The Chinese on the corner of Gerard Street overlooking Newport place was one of the Doctor's favorites. It still had that old-fashioned greasy tables and neon-bright atmosphere that went hand in hand with bang-up traditional Chinese food. He was seated at the table by the window, and was waiting for his order while nursing a hot cup of black tea when the Master walked in. Silently, he came over to his table and sat down in the chair opposite to him. The Doctor kept staring at something seemingly more interesting that happened outside, determined to ignore his companion.
"So." The Master finally said, after the silence was getting insufferable.
"So." The Doctor echoed, but still not looking at him.
"So this is where you've been hiding from me." The Master tried, in his odd, very cranky way to start up a conversation. He drummed his fingers on the tabletop.
"What are you doing here?" The Doctor asked.
"You didn't exactly leave anything in the fridge. All I could find was half an olive on the bottom of a moldy jar. I got hungry."
"Well, tough, you're not getting my wallet this time. Pay for your own meals."
The Master rolled his eyes and pouted his lips in irritation.
"Why don't you just tell me to go get a job as well?" He scorned, sounding far less friendly now.
"Oh is that gonna help?" The Doctor finally gazed at him, but his look wasn't very pleasant either. "I'm sorry, but I though I was living with a selfish little twat for the last one and a half year, one that keeps sticking his fingers in his ears every time I try to talk some sense into him. I must be mistaken then."
"Oh sod it!" The Master hissed, no longer playing nice. "I would actually, you know, listen. If you weren't so stuck up righteous all the time!" The Master pressed his lips together and winced. Indeed, what exactly was he doing here? He wasn't one for apologies, and his mood swung rapidly from wanting to whack the Doctor on his face till his ears popped to telling him that he was sorry and had actually changed his mind, but as always, the words got stuck inside his throat and he was only getting more and more frustrated.
Luckily, the Doctor knew him longer than today.
"Is that you trying to tell me something?" He asked, dropping his armor of sarcasm a little.
There was a brief moment of silence. Then the Master sighed deeply, pressing the palms of his hands on his eyes for a moment to shield his embarrassment. "I fear I am going to regret this, but…maybe, we should stay…to set things right." He peeked back at the Doctor, pleading silently to make him say no more on the subject.
"Right." The Doctor slapped on the table and wheeled away from the window. He knew when it was time to show compassion, and the best thing he could do for him right now was to act like nothing had happened. "Let's eat first. Then we'll make up a plan. My brains work better when my stomach doesn't try to attract all the attention."
A waiter appeared and served two large dishes on the table.
"Here you are. One order of crispy duck, one order of prawn spring rolls, and one order of kong pow chicken." The young man said, glancing over at the Master. "I see your friend has finally arrived, I'll bring an extra bowl and plate. Fork and knife or chopsticks?"
"Chopsticks, and a large brandy please. If you have it?" The Doctor replied for the Master.
"I'll see what I can do." The waiter said and went back to the kitchen.
The Master gazed over all that food.
"You were expecting me then." He remarked.
"Yep. I could smell your resentment and self-reproaching anger all the way from Covent Garden." The Doctor replied, offering him a spring roll.
"Oh please." The Master sneered. "As if the stench of your righteous indignation is not wafting three blocks around China town."
"I just knew you would do the right thing." The Doctor remarked with a smile, and bit down into the crunchy roll.
The food went down well, just like the brandy.
"So what's the plan?" The Doctor asked the Master after the waiter had cleared the table. The Master was slightly surprised by the question. His companion had never asked him to think up a plan before, mostly because…well because he was the Master and what he came up with was usually a great offence to the safety of the universe, or to rational sanity in general.
"So you're letting me in charge?" He sniggered, half-thinking that this must be some kind of a joke.
"It's your wife." The Doctor replied calmly.
The Master crossed his arms and snorted. "You're serious?"
"I think you owe her at least that."
The sarcastic smile disappeared from the Master's face.
"So." The Doctor said, leaning over the table with his hands folded. "I'm listening."
