Title: I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight
Author: E.A. Week
Summary: A peaceful holiday in New Hampshire is interrupted when the tenth Doctor and Rose must aid the spirits of two lovers who died violently three hundred years earlier.
Category: Doctor Who; mystery/ romance/ supernatural.
Distribution: Feel free to link this story to any Doctor Who or fanfic site, or distribute on a mailing list, but please drop me at least a brief e-mail and let me know you've done this.
Feedback: Letters of comment are always welcome! Loved it? Hated it? Let me know why!
Disclaimer: Copyrights to all characters in this story belong to their respective creators, production companies, and studios. I'm just borrowing them, honest!
Possible spoilers: This story takes place in the second season of the new Dr. Who series, between "The Age of Steel" and "The Idiot's Lantern."
The story title is shamelessly stolen from Cutting Crew.
Datclaimer: This story is rated "M" for sexuality and mild profanity.
Edited and reposted on July 15, 2006.
The TARDIS kept its secrets well. When she had free time—which wasn't often—Rose would wander through its maze of corridors, exploring the disused rooms and examining the things she found. The realization that she wasn't the Doctor's first traveling companion—far from it—made her curious about the detritus she encountered in the depths of the time machine.
Each room was so different from the others, and the Doctor had replicated any number of places and time periods in the décor—or had that been the work of his friends? Rose discovered sunken baths, opulent suites furnished in rich velvets, Spartan quarters of glass and chrome, rooms tricked out in wood, in marble, in bronze. At one point she was shocked to find a cloistered garden, the lush plants thriving despite an apparent lack of sunlight and water.
The further she went, the more she found. Rooms led to other rooms, which led to corridors, which led to an atrium or another bath or a wood-paneled library. Beneath it all, no matter where she went, she felt the hum of the machine's mighty engines. And no matter how far she advanced into the labyrinth, she could always find her way back to the console room. She never got lost, and she never worried about getting lost—somehow, she always knew exactly where to go.
At some point—Rose wasn't sure when—she realized she was looking for the end of the TARDIS, someplace where it stopped—and she was never going to find it. She didn't like to ask the Doctor too many questions about the ship, but from his elusive hints, she had deduced that somehow, it was tied into his mind, that he and the vessel shared a bond, that he was part of it, and it was part of him. His mind had no end, and neither did his ship. Or so it seemed.
The living quarters hadn't been touched. Rose could tell that the Doctor did nothing to change his companions' rooms once they'd gone, and so each one was like a snapshot, a moment frozen in time, things just as their occupants had left them. Clothes and other possessions lay strewn about: piles of books, an uneaten candy bar, a brush and comb. Rose couldn't resist a voyeur-like fascination for this sad museum, and she tried not to disturb too much. Which room had been Sarah Jane's? Rose couldn't tell. She found easily a dozen rooms that had been occupied by females, but she couldn't deduce by the clothes which one had belonged to the journalist. Sarah Jane would have dressed very differently then, of course.
The most exciting discovery waited in one of the more plain rooms, a leatherbound journal kept by a woman named Barbara. The woman had made a game attempt to record her adventures with the Doctor, but she'd given up in frustration at the sheer enormity of the task. Rose gleaned that the Doctor had traveled at that time with another woman named Susan and a man named Ian, and at one point Barbara had referred to the Doctor as "that impossible old man." But he had been too big for the page to contain. Rose herself would never have attempted to describe him on paper, since he comprised all possible contradictions. Barbara had quit the project after a mere dozen pages.
Rose wondered which room belonged to the Doctor himself, and then she realized she had never seen him sleeping, except after he'd regenerated. And that was more unconscious than asleep. Did he even need to sleep? If he did, he kept his own quarters hidden. Rose was willing to bet that not one of his companions had ever seen them.
Today, her wandering feet took her to an abandoned makeshift laboratory. A stale chemical smell hung in the air, and an array of bottles and flasks cluttered the counter, along with what appeared to be old deodorant cans. On a sheet of paper, someone had worked out an equation in messy handwriting. On the floor, Rose found a dirty, travel-worn pair of Doc Martens that someone had kicked off and never put back on again. Smaller feet than mine, she thought, placing her foot alongside one of the shoes.
A black backpack lay nearby, and Rose rifled through its contents. Nothing much: a couple of clean t-shirts and pairs of black tights, hair elastics, a pack of chewing gum. Rose drew out a hairbrush and examined it in the light—the bristles were full of long strands of hair, the color a dark blonde, the texture very fine. Rose dropped the brush back into the bag and stood up, shivering. Someday, hundreds of years from now, would some other girl make a curious study of her belongings?
How long had these things been lying about? Doc Martens were contemporary shoes: Rose had owned a couple of pairs herself. The backpack seemed an old style, though. Rose felt sad and angry and melancholy. Another companion, dumped out, just like Sarah Jane. Where, when, why? What made the Doctor decide to jettison his friends? When did he decide he'd had enough, that it was time for someone to leave?
Rose hurried away, leaving the lab behind her, fearful she'd discovered too much. She didn't think a time machine could be haunted, but certainly its former occupants had left mute reminders of their time onboard. As much as she tried to fight the inevitable—maybe I'll be different—she knew that sooner or later, her time with the Doctor would end and that she'd have to return to the humdrum reality of life on Earth. She dreaded the prospect.
"Rose? Where are you hiding?" The Doctor's faint voice echoed through the hallways.
"Coming!" she called back, quickening her footsteps. She glanced around the humming walls, the doorways opening off endless corridors. The TARDIS kept its secrets well.
"What day is it… on Earth?" she asked.
"Why, do you want to go home and visit your mum?"
"No… well, not yet, anyway. Just curious."
The Doctor fiddled with the controls, squinted at a monitor, and announced, "Twenty-fifth July."
"That's my birthday. I'm twenty."
"Really?" The Doctor looked delighted. "A milestone! Leo?"
"Yeah," Rose laughed.
"I might've guessed," he said. "Heart of a lion. So, what do you want to do? It's your birthday—name anywhere you want, anytime, and that's where we'll go."
With the entirety of creation at her disposal, Rose waffled. "Um… somewhere beautiful," she began cautiously. "Somewhere peaceful, with no monsters—"
"No guarantee there," the Doctor grinned.
"Someplace we haven't been yet." She slid a tentative hand into his. "Somewhere romantic."
His expression softened as he gazed down at her. "Beautiful, peaceful, romantic. Somewhere we haven't been yet." He thought, then said, "I've got it! Hold on!" And he set a few controls. The ship groaned, and a moment later, began to materialize.
"We're here," he announced.
"Yup!" The Doctor removed his hand from Rose's and pulled a handkerchief from one pocket. "This is gonna be spectacular." He began to wind the cloth around her eyes. "You have to appreciate your first look properly."
"Never knew you were into kink," she said under her breath.
"I'm just full of surprises. Now—how many fingers am I holding up?"
"Perfect. Now—no cheating!" He steered her by one arm across the control room, Rose grinning. She heard the TARDIS door open and felt a cool breeze on her cheek, the wind carrying with it a scent of pine needles and spice. They stepped outside onto something springy and firm. Rose felt warm sunlight on her face. The Doctor led her a few more steps.
"Right," he said, unwinding the blindfold. "Tell me—is this beautiful enough?"
Rose gawked. Before her stood the most incredible tree she'd ever seen. It towered up overhead, the leaves blazing with every conceivable color—green and gold near the trunk, shading out to orange, then deep crimson at its tips, and when the breeze shook the leaves, they appeared like a living kaleidoscope of color. Flabbergasted, Rose just stared at the thing before realizing that they stood in a forest of similar trees, all clad in varying shades of orange, red, and yellow, a silent symphony, a jewel box of color.
"What is it?" she breathed.
"Sugar maple," the Doctor said, sounding pleased.
"It's so gorgeous—how do they get that way? Are we on Earth? This is Earth, right?"
"Of course we're on Earth!" he said. "These leaves are green all summer, but they produce less chlorophyll before they fall, and other pigments are exposed. Didn't you learn this in science?"
"I didn't pay attention during that bit," Rose admitted. "'Sides, trees don't do this at home—the leaves just sort of turn brown and fall off. Where are we, then?" They stood near a winding path that snaked through the woods. Overhead, the sky's blue rivaled the paint on the TARDIS. The sun glowed, baking down on the pine needles underfoot, releasing that intoxicating scent. Rose inhaled, again and again.
They heard footsteps, and a young woman came running down the path toward them. She wore a neat purple track suit and carried an iPod in one hand. She waved and called out, "Hi!" as she sailed past.
That one word said everything. Rose turned to the Doctor. "We're in America?"
"First October, 2007," he said, hands in his pockets, turning to sniff the air. "A bit late for your birthday, but if we'd come during the summer, everything would still be green."
"It's so amazing." Rose stared around at the tall trees, blazing with color. Whenever she'd thought of America, she'd thought of New York City, Hollywood, and Disney World, not realizing that such a place as this even existed. "Where are we, exactly?"
"Outside North Conway, New Hampshire," the Doctor said. "In the northeast." He pointed through some trees at misty green mountains in the distance. "That's the White Mountains, right there. Lovely place. You haven't lived 'till you've gone tearing down the side of Mount Washington on a little wooden rail cart. 'Devil's shingles,' that's what they were called. That'll take a few years off you."
"You didn't," she laughed, taking his arm.
"One of the funniest days of my life, too—I won a 1000 bet, a small fortune back then. Blew the lot of it at a horse race a month later. Come on—let's look around." He crossed the trail to a thicket of woods on the other side and locked up the TARDIS.
"Does anyone live around here?"
"Not in the woods," he teased. "It's a state forest." They wandered along the path, following the direction where the female jogger had gone. Presently they heard the sound of running water, and they saw cascading down one side of the hill a lovely clear waterfall, bubbling and tumbling among granite boulders.
"Could it get any more pretty?" laughed Rose, almost breathless with pleasure. "Does this happen every year?"
"Every autumn," the Doctor confirmed. "People come from all over the world to look at these leaves."
A low stone wall ran alongside the path to their left, mossy rocks falling here and there, covered with vines. Another wall joined the first, forming a T.
Rose examined the vines that covered the stones. "I like these shiny red ones."
"Don't touch them," the Doctor warned. "That's poison ivy. You'll get the worst itchy rash you can imagine. C'mon, up and over." They hopped over the wall and down, now walking through the woods alongside the second wall. "That's better—off the beaten path."
"Who built these walls?" asked Rose. "They look old."
"Early settlers," the Doctor responded. "English, mostly—maybe some kissing cousins of yours. They'd chop down trees to build houses and clear land for farming, and they'd use the stones they dug up to mark the boundaries of their property. These woods used to be grazing land—look how slender the tree trunks are. They're young trees, maybe only a hundred years old. The forest used to be mostly coniferous, and when the pines were cleared away, the deciduous trees had a chance to move in." The Doctor gestured up to the canopy of brilliantly-hued leaves. "We wouldn't have all this, if not for those early farmers."
"I love it when you talk like a history book," said Rose.
He grinned. "History's more exciting when you live it, don't you think?"
"Today I'll settle for looking at what's left of it."
The meandering stone wall took them through the woods, across a paved road, and into a meadow where cows grazed. Rose jumped up and down, squealing like a child.
"Doctor—look! Real cows!" She took off across the meadow at a run.
"Watch where you step!" he called, hurrying after her.
"Aren't they beautiful? Oh, you're so sweet," Rose cooed, scratching one on the nose. It gave her a placid, bemused expression.
