The Child Left Behind

Weazle Words (part two)

Last Friday, I posted an extract from the first chapter of my novel, with the promise that business would be concluded this week. If you haven’t yet read that post, I suggest you do so now if  you want the following to make any real sense. (It may still not, of course, but you stand a bigger chance.) A brief note: I wrote this before I either knew about or saw a certain episode from last year, and at this stage I’m inclined to leave the last exchange in there, even though it no longer makes any sense.

We rejoin the Doctor and Amy as we left them: trapped in the TARDIS kitchen with a small bundle of blue fur, and facing off against a monstrous plant…

 

Chapter One, Part Two

Somehow, the Doctor managed to seize the moss ball, spring into a standing position and turn a hundred and eighty degrees on the spot in one fluid motion. It was astonishing to watch these occasional displays of agility, Amy thought, from a man that she had come to know as practically dyspraxic. Or at least that’s what she would have been thinking, had she not been distracted by the gargantuan monstrosity that was now blocking the doorway.

The plant was easily twenty-five feet long, and bright orange: a poisonous, deadly orange that one might associate with a tree frog. The effect was enhanced by jagged black stripes that ran down the main stem, like a sort of reversed tarantula. The stem was two feet thick and made jarring snapping noises as it creaked. A solitary eye the size of a pig sat at the top, staring at them, unblinking. Then the stem protruded downwards, ending at a wide gelatinous base that housed a pool of glowing purple fluid. The fluid seemed to take a life of its own, bubbling and whirling without pattern or reason, but just because it could. Occasionally one of the plant’s many tentacles would reach into the pool and emerge with its end painted a bright, vivid mauve. Each tentacle contained a set of crocodile-like teeth.

For a man whose ship had been boarded by the kraken, the Doctor was unusually calm. “Amy, meet the snapweazle. Snapweazle, this is Amy.”

“Um…yeah. Hello,” said Amy, feeling slightly less ridiculous than she imagined she might. “I hope you’ve had lunch?”

The snapweazle lurched from left to right, tentacles lashing and billowing at random. The great eye surveyed them, moving a brilliant pupil that had the appearance of black marble from left to right and back again, surveying its surroundings. Then it began to rock forwards on its base, and it had done this for about seven seconds when it made the first jump.

It was shuffling through the doorway.

Any started. “Doctor, it’s – it’s walking!”

“So I see.”

“But plants don’t walk.”

The Doctor allowed himself the briefest sideways glance. “Neither does a statue.”

Snapweazle

Illustration: Josh

The snapweazle was all the way through now, and advancing upon them It seemed to be growing bigger and more deadly by the second. Amy found herself involuntarily backing up against the Aga. Her hands reached behind the back of her waist to touch the cold metal handle. She noted that the Doctor had joined her, looking similarly panicky. “Please tell me,” she whispered, “that you have a way out of this.”

“Just one,” said the Doctor, as the tentacle reached out its pointed end. “How’s your operetta?”

Amy gave a start. “Truthfully, I’m a little rusty.”

The Doctor nodded, resigned, as if this were to be expected. “Fine. Just take your cue from me.” And to Amy’s astonishment, he cleared his throat, looked up at the menacing plant, and opened his mouth to sing:

“Your seedling hearts, ah, do not steel
to pity’s eloquent appeal
such conduct humble bipeds feel –
Sigh, sigh, all sigh!”

The Doctor glanced at Amy again, but this time it was purposeful. Amy got the hint, and managed a theatrical sigh. Turning back to the plant again, he continued:

“To plant or beast we rarely see
A girl or Time Lord bend the knee
Yet, one and all, they kneel to ye –
Kneel, kneel, all kneel!

We bipeds very seldom cry
And yet – I need not tell you why –
A tear-drop dews each saddened eye!
Weep, weep, all weep!”

He was no Leonard Osborn, but the effect was surprising, dramatic and almost instantaneous. The plant reared up, its tentacles quivering and its central column vibrating. Then it emitted a tremendous screeching noise, and then exploded.