In the early morning hours, right after the last of the staff had shut down the halls after last night successful opening-party, and before the cleaners showed up to tidy the place up for the first day of exposition, a woman materialized in the gallery. With one well-aimed shot of her sonic screwdriver, she beamed a signal to two of the CCD cameras nearby. For the upcoming four hours, the security guards behind the desk would be watching a video recording of the empty exhibition room running on a loop, leaving her to carry out her business in peace.
Walking silently on high heels that were padded with rubber soles, she crossed the large room till she was in front of the panting. The dark hooded figure stared down back at her with his timeless, soulless eyes.
River curled her lips in a little smile. "Hello there Mr. Bones! It's about time you wake up, don't you think?"
She put her black backpack against the railing and took out what she needed, which wasn't much; a bowl, a bundle of willow twigs, a second smaller bowl, a lighter, and…
She took out the small bottle with the crimson liquid and held it against the dim spots that hung above the artwork. It might be her imagination, but it appeared as if in its reflection, she could see two blue lights flare up in the grim reaper's dark sockets.
What did that cabbie Drazek tell her again? Once he is awake, you better get the hell out his way. Her stomach tightened, and she drew a deep breath to steady her resolve. She popped off the cap and poured the whole content into the small bowl, which she placed on a bed of willow twigs in the larger one. Her hand was slightly shaking when she switched on the lighter.
There goes nothing. She thought, and lit the dry bundle.
As soon as the twigs caught fire, the red liquid started bubbling, causing a crimson sliver of smoke to rise. Up and up it went, curling and dancing like an alluring madame, till it reached the painted face of Death itself. The dark holes in the skull lit up with a spark of cold blue light. River stopped breathing when the head slowly turned to gaze down at her.
There was no movement of the lips. Death had no lips, considering his face is but a skull, but there wasn't even a movement of the jaw. She just heard his voice, clearly and loudly inside her head, speaking to her.
It was a dark, low rumble, like a hungry beast growling or like the dying sound of a tree struck down by lightening in the woods. She swallowed hard while taking a couple of steps back.
YOU. YOU HAVE SET ME FREE OF MY PRISON.
"Yes I did. How incredibly nice of me, don't you think? You're not going to kill me now are you?" River asked hurriedly.
Her heart skipped a beat when he emerged from the painting, his slender but tall frame bulging the canvas till it stretched thinly and produced his form, a nightmare child wading through his mother's membranes, impatient to be born and let mankind know his wrath.
Death had now entered this world and stared down at the woman in front of him, the blue lights in his eyes narrowing as he contemplated.
NO. He finally said. REMOVING YOU DOES NOT AID ME IN MY QUEST.
River sighed of relief. "Glad we made that clear. Now then, tell me." Her voice turned darker. "Will you kill him?"
WHO DO YOU MEAN?
"The man who've put you in there of course." She responded a little impatient. Honestly, why else would she release such a monster into this world? "He locked you inside that painting for centuries. He should be removed because..."
IT IS MY DUTY.
River halted and watched how Death took out his scythe from underneath his long robe. She had no idea where he had hidden it all the time but it was a good thing he didn't have any flesh on his body or else he might have given himself a nasty cut. He inspected his tool closely. The crescent blade was so thin that it was almost translucent.
I AM CREATED FOR ONE SOLE PURPOSE. He told her. THIS PURPOSE I SHALL FULFILL.
The hooded figure turned. Despite that he took long calm strides, he moved across the room at a nightmarish speed.
"Wait!" River shouted. "I must warn you. There is this man called the Doctor, he's traveling with him. He will try to protect him."
NO ONE CAN ELUDE DEATH.
"But you mustn't hurt the Doctor. He's a good man you see."
I MAKE NO DISTINCTION IN THE NATURE OF MEN. IN MY EYES, ALL MEN ARE EQUAL.
"But he's the Doctor! You can't…"
The dark hooded figure had disappeared, dissolved completely into the shadows.
"What are you doing here?"
She squinted her eyes when a bright torchlight was shone directly into her face. Facing her was a young man in a guard uniform that was at least two sizes too large for him. He was holding the torch in one hand while in the other, he held out his baton.