"Never seen anyone so impressed by a cow," the Doctor teased.
"I'm a city girl, remember?" Rose teased back. "These are exotic creatures to me."
"Dairy cows," the Doctor said, studying the black and white animals. "If you want peaceful, it doesn't get any better than watching cows graze."
"Come on," Rose laughed. They left the cow pasture, picking up a trail that led along the back of another property. "Nice house," she commented, shading her eyes.
"See that barn?" the Doctor said, leading her up a sloping hill for a better look. "They were built deliberately on hillsides so that the pig stys could be put underneath, in the back."
"Lovely." Rose wrinkled her nose.
"The house has been added onto," the Doctor continued. "Looks like it was Colonial, originally, with those wings there and there added in the nineteenth century, maybe around 1850 or so."
"I like the color." The outside of the house had been painted pale yellow, with black shutters.
They heard a shrill yapping noise inside the house. "Oops, we've been caught," Rose laughed. "Come to steal the pigs and the cows!"
The back door opened, and a slender Asian woman popped out. "Hi!"
"Sorry!" the Doctor called, his tone breezy. "We were just coming through the woods, and—"
"Do you need somewhere to stay?" the woman interrupted.
The Doctor and Rose approached her. She was a small woman, terribly thin, Rose saw, her black hair shot through with great streaks of white. She looked perhaps fifty years old.
"Well, we weren't," Rose began.
"I have vacancies," the woman smiled. "You're English? Are you honeymooning?"
Rose turned maroon. "We—well—"
"We're on holiday," the Doctor provided. "Just got here, haven't made any lodging arrangements yet."
"Come inside," the woman invited, holding the door open. "The rooms are furnished with antiques, and I serve breakfast every morning." She led them through a series of low-ceilinged rooms, the floors made of broad oak planks, the furnishings plain but lovely in their simplicity.
"Charming," the Doctor remarked. "Colonial?"
"This part is," the woman pattered. "I'm Amy Honda, by the way. I run the place as a bed and breakfast. The two wings were added in the early 1800s. It was a private home originally, then an inn, then a dairy farm, then a private home again, and I bought it two years ago when I retired. I used to teach history at UC-Berkeley."
"Someone who moves to a colder climate on retiring?" the Doctor laughed. "Now there's a change. I must congratulate you on the fantastic job you've done here, Miss Honda."
"Thank you!" She led them up a flight of narrow steps to the second floor. A dog barked behind a closed door. "That's Lexie, my Mini Schnauzer—don't mind her. See, this room overlooks the back meadow. Isn't it a wonderful view?" She was speaking very rapidly. "I can let you have the room for 150 per night."
"Aah." The Doctor's face registered an awkward expression. Rose saw why: the room only had one bed, a gorgeous thing decked out in crisp sheets and a floral comforter. The head and foot boards had been painted a pure white that glowed in the soft daylight. "I'm—ah—that is to say, we—"
"We'll take it." Rose slipped her hand into one of the Doctor's coat pockets. "Look, there's a fireplace. Does it work?"
"Oh, yes," Amy beamed. "It's especially nice now that the nights are cold. And you have a private bath, in there, with a real old-fashioned claw-foot tub."
"Please?" Rose asked the Doctor.
"Are you sure?" he asked, voice very soft, his gaze searching her face.
She nodded, and he squeezed her hand. "All right, then." His voice sounded rather more high-pitched than usual.
They went downstairs, and Amy said, "If you'll just sign the registry." She had an office in what looked like an old-fashioned parlor, off one of the main sitting rooms.
The Doctor took the pen she offered and signed "Dr. John Smith" with a flourish on a blank line, his handwriting flowing with the beautiful strokes of a lost age. Rose regarded her own signature with some embarrassment, the letters cramped and messy, the product of an indifferent education.
"Will cash be all right?" asked the Doctor.
"Cash is wonderful," Amy said.
He fished into a pocket and produced a wad of paper, Rose horrified to see it was all fake, like something from a child's make-believe bank playset. The bills were just marked ten, twenty, fifty, with no indication of dollars, pounds, or Euros.
"Here, 150.00," he said, handing her three slips of paper printed with the numeral 50.
"Thank you!" said Amy, putting the "money" in a cash box. Rose gulped. "Here's a map of the area—you can walk to town in about ten minutes. There's restaurants and shops. If you're looking for something to do, the Conway Scenic Railroad runs foliage tours."
"Sounds brilliant," said Rose. "Thank you!"
"Here's your keys." Amy passed them two copper housekeys. "Continental breakfast is between seven and eleven, hot food from eight to ten." She paused. "The TV in your room is broken—I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all—I don't think we'll be watching much telly." The Doctor took Rose by the arm and led her to the front door. "Thank you, Miss Honda!" About fifty yards down the road, Rose stopped short.
"Doctor, how could you! You're gonna get us arrested one of these days!"
He was laughing. "The money's printed on psychic paper," he explained. "People see what I want them to see. Less risky than cracking open a bank machine. Splendid, isn't it?"
"I feel like a thief."
"Nonsense," he chided. "She's fairly desperate for business; that was obvious. She ought to be full up at this time of year—it's peak autumn foliage season."
"Maybe 'cos her place is new."
"Maybe." The Doctor ruminated, then turned his attention to Rose. "Are you sure about the, ah—"
"Sleeping arrangements?" she finished.
He nodded, appealingly shy.
"Yeah," she said. "How 'bout you?"
His brown eyes were full of a sudden, wild longing. Rose had seen that look before, more than once. Time we did something about it, she thought. Before he kicks me to the curb.
"All right," he said at last.
"Great," she smiled, taking his hand. "Now we've got that settled, let's go look around town."
The way the Doctor walked, they made it to town in about seven minutes, a pleasant if quick stroll along a winding two-lane road. Rose gazed about at the lovely old houses, stunning trees, watching the occasional car whisper past. She wished they had more time to look at things, but the Doctor moved so quickly she almost had to run to keep up with him.
The main street in town turned out to be a long strip of small shops and restaurants, punctuated by an occasional white church steeple. On the opposite site of a grassy green rectangle lay an old-fashioned railway station. Rose caught a glimpse of stately rail cars on tracks behind the building. As she and the Doctor listened, a train whistled in the distance.
"It's perfect!" Rose laughed, sliding her hand into the Doctor's.
"Look at that, Rose." The Doctor waxed nostalgic. "A real old-fashioned New England village."
"So on New Earth, would this be New New England?" she inquired.
"They could never re-create this. Look at that tree! Two hundred years old, if it's a day."
Rose was studying the cars. "What's that thing on the registration plates? That picture?"
The Doctor looked. "The Old Man of the Mountain," he explained. "It was a rock formation that looked like the profile of a man's face. The whole thing collapsed about three years ago, now."
"Why do they all say 'live free or die?'"
"State motto. Pretty funny, too—the plates are made by convicts in prisons."
"You're pulling my leg."
"No, I'm completely serious."
They walked through a car park, heading toward the train depot, Rose fascinated by the colorful license plates and bumper stickers.
"Do Americans hate themselves?" she asked.
"What?" asked the Doctor, startled.
"Well, that's the third car we passed that says 'Yankees suck.' Is it a joke about the president or something?"
The Doctor stared at her, eyes wide. Then he burst into open-throated laughter, a sound Rose normally loved, but she liked it less now that it was directed at her.
"You seriously don't know what that means?" he asked, still grinning.
She folded her arms. "Enlighten me."
"Rose, it's a baseball team. The New York Yankees."
She rolled her eyes. "I can't even keep up with football at home; you expect me to know anything about an American baseball team? Go on, tell me why they suck. I can see you're dying to."
He kept grinning. "We're in New England. This is Red Sox territory. The Yankees are their arch-rivals."
"Do they actually wear red socks?"
"No, no; Sox with an X! Come on—I'll show you." He led her across the car park to a shop that sold sports team paraphernalia. "Can I buy my friend a Red Sox cap or jersey?"
"Free hats for anyone who hits the target," the young man at the counter told them. "Wanna try?" At the back of the store stood a life-sized cardboard standee of a good-looking man in a pinstriped baseball uniform. The sales boy indicated a white tape mark on the floor, about twenty feet away from it. "Stand here," he instructed.
"What do I aim for?" Rose asked.
"His nuts," the boy grinned. "Free cap if you knock him down."
"Who is he?" asked Rose, taking the baseball from the shop assistant. "Why do you hate him so much?"
"Johnny Damon," the boy provided.
"The great traitor," the Doctor told Rose. "He used to play for the Red Sox before he sold his soul to the Yankees for, what was it? 45 million?"
"They paid him that much money? For tossing a ball?" asked Rose, incredulous.
"For hitting them," the boy said. "He's a hitter, not a pitcher. Where are you from? England?"
"Pretty bloody obvious, what?" Rose joked. She sized up the standee, took aim, drew back her arm, and flung the ball with all her strength. It smacked into Johnny Damon's groin so hard that the Doctor and the shop boy both winced and crossed their legs slightly. The standee toppled over.
"Nice one!" the Doctor praised. "Remind me not to get you angry."
"What color do you want?" the boy asked. The baseball caps came in an array of hues. Rose selected pink, with a stylized letter B in the center.
"Wish they had one that says R," she remarked as she and the Doctor left the shop.
"For Rose, of course!" She adjusted the cap. "How does it look?"
"Very smart," he said. "You're going native. And that B stands for Boston, by the way. Don't forget it, or you're apt to find yourself tarred, feathered, and run out of town on a rail. And I speak from experience when I say that."
Rose stopped, peering into the window of the next shop. "What's this? Ben and Jerry's ice cream? Is it any good?" She was starting to feel hungry.
"Ambrosia," the Doctor pronounced. "Food of the gods."
"The best ice cream in nine galaxies. Come on, try some."
Once inside, Rose couldn't make up her mind which of the whimsically-named flavors she wanted, so she selected two flavors in the smallest dishes the shop offered, while the Doctor picked two others. They sat at a table, sharing all four dishes.
"Scrummy," said Rose, slowly licking her spoon. "God, if I lived here, I'd look like one of those cows we saw this morning."
The Doctor beamed, lost in a kind of innocent enjoyment. People passed by on their way in and out of the shop, mostly tourists but some plainly locals, none of them giving the Doctor more than a passing glance. Rose marveled at that, at how well he blended in, that people could be so oblivious to the presence of an extraterrestrial in their midst. When they think of aliens, they probably think of something more like the Slitheen, she thought. Not some normal-looking bloke having ice cream.
"What next?" he asked, when they finished. "There's a bookshop down the road that looks interesting."
"You have loads of books in the TARDIS," she protested. "What do you need more for?"
"Not my idea of fun. I'll meet you there at…" She peered at the clock on the depot's central cupola. "Five. All right?"
She held out her hand. "I need some of that money. Will it work for me, or does it only work for you?"
"No, it'll work for you. What're you shopping for?"
"You'll see," Rose smiled, accepting a handful of fake bills.
"Five o'clock, then?" He went in one direction, Rose in the other.
About a block down Main Street stood an establishment selling lingerie and other female novelty items. Rose spent a busy forty-five minutes among the rails and shelves and bins, finally emerging with two shopping bags. Further down the block sat a day spa, and Rose paid an outrageous sum of counterfeit money to have a bevy of white-coated women work over her with pots of wax and mud and paint. Ninety minutes later, she emerged blinking onto the sidewalk. Nearby church bells chimed the three-quarter hour.
