Your song is ending sir. It is returning. It is returning through the dark. And then, Doctor… oh, but then…he will knock four times.
"Your song is ending, sir. Sir? Hey, buddy, your song's ending."
He blinked, forcing himself to focus on his freckle-faced, pig-tailed, gum-chewing dance partner. She blew a particularly large bubble, pink and aromatic, and very sticky when it burst on the end of his nose.
"Oh, golly, Doc, I'm sorry," the girl told him, dabbing it off his skin with the rest of the gooey glob pulled from her mouth. She smiled sweetly and he forgave her instantly. "Didja want another song?"
"What?" he asked, wiping his nose with the back of his hand.
"Is it over already?"
"They done played it four times," she told him, popping her chewing gum back into her mouth before straightening her rumpled frock. He realised he had been holding her rather closely. It was that sort of song.
Love me tender,
Love me dear,
Tell me you are mine.
I'll be yours through all the years,
Till the end of...
"No, no," he said, looking down at his watch then around the mostly empty dance hall. A lone figure clad in a leather jacket stood in the shadows. The night watchman, he supposed. "Time I should go, I expect."
"Yeah. It's almost 11 o'clock," the girl told him. "You know where to find me, though. See you next Friday night?"
"You been comin' 'round every Friday since you got here."
"Have I?" he asked, not entirely remembering when it was he'd first arrived in the area. He was rather sure he had been trying to forget there had ever been a time he hadn't been here. "Friday then," he agreed, turning to leave. "Good night, Rose."
"Daisy," she called after him.
"Daisy," he sang to himself.
Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do,
I'm half crazy…
"Good night Daisy Rose."
The rickety, old blue Chevy truck coughed and jolted and though he talked sweetly to the old girl she finally puttered to a halt about four miles out of town. He banged his head against the steering wheel. Rubbish recharged battery. This era in Earth's history did have its drawbacks.
He sat back with a sigh, then scooted across the seat to lift the door latch on the passenger side. The driver's side had been jammed for weeks but this one… no longer worked either. It clicked and clunked and wouldn't budge. In the end he slid open the back window and squeezed through the narrow space, dropping into the hay-filled bed of the truck with a thud. He found a torch amid empty sacks of chicken feed and binder twine, then swung his long legs over the duct-taped tailgate. From there it was a short drop to the gravel road. The stars watched him.
He whistled while he worked. Then sang:
I know a ditty nutty as a fruitcake
Goofy as a goon and silly as a loon
Some call it pretty, others call it crazy
But they all sing this tune:
Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wouldn't you?
Yes! Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wouldn't you?
"You know, if you stand in the dark singing nonsense, people may begin to wonder what you're about."
He started, banging his head soundly on the rim of the honnet.
"Oh, I say!" said the little man standing beside him, "I am sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you, young man. Though I must say, that was a catchy little ditty you were singing there. Care to hum a bit more so I can play along?"
He watched as the mop-headed hobo pulled a recorder from his pocket and held it to his lips.
"Go on. I'm ready."
But he could no longer remember the words or the tune.
"I'm sorry. I seem to have lost it."
"Really?" the little man said, looking terribly dejected as he tucked the recorder back into his pocket. "That is a shame."
"It's been happening a lot lately," he said, picking the torch up and aiming it at the engine.
"Perhaps you should see a Doctor about that," the little man advised.
"I am a Doctor," he replied absently, "but I've given it up. I'm going to grow wheat and raise chickens instead."
"I see," said the hobo, nodding his understanding. "You're running away from something, aren't you?"
"Oh yes," he replied, letting the bonnet down with a clunk. He tightened it down with a length of cord. "But you mustn't let them find me. They've been calling, you know. But they won't let me bring my chickens. You'll keep my secret, won't you?"
"What? Oh, yes, yes. I suppose I must. Of course, my boy, of course. You realise, I hope, that you can only run so far before you catch up with yourself?"
"So I've been told. That's why I'm walking."
They stood together under the stars, gazing at the far off light in the peak of the barn in the valley below.
"It's all down hill from here," the hobo told him with a sigh. "What say I give you a little push and we'll see if we can get you on your way?"
