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Incursion - Richard Turner

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39

Prologue

Macgregor’s Island, Maine

November 8th, 1863

Second Lieutenant Hobart pulled the collar of his Union Blue greatcoat tight in his left hand, trying as best he could to block the freezing cold rain from going down the back of his neck. If there was anything he hated, it was being wet and cold. Raising his head slightly, Hobart could see the darkened lighthouse perched high atop the windswept island. Built to overlook the entrance to the harbor, it should have been lit. Instead of a bright shining beacon, a cold, dark tower looked out to sea. Before the lighthouse was built in the early 1830s, the island claimed several ships and dozens of lives from ships trying to navigate the narrow strait in inclement weather. A local fishing boat heading out into the Atlantic hailed the USS Washington, a passing US warship, and told them that the lighthouse was dark and that the men working there had not yet come ashore to pick up their monthly supply of provisions.

This morning, the cold, dark-gray waters of the Atlantic seemed angry and uninviting. The waves seemed to be pushing the longboat back from the island as if warning the men inside to stay away. Pulling as hard as they could, the sailors manning the oars fought the surging current and brought their boat out of the water and onto a desolate and uninviting rocky beach on the north side of the small island.

As soon as the bottom of the boat touched the rocky beach, Hobart jumped out of the boat and drew his pistol. He wasn’t sure why he did that. His gut told him to be wary as he led a small detachment of sailors and marines from the Washington towards a narrow trail that led off the beach.

Hobart pulled his dark-blue kepi down on his head to block the ice-cold sleet from hitting his exposed face. Behind him, he could hear his men cursing the weather as they struggled to keep up with the tall, lanky officer. Making his way through a sparse wood, Hobart could see the lighthouse standing tall. Without its light on, it looked like an ancient monolith built by people long since forgotten to time. The tower itself looked to be about thirty feet high with its familiar glass-enclosed light mounted on top. At the base of the tower was a small white-painted wooden shack for the small group of men who worked and lived here all year round. Hobart had been told that at this time of the year he should expect to find half a dozen men on the island. As the lighthouse fell under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Revenues Cutter Service, the forerunner of the US Coast Guard, the men there could face a court-martial and jail time if it were discovered that they had abandoned their post.

Second Lieutenant Zachary Hobart was a young and passionate United States Marine officer. He had volunteered for service the day after the South fired on Fort Sumter. He had hoped to see action against the Confederacy, but with the US Navy masters of the entire Eastern Seaboard, Hobart had yet to see a Confederate warship or hear a shot fired in anger.

Sir, I bet you five dollars that these locals drank too much of that horrid gut rot that passes as Spanish Rum in these parts and are all passed out. You know the kind, sir. The ship bought some in Portland not two months ago, said Sergeant O’Leary, his gravelly voice thick with an Irish accent.

Turning his head, Hobart saw the broad-shouldered sergeant wink at him. At more than twice Hobart’s age, O’Leary had taken a shine to the young officer and had made it his duty to teach Hobart all he could about being an officer and a Marine. Like so many men, O’Leary had first learnt his trade serving with the Royal Navy before jumping ship and enlisting in the U.S. Navy. With a war raging, no one questioned the motives of those who wanted to enlist.

Robert, I doubt that they have been passed out for days on end. However, if they’re drunk, I want them all arrested, said Hobart. If we have to, we’ll leave a couple of men to man the station until more can be provided for.

As Hobart approached the lighthouse, he could see that the door at the base of the tower was wide open. Suddenly, a powerful gust of wind whipped across the barren rock, loudly slamming the door shut.

I don’t think the lighthouse wants us to poke our noses around inside, said O’Leary.

Shaking his head at his superstitious sergeant, Hobart ordered O’Leary to send a couple of men up the tower and see if there was anyone in there. Regardless of what they found, he wanted the lighthouse’s beacon lit right away. With visibility dropping with the worsening storm, the sooner the light was lit, the better.

With a sharp salute, O’Leary sent a couple of sailors scurrying up the tower. Yelling a steady stream of invectives, O’Leary promised the sailors a fate worse than death if they didn’t get the beacon lit in the next couple of minutes.

