The teachers, of course, laughed it off. It was a bin area, nothing more. An extra three walls added in the far corner of the playground. A space no bigger than a small classroom, where sat three large metal cylinders, in which leftovers from the school's dinners were dumped, and then picked up by the bin man every Wednesday. Hardly the dark dwelling of a mysterious being. Oh, the things children dreamed up today!
Except it wasn't just the children of today. It was every child for the last 42 years, since the moment the school opened on that rainy day in 1968. The children of today only knew about it in the first place because they spent their earliest years listening in awe to the tales told by their parents or older siblings, of their days in St Finbar's Primary School. They listened to tales of the Cave.
It was said that the Cave (officially recognised by St Finbar's as the Waste Disposal and Collection Area) was not part of the original plan for the school's construction; and that, when asked, the builders could not explain what possessed them to build it. And that when Timothy Mullen went in after his bouncy ball, he never came back.
The morning of any child's first day in St Finbar's was spent restlessly not listening to their new teacher's welcome and explanation of the classroom rules. They all waited for break time, and rushed outside to get their first glimpse.
The teachers did their best to put a stop to it. After all, quite apart from the fact that bullies would traumatise their victims by pushing them towards it, they weren't particularly sure if the thing was a health violation or not. The last thing they wanted was children yapping to adults about the smelly bins in the corner of the playground.
So they would frequently point out the silliness in it all. All that mystery surrounding such an ordinary thing. What was there to be scared of? The bin men ventured into 'the Cave' all the time to collect the rubbish.
But all to no avail. It became second nature to the children to avoid it during break time. Football was always played on the other side of the playground, to ensure that the ball never accidentally ventured into it. And if it did, or any other personal item for that matter, no attempt was made to go after it. It was lost forever.
Because something lived in the Cave, they said. Something that didn't like children. It waited until they dared enter it's abode, and it took them. What it did to them? No one knew. But if you went in, then the only certainty was that you would never see your mother or your father or your family again.
He knew all of this, of course. He was 9, now. He'd spent his entire school life listening to the stories. He'd even told a few himself by torchlight at sleepovers. And yet here Liam Edwards stood, directly in front of the Cave.
The playground was empty, the school had been closed for hours. The last of the daylight was being dragged away as darkness settled in for the night. The Cave was silent.
He looked at the narrow opening. Just about big enough for someone to enter, but small enough to give the impression that people weren't supposed to go through it. Of the inside, he could see nothing but dust and darkness.
"Run!" his instincts were crying. But Liam forced himself to remember why he was here.
It had happened at lunch time. He'd just tripped, a slight stumble. But enough for his Granddad's cricket ball to fall from his pocket and roll into the Cave. He could only watch in horror as it disappeared from sight, and had spent the rest of the day heartbroken and angry with himself from bringing it to school in the first place.
And so he had snuck into school after dark. He had to go in. There was nothing else to it. He had to get it back. His Granddad had died a few years ago, and that was all he had left. His Mum would kill him if she found out. But she never would. Because he refused to leave without it.
He swallowed, balled up his fists, and prepared to enter. Any second now he would lift his feet, and walk. He looked at the opening, the void beyond it, and willed his legs to move.
And then he sobbed. Because he couldn't go any further. He felt shame wash over him. The only thing he had left of his Granddad, and he wasn't brave enough to go and get it. The agony was that the ball could only be inches away from the spot he stood in, yet it was further than he had the courage to walk.
A loud slam suddenly cut through the silence, and Liam jumped. Had the thing in the cave had grown tired of waiting for him to enter, and decided to come out and get him instead?
No, the noise had come from behind him. He turned around, and was shocked to see someone running across the playground in his direction, having just shot out of the school doors.
As she got closer, Liam saw that it was a tall girl, much older than him, with deep red hair. She came to a stop not far from him, and went about catching her breath.
"Okay." she was saying quietly. "Not your bravest moment, but he was running too, so its not like he can have a go at you about it."
"Are you okay?" Liam asked.
The girl gasped and jumped even higher than Liam had seconds before.
"Where did you come from?" she asked, with a thick Scottish accent.
"…My house?" Liam replied.
The Scottish girl shook her head. "No, I mean what are you doing here?"
"This is my school."
She looked about the deserted playground. "Bit after home-time, isn't it?"