"Hands up lady! Don't move!"
"Oh." River said, realizing that it was just some boy from security. She flashed a charming smile at him. "I'm sorry. I was at the party tonight and I got a bit tipsy. Must have dozed off."
"The guards check this place before they close down. How could they have missed you?" He noted smartly.
"I just came out of the restroom, and suddenly everybody was gone, and the lights were out." River shook her head as if she was amused by the silliness of the misunderstanding while she picked up her backpack unnoticed.
"You fell asleep in the restroom?" The young guard scoffed. "How is that possible?"
"Oh sweetie, I can fall asleep anywhere and anytime, trust me." She said, throwing another dazzling smile at him.
"I'm sorry ma'am." He replied, noticing the smoking bowl of beetroot soup of whatever she was boiling on the floor. Satanic chicken blood sprang to his mind. The museum attracted all sorts of weirdoes. "I have to take you into arrest." He took a pair of cuffs from his belt and was heading over to her.
"Arrest me? What have I done?"
"Trespassing in the middle of the night."
"But I told you. I am a guest." She answered indignantly. Her hand slipped inside her backpack.
"Believe me ma'am, you aren't exactly dressed like one." The young guard replied, observing her tightly fitted black cat-suit that lacked much of the glamour of a cocktail dress.
"The museum was closed since 2 AM. Nobody comes in except for burglars."
"Well you better tighten up security then." She smirked, and activated the transporter that was tucked away inside her backpack. "To be frank, even your grandma can get in without a ticket." She added with a smile before she was teleported back to the ship, leaving a very gob-smacked security guard behind.
The plan was simple, even tame, considering it came from the Master. The change in the time-stream must have something to do with the exposition that was sponsored by the Infinity Corporation, for it was the only factor that the Tardis could detected as incompatible with the original time course. Getting back inside the museum the following day was easy enough. They just had to pay for a ticket, although the Doctor kinda regretted that he didn't let the nice ticket lady pre-order for him the night before. He had to spend a good 50 minutes waiting in line outside. Wailing kids and a cranky Master wasn't the best of combination for a cheerful crowd.
"Where do we start?" The Master asked, when they were finally inside.
"There has to be something unusual. Something that catches our eyes because it sticks out of time like a sore infected wound." The Doctor replied as they moved quickly pass the paintings.
"I'm not the Tardis." The Master complained. "I don't have a build-in homing device for the obscure."
"But we're Timelords. If the alteration starts here, than something in here must send our Timelord senses tingling, right?" The Doctor's eyes quickly scanned the line of paintings.
"They're just strokes of paint on a ratty canvas. There's noting strange about them."
"Wait." The Doctor suddenly stopped running, causing the Master to bump into his back.
"What now?" He grumbled.
"That painting." The Doctor muttered, tracing back his steps.
"Can you be more precise? We're not exactly in shortage of them at the very moment."
The Doctor walked into the room where the grim reaper's portrait hung. "That painting." He said, and gazed with the rest of the astonished crowd at the empty canvas. The Master came to stand next to him and also looked up.
"Well, that's one clear example of capital destruction. Modern art, is it? It's bloody worthless, even a blind Oodanian moleworm could have done a better job with a toothbrush." The Master scorned.
"It is not supposed to look like that!" The Doctor addressed a man standing in front of him with a museum ID card pinned on his breast pocket.
"Excuse me, but what happened to this painting? It wasn't like this yesterday."
"Oh you must have been at the opening party then. We kinda hoped no-one had noticed." He said, removing his hat and wiping the sweat from his forehead. "To be frank, we don't know sir. The curators are still working on it." He nodded at the small team of men and women wearing white gloves who were currently examining the canvas up close. "They think it might be a chemical reaction of some sort. The problem is that you never know what the old masters put in their special homemade paint mixtures."
"You mean the figure in that portrait just vanished?" The Doctor pressed on. "Who had noticed it first?"
"There was Billy, a young lad from security. He was the first to see it. He also claims that a woman was here last night, a burglar, he said. She left all this weird stuff behind. He didn't catch her though. Instead he keeps mumbling about her being a ghost or an alien. Poor lad. He's in a bit of a shock."
