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

“What do you think?” Earl Gregory asked his friends.

“What do we think of what?” Sukie asked. They were standing in a narrow country lane beside his time car, although they had only used it in normal hover mode to drive some twenty miles into the east Lancashire countryside from his home in twenty-sixth century Preston. The hilly landscape was green and pleasant and utterly unchanged since sheep first grazed in unenclosed pastures. The house that stood beyond well maintained lawns enclosed by a wrought iron gate looked like it had been there since the Wars of the Roses.

“This….” Earl waved towards the house and then reached into his pocket for a slimline e-reader. He passed it to Sukie, indicating a marked passage that she read aloud.

“It was a stern, sombre looking mansion, built of dark grey stone, with tall, square chimneys and windows with heavy mullions. High stone walls, hoary and moss-grown, ran around the gardens and courts, except on the side of the river, where there was a terrace overlooking the stream, and forming a pleasant summer’s walk.”

Sukie looked up from the e-reader to the house, which pretty much matched the description, except in the late spring sunshine perhaps it didn’t deserve to be called ‘sombre’.

“Still don’t get it,” Jimmy said as Vicki took the e-reader and looked closer at the text.

“I bought the place,” Earl explained finally. “It was in a bit of a state, neglected for years and it had been split into two dwellings. I had the main front door put back and restored to one big house.”

“You bought a house?” Sukie queried as Earl proudly opened the gate and led them all to his restored front door.

“You bought THIS house?” Vicki queried. The entrance hall was rather dark because the mullioned windows were small and set high in the wall, but not as foreboding as it might have been. “THIS is the Rough Lee.”

“The….” Sukie and Jimmy both looked at her as they tried to place the curiously familiar name.

“THIS house belonged to Alice Nutter, the only one of the Pendle Witches who wasn’t a peasant - the one who they say ran the coven for her own advantage. This is a witch’s house.”

“Wow!” Jimmy commented. “Really?” He opened one of the strong oak doors and stepped into a drawing room that was still quite dark even though the mullions were a bit bigger. It was furnished with heavy, dark sideboards, possibly actual antiques and a huge inglenook fireplace surrounded by a ponderous grey stone mantlepiece. “So, no TV, then?”

“There’s a modern dayroom next door,” Earl promised. “And before anyone asks, yes, I put in modern bathrooms and kitchen, but I kept anything else authentic.”

“And you bought it?” Sukie again asked as if she was struggling to understand a difficult concept.

“My trust fund matured when I turned twenty-one. I used the accumulated interest. Old houses aren’t worth a lot just now. Everyone is going for brand new electro-hydrogen houses.”

“Oh, I hate that about your century,” Vicki remarked as they moved into the promised dayroom. This was lighter because the windows had been altered in the late nineteenth century to provide full length wood-framed glass doors onto the terrace mentioned in the old description. The soft furnishings were modern fabrics but in a period style. A whole section of the heavy oak panelling slid back to reveal a modern entertainment system and a double-doored built-in cupboard that could have stored a witch’s broom and flying cloak contained a drinks cabinet and coffee machine. Earl invited his friends to sit and made cappuccinos for all.

The girls warmed to the idea of staying in the home of a notorious seventeenth century witch. Jimmy took a little longer to relax, though it wasn’t the history bothering him. He knew his friends were all far richer than he was and had learned not to resent the fact. He knew he would earn good money in civil engineering once he graduated, and he fully intended to keep Vicki in the manner she was accustomed as far as he possibly could. But it would be much more of a struggle than collecting the proceeds of a trust fund. The casual way Earl had talked about having such a thing at his disposal was more than a little jarring.

“I wonder….” Vicki looked out of the long windows at the sun-drenched terrace. “While it is daylight, and we won’t freak each other out – does anyone think the house might be haunted?”

“Vicki!” Sukie was surprised at the comment from her usually more decorous cousin. She had another reason to wonder about the wisdom of Earl’s giant step on the property ladder, but she had been avoiding the ‘haunted’ question up until now.

“Well, I’d rather think about it in sunshine,” Vicki insisted. “Not later on when we’re going up to bed.”

“It’s not haunted,” Earl assured everyone. “Look, Alice Nutter was hanged on a hill in Lancaster. And if anyone else died over the years I’m sure it was natural causes. I grew up in a house hundreds of years old. So did you, Vicki. There’s nothing to fear from history.”

He was right, of course. But that didn’t mean they weren’t going to talk about the Pendle Witches all day and all night.

But not before Sukie talked about something else. She got Vicki to ask Jimmy to walk around the authentic Elizabethan kitchen garden which included a unique collection of herbs rarely used in modern cooking. Sukie took Earl to the terrace and they walked under the mature trees that screened it from common view.

