Disclaimer: Everything belongs to BBC. I speak and write in American English, so I'd appreciate it if any errors I made with British English are pointed out to me.
Many thanks to Meiyl for being an excellent beta.
The White Lady of Amherst
Rose eagerly poked her head out of the TARDIS and looked outside. A chill breeze blew across her face, carrying the smells of wild grass, damp earth, and a hint of apples. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. The source of the fragrance became apparent when she looked around and saw that they had landed in the middle of a large orchard. It had to be high noon from the way the sunlight streamed straight down through the orange-yellow leaves. The plump, glossy apples that weighed down the branches around them looked nearly ready for harvesting.
'So!' she exclaimed. 'Where and when are we?'
'Massachusetts, North America, Earth, eighteen-sixty!' the Doctor announced, appearing behind her and clapping a hand to her shoulder. 'Well—at least I think that's the approximate year. And,' he admitted, 'we might have landed as far south as Virginia—or possibly in Belize. But I'm relatively certain this is Massachusetts.' He gestured to the surrounding trees. 'Looks very New England to me.'
'This is lovely,' Rose remarked. 'Nice change of scenery from that dull planet we did last week.'
'Oi, that wasn't a dull planet. It was made entirely of graphite! Crafted by the Rbiduna Qzilk of Delta Scorpii in the sixth age of—'
'It was dull,' she interrupted firmly. The Doctor gave a halfhearted pout, but brightened up when he sniffed the apple-scented air. He stepped out of the TARDIS and shrugged into his coat as another breeze swept through the orchard. Rose decided that she wouldn't need a jacket, since she was already fairly comfortable in her long-sleeved blouse; what she was wearing on her legs, however, was somewhat out of place. 'Think I might have to change my wardrobe a bit?' she queried, gesturing to her denims and running shoes.
The Doctor wasn't looking at her; his attention was fixed on an apple-laden branch above his head. 'Mm? Why?'
'I was under the impression that girls didn't wear trousers in the nineteenth century,' Rose responded dryly. 'Don't you remember when you—well, the other you—had me wear that evening gown when we visited Charles Dickens?' She did love that dress. But, she reasoned, it was too posh to be appropriate anywhere but in a city.
He shrugged in response. 'Oh, the nineteenth century's full of people who don't follow fashion conventions... Artistic types, philosophers, revolutionaries, you know. If anyone asks, say you're a French authoress.'
Rose hopped out beside him, smirking. 'And what are you, my copyeditor?'
'That might be very fitting, actually! An author and editor going to visit a poet...'
She raised her eyebrows inquisitively. 'A poet?'
'Yes, we're here to meet a poet.' The Doctor turned his gaze to her excitedly as he pulled the TARDIS door closed behind them. 'A brilliant poet—I think you'll take a liking to her. From what I've heard, she's a delightful person. Very spirited. A bit peculiar—' he cracked a grin— 'but aren't we all?' He beckoned to her and they headed down the avenue between the trees.
'A female poet from New England...' Rose racked her brains for possible names, but she'd never learned much about American poetry, especially not from this era. 'Who is she?'
'Oh, people 'round here call her "the Myth."' The Doctor absently kicked at a leaf pile as they walked past it. 'She's a bit of a recluse, see. Hardly ever leaves her house, never shows her face to visitors.'
'Then how do you know she'll want to see us?' Rose asked dubiously.
Kick. Another flurry of dry leaves scattered from the Doctor's heels. 'She won't, probably. But we're visiting her anyway, 'cos I want to meet her.'
'All right, then...' Rose supposed the Doctor wouldn't allow a little thing like extreme introversion to get in the way of meeting—whoever this woman was. 'What's her name? You didn't say.'
'Sounds sort of familiar,' Rose muttered, trying to remember all the poetry she'd had to study in secondary school.
'You may have heard of her,' the Doctor said brightly, 'even though she isn't as world-famous as a lot of other poets. She gained some international popularity in the late twentieth century...' He furrowed his brow as they emerged from the orchard into the full sunlight, gazing at the hilly farmland around them. 'I even have an edition of her work from the thirty-fifth century that was published by the Earth History Institute of the Thuban system... Where did I put that book? Ah, right, that's the one I spilled coffee on... got to get a new one sometime—'
'Oh! Wait a minute...' Rose did remember having read a couple of Dickinson's poems in school. 'Because I could not stop for Death—did she write that one?'