"Where can I find him?"
"Why do you want to know? You're not from the newspapers are you? The museum can't use any bad press right now. We're in enough financial problems as it is with the budget cuts and all."
"I'm not a journalist. I just want to talk to him. I am a doctor."
"Ah, but that's a fortunate coincidence." The man replied, scratching over his scalp. "Billy could certainly use some medical attention right now. He's in the locker room, third floor on the left. Just knock and one of the cleaning boys are bound let you in."
"Thanks!" The Doctor said, and pushed a very reluctant Master into the direction of the stairs.
Cole manor was in a festive mood. Outside in the garden, the evergreens were decorated with strings of twinkling lights, and wicker reindeers were grazing the lawns, while mistletoe, and crabapples and shiny baubles of all sizes and colors adorned the doors and windows. Lucy loved this time of year. Even if it wasn't snowing, the beautiful ornaments always cheered her up from the early winter gloom. But it was also around this time of year that she missed her mom the most. Mrs. Cole was one of those mother hens whose sole mission around the festive season was to keep her family happy, well fed and warm. Lucy could still remember the amazing apple pie her mom used to make. When she took it out of the oven all hot and crisp, the entire house filled up with that most wonderful smell. Two Christmases had come and gone since those last happy moments, and although it wasn't the same without her, Lucy was determined to try to make it better this year, for both her own and her dad's sake.
"Kate, where did you put the apples that we bought this morning?" She shouted over her shoulder, wiping a strand of hair from face with a hand covered in dough. "Oh and there is definitely something wrong with the recipe." She added, flipping the pages of a splattered cookbook. Called the joy of baking, she had yet to agree with the title. "This dough is all wrong, it's dripping down my fingers."
Kate, her current partner in this crime against gastronomy and best friend in the world, came to her rescue by pouring a handful of flour over her hands.
"Just keep working it. Keep kneading till it stops sticking." Kate said and put a bowl of cut apple slices in front of her. "Here they are, cleaned, cored, and cut." She added brightly. "Oh, and I added a dash of sugar and a little brandy. Give it a little bit of a kick."
"Thanks." Lucy huffed, blowing the annoying strand of hair out of her face. "I swear Kate, if it wasn't for you, this pie is going to turn into a disaster."
"Patience. It's not baked yet. You can still ruin it. I have that faith in you." The cheeky brunette joked, popping a slice of brandy apple into her mouth. "Is he up yet?" She asked, leaning against the counter.
"It's only one o' clock in the afternoon. What do you think?"
"He doesn't mind me staying over, does he? Because I would go back to my flat if my crappy landlord would finally lift his fat arse from the couch and fix the heating. It's freezing in there. "
"Of course not. My dad is delighted to have you around."
"He didn't say anything to me since I came here." Kate nicked another slice from the bowl. "He used to chat the ears off my head when I first came around. Telling me all sorts of silly nonsense. Now he's just…so quiet."
"He misses mom." Lucy replied. "It's hard for him. Especially around this time of year." She paused, remembering how she and her father had visited her for the last time at the 26th of December, in the hospital, the very night that she passed away.
"Well, I feel sorry for him, but he can't keep being sad for the rest of his life." Kate muttered. "He's just making himself more miserable by shutting people out."
Lucy let the thin threads of dough drop back on the flour-covered tabletop. "That's why we're making an effort." She said, thoughtfully. "A Christmas party with dad's friends and family, to cheer him up."
Kate was just out of the kitchen for a short moment when the doorbell rang. She didn't want it to wake up her father, so instead of letting Peeves answer it, she wiped her hands on a towel and made the short walk through the hallway. When she opened the door, she found an old man standing at the porch. He was ancient, his spine was bent, and his skin was thin and translucent, revealing the spider web of veins running underneath.
"Can I come in?" He wheezed, his voice was hardly any louder than the whisper of a tiny mouse.