It was about thirty seconds before Amy regained consciousness. The snapweazle’s combustion had included a shockwave that had shaken the floor of the TARDIS, and both Amy and the Doctor had been thrown against the Aga, before collapsing in a heap. When she awoke, a blurry vision of the kitchen swam into view, and she could make out the polished black work surfaces, the open fridge door, and the Doctor, who was still out cold. Amy felt a strange sensation, halfway between pleasant and painful, and looked down to see the moss ball chewing on her index finger.

She withdrew her hand quickly. The moss ball looked up at her, insofar as it was able to do so, considering it had no eyes. It looked almost ashamed of itself.

“There, there,” Amy said, with as much compassion as she could muster. “It’s OK. You’re still hungry? Here.” She picked up the carrot and held it to where she assumed the moss ball’s mouth must be. The carrot instantly became shorter, like a branch being dropped into a wood chipper. There was a moment’s silence, and then the creature belched.

There was movement from the floor beside her; the Doctor was shaking off the last vestiges of unconsciousness and propping himself upright. “Gosh. That was a close one. Lucky I remembered my Gilbert and Sullivan. Singing in the shower, Pond,” he said, wagging a bony finger at her. “More useful than you’d think.”

He jumped to his feet. “Right! Time to clean up, I think. There’s a mop in the cleaning cupboard, which is down the corridor on the left, next to the server room. If you can sort out the surfaces,” he said to Amy, “I’ll sort out the floors.”

Amy was still cradling the moss ball. “What about this one, Doctor?”

“Oh, him. He’ll be fine for a moment. If he’s eaten he won’t want to eat again for at least a week. I expect he’ll be happy just playing.”

“Are you sure? Because I don’t want to be cradling a moss ball in one hand and a J-cloth in the other. Can we not put him in a playpen, or a cot or something?”

“This is the TARDIS, Amy, not a crèche! We’ll just have to do the best we can. Heaven knows what the health and safety people would say if they walked in right now. Well, if I had any health and safety people. Either way, it’s important we clean up this mess before – ”

The Doctor stopped. Or rather he was encouraged to stop by the alarm call from the next room. The klaxon was low, heavy, and resonated into the kitchen. Amy looked up. “What’s that?”

“It’s the TARDIS emergency materialisation alarm. It’s programmed to go off in the event certain carbon-based life forms try and take over the ship. Well, that and leaving the iron on. But the snapweazle’s triggered it. Anyway – ” the Doctor continued, as he sprinted out of the kitchen and into the control room – “Long story short, we’re landing.”

“Well, can’t you shut it off? It’s not as if we need to worry about it now.”

“Can’t. The shutdown mechanism froze up some time ago and I hadn’t got around to fixing it. Easier if we just ride it out. Hold down that lever.”

They were at the controls now, the time rotor rising and falling with a juddering, stuttering motion – not the smoothness that Amy was used to, but at least it was working again, however imperfectly. The juddering apparently had knock-on effects throughout the whole ship, which was rumbling in a manner the young woman found somewhat unsettling. There had been rumbling before, she remembered. Beneath the soil, when she had disappeared down the rabbit hole and found a kingdom full of lizards. She had enjoyed a brush with the future in a context that was yet to be explained. But when she mentioned the Silurians, the Doctor would change the subject.

She wondered why. But not now. Now, the klaxon in her head was setting up a camp bed and getting under her feet, and introspection would have to wait. The Doctor was busy at the desk, spinning dials and punching buttons, his brow furrowed in concentration. The ship lurched, and the two of them almost lost their footing. Outside the TARDIS, it would have been an impressive sight: the battered police box swaying in the mists of the time vortex.

 

TARDIS Falls

Illustration: Daniel

“Amy!” bellowed the Doctor above the din. “That button! Now!”

Amy saw where he was pointing and stretched across. Skin found plastic. There was one final lurch, and then a sudden stop. The ground ceased to rumble and became stable. The lights went out. Smoke poured from vents, and two electrical cables sparked together in a most dangerous fashion near one of the hatches.

