Thursday, 11 December 2008

Doctor who Advent Calander (Day 11)

Part 2 of GALLOWS GATE ROAD is now online behind door 11

Part Two. Written by Rupert Laight. Illustrations by Brian Williamson

The Doctor heard a distant voice. A young woman. 'Is he all right?'
'He still looks very pale,' said another voice. 'Hold on, I think he's coming round.'
The Doctor sat up, and reality span into focus. 'I'm fine now,' he said, still on the floor by the front door. 'I think I won the battle.' And he began to recognise the residents of Gallows Gate Road - Miss Gibbs, the Major and the rest - as they looked down. 'One of you is an alien!'
A few seconds of deathly hush followed before the hall echoed with worried chatter.
'He must still be woozy,' said Miss Sillington.
'Barking mad!' said the Major.
The Doctor scrambled to his feet and looked out of the window. 'It's getting dark. How long was I out?'
'A couple of hours,' said Mrs Mann. 'What happened?'
'Bit hard to explain. But never mind that, there's work to do!' The Doctor pushed through the small crowd and took hold of Robert's arm. 'Come on, Robby-boy, we're searching this house from attic to basement!'
'No you are not!' insisted Mrs Mann. 'My house does not need searching!'
'It certainly does,' said the Doctor firmly, finding his sonic screwdriver still in his hand and shaking it at Mrs Mann. And he started up the stairs.
'Well I never,' said Major Woolly. Upstairs, the Doctor slammed into the Major's bedroom.
'What are we looking for?' panted Robert, struggling to keep up.
'There's an alien intelligence hiding in this house, and it's very powerful. When I tried to leave, it almost consumed me. Took all my mental reserves to beat it back.'
Robert watched in amazement as the Doctor activated his sonic screwdriver and swept its beam across each wall in turn.
'And if I know my alien intelligences, which I do,' continued the Doctor, 'there's a more than fair chance it's hiding inside another life form.'
'You mean... one of us? Like the Major? Or Mother?' He paused. 'Or me?'
'I'm sorry, Rob, but anything's possible,' said the Doctor, putting on his glasses. 'Still, I'm here to help. Whatever happens next.' He stared around him. 'Now, help me search. We're looking for anything that seems out of place.
'Or out of time,' said Robert.
'You're catching on,' beamed the Doctor, as he flung open the doors of Major Woolly's wardrobe. 'I knew you'd understand.'
Over the next few hours, Robert helped his friend explore every inch of every bedroom. The Doctor cheerily dismissed complaints from Mrs Mann and her guests with the wave of what appeared to be a warrant from the Ministry of War.
After the bedrooms, they checked the dining room and the drawing room. Still the Doctor seemed to find no clues. Then they went downstairs to the basement, the domain of Mrs Baxter, which she ruled like a dictator.
'What you doing in here?' boomed the cook, as soon the Doctor and Robert entered the kitchen. 'I'm trying to make a jam roly-poly.'
'We won't get in the way of your roly-poly,' said the Doctor.
Robert eyed Mrs Baxter accusingly. 'We're searching for aliens.'
'Germans, you mean?'
'No. The ones from outer space.'
Mrs Baxter rolled her eyes and went back to work, while Robert explored the kitchen.
'I think I'd like to be a chef when I grow up,' he muttered, eyeing Mrs Baxter's collection of knives. 'Head chef at The Ritz, in fact.'
But the Doctor seemed not to be listening. He was on his hands and knees. 'Look!' he shouted.
Robert bent down to see what the Doctor was staring at.
Just above the skirting board, the plaster was cracked and crumbling. The Doctor crawled further along the length of the wall. 'It's here too,' he said. 'And here!'
'What's so strange?' asked Robert. 'The back wall of the house is full of cracks like that.'
The Doctor stood up. 'I've been blind,' he said. 'Let's go! It's time to end this!'
Major Woolly tapped his watch. 'This is insufferable, Doctor,' he said. 'First you accuse one of us of being a spy, then you ransack our rooms, and now you're encroaching on dinner!'
'Never mind all that,' said the Doctor, turning to address a full dining room. He'd summoned every member of the household to a meeting, Robert at his side. 'You're all in deadly danger. A force in this house is sucking away your potential, like a sponge absorbs water, and not one of you is capable of the teensiest hint of motivation or - '
'How dare you!' interrupted the Major. 'I could walk out that front door this very minute and achieve anything I put my mind to. We all could.'
'Go on then!' urged the Doctor.
'It's after six,' said Miss Sillington quietly. 'Everything will be shut.'
'Major, you should be back in the Army. I know that's where your heart is. Why else keep your uniform so neatly pressed? Miss Sillington, you're a fantastic painter, so why not paint? And you, Clive, could write that novel. You wouldn't be alone if Miss Gibbs finally found the willpower to express her true feelings. And even Mrs Baxter could have her pig in the country.'
Six shocked faces gaped back at him, but the Doctor continued, lowering his voice slightly.
