The Doctor returns to the Chalet School - and not a moment too soon. Something is going horribly wrong.
St Scholastika's House Characters:
Grizel Cochrane, Hilda Annersley, Jack Lambert, Jo (Bettany) Maynard, Minor character(s), Nell Wilson
Adventure, Crossover, Humour, Scifi/Fantasy
Hilda and the Doctor
17 Jun 2011 Updated:
18 Jun 2011
1. The Web of Fear by Abi
2. The Reign of Terror by Abi
3. The Hand of Fear by Abi
4. The Time Meddler by Abi
5. Mission to the Unknown by Abi
6. The Crusade by Abi
7. The Invisible Enemy by Abi
8. Tooth and Claw by Abi
9. The Ultimate Foe by Abi
10. Enlightenment by Abi
11. Fear Her by Abi
12. Love and Monsters by Abi
13. State of Decay by Abi
14. The Deadly Assassin by Abi
15. Midnight by Abi
16. The Twin Dilemma by Abi
17. The Unquiet Dead by Abi
18. The Chase by Abi
19. Partners in Crime by Abi
20. The Face of Evil by Abi
21. Battlefield by Abi
22. Human Nature by Abi
23. Survival by Abi
24. The Parting of the Ways by Abi
“It’s only what I expected,” said Hilda. She handed the letter back to Rosalie and drained the glass of water that stood on her desk before leaning back in her chair.
“It’s the third one we’ve had this week,” said Rosalie quietly.
“Are you surprised?”
Rosalie hesitated, and sat down in the chair on the other side of the desk, resting her papers in her lap.
“I – I suppose not. But I’d hoped the parents might – well, understand, I suppose.”
“My dear Rosalie, what do you think there is for them to understand?”
“That it wasn’t our fault.”
Rosalie looked at her, her eyes wide, and Hilda took a moment to wonder whether she honestly hadn’t thought about the consequences to the school, or whether she was simply too afraid to think about them.
“We’ve done the best we can,” she said.
“But the best wasn’t good enough,” said Hilda gently. “It’s happened four times now, Rosalie. We can’t expect parents to feel that their girls are safe here any more. I’m rather beginning to wonder myself.”
Rosalie stared at the carpet. After a moment she looked up again, but just as she was about to speak, there was a tap at the door.
“Enter!” called Hilda, and Rosalie rose to stand by the connecting door to her own office. “Jack? What can I do for you, dear?”
“I was just wondering, Miss Annersley – some of us are rather keen to visit Wanda today, and I know neither of the cars is available, but if we go in a biggish group couldn’t we walk to the San?”
Hilda shook her head.
“I’m sorry, Jack, but the answer’s no.” Seeing Jack’s face fall, she looked sympathetic. “I know you want to see your friend, but I can’t take the risk of allowing you girls outside without proper supervision, and I can’t spare the staff to take you.”
“But it’s only happened when people were alone, so far,” said Jack. “I – I don’t mean to be rude, Miss Annersley, but it feels as though you’re overreacting.”
Hilda couldn’t help a small smile.
“I wish I could agree with you,” she said. “No, Jack, it would be stupid of me to allow you to take unnecessary risks. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until one of the cars is available. I’ll ask Miss Ferrars whether she would be willing to drive some of you to the San tomorrow afternoon.”
She could see the disappointment written across Jack’s face, and watched as it was quickly concealed. Jack nodded.
“All right, Miss Annersley. Thanks for asking Miss Ferrars.” She smiled at the Head. “I’ve got an awful lot of things I want to ask Wanda. This Head Girl lark isn’t as straightforward as you might think.”
She left the room, leaving Hilda and Rosalie to look soberly at one another.
“It doesn’t seem right that we have to keep the girls cooped up inside all the time,” said Rosalie.
“It’s better than the results of letting them roam about the Platz might be.”
“Oh, I know, but – poor Jack. She’s finding taking on the Head Girlship enough of a challenge without all of this as well.”
This time Hilda smiled properly.
“But just look at the way she’s coping,” she said. “She’s matured by about three years since –”
“Since what happened to Wanda.” Hilda nodded. “Well,” said Rosalie hopefully, “It just shows how something good can come out of practically anything.
Hilda, who had just risen to fetch a bottle from a cupboard, slammed it down on the desk.
“For heaven’s sake, Rosalie! Stop being such a bloody Pollyanna. Don’t you understand that this is the beginning of the end?”
“Oh, come on, Hilda.” Rosalie got up to face her, dumping her papers on the desk. “It can’t be as bad as all that. Yes, we’ve had a couple of unfortunate incidents, but that doesn’t mean the school’s about to close or anything.”
“Third in one week.” Hilda tapped the letter lying on the top of Rosalie’s pile. “It won’t be long now.”
A few hours later Hilda was opening the gate in the hedge between the school and Freudesheim. As she closed it again, something rustled in the hedge and her heart seemed to leap up into her throat. Swallowing it down again, she backed away from the gate, trying to move silently. There was another rustle, like something moving.
You’re being stupid, she told herself. All the same, her heart hammering, she turned and ran towards the house. The French windows were nearest and she banged on them until they were flung open to reveal Joey, clad in a rather daring knee length dress of scarlet. For a moment she recoiled, but the horror behind was worse than the horror before, and she pushed past Joey and slammed the French windows shut.
The Reign of Terror by Abi
“What on earth are you doing?” demanded Joey, watching with a bemused expression on her face as Hilda drew the curtains across the window before crossing the room and slumping into one of the elderly, comfortable chairs.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” said Hilda. “Have you got a drink?”
“Of course. What do you want? Gin? Whisky? Brandy? Whatever this stuff is that Marie brought us from when they went round the world? I forget where it came from.”
“That’ll be fine,” said Hilda, distracted. Joey peered dubiously at the indecipherable writing on the bottle for a moment, then shrugged and poured them a glass each. After all, it couldn’t be anything that bad.
“So what’s going on?” she said again, setting the glass down on the table beside Hilda. “You can’t tell me you were thundering on the door as though there was an army after you just because you liked the noise.”
“No. I heard – well, it probably wasn’t, but it could have been – and it was getting dark.”
Joey stared at her, blinking.
“I haven’t actually started drinking yet,” she said. “But for some reason that sentence didn’t make any sense to me.”
“It wasn’t a sentence, Joey. It was a string of nonsensical utterances. I thought I heard something in the bushes.”
“So you ran away?” said Joey incredulously.
“You haven’t heard, have you?”
“Well, we’ve only been back two hours and we spent most of that unpacking. Heard what?”
But a horrible thought had struck Hilda and she sat up quickly.
“Where is Grizel?"
“Upstairs, resting. Hilda, you’re jumping at shadows. Please tell me what’s happening.”
Hilda sat back with a sigh of relief and took a sip of her drink, which turned out to be an unwise move. Once the top of her head seemed to have returned to its usual position and she remembered how to use her arms she mopped her streaming eyes and looked at Joey, who was still watching her expectantly.
“Zgurgvburg,” she said, and paused. That hadn’t come out quite as she’d intended. She gathered her thoughts and regained control over her tongue. “There’ve been attacks, Joey. Attacks on people on the Platz – and two of the girls.”
“The girls?” Joey took an absent-minded gulp of the unknown drink. “Ooh, that’s quite nice.”
“Lucy Peters was attacked while she was walking home for the weekend, and last week Wanda –”
“Wanda von Eschenau? Is she all right?”
“She will be. She was crossing the playing fields one evening, going to meet Jack Lambert and a couple of the other prefects. Luckily Gaudenz heard the screaming. He managed to scare the thing off, but Wanda was badly hurt.”
Joey’s eyes were wide with horror.
“She’s all right; though she’s been having nightmares ever since. It seems this – creature, whatever it is – wasn’t – well, it didn’t attack her as it did Wanda. It just bound her up in some horrible black, sticky webbing. Then there’s a woman who was a visiting a relation at the San. Decided to take an evening stroll. They found her in the woods, but the original spot where she’d been attacked was close to the school gates – they found her handbag and some blood. That was a couple of days before Wanda.”
“Was she –?”
“She was – dead.” Hilda hurried on, not wanting to have to describe the condition the woman had been in when she’d been found. “The other man – it was Rolf, the new landlord at the Auberge; after your time, but you couldn’t hope to meet a nicer man – he was alive when they found him, but he died at the San a few hours later. They think the thing must have got distracted before it – before it killed him.”
Joey was looking sick. She picked up her glass and drained half of it, while Hilda took the tiniest sip she could, screwing up her eyes against the effect.
“Do they know what’s doing it?” said Joey, topping her drink up. Hilda shook her head.
“Not the foggiest. It must be some sort of animal, because the marks on Wanda and Rolf were from claws and teeth. But apart from that there hasn’t been any sign, any indication of what it could be. It’s a complete mystery.”
Joey shook her head.
“That’s awful. Horrible.”
Hilda nodded. Yes, it was horrible. Since the attack on Wanda, all the girls had been confined to the school buildings unless they were in a group of six or more and doing something absolutely essential, and they weren’t allowed outdoors after dark at all. Going out of the grounds unless you were with your entire form was now forbidden, and school walks were strictly crocodiles; no rambling or wandering. The girls hated it, and the staff hated it, but she didn’t know how else to keep them safe.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if none of the girls had been hurt. That might sound selfish, but she was past caring. Even then, it would have been better if some – even just one – of the attacks had happened more than two hundred yards away from the school grounds.
Hilda was starting to have a sickening, horrible feeling that she might, perhaps, have a suspicion of what was going on. She hoped she was wrong, because that would almost be worse than anything. But what if she was right? If she was, there was only one man who could help her. And she had no idea where he was.
“Is Kristina all right?” said Gwynneth Lloyd in a low voice as the door of one of the sickrooms closed gently behind Hilda.
“Yes.” Hilda turned and walked with Matron towards her small sitting room. “She went to fetch a glass of water and got lost, poor child.”
“And decided to scream for help?” said Gwynneth, a note of deep scepticism in her voice. “Continually and uncontrollably for nearly twenty minutes until you managed to calm her down? She’s not a nervous child, Hilda.”
“She heard something,” said Hilda.
Gwynneth stopped dead, her hand on the doorknob. After a moment she exhaled sharply, motioned Hilda into the room and shut the door.
“We won’t wake her in here,” she said. She moved towards the little stove to pick the kettle up. “What did she hear?”
“Something and nothing.” Hilda shrugged. “Or maybe not. She says that she saw a shadow under one of the lights, but it was too dim to make anything out, and she thought it growled.”
Gwynneth stared at her, her face suddenly white.
“You don’t think it could be –? Not in the school itself?”
“No. No, of course not. I hope not. They’re all nervous at the moment, even the tough ones like Kristina. I think she just caught sight of something out of the corner of her eye – a shadow – and fear did the rest.”
“Do you really think so?”
“Contrary to popular belief, Gwynneth,” said Hilda rather tartly. She was tired and desperately anxious, after all. “I don’t actually know everything. I sincerely hope that Kristina saw a shadow and heard someone snore. But how can I be certain?”
“We should search the school, at least.”
“Of course, but I expect it’s long gone. So, do I sit back and hope that it was all in Kristina’s mind? Do I make the girls walk the corridors in packs, supervised by mistresses? Should I, perhaps, evacuate the school altogether? Five girls have already been withdrawn. It won’t take long for many others to leave.”
Of course, they found nothing. Hilda had known they wouldn’t. After she’d reassured Gwynneth that she’d been right after all and that Kristina had just scared herself in the dark, she walked through the dim corridors by herself. There was no sound, no movement.
She didn’t know what made her do it. It was breaking all her own rules, not to mention being just – well, plain stupid. But it was hard, being cooped up indoors all the time. She wanted to breathe the night air, so she went to one of the side doors and opened it. Just a crack, so that she could feel the breeze and see the stars.
She stood there for a long time in the silence, staring at the sky. What did you do when things like this started happening? The girls were being hurt; she couldn’t blame the parents for wanting to take them away. There were still four weeks until the end of the summer term. Maybe she should close early. It might be better than letting the school dwindle away, the girls creeping around, clinging together in fear. How could they learn like that?
There was a sound. Hilda jumped, instinctively pulling the door shut, her heart pounding fiercely, the breath catching in her throat. Leaning on the door, she tried to calm herself. It hadn’t been an animal noise, couldn’t have been the attacker.
Then her brain caught up with her ears and she lost her breath all over again. Less than a year ago, just after one of the most bizarre experiences of her life, she’d made a decision that she’d instantly regretted. She’d first heard that sound then, and it had haunted her ever since.
She flung the door open and ran out into the shrubbery, staring out into the darkness. The sound was getting louder; that strange wheezing, groaning which she knew must herald the arrival of the only person she could think of who might be able to help her.
She was standing in the middle of the playing fields now, her heart still thumping painfully. The world was silent again. No-one walked about during the night any more, and most people didn’t drive unless they absolutely had to. Even Freudesheim was in complete darkness. Joey and Grizel must have decided on an early night.