"Um, excuse me, but who are you? What do you want?" She asked as politely as possible. The man looked miserable and neglected. Perhaps he was a poor homeless person, begging from door to door in the hope that people would for once be kind to him in this time of year.
"Do you need help? I can call someone." She offered kindly.
"I want to get inside." He answered in the same weak kitten voice, and shivered under his thin coat.
Lucy felt sorry for him. It was cold and wet outside, and the poor man obviously had no one to care for him. No wonder he sounded a little confused.
"Hey Luce, who's at the door? Whom are you talking to?" Kate's voice rang behind her through the hallway.
"Invite me in." The old man repeated more pressingly.
"Well, um, of course. Come inside. I'll make you a cup of hot tea to warm you up." Her last words had just parted from her lips, when the man in front of her suddenly changed. The flesh peeled off, leaving only the white bones of his skull behind. His spine straightened, and stretched like a lump of soft dough till he was at least two and a half meter tall, and his clothes changed into a cloak, that hooded his horrific face. Lucy wanted to scream, but couldn't. Two blue orbs that burned inside the hollow sockets gazed at her, and pierced into her frightened soul. She gasped when the figure walked right through her, as if he was solid and she was but made of air. It felt like a dagger of ice was plunged right into her heart.
"Luce? Lucy? Are you all right?" Kate said, rushed over to her. Lucy looked like she was about to faint. The Grim Reaper ignored Kate's presence, but disappeared again into the shadows underneath the staircase.
"Luce! What happened? You look horribly pale." Kate said, worriedly.
"I…I don't know." Lucy steadied herself on her friend's arm. "There was someone at the door. I went to answer it." She told Kate.
"There is no-one here."
"No? Oh but there was. There really was."
"Luce, I think you need to sit down. You're shivering."
"I'm not…I didn't imagine it."
"What did you see?" Kate looked her in the eyes.
Lucy bit on her lower lip while the memory of the short, strange encounter was fading fast, leaving her with very little to work with.
"I don't know." She finally said, covering her eyes. "Maybe I'm really just imagining stuff."
"Well, that was rather pointless." The Master mocked. "Three hours wasted in a sweaty locker room, only to find out that some obscure Earth woman, used some sort of satanic ritual involving chicken blood. I could have saved us a lot of time if you had just let me hypnotize the little monkey. Instead you preferred to slowly wedge these crumbs of so-called wisdom out of his peanut-sized brain with a toothpick."
"He was in a state of shock. His mind was fragile. Anything manipulative would have sent him into a catatonic state. If anyone should be able to relate to that it should be you. Anyway after what happened to that horse in France I wouldn't want you to hypnotize anyone for sure."
They were heading back to the Tardis through the busy afternoon crowd of Oxford Street.
"Do these humans ever stop buying senseless crap?" The Master complained, watching a round woman in her forties drag two bags full of Christmas tinsels out of a shop. "For Gallifrey's sake, how many glitter baubles does one need? What is she going to do with them, stuff them inside a turkey and serve it up with gravy to her children?"
"These people have what they call a cheerful festive spirit. Something I've long since given up that you'll ever understand." The Doctor responded closing the Tardis door behind him. "Right." He clapped in his hands. "What's next?"
"You really are serious about me taking the lead in this, aren't you?" The Master laughed, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Oh Come on! Show me how brilliant you think you are!" The Doctor challenged him with a grin.
The Master cocked his head to the side and gave him a most insolent look. If the Doctor wanted a competition, he could certainly oblige him. He rolled his eyes, sucked in a deep breath and started in a monotonous voice to sum up their options. "The mysterious woman left a handful of artifacts that could or could not explain the disappearance of the figure in the picture. From the boy's rather hazy description, we know that it was some sort of bowl with a bright red liquid in it, possible chicken blood or, if you are a vegetarian, borsjt soup. Unfortunately, they disappeared after our supposed hero ran away when he witnessed the female vanish in to thin air, so we have no lead left on that. Now we've checked the spot where she had disappeared, but couldn't pick up any traces of teleportation-dust with your out of date sonicscrewdriver, which makes her either a ghost, or someone who uses a more advanced third generation teletransporter, which is roughly more than 99% of the civilized universe, including the worm-like life forms with the primitive brainstem on Hispalplazu, minus the sorry excuse for a civilization on this backwards rotating ball of mud called Earth. We scanned the entire painting but found that there was nothing peculiar about it. There was no secret portal, it was not a cheap optical trick, which leaves us practically with all of our possible leads eliminated, except for one…"
"Lord Cole." The Doctor concluded.