As the truck rolled down hill he jammed the gear lever into first and popped the clutch. Once… twice… he was running out of hill… but on the third try the truck chugged into life and he puttered on down the road toward the farm, leaving the hobo behind. As he drove he heard the recorder softly playing a tune he might once have known.
He climbed the steps into the old house and draped his coat over the hat stand beside the door. He took off his going-into-town hat and put on his going-into-the-barn hat. As he passed through the kitchen, he paused for a biscuit and to survey the checker board on the butcher block table. Not many moves left now. He made a calculated jump, capturing one piece, avoiding the trap his opponent had set up. Satisfied, he went down the back steps, deftly avoiding the wobbly one at the bottom, and crossed the yard to the barn.
"Hello, Bessie," he told the cow, thankful she was not jumping over the moon.
"Hello Frobisher," he told the penguin as they skated past one another on a patch of ice.
"Hello, Norman," he tipped his hat to the llama as he walked by the stall.
A chicken fluttered like a feathered cannonball from the loft above, landing on his head.
"And hello, Boo Boo Bird!" he said, sweeping her under one arm as he made the rest of his evening rounds. He latched the hen house door and gathered eggs, then tossed hay to everyone who needed it.
Cowzy tweet and sowzy tweet
and libble sharksy doisters…
"Great balls of fire, man! I hope there aren't any sharks in here."
He spun round, dropping the dozing chicken in his arms. Boo Boo squawked in protest, then regained her composure, ruffled her feathers, and went off to scratch about in the corner of the barn. Quick as a raptor, she slew three mice and ate their eyeballs.
"Sorry, old boy, for barging in at this late hour," the Eccentric Fellow who lived further up the lane said, "but I was wondering if you have a spare thermal wave modifier anywhere about. I'm having difficulty maintaining the proper heat differential in the multi-slotted carbohydrate production module."
"You mean the toaster doesn't work?
He looked around the barn at all manner of farm implements, none of which seemed to fit the bill.
"I have a kettle and some string. Oh, and a full barrel of cracked corn."
"Yes, I can see that," the Eccentric Fellow said dryly. "Perhaps in your workshop?"
"Your workshop, there," the Eccentric Fellow gestured toward the large blue box in the corner, surrounded on three sides with hay and draped over the top with a tarp.
"Oh, that" he said. "That's not a workshop. Not really. It's a space ship."
"You don't say."
"Oh, yes. But it's retired. And… I seem to have lost the key."
"I see," his guest replied, taking a seat on a bale of hay next to where a shiny key swung on a long cord.
"Have you gotten your time machine to work?" he asked as he picked up his broom and began to tidy up. A place for everything and everything in its…
"If I had, we'd have already had this conversation." the Eccentric Fellow replied with a warm, conspiratorial smile.
"But I'd remember that," he said.
"Not if we haven't had it yet."
He wasn't entirely sure.
"Have you asked the Tinker?" he asked. "He has all sorts of bits and bobs."
"What, old Teeth and Curls? He's mad as a box of frogs. Do you know he's built a tin dog in his workshop?"
"Really? I like dogs."
The Eccentric Fellow checked his watch. "I say, old chap, it's time for me to be off. And you as well. By the way, here's your key."
Key? He wondered. Key to what?
He lay awake and dreamed of dreaming. And in his dreams-that-weren't, Cutesy the Talking Thimble regaled him with tales of yesteryear, the beach sand felt warm against his toes, and Good Queen Bess let down her ginger tresses and laughed. Ood Sigma stood in the snow, beckoning him.
"Doctor, you must come."
"Can't you see I'm busy?" He rolled over.
"Doctor, there is little time…"
He pulled a pillow over his head and squeezed his eyes shut.
"I can't hear you," he sang stubbornly.
"Doctor, he will knock four times…"
"And I won't hear him if I stay here."
He rose with the dawn, having not slept a wink, donned his blue pinstriped dungarees and set about his day. He made a cup of tea and spread orange marmalade on toast which he was careful not to burn. Before heading out, he paused to survey the checkerboard. He had lost no pieces, but another trap had been set. He worked it through, made another jump, and crowned himself a King. Satisfied, he went down the back steps, one, two, three and hopped over the last. He let the animals out of the barn, spread feed for the chickens, then headed toward the field. Boo-Boo tagged along after him, being the good chicken that she was.
