“Why’d we even have to come all the way out here to this godforsaken place on one of the coldest nights of the year anyway?” Owen was being his usual grumpy self.
“We’re here because there have been reports of people hearing eerie noises and seeing glowing balls of light floating among the trees. No one wants to come out here any more because they think the forest is haunted,” Jack explained.
“Is that even possible?” Gwen asked curiously. “I mean, for an entire forest to be haunted?”
Ianto shrugged. “I don’t see why not. Assuming ghosts exist at all, which so far no one has ever been able to either definitively prove or disprove, why shouldn’t they haunt a forest? It makes as much sense as ghosts haunting a ruined castle or a stone circle, and this place certainly looks the part.”
It was old forest, ancient woodland, the kind of place the Fae might choose to hang out in, although there was no mention of any faerie circles existing within its boundaries.
“Could the Mara have something to do with the reports?” Tosh suggested nervously. After their previous encounter with the ancient beings, none of the team were keen to run into them again.
“I hope not.” Jack sounded grim. “If it is them, then going in there could be a very bad idea. It doesn’t sound like their style though, and from what I’ve been able to gather, all the reports are recent. Whatever’s happening has only been happening for the past tree or four weeks. Before that, people often came out here picking blackberries, walking their dogs, bird watching, making out… Suddenly it’s gone from a popular beauty spot to a place everyone’s going out of their way to avoid. I think it’s time someone found out why, don’t you?”
“Fine, but why do we have to be the ones to do it? Didn’t anyone think to call the Ghostbusters?” Owen shoved his hands in his jacket pockets and stared morosely into the gathering darkness beneath the trees. The sun had already set and dusk would soon give way to night; perhaps not the best time to be poking around in a possibly haunted forest.
“They weren’t available,” Ianto deadpanned. “Besides, when something weird is going on in the vicinity of Cardiff, it’s our jurisdiction. Investigating the unusual is what we get paid for.”
Owen threw a sour look Ianto’s way. “We hunt aliens, not ghosts. Different skill set.”
“So we’ll expand our horizons a bit.” Ianto was doing a good job of appearing completely unconcerned.
Jack put an end to the discussion. “Right, torches on and let’s get started!” His teeth flashed white in the gloom of approaching night.
But before they could make a move to begin their investigation, a gust of wind stirred the branches of the nearby trees and an eerie sobbing, wailing sound filled the air, rising in pitch almost to a scream before fading away again as the wind dropped. The hairs on the backs of everyone’s necks stood on end and they huddled together, staring apprehensively into the deepening darkness.
“Okay, what was that?” Gwen asked shakily.
“Damned if I know,” Jack replied.
They stood immobile for a while, listening as the sound came and went several more times, sometimes seeming to sob mournfully, other times rising to a shriek like fingernails down a blackboard. Then as full night settled around them, they started to see glowing lights among the trees, just as the reports had said. They bobbed about low to the ground, half a dozen of them, sometimes coming out of the forest and moving about the meadow that bordered it, then drifting back among the trees again. Ianto frowned and stepped away from the others, moving closer to the forest, walking as quietly as he could.
“Ianto,” Tosh called after him, “shouldn’t we stick together?”
“It’s okay,” Ianto called back. “I’m not entirely sure what they are yet, but it’s safe to say they’re not ghosts.”
Tosh frowned at her friend. “How can you be so sure?”
“Well, fir one thing they’re rather of the short side, don’t you think?” He strolled unhurriedly back to join the others as the sound came again.
Owen and Tosh clutched at each other. “If it’s not ghosts, then what’s making that godawful sound?” the medic demanded.
“Ah, that.” Ianto grinned. “Have any of you noticed that we only hear it when the wind blows?” Something about the eerie sounds and moving lights had been nagging at him and now he thought he might have a pretty good idea what was going on here.
“Now you mention it…” Jack looked at Ianto. “What’re you thinking?”
Ianto’s grin widened into a smirk. “That someone has gone to an awful lot of trouble to make sure people steer clear of this place. The wind probably gets up every evening; if you can count on that, then it would be fairly easy to harness it as a deterrent.”
“How?” Even Owen was becoming curious now.
“Ever heard of an Aeolian harp? It’s a stringed instrument that produces sound when air passes through it. If someone fixed harp strings or something similar where the wind was guaranteed to blow through them… There’s probably more than one set, to take advantage of the wind blowing from different directions. Loosen the strings a little more than normal, and that would probably make for a sufficiently eerie wail.”
Jack began to grin too. “Fiendishly ingenious!”
“But what about the ghosts?” Tosh asked.
Ianto shrugged out of his coat. “If we can catch one, we should be able to find out.”
The team spread out, getting between the forest and the moving lights. Now they had a pretty good idea of what was making them they were able to mostly ignore the wailing sounds. Ianto, coat at the ready, waited for his friends to drive the glowing lights towards him, and as soon as one came close enough, he threw his coat over it, but by then he already knew what it was.
“You’re going to owe me a new coat,” he told Jack. “I’m not sure even dry cleaning will get the smell out of it. Here’s your ghost.” He held out one hand, from which dangled a ferret, glowing with a gentle luminescence.
“Glow in the dark ferrets. That’s not something you see every day.” Jack almost sounded impressed.
“I’m guessing they’ve been doused in some kind of fluorescent paint. They’re probably roaming free all the time but they don’t show up in daylight. At night, they come out hunting rabbits, people see something bobbing about, glowing, and don’t stick around long enough to find out what they are.” Ianto set the ferret back on the ground and watched as it scampered away. “They seem to be reasonably tame anyway.”
“So we have Aeolian harps and glowing ferrets; the question is, why?” Jack drew his gun. “I think it’s about time we saw what someone’s hiding in this forest.”
The answer was rather an anticlimax. Really, it wasn’t a Torchwood matter at all. Enterprising thieves had been using a hut deep in the forest as a base of operations, sneaking out at night to carry out a spate of burglaries in the surrounding villages. The gang had amassed quite a haul of loot and were none too pleased at being captured. As the Torchwood team handed them over to the police, one of the criminals finally spoke up.
“How the hell did you figure it out?”
Ianto shrugged. “It wasn’t difficult. I read ‘Man From U.N.C.L.E’ novels when I was a kid too.”
“Crap!” another of the criminals groaned.
“You idiot! You got the idea from a book?” the leader of the gang yelled. “You said it was foolproof!”
“Well how was I supposed to know someone else had read it too?”
“That’s the last time I listen to you about anything!”
The argument would probably have degenerated into a fistfight if all the gang members hadn’t been handcuffed. As it was, all they could do was yell and glare at each other.
Jack turned to his team. “Right, looks like the police can handle things from here. Our work is done!”
“About time too,” Owen grumbled. “I’m freezing my arse off.”
“Think yourself lucky,” Ianto told him. “At least your coat doesn’t smell of ferret.”
“What’ll happen to them?” Tosh asked.
“The ferrets? The police will probably round them up and re-home them.”
“Good. It wasn’t their fault they were scaring people. They wee just doing what ferrets do.”
“I pity the person who gets the job of finding new homes for six luminous ferrets,” Gwen chuckled.
“I’m sure it won’t be that difficult. At least they’ll be easy to find if they escape,” Ianto smirked.
“Right boys and girls; who’s for pizza?” Jack unlocked the SUV.
“Best idea you’ve had all night.” Owen almost smiled.
Ianto settled into the front passenger seat, trying to ignore the fact that he was exuding a ferrety aroma and listening to his teammates arguing over pizza toppings. Another mystery successfully solved. Who needed the Ghostbusters when Torchwood were on the case?