The Doctor nodded, looking pleased. 'Yes! I quite like that one—she always has such brilliant metaphors. Ooh, have you heard this one? It's a favourite of mine...' He buoyantly began to speak in rhythm with their footsteps. 'Nobody knows this little Rose— / It might a pilgrim be / Did I not take it from the ways / And lift it up to thee,' he recited, taking her hand and lifting it skyward as though to illustrate the verse. Rose laughed.
'If you're taking the mickey, I don't appreciate being called "little." Or "it,"' she admonished, giving him a small shove. He imperiously lifted an eyebrow, but his eyes were twinkling. 'So have you memorised loads of her poems?'
'Eh, a fair few. Most of them are all rhymey and metered and such... tend to stick in your head.' He shoved his hands into his pockets to warm them against a gust of wind. 'She wrote hundreds of them, you know. Nearly two thousand... Wonder how many of them she's written by now?'
'We can find out the date once we get into town.' Rose pointed to a cluster of buildings about a kilometre distant, on the other side of a wide field. 'Speaking of which, do you know what that town is called?'
'Hmm...' The Doctor pursed his lips in concentration. 'If this is Massachusetts, and we're not too far from where we're meant to be, I believe that would be the town of Amherst.'
'Oh, quit your joking. You know we're not in Belize.' Rose squinted appraisingly. 'There might be a hundred buildings there. How are we going to find her house?'
'I'm sure everyone knows where the Myth lives. We'll just ask around...' He closed his eyes briefly, inhaling the crisp autumn air. 'Ah! Beautiful day for a long stroll, wouldn't you say?'
'You could have parked closer,' Rose pointed out.
'I meant to park out here,' the Doctor huffed. 'I didn't want anyone to see us arriving. And this way we can enjoy a leisurely walk into town, eh?'
'It would probably be bad to materialise in the village square and cause a major disturbance,' Rose conceded wryly. She swung her arms and skipped a bit, feeling energised by the freshness of the air. 'It's not far, anyway. We'll be there in a few minutes.'
'Or...' The Doctor's face lit up with a mischievous smile. 'We could get there faster!' Without giving her a chance to respond, he shot forward across the meadow, his coattails streaming behind him. Rose shouted indignantly and, laughing, sprinted to catch up with him.
When they reached a road leading into the town, they stopped, giggling and gasping for breath.
'That was brilliant. I think you won,' the Doctor panted. 'Oh, excuse me, sir!' He waved down a man driving a cart past them. 'Do you know where we may find the residence of the Dickinsons?'
The old man slowed his horse. 'The Dickinson Homestead? It's near the middle of town. Just follow the main street and you'll find it.'
'What does the house look like?' Rose asked him as she and the Doctor fell into pace beside the man's cart.
He tugged at his bushy moustache, thinking. 'It's quite large... a mansion, I suppose. Two storeys with a tower room, and columns out front.' He gestured with his riding crop as though to illustrate the house's grandeur. 'If you fail to find it, ask someone the way to the Homestead. Everybody in town knows where it is.'
The Doctor smiled brightly. 'Thank you, good sir. And would you be so kind as to tell me today's date?'
'The fifteenth,' the old man answered, bemused.
'Of what month?'
'October, of course.'
'Yes, yes. And the year?'
'The year of our Lord eighteen sixty-one,' he chortled. 'What, man, is this some sort of a test?'
The Doctor nodded. 'That's it. I was only seeing if you really knew what you were talking about.'
The man laughed heartily. 'So now you see I'm not at all mad?'
'Definitely not, sir,' Rose agreed with a grin.
He doffed his hat to her. 'I thank you for your assessment, milady.'
'Well, then!' The Doctor turned to Rose. 'Let's go see the daughter of the house.'
'Whoa!' The old man stopped his horse in surprise. 'Daughter, you say? Do you mean the Myth?'
Rose nodded. 'We'd like to meet her.'
The man shook his head. 'That's not likely to happen,' he told them seriously. 'She never sees anyone. Not even her friends, so they say.'
'That's all right. We're better than friends.' The Doctor took Rose's arm and waved to the old man. 'We'd best be off. Thanks again!'