The Doctor looked over, alarmed. “Uh-oh. Better get that fixed, and sharpish.” He strode purposefully across the TARDIS, pulling a pair of rubber gloves from his jacket pocket as he went. Looping one end round a protruding hook in the wall and tying it so that it was secured far away from the other end of the cable, he turned to face his companion. “We made it, anyway. No broken bones, Pond?”

“No.” She rubbed the back of her forehead “Hell of a stiff neck, though. So where are we?”

“No idea. Let’s have a look.”The Doctor swivelled a monitor into view even as he reached the desk. “Hmm. That’s funny. Earth, apparently, in the late thirteenth century. 1285, to be exact. But nothing more specific.”

“So the TARDIS will tell you when we are, but not where?”

“Exactly. The readouts must have got damaged in the landing. I’ll fix them later. Meantime, we go and look.”

“Thirteenth century? That’s around the crusades, isn’t it? Robin Hood, Merry Men in the forest.”

“Yes, I suppose it is.” The Doctor’s face darkened “Ye gods, I hope we don’t run into him. I owe him a mackerel.”

“You owe Robin Hood a – ” Amy realised that continuing the discussion was pointless, because the Doctor was already heading for the doors. “Bring a coat, Amy. It’s October. Liable to be chilly.”

Categories: The Child Left Behind | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weazle Words (part one)

9781405920025

It’s Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays. It’s October, which means the Great Pumpkin, harvest, and our wedding anniversary, not in that order. And over at Penguin, Justin Richards has released a new book entitled Time Lord Fairy Tales. Aimed at the 7-11 age bracket, it promises to be “A stunning illustrated collection of fifteen dark and ancient fairy tales from the world of Doctor Who.”

But which fairy stories, you may ask? Well, this is one of the digital download summaries:

The Scruffy Piper
Read by: Nicholas Briggs

Space Station Hamlyn is under siege. Thousands of small metal creatures are flying through space, sent by silver warriors to burrow inside the station. The crew’s only hope is a slightly scruffy-looking stranger, with a recorder and a mysterious blue box . . .

 

And I confess that when I read this synopsis, my first words were “Oh, bugger”. Because I’ve just spent eighteen months writing (and a good deal more time planning) a Doctor Who novel which runs along very similar lines.

There are differences, of course. Richards has produced a short story aimed at children. I’ve produced a full-length novel set in twelfth century Hamelin – specifically, Hamelin after the Piper has been and gone, when the Doctor arrives to find a town that’s a shell of its former self. The story of the Pied Piper tells of one lame child who did not make it through the rock face before it closed, and it was this that provided a starting point. How would such a boy be treated in the wake of such a terrible thing? Would he be a victim? A pariah? A political pawn? What about his parents? It’s into this situation that the Doctor is thrust – but he hasn’t been in Hamelin long when the murders begin…

Is there a bit of flag-planting going on here? Probably. Am I territory marking? Well, I’m trying not to. But I know how this works: I know that somewhere along the line, if this ever sees the light of day, I’m going to be told that I stole the idea. And I can deal with that. No one can copyright an idea and I’m sure that I’m not the first person to join the dots between the Piper and the Doctor (and that’s even discounting the quite splendid Challenge of the Piper). Do I think it’s better than some Past Doctor Adventures? Well, yes, to be honest. It’s not exactly Booker material, but at least it’s consistent and tells a reasonable story, which is more than you can say for [THIS TEXT HAS BEEN AUTOMATICALLY CENSORED BY THE AUTHOR’S INNER DIPLOMAT].

I’m also not stupid: actual publication of this thing is (at time of writing) nothing more than a pipe dream. Unsolicited fiction is generally ignored these days, and everyone and their grandmother has written a Doctor Who novel. Thus when I visited a local writer’s event the other week I was advised – before I heard about this new book – to get the thing online in the meantime. “You might as well publish it,” the affable Australian to whom I was speaking said. “You won’t make any money, but there’s no law against it, and at least it’s out there.”