Liam glanced back towards the cave. "I had to…"
The girl noticed his uneasy look to the walled-off area they were next to. "Had to what?"
When the boy looked back at back at her, his eyes were full of tears.
"Oh." the girl said, quickly walking over to the boy and crouching down so she could see him properly. "What is it?" she asked softly. "What's wrong?"
"It's my Granddad." Liam said. "He gave me his ball, his cricket ball, before he died. And I've lost it."
"Well, don't worry, I'll help you." she said, placing her hands on his shoulders. "What's your name?"
"I'm Amy." she smiled. "And I'll help you find your ball, me and my friend."
"No." he wept. "I know where it is. It's in there. But I can't go in and get it."
Amy looked again towards the dark opening at which Liam was pointing. "Why not?"
"Because that's the Cave. No one goes in there. There's something inside, something that takes people."
Curious, Amy got up and took a few steps towards 'the Cave'. "What kind of something?" she asked.
"Don't know." Liam said, sniffing and wiping tears out of his eyes. "But something bad."
"Sounds like a job for my friend." Amy said, turning back towards the school.
Liam did the same, and noticed that there were now a few lights on inside that hadn't been on before, and a general noisiness coming from within the building.
"Also sounds like he's a bit preoccupied at the mo'." she smiled again. "So I'll have to do."
With a swish of red hair, she turned and started walking into the Cave.
"Wait!" Liam cried. "You can't go in there."
"Sure I can." she said.
And she did. She walked through the gap and stood in the cave, and then turned back to him and smiled. "See? Me. In the Cave. Now, you said a cricket ball, yeah?"
She switched her gaze to the floor, and walked out of sight. Liam panicked the minute he couldn't see her anymore.
"It's okay." she called back. "I'm fine. Where abouts did you lose it?"
"I don't know. It just sort of rolled away from me and into there." He waited a few seconds while she searched, noticing when a breeze blew some dust out of the opening.
"Can you see it?"
There was no answer.
"Amy?" he said.
But Amy wasn't there anymore. The Cave had taken her.
And Liam felt shame again, this time for allowing her to go in there alone. But now there was no question. Fear or not, he couldn't just leave her after she'd been so nice to him.
With as much courage as he could find, he took a step forward.
But again, the school's doors slammed behind him.
He turned again and this time saw a man walking away from the school.
"Amy?" the man shouted. "Amy, its okay, its all sorted now. It was a big mix up!" He looked around the playground for any sign of the redhead.
"Over here!" Liam cried.
The man looked momentarily surprised to see a child there, but then jogged over to him. He was an unusual looking man. The maturity of his tweed jacket and bow-tie seemed to both clash and fit right in with his youthful face.
"Hello." he said, fixing the boy with a inquisitive gaze. "I'm looking for a friend of mine, Amy. Tall. Scottish. Not too good at listening."
"She's in there." Liam told him, pointing at the cave.
The man rolled his eyes. "Oh, now, Amy! It's one thing to run out of the building, but it's another to hide behind the bins. It was only a koala bear, no need for all this!"
"No, she's not hiding, she's…"
The man looked at him, noticing his fear for the first time.
"What is it?" he asked. "What's happened?"
"I lost my ball," Liam stammered. "in there, and Amy, she went in after it. But that place, its not normal, it takes people."
The man gazed back at the Cave in wonder. "Really? How?"
"What? I don't know. It just does. We call it the Cave."
"Ooh." he grinned. "I like it. Simple yet spooky."
He placed a hand on the wall of the Cave, tapping his fingers against the concrete.
"Amy?" he called. "Amy, can you hear me? Amelia?"
"She can't hear you." Liam said, feeling tears coming again. "She's gone."
"Hey, hey, hey." the man said, crouching down just as his friend had done. "Don't worry, she'll be fine."
"No, she won't. Nobody comes back out of the Cave. I should have stopped her."
"Trust me, I would have like to have seen you try." he grinned. "Look, listen… sorry, what was your name?"
"Liam. I'm the Doctor. Now, you stay here, I'll go in and fetch Amy, and your ball, and we'll all go home. Deal?"
He jumped up, and walked towards the Cave entrance.
"Wait!" Liam cried again. "How do I know you'll come back out?"
"Oh. You don't, really." he said. "I suppose you'll have to come with me." He grinned again and held out his hand.