Mum would be so jealous, Rose thought smugly, admiring her manicure. With the end of the workday approaching, pedestrian and automobile traffic had increased on the streets. Rose strolled into a secondhand bookshop called Twice-Told Tales, inhaling the pleasant, dusty aroma of old books. Definitely a place the Doctor would love. She didn't find him on the first floor, so she ascended creaky steps to the second. How does this dump stay in business? she wondered. And how does anyone find anything in here? Old hardcover books and paperbacks sat stacked up to the ceiling, along with boxes of yellowing periodicals.
The Doctor sat cross-legged in a sunny alcove, afternoon light streaming in around him, surrounded by piles and piles of books. He'd shucked off his long coat, throwing it to one side, and with his black-rimmed spectacles perched on his nose, he resembled a university student—shockingly young for someone who had clocked nine centuries of existence. The shaft of sunlight made his hair glow with an auburn patina, turning his milky skin almost translucent, emphasizing his dusting of freckles. Rose felt her heart constrict. She watched his face as he read, intelligent and absorbed, his expressions changing like the sky on a windy day. He's so beautiful, she thought. I don't think even sees it.
Impulsively, she hopped over, then dropped to her knees in front of him, removing his spectacles.
"Hullo!" he said, startled and smiling. "Where've you b—mmm." The rest of the question got lost when Rose kissed him, full on the mouth.
"Find anything good?" she asked.
He gestured to his right. "I already read those."
"And I'm working on these here."
"Everything you know, everything you've seen, and you still like reading old books written by silly humans?"
"Not silly at all, Rose! The human imagination is endlessly fascinating." He pocketed his glasses. "You smell like acetone."
"Had my nails done." She showed him her hands. "You like?"
"You didn't look."
He took one hand, holding it up to the light. "Purple, with a hint of red in the mix. Very shimmery. Your mum would love it. Can I stop being impressed now?"
"I'm gonna beat you off the head with those books, Doctor." Her stomach growled.
"You're hungry." The Doctor pushed himself up to his feet and grabbed his coat. "What do you want for supper?"
"What do you want to do after supper?"
He touched the tip of her nose, smiling with an expression that made Rose weak in the legs.
"What's in those bags?" he asked on their way down the stairs.
"Never mind," she said mysteriously.
Outside, the church clock struck five. "Come on," the Doctor said. "There's a restaurant down the street with braised duck on the menu."
"I'm never going to eat another thing," Rose groaned. "Doctor, I'm stuffed."
They emerged into the town square as purple dusk settled over the countryside. Rose shivered, wishing she'd worn something warmer than her hooded sweatshirt.
"We can walk it off," the Doctor said, sliding an arm through hers. The wind had picked up, blowing leaves about with a dry rattle. Most shops had closed for the night, leaving the town common with an air both peaceful and sinister.
They walked. The Doctor kept up a stream of chatter; he could—and did—talk about anything that struck his fancy, and Rose found herself laughing at almost everything he said. They'd had wine with dinner—too much wine—and all during the meal, his eyes had been on her, dilated and full of love. He'd encouraged her to eat—again, too much—finishing with decadent chocolate desserts and after-dinner drinks. The bill had come to over 100.
She was glad of the exercise, the chance to burn off the meal. We can't just go back and start shagging on a full stomach, she grinned. Kind of uncomfortable, that way.
Around them, lights glowed in the windows of houses. Rose envied their occupants, people who could spend the rest of their lives with someone they loved. Not like me, she thought. Her happiness with the Doctor would be so fleeting. But worth it, she told herself resolutely.
Music blared out from the basement entrance of a building nearby. Rose's keen ears detected Madonna.
"Ooh, what's that?" she asked. "A club?"
Down a flight of steps, they found a young woman collecting money. "Five bucks a head," she told them. "We close at midnight."
The Doctor handed her a fake 10. They stashed Rose's bags and the Doctor's coat, and she tugged him onto the noisy dance floor. The tile underfoot was gray and worn, and there were exposed pipes in the ceiling overhead. Even the dim lights couldn't conceal that they were among the club's oldest patrons. The DJ consisted of a boy sitting at a table with a flat white laptop and four large speakers. No frills—Rose loved it.
"Perfect!" she laughed, taking the Doctor's hands and swinging him about. "Dance with me! You've done it before; I know you can do it again!"
He obliged, endearingly awkward, yet oddly fluid at the same time. They merged into the crowd of writhing, sweaty bodies. Rose loosened his necktie and slid it off, stuffing it in his jacket pocket, then undid the top three buttons of his shirt. Madonna gave way to George Michael, and Rose grinned, euphoric: This is the best night, ever!
You're beautiful, you're beautiful, you're beautiful, it's true;
I saw your face in a crowded place, and I don't know what to do…
The atmosphere in the club had grown sultry, pungent with pheromones as couples swayed back and forth, entangled in each other's limbs. The Doctor held Rose against him, devouring her mouth with his; his jacket hung open, and through the fabric of his shirt, she could feel the steady thump of both hearts. For a few long, weightless moments, it seemed they'd fused into a single entity.
Nearby, some kid muttered, "Geez, get a room already!"
Rose drew back and whispered, "Sounds good."
The Doctor took her hand, and they navigated their way to the door. Another fast number started behind them. Rose retrieved her sweatshirt and pulled it over her head, and the Doctor shrugged into his long coat.
The girl at the check-in stood talking to a Goth boy, and as Rose went up the stairs, she heard the girl complain, "Old people are so disgusting."
Rose made it to the top of the steps before a shriek of laughter escaped. The Doctor guffawed and chuckling, dabbing tears of mirth from the corners of his eyes.
"D'you hear that, Doctor?" she gasped, taking his hand. "We're disgusting old people!"
He took her free hand and they raced across the town common, grass dewy beneath their feet. They laughed and laughed, and the Doctor grabbed Rose, lifting and spinning her about, kissing her forehead. "Not too bad for an old lady."
"Twenty years old, and they've got me in a wheelchair and adult nappies."
"If they think you're old, I must be antediluvian."
Arm in arm, they left the town common, heading back down the quiet road to the inn. The night air had grown cold; their breath puffed in the frosty air.
"Look at that full moon!" Rose commented. "It's huge!"
"Is this romantic enough for you?" he teased.
The old farmhouse lay mostly silent when they let themselves inside. Rose could hear the faint murmur of Amy's voice, coming from her office. The treads of the stairs seemed to creak very loudly underfoot, and she tried with all her might not to giggle.
Once inside the room, she dropped her bags, and the Doctor reeled her in for another marvelous kiss.
"Want—want a fire?" he asked when they parted for air.
"Yeah. I'm gonna go wash," she said, kissing him and teasing his lips with her tongue. Toying with his lapels, she said, "Make everything cozy, yeah?"
"Yeah." His fingers brushed against hers.
Inside the bathroom, she started hot water running into the large white tub, sprinkled in a generous portion of bath crystals, and undressed. The silken caress of hot water felt divine after so much walking and dancing, and Rose luxuriated in the unfamiliar bliss of complete indolence. When the water grew cool, she climbed out, dried herself, and pinned up her hair, leaving a few wisps to hang fetchingly around her face. A touch of makeup, then she donned the nightgown she'd picked up, a simple affair: knee-length cotton, spaghetti straps and a sweetheart neckline, with a beautiful antique print of blue-on-cream flowers. Not her usual taste in lingerie, but it seemed to suit the old-fashioned milieu.
Well, Doctor, she thought, opening the door, here comes the irresistible Rose Tyler.
She stood, blinking and incredulous. The Doctor sat on the floor in his shirtsleeves, disassembling the telly with his sonic screwdriver.
"What—what—?" she sputtered.
"Amy was lying," he said, peering into the guts of the appliance. "I heard her telling another couple the same thing, but I plugged it in, and the telly works fine. Which led me to wonder: why is she lying about these televisions? So I thought I'd…" He faltered, looking up at her stormy expression. "What've I done now?"
"Doctor," she said through her teeth, "get your arse into that loo right now!"
Without another word, he set aside the sonic screwdriver and scurried into the bathroom.
What is wrong with him? Rose raged. This is supposed to be our romantic holiday, and he has to take apart the telly like a barmy obsessed wanker!
A look at the clock on the mantelpiece revealed that Rose had been in the bath far longer than she'd realized. Oh, God, she thought. He's nervous, so he found a project to keep his hands busy. A fire crackled in the grate, warming the room, so he hadn't forgotten about her. Rose turned off the lights, then climbed under the bedcovers. She took a deep breath and tried to release some of her exasperation.
Water stopped running in the bathroom, and the Doctor emerged, undressed down to a pair of pinstriped boxers. Rose grinned, her gaze roaming up and down. He was very thin, very pale. He tossed his clothes over a chair, then blinked when her spotted her in the bed.
"Where'd you get that lovely thing?"
"Out shopping today."
He cocked his head to one side. "What'd you do to your hair? Is it different?"
She sighed. "Pinned it up."
He approached the bed, astonishment growing in his eyes. "You look… special. And you smell like—like flowers—honeysuckle? No, less sweet—"
"Doctor," she laughed, "I've spent a lot of fake money trying to seduce you, and you're not being very cooperative."
"Is it really so much work?"
"In your case, yes."
His gaze had fixed on the nightgown. "How far down does it go?"
She raised the quilt invitingly. "Come find out."
He crawled into the bed beside her. "Feel these sheets!" he marveled. "Six hundred thread count. Wh—" He stopped when Rose kissed him.
"Doctor," she whispered, "please shut up. This isn't a science project. You can stop analyzing things now."
She pulled him against her tightly. "Yes."
When Rose caught her breath, she blurted out the first thing to cross her mind. "Oh, God, I just shagged an alien from another planet."
The Doctor rubbed her nose with his and said, "So did I." His breath came quickly in her ear, and both hearts beat out a percussion against her breast.
Rose burst out laughing, then froze. "Oh, God! Doctor—we weren't using anything! I could—"
"Shh." He put a finger to her lips. "There's no chance of it," he said. "Incompatible genetics."
"Are you sure?"
He kissed her. "Very sure. If there was even the remotest chance, I wouldn't be with you. You could no more have a baby with me than you could with an aardvark."
Rose giggled, weak with relief. "You're fitter than an aardvark," she teased.
After a few more kisses, he rolled onto his side, taking her with him, and she snuggled against his chest.
"You're not sweating," she observed.
"Different endocrine system."
"Why've you got two hearts?" Oddly, she'd never thought to ask this before.
"Now who's being analytical?"
She nuzzled him. "Just curious."
"Evolutionary adaptation to dense blood. There were other hominid species that had only one heart, but it took so much energy to pump blood through their bodies that they were weak and sluggish. The dual-heart model was more efficient, and it won out in the natural selection lottery."
"You're the only bloke who could make 'hominid species' sound like a come-on."
"You started the pillow talk."
Rose lay propped on her elbow, playing with his hair. "Did you know one of your other friends kept a diary?"
He blinked. "No, really? Which one?"
"A woman named Barbara."
He seemed baffled for a moment, then he sat upright. "Barbara? Kept a journal? What did it say?"
"Not much. She called you an annoying old man."
He grinned, sheepish now, relaxing again beside her. "I expect that's what she thought of me. Barbara! She traveled with me decades ago. Smart woman—brave, compassionate, interested in everything." His eyes had a faraway look, as though he were trying to see something at the distant end of a long, long tunnel.
"Why'd she call you old?"
