Four ficlets, this year. At least, they started off as ficlets. Some of them grew.
When Polly had thought of taking Ben on a luxury cruise for their silver
wedding anniversary, she had been unable to see any downside to the idea.
Now, as their ship cautiously edged its way into the harbour at Naples, she
realised just how wrong she'd been.
"Never seen such a shower," Ben was grumbling, watching two sailors on the
prow engaged in animated discussion with the harbour pilot. "In the Navy we'd
be docked by now. Twice over."
Polly put her hand round his shoulders. "It doesn't really matter, does it?
We don't have to get ashore in a hurry or anything."
"I know, I know." Ben took her free hand. "It's just... I know how things
ought to be done, right? And when people aren't doing 'em right, it gets on
my wick. Same with you and your magazine, I bet."
"My magazine's just a hobby, really." Polly laughed. "And no-one there knows
what they're doing. Particularly not me."
"Dunno how you cope—" Ben began, before breaking off. "Hang on,
He pointed out into the sea. Surrounded by a foaming circle of water, a
green, roughly triangular shape was surfacing. It was plainly some kind of
submersible; it was equally clear, from its glistening, organic appearance,
that it was no product of human technology.
"Aliens?" Polly wondered.
"People from Atlantis, maybe." Ben's eyes were fixed on the craft. "Or
maybe something else. You get to hear some queer stories in the Navy."
"I wonder what they want."
"Reckon we'll soon find out." Ben indicated a speedboat that was emerging
from the harbour and heading straight for the mysterious craft. A middle-aged,
fair-haired woman was sitting alongside its driver; behind her were four
armed carabinieri. At first it looked as if the boat would ram into the
submersible, but at the last possible minute the driver cut the engine and
swung it into a tight curve, bringing alongside the green vessel's bow.
The woman raised a loudhailer.
"Alien vessel, this is Mary Bone of the Torchwood Institute," she declared.
"You are now prisoners of the Institute. Surrender and prepare to be boarded."
Receiving no answer, she added "You have thirty seconds to comply, or I shall
authorise the use of deadly force."
Polly squeezed Ben's shoulder.
"I see what you mean, now," she said.
"You mean watching someone do something you know you're good at..." Ben
asked, watching the woman as she discarded the loudhailer and raised an
"And making such a terrible muck-up of it." Polly winced as a pulse of
light from the submersible reached out to the speedboat, breaking it in
two and tipping its occupants into the sea. "Exactly."
"Doctor?" Jamie called. The thick smoke from the blazing remains of
Jenny Flamisto's fiendish device was making it difficult to see beyond a
few feet, not to mention breathe. "Doctor?"
The smoke parted, revealing a dishevelled, soot-speckled Victoria, her
handkerchief pressed over her mouth. "I think I've found him," she said.
"You think?" Jamie repeated. "What d'ye mean?" As a worrying
conclusion jumped into his head, he clutched at her arm. "D'ye mean he's
The fumes catching at Victoria's throat had sent her into a coughing
fit. Unable to reply, she merely shook her head and indicated that he should
follow her. They stumbled through the smoke until Victoria stopped, and
then knelt. At this level, they seemed to be below the worst of the smoke;
enough to breathe, anyway.
"Oh." Jamie looked down at the two babies lying on heaps of clothes.
"That's not... That canna be..." He took in the checked trousers, the scruffy
coat, the recorder. "It is, isn't it?"
"This one must be the Doctor," Victoria said.
"How can you— Oh." It was all too obvious which baby was the boy, and
which the girl. "It's not right to be seeing them like this."
"I know, but we can hardly avoid it." Victoria gently lifted the baby Doctor
into her arms. "You must take Miss Flamisto. Make sure you support her head,"
she added, seeing Jamie nervously reaching for the baby as if she might prove
to be red hot. "Copy what I am doing with the Doctor."
Jamie picked up the de-aged supervillain, who promptly burst into tears.
"We can't leave them here," he said. "But what are we to do with them?"
"I... I don't know." Victoria looked down at the baby Doctor. "We must
look after them, I suppose. Feed them."
"Aye, and find something we can use for nappies," Jamie added. "If you put
food in at one end something's going to come out the other, isn't it?"
"Trust you to think of something like that." Victoria grimaced at the
thought. "The TARDIS. There will be rags there we can use. And perhaps the
food machine can make milk."
"Can't you?" Jamie asked teasingly.
"Jamie!" Victoria went very pale, then very red. "That was not an
"Sorry." Jamie looked down at the shrieking baby in his arms. "Let's get
them back to the TARDIS, anyway."
