|    |
Janine Gallagher sat on the floor in Tori's room, her chin resting on her knees. She had intended to sit to the bed, but she had missed and then found it to be too much effort to get up again. The ambulances and the police cars were long gone, but Janine could still hear the ringing in her ears.
The reflection in the mirror was not her own. It was blurred and fractured as if she were seeing it through smoke. She felt as if she were far away, viewing events rather than living them. It was not real and maybe, if she sat here long enough, everything would be all right again.
* * *
Mina sat very still, her hands cradled in her lap. The chair was cold and hard, but Mina was sitting so rigidly she did not notice. The hospital waiting room was crowded with people all clamouring to be heard, but Mina stared straight ahead, her thoughts focussed inwards.
Her dress was still stained with blood. The Doctor's blood. She had watched it leak out of him, watched the sparkle in his eyes fade. And there was nothing she could do except cradle him until help arrived. Now, she could not even do that.
A man in blue was standing in front of her.
'Mrs Harker?' he began. 'I'm Mike. I'm one of the nurses here. You came in with Dr Seward, didn't you?'
Mina nodded. She was still staring straight ahead. The only reason she could see Mike was because he was standing directly in front of her.
Mike pressed a warm plastic cup into her hand.
'Here, I brought you some tea,' he said. 'You look like you could do with some. Listen, they're just prepping Dr Seward for surgery right now. I know that knife went pretty deep and I know it looks bad, but he's got Dr Collins looking after him and your friend couldn't be in better hands.'
Mina nodded. Mike still had his hand on hers so he gave it a comforting squeeze.
'There's some policemen hanging around,' he continued, 'wanting to ask you some questions. I told them you were too shaken up to talk about it right now. Look, waiting rooms aren't the nicest of places to be stuck in. What say we take a walk outside? Your friend is going to be in there a while and you look like you could do with some fresh air.'
Mina managed a weak smile. 'Yes,' she murmured, 'I'd like that.'
* * *
Elsewhere, a boy was playing on the swings. He paused to glance at the chunky black watch on his wrist. And smiled.
* * *
Dr Jack Collins found Nurse Hathaway sitting on the edge of a trolley in the corridor outside of the operating theatre. Her arms were wrapped tightly around herself as if she were cold.
'Marie, you okay?' Collins asked.
'Yes, of course, Doctor, I'll be fine,' Marie stammered.
'It's Jack,' Dr Collins insisted, 'and I'm not judging you.'
'I'm sorry,' Marie said. 'It's just, the patient, Dr Seward he's so '
'Crazy?' Dr Collins supplied. 'Touched in the head?'
'I'm being silly, aren't I?' Marie said. 'But some of the things he said '
Marie closed her eyes, but rather than blackness, she could see the cramped operating theatre imprinted on the back of her eyelids. Dr Seward was lying on the gurney, long brown hair fanned out around his long face. He skin was an almost pristine white. He had lost a lot of blood, but they had managed to stabilise him. Now they needed to see what they could do about the damage to his heart. Suddenly, she could feel his cold fingers tightening around her wrist, his grey-blue eyes cut through her like a scalpel blade.
'Where am I?' The words were soft. Had there been even the slightest breeze, Marie was sure it would have carried them away.
Marie tried to prise his fingers from her wrist, but they were stuck like glue.
'You're in St Luke's hospital, Dr Seward,' Marie explained. She wanted to turn and cry for help, but she was held tight in the pull of his crystal clear gaze.
'Seward? That's not my name. At least I don't think it is. And I would know, wouldn't I? Wouldn't I?' Dr Seward seemed particularly distressed by this point. 'And hospital? What would I be doing in hospital?'
'You've been stabbed.' And you shouldn't even be conscious, Marie thought. 'We've brought you here for surgery.'
