Unfinished Business, Doctor Who, Dr. Who, Chris Eccleston, Christopher Eccleston, Doctor who Fiction

Grace Holloway was not usually the sort of doctor who did house calls. The Doctor was an exception. An exceptional exception since, not only was his house not in the same country that she worked in, but it wasn’t even in the same time zone.

She supposed she should be grateful it was on the same planet.

The Doctor was not the most patient man at being a patient, either. He had been increasingly IMpatient as his convalescence went on. She had taken no nonsense from him, though. He might be THE Doctor, but she was the HEART Doctor and he wasn’t recovered until SHE said so.

“Yes,” she said at last. “You’re fine. Both hearts are working normally. And as far as my primitive knowledge can tell the ion energy that made you ill has dissipated. You’re passed A1 again, Doctor.”

“Fantastic!” he cried with a beaming smile. He jumped up from the chair and fastened his shirt over the chest that had given Grace and everyone who cared about him so much cause for concern. “Absolutely fantastic. Davie… give me my TARDIS key back now. I’ll take Grace home.”

“Are you sure?” Rose asked. “Maybe you should take it slow.”

“I will,” he promised. “But San Francisco in the early 21st century is a doddle. Rose, come on. We haven’t had a spin in the TARDIS for AGES. We can stop off somewhere romantic on the way back.”

“Speaking of which,” Rose said, looking at Grace. “Doctor Holloway, I was wondering. That Ion Energy, the way he was exposed. Do you think it could affect him in other ways… like… you know… we were intending to have more kids yet.”

“I’m not THAT sort of doctor,” she replied, blushing slightly, though she could not have explained WHY if anyone had noticed. “I think it will be all right. Are you planning more children?”

“Well, I hope so,” Rose answered her. When he’s feeling up to it.”

“I think he’s feeling up to it,” Grace observed.

“Davie, key,” The Doctor repeated, deciding that he was going to call a halt on that line of conversation. Davie handed it over reluctantly.

“Maybe I ought to come with you, to make sure…” he began. The Doctor gave him a quizzical look. “I don’t have to be in the TARDIS with you. I could get a lock on your course and follow in mine. Just in case…”

“I’m not senile yet,” The Doctor told him. “I’m all right, Davie, honestly. Besides, you’ve had eight years training at flying a TARDIS. I’ve been doing it eight hundred years. There’s not MUCH you can teach me.”

The role reversal was disturbing. It wasn’t so long since he was itching to ride shotgun when the boys made their first trips into space. Now Davie wanted to put the training wheels on him. It was too much like a son having to dress and feed his aged father after he had done those things for the son when he was a child.

“I’ll be FINE,” he promised as he reached out to hug the young Time Lord who reminded him so much of himself as a young man. “Rose, come on. Or do you want me to go off alone in the TARDIS with an old flame?”

“You wouldn’t DARE,” Rose teased in reply. “But at least let me tell mum I’m going out.”

“Two minutes, then I’m off,” he said. Rose shot him a cross look and ran to find Jackie. She, like Davie, was apprehensive about The Doctor making his first TARDIS trip since he was ill, but she knew better than to try to stop him. She came to watch him go, with his youngest child in her arms.

“You be a good boy for granny,” The Doctor said, kissing Peter on the cheek and ignoring Jackie’s scowl at being referred to as ‘granny’ by him. “I’ll bring you back some American candy.”

He smiled as Sukie and Vicki, playing in their room, requested sweet treats, too, then he turned and stepped into the TARDIS. He bounded to the console with a broad grin. He looked around to see Grace settling herself on the sofa with a book to read and to Rose standing by the console as she always did.

“Just like old times,” he said. “Come here….” He held out his hand to her and she came to his side. He set the navigation and then put his arm around her waist as he reached one-handed to initiate the drive control. As the TARDIS groaned into action after a long lay off he cuddled his wife happily. He felt free again after being in the prison of his own damaged body for so long.

“You know,” he said to her as they slid easily into the vortex. “You could have asked me about the fertility thing. I could have told you.”

“It is all right then?”

“Must admit I did wonder what months of Ion particles circulating through my body would do long term, but it looks like everything is ok. And… how many kids did we agree we were going to have?”

“We said we’d space them out, one every five years for the first century. Then maybe every twenty years for the next. That would be twenty six babies by the time I’m two hundred and thirty. Twenty eight including Vicki and Peter.”

“I’ve got my work cut out then.”

“YOU’VE got your work cut out!” Rose replied scornfully. “I get the backache and the stretch-marks and the twelve hours of labour.”

“And I love you for it,” he assured her. “My wife, mother of my children.” He took her hand in his gently and closed his eyes in concentration. He probed her timeline. It was not easy. She had travelled in the time vortex and that broke up the future history that non-travellers had in a straight, easy to read format. Her future, and his, was an abstract mosaic. But in the jumble he could see the answer to the question that had worried him as much as it worried her. He smiled as he caught sight in short flashes of his future children.

“I wonder why we would choose to call one of them Boris?” he said. “Especially since she’s a girl.”

“You’re just teasing me now,” Rose told him.

“I am not,” he protested. “In the future we have a daughter called Boris. And a son called Titania. I blame your mother.”

“You’re a big fibber!” Rose laughed. “But really? It’s all right? We will…”

“Yes, we will. And we’ll love them all. Even Boris and Titania.” He put his arms around her as he talked, and she leaned close as he kissed her with all the same passion he always kissed her with.

Grace looked up from her book and smiled. Her hosts seemed to have forgotten she was there. But that was how it should be. She felt a little pride that she had something to do with their continuing happiness. Her medical skill HAD saved his life. Her care and attention through his recuperation had ensured his full recovery. She knew it had been a hard time for him emotionally. She knew from her years as a surgeon that active men took being ill hard. And she knew nobody more active than he was.

“Just take care of those hearts,” she whispered and went on with reading her book. She was a seasoned TARDIS traveller now. Davie had been picking her up twice weekly for the past four months to come and examine The Doctor and monitor his progress. She relaxed and enjoyed what she thought would be her last such trip, wondering if she would miss them now she wasn’t needed any more.

Suddenly the book flew from her hands and she found herself sprawling across the sofa. The Doctor and Rose were clinging to the console with one hand and both pressing buttons frantically with the other.

“We’re making an emergency stop,” The Doctor called out to her as she sat up and tried to fix her hair back in place and regain some dignity. “I think we’re in California, you’ll be glad to know. But we may miss your office by a mile or twenty.”

“WHY are we making an emergency stop?” Grace asked. “I’ve made dozens of trips with Davie and there’s been no trouble at all. I come out with YOU, the hazard magnet, and I’m LOST.”

“You’re not lost,” The Doctor assured her. “I told you. We’re in California.”

“WHERE in California?” she asked. “It’s a BIG State, you know.”

“Yes, I know,” The Doctor replied. “158,302 square miles, with a population of 33,871,648 according to the 2011 census, with a density of 217.2 people per square mile.”

“He doesn’t know that for a fact,” Rose told her. “He has it up on the screen here from a database.”

“Right. So to answer my question, WHERE are we?”

“Somewhere near Sacramento,” The Doctor replied. “Here we are.” He bounded to the door and the ladies followed him. He opened the door and gave a rather understated “Ah!” as a great, black iron steam locomotive headed towards them. He ran back to the console, leaving the door open and Rose and Grace staring in stunned amazement as the TARDIS rose gently up into the air and over the locomotive, the water tank, the log box and the guards van, and over the two passenger cars, to land on a flatbed beside a tarpaulined load.

“Somewhere near Sacramento, on a train, in the year… 1865,” The Doctor said and flashed a smile at the two women.