'And as for you, Mrs Mann, you can't even have that tree in the back garden cut down. A tree that steals your light and makes you miserable every time you look at it.' He stared at them sternly. 'You're all brilliant, wonderful people, but not one of you has the strength to follow your dreams. And there's a reason for that.'
'More talk of dark forces?' sighed Mrs Mann.
'Not just talk. It's here amongst you.'
The room erupted into confused chatter.
'If I'm correct,' the Doctor continued, 'this force is stealing your ambition and using it. I've felt it myself.'
'You haven't said anything about me, Doctor,' ventured Robert. 'What about me?'
'You're different to everyone else here,' replied the Doctor.
Miss Sillington gasped. 'You don't mean that Robert is... the alien?'
'Of course not. What's important about Robert is that he's completely unaffected. And that's why he's been such a help to me.' He turned to the lad. 'It hasn't touched you because you're young. You haven't made up your mind about what you want to be in life. There's no specific ambition to hone in on.'
'Yes there is,' protested the lad. 'I want to be an escapologist.'
'You wanted to be a chef half an hour ago,' said the Doctor. 'But that's great. There's no reason you should make up your mind. You've got years ahead - and a trillion possibilities to choose from.' The Doctor ruffled Robert's hair. 'Though I must say I'm glad you've dropped the chef idea. Hard work and terrible money.'
'Then if it's someone here,' said Mrs Baxter, 'who is it?'
The residents of No.1 Gallows Gate Road eyed one another suspiciously.
'It's not any of you,' said the Doctor, marching over to the doors that led into the garden. He pushed them open and stepped outside. An icy gust of wind blew through the room.
'Where's he going now?' said Mrs Mann.
'Deuced if I know,' replied the Major.
In the garden, the Doctor stared up at the enormous oak. It was dark, but a full moon illuminated everything. There was silence, bar a steady tap-tap-tap on the bedroom windows as the highest branches of the tree swayed in the chill wind.
Robert appeared at the Doctor's elbow. 'Those cracks in the basement wall,' he said. 'They're caused by the tree.'
'Exactly! Its roots are digging into the foundations, spreading further every day, and claiming the house.'
'You're saying our villain is a tree?' The Major was standing behind them with the other residents.
'It's a nuisance, keeping me awake at night,' said Miss Sillington, 'but I wouldn't call it villainous.'
'It was the subject of your last painting,' said the Doctor. 'You'd produced amazing stuff for years, then you moved in here, managed one picture and gave up.'
The Doctor took a step deeper into the garden, then winced and put a hand to his head. 'Can't you feel it? An intelligent parasite. It needs the energy of others to live. And this is a particularly vicious example. I've seen something like it before. On Esto, in the Lagoon Nebula.' He pointed into the sky. 'Somewhere over there.'
Robert gazed toward the stars as the Doctor continued.
'These parasites inhabit the longest-lived life form on any world they visit. They don't have a physical shape of their own, so they need an anchor. They're really just squiggly waves of psychic force.' The Doctor took another step forward and clutched his head again, clearly in pain. 'Fetch an axe, Robert.'
'Don't you dare!' cried Mrs Mann.
'Ignore her, Rob.' The Doctor stared at the landlady. 'If it's so harmless, then what are you afraid of? You've already said how much you want it cut down.'
Mrs Mann stomped over to the vast oak tree and stood in front of it, arms outstretched. 'You are not touching poor old Lofty!'
'This tree is home to an alien parasite,' protested the Doctor. 'And I reckon it has been for hundreds of years. Miss Sillington told me there have always been stories about this house. I should have realised then it hadn't possessed a human. That tree has been here far longer than any of you, any of these buildings even. And think of the name of the street.'
'Gallows Gate Road,' said Clive. 'In the Eighteenth Century, criminals convicted by the Kent magistrates were executed somewhere near here.'
'Near here?' repeated the Doctor. 'Where do you think the hangman slung his rope? This place has always been home to misery and loss. The force inhabiting that tree has been feeding off human potential for centuries.'
Robert emerged from the garden shed, carrying an axe. He held it out to the Doctor.
'I don't think it'll let me any closer,' said the Doctor. 'You're a big boy now, Rob. You can handle it, can't you?'
'I suppose so,' said Robert nervously.
'Don't!' bellowed his mother.
'It's n-not a good idea,' stammered Miss Sillington.
'I wouldn't if I were you, my boy,' said the Major.
The residents edged towards Robert, but the Doctor strode between them. 'It's for your own good!' he cried. Then he turned to Robert. 'Chop it down! You're the only one who can!'
Robert hefted the axe high into the air.
'Noooo!' wailed the others.
It crashed down, cutting deep into the trunk.
The Doctor and the rest staggered, struggling to remain on their feet. Then they stared up in horror.
'What's that?' cried Mrs Baxter.