Liam looked at it. His legs were pleading with him to stay put. That was the Cave, after all! But then Liam thought of Amy, the nice girl who'd gone in and gotten lost because of him.
And so, with a clenched jaw, he took the Doctor's hand, stepped over the threshold, and was standing in the Cave, coming face to face with…
…three large cylindrical bins.
"Oh." the Doctor said. "That was a bit of letdown. I was thinking wormhole, or space portal. I thought it'd be bigger on the inside at least."
"It's just a bin area?" Liam said, both relieved and yet slightly disappointed.
"Seems that way." the Doctor said, and began rooting around inside his jacket. "However, in my experience, things are rarely exactly what they seem."
He produced something long and bronze, and when he pointed it around it glowed green at the end.
"Oho!" he cried.
"What?" Liam asked. "What is it?"
"Nothing like what it seems." he said, a glint in his eye. The bronze thing was making a buzzing now, and it was getting louder. "I wonder, what would happen if I did this?"
The buzzing went higher, and a breeze from nowhere swept through the cave, quickly becoming more like a gale force wind. Liam grabbed onto the Doctor, as the dust and specs of dirt that littered the Cave began to rise up, as though caught in a whirlwind. As the dust rose into the air, it split off into two different directions, and joined up with other bits to slowly form two figures; one of which was familiarly tall.
"I'd know those legs anywhere." the Doctor said.
The dust, previously the usual murky colour of what you would expect to find on the floor near some bins, gradually began to become more colourful. It was a few seconds before Liam realised that the tall figure of dust had turned into Amy.
"Staying out of trouble as usual, Pond?" said the Doctor.
Amy gasped, as though she'd been holding her breath since the second she's stopped speaking to Liam.
"What the hell just happened?" she said, looking wide eyed at the Doctor and Liam.
"Your molecules were hijacked, converted into particles with diameters less than 20 thou, and then separated." Amy sent him a blank look. "You got dustified!"
"Oh." she said. "By what, exactly."
"That!" he said, pointing to the other corner of the Cave.
The other figure had not turned into anything like with Amy, remaining as dust. It was about the same height of Liam. It had no visible face or legs, just a body with what looked like an arm on either side. But the strangest thing was that it didn't appear to be entirely solid. Some bits of the dust that made up the creature would fly off, while any other bits blown its way would latch on, as though all of the dust in the air was a part of the creature.
"What's that?" Liam asked, still holding on tight to the Doctor's arm.
"Dunno." said the Doctor. "Never seen one before. But I'm going to call it, a dust m-"
"It's a dust mite!" Amy cut in. "I called it."
"You can't just call it." the Doctor frowned. "I'm the one with the experience, if anyone gets to name this creature it should be me."
Amy folded her arms across her chest. "I saw it first, I called it, its called a dust mite."
The Doctor held her gaze, but she didn't back down.
"Damn." he muttered, and turned his attention back to the dust mite. "Anyway. That wasn't very nice, was it? Dustifying poor Amy like that."
The wind suddenly picked up, and even though Liam could hear only white noise, he had the strangest feeling the dust mite was replying to the Doctor. He knew he was right when the Doctor laughed incredulously.
"Your domain? This is her planet, she's got more right to be in here than you. And what's this my mate Liam tells me about you terrorizing school kids."
This time the wind was more violent, and Liam shielded his eyes against the dust.
"This a fully established Level 5 planet." the Doctor stated. "You get stranded, you send a distress signal. You do not set up shop in a school bin area, and start kidnapping children. Now, I'll be more than happy to give you a lift home, but…"
The Doctor stopped, and listened to the wind. He obviously didn't like what he heard, because he motioned for Amy to grab Liam's hand, which she did and took him over to the back wall of the Cave. When he spoke again, there was an edge to his voice.
"You've grown to like it here? And, what, you expect me to just walk away? Allow you to be the ghost that haunts and occasionally abducts the children of this school?"
"Uh-oh." Amy muttered.
"What?" Liam asked.
"That would be his angry voice." she said, shielding her own eyes from dust as the creature answered back.
"I'm the Doctor, that's who! And you, my friend, are leaving this school, right now. Whether you like or not!"
The force of the wind increased, the creature roared in anger. Liam threw his hands over his face and lowered his head. And then he saw it. Just a few inches away from his feet. His cricket ball. He bent down and picked it up, but in doing so saw something else.