Hilda looked around, unease beginning to creep over her. There was no-one in sight, no sound of voices or of people. Maybe it had been her imagination – her desperation creating what she thought was the solution. Or perhaps this was how the creature attacked people. Lured them out and then tore them to pieces when they were alone and defenceless.
There was a click and a slight creak. A pause.
“It’s dark,” said a girl, an annoyed sounding Scottish voice. “Ow! Go and get a torch or something, Rory.”
Hilda closed her eyes and breathed out in relief. She began to pick her way carefully across the short grass. It was odd, she thought, that she couldn’t see any light coming out of the – the name escaped her for the moment. The police box thing. A moment later, walking straight into the wall of the toolshed, she realised why. As she began to feel her way around it, Amy’s voice came again.
“Are you sure we’re in the right place, Doctor? This looks like some kind of shack, or something.”
“Are you sure it’s not a chalet?” Hilda smiled in the darkness as she heard the familiar voice of the Doctor.
“I think I can tell the difference between a shack and a chalet,” said Amy tartly.
“It’s a toolshed,” said Hilda loudly.
There was a pause.
“What was that?” That must be Rory.
“Hello?” called Amy. “Who’s there?”
Hilda came to the corner of the shed and rounded it, and suddenly there was light. It streamed across the grass, a yellow path. She hurried towards it and rounded the second corner. And there it was. The blue police box, its door slightly ajar, and in front of it Amy, squinting into the darkness around her, looking nervous and excited at the same time. Rory was beside her, clutching a torch, with a faintly anxious expression on his face, and the Doctor just behind them, looking around with an amiable smile.
“Doctor!” she gasped.
He turned his head, and when he caught sight of her the smile spread into a tremendous grin.
“Hilda!” he said, starting forward.
“Hilda!” said Amy. “Wow, you actually brought us to the right place for once, Doctor.”
“Of course I did,” said the Doctor. “Hallo, Hilda. How are you?”
“I’m –as a matter of fact, things are going very badly. Why don’t you all come in? I’d rather not stand out here any longer than I have to.”
Safely ensconced in her warm sitting room, wrapping their hands round big mugs of tea, the Doctor, Amy and Rory listened to Hilda’s tale.
“And you think it’s an alien attacking people?” said Amy, staring at her. “I don’t mean to sound rude, but don’t you think it could just be some sort of animal, or something?”
“That’s what most people think it is,” she said. “But – well, the evidence doesn’t seem to point that way. The marks on the bodies aren’t exactly like any animal that’s likely to be roaming this area. Or even any animal that isn’t. Then there’s what happened to Lucy – the police don’t think it was related, as it’s such a different sort of attack, but that seems too coincidental to me.”
“But what animal wraps people up in sticky black web stuff?” said Rory.
“Exactly,” said Hilda. “I must admit that I was at my wits’ end, Doctor. You were the only person I could think of who might be able to help, and I couldn’t think of any way to contact you.”
“Yeah,” said the Doctor, who was sprawling in one of the comfortable chairs in Hilda’s sitting room. “I get around a bit. Good thing we happened to come back, really.”
“Why did you?” said Hilda. “It’s not exactly the most thrilling place in the universe, I’m sure.”
“Amy dropped her ring,” said Rory.
“Don’t suppose you’ve seen it, have you?” said Amy hopefully. “It’s my wedding ring. Rory was a bit annoyed about it, so we thought we’d better come back.”
“Of course, we were thinking half an hour later, not six months,” said Rory, giving the Doctor an old-fashioned look.
“Actually, I think we might have it.” Hilda unlocked a small drawer in her desk and withdrew a small box. She passed it over to Amy. “One of the seniors found it on the playing field. Is this it?”
“Yup.” Amy got up and hugged her. “Thanks, Hilda. I was starting to think Rory was going to divorce me or something.” She slid the ring onto her finger and waggled it at him.
“Good,” said the Doctor. “Now we can get on with solving Hilda’s problem. Which is obviously some kind of alien.”
He jumped to his feet and strode the long way around the desk to look out of the window.
“Oh, well, that helps,” said Rory. “Some kind of alien. Excellent.”
“Shut up,” said the Doctor. “I’m trying to remember where I’ve – no – no, it’s gone. Never mind. Why don’t we go and find this creature, then?”
Hilda looked up at him, startled.
“But Doctor – this thing eats people.”
A wide, happy smile spread across the Doctor’s face.
“I know!” he said, darting towards the door, pulling his sonic screwdriver out of his pocket. “Come on!”
Amy had already leapt out of her chair to follow him, and Rory and Hilda looked at one another and moved a little more reluctantly. Just as she reached the door, though, Hilda stopped.
“No – wait!”
The doctor turned back impatiently. It seemed that he was simply dying to get to grips with the monster.
“Give me ten minutes,” said Hilda, dashing to the other side of the room and snatching up the receiver of the telephone. “Nell will kill me if I don’t let her in on this adventure.”
Mission to the Unknown by Abi
Twenty minutes later the screeching of tyres outside the front door told them that Nell had risked life and limb to come to Hilda’s side in her hour of need.
“What’s going on?” she demanded as she dived into the entrance hall, slamming the door behind her. “It had better be something good, for me to have put my life on the line coming out in the middle of the night when there are monsters – or aliens – on the loose. She thinks there’s an alien running about the Platz,” she added as a confidential aside to Hilda’s companions.
“Really?” The Doctor smiled, his eyes drifting away from hers towards the door. “Well, you never know.”
“You believe her?” Nell looked at him askance, then turned to Hilda. “Is he mad?”
Hilda opened her mouth, closed it, and opened it again.
“I’m not sure,” she said at last.
“Yes, he is,” said Amy.
“Pretty much,” said Rory at the same moment.
Nell looked from one to the other.
“Hm,” she said. “Well, my original question still stands. What’s going on?”
“This is the Doctor,” said Hilda. “I thought you’d want to meet him.”
There was a very long silence.
“The Doctor,” said Nell. She gave her friend a hard stare. “You called me here – you made me take my life in my hands and risk being torn limb from limb by some wild animal – so that I could meet a doctor?”
The corners of Hilda’s mouth twitched.
“I’ve been thinking for a while that you might need to see one, Nell,” she murmured. “Now, stop being so touchy. This is Amy – Amy Pond, and this is Rory, her husband.”
She paused and watched as Nell’s eyes widened.
“You mean –?” She pointed from one to the other, mouthing speechlessly. Eventually, after a few splutters, she regained the power of speech. “You mean – that Doctor?”
“You described me to her as that Doctor?”
“You’re the Doctor?” said Nell, staring at him. “The Doctor who destroyed Hilda’s brain, and got rid of Jem? The one who’s been on stage with Joey and Grizel?”
A boyish smile spread over the Doctor’s face and he ran his hand through his floppy hair.
“Well,” he said modestly. “Yes, I suppose so.”
“Oh,” said Nell, her face falling slightly. “I was picturing something more like John Wayne.”
“He does act a bit like John Wayne sometimes,” said Amy.
“He’s wearing a bow-tie.”
“Ok, fair enough,” said Amy. “He’s not John Wayne.”
“I’ve come to help Hilda with her little problem,” said the Doctor.
“You do bunions too, do you?” said Nell.
“I do not have bunions, Nell Wilson. He’s talking about the problem with people being attacked and killed by a mystery creature.”
“Oh, that little problem.”
“Actually,” said Rory. “We came to find Amy’s wedding ring, which she dropped last time we were here.”
“Yeah, but we found it, so we thought we’d play with the fun alien for a bit,” said Amy. “Are we going now, Doctor?”
“No,” said the Doctor. He spun round on the spot and grabbed Amy’s shoulders, looking into her face. “We have to be careful, Amy. Do you understand? You stay close to me – you don’t take any risks.” He spun round again and raised his voice. “And that goes for all of you, ok? Come on!”
He plunged towards the double doors and flung them both open, poking his head out and peering from side to side.
“Anything?” said Amy.
“’Course not – but someone’s been cooking scones. Lovely smell.” He turned round to face them and spread his arms like a conjurer. “Are you ready for adventure, and danger and –”
“Doctor!” said Hilda.
“Could you keep your voice down, please? I’d rather not have half the juniors woken up, and there are quite a few dormitories on this side of the house.”
“Oh. Right. Yes. Well, let’s get a move on, then.”
And they moved off into the darkness.
At first the Doctor tried to insist that they conducted the search without torches and in complete silence in order not to give the creature, whatever it might be, any sign of their approach. Unfortunately the moon had gone behind a cloud and the next ten minutes or so were not remembered by anyone as their most glorious.
“We should start by going this way,” whispered Nell, tugging at Rory, whose arm she was gripping.
“No!” Hilda hissed, feeling herself being pulled to the right by Rory. “We’ll end up in the middle of the shrubbery – it’ll be hopeless.”
“The shrubbery’s further round,” said Nell.
“No it’s not.”
“Yes it is. I’m on the path that leads to the form gardens. I know perfectly well where I am, Hilda.”
“Can one of you please make a decision?” said Amy, shaking Hilda’s hand impatiently. “We’re not going to find it if we stand around arguing.”
“Yes, come along,” said the Doctor. “Tell you what, I’ll do it. Let’s go this way.”
He hauled on Amy’s hand, pulling them all across to the left.
“No!” cried Hilda. “Not that way – there’s a –”
But it was too late. The ground seemed to give way beneath them, and they tumbled helplessly down the slope towards the lawn. For a few moments there was the silence the Doctor had demanded. At last Rory’s voice came out of the darkness, sounding irritated yet resigned – as though, perhaps, this sort of thing had happened many times before and came as no surprise to him.
“Now can I put my torch on?”
Hilda frowned, even though no-one could see her. She was sure she’d mentioned this particular grammatical rule to Rory before. Evidently he had rather a short memory.
“I feel sure you can,” she said, sitting up. “The real question is may you?”
“Yes, all right, put it on,” said the Doctor quickly.
Rory flicked the switch, scrambling to his feet as he did so, and bent to haul Miss Wilson to her feet with such hearty goodwill that she nearly overbalanced on top of him.
“Really, young man,” she said, shaking him off. “I’m not yet so decrepit that I can’t stand up by myself. I’m not the one with bunions, after all.”
“I do not have bunions,” said Hilda as Rory backed away from Nell, looking alarmed at her ferocious scowl.
“Sorry,” he mumbled. “I just thought I should – you know – try to help –”
“The poor boy was trying to be gentlemanly, Nell,” said Hilda. “For heaven’s sake leave him alone.”
Nell gave Rory an impenitent grin and turned to the Doctor.
“Well, we’ve probably scared off every living creature within a ten mile radius now,” she said. “We might as well give up for the time being.”
“Give up?” the Doctor laughed. “Nah, giving up is boring. But I’ve just remembered somewhere that should definitely be investigated. Very dodgy.”
“Where’s that?” said Hilda. She couldn’t think of anywhere on the Platz that could even remotely be described as dodgy – unless it was Freudesheim when Joey and Grizel were at home. Still, probably a time travelling alien with a blue police box was better able to spot dodgy places than the headmistress of a girls’ boarding school.
“The Sanatorium.” The Doctor spun round and began to run. Amy and Rory were at his heels, while Hilda and Nell, caught unawares by his habit of taking to his heels without warning, lagged a little behind.
“Wait!” called Hilda, forgetting about the juniors in the dormitories at the front of the building. Nell grabbed her hand and pulled her forward, but it wasn’t until they were some way beyond the gates that they caught up with the others.
“Sorry,” said the Doctor, looking slightly sheepish as he waited for them to come up. “I’d forgotten you might not –”
“Want to run as much as he likes to,” said Amy, successfully interrupting before the Doctor could offend the two headmistresses too much. “So instead we will walk, sedately, to the Sanatorium.”
“Yes,” said Hilda, trying to catch her breath as they started to walk, more briskly than sedately, along the main road. “But I don’t understand. Why do you think there’s anything wrong there?”
“Well, don’t you remember last time? All those insane doctors controlling people’s behaviour, just so that they could carry on being in charge of the world?”
“That was only Jem,” said Hilda. “Most of them are quite normal, all things considered. Even Jack’s got a nice little house in the English countryside where he can drink himself to death as quickly as he likes.”
“Yeah,” said the Doctor, sounding thoroughly unconvinced. “It still felt weird to me, though.”
“You’re the boss.” Hilda shrugged her shoulders.
“He’s the boss? Well, I like that, Hilda Annersley. You’ve never said that to me!” said Nell.
“Ah, but you’ve never stood up in front of Jem Russell and announced that you’re from the planet of Gallifrey in the galaxy of Kasterbouros, that you travel through time and space in a time machine that’s bigger on the inside, and that your name is known and feared throughout the universe, have you?”
There was a pause.
“No,” said Nell. “That’s true; I haven’t.”