It looked like the perfect romantic spot for a proposal. They looked like the kind of young couple who would do that.

But that wasn’t Sukie’s intention.

“Earl…” she said, grasping his hands and looking him straight in the eyes. “This house…. Tell me it isn’t an engagement ring.”

“It’s a bit big for that,” Earl answered.

“I’m not joking. You know everyone has expected us to get married since… I don’t know… since I was fourteen. When Davie and Chris gave you all those strict rules about what you were allowed to do and where you were allowed to take me without getting into trouble…”

“Which we singularly failed to do. Your brothers don’t know the half of it. But… yes… I’ve always expected…. One day….”

“So have I. But I’m not ready yet, and if you’ve bought this house with the idea of hurrying it all along, then you got that wrong… big time.”

Earl was nonplussed, to say the least. He loved Sukie. When he thought about his future, she was in it. Apart from anything else, they had MET their own grandson, Tristie, several times in the complicated temporal streams of their lives. It was a sealed deal.

“We ought to at least choose a house together, and decide what furniture goes in it. I’ve seen the bedrooms. Four posters are so seventeenth century. I’d rather have a nice king size divan. And…. It’s just something we should talk about. Plus… it is in Lancashire, and in the twenty-sixth century. Everyone I know, everyone I love apart from you lives in London in the twenty-third century. And… and….”

Earl stopped her with a kiss then got the next word in quickly.

“Sukie… I understand. It’s all right. We WILL do those things together in a couple of years. But this place has fascinated me. Not just the house, but the history, the whole Pendle Hill thing with the witches. There is still a statue of Alice Nuttier in Roughlee village. Everyone is still interested. Your brothers have banned me from taking you to anywhere near the actual 1612 trials, though we wouldn’t come to very much harm, I suppose, sitting in the gallery at the court…. That sort of thing….”

“I would hate that. Sitting there watching people being condemned to death. Whether innocent or guilty, it’s horrible. And you probably think it would be a great idea for a romantic day out. You’ll probably propose to me on the courtroom steps as they’re hauled off.”

“I never would.” Earl protested. “It’d be the top of Pendle Hill with the beacon ready to put to fire to tell the whole county when you say yes.”

Actually, that DID sound rather romantic, but Sukie wasn’t letting him off easy.

“You’ve got a seriously unhealthy obsession.” she told him.

“Yeah, just a bit,” Earl conceded. “But, really. I admit I didn’t really think the house thing through fully. It would make a great weekend getaway at least. Or maybe I could rent it out to Pendle Witch enthusiasts. I could be a property tycoon.”

“WE could be property tycoons,” Sukie corrected him. “We’ll have joint accounts when we’re married. Besides, MY trust fund was invested two centuries ago. I’ll be able to get my own portfolio. We’ll be rich. But… let’s not talk about that with Jimmy and Vicki. You know he can’t do the same and it DOES bother him more than he lets on…. Being the poor relation.”

“Yes, I know,” Earl admitted. Still… what do you REALLY think of this place? I wanted it to be all the best of the things we like about Tudor and Stuart life without chamber pots under the beds and bacteria in the milk and…. HOSE!”

Sukie laughed. Earl loved history. His time car allowed him to explore it. But he would never enjoy wearing the fashions of his favourite era – that time around which this Pendle neighbourhood gained its notoriety.

“I had food delivered,” he said changing the subject adroitly since Sukie still didn’t quite give him her full endorsement of the Rough Lee. “We can have a picnic tea out here in a bit. And there’s a ready to eat gourmet dinner later – four courses all kept fresh in a hermetically sealed box.”

”That’s so lazy. I will have to teach you to cook, some time.” Sukie laughed. “I hope the picnic includes those soft cheese and smoked salmon rolls that you know I like.”

“Of course,” Earl promised.

The afternoon and evening went exactly as Earl had planned it for his friends. The picnic on the terrace stretched languorously in the sunshine. Later they returned to the dayroom, and then to an authentic seventeenth century dining room with silver candelabra and sparkling crystal glassware on the table, fine cutlery and flatware, after dinner mints and fruits on the sideboard. The only modern concession was an induction plate warmer on one of the sideboards because it was a long way from the kitchen and no servants to bring each course to them. They took it in turns to serve the soup, locally sourced trout in lemon and dill, lamb cutlets in plum sauce with creamed potatoes and minted peas, and a syllabub with fresh strawberries kept in a separate compartment of the gourmet box that kept food cool rather than warm.

“We should do an authentic seventeenth century dinner,” Vicki suggested. “Served the way they did it back then, the fish and then meat first, then vegetables as a separate course. Then cheesecakes and cold puddings and candied fruit.”

“There’s a description of a meal like that in one of the Pendle Witch novels,” Jimmy noted. “They were served potatoes boiled in their skins – a new and amazing vegetable from the New World.”

