody dragged her scientific equipment out of the boot while JC paid the driver, and Happy took in the new surroundings with his usual miserable and put–upon expression. The taxi–cabby snatched his fare the moment it was offered and departed at speed, not even bothering to check if JC had added a tip. The three Ghost Finders watched the taxi depart, then looked at each other. JC smiled vaguely, Happy sniffed loudly, and Melody turned away and gave all her attention to her precious scientific instruments. It was a late evening in early September, under slate grey skies. The light was beginning to drop out of the day, and there was already a definite chill in the air.

Not far–away stood the original station sign: old lettering on old wood, much reduced by long exposure to wind and weather and many years of neglect. The sign should have read Welcome to Bradleigh Halt, but someone had recently put a painted slash through the word Halt, and replaced it with Hell.

The three Ghost Finders stood together at the top of the steep, grassy slope, looking down into the valley below, taking in the sights, such as they were. Battered stone–and–wood buildings stood slumped together on either side of the sunken railway lines, the long platforms hidden under accumulated junk and rubbish and lengthening shadows. To the east, the railway tracks disappeared into the gloom of the tunnel–mouth, and into the long–disused tunnel that passed through and under the great, sprawling slopes known locally as the Grey Fells. The lines reappeared on the other side, many miles away, in another abandoned station halt, that no–one cared about any more. To the west, the weed–choked rails stretched away far and far, disappearing into the distance, between two sets of stony grey slopes. Going nowhere and taking their own sweet time about it. The whole scene had a quiet, wistful air though adding the word peaceful would probably have been stretching it. Even without knowing what the Ghost Finders already knew, Bradleigh Halt didn’t even try to look inviting.

Birds sang on the evening air, insects buzzed industriously, and the gusting wind murmured querulously to itself. The sun was sinking slowly in the sky, in a warning sort of way. There was a pervading sense of the world’s having moved on, leaving Bradleigh Halt behind.

JC Chance stood at the very edge of the high slope, smiling thoughtfully, hands thrust deep into his jacket pockets. It had to be said, he lacked a lot of his usual cocky bravado. Recent events in the secret hidden world had conspired to knock a lot of his usual over–confidence out of him. And the stealing away of the love of his life, the ghost girl Kim, had punched the heart right out of him. But he persevered. Because he was a Ghost Finder, because it was his job and his calling. And because he had nothing else to do.

JC was tall and lean and perhaps a little too handsome for his own good, or anyone else’s, for that matter. He was well into his late twenties, with pale, striking features under a rock star’s great mane of long, wavy, black hair. He had a proud nose, a grim smile, and he wore very dark sunglasses all the time, for very dark reasons. He also wore a rich cream white suit, of quite extraordinary style and elegance, along with an Old School tie that he might or might not have been entitled to. JC never let little things like authenticity get in the way of looking good. He also had a tendency to strike a pose, whether anyone was watching or not. Though, to his credit, he would knock it off at once if it was pointed out to him.

On any case, on any mission, under any circumstances, JC could always be relied on to be the first to charge into danger, looking around eagerly for some new trouble to get into. Losing his one true love had slowed him down, some. He wanted to be out looking for her; but since he didn’t have a single clue where to start, he insisted on taking any case the Carnacki Institute could provide . . . On the grounds that it was better to be doing something than to be doing nothing.

Melody Chambers stood a little way behind him, studying JC carefully but saying nothing. Melody was the big–brain scientist of the team and proud of it. Fast approaching thirty with the brakes off and loudly not giving a damn, Melody was conventionally good–looking in a threatening sort of way. Short and gamine thin, she burned constantly with enough raw nervous energy to run a small city for several weeks. Melody was a great one for getting things done and walking right over anyone and anything that threatened to get in her way or slow her down. She wore her auburn hair scraped back in a severe bun, glared at the world through serious glasses with dull functional frames, and wore clothes so anonymous they actually by–passed style and fashion without noticing them.

She gave up worrying over JC as a bad job, returned her full attention to the assorted technical apparatus she’d hauled out the boot of the taxi, and piled it all onto a small self–assembly trolley of her own design. Without anyone else’s help. Admittedly, mostly because Melody had a tendency to strike people viciously about the head and shoulders if they touched her things. She preferred machines to people, on the unanswerable grounds that when machines decided not to do what they were supposed to do, you could fix them or hit them until they did. People were more complicated. Melody had a first–class mind, more balls than a tennis court, and a sex drive that would have frightened Casanova into early retirement. It’s always the quiet ones you have to keep an eye on . . .

Happy Jack Palmer stood alone, glowering at the world in general. Happy was the team telepath, observer of the hidden realms, and full–time grumpy bugger. He’d only recently hit thirty, and thirty was hitting back. He was short, stocky, and prematurely balding, all of which he took as proof positive that God hated him personally. He might have been attractive enough if he’d ever stopped scowling, slouching, and saying inappropriate things in a loud and carrying voice. He wore grubby jeans, a staggeringly offensive T–shirt, and a battered leather jacket that had probably looked better when it was still on the cow. Happy’s marvellous mutant mind allowed him to see and hear things no–one else could detect, and even have long conversations with them, and, as he was fond of saying, If you could see the world as clearly as I do, you’d be clinically depressed, too. Neither of his fellow team members knew who had originally named him Happy. They could only assume his school days must have been an absolute hot–bed of irony.