The Invisible Enemy by Abi
“I could have driven us here, you know,” said Nell as they entered the San. “If only I’d thought of it earlier I could have saved your poor bunions, Hilda.”
“I don’t have bunions.”
“Are bunions all you two ever talk about?” said Amy.
“I could take a look if you liked,” said Rory. “I’m a nurse –”
“I do not have bunions,” said Hilda.
“Right,” said the Doctor, who appeared not to have been listening. “We should go and visit – Wanda, was it? The girl who was hurt.”
“Wanda, yes,” said Hilda. “This way.”
“But shouldn’t we let someone know we’re here?” said Nell, trotting in their wake.
“Waste of time,” said the Doctor.
“But it’s the middle of the night,” said Nell.
“No-one around to interrupt us,” said the Doctor. “I can’t bear interruptions. Unless they’re from someone really interesting, like Boadicea. Now she was a scary woman.” He shuddered briefly.
“What?” said Nell. “Boadicea? How can you know –?”
The Doctor swung round to face her.
“I travel in time,” he said, immediately turning on his heel and striding on after Hilda. “Keep up!”
Amy grabbed her hand and pulled her along.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get used to him. Just go with the flow.”
“Here,” said Hilda. She turned the handle of the door and led them into the private room Wanda had been given, where she was now peacefully sleeping. The Doctor bent over her.
“Oh,” he said softly. “Oh, you poor girl.”
He shook her briskly by the shoulder. Wanda turned her head and opened her eyes slowly, then covered them with her hand as the torch shone straight into her face.
“Ow!” she gasped. “What –?”
“It’s all right.” Hilda spoke in a soothing voice, pushing the torch away. “We’re sorry to wake you up, Wanda dear. This is the Doctor. He wants to talk to you.”
“Someone put the light on,” said the Doctor. He sat down in the chair beside Wanda. As the light flicked on, startling them all with its brightness, he pointed the sonic screwdriver at it until it dimmed a little and Wanda opened her eyes.
“What did you do?” Nell stared from the light to the sonic screwdriver, mouth agape. The Doctor ignored her.
“Hallo, Wanda,” he said.
“I – are you a doctor?” she said, still looking disorientated.
“They’ve been giving her a lot of painkillers,” said Hilda quietly.
“Yes, I’m the Doctor,” he said, taking Wanda’s hand. “Can you tell me anything about what attacked you, Wanda?”
She shook her head.
“I don’t really remember. And it was dark. I thought it was someone coming after me with a message – a junior, perhaps.”
She lay back on her pillows, closing her eyes, her fingers gripping his a little more tightly.
“And then – I don’t know. I can’t remember. It – it couldn’t have been a person. It was like claws and – and teeth, and I think it was growling. And I thought it was going to kill me, and then I woke up and I was here.”
There was a silence.
“Thanks,” said the Doctor. “I think that’s all I need for now.” He rested his free hand on Wanda’s cheek, and after a moment or two her eyes drifted shut and her fingers relaxed their grip. Absent-mindedly, he switched the light off with the sonic screwdriver, which Nell grabbed from him as soon as the door had closed behind them.
“Oi!” The Doctor lunged at her, but Nell skipped away, peering at the screwdriver with intense fascination.
“What on Earth is this?”
“It’s a sonic screwdriver – don’t press it!” The Doctor winced as Nell pointed the screwdriver at the wall and a few flakes of paint floated to the floor.
“But how does it work?”
“Yes, but –” Nell tried to dodge, but the Doctor was too quick for her and grabbed the screwdriver back from her, tucking it into his pocket.
“What’s going on?” demanded an irate voice, and a nurse came round the corner wearing a severe frown. “Are you trying to wake the whole place?”
Hilda jumped guiltily.
“I’m so sorry, Nurse,” she began.
“Shh.” The nurse flapped her hands at them to shoo them down the corridor and only allowed them to speak when they had reached the spacious reception area. “Now, please explain – good heavens! Miss Annersley! And Miss Wilson!”
“Um, yes,” admitted Hilda, for once lost for words.
“Hello, Nurse Pimble.” Nell winked at the nurse, who only frowned slightly in return.
“Did you – is there something I can help you with?”
“Well,” said Hilda. “We – um – actually, we just came to visit Wanda.”
“At nearly one o’clock in the morning?” Nurse Pimble looked scandalised.
“Is it really?” said Nell, trying to look as though she hadn’t noticed it was dark outside. “You know how you think of these things on the spur of the moment.”
“We happened to be passing,” said Hilda, growing a little desperate as Nurse Pimble looked more and more sceptical.
“It’s all right,” said the Doctor, taking pity on them. “They’re with me.”
“With you?” Nurse Pimble’s eyes drifted from his hair, which was flopping over one eye, down to his bow-tie. The Doctor gave his slow, charming smile and drew a small black wallet out of his pocket, flipped it open and waved it at her. Nurse Pimble peered at it suspiciously.
“Oh!” Her eyes widened and she stepped back respectfully. “I’m so sorry, sir. I had no idea who you were – please, make yourself at home. If there’s any way I can help you, just let me know.”
“Thanks,” said the Doctor, beaming at her. “Actually, I think we’ll just pop down to the mortuary and have a quick look.”
“Yes, yes, of course.” Nurse Raymond stood back to let them pass, her face flushed with excitement, while Nell peered over the Doctor’s shoulder to read the bit of paper.
“Are you really the Lord High Chief Inspector of Swiss Hospitals? With permission from Jem to look at whatever you want to here? I don’t believe it for a minute. For one thing, Jem’s dead.”
“What? What’s a Lord High – whatever it was – of hospitals?” said Rory. “Does that even exist?”
“Doesn’t it?” said the Doctor, wandering off down a side corridor. “Oh well, it sounded good.”
“But –” began Nell again.
“It’s psychic paper,” said Amy. “It says whatever he wants it to.”
Nell’s eyes bulged, but she seemed, at last, to have been reduced to silence.
Rory flicked the lights on, and they clustered rather uneasily near the doorway. All of them, that was, except the Doctor, who made for the long row of fridges at the other side of the room and began to inspect the contents.
“Nope. Nope. Nope. Ooh, that’s unpleasant. Nope. Aha!”
The body, when displayed to their horrified gaze, made Hilda gag. She clapped a hand over her mouth, swallowed, and breathed deeply for a moment or two. When she opened her eyes, she found that Nell had retreated unceremoniously to the opposite end of the room and Amy was staring in pale, fascinated horror. The Doctor and Rory, on the other hand, were bending over the body, the Doctor scanning it quickly with his sonic screwdriver.
“Ah,” he said, shoving it back into his pocket.
“What?” said Rory nervously.
“Well,” said the Doctor. “That’s – not entirely unexpected.” He peered closely at an especially bloody part of the corpse.
“What is it?” said Rory.
“This woman’s been torn to shreds by some sort of animal.”
There was a pause.
“I thought we already knew that,” said Rory.
“Well. Yes, we did. But now we know definitely.”
“Are you saying you’ve dragged us all the way here to look at a really disgusting body just to see something that we already knew?” Amy folded her arms and glared at the Doctor.
“Well, sort of. Although –”
“Let’s have a look at the other one.”
Rolf’s body wasn’t quite so bad. And yet it was worse. At least they hadn’t been able to see the woman’s face; the expression she’d worn as she died. But they’d known Rolf. They’d taken a walk up to the Auberge only the weekend before he died. And now here he was, his body torn and broken, covered with blood, and the look of terror still on his cold face.
A half sob came from behind, and Hilda turned to see Nell, her hand clamped tightly over her mouth, her eyes full of tears. She moved back and put her arm round Nell’s shoulders, squeezing her as the Doctor scanned Rolf’s body. He swept the sonic screwdriver over the corpse once more, this time stopping at a point near the shoulder. After a moment he pocketed the screwdriver, touched the skin by the shoulder and dabbed the tip of his finger on his tongue. He grimaced and wiped his finger on his trousers.
“Well, that is very interesting,” he said slowly.
Rory bent to peer at the spot the Doctor had touched.
“What?” he said, looking up again. “There isn’t anything there.”
“Oh, isn’t there?” The Doctor smiled like a child who thinks he has set an impossible puzzle. Rory looked back.
“Well, there’s skin. And blood.” He bent closer. “A few bits of his shirt. And some saliva, I suppose. But –”
“Yes – stop!” said the Doctor. “Saliva.”
Rory stared at him, frowning.
“So – he’s been bitten,” he said slowly.
“Ah, but what by? What bit him?” The Doctor narrowed his eyes. “What was he bitten by?”
“Well,” said Rory, while the others watched. “What was it?”
“Was it an animal?” said Nell, then, looking at the Doctor, she added rather uncertainly, “It was an animal, wasn’t it?”
“Not really,” said the Doctor, as Rory covered the body and they were all able to relax slightly. “Actually, not at all. That –” he waved his hand in the direction of the covered body, “is not the DNA of anything that comes from Earth.”
“What?” said Nell, opening the door and leading the way out of the mortuary. “Really, Doctor. This is a serious matter.”
“Oh, he is completely serious,” said Amy.
“No,” said Nell. “That’s really going too far. I mean, you’re talking about – well, aliens.”
“Yes, we are.” Amy’s face was alight with laughter.
“It’s true, I’m afraid,” said Hilda quietly.
“Hilda!” Nell sounded outraged.
“I did tell you about what happened before.”
“Well, yes, but that was science.”
“He’s got a spaceship.”
“A –” Nell choked.
“Oh, come on!” Amy slapped her on the arm. “Never mind that. Let’s get out of this place; it’s horrible. And you, Doctor, can stop being all mysterious and tell us exactly what it is we’re up against.”
“It’s a N –” He broke off abruptly as a small procession approached, bearing something on a stretcher. Hilda sighed inwardly, seeing one of the doctors, and wondering why fate seemed to find it necessary to make things difficult for her.
“Miss Annersley!” began Reg, staring at her in confusion. He broke off, his eyes widening, as the Doctor flourished the psychic paper. “Oh – I do apologise, sir. Is there anything I can –?”
“No, no.” said the Doctor, generously waving his apologies aside. He pointed at the shape on the stretcher. “Anything interesting?”
“No – not really. It – I mean, he – just fell down a precipice, really,” said Reg, looking uneasy. He looked away from the Doctor and gave Nell a smile that held a hint of desperation. “Hallo, Miss Wilson. What a nice surprise.”
“I can tell when you’re lying, Reg,” said Nell, eyeing him severely. She seemed, away from the gruesome bodies, to have recovered her equilibrium. “Now, what is it that’s so interesting about this body? Tell the Doctor.”
Reg blinked once or twice, but he was too conscious of his burgeoning career to risk offending such an important man. Even if he did wear a bow tie and braces.
“This is going to sound ridiculous,” he said.
“Probably.” The Doctor smiled at him cheerfully. “Never mind, say it anyway.”
Reg hesitated, mouthing indistinctly, then seemed to make up his mind to take the plunge.
“It doesn’t look human,” he blurted.
The Doctor smiled again.
“Thought you might be going to say something like that,” he said.
“You – you did?” said Reg, apparently relieved that he wasn’t about to be carted off to the nearest mental institution.
“You did?” said Amy and Rory together.
“Come on, let’s take a look.” The Doctor lifted up the edge of the cover and peered beneath it. After a moment he let it drop again. “Yeah, I thought so. It’s a Nostrovite.”
“A what?” said Amy.
“They’re metamorphic humanoids. Shapeshifters, basically,” he added, catching sight of their bewildered faces.
“Shapeshifters?” said Hilda uncertainly. Nell only stared, her mouth slightly open.
“Come along,” said the Doctor, leading the way back to the mortuary. “Yes, they’ve got a proteus gland; it lets them take on other humanoid shapes at will.”
“I’ve never heard of a proteus gland,” said Reg, frowning.
“Neither have I.” Nell looked at the Doctor, brows raised, as he pushed the door open and let them pass him.
“It’s a shape shifting gland,” he said.
They stared at him.
“I mean it’s for – well, shifting shape.”
“But people can’t shift shape,” said Reg, not quite keeping up with the rest of them.
“It’s not a person,” said Rory.
“Well, that’s what I thought,” said Reg.
“It’s a shapeshifting alien,” said Hilda, smiling at him.
“But it can’t be,” said Reg.
“Why not?” said Rory.
“Because it can’t! I mean, people – things – can’t just – change shape.”
“Really?” said the Doctor striding ahead. “I suppose that means Nostrovites don’t exist, then. Or Werewolves, Krillitanes, Vespiforms, Vampires, Zygons, the Raxacoricofallapatorians? Prisoner Zero, for goodness’ sake!”
Reg gazed at him, his mouth dangling open.
The Doctor sighed.
“It’s an alien,” he said.
There was a pause.
“But aliens don’t exist,” said Reg.
“They really do,” said Amy. “Honestly, just trust us.”
“But – they can’t,” said Reg.