"I canna make head nor tail of this," Jamie said, peering at the
instructions on the packet of infant formula.
"Give me a moment and I shall be with you." Victoria pinned the spotted
handkerchief into place around the infant Doctor's waist, hoping this time
that it would stay on, and lowered her charge into the cradle she'd found.
Lifting Miss Flamisto into her arms, she hurried to Jamie's side. "What
seems to be the difficulty?"
"How d'ye measure this stuff?" Jamie gestured at the scales. "And what's a
Victoria glanced over the instructions, and decided that, for all Jamie's
admirable qualities, he was hardly the person to follow the procedure to the
letter. She had a dark suspicion that he might skip words he didn't
"Look after Miss Flamisto," she said, handing the child across. "I shall
deal with the milk."
"What did we do to deserve this?" Jamie wondered, vainly rocking the
wailing girl in his arms. "Yon lassie's a nightmare."
"I suppose it's only to be expected: she is, after all, an evil genius."
As she set the kettle boiling, Victoria caught a glimpse of her reflection in
its silvered surface: haggard, flustered, her hair a chaotic tangle. "We shall
just have to hope that the effect proves temporary."
"You mean they'll change back?"
"I hope so. None of Miss Flamisto's other inventions had a permanent
effect." Victoria delved in a cupboard and produced a cobwebbed baby's
bottle. "According to the instructions, I must sterilise this."
"Aye." Jamie sounded uncertain. "It's just... if yon evil genius woman
changes back, we'll have her running around the TARDIS."
Victoria set down the bottle and put her head in her hands. "Oh, Jamie. But
we can't leave her outside in her present condition."
Had he not had his arms full of baby, Jamie might have given her a hug.
Instead, he had to settle for giving her a reassuring smile.
"We'll work something out," he said. "We'll keep a watch on them for as long
as it takes."
"If the effect is permanent, that may be for years," Victoria said hollowly.
"We'll manage somehow. Lots of people do. My aunt wasn't that much older
than you when she had her first son."
"No, I suppose that's true." Victoria turned at the sound of the kettle's
cheerful whistle. "I must get on with disinfecting this table." She directed
a suspicious look at the child in Jamie's arms. "I think Miss Flamisto's
nappy may need changing."
Jamie's cheerful expression disappeared like snow in summer. "You want me
"Jamie, I can't do everything!"
"Aye. Aye." Jamie headed for the door. "Don't fash yourself, lass. It'll
work out all right in the end."
Victoria locked the door, and tucked the key into her dress.
"There," she said. "Now, even if we should fall asleep, Miss Flamisto cannot
"You mean we'll be trapped in here with a mad scientist," Jamie pointed
"Two mad scientists."
"What'll the Doctor think?" Jamie looked across at where the two babies
were, finally, dozing in improvised cribs. "Waking up wi' yon Miss Flamisto,
and neither of them wearing any clothes."
Victoria yawned. "Let us hope that we are present, and able to explain
matters to him." She rested her head on Jamie's shoulder and closed her eyes.
"Can you take the first watch? I never knew nursing tiny babies could be so
"They say it'll get easier with time," Jamie said.
Victoria's only answer was an indistinct murmur. Jamie shifted his position
slightly, to try and make her more comfortable, and listened as her breathing
became slow and regular.
"There's one thing about all this," he said, surveying the scene. "It'll
be good practice for when we have bairns of our own."
Georgina Jones descended the broad oak staircase again, looking puzzled.
"I don't get it," she said. "Whatever was making that noise, there's
nothing up there."
"Nothing?" Adam Adamant repeated.
Georgie spread her hands. "You know what I mean. Nothing that would make
a noise. Just stags' heads and side tables with glass jars on and suits of
armour and junk like that."
"Nothing out of the ordinary, then," Adam said, looking pained at the
word 'junk'. As far as he was concerned, the taste of whoever had furnished
this house indicated a pleasing respect for tradition.
"Not for this house." Georgie paused in thought. "Hang on! I bet I know
what it is. There's got to be a secret passage somewhere up there. Places
like this always have secret passages. Probably comes out in the lounge."
"In the drawing room," Adam said patiently.
"Well, you check it out, and I'll go back up and look for the top end."
Before Adam could reply, she dashed back up the stairs, eager to begin
her search. Adam walked slowly in the direction of the drawing room,
thinking over their conversation. Something about it was nagging at him.
"Side tables," he repeated. "Suits of armour. Stags' heads." He shook
his own head. There was definitely something awry, but he could not put his
finger on it.