'No trouble at all,' he replied with a small shrug, and rode off down the road. Rose and the Doctor followed him a ways behind until they reached Amherst's main street, a wide avenue lined with young trees and grand wooden buildings.
They walked along it for a while, looking for the mansion that the man had described. Then the Doctor pointed to a particularly large house some distance ahead. 'There. I think that's the place.'
Rose turned to him. 'You think so? It would be rather stupid to knock and find out it's the wrong house.'
He shrugged. 'Can't hurt to try, though. To the Homestead! Or—' He waved his hand dismissively. 'You know, to what I think is the Homestead. But I'm pretty sure that's it. I have a feeling!' Rolling her eyes, Rose walked up with him to the front steps of the house.
The Doctor rapped smartly on the door five times. Almost immediately, a grim-looking maidservant opened it. 'Hello! Is this the Dickinson residence?' the Doctor asked her with a winning smile.
She frowned in response. 'Yes, sir, it is. May I ask who has come to call?'
'I'm the Doctor,' he said with a respectful nod of his head.
The maidservant looked suspiciously at Rose's heavily kohled eyes and dark blue jeans. 'And who are you?'
'This is Mademoiselle Rose... Taillon,' the Doctor quickly introduced her. 'She's an authoress. French,' he added in an exaggerated whisper, glancing askance at his companion. Rose suppressed the urge to roll her eyes again. At least the surname he'd made up sounded reasonably close to 'Tyler.'
She dipped her head forward as the Doctor had done; it would probably just look silly if she tried to curtsey. 'Er—Bonjour,' she greeted the serving woman, with a smile she hoped was polite.
The woman still gave off an air of disapproval, but she seemed to accept the Doctor's cursory explanation for Rose's outlandish appearance. She blinked, her mistrustful look turning into one of aloof indifference. 'What is your business here?'
'We're here to see Mademoiselle Dickinson,' Rose said briskly. She decided not to try too hard to affect an accent, because she knew she wouldn't be able to keep it up. And anyway, she thought, it was plausible that a French lady might have learned to speak English like a Londoner.
The Doctor cleared his throat. 'The elder Mademoiselle Dickinson, that is,' he clarified. Rose glanced at him inquisitively, wondering how many Dickinsons lived in this house.
The woman's expression of distaste returned as she flicked her sharp gaze back to the Doctor. 'Miss Emily Elizabeth, you mean? You should know that she absolutely refuses to see visitors.'
'Oh, yes, we know—but she'll want to see us!' the Doctor assured her, fumbling for the psychic paper. He flipped it open smartly after managing to extract it from his coat pocket. 'We're here on important business.' The woman bent close to the document to read it. Her eyebrows lifted with mild interest as she scanned the paper.
'Ah... I see. Very well, then. Come in, since you've travelled all this way...' She backed into the house and stepped aside to let them enter. Rose and the Doctor glanced at each other as they shut the door behind them, but they couldn't pause long enough to read the paper and find out who they were supposed to be.
They obediently followed the maidservant as she led them through a hallway into a handsomely furnished parlour. The Doctor made his way to a small sofa near the window and plunked himself down onto it; Rose delicately sat beside him and tried to act ladylike. The woman remained standing stiffly in the doorway. 'Would you please tell Mademoiselle Dickinson that we have arrived?' Rose asked her.
'She knows you are here, I'm sure, miss,' she replied in a bored voice. She raised her eyes to the ceiling, in what must have been the direction of Emily's room on the upper storey. 'However, this past month Miss Emily has been somewhat... indisposed. Instead, I could ask Miss Lavinia to speak with you on her sister's behalf. Would that be acceptable, Doctor...?' She waited for him to provide his name.
The Doctor contentedly leaned back on the sofa. 'That would be lovely. Thank you.'
The woman frowned slightly, but did not prompt him further. 'I'll also bring in some tea,' she added with a careless wave of her hand as she exited the room. The Doctor watched her go, drumming his fingers absently against his knees.
Once she was gone, he extracted his reading glasses from his coat and pushed them onto his face, then scooted closer to Rose and leaned in to show her the psychic paper. 'Hmm,' he said pensively, tongue between his teeth. 'Well, look at that! Seems I'm an editor after all.'
Rose scrutinised the paper, which to her surprise displayed a long note written in a formal-looking hand.
