Clyde was on his way to Sarah Jane’s house. It was New Year’s Eve and they were having a party, a normal, ordinary New Year’s Eve part. Maria’s dad was going to be there. That was a sign of how normal it was. Maria usually kept her dad well away of any chance of things not being normal. Sarah Jane had even told him he could bring his mum, but she was going to a do with her keep fit class mates. So he set off on his bike. It was dark already, of course. But he had good lights front and back and he had his reflective strips over his coat and on his cycle helmet. He was safe enough. Really, mum, totally safe. It’s only a couple of kilometres. Yes, I’ll phone when I get there.
Sarah Jane poured everyone drinks in the drawing room she only used when she had guests – which wasn’t that often, really. She didn’t have a HUGE social circle. Most of them were here, now. There was Mr Lumsden, finally getting used to being out in the world after his years of isolation, Martha and her boyfriend, another doctor called Tom Millegan. Maria’s dad, of course. And Maria. The men had whiskey sodas and she and Martha had chilled white wine. Maria and Luke had pina coladas without the alcoholic parts, and she told them to help themselves to the big tray of nibbles and reminded them there was plenty more in the kitchen for later.
The doorbell rang.
That will be Clyde,” Maria said. “I’ll get it.” She put down her drink and her plate of nibbles and went to the hallway. She opened the door without bothering with the chain. The only person they were expecting was Clyde.
She was rather surprised to see an old woman dressed in a long black skirt and what they used to call a ‘peasant’ blouse and a long shawl over her head and shoulders. She had a basket full of sprigs of heather and spoke with an accent that seemed half Irish and half Eastern European. The mixed up accent Maria associated with the ‘gypsy’ fortune tellers that accosted people in the pedestrianised shopping streets up town.
“Buy a bit of lucky heather, dear? Would you like your fortune told?”
“I’m… I don’t…” Maria stammered, feeling strangely cold. It WAS cold outside, of course. A cold, frosty night, and the door wide open let the cold in. But it was a different sort of cold. “I don’t think…” She turned and yelled. “Sarah Jane!”
Sarah Jane came quickly, wondering what was wrong. She put her hand on Maria’s shoulder protectively as she sized up the woman at the door.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But I don’t believe in lucky charms and I don’t need to see my future. Believe me, I’ve seen it!”
The woman looked at Sarah Jane and laughed suddenly. Maria thought she ought to have been around at Halloween, not New Year, because that was the most spine-chilling witches cackle she had heard in a long time.
“Please leave,” Sarah Jane insisted. “Or I shall have to call the police.”
Perhaps she shouldn’t have mentioned the police, Sarah Jane reflected later. The woman hadn’t actually refused to go yet. But something about her bothered Sarah Jane. Something more than just her being a gypsy hawker coming to the door unsolicited when she really didn’t want to be bothered with that sort of thing.
“You’ll do nothing of the sort, Sarah Jane Smith,” the woman replied. “I’m not so easily got rid of.”
“How do you know my name?” Sarah Jane demanded. “What’s this all about? Who are you?”
The woman laughed again. And again it was the sort of laugh that was usually associated with Eye of Newt and a bubbling cauldron.
“Ye wouldn’t ha’ ye fortune tol’ by ‘e? Ye couldn’t be civil to ‘e?” said the woman, her speech becoming more ‘dialect’ than before. “Ye’ll regret that when ye find you ha’ no future.”
Sarah Jane decided enough was enough. She gently pushed Maria back from the door and then shut it.
Something made her open it again. She didn’t know why. She just felt that she had to.
The woman was gone. Sarah Jane stepped out and looked around, up and down her driveway then came back inside and shut and bolted the door.
“Maria, can you go and ask your dad and Doctor Millegan to check around the back. Just in case she’s gone to the kitchen door.”
Maria ran to do so. Meanwhile, Sarah Jane sprinted up stairs with a speed worthier of a younger woman. K9 and Mr Smith both greeted her as she entered the attic.
“Hello, you two,” she said. “Sorry you can’t be at the party, K9.”
“I am not a party animal,” K9 conceded.