Turning to look at the wooden shack, a sudden chill ran down Hobart’s spine. Like the lighthouse, the building was dark, cold and unwelcoming. There wasn’t a single oil lamp lit, nor was there any smoke coming from the chimney. To Hobart, the place was as inviting as a crypt.

Stepping to the front door, Hobart turned the knob and found it unlocked. Pushing the door open, Hobart, with his pistol held tight in his hand, stepped inside. Looking about, he could see that the place was in fairly good order. In the middle of the room stood the dinner table; on it were all the trappings for a supper meal. An uneaten leg of lamb surrounded by roast potatoes sat there as if expecting the home’s occupants to walk in at any second, sit down and have their dinner meal. There even were a couple of tin cups full of red wine sitting untouched on the table.

Odd, thought Hobart. There was probably nothing worth stealing and there was certainly no strategic importance attached to the lighthouse. Not that an enemy ship would be prowling these waters. It made no sense whatsoever. It looked as if they had all been preparing to sit down for the evening meal when something or someone had made them all suddenly leave. Hobart pointed towards the back of the building. O’Leary nodded and sent a couple of marines to check if the men were passed out in their bunks.

Dammed peculiar if you ask me, said O’Leary as he ran a calloused hand over his stubble-covered chin.

A couple of seconds later, the marines returned and reported that the beds were empty and that it looked to them as if nothing had been taken.

Hobart was growing perplexed. Men don’t simply vanish. Turning to O’Leary, he said, Have the men fan out and check the area around the lighthouse. They can’t have simply vanished.

Cursing up a storm, O’Leary kicked everyone back outside and told them to find the missing men or there’d be hell to pay.

Removing his soaking wet kepi, Hobart ran a hand through his thick, black hair and then looked about the room. He couldn’t imagine a plausible scenario in which six men would suddenly abandon their post. There were no signs of foul play. It was as if they had simply gotten up from the dinner table and then disappeared into thin air.

You know sir, when I was in port, I heard some of the locals going on about strange lights coming and going from the island over the past week or so, said O’Leary.

Pardon?

They said they were like bright white balls of light flying through the night sky. They also said them weird lights didn’t make a sound. It was as if they were floating through the air.

Sergeant, of all people you should know never to believe everything that you hear, especially from local sailors who are three sheets to the wind in a tavern late at night. I suspect that when they saw these lights, it was nothing more than ball lighting or perhaps Saint Elmo’s Fire.

You could be right sir, but I’ve seen many strange things over the years and have learned to keep an open mind.

Hobart shook his head. O’Leary was a good and honest man. He had seen and done more in his life than Hobart could possibly imagine. With a slight grin on his face, Hobart decided to wait until the men returned before making up his mind on what may have happened to the missing men.

A couple of minutes later, a rain-soaked marine entered the cottage and saluted Hobart. He was a short lad, no more than seventeen years of age. The frightened look in his eyes instantly told Hobart that something was wrong.

O’Leary said crustily, Well then boy, don’t stand there like some two-bit whore waiting to be propositioned. Report what you found to the officer.

The marine looked from O’Leary to Hobart. He seemed too scared to speak.

Jesus boy, if you canna speak then show us what you found, barked O’Leary.

Meekly nodding his head, the soldier stepped back out into the blowing storm. Hobart and O’Leary followed the marine towards a clump of trees about one hundred yards from the cottage. A group of marines quietly stood there staring into the woods.

Lance Corporal Walsh, bellowed O’Leary. What did yah find?

Stepping to one side, Walsh pointed at the woods. We found them.

The shocking sight that greeted them was one that Hobart would never forget. Tied tightly to the trees were three men. Their skin was as white as falling snow. The look of unbelievable pain and horror etched into each of the dead men’s faces. Their arms were spread open and tied onto thick branches. To Hobart, the men all looked like Jesus hanging on the cross. He could see that they had all been killed by a single shot to the head, but not before the men had been brutalized. Fingers had been removed from two of the men’s hands while a third man was missing his nose and an eye. The hair went up on Hobart’s neck as he walked along looking at the tortured corpses. Who had killed them and why?

I only count three. There’s supposed to be six of ‘em, said O’Leary to Lance Corporal Walsh. Have you found the other three?

No Sergeant, we only found one more body, replied Walsh, looking as if he was going to be sick at any moment.

Well then lad, we’re wasting time. Lead on, snapped O’Leary.