Potatoes grow in Limerick, and beef at Ballymore,
And buttermilk is beautiful, but that you knew before;
And Irishmen love pretty girls, yet none could love more true,
Than little Paddy Whackmacrack, lov'd Kate O'Donohoo.
"Would you care for some Jelly Babies?"
"Yes, please," he said, and took the whole bag from the lately arrived Tinker. He ate the yellow ones, fed the green ones to Norman-who spat them out, one by one, and stamped them into the tilled ground-, put the pink ones in his pocket, and handed back what was left.
"What are the pink ones for?" the Tinker asked, adjusting his hat against the sun. The tin dog whirred beside him.
"I'm going to plant them between the bananas and the Jammie Dodgers so I don't forget." Silly question. What else was he to do with pink Jelly Babies?
"Ah," the Tinker said, nodding. "Don't forget what?"
"I don't know. You see I've forgotten, but once they start to come up, I'll remember, won't I?"
"I suppose that makes sense in a nonsensical sort of way. My sort of thinking exactly."
"I thought you'd understand," he said, turning the earth with his shovel as he walked along. "I expect them to be quite lovely, when they bloom. And I'll name each one. Martha, Zoe, Victoria, Nyssa, Sarah. I mustn't forget Sarah. My Sarah Jane," he sighed.
"No, no. You mustn't forget Sarah," agreed the Man with the Teeth and Curls.
"Not now, K-9," said the man with the trailing scarf.
"Not now, K-9," said the man with the brimmed hit.
He rather fancied having a dog like that. And a hat like that. And a long scarf. Handy in winter, and for quick escapes from silos and possibly windmills. He didn't think he would look quite right with the teeth or the hair. He looked down at the tin dog.
"Who's a good dog?" he asked, scratching the metal head behind a metal ear.
"Affirmative!" the tin dog said, wagging a spindly tail.
"Will your dog be chasing the rabbits, then?" he asked, wiping the sweat from his brow.
"Having trouble with rabbits in the garden, are you?"
"No, they're no trouble-except for Peter. He's very naughty, you know…"
"Oh, yes. I do know."
"Poor Peter lost his shoes," he said absently, gazing at the sun. Half One, Two, Three…
"So, it would seem, have you."
He looked down at his bare feet.
"I suppose I lost one amongst the cabbages-"
"-and there's the other, amongst the potatoes."
"Ah. So it is. Rose won't dance with me if I don't have my shoes."
"You know we're all rather worried about you," the Tinker told him gently.
"Worried about me? Oh, I'm fine," he said, turning over shovel's full of rich, black dirt and dropping Jelly Babies in one by one. "I'm always fine. Aren't I always fine? I'm always… there, do you see? Flowers. They'll do better when the moon comes up. Susan, and Tegan, and Dodo, and Ace. And Donna. And Boo Boo."
"She's my new companion. She's a chicken. She'll never leave me."
"They always leave."
"They do, don't they?" he asked sadly, knowing it was true.
"Yes, yes. I'm afraid they do. We always leave, too. Eventually."
"I don't want to go."
"Ah. Well. Here then. Go ahead and take the rest," the curly-haired man said, closing his hands around the bag of sweets. "You need them more than I do. Doctor's orders."
He was contemplating the sunset-and the checkerboard-when Frobisher arrived with a friend in a coat Joseph would have envied.
"Ah. Here you are. You aren't really going to make that move are you?"
"I hadn't decided yet."
"If you do your opponent will clearly move that one." the big man pointed, "and then that, one, and before long you'll be trapped. You'll have walked right into it. Game over."
"Well, don't you have all the answers!"
"As a matter of fact, I do," the Ringmaster told him pointedly, taking a seat opposite him at the checker board. "And so would you if you took the time to listen to someone with some sense. Like me."
"Is that what it is?" he asked, watching Frobisher water the herbs on his windowsill with a gravy boat.
"Did you suspect otherwise?"
"I… No. I like your coat."
"Well I should think so," the Ringmaster told him, brushing stray cat hairs from his sleeve. "It's the height of fashion."
"Is it? Is it really? Could I-you know-try it on perhaps?"
"My coat? You want to try on MY coat?"