From the tree came a vast, luminous green imprint of itself

From the tree came a vast, luminous green imprint of itself - a ghostly silhouette that hovered above the small crowd and let out a deafening shriek.
'It's the entity leaving,' cried the Doctor over the din. 'Keep going, Rob!'
Robert let the axe fall again and again into the trunk's open wound.
The terrifying shape was twisting into a swirling vortex, which sent a vicious wind whipping about the house. It was so strong the residents could hardly keep their footing.
Miss Sillington gripped onto the Major. 'I feel strange,' she said.
'Here, let me have a go,' said Mr Plympton, and he waded forward and grabbed the axe from Robert.
He was followed by the Major, who took his turn enthusiastically chopping, the strange green energy whipping about him all the while.
Blow after blow rained down and the tree creaked and splintered.
It was then that the whirlwind began to lose its strength, and with a final piercing howl it was sucked in upon itself, until just a single ball of light hovered over the Doctor, and then disappeared.
The Doctor collapsed.
The Major passed the axe to Mrs Mann. 'All yours, dear lady. Finish him off!'
Laughing, the landlady delivered the final chop, and with a deafening crack, the tree fell, crashing down across the garden and two more besides.
Then there was silence.
Eventually, the residents began chattering amongst themselves, in a way they hadn't done the whole time the Doctor had been with them. It was as if a light had been turned on and they saw one another - and themselves - for the first time.
The Doctor staggered to his feet and rubbed his head.
'The thing in the tree - is it dead?' asked Miss Sillington.
'I don't think it can be killed. It's just fled to another host. As I said, it inhabits the oldest life form around. And right here, right now... that's me.'
Miss Sillington looked at the Doctor, clearly confused.
'I'm 904, you know,' he said.
Later that night, the guests of No.1 Gallows Gate Road were once again gathered around the dining table. A crackling fire blazed in the hearth.
'Let us raise a glass to the Doctor,' said Mrs Mann.
Everyone lifted their glasses. 'To the Doctor,' they said with one voice.
'I'm not sure if I can accept everything you told us, Doctor,' said Major Woolly. 'But I must say I haven't felt this much get-up-and-go in years.'
'I'll second that,' said Miss Sillington. She wore her hat, now decorated with leaves from the fallen oak tree.
'I can't believe all this stuff about aliens either,' said Mrs Mann, 'and goodness knows how I'll explain that mess outside to the neighbours, but I finally feel able to make some changes around here.'
'And I'm signing up on Monday,' said the Major. 'Even a duffer like me might be of some use. If only to the Home Guard.'
'Good for you,' said the Doctor.
'I'm already making notes for my novel,' said Clive, tapping a notebook in his jacket pocket.
'And I'm going to get back to my painting,' said Miss Sillington. 'I fancy doing a portrait. Maybe someone famous even. I could do one of you, Doctor.'
The Doctor smiled warmly, but remained silent.
'You are staying on, aren't you?' asked the elderly woman nervously.
At that moment, Mrs Baxter burst in carrying a huge bowl of stew. 'And don't ask what I had to do to get this little lot,' she said, placing the dish proudly on the table.
'It looks lovely, Bertha,' said Mrs Mann.
'Now, it's not that I don't like it here,' said the cook. 'but come January I've fixed to move down to my sister's in Bridport.'
'You're leaving us?' asked Miss Gibbs.
'Now don't try talking me out of it because when I make up my mind...' She trailed off as if waiting for someone to protest. But no one did. 'I'll fetch the bread and butter then,' said Mrs Baxter, sighing and shuffling out.
And whilst most of the guests were busy helping themselves to portions of stew, the Doctor noticed Clive Plympton give Miss Gibbs a coy smile. Her face lit up with happiness.
The Doctor chuckled quietly to himself and glanced around the table. Robert was shovelling forkfuls of food into his mouth.
'I definitely know now what I want to be when I'm older,' he said.
The Doctor couldn't help but smile proudly. 'It's not all fun being a time traveller,' he said. 'But I'm very flattered, Robby-boy.'
Robert frowned. 'I don't want to be like you, silly!' He flicked a glance towards the garden. 'I want to be a lumberjack.'
The Doctor closed the front door of No.1 Gallows Gate Road behind him, having slipped away when nobody was looking.
Across the street stood the TARDIS.
As he unlocked the door and went in, the Doctor wondered, and not for the first time, if his ship had somehow sensed the alien parasite. One thing he knew for sure though was that he couldn't keep it locked up in his mind forever. The TARDIS's telepathic circuits would help flush it out into the Time Vortex. That was one place where it couldn't do any more harm.
In the moonlit street, a battered blue box let out a wheezing and groaning sound, and then slowly vanished into the night


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