“Then what’s that on the stretcher?” demanded Nell, beginning to lose patience. She’d been sceptical at first, but in the face of Reg’s repetitive brand of stupidity her doubt was rapidly draining away.
“It’s just a – hang on,” he said indignantly. “You haven’t even seen it.”
Thoroughly annoyed by this time, Nell whipped back the covering and felt her jaw drop. Glancing sideways, she could see that Hilda was as taken aback as she was.
“Well,” said Hilda after a minute or two, in a voice of forced calm. “You’re quite right, Doctor. That definitely isn’t human.”
If you hadn’t been able to see its face, you might have thought it was human. But not with that mouth, with those pointed teeth and blackened gums, bared as though about to sink into flesh. Her eyes shifted down slightly, to the hands and the curled fingers with long nails – no, claws. Dirty, sharp claws, just right for tearing into someone’s – she shook her head, trying to stop her train of thought.
“So,” said Nell, trying not to sound as though her brain was slowly leaking out of her ears. “Um. Does this mean there won’t be any more attacks? I mean, it’s dead now.” She waved her hand at the corpse on the table.
“I’m afraid not,” said the Doctor. “They mate for life.”
“What do you mean?” said Reg.
“Really, Reg,” said Nell, finally losing her patience. “What in the world do you imagine he means? Or are you telling me that no-one’s ever explained it to you? You see, when two people love each other very much –”
“Yes, Hilda?” Nell turned her most seraphic smile on her colleague.
“You can teach Reg about the facts of life another time.”
“I know about the – you know. That stuff,” said Reg, frowning.
“Good,” said Hilda briskly. “We needn’t worry about that, then.” She turned back to the Doctor, the smile fading from her face. “I take it you mean that there’s another of these – creatures, Doctor. Still somewhere on the Platz.”
“Yes,” said the Doctor. “Still attacking people.”
“But why?” said Nell. “What have we done to them to make them want to hurt us like this?”
“Oh, they don’t care about you,” said the Doctor. “You’re just a food source.”
“A –?” Nell paled.
“They eat living flesh.” The Doctor twitched the covering back over the thing. “When they found Earth, a lot of them settled here; they like humans.”
“Living flesh?” said Hilda, swallowing down her nausea. “So Lucy – the webbing that she was wrapped up in?”
“It was saving her for later,” said Amy. She put a hand to her mouth. There was a long silence.
“But we can kill it,” said Rory, after a while. “Can’t we, Doctor?”
“Yeah, hopefully,” said the Doctor. “If we can find it, that is.”
“But surely it won’t be that difficult to find it?” said Nell. She’d been all for rushing out instantly and spending the rest of the night searching for the creature, now that they knew what it was. “It’s not exactly inconspicuous.”
“We can’t possibly find it in the middle of the night,” Hilda said firmly. “It isn’t as though it glows in the dark, Nell. At least, I assume it doesn’t?”
She turned to the Doctor, brows raised slightly, and he shook his head.
“No. And it doesn’t always look like that, either.”
“Well, no, you said it was a shape-shifter,” said Nell.
“Yeah, but it can’t always be running about with black teeth and giant claws,” said Amy. “Someone would have noticed.”
“They’re probably the people who are dead now,” said Nell, harshly.
“It must have moved around, though, to keep on attacking people. Surely someone would have seen it going places.”
“I didn’t just mean it’s a shape-shifter,” said the Doctor. “It can actually take on a human appearance. If it’s not feeding or attacking, it’ll just look like another person. Any other person.”
There was a pause.
“Any other person?” said Nell.
“Do you mean –?” Hilda faltered.
“It could look like anyone?” finished Rory. “I mean, it could be one of us!”
They all eyed one another warily.
“Shut up, you idiot.” Amy punched Rory in the arm. “It can’t be any of us three, we’ve been together the whole time.”
“And it certainly is not Nell,” said Hilda. “No-one could possibly imitate her so perfectly.”
“I think it’s Hilda,” said Nell. “She really isn’t acting like herself. For one thing, she’s usually a lot more intelligent. And she doesn’t moan about her bunions so much.”
“I thought she didn’t have bunions,” said Rory, frowning.
“I don’t,” said Hilda, through gritted teeth. “Neither am I a Nostrovite.”
“Prove it,” said Nell, with a bland smile.
Hilda stared at her in outrage. Then she turned to the Doctor, as though to the only sane person in the room.
“I am not the Nostrovite,” she said.
The Doctor stared back, then grinned.
“No, I didn’t think you were,” he said. “They’re rubbish at making tea. And you’re right. There’s no point looking for the thing until tomorrow morning.”
They borrowed a car to get back to the school.
“Neil hardly ever uses the thing anyway,” said Nell as they squeezed in. “He probably won’t even notice it’s gone.”
“No,” agreed Hilda vaguely, barely noticing what Nell was saying, with the result that when Neil Sheppard accused her, some two weeks later, of stealing his car, she found herself entirely unable to explain how it had made its way to the school garage.
She spent the night tossing and turning, trying not to let her mind dwell on the countless people the Nostrovite could be imitating. Surely not one of the permanent inhabitants of the Platz. Someone would have noticed something out of the ordinary over such a long period of time. She sighed and turned over. This wasn’t helping her to sleep.
All the same, it must be a visitor. Or maybe someone at the San. But no, it wouldn’t want to pretend to have an illness, would it? And none of the attacks had happened anywhere near the San. Though that could be cleverness. Four attacks, all near the school. Oh, come on, Hilda. It had to be closer to home. Names raced through her head. Jack, perhaps, or Jane. It’d be easy to imitate her peculiarities. It could even be a mistress. Perhaps it was Rosalie. She tried to clear her mind, breathing deeply, trying to sleep.
At six o’clock in the morning she sat bolt upright in bed, gasping, her troubled sleep instantly gone. For a moment she sat there, thoughts whirling through her brain. Then she swung her feet to the floor and, pausing only to snatch her dressing gown from its hook on the back of the door, rushed from the room. A moment later she was banging on the door of the little guest room close by.
A moment later Nell’s face appeared, a little bleary.
“What on Earth are you doing?” she demanded. “It’s a good thing I was up, or I’d be having your guts for garters by this time.”
“Oh, be quiet. This isn’t the time for your silly jokes.” Hilda pushed the door shut behind her and sank down in the armchair. “I think I know who the Nostrovite’s imitating.”
The amusement died out of Nell’s face.
“Who?” she said quickly.
“Joey,” said Hilda, her words tumbling over one another in her haste. “It must be, Nell. The house has been all shut up for ages, it could have been living there for weeks. No-one’s seen Grizel, but the car’s there. They must have come back, and it ate them both, and now it’s pretending to be Jo. That’s why it gave me that drink – it was trying to make sure that I didn’t notice anything wrong with it.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t just Jo being an idiot?”
“I don’t know, but it all fits.” Hilda leaned back, suddenly tired. Nell was shaking her head, not so much in denial as in complete bewilderment.
“You could be right,” she said. “I can’t believe it. Joey – a flesh eating shape shifter.”
An hour later Hilda, Nell, the Doctor, Amy and Rory crouched behind a large bush beside Freudesheim’s front door.
“Why shouldn’t we come in with you?” Amy was whispering. “We can help.”
“We’ve got weapons,” said Rory, flourishing a hammer.
“You were supposed to wait for me outside,” said the Doctor.
“What, you think you can kill it all by yourself?” said Amy.
“You’re going to kill it?” said Nell, looking shocked.
“What were you planning to do?” asked Amy. “Give it tea and cakes?”
“Nostrovites are animals,” said the Doctor, gripping the sonic screwdriver. “They’re completely wild, driven only by the need to survive.”
“But even so,” said Nell. “Can’t it be caged, or something?”
“And what would be the point of that?” said the Doctor, and Hilda thought she saw a fleeting sadness in his eyes. “No, we have to kill it; it’s the only thing to do.”
“How do we do that?” Hilda was wearing a businesslike pair of slacks, which she’d bought some time before but never dared wear until now. Somehow, hunting down a dangerous, man-eating monster seemed like the time to take them on their maiden voyage.
“Something big,” said the Doctor.
There was a pause.
“Drop a wardrobe on it?” suggested Amy.
“We could burn the house down,” said Rory.
“We can’t torch Joey’s house!” said Hilda, and then bit her lip, annoyed with herself for forgetting for a moment that Joey was probably dead. “We should only do that as a last resort.”
“Also,” said Nell. “We don’t actually know for certain that it is Joey. Imagine if we burned the house down and killed her, and it turned out to be someone else altogether.”
“Just what I was about to say,” said the Doctor. “We should find out if she actually is the Nostrovite before we kill her.”
“But what if she kills us first?” objected Nell.
“Are you never satisfied?” said the Doctor, sounding – and looking – exasperated. “First you refuse to kill her, and then when I agree with you, you start making difficulties about that too.”
“Well, if you don’t mind being Nostrovite breakfast, I suppose we might as well go in.”
“No,” said the Doctor. “Only I’m going in. Didn’t you see what it did to those people? You wouldn’t stand a chance against it.”
“Well, neither would you,” pointed out Amy. “Or is a sonic screwdriver big enough to kill it?”
“Not really, but I’ll think of something, don’t worry.”
He sprang up, pointed the sonic screwdriver at the door’s lock and sidled into the house, closing the door behind him. The other four looked at one another.
“Well, we’d better hurry up,” said Nell. “Otherwise the silly boy’ll be getting himself eaten.”
“Boy?” Amy stared at her, then gave a snort of laughter. Hilda rose and pushed the door open.
“Come along,” she said in a low voice. Feeling the others close behind her, she moved forward into the long hall, pausing to listen, hoping to hear voices. Or not to hear them; she wasn’t sure. She did, though, through the door of the Saal, which was standing slightly ajar. She went towards it and paused, listening.
“But who are you, and what are you doing here?” said a familiar voice, sounding as though she had said it before.
“I’m the Doctor,” said the second familiar voice. “I just thought I’d pop round for a chat. Are you Joey or Grizel?”
Hilda could hear the suspicion in Grizel’s voice.
“You’ve wandered into the house for a chat, and you don’t even know who I am?” she said. “My husband’s upstairs, you know.”
“Really? Upstairs shaving or upstairs a bloody, half-eaten corpse?”
“Are you mad?” enquired Grizel, beginning to sound exasperated. Hilda turned and saw Nell staring at her with an expression of disbelief on her face.
“Does he think he’s being subtle?” she said.
“Yeah, probably,” said Amy. She pushed past Hilda and opened the door. Grizel and the Doctor looked round. Grizel flung out her hands in a dramatic gesture.
“Oh, hallo! Anyone else fancy wandering around the house? Would you like to take a look at the kitchen, too, perhaps? The bathroom? We’ve got some very interesting attics.”
“Hi, yeah, sorry about that.” Amy gave her an apologetic smile. “It’s just that Rory and I saw you in London a while ago, and we just couldn’t resist the opportunity to come and have a closer look.”
Grizel’s face softened.
“So this is Rory? He’s your – husband?” She gave the Doctor a questioning look.
“Actually, I’m her husband,” said Rory, striding into the room, frowning.
“And we thought you were awesome,” said Amy, deciding that it would be better to interrupt before Grizel could express her disbelief that Amy would choose to marry Rory when there were men like the Doctor around.
“Well, thanks,” said Grizel. She looked towards Rory, and spotted someone else hovering behind him. “Hilda! Thank goodness there’s someone sane around. I hope you don’t mind my asking, but what are you all doing wandering around Freudesheim?”
Hilda, keeping up with events admirably, barely hesitated.
“As Amy said, she and Rory simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to meet you properly. And since the door was open, we – well, we just walked in.”
“But who’s this?” Grizel waved her hand at the Doctor. “He keeps on saying he’s a doctor, but he’s nothing like any doctor I’ve ever met.” Her eyes fastened briefly on the bow tie, and Hilda tried to explain who the Doctor was.
“Oh, well, as long as you know him,” said Grizel, apparently dismissing the confusion as hardly worth thinking about, and turning back to Amy. “Do you want to meet Joey, too? I’ll call her.”
“It can’t be her,” whispered Nell, as Grizel sauntered elegantly towards the door. “She knew us, and the Nostrovite wouldn’t have. And she’s acting like Grizel.”
“Nell’s right,” said Hilda in a low voice. “I’m sure she’s really Grizel.”
“Then it must be the other one,” said Amy. “We should be ready for her.”
Grizel was at the bottom of the stairs, holding a shouted conversation with Joey. A moment later the thunder of footsteps racing down the stairs heralded Joey’s arrival.
“Fans?” she said, sounding tremendously excited. “Goodness, I didn’t think we’d find any fans up here. Who are they?”
She swung the Saal door open, but before she could speak – or even see who was in the room – something slammed into her and she found herself crushed to the floor by the sudden onslaught of what seemed to be quite a large number of heavy bodies.
“What are you doing?” wailed Joey, attempting to flail her arms. “Who is that? What are you doing?”
