The Clock Chimed.
She lifted her skirts inches higher, all the while scanning the various halls. Paying attention earlier helped little now, the dazzling decorations that had before entranced her, overwhelmed as she attempted to make her escape. Halls bled together into rooms that loomed over her, the empty void clawing as though desirous that she not escape. She ducked into another hallway that opened into a foyer and turned about on her foot trying to catch her bearings.
In the arms of a noble, she had danced about in a dazed stupor, simply following his lead as though it was perfectly normal to waltz about the halls to the outdoors with a man she barely knew. Choosing her above all the other ladies in the ballroom, not asking about title or wealth simply pulling her onto the floor to dance and swinging her throughout the room, he had bedazzled her and all rational thought had left her. But with the chiming of the clock came the awakening of sanity, and now she darted in and out of rooms all directional bearing gone and the looming threat of being caught hurrying her at the same time the fear of being lost told her racing heart to slow and her frantic brain to watch and observe her surroundings.
The Clock Chimed.
How many times now? Her wandering thoughts caused her to lose count. Once? Twice? Five Times? Ten? The higher she counted, the more panicked, she became convincing herself that the magic would wear away any moment. Frantic, she quit watching her surroundings and began ducking in and out of rooms without even attempting to catalog them in her mind. An exit caught her eye as she whizzed past, so she backtracked and ducked through, hoping for the best.
The doorway exited her out into a garden terrace. Not the escape she was looking for. Her spirit sank as she scanned the enclosed balcony. What she thought might have lead her outside was still surrounded by not only the palace walls, but also a railing that cut her off from even hiding in the bushes and waiting til the immediate issue had passed over. Decorative angels seemed to mock her predicament, one rose up behind evergreen bushes like the kind her mother had planted as a hedge around their home. The artist had managed to capture the appearance of looseness, and at a quick glance seemed to be dancing about gayly, but frozen forever with it's arm lifted into the air. From a sculpted sash held in stone fingers, hung a clock rocking about in the soft breeze two hands pointed at the twelve o'clock, the third hand seconds away from declaring midnight.
She pushed wispy strands of hair away from her sticky face. The cool night air was filled with warm moisture, promising rain during the early morning hours. Stepping back, she turned to look back at the exit she had used. There was no way out. She could run about the halls continually, or she could stay out here and wait. Either way, she was trapped; he would find her: see her for who she truly was.
The Clock Chimed.
It never should have come to this. Seeing the castle, watching the couples swirl about in bright colors, turning the dance floor into an enchanting vision, blending in—that's all she had wanted. The impossibility of someone actually coming to her, choosing her above all the other ladies. And why? What made her stand out from the others? She—a poor girl dressed in sparkling riches must have seemed dim next to the glimmering nobles: her social ineptitude an affront to those who saw themselves as better than people such as herself.
Leaning on the balustrade, resting her chin in her hand, she stared at the dancing angel; although at second glance, it seemed to be mourning. Its right hand covered the eyes of its down-turned face. "I understand how you feel," she murmured at the weeping angel. The artist had someone captured pure emotion in stone, depending on how she looked at the angel she could see simple joy, utter despair, and a glee that sent chills down her back: as peeking out from the hand was the mouth, pulled into a smile or grimace, impossible to tell without seeing the rest of the face.
The Clock Chimed.
She turned around leaning against the railing, crumpling her dress into wrinkles, but what did it really matter. She covered her forehead with a white gloved hand, not able to help but wondering where she went wrong. Her hand slid from her head, and she turned her face up to stare at the sky. Bright diamonds winked down at her: secrets hidden in inky black too far away to reach. Running away was foolish, able to change nothing. She had tried tonight to escape her life—and had failed miserably. She could gaze at stars all she wanted; she'd never be able to touch them. If she could, how much better could it really be?
The Clock Chimed.