'Surgery? Oh, I don't need surgery.' The man grinned. 'Caught my heart, didn't they? Hmm, better make that hearts. My, my, my, I am in a bad way. Good thing you came along when you did. I must have looked most undignified bleeding on to the pavement. Or is it sidewalk here? I'm sorry, but I didn't get much of a chance to familiarise myself with local geography.' He winked. 'Too busy being stabbed at the time, you see. But I've had my little nap now. I think it's well past time my body got on with the process of healing itself. Now, if you'll just help me off this bed '
'I'm sorry, Dr Seward, but the human body doesn't work that way.' Marie was trying to be reasonable, but there was a note of hysteria creeping into her voice. 'You need surgery.'
'Well, it's kind of you to offer, but I really don't think so. And by the way, human is such a vague description, don't you think.' He sat bolt upright and placed his other hand against his bare chest. His skin was so pale, almost translucent. Blood was flowing from beneath the temporary dressings. 'Yes, I'm sure my hearts are already knitting themselves back together. I can feel them moving about in there.' His brow creased. 'I should feel Oh no. No, this isn't right. This isn't right at all.' He grabbed hold of her other wrist, his grip tight enough to cut off her circulation. 'Marie, you've got to help me. Something something's interfering with the regenerative process. He's trying to kill me!' Dr Seward collapsed back on to the bed, throwing his head from side to side as he mumbled to himself. 'Got to help me. Got to help me. Got to help me.'
As his voice diminished had into nothingness, another nurse had finally managed to pry his fingers from Marie's wrists. Marie had fled from the room.
'You don't have to go back in there, you know,' Dr Collins was saying. 'I can find someone else.'
'No, no, I'm fine. Really,' Marie insisted. 'I'm just a bit shaken up, that's all.'
'Well, if you're sure.' Collins looked doubtful for a moment, before beaming back at her as he opened the theatre door. 'Let's go save a life.'
Marie took a couple of deep breaths before following Dr Collins inside. Dr Seward was still lying where she had left him, but now he was fully sedated. She wondered how he had known her name.
* * *
The boy had climbed off of the swing. Something shining in the grass had caught his eye. He bent down to pick it up. Holding the tiny hypodermic needle between finger and thumb, he laughed as he watched it catch the light. Finally tiring of the game, he pocketed the needle and set off across the park towards the blocks of flats.
* * *
Someone was hammering on the door. She could hear it rattling in its frame. It rattled in the wind, too, sometimes, but you could not expect the council to invest in quality.
Janine was still curled up on the floor in Tori's room. She had knocked over her daughter's collection of LPs when she fell and perfect faces stared mockingly at her from the glossy sleeves.
'Mrs Gallagher? Mrs Gallagher? Are you in there? It's Audrey.'
Audrey Beckett. Come to pay her respects, no doubt. Bloody hypocrite. Audrey was just here to spy, to see what gossip she could get from the tragedy to tell the other harpies at the bingo hall. She had not cared about Tori in life. Why should her death make any difference?
Janine wanted to shout at her, to tell her what she really thought, but she bit her tongue. Why give her more ammunition? If she stayed quiet, Audrey would eventually grow bored and go away. She just wished everyone would go away. First the ambulance men, then the police. They had still been questioning her when Scott had come in. She had tried to explain, tried to find the right words, but how do you tell someone their kid sister has killed herself.
He had turned around and ran right back out of the flat. She had wanted to go after him, but the policewoman had stopped her.
'Give him space,' she had said. 'He just needs some time.'
Well, what about me? Janine had wanted to shout back.
The vicar had called by a bit later to offer his condolences. Janine liked him, he was one of the few people prepared to make time for the Gallaghers, especially after Dave had well, it was not as if there were any secrets anymore. But Janine could not recall a word the vicar had said. She had offered him tea and they had sat in the kitchen while he made it for them. And she had shovelled spoon after spoon of sugar into her mug. And they had sat and talked, but Janine could not remember a word.
She could hear wailing in the distance. Slowly her mind began to focus on the noise. Timmy had woken up. She should go to him. But if she got up, if she left the room, she felt as if she would be saying goodbye to some part of Tori. But her baby needed her and Tori did not any more.
* * *
Aaron flicked the cigarette stub in the direction of the drain. It missed. He did not care.
