Night Terrors Episode One
"Young Neil!" PC Barris leaned out as far as he dared over the steep precipice that the village occupants had long ago nicknamed "The Hard Knock." It was simply a wall of granite that formed part of a drop to a spikey forest of stunted fir trees below. One or two rugged and gnarled tree boughs, thick but short, jutted out from arable sections of the precipice wall, clinging to life in a vertical orientation. But the nearest was too far below for the police constable to reach. If he leaned out any further, he would topple over to his death, validating the truth of the Hard Knock. He nearly did so, and the middle aged woman with him pulled him back.
But halfway down the sheer wall, a young man---not even of university age---was astride a stripped bough. He was frantically knotting a thick rope, his hands trembling but skillful.
"Neil don't!" the constable called to him. "Your mother is coming. Just bide for another minute or two."
There was no answer from the lad. He worked hurriedly.
"Neil please!" the police man shouted to him. "Please, just wait until she comes!"
The woman leaned over and called to the boy. "Neil, if there's trouble at school, we can talk about it. Has anybody been unkind to you?"
The constable glanced at her. "Any chance of that?"
She shook her head. "Nothing that I've seen. I thought they were all good friends. It's such a small school, after all. I came up here to get away from things like that." She called again. "Oh Neil! Just wait and think about it!"
"Who told you he was here?" Barris asked, his eyes still intent on the figure below.
"His little sister. She came to the class room and got me. I dared not wait, but I left word for his mother. The sister suspected something."
Down below, the youth firmly and expertly looped the rope around the bough in front of him. He tied a firm knot, and then he put the noose over his head. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath.
Up above, the school teacher let out a sound that was something like a sob and something like a scream. "Oh please don't---" she began.
The grief and terror in her voice called him back. He opened his eyes and looked up at them. "It's not your fault!" he shouted. "Tell them it's for the best, and---goodbye, then!" He threw himself off the bough. The woman screamed, and the police constable shouted.
There was one moment when the boy's feet kicked uselessly out in the space over the drop, and then he was still, his body slack. Up on the road above, a police van with its light turning churned up the steep hairpin turns. And coming down from the higher ridge, a sleek white all-terrain vehicle smoothly sped down.
Another police constable, assisting a middle-aged woman, hurried form the police van. The white four-wheel drive slid to a stop, and a young, well-dressed man leaped out and joined them. All three converged on the two huddled and miserable figures at the edge of the Hard Knock.
"Don't---Don't!" the school teacher exclaimed. "Get back! It's too late!"
Neil's mother screamed and raced for the edge to peer over. She was caught by the attending policeman and the well-dressed young man.
They steadied her and let her peer over the edge.
"Oh Neil! Oh lad, what have you done? Why have you done this?" she gasped, and she broke down into tears. "My son, what have you done?"
The young man, though his face was shocked, suddenly adopted a calm, almost military air of command. He addressed PC Barris. "How did he get down there?"
"I don't know, Mr. Cording," the man said. "He was nearly done by the time I found him. He'd already climbed out."
"Did he say anything?"
"That it was for the best," Barris told him. "That's all, Mr. Cording."
"That it wasn't our fault," the school teacher suddenly added, tears still streaming down her own face as she held onto his mother to prevent the woman from leaning out too far. "He said it wasn't our fault. And he did say goodbye."
Cording nodded grimly. He stepped aside with PC Barris. "You've got to get him down as soon as you can. But carefully. Let's not have another tragedy."
Barris nodded, still very nearly overwhelmed by what had just happened. "He was number six. No warning, not much anyway. Just a few days of restlessness and sudden outbursts, and then this. What will we do? We don't know what's doing it."
"I'll talk to the men at the library. See what their angle is." Cording was a short man, and he looked up at the constable. "There's another group: UNIT. They look into these sorts of things. Lend assistance in investigations where nothing points to anything. I've received a call from them. I think they're sending a couple of scientists down."
"Maybe they can find something. I hope so. He was just a lad."
Cording sent a nod to the dead boy's distraught mother. The constable who had come with her, and the school teacher were both still holding her by the arms: all three of them staring in overwhelmed horror and grief at the horrible sight below.
