Mill Lodge Cottage, Applebury, Dorset, England 2039 AD
Clear and redolent of the English Countryside.
Kim Knapp (nee Gideon) had a love/hate relationship with that sound. When she had sold up her London property on Jim's death just over two years ago, birdsong had spoke of renewal, hope and the peace and quiet she craved.
But when she was struck down by disease and endured night after night of pain and agony, birdsong heralded yet another day of terror. She came to hate it.
But this birdsong, today, was different. There was no pain. Kim felt warm and comfortable in her bed. So she appreciated the birdsong again and welcomed it back like an old friend. Especially as she knew that it would be the last she would ever hear.
Her daughter was flying home from Hong Kong. She had promised that she would be there for Kim's seventieth birthday just two weeks from now. She had brought forward the flight when she heard how ill Kim had become. She was due in at Heathrow at two thirty this afternoon. She would be at the cottage by eight this evening. Way too late.
In fact the District Nurse would even be too late when she called around in about three hours time.
Kim was tottering on the brink and her eyes closed, fluttering.
Then she heard the voice.
"Kim? Kim Gideon? Can you hear me?"
"It's Kim Knapp, actually."
"Sorry. You're always Kim Gideon to me."
"Who the hell are you?"
"Can't you guess?"
"No, not him."
"Stop playing games, please. I'm dying."
"I know. That's why I'm here. I'm your Creator."
"No. Not God. I'm the Author."
"Author? As in writing books author? So am I, as it happens. Children's books."
"I know. I was rather pleased that I came up with that."
"Came up with what?"
"The children's author thing. A bit of wish fulfillment, I suppose."
"I'm sorry. You've lost me."
"Everything you are or have ever been, I created. You're a fiction, Kim."
"I don't have to. You know it's true. I can make you know."
"Why are you here, in my head now?"
"They say that everything is revealed on a deathbed. I thought I owed you the truth."
"And I wanted to thank you, Kim. I've enjoyed our time together. Working out the little twists and turns of all the scrapes I got you into. Sometimes I thought I had painted myself into a corner but things turned out OK in the end. Then there were your feelings..."
"How did you know what I was feeling?"
"We were quite alike Kim. Often your feelings were my feelings. Simpatico. I sometimes felt it was me travelling with...you know..."
"I wondered when we would get round to the Doctor. Did you create him as well?"
"The Doctor? Heavens no. Greater minds than mine. Many of them. But yes, he is a fiction too. Although your Doctor, the twelfth...I put the flesh on his bones."
"Perhaps you're a fiction, as well. On your deathbed maybe you'll have this kind of conversation with your Author."
"I never thought dying would be this complicated. Only..."
"I wish I wasn't going to die alone. There's no pain now, and I thank you for that. But I wish there was someone to hold my hand."
"Bittersweet, Kim. Bittersweet. I'm afraid I had Jim die a few years back."
"Yes, we had been married 28 years. And you know what? I can't remember how he died."
"That's because I never wrote it down. You know that I intended Jim as an aspect of the Doctor you could never have. The part of him that would never settle down, get married, have children?"
"And there was me thinking Jim was just an ordinary bloke that I fell in love with."
"If you like."
"But it wasn't Jim I was talking about. To hold my hand."
"You mean the Doctor? Oh I don't think that's such a good idea, Kim."
"Why not? You can do it can't you? One last meeting. To say goodbye."
"It might get complicated."
"It's the Doctor, Kim. Even though he's fictional he inspires people in the real world. People write about him, create for him. Sometimes I think he's an elemental force of nature."
"Well...your destiny is mapped out, Kim. You went from the library, to the Doctor's companion, to finding the love of your life and having your daughter. A fulfilling career and a comfortable death in your old age. It's all there. As I imagined it."
"The Doctor...well...he might cause it to go off at a tangent. You know him."
"I only want to hold his hand once before I die."
"You still there?"
"I'm thinking, Kim. I'm thinking we might do a deal."
"If...and I say if...I do it. Let you see the Doctor one more time, I will need some kind of guarantee from you. A promise."
"Well, just as characters have their time, so do authors. I need to move on. Devote more time to the real world rather than filling my head with dust. Ideas for stories. Plot twists. Feelings."
"What's this got to do with me? What do you need me to promise?"
"That if I do it. If the Doctor comes to hold your hand, I need you to promise that you will never again tap on my subconscious when my guard is down, with stories demanding to be told."
"That's it? No problem. I promise. But honestly, all I want is for the Doctor to hold my hand!"
"OK, it's a deal. On your head be it."
"Just one more thing, Mr Author, sir."
"I would rather forget all about this fiction thing, if it's all the same to you."
"Agreed. Goodbye, Kim. Good luck and thanks."
Kim's eyes fluttered open. For a fraction of a second words echoed in her head, but they turned to intangible dust the moment she spotted the figure standing at the end of her bed. The man in the Duffle-coat, morphing T-shirt, corduroy trousers and hiking boots.
"Hello, Kim." said the Doctor.