There was a boy crossing the street in front of him. Aaron did not recognise him and he was dressed far to smart to be one of the local children.
'Hey kid, are you lost?' he asked. He pulled a fresh packet of cigarettes from his pocket and tore off the cellophane.
'Lost?' the kid giggled. He had a girl's voice. 'Aren't we all.'
'Great. Pop philosophy from a half-pint. This I need.' Aaron removed a cigarette and raised it to his lips.
'What about you, Aaron? Are you lost?' the child said. 'Shouldn't you be thinking of getting away from here after what you did?'
'What are you talking about?' Aaron demanded. 'Is this some kind of joke? Did Scott send you?'
'No, not Scott. Tell me, Aaron, how does it feel to take a life? Does it make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?'
'Why you ' Aaron dashed across the street and grabbed the boy by the scruff of his shirt. 'How do you know all that?'
Aaron was looking directly into the boy's eyes. He watched as the pupils expanded until the sockets were filled with pools of blackness. But there was something moving in the darkness. Hundreds and hundreds of snakes writhing just beneath the surface.
Aaron dropped the boy and staggered back.
'What are you?' he choked.
The boy straightened his shirt.
'I can be whatever you want me to be. What do you want, Aaron?'
'I don't want nothing.' Aaron fumbled with his lighter, but his hands were shaking and he could not make it light.
'Suit yourself.' The boy shrugged. 'I'll go elsewhere then. Still, if you change you're mind, all you've got to do is whistle. You do know how to whistle, don't you?' He turned to go, then added, 'Just one more thing. Here.'
'What?' Aaron asked.
The end of his cigarette ignited.
* * *
'Shh, everything's gonna be all right. Mummy's here.'
She was rocking Timmy in her arms. She had just changed him and they were still in the kitchen.
'Everything's gonna be just fine.'
She was crying. She could not remember when she had started or if she had ever stopped. How was she going to tell Timmy? He was too young to understand, but he would remember Tori and sooner or later he would want to know where she had gone. What was she supposed to say?
It had been okay for Tori. When things had got too tough she had taken the easy way out. Left all her troubles far behind her. Left Janine to pick up the pieces. She was the one who had to deal with the fallout.
There was a knife on the draining board. It was the big knife she used for carving. She shifted Timmy's weight to one arm and picked up the knife. It was very light. It did not feel strong at all, but she remembered the ease with which she had sliced through that chicken last weekend, the remains of which was still in a plastic bag on the top shelf of the fridge. She had meant to use it for dinner tonight, but who was left to eat it.
Janine studied the edge of the carving knife. So delicate. So tempting. No more judgmental looks from the rest of the congregation. No more trying to pretend she was a good mother. No more waking up in the middle of the night wishing Dave was there to hold her. No more trying to carry on without her daughter. She could end it all.
She threw the knife into the sink and ran out of the kitchen.
She ended up in Tori's room, Timmy still in her arms.
'Please,' she said. 'Please, I just want my baby back.'
'That can be arranged.'
Janine looked up. The face of a child stared back at her from the mirror.
* * *
'Feeling better now?' Mike asked.
The hospital backed on to the school playing fields and he and Mina were watching the football team practising.
'A little,' Mina replied. 'Thank you.'
'All part of the service,' Mike said. 'So, you and this doctor, you're close?'
'No, not really,' Mina admitted. 'I only met him recently so I can't say that I really know him. He's so strange, so mysterious, but he knows things. He's seen things and I've seen things and he understands them. It's a relief to find out I'm not going mad and these things that I think I've seen really do exist.'
'I'd like to say I understand,' Mike said, 'but I'm really not following any of this.'
Mina attempted a smile.
'Let's just say he's someone I can talk to.'
'Must be nice,' Mike said, 'having someone to talk to.'
An object at Mike's belt started bleeping.
'Look, I've got to go,' Mike confessed. 'I'll find you if there's any news.'
He started to run back towards the hospital. Mina watched him until he passed through the entrance and the doors slid closed, hiding him from view.
'It's hopeless. You do know that, don't you.'