"It's the same arrangements," Cording said. "The factory will pick up expenses for the funeral and provide for the visitation. Call me, will you, when you've brought him in and cleared the scene. I'll meet with both parents and try to arrange things with them."
"That's very good of you, Mr. Cording."
"I put the factory here because I love the people and their way of life. I wish somebody could tell us what's happening."
He quickly strode away. Cording was actually embarrassed to be so prompt on the scene. In many ways, he was still an outsider to the valley, though certainly as its chief employer, he was treated with deference and respect where ever he went.
He climbed into his all terrain vehicle and pulled out. Within minutes he was speeding over the hardpacked road into the village itself. He pulled up in front of the tiny library.
The library was actually just the front room of an old house that sat on the main road. Shelves crowded every inch of the walls in this room, except for one low cupboard, where the town librarian stored the supplies of binding tape, glue, cards, pencil stubs, and book repair materials. He was just closing up the cupboard when Cording strode in.
"Mr. Broadshire," Cording exclaimed. "I've just come from the Hard Knock---"
The middle-aged librarian straightened up with some difficulty from stiff knees. "Why Mr. Cording! Sir, you've gone dreadfully pale. What's wrong?" And Broadshire instantly hunted around the cluttered and packed room in search of his three-legged stool.
"A lad from the school---he's hanged himself," Cording said. "I've just come from there. We were too late to stop him."
The gray haired and mild mannered Broadshire let out a gasp of horror and dismay. He retrieved the stool and set it before Cording with a certain gallantry and deference. But Cording shook his head. "I'll tell you, a drop would do me well."
"Of course, of course. I've got whisky back here. Come through, sir. Come through." He led Cording out of the library and down a hallway. They came to a sitting room well past its glory, but tidily kept, in spite of worn upholstery and a threadbare carpet.
"Do sit down. The sofa is much more comfortable than a hard stool." And the village's sole librarian went to a cabinet and pulled out some small glasses, a tray, and a bottle of amber whiskey. "Who was it, Mr. Cording? Young Jimmy? Or Andrew? Or---"
"Neil," Cording said. "His father's my line foreman."
"And it was surely suicide? I do hate to ask, but that would be the sixth, and it seems to unlikely---"
"Constable Barris and Miss Rheam from the school saw it. They were trying to talk him out of it when he jumped and put himself at the end of the rope."
Broadshire let out another gentle gasp of dismay. "It's really more than the mind can take in, sir. With all my learning, and having read every book in my own library, I cannot think of why this should happen here. Nor can I foresee how it shall end."
He brought the whiskey to his guest.
"Look here," Cording said. "That's why I looked you up. You're the expert on all the---well, the lore of this place. I was wondering. I mean, could this somehow be tied to Him?"
Broadshire's grey eyebrows lifted. He considered this. But then he said. "Him in the Well, you mean?"
"I don't rightly know, Mr. Cording. I can't see how. Perhaps Johnny O'Haire can answer you---oh, here is Mr. Knightford." A bell out front had jangled, and another man's voice called a hello.
The librarian called back in reply: "Back here, Knightford. We were just discussing things."
A taller, slightly more stooped man entered. He was older than the youthful David Cording, but perhaps ten years junior to Broadshire. "I've just heard the most awful thing," he began.
"Yes yes. The question is why," Broadshire said. He sounded like a stern teacher addressing a pupil who is one step behind the rest of the class. "Let's have it out in the open. Is it Gall Farraneagh? Is he doing this? That's what Mr. Cording wants to know."
"I thought you two would know." And Cording looked from one to the other of the older men. "I mean, apart from Johnny O'Haire, you two are the most informed on the old lore."
"We try to stay informed on anything so intimately acquainted with the history of this valley, Mr. Cording," Broadshire said smoothly. "But if these suicides are a manifestation of Gall Farraneagh, it is a new manifestation."
"Johnny O'Haire calls the restlessness and the sudden drive to commit suicide the curse of Gall's Breath," David Cording told them. "He says that once upon a time, Gall could foul the waters and make people sick." Both men were interested, but then Cording shrugged. "But Johnny O'Haire's idea is that anything so evil must come from Gall."