"Not a chance." The Master objected grimly.
"You could disguise yourself. She doesn't need to recognize you." The Doctor opted. "We could use a shimmer. I like a good shimmer. We need a most excellent one though, if we want to fool lord Cole as well." He added, remembering how the old gent saw immediately through the trick with the slightly physic paper.
"What if she sees through it as well? Lucy is not that bright, but still…"
"Look, do you want to save her or not?" The Doctor asked sternly while he adjusted his sonic screwdriver.
After some hesitation, the Master sighed and grudgingly gave in.
"Then…let's shimmer!" The Doctor said and aimed the sonic right at him.
The doorbell rang and Peeves the butler came down the stairs of Cole's manor house to answer it. When he opened the door his steady, slightly haughty gaze met that of a round, hamster-cheeked man with a pleasant smile. He was wearing a cap with the words "animal control" stitched on it, and he carried a plastic pet-cage with him.
"Ello there." He greeted enthusiastically. "Good afternoon. I'm from Woodgreen animal center, and my name is Jim. I'm sorry to bother you sir, but you've got a bit of situation here."
"Do I?" Peeves asked, he was quite suspicious about people at the door who didn't seem to have a surname. "We didn't call for pest control."
"Oh no you didn't, but your next door neighbor Mrs. Hannigan did. There was stray cat in her garden. It was scaring off the birds, but she couldn't get rid of it. So she rang us. I tried to catch it. Had it cornered at the back, but then it jumped over the hedge into your property. He shot up a tree and the last time I checked he's still sitting up there."
"What's going on?" Lucy asked, appearing at the front door.
"This gentleman is from pest control. He's here to inform us that there is a wild cat in our back garden." Peeves told her.
"Would you horrible mind if I come in and fetch him miss?" The funny gent asked. "You know how cats can be. They climb up trees easily, but can't always get down afterwards. If I don't fetch him he'll probably be stuck up there the whole night."
"I don't think we –" Peeves started.
"By all means sir. Of course you can come in." Lucy interrupted the butler. "The entrance to the backgarden is just through kitchen. Peeves will show you the way."
"As you wish ma'am." Peeves replied, professionally suppressing a roll with the eyes.
The stray cat had nestled itself in a narrow niche between the branches, and stared down at the group of humans with inquisitive gray-brown eyes. He was small for a grownup cat, black as sin, and hisses angrily when Jim climbed up the ladder to get him.
"Oh, the poor thing." Lucy cooed when the cat was brought back down. "He's shivering all over."
"It was drizzling this morning. His coat got wet, and being up there in the wind isn't exactly a treat." Jim said, holding the cat in his arms. "I better get him back to the shelter quickly."
"Ma'am, I wouldn't touch it." Peeves warned when Lucy started to stroke the cat. "It's a stray. You never know what kind of diseases it is carrying."
"He still looks healthy enough." Jim assured Lucy. "I'll make sure he gets a couple of shots up his little bum to get rid of the most nasty germs. You know, parasites are quite common in strays." The cat responded by digging his nails right through his shirt and into his nipples. It was hard for Jim not to cry out and drop the nasty pet. Luckily, Lucy didn't notice it.
"Hey, don't be scared." She told the animal, scathing behind his ears. "This nice gentleman here is going to help you find a new home."
"Oh afraid not. He's at least 6 years old. Look at that gray in the whiskers and his coat. Nobody is going to want him for a new pet. They only pick up the young ones."
"But, what's going to happen to him?" Lucy asked with concern.
"What happens to any animal who stays in the shelter for too long, really. We have to put them to sleep."