On the upper landing, Georgie's attempts to discover the secret passage
had begun as a systematic attempt to push, pull, or slide each panel in the
wall. By the time she had tested half-a-dozen or so panels, she was contenting
herself with giving them desultory shoves. The woodwork remained stubbornly
resistant to all her attempts.
Georgie paused before another panel, and looked up. The glass eyes of a
stag's head peered down at her.
Maybe that's how it's worked, she thought. Standing on tiptoes, she
reached up to the head and tugged at one antler, then the other. The head
shifted on its mountings; Georgie, sent unexpectedly sideways, collapsed
to the floor with a little shriek.
Adam's search of the drawing room might have been conducted more thoroughly,
but it was with a similar lack of attention. Georgie's description of the
scene upstairs still nagged at him.
"Suits of armour," he repeated. "Suits." He closed his eyes and
pictured the corridor. When he had been in it, there had surely only been
one suit of armour. If Miss Jones had seen two — why, this could only
be a most fiendish trap! And he had allowed her, a fragile, defenceless
girl, to enter it unaccompanied!
He made for the staircase at a run.
"I say!" a man's voice remarked. "Are you all right there, young lady?"
With another cry of surprise, Georgie jumped up and looked around. One
of the suits of armour had raised its visor, revealing a pink, moustached
face with an expression of cheerful bafflement.
"Who are you?" she asked, backing against the opposite wall. "What are you
hiding like that for?"
"Hiding? Not a bit of it." His voice was as aristocratic as Adam's, but
lacking every quality of intelligence or incisiveness. "Must've dozed off
for a bit, that's all. I'm Sir Hugh de Wittless. 'Spect you've heard of me.
'The dashing Sir Hugh,' y'know."
Georgie shook her head. "Nope. Sorry."
"Oh. Well, doesn't matter. Now, just give me a moment..." The armour
clanked as Sir Hugh stretched his arms. "Feeling' dashed stiff. Don't want
to walk around in armour when me legs are stiff. Might fall over, and how'd
I rescue you then?"
"Rescue you?" Georgie's concern at what this knight might do was rapidly
being replaced by amusement. "What from?"
Sir Hugh's expression of bafflement deepened. "There's got to be
something, surely? Young lady all on her own, in a spooky old castle full
of..." He looked around at the hall, and seemed lost for words.
"I really don't need to be rescued." Georgie took a step forward, a smile
on her face. "And if I did, I'm sure Mr Adamant wouldn't let anyone else get
The sound of the stairs being taken two at a time came to her ears,
accompanied by an urgent "Miss Jones!"
Georgie waved a hand. "See what I mean?"
"Miss Jones," Adam repeated, as he hurried down the corridor. He took
cognizance of the armoured knight, and drew his swordstick. "What is the
meaning of this, sir?"
"He wants to rescue me," Georgie said. "Don't know why."
"Well, it's what you do with girls, isn't it?" Sir Hugh asked plaintively.
"I assure you, sir, Miss Jones may be a damsel, but she is not currently in
any form of distress. Except that caused by your unwanted attentions."
"What?" Georgie interjected, in a tone between hilarity and incredulity.
Sir Hugh paid her no attention. "Well, if you're going to rescue her that's
that, I suppose." He made to scratch his head, but succeeded only in touching
his helmet with a gauntletted hand. "Haven't introduced m'self properly, have
I? Sir Hugh de Wittless, at your service."
"Adam Adamant, at yours and your family's." Adam bowed.
"Adamant, eh? Rings a bell. Y'know, you remind me a bit of a chap called...
now, what was it? Richard du Mont. That was it. Yes, you've got a definite
look of him." Sir Hugh looked back at Georgie. "Anyway, I'll leave you to
He made to turn away, but turned back at Georgie's call of "Wait!"
"Sir Hugh," she said. "We think there may be a young woman held in the
castle against her will. Do you have any idea where she might be?"
"I'd say the dungeon. Yes, definitely. If I was goin' to lock someone up,
give me a good dungeon any day." He paused in thought. "Did you say there
was a young gel in the dungeons?"
"We think there might be."
"Then she'll need rescuin'! Tally-ho! You, sir, du Mont..."
"Adamant." Adam had sheathed his swordstick and was giving the knight a
"Just so. Adamant. Will you stand with me in this noble cause?"
"Then let's be going!" Sir Hugh clanked forward. Georgie recognised the
sounds he was making; they were what had caused her to make her search of
the corridor in the first place. Adam fell in behind him. Despite not
being invited, Georgie tagged on as well.