"I was old, to her. I was over 300 then, still in my first body."
Rose hesitated. "Is that weird, having a different body now?"
"Disconcerting, sometimes," he said. "I never quite get used to it. The memories tend to get chopped up a bit after each change."
"How—how many… bodies have you had?"
"This is the tenth one."
"Tenth?" she almost shouted. "You've had ten different bodies?"
"Yeah," he smiled, his face crinkling into a sweet expression. "I've regenerated nine times now. A bit like getting a different car—trading in for a newer model. Except I never quite know what I'm going to get."
Rose was flabbergasted. When the Doctor had regenerated in front of her eyes, she'd assumed that it was a unique event, and the knowledge that he'd undergone this astonishing transformation nine times rocked her.
Another question followed upon this revelation. "You've had ten different bodies, and you've been traveling in space and time all these years, yeah?"
"Do you ever… do you ever run into yourself? Your past selves?"
The Doctor flopped back and put an arm up over his eyes. Rose began to giggle. "You have, haven't you?"
"The TARDIS has built-in mechanisms to prevent me crossing my own timeline," he said without removing his arm from his face. "I can over-ride them if I need to. So yes, it's happened."
He held up three fingers.
"What was it like?" Rose laughed. He didn't answer, and she started laughing even harder. "You don't get along with yourself, do you?"
"It's like looking in a fun-house mirror," he grumbled. "Exaggerates the bits of yourself you don't particularly care for. You know how embarrassing it can be when your mum drags out the baby photos?"
"God, yeah," Rose groaned.
"Imagine if those pictures came to life and started talking to you."
"Don't ask me to go looking for myself," he said. "I know it would amuse you, but I'm not going to do it. The three times it happened was three times too many."
"I won't." She stroked his chest. "It's strange—you're so different now. New body, new face, even a different voice. Different eye color, too. But you're the same. I can talk to you about stuff we did when you were in your other body, and it's like you're exactly the same person."
"I am the same person."
"How come you never wanted to shag me before?"
"I wanted to, but I don't act on every impulse that crosses my mind, you know."
"Coulda fooled me." He tickled beneath her ribs, and she squealed with laughter. "So why now?" she gasped, pushing his hands away.
"You asked me."
"Wish I'd asked a lot sooner." She pulled him closer, and they kissed, long and deep. Rose loved the way his mouth tasted, and he was the best kisser. I could snog him all day, she thought. All night, too.
"So, how many of your friends've you shagged?"
"Rose Tyler! What a nosy question! I don't ask you about your history, do I?"
"What history?" she laughed. "Doctor, I'm twenty—there's been two blokes before you, and you know perfectly well who one of them was. Not like you, gallivanting 'round space and time for nine hundred years—who knows what you could've been getting up to?"
"I didn't run away 'till I was about a hundred."
"You ran away?"
"I was bored."
"That's it? You ran away 'cos you were bored?"
"Think of the worst schoolteacher you ever had—stuffy, pompous, boring, no sense of humor."
"Oh, God. Mr. Crane."
"Now imagine a whole planet of people like that. That's what the Time Lords were like."
"But you're not like that."
"I could feel myself getting that way, though, like a creeping case of petrifold regression. In no time I'd have been completely fossilized. So I stole a TARDIS and ran away while my blood was still moving."
"And you've always had someone traveling with you?"
"Not always, but most of the time." He kissed her forehead. "I like the company. And no, I did not shag all of them! What d'you take me for, some kind of intergalactic time-traveling Casanova?"
"Why not?" she giggled.
"Some of them were boys, for one thing."
"That wouldn't have stopped Jack."
"Let's get one thing perfectly clear," he said playfully. "I am not Jack Harkness. Anyway, some of them were young, barely more than children. And some of the others, I just wasn't interested."
"Different reasons," he shrugged. "Personality, mostly. And if you'd ever heard Melanie's voice, you'd have known why I didn't want her rupturing my eardrums with shrieks of ecstasy."
"Melanie Bush. About four-foot-ten, mop of red hair, aerobics instructor, voice that could shatter glass from half a galaxy away."
"What happened to her?"
"She hitched a lift back to Earth at the same time I picked up—" And the Doctor stopped short, his face growing still.
"Picked up what?" Rose prompted. "Or who?"
He didn't answer, and she didn't press, knowing he'd tripped over some painful or troubling memory. He stared up at the ceiling, eyes unfocused.
"You don't like to talk about the past, do you?"
"If you'd lived this long, you wouldn't, either."
"What d'you mean?"
"How long've you been traveling with me? A year of Earth time? A little longer? You know the dangers we've faced. I've had eight hundred years like that."
"Yeah," she said, scarcely able to comprehend.
"I've made a lot of enemies, Rose. I've experienced things I'd just as soon forget about, and I have no interest in sharing them with anyone else. Especially you."
She shivered, wrapping herself more tightly around him. "I wish I could make all that go away. All those bad things."
"Rose," he said, "you already have." And he drew her face to his, kissing her with a ferocity that made the rest of the world dissolve around them.
Outside, the meadow lay cloaked in silvery frost. Rose stood at the window, the quilt from the bed wrapped around her bare shoulders.
"Doctor, look—is that a deer?"
He came and stood behind her. "That's exactly what it is." They watched the elegant creature stroll across the moonlit meadow, grazing on the grass, lifting its magnificent rack of antlers to peer about.
"He's beautiful," Rose breathed.
"Hmm." The Doctor wrapped his arms around the quilt.
"This is the best night of my life. I wish it could last forever."
"It's not over yet." The Doctor was nuzzling her neck. "Come back to bed."
Rose woke up some time later, her sleep interrupted by an odd light flickering against her eyelids. She murmured in protest, then blinked awake. On the telly, an old movie was playing, some bizarre black and white horror concoction: a young woman in old-fashioned garb, chased through a dilapidated house by animated corpses. There was no sound, but Rose could plainly see the girl screaming in abject terror, and the image disturbed her on some visceral level.
Beside her, the Doctor's breathing was audible, and Rose realized he was awake. Then she remembered him disassembling the television the night before.
"Doctor," she whispered, "what is that?"
"I don't know," he said.
"You didn't put the telly back together, did you?"
"Is that real?" She searched his face. "That's really happening somewhere, isn't it?"
The girl faced the TV screen directly now, face dirty and streaked with tears, her eyes those of a hunted animal. Help me! she mouthed before the screen flickered and went dark.
"Good pancakes," the Doctor remarked.
"I'm gonna be so fat by the time we leave here, the TARDIS won't get off the ground."
The Doctor's gaze flicked to the kitchen door, where they could hear Amy bustling about. Water ran. The Mini-Schnauzer whined and yipped.
Rose peeled a banana and began to eat it slowly, suggestively, wrapping her lips around the yellow fruit as she worked her way down. The Doctor's fork paused midway between his plate and his mouth, and his wide eyes got even bigger as he stared at her, mesmerized. His breathing had become audible.
"Nine hundred years of existence," he pronounced, "reduced to jealousy over a piece of fruit."
She played with his foot under the table. "After last night, you got nothing to be jealous about."
The swinging door squeaked. Rose set down her banana, and the Doctor lowered his fork. It was only the dog, eyeing both of them with a hopeful expression. Her funny little stub of a tail wagged.
"She loves bananas," Amy said, emerging from the kitchen. "More coffee?"
"Please." Rose pushed her cup across the table. "Can I feed her?"
"Just a little piece."
Rose broke off a bit of banana and offered it to the dog. She admired the animal's handsome salt-and-pepper coat, her rather woolly legs, the soft folded ears that she held upright and alert. A white beard and bushy eyebrows gave her face a comical expression.
"Handsome animal," the Doctor remarked, pushing his coffee cup over to Amy for a refill. "Do you show her?"
"No, she's just a pet. I don't have time for breeding and showing. That's a lot of work."
He took a sip of coffee. "Is she bothered at all by the ghost?"
Amy jolted, and coffee sloshed around in the glass pot. "You saw?" she wheezed.
He pushed out a chair with his foot. With a warm, understanding smile, he encouraged her, "Tell me about it."
Amy set the coffee pot on a nearby trivet and sat in the chair he'd offered. Rose and the Doctor hadn't gone back to sleep after seeing the strange apparition, and so they'd been the first ones down to breakfast. They had the dining room to themselves.
"I don't know what to do," Amy began, her voice edged with despair. "I sank all my retirement savings into this place, and if business doesn't pick up, I'm going to lose everything—God, I'll be out on the street!"
"When did it start?" the Doctor asked.
"As soon as I bought the place. That's why the property's changed hands so many times. Nobody can stand living here."
"Everyone sees the ghost?"
She hesitated. "Well, not everyone," she said. "I've never even seen her myself. But enough people have posted negative comments on travel websites that other tourists are staying away. The place has a bad reputation—other B&Bs are booked solid during foliage season and ski season, and I'm having all I can do to make mortgage payments. Nobody wants to stay in the house of horrors."
"Do you know the history of this place?" asked the Doctor. "Did someone die violently here? Was it the site of some tragedy—Indians massacred, maybe a battle during the Revolution?"
"No. I've talked to the guy who runs the town historical society, but he hasn't turned up anything unusual. I've done everything I can think of—I've had a priest, a minister, and a rabbi in; I've had Buddhists chanting and a goddess blessing; I've had psychics and mediums, and nobody can get rid of her. The ghost."
"So everyone always sees exactly the same thing?" asked Rose. "That girl, being chased by corpses, screaming for help?"
Amy nodded. She asked the Doctor, "You said Revolutionary… do you think she's been haunting the house for that long?"
"She was a Puritan," the Doctor said. "I could tell by her clothes."
"You noticed her clothes?" Amy gawked. "Nobody else ever has."
"I looked at everything that might give a clue about what's going on. Whoever that girl is, I think she's been here for a while. Or there, as the case may be." He stood up. "Show me some of the reviews you've been getting."
Amy led them to her office and switched on the computer. She opened the Internet search engine and brought up a travel website, entering the name of her establishment, the Tattersall Inn. When a link popped up, she clicked on it, then scrolled down to the comments section.
"It goes on for five pages," she said, getting out of the chair. "Read 'em and weep."
The Doctor took the seat, sliding his specs onto his nose, and Rose stood behind him, reading over his shoulder. The website's rating system was on a scale of one to five stars, and most people who'd stayed at the Tattersall Inn had given it only one star.
Creepy as hell! one woman wrote. My husband and I were woken up every night by a ghost in the TV set. We found out later the building is haunted.
This place sucks! another complained. The owner didn't tell me and my girlfriend the rooms are haunted. Avoid it!
The reviews went on in that vein until the bottom of the page, when another tourist wrote, The Tattersall Inn is a wonderful place, and the stories that it's haunted are just bullshit. I stayed there for a weekend by myself and never saw or heard anything weird. The owner is a lovely woman. Don't believe this vicious smear campaign!
The Doctor clicked to the second page of reviews. After three indignant entries, there was another positive one. People who say the Tattersall Inn is haunted are either crazy or just plain mean. My sister and I had no problems during our week-long stay last summer. The inn has everything a B&B should offer. Highly recommended!!
The Doctor read to the end of the comments. Rose estimated there were about fifteen negative reviews for every one that was positive. Not the greatest endorsement, she thought. Poor Amy! No wonder her hair's gone white.
"Where's your historical society?" the Doctor asked, standing up. "I'd like to talk to your contact there."