“The wild west!” Rose said with a grin. “Oooh! Can we just spend a bit of time… Oh go on. We can get Grace home ten minutes after she left later. What sort of clothes did women wear in 1865. Oooooh!” She smiled widely. “Gone With The Wind! Oh, YES!”

The Doctor glanced at the console and noted the direction the TARDIS was being carried in.

“We’re heading away from Sacramento into the Sierra Nevadas. We’re talking shanty towns and migrant workers a long way from their womenfolk. I want you both in dresses you can fit through a door in, long sleeves and buttoned up to the neck, if you please.”

That still gave them a certain amount of leeway. By the time The Doctor emerged from the male side of the Wardrobe in a black suit with white shirt and the thin kind of loose necktie of the period, looking like a rugged variation of Rhett Butler they had chosen two gowns that they thought he would approve of. Yes, there were buttons up to the collars, but the collars had lots of crisp lace, and so did the button bands and the cuffs, while the skirts had enough of a flare to swish nicely across the console room floor. Rose picked a dark red colour and Grace a pale green. Rose was wearing a rather pretty bonnet with her dress and Grace a boater style hat that reminded The Doctor of his old friend Romana.

“Yep, you’ll do,” he said. “We must be getting somewhere, by the way. The train’s slowing down.”

The train stopped, with a very decisive sound of a train that wasn’t going anywhere else for a while. The Doctor went to the door and opened it cautiously. There were men starting to unload the flat beds but none of them had reached this one yet. He jumped down and reached to lift the two women in turn and the canvas bag they insisted on bringing with them. When he asked what they had packed they both insisted that Wild West or Mars they weren’t leaving the TARDIS without at LEAST a change of underwear and a roll on deodorant.

“Hoi, there,” somebody called and The Doctor turned to see a man who seemed to be foreman of the teamsters who were loading horse drawn wagons from the flatbed railcars. “Keep away from there. That’s dynamite.”

“It is?” The Doctor looked up at the tarpaulin covered load. “They put my freight with the dynamite? I’ll be making a complaint when we’re back home in Sacramento.”

The foreman looked and saw the TARDIS. He declared himself puzzled because he didn’t remember it going on the car. The Doctor produced his psychic paper which resolved itself into a bill of lading for one piece of experimental telegraph equipment.

“Where you’ve got a railroad you have to have a telegraph,” he said. “Can you arrange for it to be stored safely in the goods yard?”

The man agreed to see to it at once. The Doctor grinned and turned back to the ladies. They walked up the line to where the paying passengers alighted at a makeshift wooden walkway that served as a platform. There weren’t many women among those passengers, Rose noticed. Just two whose clothes immediately put them in the ‘saloon girl’ category and one in a very plain black dress, even more puritanically buttoned than theirs, who stayed very close to a man in a clergyman’s clothes. The rest of the ‘quality’ passengers from the front car were clearly merchants and businessmen of various types. The cheaper car behind expelled a mass of Chinamen who were quickly herded away by work bosses.

The Doctor led them out of the station and towards the ‘town’ which consisted of one single street of wooden buildings with those high false fronts they had all seen so often in western films. Grace seemed startled by what she was seeing. She turned around and stared at the tree covered mountains that rose above the town.

“Doctor, you DID bring me home,” she said in a rather choked voice. “This is where I was born. It’s the town of Alta. Only… What year did you say it was?”

“1865,” The Doctor answered. He sniffed the air. It was a bit nippy with a smell of snow coming from the peaks of those Sierra Nevada mountains. “About October, I’d say.”

“A hundred years exactly before I was born,” she said. “Do you think the TARDIS knew?”

“I didn’t know THAT,” The Doctor replied. “I thought you were from San Francisco.”

“No, I only work there. Alta is a bit of a one horse town even in my time. I had to go away to medical school, and the jobs were in the city. I haven’t been home for YEARS.”

“It looks like the railway stops here,” Rose noted as she looked back and saw the activity going on by the railroad and the unmistakeable signs of a workcamp the other side of the rails.

“Yes!” Grace looked excited now. “1865. This was as far as the Central Pacific Railroad had got. Sixty nine miles from Sacramento, where it began. Still miles and miles of the Sierra Nevadas to bridge or tunnel through. The bankers were panicking. And by Christmas work was practically halted by the weather.”

“So here we all are!” The Doctor said. “Holed up for the winter.”

“I don’t think so,” Rose said. “WE have the TARDIS. This is a VISIT to the wild west. By the way, technically, IS this the wild west?”

“No technically about it. We’re in the west, and it’s wild.” The Doctor glanced at his watch and then at the saloon with the traditional swing doors. Somebody came flying out of it backwards as he steered his women well out of the way. He looked at a sign that said ‘Temperance Hotel’ and noticed the clergyman and his wife going inside. He headed there. On his own, he might have been tempted to jump into an old fashioned bar-room brawl. But he wasn’t going to take Grace or Rose in there in a month of Sundays.

The Temperance Hotel was a haven of quiet. In the lounge they found tea being served in good quality china by a timid looking girl with a white apron over her puritan-black dress. The Doctor smiled at the attempts by his two modern ladies to copy the manners of the two other women in the room - the clergyman’s wife and a woman who, if you cut her in half would have ‘spinster school teacher’ through her like a stick of rock.

Which was ODD since there wasn’t a school in Alta, yet.

A gaunt looking woman who had introduced herself as Mrs Grubb when they signed in at the reception rang the gong heralding supper. At once everyone moved together through to a dining room where grace was said very properly before a meal of meat pies and potatoes and gravy was served. A buzz of conversation ensued, which The Doctor took a circumspect part in though Rose and Grace stayed quiet.

“Excuse me, sir,” said the man sitting opposite who had the look of a travelling salesman. “You’re not from Salt Lake City are you?”

“Er… no…” The Doctor replied. “What makes you think…”

“Well, a man with two ladies, in a town where most men don’t even have one…”

Rose giggled. Grace stifled a laugh.

“Ah,” The Doctor said. “I see your point. No, this young lady is my wife, Rose, and this is my sister, Grace. Her husband is an army officer back in San Francisco.”

“I see,” the man said. “Not really a place to bring ladies, all the same. Especially not at the present, with winter coming on, a chance of being snowed in, food likely to get scarce.”

“And the unexplained deaths,” said another man.

“Unexplained?” The Doctor asked with a raised eyebrow.

Mrs Grubb looked unhappy at the turn of the conversation, but the speaker didn’t seem to take the hint from her frozen expression.

“You understand, this is the railhead. There’s blasting going on, trees being felled, rails and sleepers being hauled. Pickaxes and sledgehammers and steel pins the size of your hand. Accidents happen. On top of that, there’s the drinkers and gamblers and the chancers in the saloons and the houses of ill-repute and every man has at least one gun. When I say UNEXPLAINED I mean….”

The landlady coughed meaningfully but again nobody seemed to notice.

“The Chinese workers are starting to get the wind up,” said another man. “They say it’s a Ya-goo-eye…”

“Yaoguai?” The Doctor queried.

“Yes, that’s the word. You’ve heard of it?”

“I spent some time in Shanghai before I was a respectable married man,” he said in plausible explanation. “A Yaoguai is a demon in Chinese myth. Specifically one that feeds off the life force of the very old or the very young, but it can be a general term for any kind of demon. It…”

“That is enough!” Mrs Grubb finally snapped. “I’ll have no more ungodly talk at this table.”

The Doctor looked at her and smiled disarmingly.

“Quite right, ma’am,” he said contritely. “My apologies.”

“Most likely that’s just heathen superstition,” somebody said. “They’re foreign and they’ve no idea of Christian behaviour. What can you expect?”