Mina looked around. A schoolboy was standing at her shoulder.
'Life,' the boy said. 'It's hopeless. You spend all of your time trying to hold on to it, but it's guaranteed to slip through your fingers in the end. Always does.'
'We all die sometime,' Mina agreed, 'we just try to make the best of what time we have.'
'What a quaint idea,' the boy commented. 'But what if you didn't have to die? What if you could turn back death?'
'Nobody can do that,' Mina said. 'I'm sorry, I don't mean to be rude, but I would like to be alone, if you don't mind.'
'Of course you would,' the boy said. 'You're worried about your friend. He's going to die in there.'
'He's ' Mina paled. 'I want you to leave. Now.'
'If you like, but I can save him. I'm the one that can cheat death.'
'I told you, nobody can do that.'
'That's just what they want you to think,' the boy explained, 'but it can be done. Anything's possible once you set your mind to it. There's a price, of course.'
'What price?' Mina asked.
'Your soul,' the boy replied. 'It's a fair trade. One life, one soul. And let's be honest, it's not as if most people have much use for their soul in this day and age. Wouldn't you much rather have your friend back?'
'I think I've heard quite enough,' Mina said, straining to keep her voice level. 'Now leave before I call the police.'
The boy shrugged.
'It's your funeral. Or his, rather. I'll be around though, in case you change your mind. Think about it.'
* * *
'Excuse us,' one man said politely.
'Out of the way,' the other called, less so.
Mina pressed herself against the wall as the men wheeled the trolley past her at high speed. She caught a glimpse of the woman on the trolley, her face one large burn.
A little girl bawled at the other end of the corridor. Her father held her tightly against his chest while he stared hopelessly after his wife.
Mina hurried away.
She had come back inside when she had begun to notice the cold. She had no particular destination in mind. The child's words were churning in her gut. Where could she go? The Doctor had given her a key to the TARDIS, but she did not understand how it worked. She could, she supposed, keep pressing switches at random until she arrived where she wanted to be, but how long would that take? With all the possible places at all possible periods in history, what really were her chances of finding her way home?
But could she stay here? Within hours of her arrival she had seen a woman being attacked by a gang of youths and then watched as the Doctor had been run though with a knife. What sort of place was this to live in? And then there was the strangeness of it all. The Doctor had again taken her to what he described as 'her future' with its strange landscapes and motorised carriages belching black smoke. It was less frightening than it had been when she arrived in San Francisco, but it was still an alien world to a schoolmistress from the end of the nineteenth century.
Perhaps her friends in San Francisco would be able to help her, but she did not know if they were even alive at this point in time, nor did she know if she could afford passage on a ship going to America. When all was said and done, and in spite of everything she had been through, she needed the Doctor.
Mina looked up. A large man with red hair and beard was looking down at her. He had a wide, expressive face made for laughing and merriment, but Mina thought that he had sad eyes.
'It is Mrs Harker, isn't it,' he continued. 'You came in with Dr Seward?'
'Yes, I am Mina Harker. What's the matter? Is there something wrong?'
Mina wondered who was speaking; the voice was too shrill to be her own.
'I'm Dr Collins. I've been operating on Dr Seward. Perhaps you'd like to come into my office,' the man suggested.
'Why, what is it? Has something happened? He's going to be all right, isn't he?'
'Mrs Harker, I'm so very, very sorry.'
* * *
Janine Gallagher sat on the edge of Tori's bed, Timmy asleep in her arms. Scott had yet to come home. Rain hammered against the windows and the door rattled in the wind.
There was a picture on the bedside cabinet, a photograph in a plain silver frame. It was a picture Dave had taken of them when they had visited Blackpool. Scott was sitting on the edge of the wall overlooking the beach, a false smile on his face, looking for all the world as if he wanted to be somewhere else. Janine was sitting next to him. She had been six months pregnant and the strain of hauling the baby about was showing on her face.
Tori was the only one of them who looked like she was enjoying herself. She was leaning towards the camera pulling a face, her eyes sparkling with laughter. Her hair had frizzed up and was sticking out in all directions in spite of her efforts to try to come it into shape after she had been soaked on the water slide.