My dear Miss Dickinson:—
This note reaches you by way of my good friend the Doctor, a fellow editor with whom I have long held correspondence and who has recently accepted my offer of a post at the Republican. I took the liberty of showing him the poem you kindly included in your most recent letter to me, for I found it most captivating. He was so impressed by the beauty and skill of your verse, as was I, that he became very intent upon meeting you;—therefore I bade him deliver this note to you with my recommendation of his excellent character.
He is accompanied by his niece, who is visiting him from abroad. She is quite an amiable and charming young lady who, I am told, much aspires to the poetical arts, and wishes greatly to meet an accomplished poetess such as yourself. Forgive me if I have been presumptuous in sending them all the way from Springfield to meet you;—but I sincerely hope that you may enjoy the pleasure of one another's company. With much respect and deepest affection
Yours ever faithfully
'Wow. I didn't know it could show that many words at once,' Rose remarked. 'If this Samuel Bowles is a real person, I wonder if he really writes that small?'
The Doctor folded the psychic paper closed again and stashed it in his pocket. 'I would guess that there is a real Samuel Bowles, and that he's a particular friend of the family.' He nodded toward the entrance of the room. 'That woman wouldn't have just let in anyone brandishing a police badge, I reckon.'
'Yeah,' Rose agreed. 'The Dickinsons seem like pretty important people, don't they? Probably no one comes here without an appointment, unless they have a really good reason...'
'Or a letter of recommendation,' the Doctor added, waggling his eyebrows. 'Makes us sound rather posh.'
'So does a name like Rose Taillon.'
'I did my best,' the Doctor said petulantly.
Rose poked him in the shoulder. 'We wouldn't have to pretend I'm some ultra-sophisticated French person if you had just let me change into a skirt and put up my hair before we arrived.'
'But we might have to run from monsters,' he pointed out. 'Skirts are rubbish for running from monsters.'
She eyed him sceptically. 'You expect us to have to run from monsters?'
'Well, not really. But you never know.'
'Shh,' Rose hushed him as the maidservant came back in with a tea tray, followed by a young-looking woman wearing a sensible dress. The maid set down the tray on a low table and threw the two of them another suspicious glance before stalking out of the room.
The young woman, who looked to be in her late twenties, sat down across from them on a fine wooden chair. 'Eleanor tells me you are called Miss Taillon,' she said to Rose. 'I am Lavinia Dickinson. How do you do?'
'Quite well, thank you. Pleasure to meet you, mademoiselle,' said Rose, bobbing her head. 'Oh, and this is the Doctor.'
'And what is your name, Doctor?'
He crossed his legs casually. 'I'm just called the Doctor.'
Lavinia looked slightly perplexed. 'All right, then... Doctor. Eleanor said you were here on important business?'
'That's right,' Rose answered. 'We came here to talk to your sister.'
Lavinia's expression suddenly darkened. 'Many people who come here wish to harass my sister. She does not see visitors. Anything you have to say to her, you will say to me, and I will pass on your message to her if I do not deem it to be a waste of her time.'
'We don't want to harass her. We just want to talk to her,' said Rose.
'We're admirers of her poetry,' added the Doctor.
'You know about Emily's poetry?' Lavinia looked shocked.
Rose passed her the psychic paper. 'Here. We were sent by Mr Samuel Bowles.'
Lavinia took about twenty seconds to read the short letter. Her demeanour turned friendly again. 'Well, if Mr Bowles believes that Emily would want to meet you, then I suppose she wouldn't mind my suggesting the idea...' She glanced to the tea tray on the table where Eleanor had placed it. 'Oh, would you two like some tea?'
'Here, I'll pour for you,' the Doctor said to Rose, taking the little china teapot. He poured a steaming measure of tea into a cup and stirred in just the right amount of sugar—Rose was pleasantly surprised that he remembered how much she liked. 'How do you take your tea, Miss Lavinia?' the Doctor asked as he poured another cup.
'Thank you, you're very kind,' Lavinia said smilingly. 'No sugar, please, and a hint of cream.'
Rose sipped once from her cup. Having heard about the alleged horrors of American tea, she half-expected it to taste awful, but it was all right—hot and nicely bittersweet, if a bit weak.
The Doctor didn't take any tea for himself after handing Lavinia her cup. 'So will we be able to meet your sister?'
