A Black Spectre Adventure
BRENT GREGOR had long dreaded Halloween. The holiday, if one could call it that, brought nothing but old, very painful memories of that night so long ago. The night that he never wanted to remember, but could never, ever forget.
But this particular Halloween, as Brent stood on the downtown rooftop in the cold night air, things were different. For nearly six months earlier, in exchange for the ability to walk again, he had taken on a new guise – that of The Black Spectre. In exchange for the simple joy of once again standing on his own two feet, of feeling like a whole man, of feeling stronger than ever before, he was forced to stalk the night and bring justice to those who have none. It was a price he had been well prepared to pay.
As he gazed down on the cold, bitter streets of Terminal City, his mind drifted elsewhere. He couldn’t help but wonder if this particular Halloween would be any different from the last fifteen. For as strong as he was physically, it was those terrible memories of that fateful night so long ago that still haunted him deep inside.
Bernard Worthington, Brent Gregor’s dignified and faithful valet, sat in the long black car and tightened his thick wool coat around his neck in an attempt to escape the growing chill. It would take some more time to get used to nights like these. He wondered how Master Gregor withstood the evening temperatures as he prowled the rooftops above. He wondered even more if this nightly vigil would continue once winter had fully set in.
Worthington was startled when he heard a small tap on the glass of his car window. His thoughts raced for a lie that he hadn’t been prepared to tell that would explain his presence. He’d been certain that he’d parked the car well enough into the dark alley so as not to be seen.
He let out a quick sigh of relief as the dark figure with the gleaming skull mask peered inside. Mere seconds later, The Black Spectre climbed into the back seat and closed the door behind him. Worthington wondered if the cold had been too much for him as well, but he wasn’t about to suggest it.
“You’re back earlier than I expected, Sir,” was all that he could muster without being impolite.
“I just can’t stop thinking about it,” Brent Gregor answered as he pulled off the hat and mask. “Please, take me home.”
“Of course, Sir,” Worthington answered as he started the motor and put the dark-curtained automobile gear.
Brent said nothing more on the long drive back to Lakeview Heights. Worthington checked on him via the mirror periodically. The troubled expression on his face said more than could ever have been spoken with words. As Brent Gregor’s trusted servant and the only “family” he had left, he’d hoped the young man would have found more than physical strength with his newfound abilities. Perhaps it would take more time, he thought.
As they entered the upscale neighborhood, Brent finally spoke up again. “Take me by the Patterson House, please.”
Worthington glanced back at him again, puzzled. “Are you sure, Sir?”
“Yes,” Brent answered with reassurance. “I’ll be fine. But don’t park too close. Keep the car hidden.”
Worthington did as instructed and steered the car the extra few blocks to the Patterson House, a large, old manor with an ornate porch that sat well off the street. The children of Lakeview Heights knew this house well, and it had been a ritual for as long as anyone could remember for all “Trick-or-Treaters” to visit it each Halloween. One by one they would each step up on the porch and stare into the smudged window on the front door to see if they could spot a ghost. Brent wondered if the children still did this. He quickly got his answer.
As soon as they came into view of the house, he could see them lined up. And there in the middle of the group was the tallest child and ringleader, Julius Kennelly. Only this was Julius III, the son of his own youthful nemesis. Some things never change, he thought, as the memories of his own terrible initiation rushed straight back to him.
JULIUS KENNELLY II, then all of fourteen, looked at them, eye to eye, one at a time. Pointing at each one with his pirate sword, he asked, “So, who’s brave enough to go up there and look?”
Young Brent, barely ten at the time, immediately knew that he wasn’t. He stepped quickly back behind the others so as not to be noticed. He hoped deep in his heart that someone else would decline, too, so that he would not be the only one.
Julius was the first to look, of course, showing himself to be the bravest. One by one the other children followed and peered into the dark windows of the front door. Brent assumed that none of them saw anything, because they all turned away, giggling nervously. Still, that wasn’t enough to give him courage enough to do it himself.
His heart sank as the other two young children, Billy Wentworth and his little sister Abigail, perhaps more afraid of Julius than whatever ghost lurked inside that old house, stepped up on the porch and looked in as well.
At last, it was down to just young Brent. He hoped that no one had noticed that he was the only one who had yet to look.
But they did.
“Well?” Julius asked him and tapped his sword in his hand. “You gonna do it or not?”