“Anyway, I need to check something. There was somebody at the door just now, and my watched beeped, but only once. It wasn’t a constant beep like it should be in the presence of an alien….” She slipped off the watch and put it into Mr Smith’s analysis receptacle.
“The watch is working perfectly,” Mr Smith announced presently. “The individual it scanned is mostly Human. She has a small quantity of Kulian DNA. Kulia is a small planet in the Delta Gamma sector. Kulians have the ability to manipulate time in localised ways and are generally considered a nuisance. The Time Lords of Gallifrey used to deal sternly with Kulians who caused serious time anomalies.”
“Yeah,” Sarah Jane said. “They would. But this woman… mostly Human…. So she must be descended from a Kulian?” Sarah Jane knew that was not unusual in itself. Humanoid aliens had been settling on Earth for centuries, living quietly among Humans, sometimes marrying and having children with mixed DNA. She knew for a fact that Mr Carney who had the mobile greengrocer she bought her fruit and veg from was from Psi Delpha on his mother’s side. She had taken to leaving her watch off when she went out to his van because it beeped like mad every time he gave her back her change.
“But is this woman a problem or what?” she asked.
“I suspect not,” Mr Smith answered. “Do not let this spoil your party, Sarah Jane.”
“I won’t,” she answered. “Thanks, Mr Smith, K9. I’ll see you both later. Happy New Year.”
“Happy New Year, Mistress,” K9 answered her.
She went downstairs. Doctor Millegan and Alan told her that the back garden was clear. They had locked and bolted the kitchen door and pulled down the blinds just to be on the safe side. They went back to the drawing room and had another drink. They all tried not to worry. But Sarah Jane had clearly been shaken by the nuisance caller.
“How did she know your name?” Maria asked. “She called you Sarah Jane Smith.”
“That’s an old one,” Tom Millegan said. “That’s how cons work. Fortune tellers are the worst. They poke around in your bins for bank statements or bills. Then they tell you how you’re financial problems will all be solved by a windfall very soon and that sort of thing. I’ve known them to sneak around the hospital reading patient’s charts…”
“That’s why you should always shred your bills,” Alan added. “You can get a personal one for less than a tenner at Woolworths.”
“I’ve got one, and I do,” Sarah Jane answered. But even so that WAS the obvious answer. She lived alone in a big house and looked as if she might have money or jewellery or valuables around. It was a doorstep con trick that didn’t work. The fact that the woman was part alien was coincidence.
She let herself relax.
“Clyde should be here soon,” she said brightly. She looked at her wrist and realised she had left her watch in the analysis receptacle. “What time is it?”
“7.30,” Alun answered, looking at the clock on the mantelpiece.
“Can’t be,” Martha commented. “It was 7.30 when Maria went to open the door. I looked at my watch.” She looked at her watch again. It said 7.30. She looked at the mantelpiece clock.
It said 7.30.
It was 7.30 when Clyde turned into Bannerman road. He could see Sarah Jane’s house at No. 13. he was looking forward to getting to the party with his friends. Party food. Party drinks, though he knew Sarah Jane would be strict about them not having alcohol. But even so, it was going to be fun.
There was nobody there when he turned the corner. And he wasn’t really going all that fast. He didn’t do ANYTHING wrong.
But suddenly there was a woman standing there, right in front of him. He slammed on his brakes and swerved. He missed her by inches. But she put out her hand and stopped him.
“Where be you going, Clyde Langer?” she demanded.
“How do you know my name?” he asked. She was a strange looking woman, dressed like a peasant extra from some Hammer House production set in Transylvania. He didn’t like the fact that she knew him.
“Ye’re another one of HER lot! Said the woman, nodding towards number 13. “Well, ye’ll not be seeing the inside of that house tonight. Nor any night.” She held up her hand and made a sort of sign in the air.
“What are you on about, you daft old bag?” Clyde said. He wouldn’t usually be that rude to an elderly person, but this one didn’t seem to be an elder he was supposed to respect. “What…”
But she was gone. He looked all around. The street was empty. He shrugged and set off again on his bike, heading towards number 13.