Wisps of hair again fell into her face. Again she pushed them aside. Perfectly coiffed waves don't hold up well to dashing about halls. A fairytale dream had degraded swiftly into a nightmare. Magical godmothers, mice, and pumpkins—everything seemed little more than a daze now. The evening of her dreams had become much worse than normal daily life. Here she stood, waiting to be discovered in little more than rags, not knowing what would happen next. Perhaps dreams weren't as wonderful as her father had always told her. Wishing had only bought her a nightmare.
If only that man could have just let her go instead of fancying himself in love. Love at first sight was balderdash. Certainly she had been entranced. Candlelight, a waltz, paired with a dreamy man would make any girl's heart throb. She was just sensible enough to understand it wasn't love; whereas, he didn't seem to understand that concept.
The Clock Chimed.
Somewhere behind her, she noticed that the clock had chimed again. Yet it felt as though hours had passed. Mere seconds couldn't last so long, though they certainly did drag by at home, turning hours into days. Even time tortured her, still tonight it seemed to be willing to help her escape. Perhaps that was a part of the magic that had already possessed this night. She glanced toward the clock tower. Leaving to search for another exit seemed so pointless, her fate was sealed. Eventually he or someone else would find her, in rags or returning to rags, the latter threatening to create even more questions to which she had no rational explanation. Fairy godmother wouldn't cut it.
She blew at another loose strand of hair and turned to face the castle. If only she could stop time, freeze everyone and make her escape back home, better yet run away and find a new life. But time doesn't stop...ever. No matter how slowly it drags, it always moves. Besides she'd already tried to run from her life, even if just for a moment and it hadn't been quite what she was expecting. Instead she had a mess on her hands. She sank to the floor.
The Clock Chimed.
With it came a strange sound somewhere to her side, catching her attention and bringing her back to her feet. Her heart paused a moment then began racing as though life itself were being drained from it at a rapid pace. They'd caught up with her for certain, were going to punish her. She swirled around to face the sound, skirts swishing and tangling about her legs. The strange whirring like metal scraping metal grated against her ears. With the sound came a flash of light, glowing brightly that flickered on then off, lighting the sky a brilliant white then returning it to shadows.
The air sparkled and glowed, around a concentrated spot, illuminating what appeared to be a blue box with the letter E, L, B O X scripted across the top. Transfixed she watched as the box went from incorporeal to solid over and again. How strange. She stepped closer, drawn to the magic box.
The Clock Chimed.
And then it rested silent in the middle of the terrace as though it had always been there and hadn't just popped into existence where before there had been only air. One gloved hand stretched out toward the box and settled on a royal blue panel. Wooden grain brushed her palm and fingers. She pulled back. Wood not stone. Curiouser and curiouser. She gripped one of the handles; right as she was about to see if what seemed to be a door would open, the door flung toward her, emitting a smoky mist and a shadowy figure.
The Clock Chimed.
She back-stepped quickly, tripping over the train of her dress, falling backwards to the cobbled floor. A hand shot out through the mist and snatched hers, yanking her to her feet. The movement so disarmed her that she nearly toppled forward onto the man that had been her rescuer, and they tripped about in an awkward dance until they stood facing each other. She couldn't help but look away blushing when he smiled down at her. His eyes lit up, twinkling with suppressed laughter, not something she really wanted to see. His crazy dress and mussy spiked hair were so contrary to the smooth and perfectly placed styles the men in the castle had been wearing. Like her, he must be an outsider, which made sense seeing he had just appeared out of thin air.
The Clock Chimed.
"Well," he said in an accent that was distinctly British, and Northern if she remembered correctly where her mother had said she was from. His voice lilted in exactly the same way her mother's had. It had been so many years since such a sound had touched her ears, "That's an entrance I've not made before." She looked up at him to see him staring down at her with a face thin and unusually shaped yet altogether captivating. Such a strange face, such a strange night. What was happening?
The Clock Chimed.
"Who—Who are you?" The words left her lips as a mere whisper as speaking would surely break the enchantment, and it seemed a crime to do such a thing. Yet with that thought of enchantments breaking, as the words left her mouth to be breathed into existence in the air then silenced forever by the vast atmosphere, the final stroke of midnight tolled in the distance, and magic swirled about, leaving her standing in naught but rags.