The middle-aged Knightford strode ponderously to a chair but did not sit down. "That opinion may be short sighted. No disrespect intended, of course," he added hurriedly.
Cording raised the second point. "And Johnny O'Haire says that the illness takes no effect in his own home. He says he cured young Anne Farrow of it just by keeping her in his care for two days. She's the only one that's recovered."
"It strikes so fast---" Broadshire began.
"But getting back to Him in the Well," Knightford said. "We don't want to wake him or rouse him."
"No." Cording looked at his watch. "But what if he is already awakened? It happens every now and then, doesn't it? Oh blast. I've got a meeting up at the factory." He set the whiskey glass onto a small table. "I must go. By the way, we've got a team of scientists on their way from London to look into all of this."
Broadshire was astounded. "What? Coming to the valley? Staying in the valley?"
Knightford echoed his dismay. "Investigating the valley?"
Cording's answer was direct and quiet. "Maybe they can help."
He offered his apologies for leaving so quickly, and they assured him it was all right, and he hurried out. After he was gone, the two middle aged men looked at each other. "So he's going to bring in Newcomers," Knightford said. "There's always a danger in that. What if one should be a woman? Gall Farraneagh will come out to find a new woman."
"Who knows? Perhaps this is what he intended. He has gone too long under the restrictions of Johnny O'Haire." Broadshire looked thoughtful. "In the early days, the lore says that he worked misery to force the people to bring him an offering. He fouled the waters. That was before Johnny O'Haire first fought him."
"So you think Him in the Well might be causing this illness? Trying to draw in some, uh, new blood to the community?" But Knightford, though he said it with some slightly veiled anticipation, cocked an eye in doubtfulness. "I don't know that Gall Farraneagh is really that intelligent. Or powerful. The old lore is couched in mystery and ambiguities."
But Broadshire was decisive. "We shall have to behave as though he is. We'll have to take steps to anticipate his desires."
* * * *
Liz Shaw folded her arms against the driving wind and shot a sideways glance at her colleague. As always, the Doctor appeared impervious to the cold and wind as the car rushed up the narrow, steep track.
The tour books said that this was the loveliest section of England: remote, untouched, austere, with occasional bed and breakfasts made from converting the venerable old stone buildings of former manors and monasteries into comfortable, modern residences. But today it was only gray and bleak and cold, as unwelcoming as any landscape she had ever seen. There was something forbidding in the way the narrow rutted road soared so steeply up the hillside--no gentle curve to soften the climb, no overhanging trees, no wildflowers along the roadside.
"It will be a lark!" the Doctor exclaimed over the roar of the engine and the wind. "Lovely, wild countryside!"
"As bleak as the moon!" she called back. She knew that the only reason he had accepted the assignment so easily was that he wanted to stretch his legs a bit. Liz had no clear idea of where the Doctor came from, but with the passing weeks she had accepted that he had enjoyed a long lifespan and had been witness to many strange civilisations and cultures.
She was still not sure of all of his claims, but it was apparent that he was under some type of restriction---what he called his exile, and that the tall blue box that he called his TARDIS had figured largely in his previous travels and was now incapacitated. All the rest about Yeti and Cybermen and the Scottish piper named Jamie she still had reservations about, but she tried to keep an open mind. The Doctor, after all, was brilliant, and she did not know how such a high mental capacity would deal with ordinary life. Perhaps he had done all the things he had claimed, but perhaps his energetic mind simply had to people his world with extravagant possibilities in order to make life more livable.
She did know that---temperamental and rude as he could be---the Doctor felt a deep attachment to her, a need for her company. She had the intelligence, open mindedness, and education to at least be able to converse with him on many topics. The problem was that his attachment to her often prompted him to drag her along on trips like these, where she did not want to go. And since the Doctor never thought further ahead than the next moment, she was often unprepared when these prolonged excursions popped up.
"You know Liz, you can't really develop all your mental faculties stuck in a lab!" he shouted back, his keen eyes fixed on the ascent as they zoomed upward into the gray sky. "You need to apply some of those analytical skills of yours!"
Flattery, she thought, the Doctor's first line of persuasion with her. But he succumbed to such stratagems far more easily than she did.