“Wait a minutes!” He stopped his bike, He was back at the corner of Bannerman Road again, just where he had nearly crashed into the old bag. What the heck was going on?
He set off again.
And found himself on the corner of Bannerman road again.
“What’s going on here?” he shouted, his voice echoing around the silent street. He wasn’t scared yet. But he WAS puzzled. Something was happening.
“Another of HER lot!” Clyde thought as he got off his bike and walked, and was not entirely surprised to find himself back at the corner again.
The old bat meant Sarah Jane, of course. Who else could she have meant?
He looked at no. 13. There were lights on in the attic and throughout the house. It looked normal. But he was worried, still. Were Sarah Jane and Maria and the others ok? Maybe he should call them and let them know he was ok. He reached for him mobile phone.
It wasn’t working. And when he looked at the display he nearly dropped it in shock.
The time on it said 7.30.
Every clock and watch and mobile phone in the house said 7.30; the one in the hall, the kitchen, the timer on the cooker, the central heating timer, even. She sent Luke upstairs to the attic and he returned, white faced and shocked, to tell her that even Mr Smith and K9 insisted that the time was 7.30 and neither of them could understand why the organic lifeforms of the house had a problem with that.
“They’re not going to be any use to us, then!” Sarah Jane sighed.
“I brought your watch for you, mum,” Luke added. She looked at it. It said 7.30. She strapped it on her wrist anyway. She felt wrong without it.
Martha, Maria and Sarah Jane looked at each other and silently, with their eyes and the expression on their lips, asked the question ‘what’s going on’. Alan and Tom were talking about invisible x-rays and gamma rays, sunspots and other unlikely ideas. Martha thought Tom ought to know better. He was a doctor, after all. But she and Sarah Jane also both knew perfectly well about that Human ability to rationalise the irrational and make themselves feel better. That was why everyone dismissed pictures of the Loch Ness monster as hoaxes and blamed Stealth bomber tests for UFO sightings. Alan was talking now about it being mass hallucination, like with the Cyberman thing the other year.
Martha and Maria were both happy to let them ramble on like that, oblivious to the fact that time seemed to have frozen at 7.30. Martha didn’t want Tom to know she was a person weird things like this happened to all the time and Maria didn’t want her dad to know that Sarah Jane was the sort of person who wasn’t even SURPRISED when odd things happened.
Sarah Jane closed the curtains. She didn’t want Alan to notice that the ‘chaser’ lights running around the picture window of his living room appeared to be ‘frozen’ or that his blinking Christmas tree lights weren’t blinking. And she didn’t need to see the tom cat from number 15 sitting on a parked car with one front paw raised to scratch itself. It had been like that for at least five minutes. She wasn’t sure exactly how long since she had no way to tell the time.
“Well,” she said, turning from the window. “Even if the clocks have all stopped we can still have a good evening. I’ll go get some more food and… let’s put on some music.”
She had made plenty of food for the party. Maria had teased her about it, reminding her there were only EIGHT of them to eat it.
But if time was frozen at 7.30, if they never reached Midnight, how much food would they need?
Clyde was tired and hungry. He had been going around in circles for ages. It felt like HOURS although he could not say for certain since his watch and phone STILL said 7.30. He was feeling lonely, too. He had not seen ANYONE in the street since he met the mad woman.
It was HER, of course. She had done something. He wasn’t sure WHAT, but she had done something.
He sighed and turned his bike around. He decided to go home. He’d call Sarah Jane from there and tell her what had happened. She would understand.
He rode away down the other road…..
….. and found himself at the corner of Bannerman Road again.
Clyde burst into tears. He was fourteen, going on fifteen. He was a boy. He didn’t cry.
But right now he felt so scared, so frustrated, so alone.
Everyone was carrying on as normal, enjoying the party. They were chatting and eating, drinking, playing Trivial Pursuit. Mr Lumsden and Tom Millegan were neck and neck because they were both brilliant at the science questions. Nobody looked at their watches. Nobody looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. If they didn’t do that, then it was all just a normal bunch of friends at a party.