The stranger offered her a crooked smile then stepped back, moving like a clumsy dancer, surprise at her transformation not even registering on his face, as though magic was boring old business to him. "I'm the Doctor, of course, and by the events occurring before my eyes, you, my dear, must be none other than the lovely Cinderella, though this whole thing is completely illogical. It seems that the story is based in some sort of truth, and someone here has been meddling with affairs. Now where is your prince? Oh, no matter really, we'll get this all straightened out in a hurry. Now where did I put that…"
During his speech, Cinderella had remained completely silent, baffled by the strange talk. Her jaw hung slack and open as she stared, listening to the doctor jabber on about time and other things that simply made no sense. Her brain started to melt, incapable of forming any logical thought after the events of the day. She opened her mouth to reply, but all that sputtered out was "Doctor Who?"
He had turned to examine the box he'd stepped out of , pointing a glowing stick at it, and didn't bother to face her while responding, "The Doctor, simply the Doctor." He continued to mutter, "Now where and when am I, and why here? I'm certain these aren't the coordinates I put in..."
Cinderella cleared her throat, receiving no response; the "Doctor" continued to mutter to himself using utterly foreign words like logistics and T.A.R.D.I.S. "Ahem." She tried a little louder this time.
"In the wrong place anyway. She should be dancing about with her prince, Charming as always, not wandering about with," here he paused to look over his shoulder, "two glass slippers, hasn't even had the decency to lose the one."
"Oh!" Cinderella looked to her feet, sure enough there were the two glass slippers that her Fairy Godmother had gifted her. A smile spread across her face, and the Doctor was silent. She had been left a memory of the day. Magical glass slippers to hide away in her attic room and pull out whenever she was having a hard day back at home. A reminder of the strangest night ever.
"No, no, no, what time is it? No don't answer that. I know what time it is. Your dress is back to normal. It had to be a hologram projector (the only logical explanation), set for midnight of course, but why? And the shoes aren't holograms. Someone has been here, but why? Why? And who? This was supposedly a fairytale, not real, and yet it is happening, but it isn't because she has both shoes, and how can the prince find her if she has both shoes. If this story is real, it isn't flexible because it's a legend, and legends are steeped in truth, so it can't become a legend, much less a story unless she's lost a shoe, and if it doesn't happen...well, it must. AH!"
Cinderella watched as he jumped away from her touch. So engrossed in his own thoughts he hadn't heard her. "The Doctor, please, you're acting like a mad man. Why do you keep speaking of the prince? Are you going to tell him where I am? I haven't even seen him tonight. He doesn't need to know. What are you even doing here? How did you get here? And how do you know my name? I'm certain we've never met. Well?"
"It's not the Doctor, simply Doctor. Can't be that bloody hard to understand."
"Fine then Doctor. That doesn't answer—"
"If you'd pause for a breath I could answer you," said the Doctor. Cinderella opened her mouth to reply then closed it, folding her arms across her chest and raising an eyebrow. Her foot tapped against the cobbles. "Better. You, my dear, are meant to be far from here by now, with only one shoe and a madly in love prince chasing you."
"But I don't know any—"
"And yet, somehow, something has gone wrong, and time has been tweaked, which bodes no good as changing a fixed point destroys the parameters of time, causing all sorts of conundrums, and that is exactly what is happening. Things are changing, shifting. We need to get you back home, with only one shoe, the other where the prince can find it. Now if I can just..." He turned back to the box and re-entered it.
"I don't know how you think that's an explanation, but I don't want any prince to find me, and I'm not losing a shoe. Do you know what will happen to me if I'm found here?" She moved to follow him into the box, but he popped back out effectively blocking her.
"Nothing good I'm sure. I should really get you home." He stepped in front of her, and she had to catch her breath. He was much taller than she had first realized. She'd thought he'd looked tall just because he was so slender, but that was not the case.
