Sky Smith watched her friend Rani at work in Sarah-Jane’s kitchen. She knew that Rani was a talented journalist, of course, but it was a total surprise to learn that she was also skilled at making exotic food like samosas – both vegetarian and meat filled, and fragrant, crisp onion bhajis.
“I helped my dad make samosas since I was about four,” she explained. “My job was to brush egg around the edge of the pastry to seal them. When I was older I was allowed to spoon the filling onto them and fold them over. Dad wouldn’t let me put them in the fryer until I was twelve, though.”
Rani stopped reminiscing. There was a look on Sky’s face. A childhood like that was the very thing she had never had, of course. Sarah-Jane had given her a good, happy, loving home, but she couldn’t give her memories like that.
“You can do the egg around the edges if you like,” she suggested. Sky grinned and looked for the pastry brush.
“Funny,” she said, looking around the wide centre island of workspace. “It was there before. I brushed the edges of all those wretched little vol au vent cases.”
She wasn’t regretting saying she could handle the buffet food for the pre-Christmas party while Sarah-Jane attended a meeting at UNIT’s not-so-secret headquarters in the Tower of London. It was simple enough. The vol au vents, cocktail sausage rolls and other party treats were in the freezer ready to bake. It was just a matter of organising the oven time.
But she had really fallen out of favour with the fiddly little frozen discs of puff pastry.
It was a special party. Sarah-Jane had contacted dozens of people who at some time in their lives had known The Doctor. Jo Grant-Jones was coming, so were some of their long-retired UNIT friends. A lady called Tegan Jovanka who usually lived in Australia was in London for the month on business and was looking forward to the ‘reunion’.
Nobody was quite sure if The Doctor would come, or even WHICH Doctor, as they had known several of her past regenerations. But it was going to be a great party, anyway.
But sausage rolls and vol au vents, even the breaded cheesy jalapeno bites Sarah-Jane had found in Iceland’s festive party aisle were small fare for such an event. Rani had volunteered to make some more exotic dishes. Samosas and bhajis were simple enough. There was also going to be savoury fritters called pakora, a donut shaped savoury dumpling called vada and a half dozen other recipes Mr Chandra had perfected over the years in between being a teacher and headmaster. This was going to be a buffet worthy of such exalted guests.
Or it would be if Sky could find the pastry brush.
“Isn’t that it?” Rani pointed to the shelf next to the cooker where Sarah-Jane kept an impressive array of spices and herbs. The pastry brush was stuck between the ground garlic and oregano.
“Well, how did it get there?” Sky asked as she snatched up the brush and went to the sink to wash it before egging the samosas, now waiting to be completed. “I wouldn’t put it in such a silly place.”
“I don’t know,” Rani answered as she looked around for the small, sharp knife she needed to finely chop onions for the bhajis.
She had last seen it on the drying rack, carefully point down after washing. But it wasn’t there now. Nor was the serrated knife she had cut the squares of samosa pastry with.
“Did you move the knives?” she asked.
“No, I’m busy egging the samosas,” Sky answered, holding up the eggy brush as proof. “Is that them on top of the tea towel?”
Rani turned to see the two knives point down in the tea towel that was hanging on a hook by the draining board.
“I didn’t put them in such a dangerous place,” Rani insisted. She was absolutely certain Sky didn’t. She had been busy around the island moving sausage rolls from the baking tray to the cooling rack before she started the fiddly egging job that took up all her time.
Rani snatched up the knives and then put them down on the counter as the oven timer pinged signalling that another batch of goodies were done. She looked for the oven glove that SHOULD have been hanging on the oven door.
Instead she found it on top of the toaster. Fortunately it wasn’t switched on, but again Rani was sure neither she nor Sky would do anything so stupidly dangerous.
She pulled mini deep dish pizzas, mini chicken and leek pies and a batch of spicy mince pies out of the oven and put the next batch of savoury pastries in, then turned to look for the knives again.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” she exclaimed as she turned about and found both knives sticking out of a wrapped loaf of bread. “This isn’t a joke. We’ve got loads of work to do and no time for messing around.”
“I’m not doing anything,” Sky protested. “I was just going to take the samosas to the fryer.”
“All right, but be careful. Dad doesn’t even let me do that bit, now, at my age.”
Sky knew how to use the electronic fat fryer safely. She had already switched it on to get hot enough for the very fast frying that samosas needed.
Or she thought she had. She put the first samosa in and it floated in cold oil. She scooped it out and turned angrily.
“Why did you switch off the dryer?” she demanded.
“I never touched it,” Rani answered. “I’m too busy to play silly games.”
“So am I,” Sky responded. “And I’ve got to wait, now, to carry on with the frying.”
“Well… get the pigs in blankets out of the freezer and onto a baking tray,” Rani said. “And the cocktail sausages.”
There were plenty of jobs to do, and no time to waste. It was starting to feel much less fun, though, with more than a hint of resentment between them. Neither was sure it wawsn’t the other who was moving things. They went on working quietly either end of the island without the chatter that had made it feel less like work.
“Sky, enough is enough!” Rani exclaimed suddenly. “I put greaseproof paper on two trays for the stuff coming out of the fryer. Now where are they? Why do you keep moving things?”
“I haven’t moved ANYTHING.” Sky answered in outraged and dismayed tones. Tears pricked her eyes as she defended her own actions.
“You must have. Look, here they are, over by the fridge.”
