Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Doctor Who - Red Letter Day

The disappearances had been going on for some time before myself and the other gentleman became involved. On many occasions since, I have cursed the day I ever set foot in the wretched bookshop – certainly my nerves have never fully recovered. There are still those who recognise me in the street, glancing askance, inferring upon me a sinister notoriety I scarcely deserve. For that reason, I have resolved to record my own version of events, in the hope that it will go some way to drawing a line under the whole affair. Perhaps too, it will convince some of those who left my life that it may yet be safe to return.

The Bookshop in question enjoyed a reputation in the town for sourcing rare and unusual editions. It was equally famed for the haphazard nature of its collections and so I had set aside a day for my explorations. I was looking for a particular copy of “Peter Pan and Wendy” to gift to Miriam – it had been her favourite book as a child – and as I wandered leisurely in and out of the rickety wooden maze of shelving and book stacks, I became gradually aware of being watched. I looked around, but seeing no one, I continued my deliberations. Shortly thereafter the feeling came upon me once more, and this time, I could also hear a whispering – again, not uncommon within the more respectable bookshops, but as I looked around, there was still no one to be seen. I rang the bell upon the counter for service, more for the reassurance of company than assistance, and as if in response there came a low guttural giggle. There was then within me, a very sudden and inexplicable panic, a tremendous overpowering urge to flee, and so, with scant regard to who might see me, I ran foolishly towards the door, intent on leaving immediately. But the door was no longer there.

At first, assuming I had become confused and inexplicably lost my bearings in a small city bookshop, I looked around, expecting the door to be elsewhere. It was then that I saw the man sitting cross legged on the floor.
“Odd isn’t it?” said the gentleman “That’s where I was sure the door was as well.”
I politely nodded, hoping my acknowledgement would not be taken as an invitation to further conversation. Naturally it was.
“Sorry.” He said “I didn’t mean to startle you. I’m the Doctor. Good afternoon. Is it still afternoon? You lose track of time in bookshops…”
“No…it’s before eleven.”
“Ah…then is it still Tuesday?”
“Not until tomorrow. Excuse me.”
I wandered across the room, still looking hopefully for the door, no longer interested in buying anything this shop had to offer.
“At least a week then. No wonder I’m getting tired.”
I was embarrassed and annoyed and in no mood for further nonsense from the gentleman.
“What’s this all about?” I said “Were you the one laughing just now?”
“No. No I don’t find our situation remotely funny.” He said “And that feeling? Like you’re being watched? I feel that too. Something’s watching both of us – presumably the same something that has hidden the door.”
“Don’t be ridiculous” I said, intent on maintaining some semblance of normality “I stepped through the door not 5 minutes ago…I’ve become disorientated is all.”
The Doctor smiled.
“Possibly. Though again….that’s how I tried to rationalise it. Is it really that big a bookshop d’you think?”
I looked again, I was so certain; I ran my hands over the wall as if expecting it to give way, revealing one of those secret passages so popular in gothic fiction.
“This was the door.”
“And yet…it isn’t there.”
The panic came again, this time finally resolving itself into terror. I grabbed at one of the shelves to steady myself.
“I only came in here for a gift for my fianc├ęs birthday.”
The Doctor stared at me for a moment, then, clearly having reached some sort of decision he smiled and leaped up from the floor, hand extended.
“I didn’t catch your name.”
“Harper. Maxwell Harper.”
“How do you do Harper. Glad you’re here. And no. I don’t know the way out either.” 
Hands still shaking, I passed the Doctor my flask, but he declined.
“Unlike yourself Harper, I didn’t actually come here looking for books. I was looking for people. Missing people.”
Here finally, was something I could understand, something real.
“You’re investigating the disappearances?”
“I was. What do you know?”
“No more than has been in the papers.”
By this stage you may recall that more than twenty people had apparently vanished over the preceding fortnight. It would be fair to say that it’s very likely more than twenty people vanish every day in London, people who are already invisible, destitute and alone. This twenty, who had more obviously vanished, were well heeled city folk. The presence of the gentleman and the strangeness of our situation suddenly put an altogether different complexion upon the matter.
“You think the bookshop has something to do with the disappearances?”
“I know it has. Listen.”
I was first aware of a low moaning, then a whispering
“It’s the books.” Said The Doctor “There are ghosts in the books.”
“Ghosts! Please don’t tell me you’re one of those dreadful spritualists.”
The Doctor hushed me, and I heard once again the strange whispering I had heard before. This time though, the voices were more distinct, sad, some crying, all talking at once without order or reason, as if desperate to be heard.
“Can you hear them? The books are talking Harper. I’ve been hearing them for hours now.” 
He lifted a book from the nearest shelf, ran his fingers carefully along the cover, then lifted it up to his face, first sniffing at it, then listening to it as if it were a shell found at the seaside. His face darkened.
“Something very bad is happening here Harper. These aren’t just books.”
He handed me the book. It had no title. I carefully opened it; the pages were of a heavy yellow vellum, more suitable for manuscript. Indeed, that seemed to be what it was, for across every page the words were scrawled in a deep angry red, like scars across the parchment. Realisation came then, and I dropped the book in horror and disgust. The Doctor carefully picked it up and respectfully returned it to its resting place on the nearest shelf.
“The books are…written in blood?”
“I’m afraid its rather worse than that. Whoever has been making the books doesn’t believe in wasting anything at all. And we need to put a stop to that.” 
I’m sure my face betrayed my terror, my cowardice, for he brightened then, as if resolving to reassure me by his own example.
“There’s a door back here I can’t get opened. Maybe if we give it a go together eh?”