"Jean-Paul L'Heureux," Amy nodded. She wrote an address and phone number on a slip of paper. "It's behind the town hall, two blocks back, on Seavey Street. Tell him I sent you." She asked, "Is there anything you can do?" She sounded as though she didn't dare hope.
"Maybe," the Doctor allowed. "We'll certainly try." He pocketed the piece of paper.
"Thank you, Dr. Smith," Amy said. "Please let me know if you learn anything."
Rose followed the Doctor outside into the crisp October morning. "What do you think? Aliens, or some home-grown beastie?"
"Too soon to tell. There was a pattern in those reviews, though. Did you notice?"
"Lots of people saw what we did. Was that it?"
"Nope." He smiled, enigmatic and teasing.
Rose sighed. All right, impress me again with how brilliant you are.
The historical society's building proved to be an elegant old home tucked back in a street of restaurants, shops, and cozy inns. A brick path led to the front entrance. The Doctor held the door for Rose, and she stepped into a foyer that smelled of furniture polish. An elderly woman at the front desk stood and greeted them as if she'd been welcoming them into her own home.
"We're here to see Jean-Paul," the Doctor announced. "Amy Honda sent us."
The woman nodded. "That poor thing! So many people saying terrible things about her inn. She called to let us know you were coming. Right this way."
In a back room, a middle-aged couple pored over a box of index cards, assisted by a dark-haired man.
"These are the people Amy sent," the elderly woman said. "Dr. John Smith and Rose Tyler."
"Just a sec," the man said, then broke into a stream of fluent French, talking to the couple about their genealogical research. Rose marveled that she not only could follow the conversation, but that she knew they were speaking French. When he finished, the man came around the table, offering a hand. He wasn't as young as he'd first appeared—maybe forty, Rose thought.
"Hi, I'm Jean-Paul. Amy said you're interested in her ghost."
Rose just gawked at him. She'd expected someone dusty and frumpy, a bald little academic Frenchman. Jean-Paul L'Heureux looked more like a rock star: a lean five-eight, long black hair, skin tanned bronze, eyes like dark wells. A small, neat beard framed the lower part of his face, and both his arms were heavily tattooed. He wore a gray t-shirt, torn jeans, and black boots.
The Doctor was talking. "Has anyone looked into the possibility that the ghost is a dead Puritan girl?"
"It's possible," Jean-Paul allowed. "The town was founded by Puritans in 1680."
"She was wearing the sort of dress Puritans typically wore," the Doctor said, and Rose knew he must have seen such garb in person. "Do you know who originally owned the farm?"
"Yeah, a family named Bullard," Jean-Paul said. "C'mon, I'll show you a map of the area from the early eighteenth century." They went to another table. Rose followed, but her attention wandered to a computer at a small desk nearby.
"Can I use this?" she asked.
"Sure, go ahead." Jean-Paul gave her a warm smile.
Rose sat at the desk, opened the search engine, and began looking, keeping one ear on the conversation behind her.
"…no religious strife, anything like that? No witch hunts?"
"Nothing," said Jean-Paul. "Assuming the ghost is real, what are you thinking? That she was someone who died violently?" His tone indicated he was skeptical but open to any possibility that could be backed up by hard evidence. What a gorgeous voice, Rose thought.
"Was there something that might've been covered up? Something the townspeople were too ashamed to talk about or record? A natural phenomenon they didn't understand, something they might've interpreted as Divine punishment?"
"I have a couple of old journals and collections of letters," Jean-Paul said. "Let me check those—I transcribed them a few years ago so we can preserve the originals. Hang on."
He vanished up the stairs, and Rose hissed, "Come here."
The Doctor slipped over beside her, and she said, "I've been checking for historical meteor strikes, stuff like that," she explained. "And it says at this site here that a meteorite struck the White Mountain region in 1706."
"Three hundred years ago," said the Doctor. "Rose, you're brilliant!" He straightened up when Jean-Paul returned, bearing some three-ring binders.
"I apologize in advance that these are pretty boring," he said. "I don't remember any references to either violent crime or natural disasters—apart from ordinary things like fires and spring floods, hard winters. But there might be something subtle I missed."
The Doctor nodded. "By any chance, are there other ghost legends from this region?"
"Only one that I know off the top of my head," said Jean-Paul. "There's a boy who's supposed to be haunting the ruins of an old farm in the woods near Diana's Baths. Kind of a local fun thing—people like to go out on Halloween night and see if they can spot him." He indicated a map hanging on the wall nearby and tapped a section marked in green. "Have you gone walking in the state forest yet?"
"We were there yesterday," Rose confirmed.
"It's right here." Jean-Paul produced a folded map of the state forest, its walking trails delineated, and ticked off one particular spot with his pen. "You can see a little bit of the foundation and the chimney."
"Rose, let's have a look," the Doctor said. "Jean-Paul, can you sort through these records for me?"
"Sure," the historian agreed. "I can call a couple of colleagues at UNH, too, see if there's any stories connected to this area that the locals might've covered up."
"Good man!" said the Doctor. "We'll check back with you later."
"So, what're you thinking?" asked Rose as they hurried down Seavey Street. "You think this girl maybe died when that meteorite landed? If it was even a meteorite at all? A bunch of Puritans wouldn't have known what to make of an alien attack."
"First, we need to find out exactly where that meteorite struck," the Doctor said. "And what kind of damage it did. And if it was an alien spacecraft, we need to learn where it came from, what it was carrying, if anyone or anything on board survived."
"The usual suspects," Rose grinned.
He glanced down at her with a bemused sidelong expression. "Don't think I didn't notice you making big eyes at Monsieur L'Heureux."
Rose put her arm through the Doctor's. "He's all right," she said. "Dishy and smart, the way I like my blokes. But he's not you. Nobody could ever be you."
The Doctor turned very red, too abashed to respond.
In less than an hour, they'd returned to the Tattersall Inn, cut through the cow pasture and back to the woods, following the stone wall to where they'd left the TARDIS the day before. Once inside, the Doctor began fiddling with the computer, looking into the ship's vast memory banks.
"Here we are," he said, eyes scanning the monitor. "Something fell to earth in 1706, not far from here, according to these coordinates." He set the ship's controls. "Let's take a look, shall we?"
The TARDIS dematerialized, and a moment later, re-materialized; they couldn't have gone far. The Doctor opened the doors, and he and Rose popped out.
"It's just a field," she remarked, gazing about at the tall, yellowed grasses.
The Doctor bounced up and down, testing the ground underfoot. "A bit soft," he said. "Probably marshy in spring. This was once a pond, Rose, and like all ponds, it filled in over time and became a meadow. But I suspect the pond wasn't formed naturally. Something struck the Earth here a long time ago, leaving a crater. The crater filled in with rainwater…"
"…and instant pond," Rose finished. "What now? Do we dig?"
"Nothing so primitive," he smiled. "Back inside!"
At the TARDIS console, he once again began flipping levers and pressing buttons. The computer monitor went blank, and a moment later, blurry images began to appear on the screen.
"What's it doing?" asked Rose.
"Scanning the ground underneath the ship," the Doctor said. "Rock… rock… more rocks… ah-ha! What do we have here?"
Rose peered at the screen, staring at a large, dark shadow. "Is that it?"
"About twenty feet down," the Doctor confirmed. "Must've burned up pretty badly in the atmosphere… it's incredible that anything survived. This is just a wreck." His long fingers manipulated a control stick nearby, and the image came into closer view. Rose could see it better now, the blurry shape of a metallic hull. "See that big, dark spot, right there?" the Doctor pointed. "That's where an escape pod would've been docked. Someone must've left." He kept working the control stick, examining the outside of the abandoned vessel. "Aah! Now I've got you!"
"What, what'd you find?" Rose asked excitedly.
"That symbol, just there. It's the mark of the Malucidin. No wonder I didn't recognize their ship—they died out eons ago—in Earth years, it must've been about…" He did some mental calculations.
"About three hundred years ago?" Rose offered.
"Nice job! The last known members of the species died in a refugee colony three hundred Earth years ago—maybe the survivors who fled in the escape pod. But their numbers had already been decimated, anyway. They were a small race to begin with, and they had the colossal bad luck of crossing paths with the Sontarans."
"What are Sontorans?" asked Rose.
"Big ugly brutes with no necks," the Doctor provided. "They live for warfare. The Malucidin just got in their way and were wiped out in very short order. Actually, the timing is perfect. There was a major Sontaran battle about 350 years ago, Earth time, in the Malucidin's home galaxy. This ship here might've been carrying refugees, and they crash-landed on Earth in 1706."
"Would they've been dangerous to humans, then?"
The Doctor frowned. "They weren't an aggressive species, though I don't think they'd have particularly understood humanity. Their biggest concern would've been getting off the planet." He stopped speaking.
"What?" asked Rose.
"It's possible they needed an energy source to power their escape pod… and Malucidin had the ability to draw power from the energy of other life-forms…" The Doctor looked stricken.
"What, like people-energy?" Rose asked.
"Human mental energy."
"These things sucked out people's brains?" Rose clutched her head.
"Not the physical brain," he said. "The mind, the consciousness. It would've left a shell behind—"
"A kind of zombie?"
"A zombie or a madman," the Doctor said. "Depending how much energy they needed, it would've caused something like mass hysteria. Maybe even mass murder."
"That's horrible," said Rose.
"And in a small, remote community, word might not have reached the outside," the Doctor surmised. "Because of their culture, their religious beliefs, they wouldn't have told other people—it would've been shameful to the survivors, a blot on their community, a sign that they'd fallen out of Divine favor."
"And the ghost in the TV? Where does she fit in? Was she one of their victims?"
"Could be." The Doctor set some controls, and the ship dematerialized. "There's one more thing I want to check."
The craft materialized back in the forest. The Doctor stepped outside, consulting his map of the woods. "Good," he said. "We're not far from it now."
Rose followed him up a hill, down into a dip, then up another hill. They hopped over one of the ubiquitous stone walls and continued climbing.
"Here we are," the Doctor said. "There's the chimney. You can still see a bit of the fireplace. And here's some of the foundation. The cellar-hole must've filled in over the years."
The site was beautiful, peaceful, not remotely sinister, with the sun baking down on the pine needles and fallen leaves. Birds sang in the tree branches overhead.
"Hallo, ghost!" Rose called, laughing. "Maybe we should have a séance."
The Doctor removed his long coat and opened it out on the ground like a blanket. He kicked off his trainers and loosened his necktie.
"What're you doing?" asked Rose, surprised.
"Take off your clothes," he said brightly. "I'm going to make love to you now."
"What?" she sputtered. "What happened to playing Mulder and Scully? And where's the bloke I had to sweet-talk out of his knickers last night? Wh—"
She stopped short; the Doctor had caught her in a tight clinch, kissing her with an intensity that melted her body into liquid goo. "Doctor, oh God," she gasped. He drew her down to his coat, undressing her with calm deliberation. Rose couldn't guess what he was on about: maybe he felt that sex would clear his mind? Or had an amorous impulse just struck him at that moment? Devil may care: he was kissing her neck, her shoulders, her breasts, his slender hands stroking up and down her thighs. Whatever, she decided when he turned her onto her back, and for a while, that was the last coherent thought to cross her mind.
"Shh." His index finger was on her lips.
Rose listened, her head still spinning. At first she only heard the sigh of the wind through the trees, the calling of the birds. Then she heard something else: a voice coming from far, far away.
"There!" The Doctor crawled up to his knees. Rose hastily sat up and turned around, and her heart froze.