“Funny to think of potatoes as new and amazing. They’re so ordinary,” Sukie commented. “And just eating them boiled, not even a bit of salt…. If we go all Stuart era I want salt, butter and a bit of cream cheese and chives on hand for the potato course, thank you.”

There was laughter and plans hatched to use Earl’s time car to go back to a safe date, like for example, 1615, to buy authentic ingredients for the meal, including a country farm wife’s idea of cream cheese for Sukie’s potato preference.

Still, they came around again to witches and their evil deeds – if there were any such deeds at all.

“Feminist history has it that a lot of them were just women who crossed men,” Sukie pointed out. “Usually by thinking for themselves and having ambitions in areas men wanted for themselves.” She laughed softly. “I was called a word that rhymes with witch last week when I took the lead before the final bend at Thruxton. If they had motor racing back then I expect they’d call women who did it witches.”

Nobody disagreed with her analogy. Sukie was certainly an ambitious young woman and one who thought for herself. Earl had been reminded of that in her rejection of his ‘engagement ring’. Vickl, too, was her own woman with ideas for the future. She was already a healer in the Time Lord way, able to touch and sooth inner pain. But she was planning to add human medical qualifications. There would be another doctor in her family in a few years’ time.

And that, certainly, would have been enough to consign her to the gallows in 1612.

“I'm not sure if Alice Nutter, when all is said and done, wasn’t just like our girls,” Earl conceded. “You lot all read the novels. I read the court transcripts. The evidence wasn’t especially strong. She was allegedly seen at a meeting of witches at Easter. Some of the witches named her as one of them. But it was all circumstantial. A modern court would have thrown the case out. She was probably set up by the local magistrate, Roger Nowell, whose property bordered hers. It was a dirty land grab.”

“All the novels portray her as a spiteful, devious woman,” Jimmy pointed out. “The Harrison Ainsworth one has her making pacts with the devil and exerting cruel powers over people.”

“But he was writing in the nineteenth century, cashing in on Mary Shelly and Sheridan le Fanu and Polidori and all that lot,” Vicki argued. “He just took all the names from the history books and made it all up as dark and horrible as he could.”

“I like the other story,” Sukie admitted. “Mist over Pendle. Alice is still nasty, but the other characters are more likeable. Nowell is portrayed as a brave man seeking justice against the odds. A bit like The Doctor fighting the Daleks with mum and dad.”

That was a story they all knew very well. Sukie’s analogy of the Dalek war and the fight against evil in these Lancashire parts centuries ago rang true for them all, and what had been old history mixed with romantic fiction suddenly felt very personal to them all. They wondered what side they might have been on - with Magistrate Nowell searching out murderers who used poisons and charms against innocent country folk, or with Alice Nutter, a strong-willed but doomed woman who may have done nothing but try to be mistress of her own destiny at a time when men ruled over her gender in everything.

By bedtime, the girls had firmly allied themselves on the side of strong women. The boys liked the idea of fighting evil alongside a seventeenth century version of The Doctor - provided that Roger Nowell WAS more like the character in the novel from the nineteen-fifties and less as he was portrayed elsewhere as grasping and corrupt and intent on hanging witches on the thinnest of evidence.

“Just remember I'm on your side, Alice Nutter,” Vicki whispered as she settled down under a modern duvet on one of the two Elizabethan four poster beds in the master bedroom. “No haunting me.”

In the other bed, Sukie silently agreed with the sentiment.

Earl thought he had gone to sleep in the usual way, but now he found himself wide awake and in a very different place than the room he had chosen as his own bedroom in his own house.

Funnily enough, it looked like his own house. He recognised the mullioned windows of the room he had modernised into the ‘dayroom’. But this wasn’t even the ‘before’ he had seen with the house agent when it was just unlived in for a time.

It was, he realised with a shock, the same room in the seventeenth century. The huge inglenook had a blazing fire, but by the window, where he was stranding, it was still rather draughty. Outside it was probably mid-morning but the sky was dark grey with ponderous low clouds that threatened rain.

The room was as gloomy. As the householder he had quickly realised that mullioned windows didn’t let in a lot of natural light even on a bright day. He had needed strong electrical light fittings. Here, a few candles had been lit on the long dark wood table that filled most of the room and they merely made the shadows in the corners deeper.

He was still working out if he was actually physically present in this place and time or just seeing a very intense flashback to the past. He noted that he was dressed in the clothing of the time - a deep green doublet of soft velvet along with the dreaded hose and leather knee length boots. Gloves and a hat to match the doublet were on a sideboard next to an elbow chair that he sat back in. It felt solid and real enough.