We pushed at the door and finally it gave way, revealing stairs leading down towards the cellar. Below, burning torches, bathed the room in a low red flickering light. I will not pretend I took the first steps down those stairs. Neither did I run, much as every part of my being seemed to scream at me to do so. 

We surveyed the room, even in the poor light the cogs and grinders of some awful machine could be seen, stretching and stitching the terrible leather of those bindings. The Doctor was staring into the corner. As my eyes became accustomed to the light, I could make out a hunched figure. The shape shuffled and giggled.
“Hello there! I’m The Doctor, I’m a…”
“Time Lord, yes. I gathered. I’ve been watching you wander around my shop for days. I cannot wait to write your story.”
The figure kept his back to us, still clearly busying himself with some unpleasant task.
“Oh there was no need to be shy. You could have come and said hello…I don’t bite. Which I’m guessing is probably more than can be said for you.”
The man turned and stepped out from the shadows into the dim red light of the workshop. He was a fat, unpleasant looking fellow, wearing the telescopic glasses jewellers use for precision work.
“This is my friend Mr Maxwell Harper. And you are?”
“A simple craftsman.”
He gestured around the room.
“Do you like my machines? Certainly they can help you create…but you must of course have the spark of imagination to start with.” He grinned. “And the right materials.”
“You’re too modest.” Said The Doctor “Operating this level of technology takes more than craftsmanship Mister..?”
“On this world, I am but the nib.”
“Mr Nib.”
He stepped forward again, just far enough that we were able to see he was brandishing a number of knives.
“There are always collectors on the look out for something new and different. My books from this planet are very much in vogue in certain circles.”
“And you use this machine to what? Unpick and extrapolate their life and memories?”
“As a starting point.” Said Nib “Then I embellish the stories slightly. More glamour, more pain. My collectors can only take so much of the mundanity of this tedious little planet. But they do love the misery. The sorrow.”
The Doctor lifted a book.
“But these are people….in every possible sense.”
“Yes. That’s rather the unique selling point Doctor. You however, will be a true original. It’s whether you are one oversized edition or an eight volume set.”
All the while they had been talking, I continued to look desperately around the room for something, anything that could aid us in escaping. Certainly there were no other obvious exits from the cellar, only his machines and the endless dark shelves, rows and rows of unread lives, unlived. It became clear to me then, that far more than twenty souls had become the focus of Nib’s craft. 

All pretence of polite conversation now dropped, Nib circled The Doctor in predatory excitement.
“You will be my finest work. Truly priceless. Timeless.”
Nib lunged for The Doctor, blades outstretched and instinctively The Doctor shielded himself with the book he was holding. As the knives plunged in, there was a shriek then what sounded like a sigh before the book crumbled into pieces.
“No!” cried Nib.
Seizing his opportunity, The Doctor pushed Nib back towards the machinery and then grabbed one of the torches from the wall.
“I can’t believe I’m going to say this Harper…burn the books!” he cried “It’s the only way to free them.”
I flailed around, grabbing as many of the braziers from the wall as possible, and setting them to the shelves while the Doctor continued to fight off the fiend who had written them. 
As each book took flame, there was a terrible screaming, a wailing release from the pain and the eternal sadness of what might have been. Not undaunted, but certainly undeterred, I visited fire upon each and every one of the damnable volumes. The cellar walls were now aflame, and the shelves began to crack and topple. I caught sight of The Doctor attempting to haul Nib back, but he charged into the flames as if somehow expecting to rescue his abysmal machines. There was fire all around and amidst the burning books, a constant unearthly howling. In those final moments, The Doctor dragged me back up the stairs. By now, blackened and coughing, I was sure my own story was coming to an end. The Doctor smiled sadly as everything began to blur..
“You know, my birthday always seems to end up like this.” he said, and then he handed me a book.

It was two days later that I was discovered unconscious in the scorched rubble of the bookshop, surrounded by the bones of the missing, still holding the book The Doctor had given me. My own distressed and dishevelled state went some way to convincing the authorities of my innocence – but only just. In any case, my association, however unfortunate with the horrific bookshop murders was enough to immediately distance me from polite society. 

I spent months unable even to leave my house, my only comfort, the book given to me by The Doctor. For days I would grip it, as if to anchor myself to this world lest I once again drifted into his. But those days are behind me now, and I am ready to give it to Miriam, for whom it was intended, if she will but pass my way again.

There are loads of sites featuring "fanfic", stories, books and novels based on other people's creations; some really REALLY weird stuff out there, but loads of cool stuff too. This was my entry into a Doctor Who competition run by audiobook company Big Finish a few years ago. As you may have did not win. But it was right good fun to write. For the record, its meant to be the Paul McGann version of the Doctor. But yknow...if you have to explain it...