Brent wanted nothing more than to race down the street, back to where Worthington waited for him by the car. He stared wide-eyed back at Julius. His pulse pounded. His lip quivered. The other kids stared at him, too, waiting. If he chickened out, he’d never hear the end of it.
“Come on, you little baby!” shouted Julius. “Get up there!”
Brent stood frozen in fear. He wanted to move. He wanted to do something. But he did not want to go up on that porch.
He looked around for sympathy.
There was none.
“Come on, let’s leave the little baby by himself,” laughed Julius. “He needs to go home to his Mommy.”
Julius started off, leading the other kids away.
“Wait!” called Brent.
Julius turned back around. This was Brent’s final chance.
He looked up at the porch. He did everything he could to steel his courage and started down the walk. He gripped the tiny handles of his toy pistols. He knew they wouldn’t do any good, but it still made him feel better. He could barely feel his feet touch the cold sidewalk before he found himself take the first step of the creaking old porch.
Before him, inescapable, was the large front door. The bottom half was solid wood, but the top half was split into two large windows of equal size. There would be no quick peek. He would have to look deep inside.
Brent finally reached the door itself. There was just enough light from the gas street lamps to see into the front hallway. The inside was dark and littered with shadows. It still frightened him, but not so much as he had expected. He’d done it.
Brent felt a quick sense of relief and was just about to turn away when something caught his eye. It was glowing and just appeared out of the darkness.
Without thinking, he turned back to get a better look.
It was a face. A woman’s face. She was in pain. He could have sworn she called out to him. “Help me!”
With ghostly hands, she clawed for the doorway.
Brent screamed at the top of his lungs and raced off the porch. He barreled straight through the gaggle of children, knocking some of them down in his wake.
He could hear Julius’ laughter as he raced down the street as fast as his small legs could carry him. He didn’t know if he’d truly seen a ghost or if it had only been his imagination. But he knew he wouldn’t feel safe until he was home.
Brent rounded the corner and felt a huge sigh of relief when he saw Worthington standing next to the long, black family car. He ran straight into the large Englishman’s arms with such force that it nearly winded the middle-aged man. Worthington looked down at his young charge, whose eyes were full of tears and whose body shook uncontrollably.
“Why, Master Gregor,” Worthington asked. “Whatever is the matter?”
Brent just shivered and held him tightly.
BRENT could still feel the clutch of Worthington’s grasp as he stood hidden in the shadows that overlooked the old house. He smiled for a moment at the memory of Abbie when they’d been so small. He had disliked her so much then. How things changed.
Looking back at the ritual that was repeating itself before him, he felt for the smaller ones that were bullied by young Julius III and thought that perhaps the apple could be swept away from the tree.
As the younger Julius stepped first up onto the porch, as his father had done so many times before, Brent focused his gaze on the door and outstretched his hand.
As soon as young Julius reached the door, it swung ferociously open. Something unseen and with a strange tingle grabbed him by the waist and pulled him inside the dark portal. The children stood silent with mouths open wide as the door slammed shut and Julius III found himself on the inside, pounding on the glass, trying to get out.
The children screamed and scattered in every direction.
None were left to witness the door swing back open and young Julius came fast behind them into the night.
Brent chuckled to himself, then wondered with a sense of guilt if he had used the son to gain revenge on the father. But perhaps the next Halloween, young Julius and the other kids that came after him would think twice before bullying the smaller ones into looking inside.
At least that’s what he told himself as he instructed Worthington to take him home.
As they turned away from the Patterson House and drove the few blocks back to the Gregor Mansion, there were other, more painful memories that gripped the back of his mind. No matter how hard he tried to fight it, he was continually plagued by the images of what had happened later that same night, so long ago. When he walked back into the dark, empty foyer and looked up at the tall, winding staircase, it all came back to him. As if he were reliving it all over again.
NANNY MIRIAM rushed quickly in to lead young Brent up the grand marble staircase that led to the second floor. Brent’s young mother, Sarah, rushed up to her son’s room, kissing his forehead and holding him tightly until he had fully calmed down and was ready for his bath. Brent’s mother was as beautiful as she was melodic, her auburn hair let down for the night and cascading across her shoulders.
After Miriam had gotten him ready for bed, Brent hoped that his father would be home soon. Though he was safely at home and recovered from his ordeal, he wouldn’t feel truly comforted until his father was there with him.