"Bother my analytical skills!" she shouted back. "I'm freezing! I don't even know where we are!"
"We're in the North!" he shouted back. "About fifteen miles out of Dunanwoth!"
"I've got half a mind to hire a car and drive back!" she shouted over the wind.
They came to the summit of the desolate peak and he braked to a halt. They looked down---miles down. The village lay far below, down several steep ridges that were arranged in stairstep fashion. It was nestled in a deep cup of rock.
"Must be a devil in deep rains," she said without thinking.
"Ah! Analyzing already!" He beamed his approval at her, and she scowled at him, her thin eyebrows drawing together over her dark, hazel eyes. He had told her this would be a short trip, but they had been driving since early morning. It was now well past noon. Her overnight case was in the back, but she knew this was going to be a prolonged expedition. She would likely need a week's worth of clothing, and she had barely enough for two days.
Unruffled by her annoyance, he kept the car idling and nodded at the tiny village below. "The river keeps it drained most of the time, the Little Solway." He rested an arm thoughtfully across the top of the steering wheel. "But that valley still would serve as a catch-all for other things. Unique geologic construction." He abruptly became breezy and cheerful. He released the brake. "Come on! Let's see what's waiting for us!"
"Wait!" She suddenly caught his arm, and he glanced at her. Without another word, her eyes directed his own gaze further down the rolling stair step of steep hills. He followed her glance. He was just in time to see a silvery flash in one of the deep ravines between the high ridges.
"What was that?" Liz asked.
"Something reflective---perhaps a bit of rubbish."
She shook her head. "It moved. It rather bobbed. Like a person." She glanced at him. "Like a man wearing a helmet, or a hood. Looks like he ducked down when he saw us."
He released the hand brake. "Well, let's go check."
He barely touched his foot to the accelerator on the way down. But he pumped the brake as they came down the second stairstep of ridges. She had her eyes fixed on the roadside shrubbery, but it was dense enough to make an effective screen. He pulled up to a halt and set the handbrake. "Go investigate?" he asked. He turned to her, his grey eyes curious but hesitant. He would trek off with her on an impromptu recce if she wanted to.
But the shrubbery was dense. And there was a drop-off from the side of the road. If anybody were hiding in the dense brush, she and the Doctor would never get to him in time.
She shook her head. "Let's go on. I think I'd like to know what we're in for before we start chasing anybody. The details have been a bit sketchy so far." And she put a generous amount of reproof in her voice.
"Well it's difficult holding a conference in an open car!" He released the brake, and they started down the next sharp decline.
"You could put the top up!"
"It's such a bother!"
She said nothing further as they picked up speed and raced down the next steep ridge. To oblige her, he shouted over the rushing wind: "Look, it's just that there's been a rash of suicides up here, all within the last few weeks. All seemingly unrelated. And some accidents at a big factory. We're just here to take a bit of a survey!"
"With all that equipment in back?" And she threw a nod to two large crates that were crammed in the back seat of the Doctor's jaunty Edwardian roadster.
"Well, I had some ideas about possible causes," he shouted. "Human concentration breaking up and all that. We could run a few tests and see what we pick up."
As they neared the absolute floor of the valley, he shouted to her, "There's a small pub somewhere along here. Saw it in the guide book!"
"That guide book in the lab must be five years old or more!" she shouted back. "There's no pub along here! It's too deserted!"
As though appearing in direct contradiction to her words, a solitary, two story building loomed up as they zoomed along the narrow road. He pulled over with a screech of brakes. For a moment they stared at the tall, dark wooden structure.
"I don't like it," Liz said. Now that they had stopped moving, she realized that she had a headache. Probably from all that wind blowing in her face. She put her fore knuckle between her eyes and pushed for a moment, hoping the ache would go away.
He turned to her, his grey eyes twinkling. "Oh, come now, Liz, giving in to mere nerves?" he asked. "Thought you were a rationalist." The Doctor rather liked mysterious old buildings. He was enjoying himself.
She lowered her hand and kept her eyes on the building. "I am being rational. It's old and rundown; the upstairs windows are dirty." She squinted as she surveyed the second story windows. "And there are no curtains in them." She hesitated. "Look at the windows in front."