The door opened and three well-dressed gentlemen in doublets and gowns of the best fabrics and rich colours, entered. All three nodded to him, suggesting that he was a real presence in the scene and that he was perceived as having a right to be there.

The gentlemen sat around the head of the table just in front of Earl’s vantage point. Another man sat a little further down where he set out an ink horn and paper and began sharpening a quill ready to act as clerk.

Four more rougher dressed men came and stood against the walls. They had the look of hired muscle.

The gentleman who seemed to be in charge, a man of some fifty or more years with iron grey streaking once dark hair that matched an iron expression on his face, looked about, then nodded his head.

“Bring her in,” he said in a firm, ringing tone.

“Yes, Master Nowell,” said one of the hired muscle who went out through the big oak door. That, Earl thought, identified one of the players in this scene. Roger Nowell, magistrate, hero or villain depending on your point of view, of the Pendle Witch story. The other gentlemen, from the casual conversation between them, Earl guessed as Nicholas Bannister of Barrowford and Richard Shuttleworth of Gawthorpe, men of quality and fellow justices of the King’s peace in the county of Lancashire drafted into the affair to hand.

The clerk was assuredly Thomas Potts who wrote The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster based on his own notes of the case. Earl had read the book, in the original version with the seventeenth century spellings as well as a rather easier twenty-first century version.

It was the dullest book he had read since his parents made him study the Laws and Ordnances of Gallifrey. Seeing the man responsible for that second most boring afternoon made him realise why it had been so. Potts looked like the most boring man in history in his slightly faded black gown and cap, grey hair and grey face with thin, bloodless lips and small eyes that were the only lively part of him, peering quickly around the room and at the magistrate and gentlemen he was assisting.

Those eyes looked up and around as the door opened and the hired muscle brought a woman into the room. Though she was dressed as a gentlewoman in black taffeta and silver lace befitting a widow of approaching middle age, the rough man was holding her tightly by the arm and pushed her into place, standing at the far end of the table to the three justices.

It would be courtesy in this time to stand in the presence of the mistress of the house, but Nowell and the other gentleman remained in their seats, their expressions as they gazed at the woman hard and unyielding.

“Mistress Alice Nutter….” Master Bannister spoke first. “You are brought before us today to answer to questions arising out of recent events in Pendle. You are not yet committed to the Assizes at Lancaster, but your answers this day may confirm that committal.”

“Or exonerate me, surely?” the lady responded coolly. For somebody who knew she was being accused of witchcraft, the most heinous crime in seventeenth century England, she seemed quite assured of herself. Earl wondered what she thought would protect her from the determination of three such stern and unforgiving men.

“That remains to be seen,” said Magistrate Nowell.

“You will speak when required to give answer to the questions put to you,” barked Master Shuttleworth, perhaps for no reason than the fact that he hadn’t yet spoken.

Mistress Nutter stood erect with her hands folded in front of her and her face impassive. Magistrate Nowell nodded to Master Potts who stood to read out the principal charges against her.

These charges were all entirely based on evidence given in the confessions of other accused witches. Elizabeth Device, known colloquially as Squinting Lizzie, her son, James Device, and her daughter, Alizon, had all sworn that Alice Nutter had been present at a witches Sabbat on Good Friday at which a plot had been laid to kill several prominent Pendle gentlemen, including Magistrates Nowell and Bannister.

“What say you to these testimonies?” Nowell demanded.

“It is true that I visited the Malkin Tower on that day – but briefly. I know there is great hardship and want of food there and brought some few things as is my Christian duty.”

“That is your answer?” Nowell demanded. “Christian charity?”

“What else?” she replied.

“The testimonies of three people have you taking an active part in the foul proceedings,” Bannister responded.

“I am a widow of status and good reputation,” she replied. “Are you taking the word of three unworthy and feckless peasants against me?”

“Feckless peasants, now?” Shuttleworth laughed sarcastically. “A moment ago, worthy of your Christian duty?”

“Uneducated, unworldly peasants,” she repeated. “Who were, no doubt, coerced by Master Nowell into their confessions. My downfall would be to his advantage, since he could confiscate my lands that lie alongside his. That is why I have been implicated in this way. The whole thing is a fabrication by the very man who ought to be seeking the truth.”

Earl was impressed, if not wholly convinced by her response. He looked closely at Nowell. His face was like thunder. He half rose from his seat and looked towards the hired muscle. Earl wondered if he was going to set them on the woman. Witch or not, that could not be permitted.

“There is more set against you,” Bannister continued. He read out two more confessions, from one Anne Redfern and her mother, Anne Whittle, an elderly woman known locally as The Chattox and long reputed to be a witch. This family lived on Rough Lee land, and occording to their confessions, they paid for their hovel by carrying out the orders of Alice Nutter. These orders included the killing of men and women who had crossed Alice in various ways, starting with her husband, many years ago, who had died, it was alleged, of a sickness brought about by the Chattox’s poisons. This untimely death, and those of other relatives who might have stood to inherit, had enabled Alice to claim to be a ‘widow of status and repute’.