BRENT followed his memories up the grand staircase and down the hall to his old room. He hadn’t been in there in years, but it was immediately obvious that Worthington and the other servants had kept it clean and maintained, as they had the rest of the house. As he peered at his small bed, he thought it looked just the same as he remembered. It seemed like only yesterday since he’d stayed in that room last. He wanted it to feel so much longer.
YOUNG BRENT sat up in bed the moment he heard his father coming up the long, winding staircase and then down the hall. He knew his father’s footsteps – quick and deliberate. Thomas Gregor was not a man who wasted time getting to where he was going. He was young and handsome, a man of courage and action. Everything a young son could dream his father to be.
Though it was very late, Brent had resisted falling asleep before his father returned from work at the Court House. Brent’s eyes lit up when Thomas opened the door. He was tired, but smiling, happy to finally be home with his family.
“Did you win your case to-day, Father?” asked Brent.
“What are you still doing up?” Thomas asked, trying unsuccessfully to sound disappointed. His relief to be home, in the comfortable arms of his family, was too great for him to sound truly stern at this hour.
“He just couldn’t get to sleep before you got home,” Sarah Gregor’s soft, soothing voice chimed in behind his father. “He had a bit of a fright to-night.”
Thomas brushed her tresses aside and gave her a soft kiss before going to Brent’s bedside.
“Did you go with those kids to look at that old house?”
Brent looked down, answering, “Yes, Father.”
Thomas shook his head, but he more than understood the power of peer pressure. “It was that Julius Kennelly, wasn’t it?” his father asked.
Brent hung his head again. “Yes, Father.”
“Listen, Son,” Thomas told him. “Being brave doesn’t mean doing a dare just because some older child like Julius puts you up to it. Being brave is standing up for yourself. Not letting others push you around. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Father,” Brent answered.
“Well, I hope it didn’t frighten you too much.”
“I saw something there, Father,” Brent told him.
“Oh?” Thomas asked. Sarah perked up as well. She hadn’t heard this part of the story.
“It was a face. A ghost. She cried out,” Brent told him.
“Are you sure it wasn’t just your imagination?” Thomas asked, unconvinced.
“I don’t think so. It looked real.” Whether it was real or not, Brent was certainly convinced.
“I assure you, Son, there’s no such thing as ghosts. Now you need to go to sleep.” Thomas kissed his young son on the forehead then tucked him beneath the wool covers. “You can tell me more about it to-morrow. I love you, Son.”
“I love you, too, Father.” Brent smiled. This is for what he’d been waiting. Now he could sleep soundly, comfortable and secure. Father was home.
As Thomas stood at the door, he held Sarah and looked proudly at his only child. Brent’s young voice called out to him again.
“Father, are there any ghosts in our house? I hear noises at night.”
Thomas and Sarah smiled, then Thomas answered reassuringly, “I don’t think so, but it’s an old house, and if there are any ghosts, then they would all be family and they would be here to look over you, just the same as we all do.”
Brent wished his parents good night then closed his eyes as his father pulled the door closed. “Not all the way, Father.”
“Of course not,” Thomas replied. He stopped so that a narrow bar of light from the hall stretched safely across the floor to Brent’s bed on the opposite wall.
“I love you, Brent. Good-night.”
AS HE stood at the doorway for one last moment, it suddenly dawned on him that this was how the room must have looked to his father. Now finally able to stand again, he’d never seen the room from that vantage point before. It was like a glimpse into the past, into another body. A chance to see a brief part of his own past, but through his father’s eyes.
Brent turned around to find Worthington standing dutifully behind him. “Are you certain you’re all right, Sir?”
“Yes, Bernard,” he answered, though with not as much reassurance as before. “Just thinking.”
Brent handed Worthington the hat and mask, then removed his cloak and gloves. “Please, put these away if you don’t mind. I’ll be in my study.”
“Of course, Sir,” Worthington answered.
SADLY, what Thomas and Sarah Gregor had not known was that there had been a ghost out that night. A frightening one. While they were upstairs tucking in Brent, they didn’t suspect the ghost that was making his way through the darkness across the mansion grounds. Neither they, nor their servants – who had all retired for the night – heard the breaking of glass in a distant, downstairs room as the ghost made his way inside. They didn’t sense the lumbering footsteps as the ghost wandered through the endless hallways to where a light shone down from the staircase.
