Temporary quarters, that’s what they told us, the truth was that we were baggage, not wanted on the voyage. The four of us, in our mid twenties retuning from overseas tours and at the tag end of our service careers, were seen as an unwanted problem to an army camp structured for the regimentation of new recruits. We were viewed as left over pieces of a jigsaw that wouldn’t fit and with only a few months to go before we were thrust out into the wide world it wasn’t worth the effort.
Our home, we dubbed it The Hilton, was outside the army camp’s parameters on the edge of an old disused Second World War airfield, one of many scattered across the Suffolk countryside. What the old breeze block building had been initially used for we had no idea; it had the basic facilities of water and electricity and little else.
The airfield buildings, a couple of dilapidated hangers and admin block, were on the far side of the airfield three quarters of a mile away. What was left of the ruined control tower stood by itself further to the north.
We had a reason for being there; in army parlance there had to be a reason for everything, it didn’t have to be relevant just so as it looked good on paper; so we were the airfields resident guard.
What we were supposed to be guarding it from was never made clear. The only occupants were a flock of semi nomadic sheep which we decided posed no immediate threat to the safety of the realm or to the good citizens of Suffolk.
After a few days of trekking back and forth to the army camp for our meals, we came to an arrangement to draw our rations three times a week and feed ourselves. We only had the pot bellied stove for heat but we weren’t fussy as we wanted to be alone and left alone.
The sun was setting around five thirty on that Thursday evening. Our funds were low so a trip to the Horse and Hounds was out of the question. Bored, with hands in pockets I wandered through the deserted rooms at the back of the building. A broken window banged repeatedly like a drummer who had lost the beat. The fading light through missing roof tiles fell on slimy walls and the smell of damp and mould was everywhere.
The last room was larger than the rest with double doors that told me this was originally the main entrance. I walked over to an old desk that still stood in one corner. A notice board hung above with what looked like a torn poster stuck to it. I brushed off the years of dirt and grime and grinned.
A red haired girl in a green skin tight dress leant provocatively against a bar. Beware of VD it warned under which someone had scrawled ‘Don’t care if I do go blind’
Back in what served us as a sleeping quarters and rest room, I sat down and lit the last cigarette of the day.
Chatwin was reading, a large man, heavy shouldered with an air of careless authority when he chose to use it.
Crawford, thin, plagued with acne which had lasted past his teen years was sitting at the small table writing yet another letter to his girl friend.
Danny, a product of the East End slums, a small weasel faced cockney, sometimes the comedian sometimes a pain in the arse was sitting on his bunk swinging his legs.
“I wonder if this old base was American or ours.” I asked.
“Dunno” said Danny “Could have been either.”
“It was ours” answered Chatwin, not looking up from his book.
“How do you know?”
Chatwin sighed and turned down the page corner.
“I asked in the village, they flew Stirling’s and Lancs.”
“I wonder if it’s haunted.”
“Well some of these old airfields are, I read about it.”
“Don’t be stupid.”
“No he’s right” said Chatwin. “Actually there are many accounts of paranormal activities on these old airfields, including this one.”
Crawford flung down his pen.
“Will you shut up about bloody ghosts?”
“Why, you scared?” grinned Danny
Chatwin reopened his book.
“No he’s right, better leave it.”
I wandered over to the window, in the fading twilight the old hangers were silhouetted black on the horizon. I shivered; something I had half noticed on the day patrol jumped into focus. The grass! Sheep do what sheep do, they crop grass, but around the hangers it stood a foot or more high because the sheep never went near them.
On Saturday Chatwin and I walked the half mile to the pub. Crawford was away on a week end pass and Danny was drinking in the village.
The Coach and Horses stands alone on the Forditch road with only the winter stubble fields for company. True to its name it was an old a coaching inn that in the past was where fresh horses were harnessed and the passengers provided with refreshment.
I pushed open the door nodding to the two domino players by the bottle glass window. As Chatwin made his way to the bar I moved over to a table beside the wood fire burning in the inglenook and pulled up a chair.
I smiled and reached down to scratch the back of Sophie’s neck. The old black Labrador stretched her paws on the spark scarred rug and acknowledged me with a sleepy wag of her tail.
Chatwin set the two pints of ale on the table and sat down.
I looked round.
"Quiet tonight” I said.
"If you wanted a party you should have gone to the Drayman’s in the village with Danny, Karaoke night isn’t it?”
"Do me a favour, Danny, legless murdering ‘My Way’ for the third time; no thanks”
I opened a packet of Players and we smoked and drank in silence.
There was no denying it, the ‘Horse’ was definitely a man’s pub, not that the ladies were excluded by order just that there was nothing in the place that appealed to them. A watering hole, a place of refuge, with its ambiance of wood and tobacco smoke mixed with the smell of strong ale that set the stage for conversation and beery nostalgia.
"What did you hear in the village?” I asked.
"Oh not much, aircraft noises, lights at night, that sort of thing.”
"We’ve never heard anything” I said.
The bar was filling up. Farming folk mostly, wind chilled faces, work rough clothes with the smell of the land on them.
I stubbed the cigarette butt.
"It scared Crawford though.”
"Yeah, strange that” mused Chatwin.
"Ah just scared of spooks I suppose” I replied.
He shook his head “No it’s more than that.”
"How do you mean?” I asked.
"Haven’t you noticed how he goes out of his way to avoid being left alone?”
I tossed another log on the fire, watching the sparks fly.
"As I said, he’s scared.”
Chatwin shrugged and drained his beer.
I collected the empty glasses.
"There’s one thing though. I get a feeling that the damned place is--well, sort of waiting”
He stared at me.
"You have that feeling too?”
If there’s any interest I’ll post the last half of the story next week. Incidentally there’s no better way to prepare for your first novel than by writing Short Stories. If you can’t hold the readers interest for a few pages, then what chance do you have in 300 or more?
After returning from overseas I served the last few months of my army service in much the same circumstances as in the story. Although I never experienced any paranormal happenings, these old dilapidated buildings were not a place you wanted to be around after sunset, there was certainly an aura that surrounded them.
The flat farm lands of the English counties in East Anglia were commandeered in 1939 in the building of airfields for the bombing of occupied Europe by Bomber Command (British) and later in 1943 by the American 8th Air Force. The loss of life for both British and American was horrendous. The British tour of duty was 30 missions which there was a 1 in 6 chance of completing. The American loses were so bad that operations had to be suspended until the development of long range fighter cover was made available.