“Quick!” shouted Amy. “Where’s your hammer, Rory?”
“What?” Joey screamed. “If you hit me with a hammer I’ll – I’ll – I’ll damn well make you sorry!”
“Joey!” said Hilda, shocked. “Please try to control your language.”
Joey’s eyes swivelled towards her, and her mouth fell open in surprise and fury. At last, as Amy tried to grab the hammer from Rory, Hilda and Nell sat firmly on Joey’s legs, and the Doctor tried to make himself heard over all the noise, she managed to gasp out a few words.
“What – in the name – of – every saint in the calendar – are you doing?”
“Don’t listen to it!” said Amy, still attempting to wrest the hammer from Rory, who was resisting nobly.
“She’s not the Nostrovite,” he said loudly. “Amy, please don’t hit her on the head with the hammer.”
“Course she is! Just give me the hammer, Rory!”
With a final, enormous tug, she gained possession of the hammer and promptly fell over backwards on top of Hilda, who shrieked. Joey, taking advantage of their distraction, gave a final heave and succeeded in dislodging Nell, too. She lurched forward, grabbed the hammer from the floor where Amy had dropped it, and ran behind the settee, where she stood against the wall, brandishing the hammer threateningly.
“Keep away from me!” she commanded. “I’m not afraid to use this!”
“Can’t you sonic it, Doctor?” said Amy, scrambling to her feet.
“It doesn’t work on wood. Anyway, she’s not the Nostrovite.”
“I’m not the what?” said Joey, staring at him suspiciously. “Have you all gone insane?”
“Didn’t you say that you’d met Joey and Grizel, Doctor?” said Hilda, frowning. “Surely they should know you?”
“Different time, different face,” he explained.
“Never mind. They haven’t met me yet.”
“What?” Nell looked thoroughly bewildered.
“I met them, quite a long time ago, but they won’t meet me for another seven years.” He grinned at Nell. “That’s time travel.”
“Time travel,” Nell murmured.
“Also, I looked a bit different.”
“This is all very interesting,” said Joey dangerously. “I mean, I could stand here and listen to the ravings of insane people for hours. But I still wouldn’t object if any of you felt like mentioning what’s actually going on. Why you attacked me the minute you saw me, for example.”
There was a silence.
“She’s not the Nostrovite, is she?” said Rory.
“I’ve been trying to tell you that for the last five minutes,” said the Doctor in exasperation. “A Nostrovite would have defended itself with teeth and claws; it never would have let you attack it without killing you.”
“Oh,” said Nell, looking crestfallen.
“Sorry,” mumbled Rory.
The Doctor pointed at each of them in turn.
“You do not ever do that again. Understand? That thing would have killed you and I could not have stopped it.”
“It couldn’t have killed us,” said Nell, reviving. “It’s Joey. I’d like to see her kill someone.”
“I could kill someone if I wanted to,” said Joey.
“No you couldn’t,” said Nell.
“I could! Just you get a bit nearer and you’ll see what I can do with this hammer.”
“That’s enough!” Hilda raised her voice just enough to cut icily across the heated debate. “Joey, it was a simple misunderstanding.”
“Yes,” said Nell, beaming. “We thought you were a man-eating alien.”
There was a long silence. Joey walked around the end of the settee, swinging the hammer.
“A man-eating alien,” she said, arranging herself on the arm of the settee and continuing to finger the hammer absently. “Bit early in the day to be drunk, isn’t it?”
“Really, Joey. Please try to restrain yourself,” said Hilda, frowning. “No-one’s drunk. We just thought, as the house has been empty for months, and then you two just turned up suddenly – well, it seemed a bit odd.”
“We haven’t got any more gigs for a couple of weeks, so we thought we’d come home for a bit of a rest. Something wrong with that?”
“Only when it coincides with a series of serious, unprovoked attacks on the Platz,” said Hilda, torn between annoyance that her idea had turned out to be inaccurate, worry about what the alien could be doing at that very moment, and relief that Joey and Grizel were not lying about somewhere, bloody, half-eaten corpses.
“And you thought I was eating people.” Joey shook her head. “Well, if you aren’t drunk yet, you obviously need to be. Gin?”
“It’s nine o’clock in the morning, Joey,” said Hilda sternly.
“So it is. Bloody Mary, then?”
Refusing, with some difficulty, Joey’s pressing offers of drinks, they made their way back to the school in a sad procession.
“I don’t see who it could possibly be,” said Nell. “I mean, it’s got to be someone near the school; that’s where all the attacks have taken place.”
“Or in the school,” said Hilda.
“Oh no,” said Nell.
“It almost begins to look as though it must be.”
“I don’t know,” said the Doctor as they entered through a side door and began to wend their way through the corridors. “Normally they’ll only imitate a person for the sake of getting close to their prey. Or if they’re breeding, of course.”
“Breeding?” Nell squeaked. “They can’t be! I mean, there aren’t going to be more?”
“No, we’d know if they were breeding.” The Doctor spoke absently, staring at a large box which was topped by a notice reading ‘Fines’. “They fertilise a surrogate mother, you see, and then they rip her apart when the offspring’s fully grown. What on earth do you fine people for in a school?”
“Slang,” said Hilda.
“Fertilise a surrogate mother?” said Nell, turning pale.
“Slang?” The Doctor stared at Hilda, his face a mask of bewilderment.
“We teach the girls to use pure English, unencumbered by ugly colloquialisms and vulgar language.”
“Is that out of the prospectus?” said Amy, and Hilda grinned.
“Hello?” said Nell loudly. “Fertilises a surrogate mother then rips her to shreds?”
“Wow, boarding schools are really weird.” The Doctor shook his head, then turned to the white-faced Nell. “Like I said, that’s how they breed. Don’t worry, we’d know if they were."
Nell gulped once or twice, then seemed to pull herself together.
“Well,” she said, with a good stab at her usual sarcasm. “I don’t see how you can call schools weird when there are things like that running about the universe.”
“Animals are normal,” said the Doctor. “Fining people for using slang is –”
He stopped and swung round on the spot as a piercing wail cut through his sentence. A small child shot past him and flung its arms round Hilda’s waist, sobbing loudly. They all stared, until another junior appeared at the end of the corridor.
“Oh, Miss Annersley,” she quavered. “We found an awful thing.”
Hilda felt her heart sink. She was only just recovering from the shock of finding that Joey wasn’t the Nostrovite, and she couldn’t help feeling that something else on top of that just wasn’t fair. Not only that, but the tears were beginning to soak through to her skin. So she gently held the child away from her, at the same time producing a clean white handkerchief from the pocket of her slacks, and made the discovery that it was Kristina, usually a lively ornament of the third form.
“What’s happened?” she said.
Kristina merely wept, but Rachel, her friend, seemed a little more coherent.
“It was a – a –” she paused and gulped.
“I can’t help if you don’t tell me,” said Hilda gently when no more words seemed to be forthcoming.
“It was a body!” blurted Rachel, her eyes so enormous that they looked as though they might fall out of her head at any moment.
“Are you sure?” said Nell, startled. Rachel nodded.
“I didn’t see it,” she added. “Kristina wouldn’t let me, but she said it was ghastly.” There was a moment of frozen silence.
“Well,” said the Doctor, rubbing his hands together and trying, without much success, not to look too excited at this news. “Who fancies taking a look?”
“Oh, love to,” said Amy with deep sarcasm.
“Specially if it looks anything like the others,” murmured Rory. Hilda looked at him in horror.
“Miss Wilson, perhaps you’d take the children up to the San and tell Matron they need treatment for shock. If that’s what they’ve seen –” she broke off with a shudder.
“Maybe you should take them,” suggested Nell. Then, on encountering Hilda’s best Headmistressly look, she added, “No, you’re right. Come with me, Kristina. And you, Rachel.”
She vanished with the two Juniors, leaving the other four to wend their way reluctantly to the spot Kristina had indicated as that where they had found the body.
“Kristina was right,” said Hilda, after a moment. “It is ghastly.”
“And you’re right, too,” said the Doctor.
“What?” she stared at him in bewilderment as he bent over the body, studying it closely.
Hilda approached cautiously and squatted down, trying not to inhale the body’s stench or to look at the worst parts.
“It’s small,” said the Doctor, apparently unaware of her rising nausea. “And the clothes look like –”
Hilda couldn’t control her stomach any longer. She managed to avoid being sick all over the body, but it was a near miss.
“It’s one of the girls,” she said, wiping her mouth with another clean handkerchief.
“I’m afraid so. Probably ten or eleven years old.”
“A junior,” said Hilda hoarsely. She tried to clear her mind, to think what she should do. “We need to find out who it is. I’ll call an assembly straight away, and we’ll see who’s missing.”
“Um, actually,” said the Doctor, trotting to catch her up as she started across the grounds, Amy and Rory close behind. “I don’t think that’ll do much good.”
“Why?” Hilda swung round to glare at him, but the Doctor didn’t seem to notice.
“Rory?” he said.
Rory, unexpectedly put on the spot, shifted awkwardly.
“He’s right,” he said, staring at the ground. “You’d already know if anyone was missing. I’d say that body’s been there – I dunno, a few days. Maybe a week.”
Hilda stared, not really seeing him. Her mouth was dry and spots danced in front of her eyes.
“You mean –” she swallowed and moistened her mouth. “You mean it must have been imitating one of the girls for – for days.”
The Doctor and Rory nodded, and Amy gazed at her, her face a mask of horror.
The Deadly Assassin by Abi
“How are they?” said Hilda, starting up as Nell entered the room.
“Fine,” said Nell. She sank into a chair, looking weary. “Well, Rachel is. She didn’t see the thing, after all. It took Gwynneth quite a time to calm Kristina down, though. She’s sleeping now.”
“I’m not surprised, if that’s what she saw,” said Rory, hunching his shoulders. “It’s not something a kid should have to see.”
Hilda shook her head.
“Poor girl,” she said, quietly. “She’ll be a nervous wreck if this carries on.” She turned to the Doctor. “She was the child who saw something in the corridor at night, a week or so ago. I told you about her; I thought it was all nerves. She might have been dead by this time if she hadn’t screamed.”
Amy patted her on the arm.
“Don’t you worry,” she said. “The Doctor always sorts things out.”
“Not for whoever’s lying out there now,” said Hilda. She sat down, feeling suddenly tired and rather old. “Or her parents, her family. Her friends. We don’t even know who she is.”
“But we should be able to find out,” said Nell, and she stood up, fierce and angry. “They can find out all sorts of things with science, can’t they?”
“Well, yeah,” said Rory reluctantly. “But even in our time this’d be a challenge. There’s not much left of the body – no face, and –”
“There must be something,” said Nell, her jaw tightly clenched. “We’ll have to call the police straight away. Even if they can find a couple of identifiable features that should help. In the meantime, we should check with the staff in case anyone’s noticed something unusual about one of the girls. From what the Doctor says, these creatures aren’t too good at long-term concealment, so it’s likely that someone will have spotted something. And we can make an excuse to visit the form rooms and the common rooms, so that we can look for it.”
The Doctor stared at her for a moment; then he rose and came towards her.
“You’re quite clever, aren’t you?” he said, peering into her face. Nell’s brows rose a fraction.
“So I’ve been told,” she said in her driest voice.
The Doctor’s face split into a wide grin and he laughed in delight.
“Good plan!” he said, and spun round on his heel, pointing back at her over his shoulder. “You can phone the police, then, as it was your idea. Then we’ll talk to any of the staff and girls we can find. Hilda, you can take Amy and Rory round the form rooms. Pretend they’re prospective parents.”
“Oka-ay,” said Amy, in her best into-the-breach voice. Then she stopped. “Hang on. Prospective parents? Do I look like I might have a kid old enough to go to boarding school?”
“Is that really the point?” said Rory.
“Well, yeah,” said Amy. “Is it my hair? Oh, God, tell me I don’t have Mum hair.”
“You don’t have Mum hair,” said the Doctor. He paused. “What’s Mum hair? Is it different from ordinary hair?”
“You haven’t got Mum hair,” said Rory hastily. “You’ve got gorgeous hair. I love your hair. And no way do you look old enough to be – any sort of Mum.”
“So I’m not going to be all that convincing, then, am I?” she pointed out.
“Look, we’re hunting down a flesh-eating alien here,” said the Doctor, beginning to display signs of exasperation. “Would you just do as I say for once?”
“You can be an aunt and uncle,” said Hilda. Now that action was once again required of her, she felt a little better. She might not be able to save the young life that had been ended, but at least she could help the rest of them. “Recently come into the guardianship of a small girl and not really sure what to do with her.”
“Right,” said Amy, shooting the Doctor a nasty look. “Well, come on. Let’s get going.”
The search was fruitless. By the end of the day, they felt as though they had interviewed every girl and staff member in the school. But no-one had noticed anything untoward other than in people in whom they might have expected to see it. Wanda’s friends, of course, had been badly affected by the attack on her, and little Kristina had been quiet and nervy ever since she had seen the creature in the corridor.