"You made it." Her voice was reedy. She held out her gnarled right hand. "Just in time. I'm dying, Doctor. Anytime now."
"I know." He took her hand in his, like a wounded bird.
Kim coughed. "All I want is for you to hold my hand when I die. That's all."
He sighed and surprised her by resting her hand gently back on the bed. "That's not really why I'm here, Kim."
" But that's all I want you to do..."
He sat on the bed. "Kim. I did something. A long time ago."
"Something very selfish."
"Selfish? You're the least selfish man I've ever met."
"As far as you're concerned, Kim, I'm very selfish indeed."
She wanted to ask him what he had done that was so bad but her strength was failing.
"Listen, Kim. I need you to concentrate as best you can."
"You remember the Warp War, all those years ago when we travelled together?"
She looked blank.
"You remember," he urged. "When time was mutated. When we were blood relations..."
"I was your daughter!" Kim blurted out, snatching at a shard of memory.
"That's right. You were. Until we fixed it and put time back on track. You remember it Kim. And that's part of what I did."
"You never did understand how you could remember everything that happened in the alternative timeline. You thought that your memories should have changed, too."
"You said it was because I was in the Tardis, with you." Her voice a whisper now, but the memory was stronger.
The Doctor nodded. "That's true, up to a point. But your retained memory was a by-product of something I did. Something I buried that day in your deep subconscious when we were of the same blood..."
Kim's eyes fluttered shut, her life drawing to a close.
Suddenly the Doctor was at her ear. Whispering urgently. "It's been locked away Kim. All these years. And now I've brought you the key."
She felt the Doctor's forefinger touch her forehead. "There." he said. " No time to explain. Just remember this, Kim. When the time comes...assume the position."
She felt his weight leave the bed and the bedroom door close behind him.
He wasn't going to hold her hand after all !
She fell down a massive dark tunnel into the seat of her soul. To that place where all her experiences and memories were stored in so many locked boxes. Kim found herself standing in pitch black in front of one particular box. She reached out and turned the cog on its face.
The lid slowly opened and radiance spilled out.
Perplexed, Kim looked inside.
Her eyes snapped open. This can't be right! The angles in the little bedroom were all wrong...
Then she realised that she was no longer in bed. For the first time in a month she was standing. She couldn't, for the life of her, remember getting out of bed but there it was. The bedding was turned back and she stood, slightly swaying, in the centre of the empty room.
Birdsong played at her window.
For a moment she thought she might fall.
Then, at the very pit of her stomach she felt a tingle. A tingle of anticipation. It put her in mind of the feeling she had when she was a girl, going to school on the bus and she approached the humpback bridge on Viaduct Street. When she knew she was going to have that dislocating squidge in her stomach when the bus hit the apex of the bridge.
Lo and behold here was that fuzzy iron-filing feeling again, jittering in her stomach. Only this time it didn't go away. It grew and grew. Consuming her.
Kim felt light-headed and wondered if she was going to be sick.
Then there was a glow. A faint orange ember on the back of her emaciated hands. It flickered and pulsed.
Kim looked across at the full-length mirror. There she was. The wizened, sick old woman, riddled with disease. But her hands were shedding fairy dust.
"When the time comes...assume the position." The Doctor's words nagged at her. "...assume the position."
In the reflection the old woman spread her arms out, like the wings of a bird. It felt natural.
Kim's breath became shallow, rapid, like a dog panting in the noonday sun.
Something was building...
Her head snapped back sharply.
An orgasm of heatless orange flame blasted from the neck and sleeves of her nightdress, obscuring her vision and deafening her with its volcanic roar. Kim's body felt gripped in a terrific vice which squeezed and squeezed at her until she screamed.
Her DNA danced...
Suddenly it was all over. There was a terrible silence. Even the birdsong outside seemed to have stopped.
Kim staggered and almost fell but she planted a firm foot in front of her and she saved herself. A firm foot at the end of a strong, young leg.
She brought her hands up in front of her eyes. Her skin was smooth, alabaster white and her nails were perfectly manicured. Kim flexed her fingers and wriggled them.
She looked in the mirror at the stranger.
Her hair was soft brown, scraped away from her heart-shaped face and cascaded down onto her shoulders like a waterfall. Her skin was flawless, her eyes dark and hooded. Her nose had the slightest upturn and her mouth was small but full-lipped.
The old nightdress could barely conceal her tall, willowy figure.
And how old?
"I'd say about 27 at most," she said out loud, in the stranger's voice. HER voice.
The first thing she would have to do is find some clothes.
Kim strode purposefully towards her wardrobe but pulled up as something skittered across her bedroom window. It sounded like pebbles.
A frown furrowed the perfect brow as she pulled back the curtain and looked down into her garden.
There it was. Square and blue and solid. As a police telephone box should be.
And there, standing in front of it was a man dressed in a Duffle-coat, morphing T-shirt, corduroy trousers and hiking boots. He looked up to the bedroom window, his face illuminated by a smile to rival the rising sun on the horizon.
Waiting for her...
THE (VERY) END