“More lies,” Alice responded with just a little more fire in her voice than before. Perhaps touching on her husband’s death touched a nerve.

“So many people have lied, according to you,” Nowell said. “How have you incurred the enmity of so many?”

Mistress Nutter did not answer. She glared at Nowell, and Earl wondered if witches could kill with a look. If so, and Alice was one, then the Magistrate was in grave danger.

But all the magistrates had heard enough. Master Shuttleworth turned to Master Potts and directed him to make out a ‘mittimus’ – being the official paper formally charging an accused person and committing them to trial. Alice Nutter cried out in alarm, losing her cool poise as two of the hired muscle grasped her by the arms and dragged her from the room.

After her protests had died away the three magistrates prepared to leave, the remaining roughs following them. Finally, Thomas Potts sealed his inkwell, folded his quills inside a cloth and gathered together the papers that sounded Alice Nutter’s doom. His departure was the last thing Earl saw before his sojourn in the seventeenth century darkened and faded into oblivion.

Something woke Vicki in the dark of night. She sat and looked around her bedroom. Her Gallifreyan genetics allowed her to see clearly as long as there was even a glimmer of light to process, and there was a full moon shining through those thickset mullions.

The moon, in fact, was what got her out of bed, because she knew that when she went to bed there was the very slender silvery sliver of a moon. It could not have become full in a few hours. There were planets where that happened, but Earth wasn’t one of them.

This was not the same night. Some kind of time slip was going on.

The sound that woke her was a door opening and closing. The door in question was meant to lead to a modern en-suite bathroom, but she was full certain that isn’t what she would find if she opened that door, now.

She looked back once and wondered about waking Sukie, but a small rebellious thought came into her mind. She was The Doctor’s daughter. She had his courage and determination and she didn’t need her cousin to hold her hand.

She opened the door quickly, half expecting to be disappointed to find her bathroom, half frightened of what she would find instead.

It was a chapel, or oratory, she wasn’t quite sure of the difference. In any case it was a private place for prayer which many people with big houses had in the past. It was probably installed when Catholicism was predominant, but even the puritans couldn’t object to a place where people could pray when they wanted.

There was an altar, with a cross made of black metal, iron, probably. A bible was set in front of it and a wooden structure like a backwards chair used for kneeling in front of the altar. Very simple, and, again, not likely to upset any puritans.

All this she saw by the bright full moon shining through two mullions with arched tops as if to indicate that this was meant to be a religious place.

There was a woman there, standing beside the kneeler, looking at the altar nervously. She was about thirty years old with long black hair, loose down her back. She was wearing a simple black robe tied at her waist with a girdle or scarf, also black.

The lady looked suddenly at the window that had been darkened by what looked and sounded like a huge bird or bat with wings tapping eerily at the glass. Vicki held her breath and watched the lady stiffen and catch her own breath as she waited to see what would happen next.

What happened next happened in the blink of an eye. The bird or bat was suddenly inside the glass where it spread its wings and resolved into a dark robed and cowled man. The lady stepped back and dropped to her knees in front of him.

“Alice Nutter,” the robed man said in a voice Vicki decided deserved the word ‘eldritch’ attached to it. If a very old grave could talk, it would talk like that, as if it breathed death and decay.

“Yes,” she replied. “Yes, Master.”

“Not your Master, merely one of his captains. But have you decided to give your soul to Him? Have you cast away all doubts?”

“I have. I want the power. I want to kill my enemies with my will. The Master of Hell will give me that power in exchange for my soul.”

Vicki knew that one of her father’s enemies called himself ‘Master’ and she wondered about that for a moment, but of course, the Master Alice Nutter was speaking of was the Devil.

Was there such a being? Vicki had been taught to respect religions, especially Human ones, but she really didn't have any such beliefs herself.

But Alice Nutter obviously did. And something supernatural had occurred when the robed man entered the chapel. She had no scientific explanation for that.

“Before you are baptised in the name of the Master of Hell, he requires proof that you renounce the One to Whom this room is dedicated. You must spit on the Book and invert the cross.”

Even without a religious belief of her own, Vicki knew those were dreadful things to do. They were, of course, just symbolic gestures done to symbols of Christian faith, but still terrible actions for somebody who, presumably, was raised as a Christian.

Alice Nutter didn’t hesitate. Not even to remember that spitting was disgusting and unladylike behaviour. She defiled the Bible – a word the ‘Captain’ of the Devil couldn't utter – calling it merely the Book. Then she took the cross and pulled it off the wooden stand, turning it over and replacing it upside down.