They had no idea he was there at all until they came downstairs and surprised them in the hallway. Sarah barely managed a scream before a large hand with only three fingers covered her mouth. The other pointed a gun to her head.
Thomas had no time to react, even if there were anything he could have done, before the husky voice barked out to him in broken English, “In there – if you wants her to live!”
“Three-Finger Ned” Vogel shoved Sarah forward, pointing them both towards Thomas’ study. Moving into the dimly lit room filled with bookcases that stretched to the ceiling, Thomas was finally able to get a look at their attacker and assess the situation. Vogel towered over him and held his wife’s very life in his iron grip. He was a huge man with bulldog-like features, dressed in a dark coat that seemed to barely contain his bulky form. There was nothing Thomas could do at the moment except comply and pray for her safety.
“Open the safe.” Three-Finger Ned’s instructions were quick and guttural. Thomas took one look in his wife’s frightened eyes and wasted no time in doing exactly as Ned ordered. He pushed aside the framed portrait that covered the safe and spun the dial as fast as he could. In seconds, the vault was open. He looked back at Ned, hoping to be rewarded for his obedience.
“Empty it,” was the only response.
Thomas looked frantically on the desk. He grabbed an empty portfolio from beside a sword-shaped letter opener and scooped the papers and money inside with one quick motion. He turned back to Ned again, pleading with his eyes for his wife’s safe release. If only he’d had a weapon or some means to fight back. If anything were to happen to her or Brent, he thought, he would never forgive himself. Thank goodness Brent was upstairs asleep. Hopefully, he would stay safe.
BUT Brent hadn’t been asleep. He had nearly drifted off when he’d been jolted awake by his mother’s stifled scream. He’d already faced one terror that night, but that one was nothing compared to what had happened downstairs. Whether the previous ghost had been real or imaginary, he had no idea. But this one had most definitely been real.
As Brent stood at the top of the stairs and stared down at the dark hallway below, all he could think about were those terrible sounds coming back to haunt him. Worse yet was the still-stinging feeling of how helpless he’d felt. He’d wanted to save his parents, and yet knew that there was little he could have done. He was only a child at the time and completely powerless. The memory of it all sickened him.
WORRIED and frightened of what could be happening below, young Brent crept to the top of the stairs just in time to see Ned force his parents into the study. Though he only caught a glimpse, it was certainly long enough to see the gun in Ned’s hand.
They needed help. And there was no one there but him.
Brent ran quietly back to his parent’s bedroom and pushed open the large door. It creaked just a bit – enough to make him stop and wait. But no additional sounds followed. As best he could tell, he was still safe.
He rushed to the phone. He didn’t know how to call the police, but he knew well enough to ask for the Operator when he picked it up.
“Operator? Operator?” he whispered quietly, his small voice full of panic.
There was no answer. The phone line was dead.
His young heart raced, terrified and barely able to think. Worthington and the other servants were all downstairs in the far wing. There was no way to reach them. If anything was to be done, Brent would have to act alone.
Brent rushed back to the top of the stairs. He could hear the shouts of Ned and his father, broken only by his mother’s cries.
As Brent gripped the marble balusters of the banister, quivering from the sounds below, the words that his father had spoken just a short while ago suddenly came back to him. “Being brave is standing up for yourself. Not letting others push you around.”
The man had a gun. That’s why Brent’s father couldn’t fight back. But Brent had something his father didn’t. He had surprise. He had to be brave. He had to do something to help. If he could knock away the man’s gun, his father could fight.
Swallowing hard and mustering far more courage than he’d done to step on that porch, Brent crept quietly down the stairs.
Careful not to be seen, he slid silently to the suit of armor that stood sentry in the hallway and quietly plucked the sword away from its mount. It was much heavier than he expected and he almost dropped it.
Quickly, he moved to the open door of his father’s study and peered inside. Just a few steps away, Ned stood there clutching his mother while his father bundled papers and valuables into a portfolio. Once again, fear overtook him. He was ready to drop the sword and run. But his father’s words rang ceaselessly in his head. “Being brave is standing up for yourself.”
