Jack’s explorations rarely bear fruit. Yet another afternoon had been whiled away lost in the labyrinthine factory caverns, looking for an exit that never came . All he had found was a dead end, sealed by a pile of rubble from a collapse. Now he sits on a metal ammunition crate, delicately carving the top of a wooden matchbox until tiny, intricate figures begin to appear on its surface. In the foreground of the scene, he picks out a man and a woman locked in an embrace, their lips about to meet in a kiss. In the background of the carving another man watches with a grim, brooding expression on his face. Jack uses his pocket knife to add epaulettes to the shoulders on the onlooking man’s military tunic, gently paring the soft balsa wood from the matchbox lid until he is satisfied with his work. He leans back to take in the scene he has created. Jack’s eyes narrow and a sudden, furious tension grips his shoulders until his arms shake. He glares at the carving with a hateful intensity. “Damn you, damn you, DAMN YOU!” Jack screams, hurling the matchbox against the tunnel wall, shattering it into splinters on the rust-stained concrete. He thrusts his head into his hands and starts to sob uncontrollably, his breath short and ragged. Dry, spectral tears fall from his eyes to the oily tunnel floor. Jack gets suddenly to his feet, shaking his head. “Temper Jack, watch your bloody temper” he mutters to himself, putting his pocket knife back inside his tunic. He checks his pocket watch. It’s getting late and Kate is waiting for him. Jack heads out of the dead end, back to the central cavern that will lead him home and back to her. He picks up some dried flowers and a cracked hand mirror on the way, the best pickings from the rubbish that the people above regularly dump down the tunnels’ ventilation shafts. They’re not much, but Kate always appreciates a gift.If nothing else, it will make up for him returning home to tell her, yet again, that he has found no way out. Jack walks on, holding the mirror in one hand, with the dead flowers tucked under his arm. He glimpses into the mirror, surprised as always, to see his reflection: dark, swarthy, with a jaw strong enough to break rocks on. ‘Lantern Jack’, they had called him, back in the barracks days. Lantern Jaw Jack.
A shadow flashes across the mirror’s surface.
Something dark and furtive.
Jack freezes where he stands, his eyes fixed on the mirror. He feels fear grip him. Even as a ghost, even as someone who had known death, he is afraid. There is something behind him. Barely daring to breath, he watches the black shape increase in size as it approaches, growing in stature, its outline filling the cracked mirror glass as it draws nearer. Jack doesn’t run. Terrified as he is, he knows that nothing can touch him. The fear is more a memory of what it was like to be afraid, but it’s still a primal, all-consuming feeling.
The black shape turns the mirror dark. It is upon him.
It has a voice. It also has a flamboyant pencil moustache and a monocle. “Oh thank heavens for that”, the man behind Jack says, relief in his voice, “I thought this godforsaken place was deserted. It’s like the bloody Mary Celeste down here.” Jack turns around, his fear turning to embarrassment, then to anger. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, creeping up on me like that?” Jack fixes the intruder with a cold, hard stare. The man facing him adjusts his monocle and straightens his blue flight sergeant’s jacket. “No need to come over all shirty old boy”, the airman replies, “I didn’t mean to put the wind up you. I’ve been wandering around these blessed tunnel for hours. Maybe it’s best if I introduce myself? ” The airman puts out a hand to Jack, who shakes it, with a mixture or confusion and reticence, “name’s Johnson. Archibald Johnson; some people call me Lofty.” “But…” says Jack, standing a good head higher than the other man, “…you’re a short-arse.” “I know”, Johnson replies, “it’s kind of a joke, you know?” Jack grunts noncomitally. “What are you doing down here? You can’t be a ghost. They rounded us all up. They’re all gone, ‘cept me and the missus.” Johnson takes this in his stride: “Oh, but I am a ghost; dead as a doornail. Had an unfortunate flying accident. If you want my advice, don’t ever try and stress test an aeroplane by flying it into a cliff. You’ll always come off worse.” Jack ‘s brows knit. “Aeroplane? What’s an aeroplane? ” Johnson sighs: “Hmm.This could take a while, eh? How about you introduce yourself? I don’t think I caught you name?”
“Just Jack?” Johnson asks, wryly.
“Just Jack. You sure you’re a ghost? There’ll be trouble if you’re not.”
“I am indubitably a ghost. If I wasn’t I’d’ve changed out of this godforsaken uniform a long time ago.”
Jack frowns, deep in thought, then reaches a resolution: “Right. You’d better come with me then.” He gestures for Johnson to follow him, then sets off in quick strides down the tunnel. Johnson adjusts his monocle, then makes after Jack.
“Not so fast old chap. I’ve got a gammy leg!”