Hobart saw the marines leaving and followed. Less than fifty yards away, under a tree, sat another body. This one, unlike the others, was not bound. He was dressed in his normal work clothes and was sitting there as if he were taking refuge from the storm raging all around them. Hobart could see that the top of the man’s skull had been blown off. In his lap was a revolver. It was clear that the man had placed the pistol barrel inside his mouth and then pulled the trigger, ending his life.

Bending down, Hobart examined the body. The man looked to be in his late fifties and was most likely the lighthouse station supervisor. Carefully opening the man’s jacket, Hobart found an old worn bible. Opening it, he found a note stuck between the pages. Removing it, Hobart opened up the note and saw that it had been written by the man dead at his feet.

What does it say? O’Leary asked.

It was written by Harry Lambert, the lighthouse keeper, said Hobart. He wrote that one of their men, a man called Fletcher, had become for an unknown reason rather odd and untrustworthy. He wanted to send the man back to shore, but the blustery weather wouldn’t allow it.

Is that all?

No, there’s more. It would appear that strange things started to happen around the lighthouse. They saw strange lights come and go in the middle of the night.

See, I told you sir. Them strange lights aren’t just a drunken man’s ramblings but the God’s truth.

Hobart shot O’Leary a look and then continued. Soon arguments and fights broke out between the men, and Fletcher was always involved. Hobart read some more. Lambert wrote that he began to suspect that Fletcher wasn’t who he appeared to be. Another man, named Thompson, disappeared the next night. They searched the island but never found his body.

Did he say if that man Fletcher was responsible?

Hobart shook his head. Turning the note over, he continued reading. This bit doesn’t make much sense. Lambert must have been going mad when he wrote it. He wrote that Fletcher wasn’t a man at all, that he had seen him for what he truly was, a demon sent by Beelzebub from the very pits of hell to claim all of their souls. His last notation reads that Lambert felt that his men were in league with the devil and were all turning against him. Unable to take it anymore, Lambert decided to find out who was a man and who was a devil in hiding. And that’s where the note ends.

I’ve heard of men trapped in the snow for months going strange in the head before, but never at a lighthouse, said O’Leary.

Hobart took a deep breath. Placing the note in his pocket for safekeeping, Hobart stood and looked back at the bodies of the murdered men. Something must have triggered the lighthouse keeper’s murderous behavior. What it was escaped Hobart. He knew that it would undoubtedly remain a mystery and pass into the realm of folklore before too long.

What bothered him the most was that the man identified in the note as Fletcher most likely wasn’t among the murdered men. Where he was and, more importantly, who he really was, would become a nagging question that would haunt Hobart’s dreams until the day he died.

1

Norway

January 13th, 1942

Looking up at the unfamiliar star-filled sky it was lucky to be alive, and it knew it.

The crash had dug a half-kilometer long furrow through the deep snow. Coming to a sudden stop in a thick pine forest, its craft had cracked open like an egg. If it hadn’t been securely strapped into its seat, it would have been killed on impact. Bitterly cold, night air rushed into the once warm pressurized craft. Inside, it was dark and confusing. Much of the interior had been destroyed in the crash.

Quickly unbuckling itself, the Pilot reached down, grabbed a small metallic box from beside its seat, and then pushed up on the warped hatch above its head. With a loud creaking moan, the hatch opened. Standing up, the Pilot felt the bitterly cold air envelop his body. Hauling itself out of its craft, the Pilot quickly looked about and saw that it was alone. Stepping down onto the snow, a shiver ran through the Pilot’s body. It wasn’t used to a freezing cold environment. It may have been wearing protective body armor, but that wouldn’t keep out the cold. It knew that it had to find warmth and shelter fast, or die. Opening the box, it pulled out a slender wristband; placing it on its left wrist, it pressed a button activating a homing device. Next, it grabbed a smooth-looking ball no larger than a baseball, squeezed it tight in its gloved hand, and then threw it down into the snow. Right away, the ball began to glow a bright red. Instantly, the snow hissed as it melted under the extreme heat produced by the super-heated ball.

The Pilot turned and began to trudge on unsteady feet as it made its way to the edge of the forest. It would take a few hours for its body to acclimatize to the change in gravity. Stopping, the Pilot realized that it was on top of a ridgeline that overlooked a wide-open snow covered valley. Looking into the distance, the Pilot saw a cluster of buildings on a tall hill. All lit up, the buildings beckoned to the battered Pilot.