THE adult Brent walked slowly back down the stairs towards the study below. With each footstep his legs grew numb and plodding. He could hear each foot drop against the marble surface, but could no longer feel the sensation as they touched each step. His nightly duties long over, the Spirit Force was leaving him, forcing him to rest. He needed to make it downstairs to the study where his wheelchair waited. No matter his fantastic abilities, he could never truly escape it.
When he finally reached the dark-paneled room, he stared up at the tall ceiling and high bookshelves. How huge that room had looked when he was small. It still looked huge to him in his adult years. Feeling his balance give way, he reached for the wall to keep from falling. He shifted his weight towards his father’s large mahogany desk that sat there unmovable like a stone crypt. It was a just image, Brent thought, since his father had died upon it.
He took another lurch forward and reached for the desk, hoping to catch himself and work his way around. But his strength had gone completely and he collapsed to the floor. He was helpless again.
WITH no more time to think, young Brent made one bold move. Raising the heavy blade above his head, he charged in as fast as he could. He swung the sword down onto Ned’s outstretched arm with the pistol. But the blade was old and was dull and it only managed to knock Ned’s hand down, the pistol still firmly in his grip. Ned shouted more in surprise than pain.
Sarah Gregor dropped to the floor as Ned whipped around to face his assailant. Ned had already pulled the trigger before Brent’s young face registered in his mind. Both Thomas and Sarah’s cries were immediately drowned out by the sound of the gun blast. Brent didn’t even realize what was happening until the bullet ripped into his side and knocked him to the floor, stunned and bleeding.
In the only moment available to him, Thomas Gregor grabbed the letter opener from the desk and lunged at Ned’s throat with all his might. But Ned was a formidable opponent and his deadly instincts were sharp and well-trained.
The second shot hit Thomas clean in the chest. He fell almost in mid-air, slumping down face first on the desk.
Instinct took over again as Ned pointed the gun once more at Sarah as she screamed and clambered for her husband. Without even thinking, he fired the gun a third time. The bullet threw her backwards as it grazed across her head. She crumpled to the floor in a hysteric bundle of tears, blood running down her beautiful, delicate face. Ned stared at her coldly, his large finger still on the trigger, taking in the realization of what he’d just done. He’d never killed a woman before.
Or a child, for that matter.
He hesitated, then lowered his pistol just a bit. Instinct told him that the threat was over. This had not gone at all as planned and there would be hell to pay.
He scooped up the portfolio from the floor then leaned over Thomas Gregor’s lifeless body. “This is what you get for sticking your nose where it don’t belong.”
Ned turned back to the door. Brent was lying there in a pool of blood, grasping his side. His face was turning pale. Approaching footsteps echoed down the distant hall. Maybe the kid would live, he thought. But if Ned didn’t move soon, there would be still more killing to be done.
Ned returned to the prostrate corpse of Thomas Gregor. Young Brent watched in delirious confusion as Ned dipped a thick, stubby finger into his father’s blood and drew an “X” on the back of his shirt. Then Ned grumbled in his husky voice, “You been marked.”
Ned rushed past Brent lying nearly unconscious on the floor and back down the hallway. He made his way back out the way he had come in. As he crawled out the window, he could hear the screams of the Servants as they discovered the bloodbath he’d left behind.
WORTHINGTON rushed into the study to find Brent still on the floor as he struggled to pick himself up.
“Sir!” Worthington exclaimed and rushed to Brent’s side.
Though no tears streamed down Brent’s face, Worthington could see them in his Master’s eyes and knew that the pain was not from falling. Not completely.
Worthington lifted Brent up beneath the arms to get him in a sitting position. Though he was not a young man anymore, it was something he’d practiced many times over in the past several years. And each time he was glad that he still had the strength to do it.
Seeing that Brent was physically well, Worthington grabbed the wheelchair and steered it over behind his employer. He lifted Brent again then pulled him up gently into the cushioned seat.
“Are you all right, Sir?” Worthington asked again, dutifully. He tried not to think of what would have happened had he not been there.
“I’m okay,” Brent answered quietly. “I think I’d like to just sit in here alone for a while.”
“Yes, Sir,” said Worthington, then backed towards the open door. “If you need anything…”
“Of course,” Brent replied, then gave a bit of a smile. “And Bernard, thank you. I don’t know what I’d do without you here. It’s just great to have family nearby on nights like this.”
“Always here to be of service,” Worthington reassured, then closed the door behind him.