Lavinia's brow furrowed. 'I'm afraid Emily hasn't been feeling very well this month. I doubt she will consent to descend from her chamber, even to converse with guests sent by a dear friend of hers.' She laughed softly. 'Why, even if Mr Bowles himself were here on a visit, I am sure she would remain ensconced upstairs and refuse to speak to him.'
The Doctor looked intrigued. 'She hasn't been feeling well, you say? Is she ill?'
Lavinia shook her head. 'I do not know the exact nature of that which troubles her. She does not tell me everything, of course. But I have reason to believe that her sleep has been disturbed. I have often heard her awaken during the night to light a lamp and scribble down a few lines, and she seems quite unsettled during the day...'
'Do you think anything has put her under stress lately?' Rose asked.
Lavinia looked at her strangely. 'Are you serious, Miss Taillon? Everyone has been under stress lately, I should say.' She sniffed. 'We might have a civil war on our hands, after all. President Lincoln has just this May called for over forty-two thousand volunteer troops to fight the southern rebels—or haven't you heard?'
Rose, stunned, felt a momentary annoyance that the Doctor hadn't bothered to tell her there was a war on in this time period. 'Oh—er... I do not get much news of foreign affairs at my home in France. We have also had political unrest, you see...' She sipped at her tea again to hide her unease.
'Ah. These are indeed troubled times,' Lavinia said, nodding solemnly.
'Has she said anything to you in particular about what worries her?' the Doctor asked her curiously.
She shook her head. 'Emily doesn't like to dwell on her troubles in conversation with others. I suppose she may write about them instead.' She sighed. 'But I might be able to guess what it is. Some of our dearest friends are joining the Union army.'
'Oh, dear.' Rose's face fell; she couldn't help wondering whether these friends of the Dickinsons were fated to die in the war. She set down her teacup.
'These sleep disturbances,' the Doctor interrupted, looking deep in thought. 'Has she been sleeping more than usual? Less?'
Lavinia considered as she placed her own half-empty cup back on the tea tray. 'More, I think. She often falls asleep where she sits, in the middle of the day. It's most unusual.' She frowned worriedly. 'And she seems to have nightmares even in the daylight.' All of a sudden, her back went rigid and she narrowed her eyes. 'I don't even know why I am telling you all of these things about my sister. If you are some kind of psychiatrist'—she looked severely at the Doctor—'then you will kindly cease your questioning. My sister is not, nor has she ever been, mentally disturbed. She has her quirks, but she is not a madwoman.'
'We know,' Rose assured her.
'If she's mad, we all are,' the Doctor said, his eyes boring into Lavinia's. 'I think she's brilliant, not mad. But I'm concerned that something may be... affecting her... beyond mere wartime depression.' He sucked in a breath through his teeth, thinking. 'Nightmares... nightmares... Does Emily usually have nightmares, Lavinia?'
'Not usually,' Lavinia admitted. ''She only has nightmares very rarely, most of the time. But as I said, this past month, she—'
'Hasn't been herself,' Rose finished quietly.
Lavinia was absently wringing her hands. 'She's usually quite a happy, cheerful soul. Solitary, but happy. When we were children, Emily was the most—' She cut herself off with a soft laugh. 'Again, I don't know why I am entrusting you with all this.'
'Don't worry. We're trustworthy,' said Rose with an earnest smile. 'We're sorry about Emily. We only wanted to tell her how much we admire her work—I mean, the poem that Mr Bowles showed us.'
'Nightmares,' the Doctor continued to mutter. 'This isn't good. I need to see Emily,' he abruptly declared.
'Impossible,' Lavinia replied curtly. 'She sees no one.'
'Not see her, then. But I need to talk to her. I think I know what's the matter,' the Doctor said with an urgent tone. 'Please. I'm a doctor; I can try to help—'
'What sort of doctor?' Lavinia asked primly.
He waved a hand in a broad gesture. 'Oh, all sorts.'
Rose cut in before the Doctor managed to confuse Lavinia too much. 'Could we please just talk to her? She doesn't have to show her face.' Rose had noticed a painted wooden screen at the far side of the room. 'We could sit behind that, if she likes.'