"I can't see them. Those stacked crates are in the way. They've got them half blocked in the front."
"He's hiding something."
"What?" The Doctor turned to her. "Who?"
"The man who lives here."
How do you know it's a man? It might be an entire family."
She shook her head, her dark eyes fixed on the dirty second story windows "No, it's a man living alone."
"Come on, Sherlock Holmes, let's see for ourselves," he said, and he climbed out. He assisted her out on her side, and they walked together across the short, barren yard to the cluttered porch. The Doctor rapped smartly on the thin wooden door. It gave under the knocking and opened slightly. Liz lifted an eyebrow.
He opened the door, and they entered into a spacious front room that was equipped with a bar. Otherwise, the room was empty.
"Shop!" the Doctor called. He strode to the center of the room, put his fists on his hips, and surveyed the bare wooden walls. "Hallo?"
A short, balding man wearing a collarless shirt and tattered trousers appeared from a doorway at the end of the bar. He started in surprise at sight of this tall, self-assured intruder.
"There's nobody about," he said. "Pub's closed." And then his eyes fastened onto Liz. But he glanced quickly at the Doctor again.
"Closed?" the Doctor asked, as though astounded and offended. "The guide book said it's a very nice pub!" Liz approached and stood alongside him, ready to poke the Doctor with her elbow.
"Been closed four years," the man said. "Since me wife died. Now off with you."
Liz poked him; her means of reproof. The Doctor glared down at her, and she glared back. The Doctor turned and addressed their unwilling host. "Now see here, my good man. We are both investigating some unusual phenomena in this valley. We can pay you good money, all in cash, and stay out of your way. You'll hardly notice us, and all we ask is for a roof over our heads."
"Investigators? You with the police?" he asked. "All that was over and done with years ago."
This dropped comment startled Liz, but the Doctor brushed it aside. "We are scientists. We are studying scientific phenomena."
The bald man nodded to Liz, but he spoke as though she could not answer for herself. "Her too? She your wife?"
"She is my colleague. Professor Liz Shaw."
Liz inclined her head slightly, and the man nodded back, his eyes expressionless. "And you'll want two rooms, then?" he asked the Doctor.
"Yes. Use of the kitchen would be nice." And from his jacket pocket, the Doctor pulled out a prodigious wad of bills. Even Liz arched her eyebrows at this. Her colleague was not normally gifted with foresight, but perhaps the Brigadier had wisely dispensed the cash before the Doctor set off. Alastair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart had a fairly keen grasp of how to get around the suspicions of rural English yeomanry.
"A hundred in advance," the man said at once. "First week."
The Doctor frowned, but Liz glared at him again, and he gave in. "All right then," he said. He handed over a sheaf of notes.
The man took them and quickly tucked them away. "No sheets or linens," he said. "You'll have brought your own, then?"
"Certainly not!" Chagrined at having already surrendered their money before being told this, the Doctor frowned. The man shrugged at the evident displeasure.
With a wry glance at Liz, UNIT's science advisor folded up the notes and returned them to his pocket. "I suppose I'll have to see to it myself, then."
"Blankets and pillows, too," Liz said.
"I'll unload our things. Take a look 'round, will you Liz? Perhaps you can make up a list of what we'll need."
This, she thought, was a wise idea. She was much better at getting things organised than he was. And though sometimes she might resent making lists for the Doctor, she did not object when it came to her own comfort.
"Perhaps you can show me the rooms," she said to their ungracious host. "And your kitchen."
Without a nod or a reply he turned and went through the door near the bar. She followed him into a narrow hallway whose walls were so close that they seemed almost pinched together. A very narrow stairway on the right led steeply up. He led her up these steps to an abbreviated landing at the top. Three closed wooden doors greeted her. There was no hallway: just three blank doors in a semi-circle that faced the top of the stairs.
She opened each door as he waited.
Liz found herself suddenly unwilling to walk into any of the rooms with him behind her. She felt slightly foolish for her sense of apprehension. Certainly, the rooms themselves were light and airy: barren, in fact. The beds were old and had been stripped of sheets and covers long ago, so that she could see the slightly stained mattresses and the springs. Not one of the rooms boasted any other furniture, nothing other than a lone bed in each. The largest of the three rooms, which faced the front of the building, had a door in back, through which she espied a sink and toilet.