"Miss Jones," Adam said, in a low voice. "We have no reason to believe that
Miss Green is being held in the castle."
"We don't know she isn't," Georgie countered. "And it got him on our side."
She looked sideways at Adam, who still had a pensive look. "You recognised
that name, didn't you? Richard thingy."
"du Mont." Adam lowered his voice further. "Miss Jones, I can trace my
ancestry back to the Norman conquest. I did indeed have an ancestor by the
name of Richard du Mont. He lived in the twelfth century."
"But he talked as if he knew him."
"Perhaps it's no more than a coincidence, Miss Jones. But I would advise
a measure of caution dealing with Sir Hugh. He may be more than he appears."
Ahead, there was a clatter of armour, a crash of broken glass, and a
cheerful "Whoops! View halloo!"
"Though I grant you, that does seem unlikely," Adam conceded.
"Ah, Gilbert M." Helen A stopped at the bottom of the staircase, and struck
a pose. "I see that the Kandyman has been as obliging as ever. Do tell me,
what delicacies are those?"
Her majordomo gave a half-bow, and looked at the jar in his hand. "Blood
oranges, I believe, ma'am."
"Splendid. I do so hope we get some visitors. Tradition should be
encouraged." She softened her voice. "And it is for the children, after all."
From the outside, Helen A's residence resembled a smaller version of the
White House, painted pink. Its garden sported a collection of statues of
clowns, which seemed to leer at passers in the orange glare of the
streetlamps. Between beds of plastic flowers stood playground equipment that
looked to have been salvaged from the Chernobyl exclusion zone. It was no
wonder that the inhabitants of Nameless gave it a wide berth. Most of the
time, anyway. On this particular night, half-a-dozen eleven-year-olds from
H G Wells High School, wearing occult-themed costumes and carrying pumpkin
lamps, were preparing to storm the citadel.
"Seriously?" Danny Pink asked. "You're going in there?"
Courtney Woods tossed her head, taking care not to disturb her zombie
makeup. "Thought you was gonna be a soldier? You can't be a soldier if you're
scared of a stupid house."
"Soldiers spy out the land first," Danny said seriously. "The people here've
got a dog."
Danny turned to Clara Oswald for support. "Tell her she's being an idiot."
"Courtney," Clara said. "You're being an idiot." She straightened her pointed
hat. "Right, let's get in there."
Before Danny could protest, the group had marched boldly up the drive. Clara
pressed the doorbell, which played an off-key version of 'Happy Days Are Here
Again'. A few moments later, the door opened, and Helen A looked down at the
"How nice of you to call," she said, and bestowed a politican's smile on
"Trick or treat!" the children chorused.
"We got plenty of eggs to throw if you say 'trick,'" Courtney added.
Helen A's smile didn't crack. "What a delightful little scamp," she said.
She reached back into the building and produced a paper bag. "Here are some
sweeties for you dear children."
She dropped the bag into the outstretched hand of the nearest child, a
fragile-looking blonde girl dressed as a mummy, and closed the door firmly
in their faces.
"There you are," Courtney said. "Result. How easy was that?"
"Let's get out of here," Danny muttered.
Courtney shook her head. "I wanna see what she's given us first. Hand 'em
Maisie obligingly held the bag out. Sugary spheroids glinted red and orange
in the light of their lamps.
"Are you going to try one, then?" Journey Blue asked.
Courtney had been reaching for one of the sweets, but drew back.
"Nah," she said. "Not really my thing."
"You didn't say that when you were scoffing all that sherbet Ms Lundvik
gave us." Clara smirked triumphantly. "I think you're scared now."
"Of a stupid sweet? No way. I'm not scared of anything."
"Bet you are," Danny said. "I'd eat one."
Courtney rounded on him. "All right, then. You eat one and I'll eat one too."
"You don't have to..." Maisie began. But too late. Danny and Courtney had
both already picked a sweet from the bag.
"Give us a count of three," Courtney said.
Clara folded her arms. "OK. One. Two. Three!"
The two children popped the sweets into their mouths.
"Courtney?" Maisie asked nervously. "Are you all right?"
Courtney, it was clear, was far from all right. Her hair, naturally curly,
was standing out around her head, with sparks crackling across it. A red light
was shining in her eyes, and an orange glow was beginning to suffuse her body.
"Danny?" Clara turned to see that Danny had fallen to the ground, his flesh
glowing in the dark like Courtney's. "Danny!"