The dust that had somehow managed to stay on the floor through the whirlwind was moving, moving to the spot directly behind the Doctor, where it was coming together to form a second dust mite.
Once fully formed, the creature raised its arm to strike the Doctor. Liam gasped, and without a second's thought, threw his cricket ball at it. The ball cut right through the dust, causing it to break apart. But it was only seconds before the creature managed to reassemble itself, and turned it's focus on Liam.
Amy, who had been focused on the Doctor, felt Liam tugging on her arm, and looked to see the second dust mite advancing on them.
"Erm… Doctor!" she said, placing herself firmly between Liam and the dust mite.
From behind Amy, Liam saw the Doctor glance back at them, and then back to the bronze thing he was fiddling with. "Hang on a sec… trying to find the right setting… here we go!"
The second dust mite turned its attention back to the Doctor, but too late. The Doctor aimed the his device right at the creature's heart, and the shrill whirring noise it emitted caused both Amy and Liam to clamp their hands to their ears.
The wind howled as though the dust mite was screaming, it began to rise into the air, the second creature not far behind it. They both uselessly clawed out at the Doctor one last time, before suddenly shooting up into the night sky, out of sight.
The howling stopped, the wind disappeared, any remnants of dust drifted to down to the floor.
The Doctor placed his sonic screwdriver back in his pocket, and turned to his companions.
"Another one bites the dust." he smiled.
Amy groaned and rolled her eyes as she and Liam stood up.
"Sorry. Couldn't resist." he said.
Then, watching the dust float back to the ground, he bent down and picked something up.
"I think, this belongs to you." he said, holding out Liam's cricket ball.
"Where did you send it?" Liam asked, as the Doctor shut the school gates behind them.
"Shadow Proclamation." he answered, and then saw that neither Amy nor Liam showed any hint of understanding. "They're a kind of outer space Police. It's a long story, but they'll see to him. I sent a little message, listing his crimes."
And before Liam could further question the 'outer space police', Amy suddenly remembered something:
"Doctor! What about the koala bear?" she asked.
The Doctor shook his head. "Big misunderstanding." he said. "He was supposed to be fishing in Acapulco and he made a wrong turn. He was as scared to see us as we were him."
The Doctor and Amy decided to accompany Liam on the short distance back to his house and make sure he got home safely.
"This is me." he said, as they arrived outside his front door.
"Right then." Amy said, crouching down and giving him a tight hug. "Bye, Liam."
"Bye." he mumbled back, hoping she wouldn't see his slightly pink cheeks.
"Put it there, mate." the Doctor said, extending his hand for Liam to shake. "See you around sometime. Now go on, get in before your mother starts to worry."
Liam shook the Doctor's hand, opened his gate and walked to his door. He stopped before he went inside.
"I'm sorry, about tonight." he said to them.
"Why?" Amy asked. "It wasn't your fault."
Liam shook his head. "If I had just been brave and gone into the Cave myself, you wouldn't have gotten involved."
The Doctor frowned and leant on Liam's gate.
"For starters, if you'd gone in straight away, the dust mite would have got you and you'd have never been heard of again." he said. "But being brave doesn't mean you can't get scared every now and then. You were still scared when you threw that cricket ball, weren't you?" Liam nodded. "But you threw it anyway. See, real bravery is about being scared, and doing the right thing anyway."
The Doctor smiled, and Liam instantly felt better. He said goodnight, and clutching his Granddad's cricket ball, went inside and shut the door behind him.
"Well," Amy said as she and the Doctor set off back to the TARDIS. "that was a night and a half. I was chased by a koala bear, zapped into dust, and got up close and personal with some smelly bins."
"Yeah. But, now that the dust has settled…"
"Oh, God." she groaned again, and he laughed.
They gave one last look back at the school when they got to the TARDIS.
"How do you reckon it got here, the dust mite?" Amy asked
The Doctor shrugged, opening the doors of the TARDIS. "Dunno. But its gone now, that's what's important. The Cave is empty."
They stepped into the TARDIS, and moved on to the next adventure.
The children of St Finbar's never stopped fearing the Cave, and only Liam Edwards knew that that fear was once justified. But not anymore. In Liam's mind, from that day forward the Cave was just exactly what it seemed; a bin area.
But as someone had once told him, things are very rarely exactly what they seem.
Because when the bin-man entered the Cave the next day, he noticed that in one of the bins, there was a strange crack.