Everyone seemed to agree on that point. It wasn’t EXACTLY prejudice, more a lack of knowledge of a culture not of their own. But it was the point where prejudice was born.

“I’ll say this for them,” said the man who had brought up the unexplained deaths. “They’re good workers. As long as there’s somebody who can translate instructions they get on with the job. And they don’t steal and they don’t spend their spare time drinking and fraternising with loose women.”

It would be churlish, The Doctor thought, to point out that the reason they didn’t do those things was that they weren’t especially welcome in the saloons and brothels where the, presumably Christian, white men spent their spare time and spare money. But the backhanded compliment to the migrant workers who were helping to build the railroad that would unite the United States of America put a perspective on the ‘heathen foreigners’. Parson Bell, the clergymen, gently steered the subject elsewhere but The Doctor kept the idea of unexplained deaths in the forefront of his mind.

“You know, Doctor,” Rose said later when they went up to their rooms. “I imagined a more exciting way of spending an evening in the American West than listening to Parson Bell reading from the bible and Mrs Bell leading us in hymn singing.”

“Me, too,” Grace said. They both sat on the big patchwork quilted bed in the main bedroom as The Doctor lit lamps and closed the drapes. “It always LOOKED a lot more exciting than that.”

“I’m sure it DID,” The Doctor answered. He stood at the window and looked out at the nightlife of Alta, California. There were lights blazing in the two saloons and the ‘house of ill repute’ where the loose women did a roaring trade. There were men coming in and out of all three buildings and milling about the street. A lot of them were drunk.

As he watched, a shot rang out in the street and there were shouts and a scream. He saw a man fall to the ground and another man run for it through the crowd. He didn’t know what it was about, but he guessed it was nothing unusual after the sun went down in Alta, California, in the Fall of 1865.

He turned and looked at the two women. They had heard the sounds as well. Both looked nervous.

“Get ready for bed, both of you,” he said. “I’ll be right here, keeping an eye on things.”

Grace went to the room next door, leaving the communicating door ajar. Rose got into a calico nightdress that was as demure as the day dress she set aside carefully to wear again the next day. The Doctor left his window post long enough to kiss her goodnight and went back to keep his eyes peeled for any unspecified danger.

“It’s not exactly what I expected,” Rose whispered from the bed as two more gunshots rang out in the street below. “Any of it. It’s kind of scary just LIVING here. And I’m a Londoner. I’ve been up the West End on a Saturday night. But this…”

“Yeah,” The Doctor agreed. “I should have known better. I’ve been to the ‘wild west’ before. I suppose I just fancied the chance of a mystery tour in history. I’ve been sitting on my backside for so long. But there’s adventure and there’s adventure.”

“When were you here before?” Rose asked, despite herself.

“Not HERE precisely. I was in Tombstone, Arizona, in 1881.”

“Tombstone? There really IS a place called that? I always thought it was made up.”

“No, It’s real. So are all the people you’re thinking of right now. Doc Holliday… I got mistaken for him and nearly shot by the Clantons. And Wyatt Earp was there. All that crowd. The Gunfight at the OK Corral really happened. Me and Dodo and Steven had slipped out of town before it all kicked off, though.”

“Doctor!” Rose sat up and looked at him. “You CAUSED the Gunfight at the OK Corral?”

“I didn’t mean to,” he protested.

“Like you didn’t mean to cause the Great Fire of London, either,” she retorted. “I heard THAT story.”

“Go to sleep,” he said, knowing he wasn’t going to win a debate about his accidental impact on Earth history.

“Doctor,” she told him. “I may be a bit phased by the goings on out there, but I don’t HAVE to be protected. You taught me to look after myself.”

“Only for when I’m not around to look after you,” he answered. “Right now, I am. And I’m looking after you and Grace as long as we’re in this place. I wish I hadn’t let that teamster take the TARDIS off to the freightyard. Should have kept it with me. We could have just left Mrs Grubb the room and board and gone.”

“Well, we’re here now, and maybe in daylight the place might be a bit less hectic.”

“Maybe,” he conceded. “Grace said there’s a rather nice lake just beyond the railroad. Maybe we could hire a horse and buggy and take a ride out to look at it.”

“Sounds a good plan.” She snuggled down into the bed. There was a warming pan in it, a metal container with hot coals inside and a calico cover to stop her burning her feet on it. The bed was really quite cosy. “Will you come to bed at all?” she asked. “It’s lonely without you.”

“When it gets quiet out there. When the saloons get a bit calmer and the ladies of negotiable affection call it a night.”

“You can negotiate my affection any time.”

The Doctor laughed softly and turned his face to look out of the window at the scene in the street below. There had been at least three knife fights in the half hour he had been watching, and a dozen assaults. Men with no money were trying to rob it from those who had money. There was an ongoing row about a card game, and several 1865 variations on that old Friday night chucking out time perennial, “What are you doing looking at my bird?”

It was rough, nasty stuff and he knew he shouldn’t have brought Rose and Grace into it. He had let himself be swayed by their enthusiasm when he knew very well it was not like it was in the films.

He wasn’t sure what he thought he needed to guard against. The hotel was locked up for the night, after all. But that comment about him having two ladies in a town where most men didn’t have one had worried him. It was just possible somebody might fancy their chances.

Midnight came and went as he kept his vigil in the quiet room. One o’clock, two o’clock. But it was 1865 and pub closing hours hadn’t been invented and even if they had, there was nobody to enforce them. A Sheriff’s Office was among the buildings on the south side of the one street town but it had a closed sign on it. The last sheriff had quit suddenly and taken the last train back to Sacramento. They were still waiting for a replacement.

So the saloons stayed open and so did the brothel and the gambling den. And Parson Bell and his wife and Mrs Grubb of the Temperance Hotel and the schoolteacher with no school tried to live a sober life and not end up as victims of the madness.

A railroad would be built and Alta would settle down to being a backwater town, sixty nine miles from Sacramento. Grace would be born there a century from now.

There was hope for the place, then.

It was maybe an hour before dawn when things finally DID become quieter. He was starting to consider leaving his post by the window and cuddling up in the warm bed with his wife. He watched with almost idle curiosity as a man who was quite a lot the worse for drink weaved along the road, attempting to step onto the raised wooden sidewalk but seeming unable to work out how to lift one foot onto the step and then bring the other to follow. It was poor amusement, but he kept watching to see if the man figured it out any time soon.

A figure stepped out from the darkness. It was a woman. Not, he noted, a saloon girl or one of the ‘loose women’. If he had to guess, he would have said it was the school teacher. The outline of the dress seemed to suggest it.

He was asking himself what a patron of the Temperance Hotel was doing meeting drunken men in the dead of night when he had the horrific answer. She reached out and touched the man on the shoulder and he screamed in terror. The Doctor pushed open the window and looked at the drop down to the ground. It was do-able. He dropped down and started to run.

Rose woke just as he jumped out of the window. She got out of bed and ran to the window in time to see him running down the road towards the place where a body was lying.

Grace came to the door. She didn’t look as if she had gone to sleep at all. She was still in the day dress although she had undone the buttoned up bodice.

“What’s happening?” she asked.

“The trouble magnet found some trouble,” Rose answered. As Grace started to button up her dress and find her shoes she rummaged in the canvas bag and found a pair of jeans and a jumper and started to pull on a pair of modern slip on ankle boots. She knew it was anachronistic but if there was trouble going down she wasn’t going to tackle it in a long dress that required corsetry to get the buttons to close.

