She sat back in the chair, drumming her fingers lightly on the table and watching the three other girls who'd been sent in with her, their eyes fixed on the screens.
"Finished already?" the blond, snooty woman who had shown her into the initial interview came over, a look of barely disguised disbelief on her face. She glanced at the screen and then at the paper by Donna's hand.
"Excellent...that was very fast. How many words per minute did you say?"
Donna shrugged. "Used to be one hundred but I've got faster lately." It was true. Her fingers seemed to have a life of their own when they hit a keyboard these days. Maybe it was a sign that she desperately needed to find something else to do with her life.
"Well, thank you for coming in. We'll be in touch." She was offered a cold hand to shake as she got up and headed out of the room. The last three places had offered her a job and she had a feeling this one would too. But for some reason, she couldn't face the thought of any of them.
Outside, she glanced at the time and tried to decide what to do with the rest of her day. She could head to the Lions Den and see who was there. She had practically lived there for the last five years. No, that wasn't right. The last four years that had led up to the one partially forgotten one. She sighed. Nothing appealed to her these days except maybe going home and lying on her bed, whiling away the afternoon with what she imagined were glimpses into some of that lost time. Nothing major of course. Her mother, her granddad, but minus the solemn expressions they adopted these days when they looked at her.
"Donna?" An excited voice accompanied running footsteps behind her and she turned to see Alice, one of the old crowd of friends, friends that had once been more like family to her. Alice had always been the quiet one, preoccupied with anything strange, paranormal, convinced that she had physic powers. Donna had thought of her during the endless analysis of the supposed invasion and movement of Earth. Alice must have thought she'd died and gone to Heaven.
"Hi," she moved forward into her friend's hug, feeling as she did so much these days, that she was nothing but an observer in her life. Alice squeezed her tightly and moved backwards.
"Where have you been? It's been so long. Tony and Louise said you've rung a few times but none of us knew what you were up to! Are you ok? You look..." She looked closely at her, "you look pale."
"Yeah," Donna tried to laugh it off, "I was in a car accident a few months ago. Don't remember anything about it, or a bit before it, come to that. Just trying to get back on my feet now."
"I never heard anything, sweetheart, I'm so sorry. None of us knew...that's awful..." Alice trailed off and Donna could see her face crease in silent contemplation, trying to think back. It had been her own reaction.
"Yeah, I'm alright now. Headaches and...strange dreams, that's all."
"You poor thing...God Donna, you should have rung me, or got your mother to. We'd have all been to see you, you know that."
Donna nodded and smiled, already feeling awkward, as if she'd told a lie and now felt it was going a bit too far. It was the memory loss. She really remembered nothing about the accident and it got to her. To distract Alice, she said.
"So, what have you been up to? What'd you make of all the invasion stuff, eh? I slept through the whole thing, typical. One interesting thing to happen in years and I miss it. Apparently, I'd more or less sleep for days back then."
"Yeah, no one knows what to make of it anymore. Tell you something though, Donna, it won't be the last time. It just proves that there's so much more going on than we know about. Do you know, I even thought of joining some of those groups who try and track down Torchwood; you know, see if I could get in there somehow? Don't laugh!"
"Oh, no one seems to know if they really exist or not. You know, they track down alien life and the paranormal and all that sort of thing. They were at the forefront of everything recently, you can be sure of that. But no one knows very much about...Donna? Donna, what's wrong?"
"Headache," It was the usual blinding pain and she had to press her forehead tightly in what was usually a vain attempt to relieve the pain. Her head felt like it was burning up.
"Come on, sit down," She felt Alice take her arm and guide over to a table and chairs nearby, signalling something to a waiter who had come out of a cafe nearby. After a moment, something cold was pushed into her hand.
"It's just water, love, take a drink."
Donna took a sip. Her head was beginning to clear again and she looked around cautiously.
"Sorry Alice, I thought that had stopped happening. It's ok. Only lasts a few minutes."
"Don't be sorry," Alice was looking at her with a terrible pity and Donna suddenly longed to get away from her. She made a move to stand up.