“Kneel once more and hold out your right arm,” said the Captain. Alice did so, baring a few inches of her wrist. The Captain drew a black dagger from his robes and made a slit in her flesh. It bled, not badly, but enough to be collected in a small wooden cup that was also produced from the robes. With the blood the Captain made an obscene version of Christian anointment, drawing an upside down cross on Alice’s forehead. When that was done, he placed a sheet of vellum on top of the defiled bible. He produced a quill and dipped it in the blood as ink and gave the dripping pen to the new initiate to evil.

Alice signed away her soul as gladly as she had done all the other terrible things. When it was done the Captain took the vellum and the quill and poured what was left of the blood over the cross.

Then, with a deep laugh resonating of the crypt, he vanished. Outside the wings of a bird or bat brushed against the window and then the moonlight shone in again.

The moonlight illuminated Alice Natter’s pale face with the crimson anointing stark against her forehead. She breathed deeply, then turned to leave the room.

“Was it worth it?” Vicki whispered. “Will you still think it worth it when they drag you to Lancaster as a witch?”

Alice paused for a moment and looked around, as if wondering where the voice came from, then opened the door and left the chapel.

Vicki stepped forward, pulling a handkerchief from the sleeve of her nightgown – it was something she did at night since she was a child. She used the dainty, embroidered square first to wipe the cover of the bible and then to wipe the cross before turning it back upright. She felt, whatever she did or didn’t believe, that it was the right thing to do.

When she returned to the bedroom, she noticed that the moon was a sliver, and when she looked back, the chapel was a modern bathroom again.

That was ok. She slipped into her bed and closed her eyes and was soon asleep.

Jimmy often dreamed of flying. It was a dream that had gone unfulfilled until he became friends with Vicki and Sukie. Since then he had stood at the door of the TARDIS, protected by a gravity field, as it circumnavigated the Earth.

He had no qualms about heights.

But when he opened his eyes and looked down at the east Lancashire countryside stretched below him, and no obvious support for his body as he flew through the chilly air, he was more than a little disturbed.

When he dared to turn his head and saw that he was not the only human figure unnaturally moving through the air his level of disturbance increased. The other figures were exactly what he had always imagined to be witches – women dressed in ragged black cloaks that flowed around them as they flew….

No, not on broomsticks, but certainly unsupported by anything except a refusal to obey gravity. Some of them were old. He saw their haggard faces in the moonlight. Others were young, some even pretty.

He became aware that the landscape beneath him was rapidly rising, and he guessed that this was Pendle Hill as seen from above. Then he felt himself descending, in a controlled way, until his feet touched the ground

His feet….

Somebody’s feet, anyway. He saw a pair of leather knee boots and rough breeches with a leather jerkin. They were men’s clothes. But none he had ever worn.

He was seeing through another man’s eyes. A man who belonged to this sinister place.

A witch – a warlock, wizard… whatever such a person was called.

All the supernatural beings were landing and gathering around a bonfire that had been set up on a flat part of the summit. It was not yet lit. He pondered how it could be. This was a witches Sabbat - that much was obvious. Such things were highly illegal. Surely a bonfire would warn the authorities.

But that had been thought of by others. A woman stepped forward from the rough ring of some thirty figures. She was old and stooped but straightened and spread her arms wide.

“Let the elements give us secrecy,” she said, and in minutes a thick fog had covered all the land beneath the Hill. Nothing could be seen through it, even as a moon shone from a clear starlit sky above.

“Let the Sabbat fire be lit,” she said and made a gesture as if throwing something. A fireball exploded amongst the brushwood and soon it was fully alight.

The witches, male and female, walked in a slow procession around the fire, chanting words in an old language but one Jimmy understood because of his extensive TARDIS travel.

He wished he didn’t. They were foul words about murder and misery and blasphemy against the Christian God of England.

The procession stopped and the old woman held up her hands to quieten the crowd, then invited any of them with a grudge to be resolved to step forward with their tokens.

A young woman with tired eyes was the first. In a clear voice she declared that her father had beaten her for the last time. She threw a wax figure into the fire where it melted instantly.

Another young witch threw a wax figure representing a lover who had cheated on her. Then another laughed and threw in a figure representing the virago who would not let her former lover be and pestered him to return to her. As the wax figure melted the previous woman shrieked and clutched at her face as if it were melting in the fire. It wasn’t, Jimmy noted, though she did some damage to herself with long, sharp fingernails. The woman who had, apparently cursed her in the fire laughed viciously.

“I did not mean thee, Susan Merkin. It is Ruth Marcher who shall die of a fever by sun up. But be warned. Anthony Brock is mine.”