Near the crumbling chimney stack stood the transparent shape of a young man in old-fashioned garb. Rose could see the red of his hair and the black of his clothes, but she also could see mossy stones right through him. His mouth was moving.
Help, he was calling, his voice tiny and very distant. Help Abigail!
"Who?" Rose whispered.
"Shh!" the Doctor said. He called, "Who are you; what's your name?"
Help Abigail, the boy repeated, and then he faded away, his features blurring together like a watercolor left out in the rain.
"Who's Abigail?" Rose asked. "That girl?"
"Almost certainly." The Doctor was pulling his clothes back on. "C'mon, get dressed."
Rose located her discarded knickers and bra. "Was that ghost bloke her boyfriend or what?"
"It's too much coincidence for him not to be. They're both dressed from the same period…" He fastened the buttons of his shirt. "And they're both attracted to the same kind of energy."
"Energy?" she repeated, then realized immediately what he meant. Her face grew hot. "What, they're attracted to the two of us shagging?"
"Sexual energy, Rose!" He grabbed his jacket and shook the leaves out of his coat. "It makes complete sense."
"So where is she? He was just like a normal ghost, but she only ever shows up on the telly. Why? Can't believe I said 'normal ghost.' I never would've said that before you."
"I think she's trapped in a kind of dimensional rift or pocket," he said. "Let's go talk to Jean-Paul again." He handed Rose the paper with the historical society's information on it. "Ring him up and ask if the Bullard family had a teenaged daughter named Abigail in 1706."
Rose pulled out her mobile and tapped in the number for the historical society. When the elderly receptionist answered, Rose asked, "Hullo, is Jean-Paul there? Tell him it's Rose Tyler."
A few moments later, Jean-Paul came on the line. "Hi, did you find anything?"
"Yeah, the Doctor wants to know if the Bullards had a teenage daughter named Abigail in 1706."
"Hold on." Rose heard the rustle of pages turning. "Yes, they did. She was born in 1690. She'd have been sixteen in 1706."
Rose turned to the Doctor. "Hot damn."
"Ask if she had a husband or fiancé."
Rose spoke into the phone. "Was she married or engaged? Do you have any way to check that?"
"The parish records," said Jean-Paul. "Give me another second." By the time he came back on the line, Rose and the Doctor had reached the TARDIS. "You're on to something," he said. "October 20, 1706, baans were read in the church: Abigail Bullard to marry Seth Hamant."
"What's that mean, 'read the baans?'" asked Rose.
"It means their intent to marry was announced," Jean-Paul explained. The TARDIS doors closed and the Doctor raced to the console, Rose behind him. "This is interesting, because the Hamant family owned that farm I told you about, the ruin where people say they see the boy's ghost. Did you go there yet?"
"Yeah, we're on our way back from it now," said Rose. "We'll be there in like two minutes."
"Good," said Jean-Paul. "I have an interesting story for you." The TARDIS began to dematerialize. "What's that grinding noise?"
"Must be interference," said Rose. "Be there in a sec!" She disconnected, telling the Doctor, "They were a couple. The boy's name was Seth Hamant, and the girl's name was Abigail Bullard. They were engaged in October 1706, almost exactly three hundred years ago."
"That's why he won't let her go," the Doctor said. "I told you there was a pattern to the on-line reviews, didn't I?"
Everything made sudden sense to Rose. "Couples!" she shouted. "It was always couples who saw the girl in the telly!"
"Exactly!" the Doctor beamed. "People who stayed by themselves or with siblings or friends never saw her. Only lovers."
Her hand tickled the back of his. "Good timing," she said. "Otherwise, we might not've found out about all this."
The TARDIS materialized with a thump, and when Rose opened the door, she found they were down at the far end of Seavey Street.
"That was fast," said Jean-Paul when they whirled into the historical society building. "So now we know the identity of the two ghosts, and I have a lead on what might've happened to them." He led them into the back room. "Late October, 1706, there was mass hysteria in Tiverton village, which is now part of North Conway proper. People lost their minds and started attacking each other. There were almost no survivors, and the town basically ceased to exist. The people who did live were so traumatized they wouldn't speak about it. One of the survivors was the local minister's youngest daughter, and she made reference to the tragedy in some letters she wrote. The UNH library has her correspondence in their special collection on the state's Colonial history.
"I asked one of my colleagues what he thought of the events, and he said that from what the minister's daughter described in her letters, he's guessing the village grain supply was infected with ergot."
"What's that?" asked Rose.
"It's a fungus that infects rye," the Doctor said. "Eat too much of it, and it interferes with blood circulation and neurotransmission. Causes convulsions and even insanity."
Jean-Paul nodded. "It's tragic," he said. "Seems like the whole village was wiped out. I don't know if this will help Amy or not, but at least now we know what happened."
The Doctor stood up. "Yes," he said. "Yes, thanks—you've been a great help."
Outside, Rose asked him, "Their grain wasn't really poisoned, was it?"
"No," he said, "but if people's minds were drained by the Malucidin, the effects could easily mimic the effects of ergot poisoning. I'm intrigued by the date, though—late October."
"Is that when the ship crash-landed?" asked Rose.
"According to the TARDIS data, the ship fell to Earth on thirty-first October, 1706."
"Halloween," Rose realized.
"A day that has a lot of superstitions attached to it," the Doctor confirmed. "It was once even a sort of religious holiday called Samhain, marking the beginning of winter—the Celtic new year. People believed you could communicate with the spirits of the dead on that night."
"Yeah, well, Puritans wouldn't have believed all that, would they?"
"Doesn't matter," the Doctor said. "The superstition actually stems from the interesting fact that dimensional rifts are more apt to happen at that time of year, due to magnetic fluctuations caused by the Earth's position relative to the sun."
"So Abigail, the girl in the telly, is stuck in a dimensional rift?"
"A rift, a fold, a pocket… somehow, when the Malucidin were sucking the life out of the Tiverton villagers, she got trapped in a sort of dimensional oubliette."
"I know what that is," Rose grinned. "A place you put people to forget about 'em."
"You studied French?"
"No, but I must've seen Labyrinth a million times when I was a kid. Mum fancied David Bowie. So how're we gonna get Abigail out of there?"
"I have a plan," he told her.
She goosed him in the ribs. "When do you not?"
Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor raced madly about, emerging from back rooms with odd bits of equipment. Rose followed him outside, arms laden. They'd returned to the woods, to the site of the old farmhouse, and the Doctor began arranging the apparatus around the perimeter of the cellar hole.
"What's all this, then?" asked Rose.
"Transmat," the Doctor explained. "It'll allow me to get through the dimensional rift."
"We can't use the TARDIS?"
"Too big, too unwieldy," he said. "Too imprecise. Like trying to move something the size of a house into a space the size of a closet. This is much more accurate for a short-range hop."
"You said 'me,'" she realized.
"I'll need you on this end, to make sure the transmat's not disturbed." He fussed with his sonic screwdriver, adjusting what looked to Rose like a space-age stereo speaker. There were four of them, set up at precise intervals, and Rose guessed they were aligned with the four major points of the compass.
"Why here?" she asked.
"Because it's the spot where Abigail vanished."
"How d'you know that?"
"Think about it. You're a sixteen-year-old Puritan girl living in 1706. People around you are turning into zombies, going mad, and killing each other. There's strange, horrible creatures storming the town and attacking people. What would you do? Where would you go? Where would you run, to feel safe?"
"To you," said Rose, then she flushed. "To him, I mean. If I was her. She'd have run to her boyfriend."
"To Seth Hamant," said the Doctor. "Who lived here."
"But they were under attack, too."
"She reached the farm, only to find Seth and his family already dead. Abigail died, too, except her consciousness was trapped in a dimensional fold."
"How'd that happen?" Rose wondered.
"Like I said, it's an easy thing to happen at that time of year. My guess is that one of the Malucidin was trying to drain her, and something went wrong. The energy didn't go into the alien—it created a dimensional pocket, and both of them are still stuck there, after three hundred years."
"So why the corpses?"
"It could be that the alien is frustrated, preying on her fears, making her have horrific visions—it's trying to get more energy out of her, but there's none left."
"Dead battery," said Rose.
"So what're you gonna do? Force it to mend the error of its ways?"
"That's the tricky bit," the Doctor admitted, examining the next point of the transmat. "It's too late for that—the Malucidin has surpassed its normal life-span. If I dismantle the dimensional pocket to release Abigail, the Malucidin will be released, too—and it'll die. Its life is being held in stasis, and the moment it enters the normal timestream again, it'll go through an accelerated aging process. Ordinarily, I'd offer to set it free, set them both free, but that's a death sentence for the Malucidin. So it's not going to be too happy to see me."
"What if it won't… cooperate?" asked Rose.
The Doctor fished into one pocket, producing a round red orb, about the size of a large marble, which glowed faintly. He tossed the thing up and down a few times. "If it won't go gently into that good night, then it gets this, right between the eyes."
"That'll kill it?"
"It'll cause its neural wiring to short-circuit. Once the Malucidin is dead, the dimensional pocket will open up, releasing Abigail's spirit."
"She can't leave it on her own?" asked Rose. "If she's just a ghost?"
"She doesn't understand where she is, and she wouldn't know how to do that on her own."
"How long will it take? How long will you be in there?"
"Depends. Time runs differently in other dimensions. It might be hours. On the other hand, I might be back in five minutes."
"Take care," Rose admonished, watching him stand at the center of the transmat.
He winked, then pressed a small black disk that hung around his neck on a cord. For a moment, his body grew slightly transparent, shimmering blue. Then he stood there, blinking.
"Didn't work," said Rose.
"What went wrong?" Baffled, the Doctor went from point to point of the transmat, checking each module with his sonic screwdriver. Then he returned to the center and tried again. Once more, he shimmered but stayed where he was.
"It's not working. Why?" He checked the disk around his neck.
"Is it you?" asked Rose. "Maybe 'cos you're an alien?"
"Nonsense, the rift was created by an alien life form…" An odd expression dawned over the Doctor's face. "It's because I regenerated."
"What? That was months ago!"
"No, no—that I've regenerated at all. For some reason, this dimension is closed against anyone who's been born more than once."
Rose stared at him. "But you… it's still you, no matter the body, right? It's not like—like reincarnation or something."
"Not exactly… but each time I regenerate, it's because I'm on the brink of death. For a few seconds I am, technically, dead. Like if someone dies and then gets revived in a hospital."
"So that time… after the Daleks… when I saw that big light—you were dead?"
"For a few seconds, yes, until the new body was complete."
"And now you can't get into that other dimension 'cos something thinks you've been born more than once?"
"I'm the wrong key for the lock." His face creased in frustration.
"I'll go, then."
"Why not? All I have to do is hit the alien between the eyes with that red thingummybob, right?"
"Rose… that alien is the last of its species. Kill it and you have, in essence, committed genocide. I'm willing to take that responsibility on myself, but you shouldn't have to."
"Bollocks," Rose answered. "You don't want me getting hurt. The Malucidin are already wiped out, and you said the one that's in there can't live out here anyway. They're already dead, Doctor. You're just afraid I might get killed."
"What, now we're shag mates, you're gonna lock me up? Keep me from ever being in danger again? In that case, you might as well take me back to the Powell Estate right now and leave me there." She folded her arms and glared at him. "I don't travel with you to be safe, Doctor! I travel with you to live! And if I don't go, that poor girl's gonna be trapped there, forever. Now, give me that sodding transmat thing!"