Happy used to take an awful lot of pills, potions, and special medications, mixing and matching as necessary to keep the world outside his head. Because both the real and the hidden worlds were full of things he didn’t want to think about. He was trying to do without his little chemical helpers these days because they got in the way of having lots of sex with Melody. Happy and Melody were something of an item; and it would be difficult to decide which of them was more surprised. The things we do for love. Love, or something like it.

“I really don’t like that sign,” said JC after a while. He indicated the Bradleigh Hell sign with a jerk of his head. “That sign speaks of well–established phenomena, ghosts and hauntings and general weird shit, seen by far too many civilians. As in, ordinary everyday people completely untrained or unused to dealing with bad things on the move. I say we withdraw and nuke the whole place from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”

“If I hadn’t seen your lips move, I would have sworn I said that,” said Happy.

“We all know you don’t want to be here, JC,” Melody said carefully. “We’re worried about Kim, too.”

“I’m not,” said Happy. “I mean, come on; it’s not as if she’s in any danger, wherever she is. She’s a ghost! She’s dead! What else can happen to her?”

“For you, tact is something other people do, isn’t it?” said Melody.

“What?” said Happy.

“Mouth is open, should be shut.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Somebody has her,” said JC. “Somebody took her from me. And if they have the power to hold a ghost against her will, who knows what else they can do? I swear . . . I will move Heaven and Earth with a really big stick to get her back. I’m only staying with the Carnacki Institute so I can make use of their resources.”

“I don’t trust the Institute any more,” said Happy.

“You never did,” said Melody. “In fact, you are famous for never trusting anyone or anything, including yourself.”

“And I was right!” Happy said loudly. “I was dangerously paranoid even before we found out the Institute had been infiltrated by Big Bads from Beyond! Imagine my shock when all my worst dreams were proved true. I was so much happier when I only thought I was crazy . . .”

“Let us all concentrate on the mission at hand,” said JC, not unkindly. “Since we all have so many things we’d rather not be thinking about . . . it’s best to keep occupied. And hopefully come across something here so sufficiently nasty we can justify kicking the shit out of it in the cause of justice and therapy. I feel like hitting something.”

“Never knew you when you didn’t,” muttered Happy.

JC led the way down the steep, grassy slope, leaping and bounding along with cheerful abandon. Happy followed after, far more cautiously. And Melody brought up the rear, lowering her trolley of piled–up special scientific equipment foot by foot while filling the air with foul language every time something inevitably fell off, and she had to stop and put it back on again. She glared after the others, but knowing better than to ask for help. JC and Happy could break delicate equipment merely by looking at it the wrong way. Bradleigh Halt loomed up before them, still and silent, holding shadows and secrets within. It didn’t look any better as it got closer.

“Talk to me, my children,” said JC as he descended. “Tell me things I need to know.”

“Starting with, what the hell are we here for?” said Happy.

“Just once, I wish you two wouldn’t leave it to me to read the briefing files,” said Melody. “We all spent hours on the train getting here . . .”

“I had some important dozing to be getting on with,” said JC.

“And you know I don’t like to read anything scary,” said Happy. “It gives me nightmares. And wind.”

Melody sighed, loudly and pointedly. “All right. One more time, for the hard of thinking at the back. This one seems straightforward enough. Until very recently, Bradleigh Halt was another run–down, long–time–closed, small–time railway station. One of the many shut down by Dr. Beeching, back in the sixties. But, the halt was due to be renovated and reopened, by the Bradleigh Preservation Trust—a bunch of old–time steam–train enthusiasts. The volunteers had only started work here, rebuilding and repairing and generally putting the place in order for a Grand Reopening . . . when they started seeing things. And hearing things. All the usual disturbing supernatural phenomena . . . More than enough for the volunteers to down tools and run for the hills. Somebody in the Preservation Trust knew enough to get the bad news to the Institute, and somebody at Carnacki apparently loves steam trains, too . . . So here we are.”

“Yes,” JC said patiently. “Got that. But what about the details, Melody? All the helpful little details, so we can figure out exactly what we’re dealing with here? What exactly did the volunteers see and hear? Revenants? Poltergeists? The Blair Witch on a Broomstick?”

“I don’t know,” said Melody. “Nothing in the briefing. Only a note to say that we are to be met here by one of the volunteers from the Preservation Trust. Who will hopefully tell us what we need to know.”

“Wouldn’t put money on it,” growled Happy. “Civilians . . . Always more trouble than they’re worth.”

“Oh hush,” said Melody. “You know you love the chance to feel superior to someone.”

“Almost as much as you love a chance to lecture us,” Happy said sweetly.

They looked at each other and exchanged a smile. Shared emotions were unfamiliar territory for both of them; but perhaps it takes one broken soul to mend another.

“I can hear you two smiling at each other, and I do wish you wouldn’t,” said JC, not looking back. “You know your entire relationship creeps me out big–time. Young Ghostbusters in love. The horror, the horror . . .”

“And this from a man in love with a ghost,” said Melody. “At least Happy and I can touch each other.”

“And we do,” said Happy. “Often into the early hours . . .”

“And you call my relationship unnatural,” said JC.

“The living and the dead aren’t supposed to get that close,” said Melody. “For all kinds of worrying and unsettling reasons.”

“It’ll all end in tears,” said Happy.

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