But I can’t bring myself to share the whole thing yet. It’s finished, but it’s not ready. It’s three hundred pages and on a good day it feels like a complete novel, with subplots and character development and an interesting story. On a bad day it feels like bad fanfic – desperate writing with a continuity obsession that rivals that of Ian Levine with a headache. There is a whole storyline that I’m still not convinced should actually be there – something that sort of works but which, I think, might be a colossal white elephant.

If you really want to read the whole thing, I’ll supply it on demand. But I’d rather get it polished first (Emily has, just this evening, pointed out that I need to establish whether or not Amy was in the Guides or the Scouts, as currently she’s in both). I am having it read by several people who will hopefully give me varying pieces of advice that I’ll take on board or politely discard.

However. The first chapter is, at the moment, about as good as I’m going to get it, and it’s incidental to the story, so you can read it. Here’s the first bit. The rest will follow next week. Hey, it worked for Dickens, and he got to hang out with the Doctor.

TARDIS_Kitchen

Chapter One, Part One

The time rotor in the middle of the TARDIS control console was stuck. Normally it glided up and down the column with a sort of calm fluidity, in the manner of a descending lavatory ballcock or a thirty-seven-year-old woman doing yoga. It was a graceful motion, one that seemed firmly at odds with the ship’s trademark wheezes and groans. But not today. Today it seemed to catch a few inches from its usual peak, where it would sit there, trying to move, but apparently caught fast.

The ship itself was not stuck, of course The Doctor had explained that while the time rotor’s mechanism appeared to be malfunctioning, the time rotor itself was not. “Still the same old TARDIS,” he said. “The rotor’s caught, but it’s still working. Except – ”

“Except what?” came the voice from below.

“Well, except that we’re careering backwards through time and I don’t know how to stop it,” the Doctor replied.
“That’s not exactly what I’d call working.”

“That’s not exactly what I’d call a skirt, Pond. You look like you forgot what you were doing halfway through getting dressed. Now hand me that spanner.”

The Doctor was perched on top of the console, legs spread slightly apart in order to minimise the likelihood of one of the sudden backwards tumbles for which his current incarnation seemed to be so notorious. It was no fun having to go through clumsy phases, the Doctor mused as he loosened one of the glass plates that hid the inner mechanism. That was the problem with regeneration. You never knew when loss of coordination would show up. It was like having to go through puberty again. The Doctor was fairly sure he’d done that on at least three occasions over the years, as a side effect of the body clock reset that hit him whenever he suffered a mortal wound. That was something they didn’t teach you at the academy.

Amelia Pond was leaning casually against one of the nearby columns, arms folded, watching with a composite of affection and amusement. The Doctor never seemed so at home as when he was knee deep in circuitry, she thought, or so frustrated. Many was the time she would enter the control room and find him cursing in what she assumed was Gallifreyan. He was one of these well-intentioned types who never read the manual. He reminded her of her own fath-

– Except she couldn’t remember her own father.

Why couldn’t she remember her own father?

Amy was comfortable with the idea of fathers as an abstract concept, of course. The notion sat with her. But it occurred to her now, within the quiet and solace of the time machine, even as the ancient elf behind her worked himself into a frenzy amidst a maelstrom of grunts and curses, that she never really thought about her parents. They seemed to exist in a vacuum; she didn’t know because it never occurred to her to ask about them. It wasn’t that her family history was entirely unknown. She could remember her aunt well enough, and those eerie, moonlit evenings at the house in Leadworth, where the beams floodlit the room and seemed to strike everything except the crack in her wall. But beyond that…it wasn’t a taboo topic, just one that had never come up. Amy wondered why she’d never asked.

This troubled her. There was something else; something that sat undiscussed. There was an elephant, and every so often it would stretch out a wrinkly, invisible trunk and tap her on the shoulder. It was a shadow in a mirror, a trick of the light, a thing that you could have sworn moved even though you saw nothing and knew it wasn’t possible. There was something that the Doctor wasn’t telling her.