The Doctor rolled as he landed and came up running. From out of the corner of his eye he saw two other men shout and come running. One was the saloon barman with his apron around his waist. The other was the teamster foreman who had arranged the unloading of the TARDIS from the dynamite wagon. Both stopped in their tracks as they saw the dead man. The teacher woman glowed momentarily with a reddish hue. She looked around at all three men, approaching from three sides, gave an animal growl and then turned and ran.

“Get her!” the barman shouted as he and the teamster gave chase. The Doctor knelt over the body. He glanced around to make sure there was nobody else around and took out his sonic screwdriver. The medical scan told him the man was definitely dead – as if that wasn’t obvious. It told him a couple of other interesting things, too.

The two were yelling as they ran and people were stirring. A crowd was starting to gather before they returned to report that the woman had got clean away over the railtracks.

The word ‘murder’ spread through the crowd like the proverbial wildfire. The Doctor found it odd since he had seen at least three of what he would call murders on the same street in the course of one drink-fuelled night. But apparently they really did consider that par for the course. What upset them was people having the life sucked out of them.

“It’s the same as the others,” somebody said as one or two men stepped near the body and gingerly retreated. “She must have done them all.”

“Maybe she did,” The Doctor said quietly. He stood up and pulled his psychic paper from his pocket. He held it up high so that those who really were close enough to examine it could see that he was the duly appointed sheriff of Alta, sworn in by the Governor in Sacramento. “I decided to see what was going on in this town before I declared myself,” he explained. “Now it looks like I’m in business. You and you, pick up the body and come with me.”

The teamster and the barman gingerly lifted the body. The Doctor glanced up at the window of the hotel where Rose and Grace were both watching. He waved reassuringly to them as he ran ahead of the crowd to the locked Sheriff’s office. The sonic screwdriver made short work of that and he stepped inside. He lit a lamp on the desk and found two more to illuminate the room.

“Put the body in one of the cells for now,” The Doctor said, picking up the bunch of cell door keys from the desk and giving them to the teamster. He looked in the desk drawer and found a genuine sheriff’s badge and pinned it to himself in case anyone felt like arguing about his credentials. He found a second badge and turned to the teamster as he came out of the cell behind the barman who beat a hasty retreat out of the office. He looked a steady and, a rare thing in this town, sober man.

“Here,” he said. “You’re my deputy for the time being. What’s your name?”

“Charles Brewster,” he replied as he accepted the badge. “Charlie…”

“Ok, Charlie, one of the keys on that chain should open the rifle cupboard there. We’re going to need firepower.”

Charlie seemed to know what he was doing. The Doctor nodded with something like satisfaction as his deputy began to check and load rifles. He, himself, picked up a pair of six shooters and a gunbelt that was in the same cupboard and loaded them with rounds. As he buckled the belt, trying not to enjoy the idea too much there was a commotion among the crowd gathering outside. He heard Rose’s voice above the hubbub and she pushed her way through the mob, dressed in 23rd century jeans and his 1865 overcoat, kicking the shins of anyone who didn’t get out of her way fast enough with the heel of boots she had bought in 21st century Italy.

“You need to come to the hotel, Doctor,” she said when she reached him. “There’s a crowd there, too. They’re after taking the teacher. They say she murdered somebody. They…. Oh Doctor, they’re talking about lynching!”

“Here,” he said taking one of the rifles deputy Charlie was holding and giving it to her. “You’re deputised as well. I’m all out of badges, but that should do just as well. Hold the fort here.”

“But she’s a woman,” Deputy Charlie protested.

“Yeah,” The Doctor replied with a grin. “But didn’t you ever hear the expression ‘the female of the species is more deadly than the male?’ You can handle yourself, can’t you, Rose?”

“Course I can,” she replied with a grin that matched his. She wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but whatever it was, it was something in The Doctor’s ballpark, not just Friday night street fighting. Something the two of them used to handle together.

She could handle it.

Deputy Charlie followed The Doctor as he stepped outside. The crowds parted to let them through, but they closed up again afterwards and followed them across the road to make the lynch mob outside the Temperance Hotel bigger.

Again, the crowd parted for a man with two guns and a sheriff’s badge. The Doctor, a self-declared pacifist, wondered briefly what that said about the power of the gun in a place like this. But he soon had other things to think about.

He could hear another familiar voice as he made his way upstairs. One even he didn’t like to argue with.

There was a small crowd pressing around a bedroom door on the landing. Mrs Grubb and Parson Bell were trying to keep them back but the scene was looking seriously ugly.

“Don’t make me have to use these,” The Doctor shouted, raising the two pistols in the air.

The crowd backed off and he holstered them again. He tried the handle of the door. It was on a latch but it was wedged, too. A chair or something, he guessed. He knocked but he wasn’t the first to try to gain entry and Grace just yelled back something about being armed and not letting anyone get past her.

The Doctor sighed and shoulder-barged the door. It pushed inwards, sending the chair flying and Mrs Grubb into palpitations about her door. The Doctor stepped inside and ducked as a hot warming pan was swung at the place where his head would have been.

“Hey,” he protested. “You’re supposed to be my doctor. What happened to Primum non nocere?” He span around again as Charlie raised his rifle, thinking he was in danger. “No, Grace and I are ok. You watch my back there.”

He took the warming pan from Grace’s suddenly trembling hands and tossed it aside. He hugged her briefly before turning to the woman she was protecting. She was dressed in a plain white cotton nightdress, hunched up against the headboard of the bed, clutching a bible, of all things, and trying to say the verse of the 23rd psalm about ‘walking through the shadow of the valley of death’ through her terrified tears.

She didn’t look like a supernatural murderer who sucked the life out of unsuspecting drunks. And even if she was, even if this was 1865 and they were sixty nine miles of railroad track from the nearest courthouse, lynch law was not going to apply while he had breath in his body.

“You’d better come with me,” he said gently, raising her to her feet. “Grace, find her shoes and coat.” He looked around at the crowd by the door, held off by Charlie and his rifle, flanked by Mrs Grubb and the Parson. If the combined force of deputy, Temperance landlady and man of the cloth wasn’t enough then the stony expression on his face was enough to make them all step back.

They got the teacher something like decently covered. Grace put her arm around her shoulders and guided her as he led them both out of the room.

“There will be no lynching here,” he declared as they reached the street and the crowd murmured over-excitedly. “There WILL be justice. And I will ensure it is done.”

A shot rang out. The Doctor raised his hand more quickly than the eye could see. Grace watched when he put his arm down and suppressed a gasp as he discreetly dropped the bullet he had caught in the palm of his hand.

“The NEXT person to do THAT will be in a cell on a charge of attempted murder,” he told the crowd. “Back off, NOW. Go to your homes peaceably.”

At least half of them did so immediately. It thinned out the crowd and allowed them to cross the road and gain the relative safety of the sheriff’s office.

“You come and sit here,” The Doctor told the teacher woman, pulling up a chair beside the desk and sitting her down in it. He looked around at Charlie who had bolted and barred the door and was watching the street from the small window. “How are the crowds now?”

“They’re mostly moving off,” he answered. “A few pockets of hotheads. I see a few of my men there. I’ll be reading them the riot act later. If I’m not still on deputy duty, that is.”

“Actually, your men could make themselves useful,” he said. “Go and tell them to get my box. The one you stored for me. Bring it here. It could be useful.”

“For telegraphing back to Sacramento for a judge?” Charlie asked. “For the trial.”

“If it comes to that, yes,” The Doctor answered. “But for now I’ve got other uses for it.”

Charlie went to do his bidding. Rose took over watching the door with the shotgun prominently held. Grace looked around, wondering what she could do and set to work getting the stove in the corner of the room working. There was water and a kettle, and a packet of tea. No sugar or milk, but it would be a hot drink at least.