"They killed Danny again," Journey said. "The bas—"
Abruptly, the glow cut out. Courtney, her skin and hair now orange in hue,
dropped to her knees, gasping for breath. At the same time, a similarly orange
Danny managed to rise onto all fours.
"Come on," Clara said. "Let's get out of here."
Supporting their afflicted friends, they made their way to the gate at the
best pace they could. Once safely outside, they paused to catch their breath.
"I knew it was a trap," Maisie moaned.
"I don't care." Courtney seemed to have recovered from her experience far
more quickly than Danny had. While Danny was shivering and subdued, Courtney's
burning rage was evident through her zombie makeup. "I'm gonna egg that evil
old bat's house. Who's with me?"
Journey and Clara both raised their hands.
"OK. You two, with me."
"The rest of you, look after the sweets," Clara said over her shoulder.
Eggs at the ready, the intrepid trio marched up the drive.
"I think they're coming back to ask for an explanation, ma'am," Gilbert M
called down from the landing.
Helen A nodded. "Let me know if they perform any acts of mindless thuggery.
I think darling Fifi deserves to enjoy tonight as much as everybody else."
"Take that!" Courtney shouted, hurling an egg. It smashed against the front
door. "No-one turns me orange and—"
"Courtney," Journey interrupted. She had an egg in her own hand, but hadn't
begun throwing yet. "Can you hear something?"
Courtney hurled another egg. "Like what?"
"Like something growling," Clara said nervously.
"There!" Journey pointed into the darkness. Something was bounding towards
them, its eyes two points of red light.
"The dog!" Clara tensed, ready to run.
"Don't run!" Courtney caught hold of Clara by the sleeve. "You got to show
it who's boss." She tried to stare down the approaching creature. "Sit! Good
dog! Stay! Aargh! Get it off me!"
"Journey, run!" Clara shouted. "Courtney, hang on!"
Courtney sounded as if she'd been dragged to the ground. "It's the one
hanging on to me!"
Clara dashed forward and thrust with her broom at the furry shape. With a
howl, it released its grip on Courtney. Its jaws closed around the broomstick,
and yanked it out of Clara's hands. Clara pulled Courtney to her feet, and
the two ran back to the gate. As they slammed it behind them, they heard the
dog's furious barks and growls, its running feet, and the thud of its body
against the far side.
"Did it bite you?" Maisie asked.
"Not me," Clara said. "Courtney?"
"Don't think so. Anyone got a light?" Courtney bent down and examined her
legs. "Look at what it's done!"
Her trousers, as befitted a zombie, had previously been ragged. Now,
'shredded' was a better description. Her trainers, too, had a chewed look
"She'll regret setting that horrible rat thing on me," Courtney snarled.
"Just wait till I get my hands on her."
"Don't!" Maisie protested.
"I'm not scared of her."
Journey put her hands on Courtney's shoulders. "Maybe that's just what she
wants us to do. You reckon she's really evil, don't you? Even more than Ms
"Of course she is!"
"Then she'll have something ready for you if you go back. Something worse
than the dog. Like old Karabraxos and her maths detentions."
"Yeah," Danny added. "The dog nearly ate you this time. Next time she'll
get you for sure."
"Look, she gave you stuff that turns you orange," Journey said. "That can't
be allowed. We should tell a policeman."
Gilbert M was still at his post on the landing when he heard Helen A's quiet
footstep behind him.
"Do tell me, Gilbert M. Have the little hooligans learned the error of
their ways?" she asked sweetly.
"I don't think they're coming back, ma'am."
"Excellent! Antisocial louts reformed into well-behaved children. Just
think what good we've done to society. And we didn't even have to use the
fondant surprise." She indicated a large vat, balanced on the balcony above
the front door of the house.
"We may have other visitors this evening, ma'am," Gilbert M hastily
"I do hope so." Helen A smiled again. "It would be a pity if the Kandyman's
hard work were to be wasted, after all."
"Have you seen the police in this town?" Danny asked. "That copper they
sent to teach us about road safety was crackers. He kept talking to his sock
puppet all the time."
"You mean Sergeant Moggie," Maisie said. "I liked him."
"No police," Courtney said firmly. "They wouldn't believe me. Let's just...
go somewhere else, OK?"
"OK." A thought struck Clara. "And we'd better make sure no-one eats any
more of those sweets. Who had them?"
The youngest member of the group held up the bag.
"Well, make sure not to eat any of them."
"Why not?" Ashildr said. She popped another blood-orange into her mouth,
with no visible effect. "I like them. They've got a bit of a sting in their