"Go in if you want to take a look," he said without expression as she studied the largest room from the open doorway.
Instead of taking him up on the offer, she turned to him and found him at her elbow. "Isn't there a bath?"
"Downstairs," he said.
The Doctor, carrying their cases, came clumping up the steps. "How's it look?" he asked.
"We shall need towels as well, Doctor," she said.
"Right. I'll see to it."
Their host crinkled up his round, expressionless face. "How long?" he asked. "A long stay?"
"May be a few weeks," the Doctor said. "It's money in your pocket, isn't it?"
"Have you come to find Old Gall?" he asked. "If you have, it's no good. Johnny O'Haire keeps him down."
"What?" Liz asked. "Who?"
He shifted his expressionless eyes towards her, and a sudden hunger flickered through his face as he looked her. "Old Gall," he said.
Impatiently, the Doctor shouldered past them. He dropped his case into the largest room, the one with the loo. He came back out with Liz's case and set it in the smaller room next to his own. "No, we have not come to find Old Gall," he said. "What is it, a legend? A local ghost?"
"Him in the well."
Liz marched past them both, took up the Doctor's case, and brought it out of the front room. She took it into the room he'd given her, set it down, and picked up her own case. The Doctor watched but said nothing as she carried her own case to the larger, brighter front room. She set it down and came back to him. She folded her arms across her chest and looked up at him. "I get the room with the loo," she said.
He put his fists on his hips. "Oh? And why is that?"
"Because I've been dragged along on this journey." She also had some ideas of using the small sink and the hot water tap to steam up the tiny room. It might help her headache, which was still steadily throbbing.
"Well all right, then." He made his voice mild. "You only had to say so, Liz."
This interchange did not seem to amuse or effect their host at all. He remained silent and did not move until the Doctor turned to him. "Perhaps you'd be so good as to show us the kitchen."
"Kitchen's not been used for years," he said. He started down the narrow, steep stairway. "This way."
They followed him down the steps to the pinched hallway below. To the left was the doorway to the bar. He went to the right and then made another right turn. They followed him and came into a large, cluttered, dirty room. It was, in fact, filthy.
"This is your kitchen?" Liz asked.
"I told you. Place has been closed for years. Nobody uses it."
The Doctor's eyes scanned over the crates and rags piled over the cold grill. "How do you eat?"
"As best I can. From cans."
The testimony of his words was proved true as Liz saw a pile of opened and empty cans overflowing a crate in one corner. Large black flies buzzed in and out among them.
She turned to the Doctor. "Perhaps we should find someplace else."
"There is no place else," he told her. "Not that we can find today. It's this or sleep in Bessy tonight."
She decided not to blame him further. They would have to do the best that they could with what they had, and he had been gracious about letting her claim the better room. "I'll clean it while you get some supplies." She turned to their host. "Will you let me clean up a bit? Are there mops and buckets?"
He nodded. "In the hall cupboard. And soap for mopping."
She made her voice diplomatic. "Perhaps you could carry some of these castoffs out back while I see to giving everything a good scrubbing."
He immediately picked up a crate half filled with empty bottles from the top of the grill. He spoke to the Doctor. "You'll need your own food then. It's in the village---a mile hence." And he nodded in the direction of the village.
"Well," the Doctor said to Liz as the man walked out, lugging the crate. "I shall leave you to it. Sheets, towels, and food, eh?"
"Please don't be long, Doctor," she said. She glanced at him. "Do hurry."
There was an urgency in her eyes that even she had not expected to put there. His own eyes became concerned. "Why Liz, are you afraid of something?"
"Just uneasy," she said.
"Do you want to come with me?"
"No, I want to get things started here. We have to set up for the job. Did you bring the equipment inside?"
"It's out in front of the bar," he said.
"Then please hurry back. I'll be all right."
"All right, I'll be as quick as I can. No rabbit trails."
He offered her a brief smile. There was another door across the room that led directly into the bar area. He hurried through that door. Liz retraced her steps through the near door, found the hall cupboard, which was narrow and dark, and cautiously peered inside. Behind a wall of coats she found two old mops and an ancient broom. There was no bucket. She pulled these tools out, and then crouched down and peered closer until she spied a few grime-coated bottles of cleansers and soap.