The Doctor turned to his prisoner. He adjusted the sonic screwdriver and scanned her quickly, and then he put his hand on her forehead. He calmed her racing thoughts first, and then he read as much as he needed to be sure of one thing.

“It WASN’T you, was it?” he said. “You were asleep in your bed when the man in there was murdered.”

“YES,” she cried. “Yes, I was. But they said… they…” She looked at him in astonishment as his words sank in. “You believe me?”


Just being believed seemed to have a great effect on her. She calmed down quite a bit and almost managed a watery smile at The Doctor.

“You know,” Rose said with a grin. “You now have THREE women to yourself in a town full of men.”

“Yes, I do,” he answered, matching her grin before he turned back to the school teacher. “You didn’t talk very much at supper,” he said. “I didn’t get your name.”

“Sarah Jane Miller,” she replied.

The Doctor smiled.

“In all my life I have only ever met one other Sarah Jane. And she was a really smart, wonderful lady. I have a feeling you could live up to the name. So, Sarah, where do you come from?”

“New York State,” she said. “I travelled out here for the work, like a lot of folks have done.”

“To a town with no work for a respectable woman?” The Doctor queried. She swallowed hard, knowing that he could see through her story.

“You had some trouble back East, didn’t you,” he said. “And the trouble followed you?”

Sarah glanced nervously at the corpse in the barred cell behind them. She cleared her throat and tried to speak but the words failed her. Grace came from the stove and pressed a cup of strong black tea into her hands. She clutched it almost as desperately as she had clutched the bible before and as she sipped it the sorry tale came out.

“It started four years ago,” she said. “I was living in a small town near Albany. I had a little house next to the school where I taught. There was a stand of trees behind. It was winter and dark and suddenly there was a great noise. I went outside and the trees were on fire. People said afterwards it must have been lightning, but it wasn’t. It was something else. Something evil. Something came out of the fire. It looked like a Human being. It was SHAPED like a Human, but it wasn’t Human. Just Human shaped – like the clay the Lord made Adam from. Only it walked towards me. It touched me. And I felt as if my soul was being drawn out of me. And the creature… it took my form. My face, my clothes. I had a cloak with a hood on me when I went out and it copied it exactly. It was horrible to behold. It didn’t speak. It just looked at me and laughed and ran away into the woods when it heard people coming to fight the fire. I must have fainted. I woke up later in my own bed with my sister tending me. And I really thought at first it was a dream, that I’d had some kind of turn. But then things began to happen.”

She paused and swallowed more tea. Grace touched her shoulder reassuringly. The Doctor said nothing. He just watched her carefully. Grace had a feeling he was working something out.

“It didn’t happen often. Maybe once every few weeks. But people were found lying in the woods. They were alive, but exhausted, pale and drained looking, and they would be weak and sick for weeks after. And they all said they thought they saw a woman in a black hood before the fit took them. I don’t think anybody suspected me. Some of the attacks happened in the day time when I was teaching. One was on a Sunday when I was playing the organ in church. But I knew it was only a matter of time. So I resigned my position and took what money I had and moved where I wasn’t known. I went to New York city first. And…”

“And it happened there, too?” The Doctor anticipated her words.

“The landlady of the lodging house where I was staying. It was horrible. I wasn’t suspected that time either, but I knew I had to get away. I boarded a ship heading for San Francisco and I thought the water might keep the demon away. But it didn’t. Eighteen months the journey took. And there was an attack at least once a month. They put it down to fever. But just before we reached San Francisco a man was killed. Drained and white looking he was. I knew I couldn’t stay in San Francisco. I went to Sacramento, and then I came out here by train. I thought… a new place where nobody knows anybody. And…. Oh, it’s a wicked, terrible thought, but so many people are killed here, almost every day, I didn’t think it would be noticed if it happened again… But just lately it’s been happening more and more.”

“Law of diminishing returns,” The Doctor said. “When it attacked you the first time it got enough strength to take on a form and you just fainted. But the next people were left badly ill. And finally it killed one. Then it had to keep killing. It’s like a junkie. It needs more and more to get the same effect.”

“More and more what?” Rose asked.

“Iron. The iron in the bloodstream. The body in there has it all removed.”

“But,” Grace interrupted. “Removing the iron from the blood would be painful, if it was even possible. But surely it wouldn’t kill? The people who were just knocked out and woke up feeling terrible… that’s more likely.”

“To GET the iron it has to burst the red blood cells. When it was just a few, the people got ill but recovered. But now it’s destroying ALL the cells and they die.”

“What could DO that?” Grace asked.

“A demon,” Sarah said. “That’s what it is. I’m possessed by a demon. You should have let them lynch me, sir. If you had, this would be over.”

“No, it wouldn’t,” The Doctor told her. “If you died, the creature would still live. You were the first Human it saw. It took on your appearance because it extracted something called DNA from you. Don’t worry what that means, but it meant it could copy you. It has shadowed you around an entire continent. But its life isn’t dependent on yours. It just follows you out of habit, or malice, perhaps. But if you died, it would just latch onto some other innocent soul.”

“Then what can be done?” Sarah asked. “It will go on doing this forever.”

“No, it won’t,” The Doctor said. “Because I’m here.”

“Charlie’s coming back,” Rose reported. “He’s got the TARDIS with him.”

“Good,” The Doctor said. “We can get some milk and sugar in this tea and some breakfast.”

“You surely didn’t send Charlie out there just so we can have milk in our tea?” Grace asked.

“No, course not,” he replied. “I want to get a fix on the iron fiend.” He went to the door and unbarred it and threw it wide open. It was a tight squeeze but the teamster crew manhandled the TARDIS inside.

“Thank you, lads,” The Doctor said appreciatively as he checked it for scratches. “Much appreciated.”

“Charlie said you might need a posse,” said one of the men. “To get the real killer.”

“I very well might,” The Doctor said. “Come on back an hour after dawn.”

The men seemed to consider that an acceptable idea. They went off happily. Charlie took up his post at the window again and Grace came and sat with Sarah as The Doctor and Rose went to the TARDIS. The Doctor opened the door and they stepped inside.

“What…” Sarah began. “What are they both doing in there?”

“It’s a sort of scientific box,” Grace explained. “The… the Sheriff… isn’t just a sheriff. He’s a very clever man. We call him The Doctor.”

The TARDIS door opened and Rose came out with a basket of groceries. She set about making a fresh pot of tea with milk and sugar and frying bacon, sausages and eggs in a big skillet pan. Charlie sniffed the air appreciatively.

“That smells better than salt pork,” he said.

“It does, doesn’t it,” The Doctor said as he stepped out of the TARDIS. “You sit down and have some breakfast, Charlie. I’ll take the watch for a bit.”

He accepted a fresh cup of tea from Rose and hugged it in his hands as the rest of them ate. He wasn’t feeling hungry himself. But it was important for Humans to eat. Sarah certainly needed it. She was thoroughly traumatised and the air of something like normality that the breakfast had allowed was cheering her up no end.

Dawn was breaking outside. It was a cold morning with the sky leaden and promising snow. But that didn’t stop the die hards who still hung around in the street glaring at the sheriff’s office. A hot-blooded mob could easily boil up again. Especially if he was seen leaving.

He could take the TARDIS, of course. But there were some very good reasons not to. Sarah and Charlie were two. Revealing the secret of the TARDIS to people who didn’t have First Contact with extra terrestrial life was something he had done on occasion. There was Charles Dickens in 1869 – four years from now, he remembered with a smile. And Leonardo da Vinci knew ALL about him. He’d spent hours chatting with him in his Florentine workshop with the TARDIS parked against one wall. One day Leonardo’s lost sketch book was going to turn up and surprise a lot of people.