Rani veritably stomped around the kitchen to get the trays just in time to drain the excess fat from the samosas and then place the first of the bhajis into the fryer.
“I DIDN’T mov the trays,” Sky insisted unhappily. “And when did you become boss of this kitchen, anyway, telling me what I did or didn’t do?”
She turned away, the tears of frustration now coming down her face. Rani started to move towards her but she was distracted by the oven timer beeping again, and by the time she had retrieved the baking she had to get the first batch of bhajis out of the fryer. Sky was standing there doing nothing while she was running around coping with everything.
And it wasn’t even HER party.
It wasn’t even HER kitchen.
Tears pricked her eyes, too. She felt hot and irritable and tired of the hot kitchen smells in her nostrils. She stood almost motionless, looking \across the island at Sky, feeling such deep bitter anger towards her.
When the kitchen door suddenly swung open admitting Luke and Pieter, something of the hostile impasse broke. The two girls turned from looking at each other to looking at the boys, home from Cambridge with Christmas smiles.
“How is my favourite sister?” Luke asked. On the one hand it was the very worst question to ask at that moment. On the other it was the best. Sky ran to him, crying openly. He held her gently while the tears flowed, looking from Pieter to Rani who looked almost as close to tears and as much in need of a reassuring hug.
Again, there was a long pause, this time broken by the oven timer. Pieter grabbed the oven glove from the shelf and pulled out the trays of food. He left them on the counter and looked up at the shelf above.
“Why did Sarah-Jane buy one of those absurd things?” he asked. For a moment nobody understood what he meant, and in any case they couldn’t see what it had to do with their problem.
“She didn’t,” Sky answered him as she looked at the silly, grinning ‘Elf on the Shelf’ toy. “Even a couple of years ago when they were in fashion mum said they were a ridiculous idea. She certainly didn’t get one now everyone knows they’re stupid.”
“Then what is it doing here?” Luke asked.
“I have no idea,” Rani said. “But if you want to get rid of it don’t hold back on my account. I hate those things.”
“Me, too,” Sky commented. “They’re so creepy, and not even anything to do with Christmas.”
Pieter reached towards the elf and then pulled his hand back quickly.
“It... Isn’t grinning, now.” For a moment he forgot to speak English. “Es knurrt… I mean… it is snarling. I felt like it was going to bite my hand.”
Now everyone was looking at the elf, and it definitely WAS snarling.
Luke grabbed the oven glove and a large cooking pot with a lid. He grabbed the elf and pushed it into the pot, slamming down the lid.
“I'm taking this up to Mr Smith,” he said. “Let's see what it REALLY is, because they were never marketed as malevolent demons.”
Luke ran from the kitchen with his hand pressed down on the pot lid. The others took a few moments to follow him, Rani coming last after pausing to turn off the cooker.
“Mr Smith, we need you,” Luke cried as he raced into the attic room. On cue the alien computer hidden in the chimney breast opened up with the usual fanfare.
“I could answer your inquiry with much less drama, Master Luke,” K9 pointed out. “Good afternoon Master Pieter. Good afternoon Mistress Rani and Mistress Sky. You are both experiencing heightened levels of the ‘anger' hormones, oxytocin and vasopressin and the stress hormone, cortisol.
“No kidding,” Rani responded with rather more sarcasm than K9 could possibly interpret. Meanwhile, Mr Smith had fully opened up and Luke dropped the Elf into his analytical receptacle.
“This is an ordinary toy made of various artificial fibres and olymers,” Mr Smith concluded after thirty seconds or so. “However, it has been infected by a Cyclonian Entity.”
“And what is one of those when it is at home?” Rani asked. “Which it obviously isn’t in Sarah-Jane’s kitchen.”
“A non-corporeal but highly telekinetic existence which preys upon sentient beings such as humans by creating situations which cause stress and anger that they are then able to feed upon.”
“Telekinetic,” Rani queried. “You mean it was moving things around in the kitchen to upset us and make us angry with each other?”
“That would be the meaning of the computer’s assessment, Mistress,” K9 said.
“Affirmative,” Mr Smith added. “Fortunately, computers and robot dogs cannot be angered, which is neutralising the effect. However, as K9 has pointed out, Mistress Rani and Mistress Sky are still exuding the hormones the entity craves.”
“Well, enough of THAT,” Rani declared. She turned to Sky and hugged her. “I’m sorry I was mad at you.”
“I'm sorry, too,” Sky answered. “It was that horrible thing tricking us both.”
“Just an annoying little entity.”
They both laughed. How absurd all the tension had been, after all.
“The entity is weakening,” Mr Smith reported. “It has been starved of anger hormones.”
There was no obvious sign of anything happening, though Sky and Rani both claimed to feel as if a weight was lifting from them. Certainly, all the resentments they had harboured were gone. They were friends again.
“The entity is gone,” Mr Smith declared. The receptacle opened and Luke picked up the Elf. The annoying grin was back, fixed on the plastic face.
Luke dropped it on the floor.
“K9, disintegrate it,” he ordered. K9 obeyed with an “Affirmative, Master Luke.” His laser was so fast and accurate there wasn’t even a scorch mark on the carpet to show where the toy had been.
“We've still got tons to do in the kitchen,” Sky pointed out. “You boys can help now you're here.”
“Yes, Mistress Rani,” Pieter answered her. Luke just smiled and dared anything to spoil the festive mood again this afternoon.