"Just the one you're wearing."
"Oh, well. Why didn't you say," the Ringmaster said, shrugging out of it. Beneath was an equally colourful waistcoat, but he didn't want to appear too greedy.
He donned the coat. The Ringmaster straightened the lapels, shined up a cat badge, then stepped back.
"What do you think?" he asked, spinning around on his heels.
"I think it looked better on me. Besides, you have an appointment to keep and you're late. Later than late. Your procrastinating is bringing out the worst in you."
"You can't make me. I won't go." He handed back the coat.
"I don't see as you have any choice."
"There's always a choice. Chocolate, vanilla, gooseberry…"
"We aren't talking about milkshakes, man!"
"We could be." He grinned. "And I know just the place."
Night had fallen by the time they reached their destination. He lay on his belly in the field, the Ringmaster in Joseph's coat beside him.
"There are profound theoretical and philosophical reasons why cow tipping-by a single person-is impossible," the Ringmaster said.
"Possible things are much less challenging than impossible ones," he replied, scanning the moonlit field for a sleepy bovine to upturn. "There. That one."
They prepared to rush, in proper cow commando style-with sprigs of wheat clenched in their teeth.
"Where did you learn to do this?"
"Arkansas," he said, eyes narrowing as he focused all attention on the task at hand.
"Arkansas? You went there on purpose?"
"I had a dairy farm there," he said matter-of-factly, dashing forward.
"Then why did you come here?" the Ringmaster asked, running like the wind next to him. Belatedly he recalled that, according to the Official Cow Tipping Manual, alcohol was required for a successful Tip. He could not remember if that was for the tipper or the tippee.
"Too many cows," he said as they barrelled into the bovine.
He had no recollection of walking home.
A guest was waiting in the dim light of the bug zapper on the front porch when he reached the old farm house. The checker board rested on a table, tall glasses of lemonade beside it. The Professor pushed up his Panama hat and looked him up and down.
"Well. Look what the cattle dragged in."
"The cat," he said.
"What about the cat?"
"Look what the cat dragged in."
"And what would that be?" the Professor asked him, eyes twinkling. "Lemonade?"
Seeing as he had not gotten a milkshake, he was very thirsty indeed. He examined the checkerboard. "I see you've made your move."
"And yours as well. You haven't any other option. I suggest you face the facts. It is very, very late indeed."
He backed away slowly. "I… have plans."
"And so you may," the Professor told him, "but you know the old saying. The best laid schemes o' mice and mints?"
"Men. The best laid schemes o' mice and men-" he began, but the little Professor interrupted.
"Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!"
"Still thou are blest, compared wi' me!" he replied, picking up the pace, backing further and further away.
"The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!"
His hearts beat wildly against his chest, as fearful as any wee timorous beastie's. Wee timorous beastie… wee timorous…
"Awww, go on then! That isn't going to work on me!"
"And why not?" the Professor asked as he stood and hung an umbrella casually over one arm.
"Because you are, me! Or was me. Or I was you."
"An excellent point. In which case you understand the dilemma." The Professor took out a handsome fob watch and looked at it before popping up the umbrella. "It's beginning to rain, dear boy. You're running out of time."
"Then I'd better walk slower."
To sleep, perchance to dream… but he did neither, so instead returned to the back porch. A scant four pieces remained on the checkerboard, only one of which was his. He left it without making a move and went out into the night to wax poetic under the stars.
"The moon is very bright tonight," the Edwardian Gentleman told him ere long, sitting down beside him in the long, lush grass.
"Yes indeedy-do," he replied, once more setting words to paper.
"And the stars. Look at the stars! I have it you are composing a sonnet?"
"Correcto-mundo… which I swore I'd never say again, but what the hell. Now's not the time for limiting myself, is it?" he looked to make sure no one else was around, then grinned. "I'm having a nervous breakdown."
"You don't say!"
"Oh, yes! I'm stark raving mad, billy-bonkers, tip-toeing through the tulips-"
"I rather thought you were writing a sonnet. May I read it?"
He looked at the paper, at the words in looping, ancient script. He wondered what he had written.
The Gentleman took the chicken feather quill from his hand and set it aside.
"My God, man, have you been writing with your own blood?"