“I’m sorry,” said Jack Lambert, one of the last people they questioned. “I just haven’t noticed anything. Well, everyone’s scared, of course. But not apart from that.”
“Never mind, dear,” said Hilda. She gave Jack a weary smile. “I won’t keep you any longer just now.”
Taking this as the dismissal it was, Jack turned to the door, nobly concealing the myriad questions she wanted to ask. Hilda closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them, picked up a paperweight, and threw it at the door that connected with Rosalie’s study. A moment later the door opened and Rory poked his head through.
“Does that mean we’re allowed to come back in?”
“It would be a bit late now if it didn’t,” Hilda pointed out. As the others filed in, since she had flatly refused to let them crowd the room while she talked to the prefects, she went on. “Jack doesn’t know anything; none of them do.”
“We do, though,” said Amy and Nell at the same time. Hilda looked from face to face, and her heart sank.
“What is it?” For a moment there was silence, and her stomach began to hurt. If they didn’t want to tell her, it must be bad. “Just tell me, for goodness’ sake. Nell!”
“There was a telephone call, fifteen minutes ago, or so.” Hilda nodded. She’d heard the ‘phone, vaguely, through the connecting door, but hadn’t taken much notice. Now, of course, she realised who it must have been.
“The police?” she said. Her lips didn’t seem to be working properly. “They have some news? A clue?”
“More than that, actually. A name.” Hilda waited silently and Nell took another deep breath. “They found her handkerchief crushed into the grass underneath her. They – um – they had to clean it before they could read the name. It was Kristina Debrunner.”
Hilda stared at her. Kristina had found the body; that was what Nell must mean. And dropped her handkerchief while she was there. But the handkerchief had been found underneath the body. Surely that couldn’t mean – no, she must have misunderstood.
“What do you mean?” she said, trying to keep her voice steady. “How could her – her handkerchief have got there?”
Nell turned away to stare out of the window, and it was the Doctor who answered.
“She’s the Nostrovite. Don’t you see? It’s hungry – hungry all the time. It attacks stray travellers, but it can’t resist the school sitting there, full of tender young flesh, helpless and there for the taking.”
“Doctor!” said Amy, hitting his arm to make him stop. “Not helping.”
“Right. Sorry. It attacked Wanda, but it got scared off. So one night it comes in. It finds Kristina wandering about in the corridors and thinks she’ll do, but she spots it and screams before it can kill her. By that time it’s got a genetic sample of her, so it kills her, shoves her in a cupboard and disguises itself as her. It imitates her behaviour the best it can and although you notice the change you put it down to shock.”
“Damn,” whispered Hilda. She closed her eyes. It was so obvious; how could she not have realised? Kristina was one of the girls whose name had kept on coming up when she asked people if they’d noticed unusual behaviour in anyone. But she’d thought it natural. Told herself she would have been surprised if the child hadn’t been acting differently.
“I’m so sorry,” said Amy abruptly. Hilda recognised the hopelessness in her tone. It had been in her own voice when she’d said the same words to the Phoebe Peters after the attack on Lucy. She pulled herself together and opened her eyes. Another girl might have died, but no more would; not if she could help it. She looked at the Doctor.
“What do we do?”
“I don’t know,” said the Doctor. “But whatever it is, we’d better do it quickly. As far as we know, it hasn’t eaten for a couple of days. It must be getting hungry.”
“Oh, good heavens!” Hilda jumped to her feet. “The juniors are in bed – Kristina – the Nostrovite – the girls!”
“All right, let’s go!” The Doctor was at her heels as she left the room. “Although I don’t suppose it’ll eat them in the dormitory. Talk about blowing your cover.”
“Which room?” said Nell urgently, as they reached the top of the stairs. Hilda halted for a moment, then began to run along the corridor.
“No idea,” she said over her shoulder. “Come on, Gwynneth’s room.”
There was no answer to her knock, and she marched in and opened a drawer. It was a good thing she’d been in here often enough to know where Gwynneth kept most of her papers. She fished the dormitory lists out and scanned them as quickly as she could.
“Daffodil. Come on.”
Regardless of whether or not they were following, she sped along to Daffodil dormitory and flung the door open.
The room was dark, its silence broken only by gentle snoring, which drifted from the far end, near the window. The cubicle curtains drifted with the breeze of the opening door. Hilda stepped into the dormitory and pulled the first set of curtains gently aside. A small, sleeping figure, faintly illuminated by the moonlight, lay there looking peaceful and content. She let go of the curtains and they swung closed again. She moved on to the next cubicle.
Halfway down the dormitory she found Kristina’s cubicle. It looked just like all the others, with a book on the bedside table, a few prized possessions standing on the dresser, the dressing gown hanging on the wardrobe door. The child’s face, serene. Innocent. Hilda found herself doubting. Surely someone so young, so small and simple, could not be a vicious killer. Silently, she dropped the curtain and moved back to the door, closing it behind her.
“Fourth cubicle from the door,” she said. “She’s just sleeping.”
“Well, that’s good,” said Rory. “I mean, it gives us time to think what to do.”
“We can’t leave her alone,” said Hilda fiercely. “What if she attacks someone?”
“It won’t attack unless it’s alone or cornered,” said the Doctor.
“How are we supposed to watch it without it feeling cornered?” said Nell.
“Can’t you put it in detention, or something?” said Amy.
They all stared at her.
“We could pretend she’s ill and put her in isolation in the San, though,” said Hilda. “At least she’d be away from the rest of the girls until we could decide what to do with her.”
“That’s a better idea,” said the Doctor. “We should wait till the morning. Stop it getting suspicious.”
“No,” said Hilda sharply. “We do it now. I’m not leaving the girls in danger for any longer than I have to.”
“Hilda,” said Nell, touching her arm. “Don’t you think it might be safer – less obvious – if we waited? What if it realised we were tricking it and started attacking?”
Hilda bit her lip. After a moment she shook her head.
“I’d rather risk that than have to leave it in the dormitory for the whole night. I’ll go and fetch Gwynneth; she can take the child’s temperature and decide she’s feverish.”
She swung round and disappeared down the stairs, leaving the rest of them staring after her. Nell sighed, breaking the silence.
“You won’t persuade her, Doctor,” she said.
“Oh, I could if I needed to,” he said with a smile. “But it doesn’t really make that much difference one way or the other. In fact, this way might even be better; at least the other girls won’t all be milling around and getting in the way if anything does go wrong.”
“Right,” said Nell, trying to sound as confident as he did about the whole thing. If anything does go wrong... She tried to block the images out of her mind, of what could happen if anything did. “So,” she said brightly. “Do you do this sort of thing a lot?”
“Goodness, no, haven’t seen a Nostrovite in – must be two hundred years. Anagonia; very nice planet. Inhabited by singing squid. They really didn’t like the Nostrovites. I mean, have you ever seen an angry singing squid? Brrr.” He shook himself.
“Um. No, actually,” said Nell. “No, I – I never have.”
“Neither have I,” said Amy with interest. “Can we go there?”
“It’s not really that interesting,” said the Doctor. “They’ve just got singing squid, really. We could go and see Magla, though. An 8000 mile wide amoeba that's grown a crusty shell. Gets really lonely sometimes.” He stopped and looked round as Nell made an odd, strangled gurgling sound. “Are you all right?”
“I – I –” Nell made a few more bubbling noises, then managed to sort her tonsils out. “Can I come?” she gasped eagerly.
Her friend’s horrified tones came from inches behind her, and Nell jumped violently, her hand going to her chest.
“Hilda! You scared me half to death.”
“I daresay,” said Hilda cuttingly. “You should have thought of that before using such horrible English.”
“I should have known you’d catch me.”
“Yes, you should.” Hilda bestowed upon her the first smile she’d given since they had found the body in the grounds. A moment later it faded away. “Now, Gwynneth. Let’s get the child to the Sanatorium.”
“Oi! I’m coming too,” said the Doctor. “I mean, I am a Doctor.” And he disappeared into the dark dormitory, the door swinging shut behind him.
“She’s sleeping,” said Hilda, with a sigh, as she followed Matron out of the isolation room, locking the door behind her. Nell opened her mouth to express her relief, but the Doctor was before her.
“All right Hilda! That’s enough.” he said. He jumped to his feet and clapped his hands together as though demanding their attention. They stared at him, startled.
“What do you mean?” said Hilda, looking slightly affronted.
“I know that, thank you.”
“I don’t think you do.”
“How dare you?” said Hilda, in the freezing tone that could reduce strong men to quivering, repentant heaps. The Doctor, however, was not a strong man, and appeared entirely unaffected by the low fury in her voice.
“Oh, if you think you’re the worst I’ve encountered you’d better think again,” he said blithely. “And if you’re so sure Kristina’s dead, why do you keep calling that monster ‘she’?”
Hilda opened her mouth to fling a reply back at him. Then his words penetrated her brain and she stopped.
“It’s obviously a female,” she said after a moment.
“But it is not Kristina.” The Doctor strode across the room to look her closely in the face. “It is a monster, an animal, and it will kill anyone it has to in order to survive. It’s not human, and it’s not your pupil. And actually, it might not even be female. The only way to tell is really complicated – and a bit disgusting.”
Hilda blinked at him. Then, unexpectedly, she felt a prickling in her eyes and her nose, and she turned away quickly, staring out of the window. Nell’s hand pushed her into a chair and shoved a handkerchief at her, and Nell’s voice spoke fiercely.
“All right, you can just get out of here, the rest of you. Leave her alone for five minutes, would you?”
It was some time before Hilda was able to compose herself, but Nell made her some tea with Gwynneth’s kettle and made her eat three biscuits. Hilda refused the fourth.
“We’ll have to tell her parents,” she said, giving a last brief rub to her eyes. “Oh, Nell, what can I possibly say?”
“The truth,” said Nell. She paused for a moment, thinking. “Well, perhaps not all of the truth. But as much of it as you can. There’s nothing else you can do. And what will happen will happen.”
“Fatalism, from you, Nell?” Hilda raised a brief smile.
“Even the best of us has to be fatalistic when there’s nothing else we can do.”
Hilda’s head turned sharply towards the door of the isolation room.
“What?” said Nell.
“Nothing.” Hilda shook her head. “Thought I heard something; that’s all.”
Nell looked towards the door uneasily.
“You don’t think it’s woken up, do you?”
“I expect it was my imagination,” said Hilda. She tucked the handkerchief back into her pocket. “At least no-one else will be attacked, now that we’ve –”
She stopped, staring at the crack under the door. The faintest of shadows seemed to slide along it. Almost as though someone was –
“Hilda!” Nell’s voice was barely more than a whisper, and when Hilda looked, she was pointing at the shadow. Hilda nodded and got to her feet. Before she could speak, the door’s handle began to turn, very slowly. It reached the point at which the door should have opened, and stopped. After a moment it turned back again.
“Matron?” said Kristina’s voice. “Matron, why am I locked in?”
They glanced at one another. Hilda raised her voice slightly.
“Matron isn’t here at the moment, dear,” she said. “You won’t be there for long, I promise.”
“But why do I have to be locked up? I’m not ill. Have I done something wrong?”
Hilda looked at Nell and could tell, without either of them speaking, that they both feared the same thing. It knew. It wasn’t a little girl, and it wouldn’t be asking those questions if it thought it was still safe. Hilda swallowed.
“No,” she said. But the gap had been too long. There was a blow to the door that made it shudder violently. Hilda didn’t wait. She raced towards the corridor, only to crash into the Doctor, who had evidently been standing right beside the door. She tried to disentangle herself, but Nell, just behind, trod on Hilda’s ankle and fell over on top of them with a yell of shock.
“It’s escaping!” screamed Hilda, fighting to free herself, while Nell flailed helplessly, pinning her down. After several panic-filled moments Amy and Rory managed to separate them and haul them to their feet.
“Which way did it go?” Hilda looked up and down the corridor, but there was no sign of the Nostrovite.
“That way,” said the Doctor, his hair standing on end. “Judging by the noise, anyway.”
They hesitated no longer, but ran as fast as they could in the direction of raised, terrified girls’ voices, Hilda in the lead.
“Miss Annersley!” cried Renata van Buren as she raced towards them. “Kristina just came by, and she looked all funny –” her voice faded away as the Headmistress accelerated away and disappeared round the corner with Miss Wilson and some other people she’d never seen before in hot pursuit. After a moment’s hesitation, Renata tied her dressing gown cord tighter and set off after them. A few doors further on, she encountered Jack Lambert, on her way back from the bathroom.
“It was the monster!” she cried as Renata came up. “At least – it was Kristina!”
“Come on!” Renata gasped. “They’re all chasing her – it – I think the monster is Kristina. Did you see its eyes, all red? And its teeth!”