She took these and straightened up. Then she noticed that---among the jammed assortment of coats and sweaters, there were several outer garments that were very short: children's coats and sweaters. The abbreviated sleeves on each of these garments, stiff with heavy, insulating fabric, did not hang down like adult sleeves but were splayed out, like a child's arms flung wide. She stopped and frowned. Everything in the closet was dry and musty, and all the woolen items had holes in them from moths. She touched one of the child-sized wool coats. It was also dusty and old, like everything else. She stooped again to a crouch and saw that among the clutter of old boots and galoshes, there were children's shoes. Little girls' shoes and boots.
Brow knit in some concern, she stood and turned, to find that her host was watching her from the doorway of the kitchen.
She made her voice sharp. "Is it possible for you to carry out the rest of the crates?" she asked. "I should like to wash everything down as soon as possible. The Doctor and I have a lot of work to do."
He ducked away, back into the kitchen. Just as she entered with the cleaning supplies, he carried another crate past the refuse piled in the sink. He opened the wooden back door and went out with his load.
* * * *
The Doctor sped quickly into the village. It was little more than a ring of buildings on a single, cobble stone street. He did not take much time to look around at the tall, narrow houses. Instead, he pulled to a stop along the green, hopped out of Bessy, and scanned the largest buildings. As soon as he saw a house front with a wide front window, he bounded over to it.
Of course there was no question of anything like a shopping centre here; just a single shop to service the needs of the local residents. And even at that it did not boast many goods to offer. All of the sheets in stock were far too large for the beds at the old pub, and the towel sets were all printed with large and hideous looking daisies.
And there was little in the way of food. He did manage to find a can of coffee, a bit of sugar and some powdered creamer, but there was no bread, no eggs, and no milk. He procured several tins and boxes of biscuits, an assortment of canned goods, and a bag of apples.
The establishment was run by a silent, incurious woman who surely knew he was a stranger but did not ask him his business. She stood behind a massive wooden counter. As he brought everything to her, she rang it up with an unsmiling face.
Otherwise, the shop was empty. But as he waited for her to make the total, the front door opened, and a young, very handsome man in a smart suit and tie strode in.
"Hello," he said directly to the Doctor. "Are you the fellow I was warned about? The government scientist?"
The open, friendly question took even the Doctor by surprise. He turned and surveyed the young man and then inclined his head. "Why yes, I am," the Doctor said.
"Come to check up on me, eh? Welcome to the ends of the earth." And he held out his hand. They shook hands, and the young man said, "I'm David Cording of Cording Chemicals, up on the North Ridge."
The Doctor was startled. "And you knew I was arriving this morning?"
"Certainly. No secrets up here."
"But who told you? I've been instructed to introduce myself to you, but---"
David Cording waved it away. "You forget, sir, I reviewed all of those accident reports myself. I've been waiting for you. I welcome some scientific investigation. And Johnny knew you were coming, of course."
"Johnny O'Haire. He watches over the place. He usually warns us of strangers or of danger. But even he has had no real insights about the accidents---"
"And the suicides," the Doctor said. "Six suicides in one year in a place this small, and a series of work accidents that's nearly closed you down."
"We haven't been able to find a relationship between them, but it seems a bit unnatural." And the young man nodded. "Anyway, I'm glad you've come."
The entrance of UNIT personnel into any situation, especially situations involving commercial plants, was usually not enthusiastically received. The Doctor narrowed his eyes for an instant. But the young man seemed sincere.
* * * *
There was no use trying to vigorously clean up that cavernous, filthy kitchen while wearing a scarf, blouse, and skirt. Liz pushed aside the remaining litter from the sink, rinsed off the grimy bottles of soap and cleanser, dried her hands on a dirty rag, and then went to the steps. She would go upstairs and quickly change clothes while her host was out at the garbage tip.