Lavinia's shoulders slumped slightly. 'I really don't think she'd be amenable to the idea, Miss Taillon—'
'Just tell her that Mr Bowles sent us.' The Doctor seemed confident that Mr Bowles would be their ticket to an audience with Emily. 'Here, take her this,' he said, handing Lavinia the psychic paper with Samuel Bowles's fake letter.
Lavinia nodded as she took the paper. 'All right. Please wait here. I think she would like for both of you to hide behind the screen, if she does come down to speak with you...'
'Yes, fine,' the Doctor said. Lavinia stood up, bowed her head toward him and Rose, and turned to leave.
'Come on, Rose,' the Doctor said, slapping his knees and standing up as Lavinia exited the room. Together they carried the screen from the corner and spread it out to block the line of sight between the sofa and the doorway, then sat down again to wait.
Rose whispered to the Doctor. 'You said you might know what's the matter. Why do you think she isn't just depressed?'
The Doctor rested his chin on his hands. 'This doesn't sound right. Not right at all. Rose—' He turned to her, wide-eyed and fretful. 'In 1862, Emily Dickinson wrote in a letter to a friend that something had been terrorising her for months... It must be these nightmares. They aren't normal, Lavinia said. And falling asleep during the day...' He ran a hand agitatedly through his hair. 'This war—the American Civil War—started on April twelfth of this year. Lavinia just told us that the President called the Union soldiers to arms in May. So why would Emily only start to have terrible nightmares in September?'
Rose shrugged. 'I dunno... What d'you think?'
Before the Doctor could answer, a soft voice called out from the other side of the screen. 'Doctor. Miss Taillon. I see from this letter that the two of you have been sent by my dear friend Mr Sam.'
'That's Emily Dickinson!' the Doctor mouthed excitedly to Rose, who smiled and nodded, giving him the thumbs-up.
'Yes, Mademoiselle Dickinson,' she answered. 'It is an honour to speak to you.'
A soft laugh sounded behind the screen. '"Mademoiselle!" "Honour!" That's quite enough of that, my dear. I am a country spinster, not a princess.'
'Ah, but some people call you a lady, don't they?' said the Doctor. 'The White Lady of Amherst.'
'Yes... Such a solemn thing, to be a White Lady.' They could tell that Emily was smiling, even though they couldn't see her face. 'Have you two merely come here to talk about me as though I'm some fantastical creature, or do you actually have something of importance to discuss?'
Rose answered somewhat hesitantly. 'Your sister tells us that you haven't been well lately.'
Emily huffed out a breath. 'No, I suppose I haven't. And what would your diagnosis be, Doctor?'
The Doctor looked startled at the question. 'Er—well—I suppose the war has been a great weight on all our minds. Terrible business.'
A rustle; perhaps Emily had shifted in her seat. 'Is that really the best that a Time Lord can tell me? That I'm worried about the southern rebellion?'
At the words 'Time Lord,' both Rose and the Doctor jumped. 'How—how did you know—?' Rose started to ask.
'This curious paper seems to show something different to Lavinia than it does to me,' Emily said slyly. 'When Vinnie burst into my room, talking of two friends sent by Sam Bowles, she thrust this paper at me and told me to read his letter. Imagine my surprise when I read not a letter, but the words "A Time Lord and his companion have come to relieve you of your terror!"'
The Doctor and Rose simply blinked. 'Terror? D'you—do you mean the nightmares?' Rose asked after a few seconds of stunned silence.
'Yes. But the terror is not only while I'm dreaming—I feel it all the time now. Something always at the corner of my eye, at the edge of consciousness...' They heard Emily take a deep breath. 'If you really are a lord of Time, Doctor, are you also a master of dreams?'
The Doctor shook his head. 'Miss Dickinson, that paper shows you only what you want to read. We didn't come here expecting to fight a terror...' He set his jaw. 'But I swear I will do everything in my power to rid you of whatever is haunting your dreams.'
They heard another rustle of cloth, and suddenly a pale hand appeared at the edge of the screen, pushing it aside to reveal a woman in a white dress with shining dark brown hair. Her frame was small and delicate, almost birdlike. She looked young, like her sister, though she must have been at least thirty. Her full lips wore a small smile that crinkled the corners of her eyes. Rose and the Doctor leapt to their feet.