'Please,' Janine whispered, 'bring me my daughter back.'
* * *
The rain darkened Mina's dark brown hair to black. Her coat flapped open, neglected, and her dress moulded itself to her skin.
'You'll catch a cold like that,' the boy said, striding across the playing fields towards her.
'Go away,' Mina said. Or perhaps she only thought it since the words seemed so faint.
'I could,' the ginger-haired child replied, 'but I don't think that's what you really want.'
Mina ignored him, instead watching the muddy puddle forming at the base of the nearby goal posts.
'He's dead, isn't he,' the boy said. He took a sweet from his pocket, stared at it, then put it back. 'Told you so.'
'What do you want?'
'Wrong question.' The boy was hopping from foot to foot. 'It's what do you want? Or even, how much do you want it?'
'You're serious, aren't you?' Mina said. 'My soul for his life?'
'That's the deal,' the boy agreed.
Mina frowned. 'Nobody can bring back the dead.'
'You think? Watch.'
The boy crouched down, placing his left hand on the ground. A money spider scuttled on to the back of his hand. He stood up, turning his hand so that the spider could wander across his palm. It hurried up the length of the boy's index finger. And he crushed it between his finger and his thumb.
'Whoops. Now it's going to rain,' the boy said, looking heavenwards. Mina's eyes widened. In spite of the shower, the boy and his clothes were still dry.
The boy scraped the broken body of the spider on to the palm of his right hand.
'Dead as a dodo,' the boy muttered. 'Or a doctor. Catch!'
He threw the spider at Mina and somehow she managed to catch it in her hands. The creature got to its feet and scurried down Mina's wrist and onto the sleeve of her dress. Shocked, she cried out, and shook her arm until the spider fell away.
'Still have doubts?' the boy asked.
Mina could not look at him.
'His life. Your soul. Your choice.'
Mina looked back at the flat grey hospital building were the Doctor's body was lying. She fingered the twin wounds beneath her scarf.
'Will it hurt?' she asked.
* * *
Stewart Lock wheeled the gurney into the mortuary. The girl had been struck by a bus and her spine had snapped. She was dead before the ambulance reached the hospital. Stewart had become hardened against handling corpses after five years as a mortuary attendant was happy to joke about his work down at The Plough but you never got used to the sight of a dead kid. Ever.
The sooner he got her into storage the better as far as he was concerned.
There was a hammering coming from one of the lockers.
'Hello?' Stewart called out. 'Baz, is that you? If this is some kind of joke '
With a sigh, Stewart opened the locker door.
The body was twitching. If he had not been dead, Stewart would have said the guy was having an epileptic fit. Stewart pulled the shelf out of the locker so that he could get a better look.
The corpse was that of a white male, early thirties, slender and with long brown hair. As Stewart watched, the body continued to twitch and with each movement it seemed to distort in shape. The pale skin shifted in a way that made Stewart's stomach turn over. It was as if there was something beneath the surface straining to get out. Stewart turned to the door, planning to go and get help.
The corpse screamed.
Stewart could not help himself. He turned for another look.
The body arched like a bow, rippling and distorting as it did so. As the figure appeared to gain mass, so its skin darkened and became leathery. His hair receded and began to grey before Stewart's eyes.
The corpse sat up and Stewart fled from the room.
'This is getting to be a habit,' the Doctor growled.
* * *
There was a noise in the hallway.
Janine looked up sharply. She had been resting her head against Timmy and the sudden movement caused him to wake up. He burst into tears.
Janine rocked him gently, trying to murmur comforting words while glancing about nervously in search of an intruder. There was a figure reflected in the mirror.
The eyes that looked back at her were bloodshot, puffy and red from crying. Pale skin absorbed the light reflected from the walls giving the intruder a jaundiced look. Her long blonde hair was pulled savagely away from her face and held in place by an elastic band.
Janine echoed her son's tears.
'Mum?' Tori said.
|    |