Sarah Jane should have been doing better at the game, too. She had loads of experience as a journalist. Even in that capacity she had travelled all over the world. But her mind wasn’t on geography or history or entertainment or whatever the other categories were. She stood up and went to the window and looked out. Luke followed her.
“It’s only been forty-five minutes,” he told her.
“How can you tell?”
“I’ve been counting. When I noticed all the clocks had stopped I started counting the seconds. It’s only about a quarter past eight.”
“I thought it was longer. Even so, I am worried about Clyde.” She turned away from the window and went back to the game. She poured herself a glass of soda water and ice. There were several bottles of wine, but she felt she needed a clear head.
Clyde had an idea. He left his bike propped against the hedge and stepped up to Number 1 Bannerman Road. He didn’t know who lived there, but they might let him use the phone. He could call the police or… his mum. ANYONE.
He knocked at the door. As he did so he glanced at the window. There were Christmas lights all around it, as there were on most of the big front windows in the street. They hadn’t got as mad as people in America with the whole house lit up yet, but letting other people know you HAVE Christmas lights was the in thing.
But the lights weren’t ‘chasing’ as they were meant to do, and as he looked inside, he saw the occupants of No. 1. A couple and their two kids. They were all playing monopoly, with drinks and food nearby. The oldest kid had the dice shaker in his hand. The dad had a beer can at his lips. The mum and the girl were counting their paper money.
And they were just frozen like that, as if time had stood still.
Clyde slipped around the back and found that the kitchen door was unlocked, as it tended to be in his house and most houses he knew. There was loads of party food laid out on the kitchen table. It reminded him that he was supposed to be heading for a party.
He went through to the living room and looked at the people. He touched the father on the arm. He felt warm. He wasn’t DEAD. But…
Clyde felt his pulse. There wasn’t one.
There was an odd noise in the room. He looked around and traced it to the CD player. The LED counter that showed how much time there was on the track that was playing seemed to be frozen at 3 minutes and 20 seconds. What he was hearing was one note playing over and over.
Time was frozen. There was no pulse because the man was in between heartbeats. Clyde was walking around in a frozen moment.
That daft old bag had done it. She had frozen everyone else and left him wandering around in some kind of time loop.
If everyone else was frozen, and he wasn’t, then he would get old and everyone else would stay the same. He could be like this for YEARS, all on his own among a load of frozen people.
Except he wouldn’t be. He’d starve to death first. There were maybe fifteen houses that he could reach in the loop he was stuck in. If he ate all the food in them, bit by bit, he could manage a few weeks, a few months, maybe. But then….
MUM! He murmured. Mum, I wish you’d come with me, in the car. We’d be there at Sarah Jane’s already. We’d be ok.
We’d be frozen too, he thought. But at least then they wouldn’t KNOW.
He remembered that he WAS hungry. He went back to the kitchen and filled a plate with chicken drumsticks and pork pie slices, prawn vol-au-vents and bite-sized mini-pizzas. He looked in the fridge. There were loads of beers and pop for the kids. He took a can of coke. The beer was tempting, but he thought he’d better have a clear head. He sat at the table and ate and drank the coke and felt a little better after that. He washed the plate and threw the coke can in the blue box by the back door where the family put cans for recycling.
He felt less hungry. But he was still scared and alone. He went back outside. Being in the house with that frozen family was just depressing.
His bike was still there. Well, who would steal it, after all.
He wondered if the WHOLE world was frozen or just the bit he was in, a sort of time bubble.
Or was the world normal and he was sort of slowed down so that a second lasts forever?
He didn’t want to think about it. He just wanted either to go home or go to Sarah Jane’s. And he couldn’t do either.
Sarah Jane went to the window again. She felt more and more uneasy as time went on – or didn’t. She looked out, trying to see if ANYTHING had changed.
Then she thought she saw something. She grabbed her handbag and ran out of the room. Maria and Martha both stood up to follow. So did Luke. She turned and told them all to stay put as she wrenched open the front door.