Emily waved them back down to their seats. 'That's quite enough of that. Looking at me will not turn you to stone.' Her brown eyes twinkled. 'The only reason I keep all this mystique about me is to deter the frightfully boring townspeople from visiting me, though I cannot keep them from visiting my mother and father.'
'Do they live here, too?' asked Rose as she and the Doctor slowly sat down again.
'Of course,' replied Emily. 'This is my father's house. I and my brother and sister grew up here. Vinnie and I never left. Austin didn't really leave, either, since he lives next door with his wife.' She brushed at her knees. 'But enough chatter about my family. Who are you, really? Are "the Doctor" and "Rose Taillon" simply noms de guerre?'
Rose smiled sheepishly. 'I'm actually called Rose Tyler—but his name really is the Doctor.'
'For all intents and purposes,' the Doctor added.
Emily gave a stately nod. 'And what, pray tell, is a Time Lord?'
The Doctor gestured to himself. 'I am.'
'Then what are you, good sir?'
'Well... I'm a time traveller.'
'You also?' Emily asked Rose, who nodded. 'Well, I suppose that would explain your strange attire. Do women really dress like that where you come from?'
Rose shrugged. 'Women wear whatever they like.'
Emily shook her head. 'Until today, I could not have believed all that you tell me. But now I have seen a magical paper that seems to have intimate knowledge of my private life... Unless this is another dream, I must accept that you have come from the future, and that whatever is causing my terror is decidedly unnatural.' She yawned. 'Do excuse me—I find myself falling asleep at very odd times of the day lately. I can barely keep my eyes open at this moment.'
The Doctor looked alarmed. 'No—Emily—don't fall asleep!'
Emily drowsily waved a hand at him. 'I am used to nightmares now, Doctor. They cannot harm me, no matter how discomfiting they are...' Her head began to droop against the tall side of her armchair.
'If you fall asleep, you might not wake up again! Emily, listen to me!'
Rose quickly got up and tapped Emily gently on the shoulder. 'Please, Miss Dickinson. Please stay awake, at least until the Doctor can explain what he means.'
Emily gave a bleary nod and blinked hard. 'Very well. I must admit that I find this unusual somnolence somewhat disturbing... Doctor, what is happening to me?'
He hesitated awhile before beginning to answer. 'When... when humans—when you fall asleep, your mind... doesn't stay in this world.'
Emily's bright eyes widened despite the heaviness she felt in her eyelids. 'Yes... I always thought that there is another world that we visit in our dreams.'
'It's called the Seretti dimension.'
'The what?' Rose asked. 'You're telling me that our minds actually go to a different dimension while we sleep?
The Doctor gesticulated, trying to find the words to explain. 'Not always. But you know, when you have your most vivid dreams—the ones that seem completely real, the ones you remember in detail—they have that amount of depth because they actually take place on a higher plane. Human consciousness has this strange ability to enter the Seretti dimension in a dream state...'
Rose touched Emily's shoulder again to keep her from drifting off. 'Are you hearing this, Miss Dickinson?'
Emily shook her head slowly in amazement. 'How intriguing... But if, as you say, our minds often enter this—other dimension, what is causing the abnormality in my dreaming?'
'Things live in that dimension,' the Doctor said in a low voice. 'The masters of dreams aren't Time Lords, Emily. They're Vishklar.'
'Vishklar?' Rose was curious about the creatures who lived in this dream dimension. Had she ever seen one in her own dreams?
'The Vishklar are—sort of like architects of dreams,' the Doctor went on. 'Most of them are harmless. They like to play with the human minds that sometimes wander into their dimension. They don't do any harm, most of the time. But others...' He grimaced. 'Others are strong enough to actually take energy from human minds and gain a corporeal form.'
'That doesn't sound pleasant for the human,' remarked Emily, struggling to hold onto the Doctor's words.
'No, not at all,' he agreed. 'Emily, if a Vishklar has been in your nightmares since last month, it must be getting stronger...' He shook his head abruptly. 'I have to find some way to stop it. Rose, we're going back to the TARDIS.'
'Hey, wait just a minute!' Rose frowned at him. 'We can't just leave Emily here to the mercy of this dream monster thing!'
'We're not,' the Doctor said. 'I can try to take the TARDIS into the Seretti dimension so that we can look for Emily's consciousness and—'
'What d'you mean, try to take the TARDIS there? You mean we might end up somewhere completely different?'