But generally it was better not to traumatise people. Sarah already had enough to contend with knowing that a demon that fell from the sky had attached itself to her. She didn’t need to know that the only person who could save her from it was an alien from another time and place. And Charlie had enough on his plate with this great race to connect the West and East of a continent. He didn’t need to know there were other dimensions to the universe than those two.

He was going to have to go out the front door. He was going to have to tote a pair of guns and at least look as if he meant to use them.

And he was going to have to leave Rose and Grace here to look after Sarah.

“Hey.” Rose came to his side, bringing him a plate with a sausage sandwich on it. He ate it absently. “Whatever happens, we all trust you.”

“I know,” he said, touching her cheek with his finger. “I trust you, too. Not sure I trust the citizenry of Alta, California.”

“Me neither, but you DID teach me to look after myself.”

The Doctor looked at her in the jeans and a man’s coat. Yes, she COULD certainly look after herself. He smiled a wide smile.


“You know, Calamity Jane was 17 years old in this year. Allegedly the first woman to wear trousers on the frontier.”

“She’s a real person, too?” Rose queried.


“If it turns out she’s an old flame of yours, I’ll find a way of making you very sorry.”

“I bet you would,” The Doctor answered. “Meantime, make me proud. I’m going to have to rely on you. You’ve been around with me. You know how to handle yourself. When I have to go out there, you’re in charge here.”

There was a stir outside. He was alert again. But there was nothing to worry about. The ‘posse’ were riding into town from the south end of the street and from across the road Parson and Mrs Bell were heading their way. Neither party were stopped by the lingering remnants of the mob. The Doctor watched them carefully as Rose went to the door and let in the ‘friendlies’.

“We brought Miss Miller’s clothes,” the Parson said. “And her prayer book. I thought she might need it. I thought she was being held in custody though?” He looked at Sarah, sitting by the stove talking quietly with Charlie.

“She’s under my protection,” The Doctor said. “By the way, if there was any doubt in your minds, she IS innocent. Go and sit and chat with her if you want. I need Charlie now.”

“Yes, sir,” The Parson said. He and his wife went to the warm place by the stove and sat. Charlie came to The Doctor’s side.

“We’re going out now,” The Doctor told him. “I would have preferred to go alone, but the phrase ‘safety in numbers’ comes to mind. We’ll take the posse. Rose…”

He reached to her and drew her closer.

“It’s possible the mob may try to get in here. I need you to hold the fort. Literally. But be careful. If you have to shoot anyone, shoot to wound. If anybody out there dies by your hand, you’re not of this timeline. It could cause dangerous ripples in time.”

“I never imagined having to fire the rifle. I thought holding it at them would be enough.”

“It might be. I hope it will. But I can’t be sure. This… This is REAL stuff. It’s not a film. It’s not neat and tidy. It’s certainly not romantic. There are people out there who want to hang Sarah from the nearest tree. And they’ll do it to you and Grace, too, for trying to stop them. That’s the reality.”

“I understand. But, hey, I AM the one who defeated the Dalek Emperor while you were stumped. And Grace has tackled The Master. We can handle it.”

“Good girl,” he told her. He kissed her once then he turned away. He and Charlie left the building. Rose shut the door and bolted and barred it behind them. She half closed the window shutters, leaving a sliver she could see through. From that vantage point she saw The Doctor climb up onto a horse provided by the teamster posse and lead them wherever he thought they had to go.

He hadn’t actually SAID where he was going, but she supposed he knew what he was doing.

He usually did.

He DID know what he was doing. The Doctor told himself that as he rode slightly ahead of the group, following the route he had committed to memory from the lifesigns monitor. He had a plan in his head. If Rose had known what it was, she would have locked him in the Sheriff’s Office. But it was a plan.

“Doctor…” Charlie said, riding up alongside him. “That is right isn’t it? The ladies said that’s what they call you. Even your wife.”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s what people call me. Is there something on your mind?”

“We’re not looking for a Human, are we? I saw what happened to that man.”

“No,” The Doctor said. “It’s not Human.”

“And you knew that from the start? You knew that Sarah… Miss Miller… was innocent. You knew that what we were dealing with wasn’t… of this world.”

“I knew,” he said, noting that Charlie had said ‘Sarah’ before reverting to the polite form of reference to a lady.

“You’re not a regular sort of sheriff, are you? You’re here because of this thing. You and your strange box. And when it’s done, you’ll be gone again.”

“Yes,” The Doctor told him. “I’m a specialist in these unexplained things that shouldn’t be here. You have hazards enough building a railroad across a range of mountains they say you can’t build a railroad through. Don’t believe them, by the way. You’ll do it. And it WILL unite the country like the men who dreamed it believed it would. You have enough of the usual hazards with snow and ice, blasting, lawlessness everywhere you pitch camp. You don’t need a Shadow Demon disguised as a nice young woman wreaking havoc. I’m here to take it down. Then me and my ladies and my strange box will be riding on out of here and your lives can go on as normal.”

“And Miss Miller?”

“She’ll need some good friends to help her over the shock of it all. And not just Parson and Mrs Bell with their prayer books.” The Doctor looked at Charlie and half smiled. Charlie caught his expression and smiled wider. There didn’t need to be anything else said for a while as they made their way along the partially completed railroad, beyond the railhead where the track had been laid so far. They passed through a cutting where rock walls rose up over their heads exposing strata that had been beneath the ground since the tectonic shifts of the newborn Earth had pushed these mountains skywards. The Doctor knew of laser cutting tools that could have done it in a day with the walls nicely heat-glazed and smooth. But that was easy. What the people working this railroad had done with dynamite and shovels and picks and the sweat of honest immigrant brows was magnificent.

And it didn’t deserve to have this alien entity ruining it for them.

“We’ve got trouble,” Rose said, turning to the small group within the Sheriff’s office. “Look.”

Grace came to the window and watched with her as a new crowd, freshly breakfasted and muffled against the cold, started to encroach again. She turned and picked up one of the rifles and began to load it.

“You know how to do that?” Rose asked in surprise.

“I live in California,” she answered in explanation. “Reverend… We can’t expect you or your wife to stay here…”

“We’ll stay,” the Reverend said. “God’s work isn’t just done in chapel. And I think we’re needed here.”

There was a hammering on the door and a shout from outside. Somebody had been elected spokesperson for the mob.

“Bring out the murdering *****,” demanded the travelling salesman who had sat opposite them at supper yesterday evening. “There’s no argument with anyone else.”

“She’s under the protection of the sheriff,” Rose shouted back. “He said you’re to go to your homes peaceably and stay there.”

“He’s not here now,” the salesman replied. “He’s off on some wild goose chase. But the real murderer is here. And we want her. And no straw-haired woman, even if she’s wearing pants, is going to stop us.”

“Don’t let them take me,” Sarah begged. Mrs Bell took her hand as they recited psalms together quietly.

“Go home,” Rose repeated.

“Open this door,” the salesman demanded and the crowd bayed in agreement with him and moved forward threateningly. There were at least fifty of them. If they were really determined they could rip the front off the wooden building between them.

“Let me speak to them,” Parson Bell said, and Rose stepped aside as the preacher went to the window and addressed the crowd, berating their lawlessness, their intolerance, their lack of Christian spirit and imploring them to return to their homes.

Rose pushed him to the ground as a bullet narrowly missed his head and lodged in the far wall of the office. She quickly stood up as Grace helped the shaken parson up from the floor and fired a shot over the heads of the crowd. They backed off, but not far. She took careful aim and left a hole in the salesman’s Stetson. He turned and ran but the rest remained, contemplating their next move.