There was more laughter from the younger witches and more tokens thrown into the fire. Jimmy wondered, if these curses actually worked, how many ex-boyfriends or the women they had strayed to might be dead or fatally sick by morning.

Or was it all just nonsense? He wasn’t sure he wanted to say for certain. He was just glad he hadn’t crossed any of these women.

When most of the coven had made their gory petitions to the devil, one more stepped forward slowly, almost hesitantly. Jimmy thought she looked less ragged than the others. Her cloak was a richer fabric and she was even a little taller and with better posture than the others, a sign, in these times, of better nutrition.

“Alice!” The lead witch spoke her name in a curious mix of vehemence and pleasure. “Newest of our sisterhood. What is your desire?”

“The death of my husband, that I might inherit the land and house called the Rough Lee to henceforth manage both in a profitable manner.”

“Cast your token into the Sabbat fire. Do your worst, Alice Nutter. Take what is yours by reaching out your arm towards the flames.”

Alice did so. Around her the coven cheered and jeered in equal measure.

That seemed to be the end of the Sabbat. Alice’s curse upon her husband had been the climax. The old woman waved her hands and the fire died down to a mere glow that gave everyone enough light to start walking away down the hill, into that thick fog that enveloped the countryside.

Jimmy was aware, suddenly, that he wasn’t cold. He wasn’t outdoors. He was in his own bed.

“Some dream,” he thought and turned over to go back to sleep.

Sukie was not in the room she had gone to sleep in. She realised that straight away, along with the fact that she wasn’t in the twenty-sixth century.

She was still at the Rough Lee, but this looked like some sort of ‘withdrawing room’ from the seventeenth century. A room fitted to a lady’s taste with silk cushions on the chairs and delicate touches all around the solid furniture.

Sharp, wintery sunlight from a pale blue sky slanted into the room through the mullions, which had been the most obvious clue that she had been moved in time. It made the room look pleasant, but the lady who stood looking out of the window was not appreciating any of it. Her deep, worried sigh was confirmation of that.

“They’re coming for me,” she said. Sukie was shaken by that, since she was obviously the one she was talking to. She had also realised early on that she was dressed for the century. Nobody could fail to notice they were wearing layers of underclothes and the heaviness of velvet and taffeta.

She stepped towards the window and saw what she had to call a ‘posse’ of men on horseback, even if that word didn’t yet exist in the English language. Some of them looked like gentlemen in richly coloured doublets and riding cloaks. The others were rougher. She recalled that the magistrates of this time would appoint bailiffs and constables to enforce the law. That would be them.

“That is Roger Nowell, the King’s Justice for these parts. With him his colleagues from neighbouring districts. Three of them to put me to question about my crimes.”

“Have you committed crimes?” Sukie asked. Of course, this was Alice Nutter. In their discussions yesterday afternoon she had championed Alice’s cause, maintaining that she might be a wronged woman, a victim of masculine resentment of her independence. She had empathised with her.

But now….

“I shall say nothing to them… nor any judge at Lancaster. I will not give them such satisfaction. But….”

She turned to look at Sukie, and her fear was clear on her face.

“Yes… I have committed many crimes. I have used the darkest arts to kill everyone who stood in my way… beginning with my weak fool of a husband. I have pressed others into my service, where suspicion might otherwise fall upon me. I am guilty of terrible crimes. But worse than that… I am a witch, and I have allied my soul with evil. When I die….”

“At least, you COULD renounce that,” Sukie told her. Her human father had given her a vague kind of religious belief, the sort most people in Britain had without any regular church attendance. From her Gallifreyan ancestry she had the knowledge of a race who were believed to be gods in some parts of the galaxy, which made for complicated ideas about heaven and hell, the soul and what you could do to tarnish it and other questions.

But Alice Nutter came from a time when people were more certain about such things.

“Perhaps it isn’t too late to pray for my immortal soul. I am destined for the gallows, but I might seek God’s forgiveness until the end.”

“Yes, do that,” Sukie told her encouragingly. “Do that and take what comfort you can from it.”

She was appalled by Alice’s confession that she was a witch and a murderer. It destroyed her own hope that it was a miscarriage of justice. But she still felt that empathy with a woman who, wrongly, of course, had seen no other way to advance herself. She wanted to comfort her at this dread time.

There was a loud knocking at the front door. It resounded through the whole house. It was ignored the first time by Alice’s servants, but inevitably the knock would come again.

And then they would come for her, taking her from this dainty room in her genteel house, to a dark prison and little comfort, physical or spiritual.

For a moment, Alice shook as much as the house had. Her shoulders sagged. She sobbed and spilled a few tears.