"Donna," Alice reached over and touched her shoulder, "did you hurt your back in the accident?"
"My back? No, it was just a bang on the head really. No wisecracks please!"
"No, it's just...I thought, it looked like there was something on your back for a second." Alice laughed nervously, "must have been the light. Are you sure you're ok, Donna? Do you want a coffee?"
"I'd better go home. But it was nice to see you. We'll keep in touch, yeah?"
"I'll come with you," Alice moved as if to take her arm but Donna stepped back.
"No, thanks, you go on. I'll see you soon, ok?"
She turned away, desperate not to see the confusion on her friend's face.
By the time she got home, it was later than usual. She'd walked in the part for a while and sat in a cafe, reading magazines. Her mother hastily jumped away from the sitting room window when she came through the front door.
"Where have you been? I was worried," she stopped and Donna watched her start again, "about the interview. How did it go, love?"
"Alright," Donna shrugged.
"Don't worry, love," her granddad said, "you'll get something sooner or later. It's their loss."
She smiled at him and sat down, taking in their strained faces and over-eager smiles.
"Feeling alright?" her mother asked.
"Fine Mom, I'm fine now...but...I wish I could remember more, about the accident and what happened after. I was thinking of looking for my records and files in the hospital. What doctor looked after me?" She felt herself shudder. She should at least be able to remember that much.
"I don't think that's a good idea," her mother said, with a quick glance at her granddad, "they said...they said you'd remember in time, when you were ready. You can't rush these things."
"Yeah, but if I remember, I think I'll get better quicker. Just little things, like the hospital and the people there, and coming home at first. I should be able to remember being at home after. I was much better then"
"Love, your memory was a bit affected after," Granddad said, "you slept a lot of the time too. That was the best thing for you, to get better. Look at how good you're doing now. The rest will happen in time, and if it doesn't, that's ok." He gave her hand a squeeze.
"I still want to see those files," she insisted, "you have to understand, it's a whole piece of my life! I want to know what happened, even if I can't remember it."
Her mother stood up, and Donna could see her hands trembling slightly.
"Stop it, Donna. It was a horrible time and we want to put it behind us. It's all over now and you're alright. Can you not just leave things be!" She ran out of the room.
Donna looked at her grandfather, who regarded her silently, saying nothing.
"I'm sorry, alright? But I just hate feeling like this...like I'm helpless, or tainted in some way. I just want things to be back to normal." She leaned into him and he put his arm around her and kissed her forehead. The gesture was so familiar, she realised, a cherished childhood shadow, that for a moment, the rest of it didn't seem to matter quite so much.
That night she dreamed of her grandfather. They were sitting in the back garden and she was watching him looking through the telescope.
"Have a look, love," he said conversationally, "the stars are going out."
He handed her the telescope and she put it to her eye and watched as one by one, the stars above them blinked and faded away into darkness.
"What is it?" she asked him.
"It's the end of the universe." As he said the words, she watched as far away across the sky, an explosion of fire came nearer and nearer. She tried to get up, pulling him with her, but neither of them could move.
"We've had the best of times," he told her softly, and even as she tugged him close, he began to fade, taking everything around them with him. Darkness closed in on her.
"No!" She sat up, gasping for breath and reached for the bottle of painkillers beside her bed. The night-time headaches were always worse. While she waited for them to kick in, she staggered to the window, desperate for reassurance that everything was the same as usual. Outside, the street was silent. Underneath the street lights she could see a light rain falling. It was all there, a very faint sound of traffic from the town, curtained windows across the road, her car in the driveway. She sat back on the bed, trying to calm her breathing.
And realised what was wrong with the picture.
She huddled with the phone under the duvet and dialled Alice's number.
"Donna?" Her friend's voice was faint with sleep, "are you alright?"
"Yeah, sorry, I'm sorry to wake you. Listen, you said you knew nothing about my accident. Did no one know anything? Have you been out of touch with them all?"
"No. No one knew anything, Donna, you've got to believe me. We'd have been to see you, honest..."