Rose contemplated HER next move. She wondered if it had been too soon to try firing over their heads. The only thing left was to actually fire AT some of them, shooting to wound as The Doctor had instructed her. And where would that end? She couldn’t shoot them ALL.

“Please get back soon, Doctor,” she begged quietly. “I’m not sure we can hang on.”

There was trouble ahead. The Doctor didn’t need any more superior eyesight than his posse had to know that. The body language, even from a distance, of the Chinese workers and their American gang bosses was that of people with a problem they didn’t know how to deal with.

As they got closer, The Doctor heard a word repeated by the Chinese men that he had half expected, but still dreaded.

“Yaoguai!” they were yelling, and along with it the Chinese word for death.

“Who’s dead?” he demanded as he rode into the midst of the crowd and jumped down from the horse.

“Three of the Chinese workers and Tyrone, the fuse man,” the gang boss reported. He hadn’t seen the shiny sheriff badge The Doctor sported when he started to speak. There was something in those two crisply spoken words that demanded an answer without need of any symbolic authority. “They went into the new cut yonder, to set the charges for the next piece of blasting and we heard screams. One of the chinks came running back, screaming in gibberish and when I sent my men in they brought the four bodies out. It wasn’t a rock fall. There’s not a bruise on them. But they’re stone dead.”

The crowd stood aside to let The Doctor through and he took a cursory look at the four bodies laid out by the side of the future railroad. They were all the same as the one he had left in the jail cell.

“It’s gorged itself,” he said quietly to Charlie at his side. “It might be dormant. We have a chance.”

“What’s the plan then, Doctor?” he asked.

“Get everyone who doesn’t need to be here away,” he said. He turned to the gang boss. “Take your workers back down the line to the other side of the deep cut. Stay there until we come back.” He turned again and looked at the Chinese workers and he spoke to them in fluent mandarin that surprised them all. The word Yaoguai came up several times. When he was done they all bowed their heads to him and then picked up their shovels and picks and started to head back down the future railroad. The gang bosses followed.

“What did you say to them?” Charlie asked.

“That I was going in there to kill the Yaoguai and no more of their people would die needlessly.”

“CAN it be killed?”

“Yes, it can,” he answered. “And the same way any flesh and blood creature can be killed. It has a few tricks that humans don’t. But it IS flesh and blood of a kind. And enough hot lead in its body will kill it.”

Rose was forced to wound a dozen of the mob as the frenzy outside intensified. She aimed for their arms or legs and the precision The Doctor had taught her in the use of the sword and other non-projectile weapons gave her the steady hand and the keen eye that allowed her to get it right. They limped away moaning, but they would all live.

But for every one she wounded three more pressed forward. And now they had a new tactic. They had brought up a battering ram and were charging at the door. Sarah and Mrs Bell cried out in fear and increased the intensity of their prayers. The parson shouted at the window for them to desist their ungodly behaviour. Rose and Grace looked at each other and wondered what they could do.

“The TARDIS,” Grace said. “We could put it in front of the door.”

“We can try,” Rose admitted. “Reverend, come on, help us out.”

She had often wondered how much the TARDIS was supposed to weigh. Inside there were dozens, maybe hundreds of rooms, including the console room and the Cloister room and an engine room she had never seen unlocked. And yet, she had often seen it hauled manually. The teamsters yesterday had taken it down from the flatbed and onto a wagon which a horse had pulled to the goods yard and then Charlie and his friends had brought it here on another wagon.

And now she and Grace, and the Reverend, between them, pushed it up against the buckling door. It was hard going. None of them were especially skilled at furniture moving. But they did it, just as the door splintered. They FELT the vibration through the TARDIS exterior as the battering ram hit the back of it. She heard the yelps of pain from those outside who had felt the jarring reverberation.

“They could break the wall in,” Grace said. “But that would take longer. The Doctor will be back before then, surely?”

“I hope so,” Rose answered.

The Doctor walked ahead. Charlie and the posse were behind him as they came to what looked like a cave entrance. Except that it wasn’t natural. The hole in the rock, going back far enough for it to be dark inside, had been caused by blasting through. The rockface was so high here that a roof stubbornly remained even after several days of such blasting.

The perfect place for the Shadow Demon to hide. It would need a hiding place. It wasn’t like a vampire that only came out at night, or anything so fanciful. But it DID crave quiet, dark places when it had fed. It probably returned here before dawn after a night’s hunting. He wasn’t sure what brought it to the town to feed on that luckless drunk, but he might not have been the only victim. Doubtless other bodies would be found in the woods or the edge of the work camp.

The workers here had been an unexpected breakfast for the Demon. There was the possibility it might even be gorged now and unable to feast on anyone else.

But The Doctor wasn’t taking any chances. He told the others to stay right back as he approached the cave entrance.

They had tried to batter the wall in, and Rose had sent several dozen more whimpering and hopping away. They gave up that and stood back, firing pistols and rifles. Bullets embedded themselves in the thick walls built of planks of California redwood, a good, solid hardwood. But being in a building under armed siege, with the thunk of the bullets into the wood coming every few seconds, was disheartening. Parson Bell was doing his best to comfort Sarah and his wife. Grace was trying to reassure all of them. Rose wished there was somebody to reassure her. In the absence of The Doctor she was in charge. And there was nobody she could turn to. She wondered what it was like being him all the time. He was the most powerful man in the universe. Who could he turn to when he was in despair?

Her, of course. They looked after each other.

“Ooh, oh!” she cried softly as she saw movement among the crowd and realised they had a new, terrifying tactic. One that could finish them all off before The Doctor got back.

“Oh, no,” Grace whispered as she saw it, too. “They wouldn’t? How desperate ARE they? Who was that guy that they’re so upset about him dying?”

“He was nobody,” Rose answered. “Though The Doctor would say everybody is somebody. All life matters. I don’t know why they’re acting like this. People get shot here all the time. But they’ve gone bonkers about this. It’s a sort of mob mentality. They decided that they wanted a lynching, and they’re not going to be satisfied till they get one. It’s like… what’s that play… we read it at school and there was a film, too. The one with the witch-hunts… The Crucible. They got an idea in their heads and they weren’t happy until they’d thrown a witch on a bonfire.”

“I don’t think that’s a very good analogy to think of right now,” Grace said as the first burning brand fell on the tarred roof of the wooden building.

The Doctor walked forward slowly, taking his sonic screwdriver and turning it to penlight mode. The cave SEEMED empty. But he knew it wasn’t. He could almost FEEL the malevolent presence.

“Come on, then,” he called out. “Here you are. You’ve had a Chinese takeaway. Now I’m dessert. Come and have a piece of me.”

He saw the movement in the shadows and the creature seemed to fade in from invisibility. He wasn’t sure WHY they couldn’t feed while in their cloaked form. But it was fortunate for red blooded life forms the universe over that it was so. It meant there WAS a fighting chance of defeating them.

He stepped slowly back as the demon came forward. It looked a lot like Sarah Jane in a black cloak, except that Sarah was a pretty Human woman with a well scrubbed peaches and cream complexion whereas this creature had a face the colour of alabaster. The iron it stole from its victims didn’t remain in its blood stream for long and it was permanently anaemic, needing more and more victims to survive. Shadow Demons that couldn’t feed because they had landed in unpopulated areas starved to death. But this one wasn’t going to do that while there was a place like Alta for it to live on.

He was almost at the cave entrance when it reached out a hand to his neck. The hand had suckers on the palm like an octopus tentacle. It drew the iron from the broken blood cells through that, not from the mouth which was just a simulacrum of a mouth modelled on the woman whose form it had taken.