'It's difficult to get to the Seretti dimension!' the Doctor exclaimed.
'How hard could it be? I thought you just said humans can send their minds there while they sleep!'
'I'm not human, Rose!'
The Doctor immediately looked as though he wanted to swallow his words. He and Rose looked apprehensively at Emily, thinking of how to explain his comment—but Emily was fast asleep.
'Oh no, no no no...' The Doctor rushed to her side and pushed her hair from her forehead. 'Emily. Emily! Wake up!' Her eyes were rolling under her lids; she had immediately fallen into REM sleep. She was dreaming.
'This is bad, isn't it,' Rose sighed. 'What will this Vishklar thing do to her?'
The Doctor shook his head. 'I don't know. But if she won't wake up, that could mean that the Vishklar has more control of her brain than I thought... It could be getting stronger by the minute.'
Rose stood up straight. 'Then I'll follow her.'
'How do you mean?'
'In my sleep, of course!'
'No, Rose!' the Doctor snapped. 'It's too dangerous. I can't follow you except in the TARDIS, and there's no guarantee—'
'Yeah, there's no guarantee you can even get to this other dimension in the TARDIS! So I have to do it. I'm a vivid dreamer, I've probably gone there loads of times—'
'I was going to say that there's no guarantee I'll be able to find you again,' he interrupted her. 'And there's also no guarantee you'll be able to find Emily on your own. The Seretti dimension is almost impossible to navigate; the Vishklar are constantly changing its structure—'
Rose scowled stubbornly. 'So how would we find Emily any better in the TARDIS? I know that I can do it. I'm good at lucid dreaming. I can probably manipulate dreams as well as a Vishklar.'
'But—' The Doctor bit his thumb. 'If I could only calibrate the TARDIS's dimensional translator to human brainwave patterns, we could find her more quickly...'
'So you admit that it'll be faster if I look for her myself and you catch up.'
'Yes, it'd be faster, but that's not the point—'
'I thought that was the point. You said the Vishklar was getting stronger!'
The Doctor dithered for several more seconds. 'All right. Here's what we'll do. You'll come with me to the TARDIS, and I'll put you to sleep... After a while, you'll start dreaming and your mind will hopefully enter the Seretti dimension on its own. I'll take the TARDIS along with your body and look for you.'
'Whoa, hang on,' Rose said, holding up a hand. 'I won't be in my body?'
'No, of course not. Only your consciousness can travel to the Seretti dimension.' He tapped gently at her temple. 'Your body can go there in only the TARDIS, like me.'
'So when I wake up, my—consciousness will just go back to my body?'
The Doctor nodded. 'That's the idea. If I don't find you and Emily before the end of one normal human REM cycle, I'll wake you up.'
'One cycle?' Rose's brow furrowed. 'How long is that?'
'About twenty minutes.' He waved off her dubious look. 'But time works differently in the Seretti dimension. It'll seem like hours.' He shook his head. 'Your consciousness will return to your body after the end of your REM cycle, anyway. Then we'll have to look for Emily in the TARDIS... It could take days.'
'Normal days or dream-dimension days?'
He looked at her solemnly. 'It will feel like months to you. And it won't be a picnic for me either, even though my time sense will remain unaffected.'
'Whew.' Rose tucked her hair behind her ear. 'And what'll happen if we can't find Emily's consciousness?'
The Doctor looked at the small sleeping woman in the armchair. 'If the Vishklar continues to feed on her energy, it'll keep her in a perpetual dream state...'
'So she'll never wake up?'
He shook his head. 'Nope. And what's worse, this Vishklar could gain a corporeal form. It could manifest in normal spacetime.'
Rose winced. 'What does that mean?'
'Then we've got to go now,' she said firmly, grabbing his arm and pulling him out the doorway. They left the sleeping Emily and the cold tea behind.
As they made their way to the front door of the house, they ran into Eleanor. 'So sorry, have to run,' said the Doctor.
'Thanks for the tea,' added Rose, rushing past her to the front entryway. Eleanor stared after them, but they were already out of the house and pelting down Main Street back toward where the Doctor had parked the TARDIS.
Well, thought Rose as she sprinted beside the Doctor, so much for a leisurely walk out of town.
A/N: The Vishklar and the Seretti dimension are from an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, S04E01 "The Nightmare Man."