"Might have been. What does it say?"
"Ode to the Moon on a Moonless Night-"
"I thought of that myself, just now," he said, rocking back and forth with childish delight. No doubt it would be as inspired as the symphony he had composed.
"Indeed. Well then," the Gentleman cleared his throat. "Ode to the Moon on a Moonless Night by-"
"Shhhhh," he said, pressing two fingers to his own lips and two fingers to his guest's lips. He looked around again then whispered. "You mustn't tell. You mustn't ever tell."
"Quite right, too. And so I won't. But would you have me read?"
He waved his hand, then sat back to absorb the words the muse had bestowed upon him.
"O, swear not at the moon, the fantastic moon, the custard moon, that reverses her polarity, Lest that thy love prove liquorice and…"
"Well? Come on. Good isn't it?
"This is William Shakespeare. Almost."
"It was my idea," he said petulantly. "He improved on it. Or will have. Here. Try this one instead. My best work. Molto bene!"
"Era brillosto, e gli alacridi tossi…"
"Wait, wait, wait, wait wait. Wrong one," he said, snatching back the page, "this one, this one…"
The Victorian Gentleman lifted a curious eyebrow, then cleared his throat and began again.
"THE NOX was lit by lux of Luna,
And 'twas a nox most opportuna
To catch a possum or a coona;
For nix was scattered o'er this mundus,
A shallow nix, et non profundus…
"You poor man. You really are quite insane. Is there nothing to be done?"
"I hope not," he said, "because if there is I'll have to leave here and if I leave here I'm going to die and I don't want to die."
"We never die," the Edwardian Gentleman said gently.
"We always die."
"It might as well be death."
And he took back the pages and took up his quill and wrote in his own blood I don't want to go.
His opponent had made another move, leaving him in terrible peril. The game was indeed afoot. He had one jump left, but did nothing, only stared at the checker board. A noise from the barn drew his attention. A terrible noise like the strangling of love birds. He knew he should have borrowed the Tinker's dog.
He ran, all thoughts of the lost game gone. The chicken coop was in a frenzy. Hens ran in every direction, frightened by the possum that, even now, had egg yolk dripping down its greedy chin. Boo Boo, her feathers dishevelled, lay unmoving in the corner.
"No!" he roared. "No no no no no!"
He pinned the hissing demon in the corner against a bale of hay, held fast about the neck by the tines of the pitchfork. It struggled and lashed about, but could go neither to the left nor the right and at last lay limp and panting, its cruel dark eyes fixed on his. He yanked the pitchfork free and smote the creature on the head. One! Two! Three! Four! Almost at once he dropped the implement and staggered back, staring first at the bloody mass of fur, than at shining, bright feathers, stirred softly by the evening breeze. He sank to the ground and gathered Boo Boo against his chest.
When a man loves a chicken
People think that he's insane.
But all he can do is wing it for the one he loves.
"What's this? What's this?"
He lifted his head to find a white-haired Old Man standing over him, leaning on a cane. The Old Man said nothing for a long time, only looked at him, sitting there in the hay, cradling Boo Boo in his arms.
"I was told a Doctor was needed here, young man, not a Veterinarian. Dear me. What have you done to yourself? Hmmm?"
He looked down at his arms, at the bloody scratches in groups of four. Feathers, tipped in blood, lay all around him. Sheets of paper lay scattered to one side, the pages of his life written in his own blood.
"This will not do, I say. This will not do at all!"
"I'm sorry, I-"
"Nonsense. You aren't the least bit sorry," the Old Man told him, thumping the cane in the dust and the straw. "You knew precisely what needed to be done and you chose not to do it. There's no denying it. Foolish boy. Do you realise the peril you've put yourself in? The peril you've put all of Time and Space in?"
He could find no suitable answer. He held out the chicken.
"A possum got into the hen house. I… I was late. It's all my fault…"
The Old Man shook his head sadly. "No, no. It isn't your fault. I always was an old fool."
"I don't know what to do," he said, looking down at Boo Boo.
"That is abundantly clear."
"Is that why you're here?" he asked, looking up at the Old Man, searching his weathered face for compassion. "To tell me what to do?"
"You already know what to do."