There was some hope. It knew it wasn’t going to die, at least not right away.

A frigid wind whipped through the trees, stirring up the freshly fallen snow. Cold began to seep into its body, instantly slowing its metabolism. It would need to replace the lost energy and fast. The Pilot turned its head and looked up at the stars shining brightly in the night sky. It was a race now. Would help come before it was too late? Survival was its only thought. It had to stay alive. Turning, it began to run down the snow-covered slope towards the shelter. Already it was becoming hungry. It had to feed.

2

Commando School - Achnacrarry, Scotland

January 17th, 1942

The pounding on the door and in his tired head would not go away. No matter how much he willed it, whoever was out there banging away was not going to leave him in peace. Slowly reaching over, Captain James Shaw turned on his bedside lamp, the light burning his bloodshot eyes. Taking a deep breath to clear his aching head, Shaw looked at his wristwatch and saw that it was not even three in the morning. For God’s sake, who the hell could be pounding on my door at this ungodly hour? thought Shaw.

Realizing that he had to get up, Shaw swore under his breath, threw his warm covers off, walked over to the door, and then yanked it open. Standing in the hallway looking quite uncomfortable was Lance Corporal Timothy Donald, his batman. Shaw could never understand the British tradition of having enlisted men look after their officers. In the U.S. Army, junior officers were expected to look after themselves. Recently attached to the British Army, Shaw was waiting to join Number Ten Commando, a fledging inter-allied formation. Upon his arrival, he had been assigned Donald as his batman. He had objected but was told that Donald would look after him, like it or not. Begrudgingly, Shaw accepted the inevitable and ceased his objections. If he was going to be part of the British Army, he had to do things their way.

Tim, do you know what time it is? said Shaw. His mouth felt drier than the Sahara. He badly needed a drink of water and perhaps a couple of aspirin to quiet the kettledrum banging away inside his head.

Sorry sir, but I was told to wake you up right away. There’s a car waiting for you downstairs, replied Lance Corporal Donald.

A car…why?

Sir, all I know is that I was told to get you ready to depart. The order came direct from the CO himself.

Shaw ran a hand through his short black hair and then reluctantly nodded his head. An order from Lieutenant Colonel Wright, his current commanding officer, was not to be questioned. The man was as stubborn as a mule. Shaw learned quickly that once Wright made up his mind, there was almost no chance that he would ever change it.

Sir, why don’t you nip down the hallway and have a quick shower and shave while I pack your bags?

Nodding his aching head, Shaw grabbed his toiletries and then, mumbling to himself, trudged down the cold hallway to the bathroom. After a quick shower in lukewarm water, Shaw shaved and then stood there for a moment looking at the man in the mirror staring back at him. His gray eyes looked tired. He had just turned twenty-five and was in peak shape, but at this hour of the morning, after tying one on with the new officers in the mess, he didn’t feel half as good as he looked. You need to go easy on the booze. Perhaps a little more time spent in the gym…at least during the week, thought Shaw. Heading back to his room, Shaw saw that Donald was gone but his uniform was laid out on his bed. He quickly dressed and met Donald downstairs.

A staff car, its engine idling, waited for him.

Donald saluted Shaw. Captain, I’ve packed plenty of clean clothing. I wasn’t told how long you’d be gone or where you were going, so I packed enough to keep you warm and dry for about a week.

Shaw smiled and returned the salute. Have you spoken to the driver? Does he have any idea where I am going?

I did ask sir, but was told to mind my own damned business, replied Donald, shaking his head at the rudeness of the driver.

The mystery deepens, said Shaw. Well, I expect that this foolishness is all part of some exercise. I suspect that I’ll be back in time for breakfast in the mess.

Very good sir, I’ll have a clean uniform waiting for you, said Donald as he came to attention and crisply saluted Shaw.

Shaw returned the salute, opened the rear passenger door of the car, and climbed inside. Almost immediately, the driver placed the car in gear and sped off, leaving the lance corporal alone in the dark outside of the mess.

Shaw said, Driver, can you tell me where we are going?