"All right," he sighed, removing the remote from around his neck and looping it around hers. He handed her the red orb. "But you get one shot at killing that thing, Rose. If you miss him, if the energy scatters, it's all over. And in case you're wondering, that's the only one I have."
"Don't worry. I got Johnny Whatsit in the goolies, didn't I?"
He grinned, but his eyes held a lot of worry. "If it doesn't work, transmat back here, immediately."
"I'll do it," she promised. "My aim's good."
He kissed her. "I'll be right here, waiting."
Rose gave his lapel a playful tug. She stepped to the center of the transmat field and pressed the remote.
At first, her eyes had to adjust to substantial gloom. Rose stood still, body tense, looking around, listening, smelling. The house—she was inside a house—smelled of moldy old leaves and something else, something rotten and unpleasant, like a refrigerator in bad need of a cleaning.
"Abigail?" she called, keeping her voice low.
She heard a quiet whimpering noise and turned her head. There in a far corner huddled a young woman. She wore a plain black dress with a neat white collar and a funny white thing on her head that was part cap, part bonnet.
"Abigail, it's all right. I'm here to help you."
The girl looked Rose up and down with a terrified expression. "Who are you?" she sobbed.
"My name's Rose Tyler." Taking care not to make any abrupt movements, Rose circled around to the corner. The farmhouse consisted of one big room with a large fireplace and small windows. Everything was dilapidated and filthy, as if nobody had set foot inside the house for decades. Keeping a respectful distance from the girl and holding her arms in a non-threatening posture, Rose said, "I won't hurt you. I know you're frightened, and I know I look strange to you." Feeling awkward, she asked, "You do know you're dead, don't you?"
"The Lord is punishing me!" Abigail sobbed.
"Nobody's punishing you," said Rose. "You just… you fell into a trap. And I'm here to help you get out of it."
The girl stared at Rose through a haze of tears. Her hands clutched in convulsions at the skirt of her long dress. Rose saw something in her eyes—a tiny gleam of hope.
"You can help me? You're not one of them? One of his creatures?"
"No," said Rose. "I'm from… I'm from another place… somewhere in England you've never seen."
The girl crept out of her corner by inches and reached a tentative finger to touch Rose's arm. "You're alive," she whispered. "How can you be here, in a place meant for the dead?"
"My friend sent me here," Rose explained. "He's a good man, very powerful, a—a man of learning and knowledge. He knows how to set you free."
"Am I being tricked or tempted?"
"No, nothing like that!" Rose assured her.
"It's been such a long time." Abigail wiped her face. She must have been a real beauty in life, Rose thought, despite the funny clothes—slender and petite, with large brown eyes and a beautifully shaped face. "I thought—I thought this was my punishment."
"For what?" Rose asked blankly.
Abigail looked away, ashamed. "Fornicating," she mumbled.
Rose choked back a laugh, then reminded herself that this girl had lived in a very different kind of place and time. Keeping her tone compassionate, she asked, "With Seth? You… you made love to him… before you were married?"
The girl nodded, more tears spilling down her cheeks. "It seemed so right," she wept. "It was so beautiful, so holy! What fools we were!"
"Listen!" Rose took the girl's hands into her own. "Seth is still out there! His spirit hasn't left the site of this house for three hundred years, and that's 'cos he loves you so much! He's done everything he can to find someone who can help you. He wouldn't give up, and 'cos of him, the Doctor figured out where this trap is, and he sent me here! I'm going to help set you free, and none of that would've happened without Seth's love!"
Abigail blinked, and for the first time, something like a smile touched her face. "And I can be with him again?"
"Yes!" Rose told her. "Forever! All you have to do is tell me—"
Abigail sobbed and made a noise like a terrified rabbit. "It's them!" Rose whipped around to find the room full of putrid corpses, limping toward her on decomposing limbs.
Rose tried ducking to one side, but there was nowhere to run, and a pair of grisly, bony hands closed around her throat. Being in such close proximity to the things was simultaneously horrifying and revolting; she tried to pull away, but its fingers had locked around her neck in a kind of collar. She kicked out, her foot connecting with its tibia. She heard a crack, and the thing staggered, its body dropping on one side. Rose maneuvered both her arms between those of the corpse, opening out fast and hard. It released its grip on her throat, and Rose grabbed one arm, yanking with all her strength. The limb popped right out of its socket.
"Abigail!" she shouted. "Fight them! They're not that strong!" And it made sense, she realized, in a wild rush of courage and defiance: the creatures were nothing more than old bones, held together by decaying strips of muscle and tendon. Her foot lashed out again, breaking her attacker's second leg, and the body fell to the floor with a thud. Rose lunged for a wooden chair. One of the corpses tried to stop her, and she grabbed its arm, flinging it into another creature. Her hands closed over the hard wooden frame of the chair, and she spun about, smashing into two corpses at once.
The things kept coming at her, but Rose fought with a manic fury, swinging the chair at one creature, then another. Abigail was back in her corner, screaming and cowering. Fat lot of good you are, Rose thought. One of the corpses grabbed her throat from behind; Rose kicked backwards, like a mule, and the thing let go.
She spotted something over by the fireplace and used the chair to bash her way toward it. An axe. She hefted the thing in her hands and yelled, "Come and get it!"
Broken bones littered the floor underneath. Rose dealt with one cadaver after another, seeing how many she could decapitate with a single swing through the neck. The creatures had abandoned Abigail in order to fight off the greater threat, and Rose felt herself growing weak from her exertions.
"Come on!" she screamed at Abigail. "Help me!"
The girl scuttled across the floor and picked up the chair Rose had abandoned. She turned and smacked into one of the corpses—not with a lot of force, but the fragile bones cracked nevertheless, and the creature staggered away.
Something came to life in Abigail's eyes then—fury: cold, hard anger at her three centuries of imprisonment. With a violent scream, she swung the chair into the corpse, sending it sprawling to the floor, where it shattered into pieces. The realization that she wasn't helpless or powerless, that she could fight to free herself, went into her like a bolt of pure adrenaline. She charged through the room like an angry bull, smashing corpses as if she were mowing down a field of grass. Several moments later, the creatures all lay on the floor, some still twitching, but unable to move. A severed hand scurried across the floor like a big spider or a crab. Rose lunged over and stomped on it with her thick-soled shoe. It crunched into fragments and lay still.
Now Abigail really smiled, a wide grin that transformed her face. "They're all gone?" she asked. "They won't hurt me any more?"
"Never again," Rose promised, sweeping over to hug her. Abigail looked flustered and abashed, and Rose drew back a couple of steps. "Good work!" she said, setting the axe on the table, pausing to catch her breath. With a grimace, she wiped her hands on her trousers. "So much for the manicure."
"What do I do now?" asked Abigail, glancing around the house.
"That was just its creatures," Rose said, keeping her voice very low. "We have to find the thing that was controlling them and destroy it."
Abigail nodded. She looked very frightened again.
"You know where it is?" Rose whispered.
Another nod, accompanied by a low, hiccupping sob.
With another quick, nervous glance around, Abigail led Rose across the littered floor to a door Rose hadn't spotted earlier. It creaked on its hinges as Abigail drew it open.
Rose gasped when she stepped outside. The landscape was unrecognizable, a patchwork of fields and small houses, all separated by those low stone walls. There were no lights in any of the other houses; the sky overhead was gray and low, with no sun. A cold wind moaned, rattling the branches of a few leafless trees. Rose was struck by how lifeless everything felt: dead trees, dead grass, empty houses. This was a place of despair, of hopelessness, as if even the air itself had surrendered and died.
"Did you try leaving?" Rose whispered.
"I've walked as far as I could in every direction," Abigail told her. "But I always end up right back here. The only place I didn't dare go into was those woods, over there." She pointed to a dark smudge of trees in the distance. "It's too frightening. I was afraid of being lost, of never being able to find my way out. In the end, I just stayed here."
Rose followed her around one side of the house, to where some heavy wooden planks lay. Abigail began pushing them aside, revealing a deep, stone-lined hole in the ground. A well.
Rose looked, but she couldn't see anything inside. She wasn't stupid enough to get down on her hands and knees and try to stick her head down there to see better. Instead, she stepped back a few paces.
"There?" she whispered.
"Have you seen it go down there?"
"We have to flush it out," Rose whispered, turning over the orb in her pocket.
Abigail mouthed no, her eyes wild.
Rose took her arm and led her back to the house. Once inside, they closed the door, and Rose told her, "Yes."
"No—I'm too afraid!"
"What's the worst it can do, Abigail? Kill you? You're already dead!"
"But you," Abigail faltered. "It might kill you."
Rose shook her head. "It's two against one. 'Sides, I have this." She showed Abigail the orb.
"Witchcraft," Abigail shivered.
"Not witchcraft—science. This is a weapon, Abigail, like a—a musket, or a bow and arrow. Only a thousand times more powerful." Rose pocketed the orb and shook Abigail by the shoulders. "You can do this! You helped kill those creatures, didn't you?"
Abigail bit her lower lip. She glanced over at the mess on the floor. At last she nodded. "How," she gulped, "how are we going to… get it out of there?"
Rose had been thinking about that, and the answer struck her as absurdly easy. "Smoke it out."
In the filthy grate, Abigail managed to get a tiny blaze kindled. Rose brought in wood from outside. Everything was so dry, so desiccated of life, that it ignited without difficulty. The first tentative flames changed the atmosphere in the house to a degree that astonished Rose. The small flicks of light seemed to offer life and hope, and as the warm glow permeated the room, details of the nightmarescape began to alter: the bones on the floor vanished, the dirt melted away, broken furniture and crockery mended itself.
Courage and resolve came into Abigail's weary face. When a good-sized blaze crackled merrily in the fireplace, she said to Rose, "I'm ready."
They improvised torches with long sticks and carried the fire outside. In addition to her torch, Abigail clutched the axe. They heard a low, angry groan of protest, and the ground shook. Then, to their astonishment, the wind turned warmer, and a soft green haze came over the landscape.
"What's happening?" Abigail whispered.
"Spring's coming," Rose told her.
They strode over to the mouth of the well. "Come on out, Malucidin!" Rose yelled. "We know you're down there!"
It groaned more loudly, with a hollow, wet echo.
"Your time's over!" Rose shouted. "Your spaceship burnt up, and the rest of your species is dead! Now let this poor girl go free!" She tossed her torch down into the dark hole.
With a bestial scream of pain, the alien shot up out of the well, hovering over the ground, an ugly thing somewhere between reptile and fish: scaly, its eyes bulging. It darted about, and Rose cursed under her breath.
"Don't let it get away," she warned Abigail.
The girl lunged, brandishing her torch. The alien screamed and drew away, its hungry, covetous eyes regarding Rose. Then its mouth opened, emitting a strange sucking noise. Rose felt herself growing weak, horribly weak.
"No!" Abigail screamed, charging at it with the torch and axe. "No, I won't let you have her, too!"
The alien turned its attention to Abigail, and Rose's strength flowed back into her. "Distract it!" she shouted.
The creature plainly feared fire. Rose snatched the torch from Abigail and jumped up, thrusting the flame into the thing's body. It wailed loud and shrill, black smoke hissing up from where it had been scorched. For a moment, it hovered in one spot, and Abigail sprinted over, swinging the axe up over her head. The metal blade of the tool bit deeply into the alien's hide, black ichor running down its scales. Abigail yanked the axe free and swung it again. The alien pulled away, leaving another gaping wound, and rounded on Rose with an open mouth. This time she was ready. She drew the orb from her pocket, pulled back her arm, and flung the small stone with all her strength.