"I can't just leave her," he insisted. "I can't. I just… can't."
"Very well," the Old Man told him, turning to leave. "Evidently I am not the Doctor you need right now, my boy. But don't lose hope just yet. You shall return to us. Yes, yes, you shall. You shall return…"
It is returning through the dark…
And he sat in the hay, cradling a dead chicken in his arms, and wept.
He climbed into the back of the rusty old pick-up truck and lay down, staring at the stars above. Boo Boo lay beside him. She was getting stiff.
When skies are gray
And you say you are blue
I'll send the sun smiling through
I wanna be happy
But I won't be happy
Till I make you happy too.
Before long he heard the steady thrum thrum of a strange engine. He knew that sound. He didn't need his torch to identify the newcomer.
"Steady on, old boy," the Country Vet said, leaning on the tailgate of the blue Chevy. A cheerful smile faded. "Ah. I appear to have arrived too late."
"I'm always too late," he said softly, staring at the stars.
"Not always," the man said kindly, smiling again. "And besides, we can't always know when we were intended to arrive. We just have to do our best once we do."
"The Old Man said I was a fool."
"Ah. Yes. Well… you're not so much foolish as you are… no, I'm afraid you have been rather foolish. This isn't helping is it?"
The Country Vet climbed into the back of the truck and picked up Boo Boo, turning her over gently in his hands.
"Can anything be done?"
"For her?" The blonde head shook slowly. "Dear me, no. A shame, really. Beautiful bird. Their lives are so fleeting, compared to ours. Time runs out for all of us, though, eventually. And, eventually, it is time to move on. Whether we're ready or not."
He sat up cross-legged in the bed of the truck. "I thought that if I put it off…"
"That a hundred years might have gone by? Yes. I see. But Time has a way of catching up to us one way or another."
He could not help but think that there should have been another way.
The Country Vet patted his shoulder and handed him a stick of celery. "Brave heart. Do what you must."
Tears fell from a thousand stars as he laid Boo Boo to rest in a well dug grave in the middle of Jelly Baby Field. A grave so deep even the metal dog would not find her. He patted the earth with his bare hands, then wandered aimlessly, singing to the flowers.
Knee deep in flowers we'll stray
We'll keep the showers away
And if I kiss you in the garden, in the moonlight
Will you pardon me…?
"Do you plan to keep this up much longer?" The Mysterious Stranger in the leather jacket stood at the gate, watching him intently. "It's getting depressing."
"I remember you. You fought in the war," he said at last.
"Yes, I did. And you don't see me tip-toeing through the tulips, blubbering over a dead chicken. What's wrong with you anyway?"
"I loved her," he said simply, glancing over his shoulder to where the night-blooms had spread over Boo Boo's grave.
"Obviously. But she's still a chicken."
"But I never told her."
"Ah. Now we're getting somewhere," the Mysterious Stranger told him curtly, arms crossed. "This isn't about chickens at all."
"What do you think?"
He looked back at the moonlit field, bright with dew like strings of jewels. Fairy lights on Christmas. He sighed. It was time to put on his shoes.
"What am I to do now?"
"It's Friday night," grinned the Mysterious Stranger. "Go dancing."
So he did.
One by one, couples moved off the dance floor until only he and Daisy remained. He leaned his cheek against her head and never once looked at the clock slowly ticking away the minutes of his life. She smelled like lavender and roses and too much baby powder. It made him sneeze, and that made him smile. Too soon, the song was over and he knew what he had to do.
Love me tender,
Love me dear,
Tell me you are mine.
I'll be yours through all the years,
Till the end of time.
"I have to go now."
"But your song-"
"Yeah," she told him, letting go of his hand. "I kinda guessed that."
He turned to see what she was looking at. Outside the dance hall, the Old Man was holding open the door of a blue Police Call Box. As he crossed the dance floor, he tossed the keys to his Chevy onto a table. He didn't need it anymore.
He turned back as the girl took the corsage from her collar and pinned it on his shirt front.
"Don't forget us," she told him.
He touched the rose petals gently and smiled as he took one more look around the dance hall.
"Oh, Daisy," he said, bending to kiss her lightly on the cheek. "Don't forget me."
Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
A fish can't whistle
And neither can I.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.