"We can't keep them all forever, not with all the budget cuts coming our way. A bloody shame. Oh well, at least he still got six weeks, maybe he'll get lucky." Jim said, and was about to put the cat away in the plastic pet cage.
"Wait." Lucy muttered. The black feline was staring at her with a most heartbreaking look. "Can't you just release him?" She tried.
"Oh no, that's not allowed miss. Domestic cats are not wild animals. They shouldn't be left wandering the alleys on their own. They'll become pests."
"Well, if no one wants him, he could stay here with us." Lucy opted, gaining a horrified look from the butler.
"You want to keep him miss?" Jim asked, cocking an eyebrow.
"Ma'am, are you sure?" Peeves objected. "This animal comes from the street. It could carry diseases, and I very much doubt he's housetrained."
"He's got a point there." Jim admitted, earning him another claw at his chest. "Still, cats are remarkably clean animals. They mostly do their business outside in the garden." Jim added, clenching his teeth.
Lucy came forward with a smile of adoration on her face. "Can I hold him?"
"By all means." Jim told her thankfully, and pulled the cat from his chest with the sharp nails still stuck to his shirt.
"Oh he's beautiful." Lucy picked up the warm ball of fur and stared into the cat's eyes with an almost love-struck gaze. "What shall I call you? Hey? I have no idea really. Peeves, do you know a good name for a cat?"
"How about the Urinator? Or Poo Poo Butt pehaps? I'm sure it's quite fitting."
"Don't be like that." Lucy laughed.
"Well, I'm sure that what goes in must come out too, ma'am."
"Peeves doesn't really like pets." She explained to Jim. There was a pause. "I think I might call him Harry." She said, with a dreamy look at the animal she was cherishing in her arms.
"Well um…That's not a name for a cat." Jim remarked with his brows furrowed.
"I know…It's just….Well, he looks like a Harry to me." She smiled apolitically. "I know it's silly, but I just can't think of a better name for him."
In her warm and caring hold, Harry was purring contently as if to tell the others that he fully agreed.
The best thing about being small and nimble was that you get around everywhere, no matter how small the opening, or how narrow the crack, as long as your head could fit through the rest of the body would miraculously be able to follow. And the way how these furry feline creatures perceived the world, it amazed the Master. As a Timelord, his nose had already been most sensitive, but now his sense of smell had become phenomenally good. He knew when the cook in the kitchen was washing off a filet of fish under the tap all the way from under the staircase. He could pick up the scent of a woodland mouse sleeping in its burrow underneath the heap of wood behind the garden shed from inside the house, and he could follow Lucy's warm perfume from her bedroom where she had been 4 hours ago, all the way down to the dining room where she was currently helping out with the decorations for the festivities later this evening. He would like to keep an eye on her, but Peeves wouldn't let him get anywhere near that part of the house, afraid that he might leave a cat-hair or two on the costly linen or bump the precious crystal from the table.
When the agitated butler almost succeeded in stepping on his tail, Harry left, reminding himself that he should drop a dead mouse in one of the butler's shoes left behind in the locker room.
In the hallway where the broad staircase circled up to the second and third floor, the black cat sat down on the carpet and licked his whiskers. If anyone had noticed him sitting there, it would seem that he was contemplating mayhem.
Instead, he was turning his attention to the paintings in the hall. Lord Cole had an exceptionally fine collection, some of them were on show in the city of London, but most of his cherished specimens were still kept at home. Lining the staircase were works of 18th and 19th century art depicting mythical scenes, idealized sceneries of the countryside, and portraits of blushing young ladies and red-nosed young men, family members of the long Cole bloodline. To the Master, they were all quite dull and ordinary, till something did capture his attention.
In the second painting from the right that directly faced the dining room, a shadow moved over the canvas. It appeared behind the sitting maiden in the garden, and passed silently through the painting till it reached the other end of the frame where it disappeared. It was so very fast that you could have missed it, if you would only blink your eyes. He came closer to inspect it, his tail sweeping of nervousness. Then the figure appeared again in another painting that hung a little higher up the staircase, this time sneaking behind the back of a two sleeping bloodhounds. Harry climbed up the steps and saw how the it vanished into yet another painting depicting a winter scene where a group of men were cutting out blocks of ice out of the frozen river Thames. The shadow dived into a hole in the ice and moved underneath the frozen river till it came up in the next painting, splashing out of the waves in a sea battle scene. In every painting it showed up, it kept moving upwards, and Harry was jumping after it with quickening pace. When the shadow finally reached the third floor, it vanished underneath a door at the end of the corridor.