“No, I will not have them take me like this,” she said, squaring her shoulders again, standing straight and drying her eyes with a cambric square she drew from a pocket. She crumpled it in her hand as she waited for that moment when her life as Mistress Nutter of the Rough Lee would be over and she would be known forever after as Alice Nutter, witch.

The moment came with stomping feet before the door to the withdrawing room crashed open. Two of the stoutly built constables entered the room and took hold of the Lady by each arm.

“There is no need to be so rough,” Sukie protested. “Whatever she did, she is still a woman.”

But she had a feeling they didn’t hear her. She wasn’t even sure Alice still saw her standing by the window.

There was cereal, orange juice, boiled eggs and as much toast as anyone could eat for breakfast. What was missing, to begin with, was conversation. Everyone was distracted by their own thoughts.

It was Earl who broke the silence.

“I had a weird experience during the night,” he said.

“Experience?” asked Vicki and Jimmy at the same time.

“Not… not a dream?” Jimmy continued, knowing Vicki was thinking the same. “You were really there?”

They all had to tell their stories, now. Earl went first, then Jimmy, then the two girls. When they were done, they all looked at each other.

“It WAS real, I’m sure of it,” Earl insisted. “Some kind of hysteresis… something about this house, and the presence of so many of us with artron energy absorbed in our bodies… I t makes some sort of scientific sense…. I think.”

“Mine felt real, too,” Sukie insisted in a tone that brooked no contradiction. “And… in a way… it fits with your story. I was there with her, when they came to question her… the part you saw.”

“Mine makes sense that way, too,” Vicki said. “It was her making the choice to be a witch, to commit terrible acts….”

“Am I the only one who just had a weird dream?” Jimmy asked. “I’ve been thinking about it… the flying…. the thing with the fog….”

“I don’t know,” Earl said. “Possibly the flying was a dream… your mind picking up on things you’ve read. The Ainsworth book has witches flying broomsticks to a Sabbat….”

“But he’s the only writer connected to Pendle to mention broomsticks at all,” Vicki said. “The Victorian writimg a horror story.”

“The fog….” Sukie spoke slowly and carefully. “Remember what the Doctor always said about Clarke’s Law…”

“Any sufficiently advanced science would look like magic to primitive people,” Earl quoted.

“Or the reverse,” Sukie continued. “Any sufficiently advanced magic would look like science.”

“Daddy also talks about ‘old magic’,” Vicki said. “Something powerful that most people had forgotten, but some still had. Like people who can bend spoons with their mind. Perhaps that head witch did have some power over weather that they called witchcraft.”

“If we accept that, then the core of JImmy’s experience is as real as any of us had,” Sukie asserted. “The curses and the figures thrown into the fire… it sounds like a real thing that might happen.”

“Would they work? The curses, do you think?” Jimmy asked. “I was wondering. We know from history that Alice Nutter’s husband died. But I don’t think he dropped dead on the spot.”

“I should think that was all more wishful thinking.” Earl suggested. “Master Nutter and the various boyfriends, girlfriends, probably developed illnesses that modern forensics would identify as belladonna poisoning or the like. Not so much witchcraft as ordinary malice aforethought. But adding the Sabbat into the mix made it all very mysterious and supernatural looking.”

“So…. it was all real.. not dreams?” Vicki asked. “I think… I really WANTED it to be a dream. If we’re going to spend more time in this house… I don’t want to go time travelling every night. Dreams would be better.”

“I don’t think it will happen again.” Sukie said. “There were stories that needed telling. I think the house’s genius loci needed people like us to tell it. I think we’ll have peace, now. But we can't just accept it all as dreams. I can’t, anyway… because…..”

She placed something on tne breakfast table. It was a crumpled handkerchief - one clearly made of fabric woven on a hand loom in a former time.

“She – Alice - pressed it into my hand before she turned and faced the constables.”

Earl nodded and placed a well-used quill with which Master Thomas Potts had written the Mittimus that sealed Alice’s fate.

Jimmy placed a badly made wax figure on the table.

“I was a different person, I’m surel” he said. “Somebody who was going to curse somebody. But I never did it. I still had the wax thing when I woke up this morning. Even with it as proof I still thought it was a dream… I suppose, like Vicki I wanted it to be a dream.”

Vicki put her own handkerchief down. Everyone looked at the blood smeared on it.

“Alice’s blood.”


Earl stood and went to the old fahioned sideboard where a coffee machine and toaster and a tub of cereal had provided their breakfast. He brought an old wooden box from a drawer. Solemnly he placed the four proofs inside and closed it. He kept his hands on the lid for a few moments and everyone saw a deadlock seal close it up for good.

“Magic or advanced science?” Jimmy asked as Earl put the box in the bottom drawer and sealed that, too.

“Is there any difference?” Sukie asked. “For us… here… I don’t think so. Does anyone disagree?

Nobody did.