Clyde saw a movement in the shadows by the neatly cut hedge at No.4. It was the first movement he had seen since this all began. He ran and grabbed at the figure that tried to dart away from him.
“You, you daft old bag!” he shouted, gripping the woman in the shawl firmly. “What have you done? And why?”
“Take you hands off me,” she cried out. Clyde noted her voice wasn’t as ‘dialect’ as before. He looked at her face. She wasn’t as old, either. She looked more like Sarah Jane’s age now. What that meant, Clyde didn’t know.
“I’m not letting go until you tell me what’s going on,” he answered. “And until you put things right and let me get to Sarah Jane’s house.”
She struggled, but he got her into an armlock around the neck. He felt wrong doing that to a woman, but she was the one who started this, after all.
There was a sort of black moment and Clyde saw that he and the woman were both in a different part of the street. They were now standing in front of Sarah Jane’s house. The woman had somehow transported them, or used her mastery of time to move them without him seeing himself move.
“What’s it all about?” he demanded again. “I’m not the sort of boy who hits women, but I might just change my mind about that if you don’t talk.”
“It’s about time,” she said. “I need to feed on it. I can’t stop my body from aging without it. I need the time of a person who has travelled in the Time Vortex. I tracked down Sarah Jane Smith. I knew she would do. And there’s another within that house, who also has the aura about her. I only needed a few hours of their time. They would not miss it. But she was rude to me. She disrespected me. So I took it by force. And when I am young again she shall stay trapped, her and her friends. You will grow old and die, trapped in an eternal moment.”
“You loony old BAG!” Clyde retorted. “Release us, now, or I’ll….”
“Clyde!” Sarah Jane shouted as she ran down the driveway from her house. “Clyde, stand back, stand away from her.”
“But she’ll get away,” he protested. “I’ve got to hold onto her.”
“Duck!” Sarah Jane shouted and as she did she aimed the sonic screwdriver she got for Christmas. Clyde ducked as a blue, shimmering beam came from it and enveloped the woman.
“Come on, behind me,” Sarah Jane told Clyde. “I’ve just broken her hold on the localised temporal field. She had me and Mr Smith fooled. She isn’t mostly Human. That was a sort of glamour she cast. But my watch is giving me the right reading now. Pure Kulian. And she’s running out of time…”
Before their eyes the woman was getting older again as the time she had stolen was drained from her. She became old again. Then much older. She screamed at first, but then her voice seemed to crack. The elderly, wizened creature mouthed silently, then a bright light seemed to come out of her mouth and eyes. It spread around her and became too bright to see anything for a moment.
“Where did she go?” Clyde asked when he could see again.
“Time caught up with her,” Sarah said. She looked at her watch. It was a quarter to nine. Time had caught up with THEM, too. She looked around. Yes, time was working again. The cat had jumped down from the car and the lights were chasing around the front window of Alan and Maria’s house.
“Did you see that!” demanded a strident voice. “Bloody kids letting off fireworks at any hour of the day or night. They should be banned from sale.”
Sarah Jane looked around and saw Maria’s mother, Chrissie, marching across the road.
“I’m going to get my bike, before it gets nicked,” Clyde told Sarah Jane and ran off. Sarah Jane looked at Chrissie and briefly wondered whether she had time to run, too.
“Yes,” she agreed. “They ARE a nuisance. Were you looking for Alan and Maria? I thought they said you were going to a party tonight.”
“I…” Chrissie looked disconcerted. “I was, but then I thought… It’s New Year. I want to see my daughter and Alan… family time… you know what I mean?”
What she meant, Sarah Jane thought, was that her and her boyfriend, Ivan, had another tiff and she had come to the people who would always take her in no matter what a pain in the neck she was.
“Come on,” Sarah Jane said out loud to her. “We’re all over at my house. We’re having a bit of a party.”
She turned and followed Clyde as he wheeled his bike up the path and chained it by the side of the house. Chrissie followed, chattering about something Sarah Jane wasn’t really listening to. But after all they had been through in the past hour, Sarah Jane didn’t care if Chrissie talked till midnight, just so long as they REACHED midnight.