Truth be told, there was plenty that the Doctor didn’t tell her. She didn’t know his name; that was off-limits. He wasn’t grumpy about it, but early conversations they’d had made it clear that this was like discussing an old marriage with a new partner, or like a kid she’d gone out with at seventeen who’d lost his sister to cancer and would clam up for the reset of the evening if her name was ever mentioned.

“Why on earth would you want to know my name, Pond?” the Doctor had asked her. And curiously, she’d been unable to come up with an answer that made any kind of sense, largely because when viewed in human terms it was a stupid question. But the Doctor, of course, wasn’t human. She knew that much. And he was the last of his kind; she knew that much as well. He didn’t talk about Gallifrey. That was off-limits, geographically and conversationally. Amy gave a mental shrug. There were other things to worry about. Such as why she could smell –

“– burning?”

Atop the control panel, the Doctor swivelled. “Burning? Are you sure?”

Amy nodded. “Over there.” She pointed to the east wall, or what the Doctor always referred to as the east wall, although how he had worked this out was beyond her comprehension. The TARDIS could reconfigure rooms any way she wanted – and frequently did, often just to perplex the Doctor – but currently the east wall led through to the kitchen.

The Doctor gave her a look. “Amy, did you leave the toaster on again?”

Despite herself, she felt her eyes rolling incredulously. “That one time -”

“Yes, and I’m still trying to get the smell out of the Bandulucian rug. Cost me a fortune, that rug did. And I had to pay extra postage. Honestly, Ebay. I ask you.”

“Definitely burning,” Amy said, trying to steer him back to the subject.

“Fine,” sighed her host, opening a panel below the handbrake and pulling out a small fire extinguisher and two bright green kite-shaped pieces of plastic that Amy supposed – correctly, as it turned out – were gas masks.

“Put this on,” he said, holding one to his face and hefting the extinguisher in the other hand. “In case of emergency, exits are over there.” He gestured over his shoulder at the TARDIS doors, and then turned his attention to the east wall. “Smells like it’s coming from one of the adjoining rooms, anyway. We’ll investigate, but keep directly behind me. And if I say run, run.”

“Where to?”

“Away from whatever is that’s chasing us. Honestly, do I have to start drawing pictures?”

 

The two of them left the deep blue of the control room and wandered through into a spacious kitchen area. Carved into a large U-shape measuring fifty square feet or more, the black marble work surfaces flanked a central breakfast area with metal bar stools arranged round a raised table. The worktops were late twentieth century in design but filled with gadgets and models from all epochs of culinary history, with a slight bias towards 1950s Earth. A well-thumbed Mrs Beeton sat propped up against a beige mixing bowl, which in turn sat next to a set of pan scales. When she’d first explored the kitchen, Amy had opened the book to find a faded inscription, scrawled in black ink: To my dear Doctor, with love as always. Thank you for the shortbread recipe.

There was no time for browsing today. The Doctor skirted elegantly round one side of the U-shaped counter, opening cupboards and checking behind jars and mug racks. Amy followed his lead and moved to the other end, ignoring the colossal fridge that dominated the far end. A minute or so later they had exhausted the last cupboard and found nothing. The Doctor spun on his heel and began pacing, chewing on a fingernail. “Nothing. No sign of anything.”

“I didn’t imagine it,” said Amy, with more than a trace of indignance.

“I know you didn’t. I can smell it as well, now. But there’s no trace of any loose wires, nothing left lying around.” His eyes wandered across to the far corner. “Did you check the fridge?”

“Why would I check the fridge?”

“It can still burn. I know it’s cold, but – ”

The Doctor stopped, mid-sentence. The fridge had wobbled.

“Did you see that?” The moment the words were out of Amy’s mouth she regretted them, but if the Doctor found her response banal, he was gentlemanly enough not to show it. “Yeah. Something in the fridge.”

“Something still alive?”