Jack made no reply to this, but saved her breath for gaining as much ground on the others as she could. They passed other people who had looked out of their dormitories on hearing the sounds of many running feet, but ignored their questions and ran on grimly. One or two people followed – Samaris Davies from Lower Sixth, and Erica Standish, as well as three juniors who felt that running around the school was far more entertaining than going to sleep, and Matron and Peggy Burnett, who had been discussing the disputed identity of a sock when the cavalcade thundered past them and swiftly dropped their argument – and the sock – in order to participate.
As she descended the stairs at top speed, Hilda was horrified to see someone start up them. She tried to call out a warning, but she hadn’t any breath left. The girl – it was Jane Carew, she realised – glanced up and realised her mistake almost immediately, but by the time she’d retreated to the bottom, the Nostrovite was upon her. It slammed into her, its hand flashing across her face, crushing her against the wall so that it could pass, leaving her doubled over, winded, blood dripping down her face.
For a moment Hilda hesitated. The Doctor sped on past her, Amy at his heels and Rory close behind.
“I’ll look after her,” said Gwynneth, skidding to a halt on the polished floor. “Go on.”
Hilda nodded and sprinted after the others, neck and neck with Nell. As she rounded the corner, she heard Jack Lambert speak.
“Thank you, Jack. And you three children – come here!” Gwynneth’s voice took on the stern tone that usually inspired instant obedience. “You too, Erica.”
Hilda wondered, as the voices faded away, how large the creature’s entourage had grown, but she was concentrating on catching up with the others and didn’t have time to look round. At least she could trust Gwynneth to keep the younger ones out of this affair.
The Nostrovite was heading for the closest door to the outside, a small side door close to the Splasheries.
“Don’t let it get out!” shouted Nell. “Can’t you use that – that pointy thing you’ve got?”
“It doesn’t do wood!” the Doctor called back.
“What? That’s rubbish!”
By the time they reached the door, the Nostrovite had vanished.
“Where did it go?” Hilda ran out onto the path, looking left and right, searching for a sign or a clue – anything – that might tell her where the creature had gone. The rest gathered round in a nervous huddle.
“What’s going on?” demanded Peggy.
“We have to find it,” said Rory. “It could be doing anything.”
“Shut up,” said the Doctor. “Trying to think, here.”
“Yes, but what’s happening?” said Peggy again. “Why are we all chasing Kristina? And why are we so upset that she’s gone? Well, I mean, obviously it isn’t good, but –”
“I said shut up,” said the Doctor a little more loudly.
“Yes, but –”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake!” The Doctor plucked at his hair as though expecting to find a hat there. “All right. There’s an alien on the loose – it did have a mate, but it’s dead; fell off a cliff – it killed Kristina and disguised itself as her. Oh, yes, it’s a shape-shifter, too. What you saw was the alien in its natural form. It’s been killing and eating people in the area for the last month. Now it’s escaped from the school and it could be anywhere, and I’m about to think of a brilliant plan to find out where it’s gone and kill it before it hurts anyone else.”
Peggy stared at him.
“Oh,” she said, and seemed to ponder this for a short while. “So, what’s the brilliant plan?”
“We go that way,” said the Doctor, pointing. He and Hilda set off immediately and the rest followed them, Samaris a little behind, hoping that she wouldn’t be noticed.
“Why this way?” said Amy.
“Instinct,” said the Doctor, grandly. “After nine hundred years you get good at that sort of thing.”
“Well, also, if it had gone the other way, I think we’d know, because I can hear voices and they aren’t screaming. And if it had gone through the hedge we’d be able to see. So, this way.”
They had ended up at the Auberge, following the directions of Platz residents who, enjoying an evening stroll, had seen Kristina racing past them.
“How come it can run so far?” said Amy, bending over and gasping. “That thing is definitely not human.”
“Come on,” said Hilda, forcing her weary legs into action again. “It must have gone somewhere. We have to find it.”
“Maybe we should split up,” suggested Rory. “There’s loads of places it could have gone from here.”
Instead of answering, Hilda raised a hand to someone behind him, and Rory turned to see a small, thin woman emerging from the inn, a wide smile on her face.
“Miss Annersley!” she called. “And Miss Wilson. How are you both?”
“Good evening, Frau Rissler,” called Hilda. “Her husband, Rolf, was killed by the Nostrovite,” she added in a low voice. She raised it again. “Have you seen a little girl? One of the juniors; she might have been running. There’s been – an incident – and it’s imperative that we find her as soon as possible.”
Frau Rissler’s eyes flitted over the motley gang, from the Doctor in his bow tie to Samaris in her dressing gown, still lurking at the back of the group in the hope of not being noticed, and Peggy Burnett, who was wearing only one shoe and sock – both on the same foot – and was currently engaged in trying to remove something unpleasantly brown and sticky from the sole of the bare foot with a large leaf.
“Why yes,” said Frau Rissler. “She came by, oh, perhaps five, maybe ten, minutes ago. She was running, and I thought it peculiar. In fact, I was about to send the boy down with a message for you.”
“Which way did she go?”
Frau Rissler hesitated, almost imperceptibly. Then she pointed towards the path that led up the steep mountain side.
“She went that way. She was running. You should hurry. I must attend to my guests.”
As she turned and disappeared back into the inn, Hilda swept her hand back through her hair.
“Let’s go,” she said wearily.
They all looked round to see Samaris standing there in her dressing gown and slippers, looking rather pink.
“Samaris!” Hilda looked at her pupil in shock. “What in the world are you doing? Here?”
Samaris avoided her eyes, and gazed instead at the sky, which was just beginning to darken.
“I – well, I saw you all running after Kristina, so I thought I’d – um – I’d – you know – come along too.”
“Go into the inn,” said Hilda awfully. “Wait there until we return. We will discuss your behaviour when we have caught this creature.”
Samaris’ cheeks turned a deeper shade of pink.
“Yes, Miss Annersley,” she said, hopping agitatedly from one foot to the other. “It’s just that when you were talking to Frau Rissler I –”
“Go into the inn,” said the Head. She turned away from Samaris and walked towards the path Frau Rissler had indicated.
“But I think it’s important,” said Samaris rather faintly, and was relieved when the Doctor looked at her.
“What is it?” he said. “What did you see?”
“I saw her – Frau Rissler.”
“So did we all. Why’s that special?”
“I mean I saw her over there.” Samaris nodded towards the grassy meadow beyond the inn. “She was running towards the stream.”
“Hilda!” bellowed the Doctor, and Samaris jumped nervously, then stared as the Headmistress came hurrying back at his summons. “Change of plan,” he said briskly. “Frau Rissler is the Nostrovite. At least, that Frau Rissler is. There’s another one somewhere else.”
“What?” said Peggy, her blue eyes widening to such an extent that Hilda feared for their chances of remaining attached to their sockets. “I thought it was Kristina.”
“It’s a shapeshifter,” said Samaris. “It changes into people – it’s changed into Frau Rissler instead of Kristina now. I expect it thinks we won’t realise.”
“Exactly,” said the Doctor. “Which means we have an advantage over it. If we can catch it by surprise, we should be able to kill it.”
“How do we do that?” said Nell.
“No idea.” The Doctor seemed about to say something else when the door of the inn swung open again and two more people emerged, carrying glasses. He beamed as they spotted the little group and jogged across the grass to meet them. “Joey – and Grizel. Lovely to see you again.”
Hilda covered her eyes and groaned.
“Hallo, Hilda,” said Joey, happily joining the group. “Come up for a drink, have you? Why on earth have you brought Samaris, though?”
“I didn’t – and that isn’t the point.”
“Well, what is the point, then?” said Grizel, taking a drink and eyeing Peggy in slight puzzlement as, leaning heavily on Rory’s shoulder, she poked a fresh leaf between her toes in an endeavour to remove the last of the damp brown substance.
“Frau Rissler is a shapeshifting, flesh-eating alien,” said Rory in a weary tone, removing himself from Peggy’s vicinity as she put down her cleansed foot.
“What, another one?” said Joey, raising her brows.
“No, the same one,” said the Doctor. “It was pretending to be Kristina, and now it’s being Frau Rissler.”
Joey dropped her glass of gin, seemed for a moment to contemplate scrabbling in the grass for the dregs, then gave up the idea and turned wide, startled eyes on the Doctor instead.
“Frau Rissler?” she repeated. “But she’s just sold us a drink!”
“It’s not actually beyond the powers of a Nostrovite to take money from people,” said the Doctor dryly. “And we know this one’s particularly good at disguising itself. We just need to kill it now.”
“But you can’t kill Frau Rissler,” said Grizel, looking shocked.
“It isn’t her,” said Joey, shaking her head at Grizel’s stupidity. “It’s an alien pretending to be her.”
“How do you know?” demanded Grizel.
“He said so.” Joey pointed at the Doctor.
“Well, how does he know?”
“Samaris saw the real Frau Rissler down by the stream,” said the Doctor.
“How does he know that one wasn’t the Nostro – Nostrodamus –” Grizel began pugnaciously but dwindled off into uncertainty as the required word escaped her fumbling mind. She drained her glass to help clear it. “What if we kill the wrong Frau Rissler?”
“Have you two done anything but drink since we saw you this morning?” demanded Nell.
“Yes!” said Joey indignantly. “We sang for two hours.”
“One hour,” said Grizel. “It was ten o’clock when we started and twelve o’clock when we finished.”
“That is two hours,” said Joey.
“No it’s not.” Grizel counted painstakingly on her fingers. “Oh. Well. Two hours isn’t much more than one, anyway.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake!” cried Hilda, losing her self control. “Doctor, we need to deal with this thing. What do we do?”
“Actually, Grizel made a good point,” Amy interrupted.
“I made a point?” Grizel looked faintly alarmed. Amy ignored her.
“How do you know the one in the inn is the alien? They both look the same, surely?”
“Why would the Nostrovite change into someone and then run off and hide in the bushes, though? No, this one’s intelligent. It’ll have sent her off on some pretext and then sat tight, thinking it won’t even occur to us to suspect it’s changed shape again, especially into someone who’s doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.”
“So how do we kill it?” said Hilda impatiently.
“You don’t. I do."
“Yes, I do.” Hilda shot him a freezing look. The Doctor pointed his sonic screwdriver at her.
“You,” he said, making a little jab with it to emphasise his words. “Will stay right here while I deal with it. And that goes for the rest of you too.” He looked each of them in the eye as though to hypnotise them into following his instructions, then turned round. “Oh, hello, Frau Rissler,” he said.
There was a moment of frozen silence.
Frau Rissler’s eyes turned bloodshot, then red. She drew back her lips in an animal snarl and they saw sharp, blackened teeth, and as she lunged forward, scattering them, she slashed out with her pointed, thick claws. Hilda made a grab for Samaris, but she was much too far away and she found herself being hauled out of harm’s way by Nell and Peggy, Joey and Grizel diving out of the way just beside them. Lifting her head, she saw the Doctor, one arm around Samaris, backing away from the creature, while Amy and Rory hovered a few metres away, watching as it advanced with a piercing shriek.
Hilda struggled, but Nell was much stronger than she was and her arm was firmly pressed across Hilda’s shoulders.
“You can’t do anything,” she murmured in her ear. “Try, and you might get them both killed.”
Recognising the truth of this, Hilda desisted, and watched as the Doctor and Samaris backed away across the grass.
“You shouldn’t have chased me,” said the Nostrovite. Hilda felt Nell’s arm slide away from her as Nell raised herself onto her elbows.
“Well, I’m known for doing things I shouldn’t,” said the Doctor.
“And now you’re going to die for it.”
“Actually, about that,” said the Doctor. He glanced behind him, found that he had nearly reached the fence, and came to a halt, raising his hands in a gesture of surrender.
“You want to make a bargain?” the Nostrovite smiled, showing its black, rotten teeth.
“Yes!” said the Doctor, waving a finger. “A bargain sounds good.”
“Then give me the girl, and you go free.”
The alien began to laugh, and Hilda scrambled to her feet.
“You don’t know who I am, so I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that last comment,” said the Doctor. Hilda, who had been creeping forwards, paused at the sound in his voice, and the look on his face. Suddenly he didn’t look like a young man any more, but like one who had seen many things, and done many, many more. The Nostrovite growled quietly. “Here’s the deal,” the Doctor went on. “You leave this place – in fact, you leave this planet – you get away from here as fast as you possibly can. Nick a spaceship, hitch a lift, whatever you like. And I won’t kill you.”
There was a pause. Then the Nostrovite laughed again.
“You really think you can kill me?” it said, and lunged. Hilda dived forward and so did everyone else, but it was all over too quickly. The Nostrovite had crashed into the Doctor and Samaris with all its weight and at high speed and they, standing close up against the fence, hadn’t been able to stop it; hadn’t been able to save themselves. Hadn’t been able to prevent all three of them from breaking the fence as though it was paper and plunging down the sheer face of the cliff.
Hilda became aware of a firm hand on her arm.
“It’s all right.”
Nell. Hilda blinked; she’d been staring downwards for so long that her eyes seemed not to be working properly.