It fixed on his neck and tried to take the iron from his blood cells. But it wasn’t long before the simulacrum mouth opened in a cry of despair. It was sucking on an empty vessel. The Doctor’s blood WASN’T red. It didn’t have iron. His body produced a different metallic element that wasn’t added to the periodic table on Earth until something like the year 5,000.

“Charlie, open fire!” The Doctor yelled and he threw himself to the ground. It hurt landing on the rough, rocky surface, but not as much as if he had been in the path of the hail of gunfire that Charlie and the posse let loose. He heard the Shadow Demon scream with what sounded a little like Sarah’s voice, but not quite. A simulacrum voice. He felt its pale, ironless blood splash his hands as he kept them on his head and kept down. He saw the body fall as the gunfire ceased.

“That’s what killed them all?” Charlie and the posse stepped forward as The Doctor stood up. They all looked down at the bullet ridden corpse. It still vaguely looked like a chalk-faced version of Sarah and it was still dressed in a long black cloak. But it was dead.

“That’s the demon,” The Doctor confirmed. “The Yaoguai. The Chinese workers were right first time. The white men dismissed them as superstitious heathens. But that’s Human nature for you.” He looked at the creature for a long time. He didn’t feel any qualms about killing it. It had killed too many people for there to be any question of mercy. Besides, it was the only way to free an innocent young woman of a curse she didn’t deserve.

“Wrap it in a tarpaulin,” Charlie said. “Tie it to one of the spare horses. Do the same with the other bodies. We need to get back to town and show the real killer. This proves that Sarah didn’t do these murders. She was in the sheriff’s office all along.”

“Yes,” The Doctor said. “Good plan.” He hadn’t thought that far himself. It was smart thinking on Charlie’s part. He noted that, again, Charlie had said ‘Sarah’ instead of ‘Miss Miller’. He kept his own counsel about that.

Mrs Bell and Sarah were praying hard now, and crying at the same time. The roof was smouldering and smoke was starting to fill the room. Still more burning brands made of hay, twisted hard so that it was like a stick, fell on the roof, and one actually came through the window. Rose stamped on it until it went out, but it was only a matter of time.

She thought of a couple of movies where people had been herded into buildings that were then set alight. There was one she recalled where the only thing left in the morning, when the menfolk returned, was a pile of ashes and a necklace worn by the handsome hero’s girlfriend. Her hand went to her neck where she still wore the unique silver pendant, studded with diamonds in the shape of the constellation of Kasterborus, where The Doctor’s home world used to be.

Would that be all that was left of her when he returned?

“The TARDIS,” Grace said. “We’d be safe in there, wouldn’t we?”

“Yes,” Rose said. “But…” She looked at the three contemporary people. The steam locomotive was the most technological thing they knew. The TARDIS was an anachronism that would blow their minds.

But it was that or a horrible death.

“Reverend Bell,” she said. “You believe in miracles, don’t you?”

“Well, yes,” he replied. “Of course. I believe in the prayers of the righteous being answered.”

“Well, we’re the righteous, and we have a miracle right here,” she said. “Don’t worry about what it looks like on the inside. Just believe in it.” She reached in her jeans pocket for her TARDIS key and unlocked the door. Grace went to Sarah and Mrs Bell and reached out her hands to them.

“Trust us,” she said. The two women slowly stood and walked, hugging each other in fear and trepidation, and perhaps a shred of hope, towards the TARDIS door. The Reverend looked at the blue box that barely looked big enough to contain them all, and noted that it was made of wood just as likely to burn as the roof over his head right now.

But he put his faith in the miracle the blonde woman in strange clothes promised him.

The Doctor and the posse had noticed the burning smell and seen the smoke even before they reached the town. They had wondered what it boded, but had not been especially worried. When they reached the crowded street, though, their hearts all sank.

“Rose!” The Doctor screamed, spurring on his horse as people scattered. “Grace.”

“Sarah!” Charlie yelled with as much grief in his voice as he followed. They both jumped from their horses in front of the burning sheriff’s office. Charlie tried to reach the door but the flames had taken a hold. The Doctor held him back.

“You MURDERERS!” Charlie screamed at the crowds. “You killed five innocent people. You…. You….”

The Doctor held him back from tearing at the nearest people with his bare hands. His own grief was held in, for now, though he had the same feeling of disgust for those who had done this horrible thing, and those who had stood by and let them.

“Get that fire out NOW!” he yelled. Some of the posse as well as a few of the townspeople who had come to their senses, ran to the water pump and started a bucket chain. Meanwhile the bodies were handed down from the horses and laid out on the ground. The townspeople saw the chalk-faced body of the real killer and the other victims of its murder spree. They looked from the bodies to the sheriff’s office as the few volunteers began to douse the fire.

And they realised just what they had done.

“Dear God forgive us,” one of them murmured and the prayer was echoed around them all.

“God might,” Charlie spat back at them. “I WON’T.”

“Yes you will, Charlie.” The Doctor told him. “Yes, you will. Hold on. Just a little while. It might not be so bad as you think.”

A ray of hope had occurred to him. He knew Rose wasn’t one to give up. He remembered when they were in 10 Downing Street with a missile heading for it that would reduce the street to rubble. And she had thought of the answer, then. The one way to survive a direct hit.

And this time they had more than just a cupboard.

He was sure she would have thought of that.

He hoped she had.

More of the townspeople joined the effort and the fire was doused. The sheriff’s office was a ruin, though. The roof and the walls were charred pieces that crumbled to the touch. The Doctor and Charlie stepped through the rubble. The only body they could see was that of the already dead man inside the smoke blackened steel bars of the cell, which still stood.

The only other thing standing was the TARDIS.

The door of it opened and Rose stepped out and ran to The Doctor’s arms. Sarah and the Bells followed and Grace last, closing the door behind them. Rose and The Doctor were too busy hugging and kissing to notice that Charlie ran and embraced Sarah and kissed her on the cheek. Grace noticed. So did Reverend Bell. He smiled before putting his arms around his own wife in an unaccustomed public display of affection.

“Yes,” he said. “THAT was a miracle.”

The Doctor saw that the TARDIS was safely stowed on the flatbed of the empty train that was heading back to Sacramento to try to bring out one more load of supplies before the snows fell in earnest. Then he went and joined Rose and Grace in the first class car.

“Are we going all the way back to Sacramento by train?” Rose asked. “We could just get in the TARDIS.”

“I thought you two might like a chance to wear some REAL Gone With The Wind style dresses in fashionable company before we get Grace back to her office. Besides, I want to drop into the Governor’s Office and get Charlie’s commission as the new Sheriff properly confirmed.”

“So Charlie will be staying on in Alta?” Rose said. “That’s good. He and Sarah can see more of each other. They seem to have got very sweet on each other.”

“You know,” Grace said. “If they get married Sarah will have to give up teaching. They had to do that in these days.”

“I somehow don’t think she’ll mind,” Rose answered her. “I think it’s nice, anyway. Love at first sight. Just like me and The Doctor.”

“Nothing like an alien invasion for bringing people together,” The Doctor replied as the train jerked and moved forward and they left Alta, California behind. Grace turned and looked at the familiar mountain scenery of her childhood and smiled. She would have to go home some time soon and see the place again.

“I just thought of something,” she said with a wry smile. “We’re not much of a town and our history is quite dull, mostly. But we do have one good ghost story about a hooded figure that killed people and a mysterious sheriff who rode into town and dealt with it and went off again. It was back in the pioneer days when the railroad was being built through the Sierra Nevadas and life was tough and nobody kept any proper town records…”

The Doctor smiled enigmatically. It wasn’t the first time he’d left a footprint in history. It wouldn’t be the last if he had anything to do with it.


Not while he had breath in his body!