He sniffed the air. A strange, moldy smell that reminded him of freshly upturned earth came wafting through the gap. Then he jumped up and slapped his paws on the door handle, while thumping his bodyweight against the panel. The hinges squeaked and the door went slightly ajar, just large enough for him to squeeze through. After a quick look around, the Master went inside.
He was in what seemed to be a spare room. Out of use furniture had been put away beneath dusty white sheets. The two windows were closed up with shutters, leaving the relatively large chamber in twilight darkness although it was still in the middle of the day. He paced between the lines of neatly stacked chairs, dressers and chests till he came across a big rectangular object hidden beneath a purple hanging. Convinced that it was yet another painting, Harry took one corner of the fabric in his mouth and dragged it down. It indeed revealed an artwork, a most unusual one, showing only a dark, endless corridor, lined by two rows of doors. It looked like a gloomier version of the real corridor outside. A most awful feeling crept over his spine. He stared at the far end, where a hooded figure stood. The dark figure was moving, coming closer, and closer, and closer. Harry raised his back and tail and hissed threateningly.
The door opened, followed by the squeaking of the floorboards.
"Kitty kitty kitty!"
He recognized that voice as that of Kate, Lucy's friend. He panicked. She should get out of here. It's not safe.
"Oh here you are! Lucy was looking all over for you." Kate went over to the painting and was about to pick Harry up when he hissed and clawed at her in an attempt to scare her away.
"What's suddenly the matter with you? You weren't like this earlier on." She backed away from him and stepped on the purple fabric.
"Did you do this? You naughty little cat! Maybe that Peeves is right about you." She picked it up and was going to drape it back over the painting when she came face to face with a grinning skull.
"Oh. Dear God!" She gasped, feeling her heart flutter inside her chest. "I thought it was bloody real." She studied the Grim Reaper figure in the painting, who was now standing so close to the periphery of the canvas that she could see the small ridges and sutures running over the dome, painted with the greatest precision.
"That's very well done." She muttered, noticing that her voice had a weird quavering quality to it. "No wonder they keep you stored away up here." She added. She was about to hide the hideous painting when a white boney hand shot out of the canvas and grabbed hold of her. Kate's eyes grew wide in stunned horror. The fingers that had closed around her wrist were nothing but a claw of moon-pale bones. A voice, as chilly as the northern wind in the dead of winter, spoke to her in her mind.
WHERE IS YOUR FRIEND'S HUSBAND?
Kate actually wanted to scream, but was completely incapable of doing so. Her cry for help sat like a useless lump of ice in the back in her throat. Lucy's black cat jumped up against her leg, making such clamor that she knew that he wanted her to get out. Too late. She couldn't feel her legs either.
WHERE IS LUCY COLE'S HUSBAND?
"I…I don't know what you mean…" She stammered. "Lucy…she is not even married."
A hideous sound came from behind her, like a talon ripping through skin. Although she dreaded it, she tried to turn her head to look when she was suddenly jerked backwards. The pull was conducted with such brute force that she literally flung back with her feet in the air. She finally opened her mouth to cry for help, but as the canvas opened and closed up around her, her screams of horror died a silent death. Harry leaped after her, his front paws were almost touching the other side when a blizzard of energy struck him and sent the little cat flying through the room. He smashed into a dresser, feeling a horrible crack in the mid section of his spine, and fell on the floorboards. Lying there as a weak bag of bloody fur, he watched helplessly how Kate disappeared inside the painting. Warm blood dripped into his eyes and slowly, he lost consciousness.
Next chapter should be up Tuesday the 22nd of December, meanwhile reviews and comments are much appreciated.