“Hilda? Hilda, we’ll get her up. I’ve sent Joey and Rory for some rope. She’ll be all right.”
Get who up? What was Nell talking about? She’d been staring down into that abyss for a very long time, she thought, and she hadn’t seen a thing. They’d gone. There was just the river rushing along, its roar filling her ears. She followed the direction of Nell’s eyes and looked down again, a little to the right. And Samaris was there, clinging to the cliff, not very far down, her upturned face white and her eyes huge. The dark emptiness inside Hilda changed into an enormous, choking lump, and then Nell’s arms were round her, Nell’s hand patting her soothingly on the back as tearing sobs lurched out of her.
No time seemed to have passed when Nell gently pushed her upright.
“I need to help them pull Samaris up,” she said.
Hilda fumbled for a handkerchief as Nell turned away to help Rory wrest the rope away from Joey, who seemed to have developed a sudden conviction that was able to haul Samaris from her perilous prison single-handed. But her pocket was empty. She must have used her last handkerchief during her earlier storm of tears in Matron’s room. The shock helped to clear her mind, and she mopped her leaking eyes and nose on her sleeve and turned to the others.
Grizel seemed to have been sobered by the shock of seeing three people – or rather, two people and one alien – disappearing over the cliff. Or if not sober, her drunkenness had taken a new and helpful turn. She had taken charge while Nell was looking after Hilda and was now standing a little way back from the edge, holding the rope as Samaris, following her stern instructions, fastened the end around herself.
“Are you ready?” Nell called past Grizel, who shot her an annoyed look and addressed herself to Samaris.
“Are you ready?”
“I – I think so.” Samaris’ voice shook slightly.
“All right! Stand by to haul!” Grizel bellowed before Nell could get a word in, and she, Nell, Rory, Peggy and Joey braced themselves on the rope. But someone was missing. Hilda looked around.
There she was. Amy, walking slowly back towards them beside the fence, her head turned to stare down into the depths. Hilda hesitated. Nell had obviously given up attempting to command the rescue operation and was following Grizel’s shouted instructions with a will, and Samaris was nearly at the top of the precipice. She was going to be fine.
Amy looked up as Hilda reached her.
“He’s gone.” Her voice was quiet, her face almost puzzled. “He can’t have gone. The Doctor wouldn’t just – die.”
Hilda couldn’t help her eyes going to that dark drop, ending in the rushing torrent, just for a moment.
“I’m sorry,” she said, and felt guilty because she could still feel her own needless tears on her face. From behind them came yells of triumph, but for now they didn’t matter, not compared with the pain in Amy’s face. And she realised that she didn’t know how to comfort Amy.
It didn’t matter. A second later, Rory ran past her and enveloped Amy in his arms.
“He’s gone,” said Amy again. Rory pushed at her shoulders so that he could look her in the eye.
“No he’s not,” he said.
“What? Rory, don’t be stupid. He fell down the cliff. And if he survived that, he drowned.”
“Come on, Amy, this is the Doctor we’re talking about. We’d know if he was dead.”
“Would we? We saw him fall off a cliff, Rory. He’s not immortal.”
“Yeah, but come on, Amy. Do you really think he’s dead?”
Hilda, standing to one side, forgotten by both of them, watched as Amy looked into his face.
“No,” she said at last. “You’re right. We’d know.” Her face lit up, and she and Rory high-fived.
“But wait,” said Hilda. “How can you think he’s still alive? I don’t understand.”
“He’s not dead,” said Amy. “There’s no way he’s dead.”
“Hilda!” called Nell. “Come along, we need to get Samaris back to school.” She looked at Amy and Rory, and the light of relief died from her face. “I’m so sorry. We’ll telephone the police as soon as we get back, but I – I don’t know –” Her voice faded away.
Hilda had made tea, and now they sat around in her sitting room drinking it, none of them saying much. Samaris had been dispatched to Matron’s room, protesting vigorously that she was perfectly fine and just wanted something to eat, and really she didn’t need to go to San, or have any hot milk. Subsequently there had been a lengthy and heated discussion of whether the Doctor was dead or not. This had degenerated into a childish and repetitive argument between Rory and Nell.
“He’s not dead,” said Rory, in the tone of one explaining the meaning of the universe to a two-year-old.
“He must be,” said Nell.
“Ok, shut up, you two,” said Amy.
“Yes, please be quiet,” said Hilda. She was leaning her head on her hand, so weary. She knew that Rory and Amy believed the Doctor was still alive, but they were deluding themselves, of course. No-one could have survived a fall like that.
“It’s my fault,” she said into the sudden silence that had fallen when the other two stopped arguing.
“What?” said Nell.
“I should have realised it was Kristina. How could I not have noticed that she was so different?”
“Honestly, Hilda,” said Joey, who had been opening and closing all the cupboard doors. “I don’t understand why you keep changing where you keep things. Do you get bored of only having them in one place? Ah!” she lifted the bottle out of the cupboard with reverence and went to fetch a glass. “Anyone else for a drink? Now, what was I saying? Oh yes. How were you supposed to notice that one of the Juniors had turned into an alien?”
“Her behaviour was so different,” said Hilda, watching as Joey drained half her glass at one gulp. “All the clues were there. I was just too stupid to put them together.”
“There were perfectly good reasons for her to be behaving like that,” said Joey firmly. “Here, have a drink and stop being so maudlin.”
Hilda found herself speechless with shocked exasperation, a sick feeling of guilt and something like – could it be hope? Though obviously Joey wasn’t right. Anyway, she was drunk, and if she was both drunk and right that would really be adding insult to injury. Hilda took the glass.
“But he must be dead,” said Nell. Hilda, feeling that she was becoming somewhat tedious, considered changing her mind on the subject just to annoy her.
“I don’t know,” said Joey, hoisting herself onto the windowsill and staring thoughtfully out onto the sunny lawn.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned out not to be.”
“Of course he is,” said Nell.
“Bet he isn’t,” said Rory from where he and Amy sat slumped in the same large, squashy armchair. Amy punched him on the arm.
“All right.” Nell narrowed her eyes at him. “I’ll bet you a pound.”
“A pound?” scoffed Rory. “Come on, the Doctor’s life has to be worth at least a tenner.”
“A tenner?” Nell’s eyes bulged. She swallowed convulsively and met Grizel’s mocking eyes. “Fine,” she said. “A tenner it is.”
“Nell!” said Hilda, unable to contain her shock at such behaviour. Under her frank horror, Nell found herself reviving.
“Just a bit of fun, Hilda,” she fluted happily.
“You’re having fun – and making money – because a man’s died!”
“Yeah, I’m with Hilda on this one. Making money out of dead people is definitely not right.”
Hilda felt as though the room had exploded. Then she realised that Amy had emitted a piercing shriek and leapt out of the chair to throw her arms round the Doctor, that Grizel and Peggy Burnett had broken into spontaneous applause, and that Nell had jumped up and was expressing her disbelief in loud tones and forceful language and that Rory was triumphing equally noisily. In fact, the only people who hadn’t greeted the Doctor’s appearance with vociferous excitement were Hilda herself, still sitting in her chair, frozen with shock and relief, and Joey, lounging elegantly on the windowsill, an insufferably smug expression on her face. She spotted Hilda watching her and threw her a wink. Hilda raised her eyebrows interrogatively, and Joey mouthed one sentence at her.
“Saw him through the window.”
The Parting of the Ways by Abi
The excitement was finally over. The Doctor had explained, at least eleven times, exactly how he had escaped certain death – “Good thing I learned to swim” – even though the Nostrovite definitely hadn’t – “turns out breathing underwater isn’t one of their skills” – and how he had, apparently by magic, saved Samaris – “well, that was more luck, really.”
Hilda had experienced an odd little jolt of grief when she’d heard about the Nostrovite. It hadn’t been Kristina. She’d known that, but it still felt as though the child had finally, really, been lost. The body had been found only an hour or two later, still looking like Frau Rissler, but horribly bloated and quite definitely dead. Fortunately it had been discovered by two gangling adolescents, who had only to look once into Amy’s eyes to be completely and willingly hypnotised. They hadn’t even had to be bribed not to mention the presence of a corpse on the riverbank, and had apparently not even considered that Amy’s explanation about the criminal underworld and the need for top secrecy might not be true, though Rory had castigated it as the lamest story he had ever heard. Except maybe for some of the Doctor’s. Hilda shook herself. It was gone now. Dead. Buried. Gone.
They were walking across the garden towards the quiet spot behind the tool shed where the Doctor had parked the TARDIS, and Hilda, trying to think of a way to tell Kristina’s parents that their daughter was dead, became aware of a discussion between Nell and Rory.
“And I had to beg, borrow and steal to get that amount together for you,” Nell was complaining.
“It’s only a tenner,” said Rory, holding out his hand.
“Hmph.” Nell dropped a pile of coins and a couple of notes into it and Rory stared at them, a look of bewilderment permeating his features.
“This isn’t money,” he said.
“Yes, it damn well is,” said Nell tartly. “Do you have any idea how many pints this would have bought me?”
“No,” said Rory. “It’s not money; I couldn’t even buy half a pint with this rubbish.”
“Oh, well, if you call ten bloody pounds rubbish!” Nell made a grab, and Rory backed away.
“Yeah, I do,” he said. He fished in his pocket and brought out a rather ragged ten pound note. “This is a tenner.”
Nell flicked it out of his hand and examined it closely.
“Well, I don’t have one of those,” she said, and showed it to Hilda. “Look, it’s still got Bank of England and everything on it. Queen looks a bit older, doesn’t she? Where on Earth did you get this, Rory?”
“It’s the money we use,” said Rory.
“No it’s – oh, my!” Nell’s eyes widened and she held the note close to her eyes for a moment. “But it says the year on it. 2000. That’s – that’s the – the future!”
“Oh,” said Rory, in the tone of one who finally sees the light. “Of course. Decimalisation didn’t come in till 1971 – and they’re always changing what banknotes look like.”
“This is from the future,” said Nell, holding each end of the note between finger and thumb, and gazing at it raptly. “The year 2000. I mean, that’s – that’s not even possible. Is this what money looks like then?”
“Yeah,” said Rory, looking faintly embarrassed. “Amy and I are from 2010. Or we were when the Doctor picked us up.”
Nell stopped dead and looked at the Doctor.
“You – are you serious? You can travel in – time?”
“Oh yes,” said the Doctor. He grinned as he rounded the corner of the tool shed, and flung out his arms to introduce the TARDIS. “And this is my spaceship. Anywhere you want, any time you want. Where shall we go?”
Nell stared at it, her mouth half open.
“But it’s a police box.”
“Yep. And it’s a spaceship.” The Doctor, evidently in the mood for showing off, snapped his fingers and the door swung open. Nell’s mouth opened slightly wider. “Where do you want to go? The past? The future? Another planet? How about Poosh? Poosh is brilliant. Moon got lost, once, but we got it back all right.”
Nell, apparently rendered speechless by such prospects, simply stared at him in silence until Hilda, just beside her, spoke quietly.
“No.” They all looked at her, the Doctor’s face falling. “I’m sorry, Doctor, but I have things I need to do.”
“It’s a time machine,” said the Doctor, resting a hand on the TARDIS’ corner. “I can bring you back in five minutes time. Or five minutes ago, if you’d rather.”
But Hilda still shook her head.
“Thanks to you, we’re rid of that monster,” she said. “I shudder to think how long it could have lived as one of the girls, eating what it liked when it liked, if you hadn’t turned up. But Kristina still died. I must tell her parents. I must write to the rest of the parents, explaining this term’s occurrences as best I can and hope that not too many of them remove their girls. I must care for the girls who’ve been attacked, or whose friends have been attacked or killed. I can’t go off, travelling around the universe, knowing that I will have to come back to all of that.”
The Doctor nodded once, his face serious.
“No,” he said. “Course you couldn’t. Never mind.” He raised his eyebrows at Nell, who heaved a sigh and shook her head.
“I’ll have to stay too,” she said. “Can’t have Hilda fretting herself into a decline. Maybe you’ll come back.”
“Yeah,” said the Doctor. “Maybe.”
“You won’t, will you?” said Hilda quietly. A lump of disappointment and loss lodged itself at the back of her throat.
“Yeah, we will.” Amy strode forward and grabbed Hilda’s hand. “Don’t listen to him; he hates saying what he’s going to do next. Look, when you’re ready, you phone this number and we’ll come and pick you up.”
Hilda looked down at her hand, and found that Amy had scrawled a telephone number across the back of it. She looked up and smiled.
“Goodbye,” she said. Then she stood back and waited, enjoying the expression on Nell’s face as the blue police box wheezed, flickered and finally faded out of sight.
“Well.” Nell heaved an enormous sigh. “We’d better sort this mess out as quickly as we can. And at least we got one thing out of it.”
“What’s that?” said Hilda, turning to walk back across the garden.
“This.” A grin of pure pleasure lit Nell’s face as she waved the ten pound note.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.