Sorry sir, that information is classified, replied the driver brusquely. The man had a thick Scottish brogue and wore the uniform of the British Military Police.

Can you at least tell me if it will be a long ride?

Sorry sir.

Let me guess that information is classified, said Shaw, shaking his head. With that, Shaw sank back into his seat wondering what was going on. He knew the British loved to conduct no-notice drills, but this seemed different. Something deep down in his gut told him that something usual was going on and that it was something he was not going to enjoy.

3

Bar Hill – England

The olive-green jeep geared down; slowly, it turned off the main road and then headed down a narrow country lane that meandered through a snow-covered copse of evergreen trees. In the back, Shaw sat up and looked out the frost-covered windows.

After leaving Achnacrarry, Shaw was driven to an airfield, where he boarded a Westland Lysander, a sturdy and reliable plane used by the British forces for liaison duties and the insertion of special operatives into German-occupied territory. Landing a few hours later at an RAF station on the outskirts of Cambridge, Shaw was met by a young soldier who escorted him to his jeep. The driver was a talkative, pimply-faced youth who explained that he had been ordered to drive Shaw to Bar End, a seventeenth-century country house. The soldier explained that Bar End had been taken over by the government just before the war started and was now a hospital for about thirty or so soldiers suffering from shell shock and other similar mental disorders.

As the jeep rounded a sharp corner and left the woods, Shaw could see his destination. The driver, who was raised nearby, told Shaw that the three-story brick building had once been a monastery before being bought and enlarged into a stately mansion. For centuries, it was home to members of the British aristocracy, including Charles I before parliament saw fit to cut off his head. The driver chuckled at the thought of people rising up and doing in the current King. To Shaw, the building looked cold and dreary. Even though the sun was climbing in the early-morning sky, all of the windows still had their drapes drawn and were crisscrossed with tape in case of a bomb blast near the building. Shaw couldn’t put his finger on it, but the building seemed out of place. As they drove up to the front entrance, Shaw saw several army staff cars parked in a row with their engines still running. His curiosity grew by the second. Whatever was going on was not an exercise; that much was apparent to Shaw now.

With a loud, protesting squeal from the jeep’s brakes, the driver brought the jeep to a jarring halt directly in front of the building. Shaw got out of the jeep and felt the cold morning air on his skin. He grew up in Northern Pennsylvania and was used to long, cold winters. Whenever he was asked, Shaw would always say that winter was his favorite season. He was an avid cross-country skier and hockey player. Shaw grew up using his older brother’s hand-me-down skates. For a brief moment, Shaw’s mind turned to his brother Andrew. A Lieutenant Commander in the navy, Andrew Shaw had been killed when his ship, the USS Arizona, sank during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Far too much alcohol drunk over the past few weeks had been his way of dealing with the tragic news. He would never admit it but he had come to the realization that he missed his brother terribly.

Sir, if you’ll follow me, said the young driver, shaking Shaw out of his reverie.

My bags? asked Shaw, looking back towards the jeep.

I was told to leave them there.

Guess I’m not staying long, Shaw said under his breath.

With that, Shaw followed the soldier up to the stone steps leading to the entrance of the manor. Just before they arrived, the door swung open and a British Military Policeman wearing a red cap stepped outside and asked for Shaw’s identity papers. After a cursory glance at Shaw’s identification, the MP came sharply to attention, saluted Shaw, and then told the driver to wait in his jeep.

Sir, if you’ll follow me, said the MP.

Stepping inside, Shaw saw that the manor home was not what it was purported to be. There wasn’t a single patient in sight. Instead, there was an eclectic mix of military and civilian personnel moving about. Some, like the MP, were dressed properly, while the majority seemed to be wearing an odd blend of military and civilian attire. Shaw almost burst out laughing when a British colonel with thick white hair walked past him wearing his issue khaki sweater and shirt, with black dress pants and well-worn slippers on his feet. The delicious smell of bacon cooking in the kitchen wafted down the hall, reminding Shaw’s stomach that he hadn’t eaten any breakfast yet. He hoped that whatever he was here for that they would at least let him eat something before he had to be on his way again. The MP led Shaw to the back of the building before stopping outside of a closed double-door. Knocking twice, the MP opened the doors and ushered Shaw inside. With a polite nod to his escort, Shaw entered the room. He was surprised to see how large the