“Either alive or in the throes of death, hence the wobbling. Sadly it’s impossible to know, unless we open it.” The Doctor grinned, despite himself. “Schrödinger’s fridge.”

“How did it get in?” she asked.

“That market we visited on Roxx 3? It probably sneaked on there. You know, when I had the TARDIS doors open for a moment. But I still don’t know what it is.”

“It’s not gonna be, like, a huge dog sitting on top of a temple?”

“No, not in a fridge. Cat, possibly. Chinchilla, even.”

The Doctor inched closer to the door of the large white refrigerator. “Only one way to find out.”

Keeping at arm’s length, and holding the sonic screwdriver pointed forwards in his other hand, like a magic wand – which, in a way, it was – the Doctor grasped at the handle and swung the door open. Inside were several shelves stocked with yoghurt, shrink-wrapped vegetables – some of Earth origin, many not – and cheese, At the top, there was a large ice box.

At the bottom, there was a ball of blue fur. With ears.

The blue furball was eating a carrot. When it noticed the fridge light come on and the temperature start to creep up, it halted abruptly. The ears swivelled upwards like satellite dishes and faced the Doctor. The half-eaten carrot fell from what Amy assumed was a mouth and hit the plastic base of the fridge with a thud. It rolled forwards and out and landed on the kitchen floor.

The furball’s ears twitched slightly, as if waiting for a response from the Doctor. The Doctor squatted, beaming with delight. “A moss ball! My goodness, this is a blast from the past. And he’s hungry!” He cocked his head on one side and poggled the moss ball’s ears; not that there was much else to poggle. “That explains the burning smell, anyway. They’re always a little malodorous when they’re eating.”

Moss Ball

Amy glanced at him and then at the blue bundle of fluff, not really sure how she should respond. “A what?”

“A moss ball. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt you.”

“It’s not – actually made of moss, is it?”

“No, it’s basically mammalian in composition. Well, half mammal, half arthropod. It comes from the sea forests of Hathendia.”

“That sounds like something out of a fantasy novel.”

“Oh, it is, Amy. It really is. Try and imagine the bluest, most brilliantly sparkly ocean you’ve ever imagined, right? Now, take that and turn it into a forest. With blue foliage on the trees. Plants that are aquamarine. Turquoise tree trunks.”

“What colour is the sun?”

“The sun is yellow, of course, but it hardly ever shines. Instead they have millions of fireflies, all lighting up the place. Completely harmless. Well, apart from the ones that aren’t.”

“And this – thing? It lives there?”

“Yes, it does.” The Doctor leaned in closer to get a better look at the stowaway. “The fur is basic camouflage, of course. It looks like any other plant. Which is very handy, because it’s preyed upon by a very nasty creature called the snapweazle.”

“OK,” said Amy. “That’s a seventies kids show waiting to happen.”

“Been there, done that. 1770s, of course, and a different planet. Anyway. The moss ball is a herbivore, but the snapweazle is a hundred per cent carnivorous. Nasty bite. And completely silent, so you seldom hear them coming.”

“Doctor – ”

“This little fellow looks positively starving. My guess is a snapweazle chased him out of the woods and he kept running – well, rolling – until he wound up in someone’s bag. And that someone was probably some sort of space tourist, and they went to Roxx 3, which is where it escaped from their baggage and found its way to the TARDIS. Hopefuly the snapweazle didn’t follow.”

“Doctor?” Amy’s voice carried an urgency that the Time Lord, who was now monologuing as if there were no tomorrow, missed completely.

“That’s the other thing about snapweazles, you see, Amy. They’re the most persistent psychotic plants in the known universe. Once they find a moss ball they like, they’ll pursue it across the stars. Well, never mind, little guy. You’re safe in here, aren’t you?” The Doctor gripped the furry ball in his hands and gave it a nose rub.

“Doctor…”

“And then, of course, there’s the fact that the snapweazle gets bigger and bigger the hungrier it gets. And it’s standing behind me right now, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

 

Read Part Two

Categories: The Child Left Behind | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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