"No, it's not that. It's just, didn't my mother tell you?"
"We all said that this evening," Alice's voice sounded more awake now, "but, not criticising her, it's understandable. She was worried and upset and all that. But Tony and Lynn and the others, they were really shocked that we didn't know. They all send their love. Are you sure you're ok?"
"I'm fine. I'm confused." Donna rubbed her forehead, feeling the headache edging back again, "my car is outside, Alice. Not a scratch on it. I only just realised. Mom said I was driving and I fell asleep at the wheel but I never drive any other car."
"Maybe you did that once. Work or something, a favour for somebody."
"Yeah, maybe. It's this alien thing as well. I slept through it but how could I have? No one stayed quietly indoors. Mom and Granddad wouldn't have left me either. I was lying on the bed afterwards...not in bed tucked up...on the bed with clothes and shoes on. That's not like someone asleep for days on end. I came down and there was this man, a detective, coming around checking on everyone. But he didn't ask me anything."
"Why not ask them? Your mom and Granddad?"
"They hate talking about it. I think they're a bit traumatised. I keep dreaming about it too...stars going out, people being ripped apart, screams..." She shivered.
"Lots of people have that, love. We don't understand and that makes it more frightening."
"But why am I dreaming about when I didn't experience any of it?"
"You've read the papers, seen the reports on television. It's affected everyone and maybe you even more because you've been hurt and you're fragile at the moment."
"Yeah," Donna was crying now.
"Donna, it's alright. Listen, do you want to come over to me? I'll pick you up. Wait by the front door."
"Thanks," They hung up and Donna hastily put jeans and a sweater on.
They sat up in Alice's bedsit until the early hours, Alice trying to convince her that nothing was wrong and then showing her photos of recent nights out and their friend Tara's hen night. Gradually Donna felt herself relax and she stared hungrily at the photos, willing herself into the normality of the scenes.
"We'll all meet up tonight," Alice promised, "it'll do you good, seeing the others, having a laugh. We'll get some sleep now and things will look much better when you get up. Did you leave a note at home for your mom?"
"Yeah, she won't like it but I'll ring her later. Maybe she'll take it as a sign I'm back to normal, sneaking out at all hours." She lay back on the couch and Alice handed her a blanket and kissed her cheek. "Call me when you wake up, ok?"
"Thanks for everything," Donna said sleepily.
This time she dreamed of a desk of papers. The papers were stacked untidily on top of each other, and the top ones drifted to the ground as she looked at them. Her hands couldn't keep up with their movement as she tried to tidy them.
"That's not very quick," remarked the woman from the interview, "I thought you could do a hundred a minute."
"I can," Donna protested, filling her arms with a stack of paper and trying to push them down on top of the others.
"You're not so special after all," the woman said, "oh look!" She pointed to a paper as it fell from Donna's arms, "that must be Torchwood."
Pressing her hands to her forehead, Donna sat up and looked around, completely disorientated, before she remembered where she was. In the early morning light, the small room looked cosy,
everything colourful and brightly painted. She reached for the glass of water Alice had left her on the desk nearby and stopped dead.
It was the same desk from her dream.
Which of course, was not much a coincidence. The desk had been beside her the whole time she'd been here. She probably knew it all from past visits to Alice but at the same time, she knew she'd never really noticed it before. As much as she knew that rooting in a friend's desk was not exactly the thing to do, her hands reached out and opened the drawer.
There was very little; a notebook, glasses case, a few letters in envelopes. She picked up the notebook, wondering how much of a crime it might be to look inside, but as she did, she say the leaflet underneath it.
Did the earth move for you?
Friends, forget the wisecracks, the speculation and above all, the outright lies being fed to us by the very people who are supposed to protect us. If you want to know WHAT REALLY HAPPENED during the October invasion, Earthlings are the people that are going to find out and tell you the truth.
Have you a story to tell about the invasion? Lost someone and want answers? Have information that no one will listen to? Then contact Earthlings!!
077 78946 37463
There might be time to regret and wisdom of her decision later. Donna rooted her mobile out of her purse and dialled.