The orb struck the alien dead-on and shattered between its bulging eyes. A red blaze exploded, snaking in lightning-like veins all over its body. It dropped to the ground, screeching a ghastly din. Rose grabbed Abigail and pulled her back. The alien was dying, writhing in its death throes, and Rose wrapped herself like a protective blanket around Abigail. She felt the ground beginning to shake, as if in a violent earthquake; everything was running and melting together like wax—houses, trees, fields, and she heard a noise like the tearing of an enormous sheet of fabric. Then, for a moment, everything went blank.
They were standing on a grassy hillside that overlooked a river valley. Beyond the river, green hills rolled away into a misty distance. The sun shone warmly overhead, and the breeze carried with it the scent of flowers. Rose had never seen any place that seemed so perfect, so complete. She heard the songs of birds, the whisper of the wind through tree branches overhead.
"It's beautiful," said Abigail, awestruck.
They walked slowly down the hill. A wooden footbridge crossed the river, and near the bridge stood a small young man with hair the color of flame. Seth Hamant. Abigail spotted him and let out a loud shriek of pure joy. She took off at a run, flying down the path. Rose lingered back, watching the young man catch her in his arms and kiss her. She heard their laughter, watched Seth spin his beloved, and she felt a pang of jealousy that seemed out of place in this bucolic paradise. Abigail squealed when Seth pulled off her cap, releasing a mane of springy brown curls.
Rose strolled down the path and joined them.
"Thank you, Rose Tyler." Seth took her hands in his, his face radiating gladness. He'd been a nice-looking lad, Rose thought: nice features, pale skin, and gray-green eyes. Like Abigail, he was very small, maybe five-one. Rose couldn't help feeling angry at the life that had been stolen away from them. But at least they were together now, and happy.
Abigail stood on her toes to kiss Rose's cheek. "Thank you for helping me," she said. "Thank you for making me see I could help myself."
Rose flushed. "It's something we all learn sooner or later."
To her surprise, Abigail hugged her hard. "May the Lord protect you and bless you," she offered.
"He already has," Rose told her. "He sent me the Doctor, and that's more blessing than I could've asked for."
"The man I saw you with?" asked Seth.
"Yeah, that's him, the big lump." Rose fought to keep from turning maroon. "He found a way into the trap Abigail was caught in, and he gave me a weapon to destroy the Malucidin. I did the legwork—the planning was his."
"Then we owe you both more than we can ever repay," said Abigail.
"You don't owe us anything," Rose protested. "You're free, you're together, and you're happy. That's all the reward I want, and all the reward the Doctor wants, too."
"Give him our thanks and our blessing," said Seth.
"I will," Rose promised.
"We must leave now," said Abigail. She nodded her chin toward the bridge and the fair country that lay beyond. Rose strolled with them as far as the bridge, but there, the couple stopped.
"You may not cross over," Seth warned her. "It's not your time yet."
Rose looked down. From up on the hillside, the water had appeared bright blue and sparkling, but closer, she realized it was black—as black as obsidian, impenetrable, flowing without sound between its banks. The River Styx, she realized with a shiver, some long-forgotten mythology lesson coming to mind. The river that sooner or later all mortals had to cross, and once traversed, could never be re-negotiated. You only go over it once, in one direction.
"Right," she said. From the opposite bank came a sense of peace and contentment, an absence of all fear and sorrow and worry. For an instant, Rose hungered for that peace, and she stepped back, lest she be tempted to set foot on the bridge.
"Farewell, Rose Tyler," said Abigail.
"Bye," said Rose.
Hand-in-hand, the two lovers skipped across the wooden planks. At the end, they both turned back and waved, then stepped onto the opposite bank, vanishing into the mist. Rose felt melancholy and alone. She pulled herself away from the bridge and ambled back up the hill, wondering what to do next.
Rose? She heard the Doctor's faint voice in her mind. Rose, where are you? Come back to me!
Belatedly, she remembered the transmat. Rose pressed the black disk hanging around her neck.
The cold and darkness startled her after the sunny warm perfection of the other dimension. An instant later, familiar strong arms wrapped around her.
"It's me, it's all right."
She burrowed into his warm coat. "I'm cold! Why's it so dark?"
"It's about twenty minutes to dawn."
"I was gone that long? It felt like maybe an hour."
"No, you've been in there a while." The Doctor's tight voice betrayed his fear and worry. "I felt the dimensional pocket give way around midnight." He kissed her forehead, her nose, lingering on her mouth. "I was starting to worry. What happened in there?"
"I—it's—well, I killed the Malucidin. Abigail's free now—with Seth—"
His fingertips grazed her temples. "Can I look?"
Rose shut her eyes. "Go ahead."
A moment later she felt him there, in her mind, an experience even more intimate than lovemaking, reliving recent events in quick images. The Doctor didn't look any deeper than that, didn't pry into her memories or innermost thoughts, but she still could feel his love for her, an emotion so radiant and pure that it made her chest hurt.
Then his fingers drew away and she was alone with her thoughts again.
"Good work, Rose! The fire was a nice touch." She could sense him smiling proudly.
"You should've been there when Abigail realized she could fight that thing. Funny how you can learn something about yourself, even when you're dead." She hesitated. "Doctor—was that Heaven I saw?"
"The entrance to the next world," he confirmed. "The afterlife for human souls."
"It was beautiful. I wanted to go with them."
He held her tightly. "Not too soon, though, I hope?"
She laughed. "It looked wonderful, but I'm not in any hurry."
Gray dawn had started to lighten up the woods. They collected the transmat modules and returned to the TARDIS.
The time machine materialized inside a dark space that smelled of earth and dried grass and animal dung.
"Where are we?"
"Inside Amy's barn."
Rose squinted around the dim space. From what she could make out, it looked like Amy had converted the barn into a storage area. The Doctor unlocked the barn door with the sonic screwdriver, and they let themselves into the house. A wave of exhaustion hit Rose with unexpected force. Her legs wobbled, and she grabbed a nearby chair for support.
"Steady there!" The Doctor took her arm. "Time caught up with you, has it?"
"I feel weird, like I have jet lag."
"You've been awake twenty-four hours. Your body knows it, even if your mind doesn't. Come on." They went up the creaky stairs, and the Doctor said, "Get some sleep. I'll talk to Amy, let her know everything's all right."
"What'll you tell her?" Rose yawned. "That you opened up the dimensional trap and made the big, bad alien go away?"
He flashed a toothy grin. "I've got a story made up. I had to do something to keep my mind busy while I was waiting for you."
Rose yawned again. The floor was tipping beneath her feet. The bed looked wonderful, as inviting as a bed had ever seemed. The Doctor pulled back the covers and helped her undress.
"In you go," he said, tucking the covers around her shoulders. Kissing her forehead, he said, "I'll be back in a bit."
Rose started to say something, but another wave hit her, pulling her down into slumber.
She woke up later to a quiet rustling noise. Turning her head, she saw the Doctor, sitting up in the bed beside her, specs perched on his nose, reading.
"Hullo!" He smiled, the wonderful dimpled smile that always made Rose melt inside. "Nice nap?"
"Yeah, aces. What time is it?"
"At night?" Rose stared out the windows. Dark. A small fire crackled in the fireplace.
"Amy said we could have the room for another night. I went and saw Jean-Paul—he's going to put word out on the local grapevine and the Internet that the ghost was a victim of ergot poisoning and that it's been successfully exorcised."
"That's nice of him." Yawning, Rose padded into the bathroom. When she returned to bed, the Doctor asked, "Hungry?"
She turned to him with a mischievous smile, removing his glasses and taking the book out of his hands. "Not for food."
You're beautiful, you're beautiful, you're beautiful, it's true;
I saw your face in a crowded place, and I don't know what to do
'Cuz I'll never be with you…
Rose heard footsteps and hastily hit a switch on the TARDIS console—the time machine could pick up local radio stations, and she'd been swaying back and forth, growing sentimental to a point that embarrassed her.
The Doctor emerged, almost lost behind the two large boxes in his arms.
"What's all this?" asked Rose, surprised.
"Your birthday present."
"You already gave me the best present I could've asked for. You."
He went red behind the ears. "Yes, well, I think I'd look a little silly with wrapping paper and a big bow on me."
"I think you'd be spiffy."
He set the boxes on the floor, and Rose hunkered down to open them. The first box was rectangular in shape and quite large, wrapped in elegant gold foil. Rose tore away the paper and lifted the lid. Inside, nestled in sheets of tissue paper, lay a vivid pink satin dress with a full skirt and a sequined bodice.
She lifted it out with a gasp of pure feminine delight, standing to hold the dress against herself.
"Doctor, it's gorgeous! I love it! Oh, this is my favorite color, too!"
Rose plunged back into the carton, finding a smart waist-length bomber jacket made of soft blue-gray nylon.
"In case it gets cold." The Doctor was grinning, hands in his pockets, rocking up and down on his feet.
"What's this?" Rose drew out a funny stiff skirt made of scratchy mesh.
"A crinoline," he explained. "It holds the skirt out full. Keep going."
Rose dug down beneath the tissue paper, finding a collection of smaller wrapped boxes. The first held pink court shoes in her size, the next held a pink headband and a wonderful pair of big sunglasses with round pink frames. The third box held a set of pink costume jewelry. Rose laughed with pleasure as each treasure was revealed.
"You can't have done all this," she teased.
"Why not?" The Doctor looked insulted.
"The dress maybe I could believe was your idea, but accessories? Five billion languages, and I'll bet that's not a word you know in even one of them."
Miffed, he said, "I think I happen to have very good clothes sense."
Rose cleared her throat and cocked an eyebrow, taking in his pinstriped brown suit and the blinding white trainers on his feet.
"All right, you've got me!" he laughed. "But I did find this on my own, and a woman in the vintage clothing shop picked out the rest to go with it." He handed her the second box: smaller than the first, square in shape.
Rose tore off the paper and opened the top, revealing a gleaming new motorbike helmet in the same candy-pink as the rest of the ensemble.
"I love it!" she laughed, bouncing over to kiss the Doctor's cheek. "You know how to spoil a girl—what's all this for? Or did you just feel like playing dress-up doll?"
"Does Radio City Music Hall in the 1950s sound good to you?"
Rose threw her arms around him and kissed him so hard that he almost fell over. "Yes!" She caught the Doctor's hands, and they shimmied around the TARDIS console. As they passed by, he hit a couple of switches, and the strains of "Rock Around the Clock" filled the air. When the song ended, the Doctor pushed another couple of levers, and the sounds of dematerialization began.
Amy Honda had taken Lexie out back for a walk, and the dog began to bark, lunging in the direction of the barn, pulling Amy behind her. Amy noticed the door stood slightly ajar, and she frowned: she stored some valuable furniture in there. She pulled the big door open a little further, and her jaw dropped.
Before her stood a tall object about the size and shape of a beachside changing cabana, with two doors and frosted glass windows. Its wooden panels were painted blue. Above the doors were the words POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX. It looked like something from another century.
An indescribable grinding noise began to fill the air, and she hopped backwards, pulling tightly on the dog's leash. To Amy's vast shock, the box began to vanish, and the grinding noise faded away, replaced by a high-pitched sonic whine. A wind kicked up, stirring dirt and dust from the floor. Then both the noise and the box were gone, leaving Amy staring, baffled, into the cool, dim interior of the empty barn.