She climbed the steep stairs and entered the spacious, empty front room, her eyes taking in anew the accumulations of dust, cobwebs, and the grime on the windows. She took up her case and set it on the bare mattress of the bed. As she did, she saw that somebody had laid two objects on the mattress that had not been there before: a coil of aged rope, stained with coppery splashes, and an old but finely whetted, broad bladed knife. The door to the bedroom slammed closed behind her. She turned quickly. Her host stepped out from the wall.
"Get away from that door," she heard herself say. He made no answer but walked toward her. Liz instantly backed up, and then cursed herself for not taking up the knife as her defense. But he ignored it as well. Instead of taking it up, he walked towards her, seeking to corner her. She knew that retreating to the wc or into the closet would be a mistake. He was easily strong enough to break down any door in that old, ramshackle building, and then she would be trapped in a confined space. She had to try to get away here, in the large area of the bedroom, where it would be difficult for him to trap her.
"Are you mad?" she asked him as he tried to back her up toward the wall. "The Doctor will be back any moment. Do you think he'll permit this?"
"You came here," he said. "Even when I told you to go away."
He grabbed at her hair, and she ducked under his arm. He caught the very end of her reddish hair, but she pushed her hands up under his arm, and he lost his grasp. She ducked around him and ran to the door.
The blow of his arm hit like a bar across the back of her head. She fell forward into the door, and he grabbed at her. From her knees, she tried to reach up grasp the door knob, and she inadvertently hit him flush on the nose as he came down on her.
The blow was too light to stun him, but it blinded him with tears. She found the door knob, turned it, and shot through the doorway on her knees.
With a great bellow of rage and pain, he flung the door open and came after her.
* * * *
Liz scrambled to her feet and raced down the stairs. He was still blinded, but he came anyway. Dimly, she sensed that she should turn to the left to get past the bar and run out the front door, but her feet took the last turn she had made, to the right and down the narrow hallway. She turned again and ran into the kitchen. He was catching up to her. He grabbed at her collar and just missed.
She reached the back door and pulled on it frantically. But he got his arm around her throat and pulled her back, even as she yanked the door open. He used his forearm like a bar and twisted it into her throat. It cut off her air, and for a moment she saw black.
She kicked back into his shin and rammed her elbow into his chest. She drew in a great breath as the grip loosened, and she had the presence of mind to ram him again with her elbow, hard, while his broad stomach was unprotected. Her feet were strongly planted, and she swung herself into the blow with all her weight. It did stagger him, and she ran out the door.
But he recovered swiftly. She heard him gulp in his breath as he followed her.
This time when he grabbed at her, he snatched her blouse at the shoulders. He grasped the sheer material and pulled. The blouse burst open at the buttons. It came down her arms, and he used it as reins to pull her back. She twisted sideways, and he jerked it free of her, stripping her.
Being stripped out in the open at last drove terror and despair into her. She was isolated. The dense trees presented a barren, bleak landscape where there was no rescue and no escape. She could not keep running and struggling indefinitely.
Before she could race away, he hit her with his open hand across the face, knocking her sideways.
Then her struggle became desperate and terrified. She scratched his face as she fell down under him, but he came on top of her, and his fingers tore at the narrow belt of her skirt. The gravel surface of the back lot dug into the skin between her shoulder blades.
She realized that she was screaming: empty, useless words: "No! No! No!"
He lifted himself and crashed on top of her again, and his hands pulled at her belt. He didn't get it undone, and she scratched at his face. He crushed her under his weight, got his hands around her throat, and closed off her breath. She heard a sound as though at a distance: her head striking the dusty surface of the back lot as he shook her back and forth. A sudden electrical energy pushed through her arm. Blindly, she scratched with far more strength than she knew she possessed, her fingers hard as steel. He yelped, and the strangling grip released. He caught her wrists and pushed her arms down as her vision cleared, and he pinned them to the ground.
"Help me!" she screamed. "Help me!" But the strangling hold had ruined her voice. And there was nobody to hear her.
Click here for Episode Two.
Click here to go to back to Jeri's Dr. Who Fiction page
Click here to go to back to Jeri's Main page
You can view a Master Index of all the Dr. Who fiction on my site, but it is a graphic intensive page.
What did you think? Send me mail! Click here! or write to firstname.lastname@example.org I live for feedback and welcome criticism on my writing and story development.