"I'm not certain yet who you are, Doctor, but I most assuredly will not be going anywhere with you. I just met you." With that she turned on her heel and began to head back to the doorway she had entered through. She had just reached the door and was about to pass through when she turned around to offer the Doctor one last angry retort. She couldn't believe he had made her feel so inferior with all his big words and bossy demeanor. "And anyway why would you—did that statue move?"
"Move?" the Doctor looked over his shoulder.
"Stop talking to me like I'm daft. I'm not. It didn't look like that before. When I first saw it, it had a hand covering its eyes. Now it's staring straight at me. But that's impossible. Stone can't...move." She stepped forward towards the statue, her anger with the Doctor diffusing. Could she have just imagined that it had been covering its eyes? But with all the strange events of the night, a moving statue didn't seem that impossible.
"Cinderella, (never thought I'd call anyone that), don't blink."
"Why?" She moved her head to turn to face the Doctor.
"No, no, no! Don't look away." The Doctor whipped about to stare at the statue while talking. Facing the creature and shouting at her. She jerked back and to her horror she saw that the angel that just seconds before had been placidly observing had moved forward, arms outstretched and face distorted into a hideous expression, gargoylesque in nature.
"It's moving. Wha—why, how?"
"Yes, that's why we can't blink. It can only move when we aren't watching."
"So I'm supposed to just stand here staring at it forever? How did it get here? Doctor?" She could feel her eyes turning into sand and tried futilely to half close her eyes and remoisten them.
"I am going to sound very strange for the next while, but I need you to trust me. If we can get to my T.A.R.D.I.S we'll be safe." He reached over and took her hand in his, pulling her toward himself and the T.A.R.D.I.S, and she allowed him, too transfixed by the angel to even think about what she doing. The statue remained still, immobile hands reaching for her, locked in place by sight alone. She tripped and turned to look at the Doctor, then swiftly looked back, frightened that the stone demon had moved again. The Doctor, however, seemed to also have his eyes trained on the creature, because it hadn't moved, but her movement had been enough to awaken her senses to question the Doctor.
"Follow you into a box? As strange as my day has been, you do realize how insane that sounds?" She swallowed trying to calm her racing heart but let the Doctor continue to lead her towards the box.
"Well, yes, but I need you to trust me." He gave her a little tug, and she shifted her eyes. Crazy hair, wild eyes—and yet nothing about him whispered deception. He seemed to be telling the truth. His fingers tightened around her hand; she took a deep breath and closed her eyes, letting him pull her into the box, hearing the door slam behind them. Slowly, she opened her eyes.
"Why, how is this possible? It's bigger in here than out there. I saw it appear, it wasn't this big. I'd say it's not possible, but nothing that has happened today is."
"I know, right? And yet, it is." The Doctor's face was splattered with a boyish grin, the pride of a father listening to his son being praised in his voice when he replied. He moved about adjusting knobs and levers, twisting some and pulling others. A loud clang and the scraping metal noise returned, the entire box shaking. She grasped onto a bar on the wall near the door. The entire interior of the box was blinking glowing colors, yellow illuminated the walls and reds and greens converged around the center. It was like nothing she'd ever seen.
"I think you owe me an explanation, Doctor." The box had settled down and once again seemed to be standing still, so she released the bar and joined the Doctor in the center.
"An explanation? Yes, well, I'm not sure it'd make sense to you." He pulled down a sheet of glass that looked like a mirror, but it didn't reflect the Doctor's face, instead numbers and letters flashed across it, changing randomly from time to time. She moved forward and touched it, changing the glass to a different image altogether.
"Strange...Doctor that's not good enough. I'm here, and I have the right to know. It can't be any stranger than the rest of my day." She faced him, staring up into such deep eyes, eyes that held the universe in their depths, appearing much older than the body that contained them. She swore in their centers, she could see stars, bursting into life, flickering into death, a cycle that seemed never ending. The stories those eyes held in their depths. He stared back, forehead wrinkled with thought, lines running deep as though worry had pressed down harshly on him, bearing its weight and forcing him to carry it. But then, one by one the lines disappeared, wrinkles lifting and frustration relaxing until slowly his scowl transformed: into a smile.