by Duncan Johnson
'A sad tale's best for winter. I have one of sprites and goblins.'
The Winter's Tale, William Shakespeare
In the distance, waves crashed against the rocky shore. At least, Mina assumed that the sound was distant. The thick fog so muffled every noise that she supposed that she could have been mere feet from the water and not have noticed. The Doctor insisted that there was a full moon tonight, but she could not see it. She was hard pressed to even make out the tall, angular figure striding beside her.
'Doctor,' she said through chattering teeth, 'is all this hiking really n-necessary?'
'Don't you want to know where we are?' the Doctor asked. 'What's the point of travelling if you don't make an effort to explore the places you visit, hm?'
'But it's the m-middle of the night,' Mina protested.
'And half way round the world it's midday,' the Doctor replied. 'Time is relative. I would have thought that you might have realised that by now.'
'I c-can't see my own feet in this f-fog,' Mina continued.
'All the more reason to explore in order to find out what's out there,' the Doctor said.
'And it is b-bitterly c-cold,' Mina snapped.
'Ah. Here, take my coat.'
The Doctor shucked off his green velvet jacket and draped it over Mina's shoulders.
'Thank you,' Mina said. 'Now, where p-precisely are we heading for?'
'There's some kind of manor house over there.'
The Doctor pointed off into the distance, but Mina could not see anything.
'Hopefully, there'll be someone there who can tell us where we are,' the Doctor continued.
'Hopefully?' Mina prompted.
'Well, all of the residents could have been brutally slain in a disturbing and ritualistic manner,' the Doctor replied. 'I do seem to attract that kind of thing '
'Thank you for that ever-so-cheery thought,' Mina muttered as she wrapped the coat tightly around herself and trudged onward.
After what seemed like hours, but was probably only five minutes, a house began to emerge from the gloom. Mina thought it looked graceless, blocks of dark stone dropped in place for mere functionality as opposed to any sense of the aesthete. It gave the impression of being a fortress rather than a home.
'Not very inviting, is it?' the Doctor said. 'You know, I'm starting to have second thoughts about this '
'Don't you dare,' Mina hissed. 'I've been dragged all of this way in complete darkness. I am cold and I am wet. And we are going inside if only so I can spend five minutes in front of a fire.'
'Well, since you put it that way '
The Doctor bounded up the steps leading to the door and pulled on the bell-rope.
'You do realise that no-one's going to be up at this hour,' the Doctor commented.
'You were the one who couldn't wait until morning,' Mina replied. 'Besides, there are lights in the windows.'
'Candle, oil or electric?' the Doctor asked, leaning backwards to get a better look.
Before Mina could answer, the door creaked open. A maid was standing beyond the threshold.
'Good evening, sir,' she said.
'Good morning, surely?' the Doctor joked.
The maid looked down at her feet.
'Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. Good morning, sir.'
'Don't tease her,' Mina whispered to the Doctor. 'She looks terrified.'
The Doctor nodded thoughtfully.
'No, I'm sorry,' he said to the maid. 'I have an odd sense of humour and I sometimes forget myself. Now, where were we? Ah, yes introductions. I'm the Doctor and this is '
'The doctor?' the maid interrupted. 'We weren't expecting you so soon. Please, the laird is waiting for you.'
'The laird? Well, we certainly don't want to keep the laird waiting. Come along, Mina.'
'Are you sure this is wise, Doctor?' Mina whispered as they stepped inside.
'No,' the Doctor admitted, 'but that's never stopped me before.'
In contrast to the exterior, the interior of the manor was rich and inviting, decorated in greens and reds and gold. Oil lamps lit the hallway, the light making the dark wood-panelling glow.
'You haven't introduced yourself yet,' the Doctor commented as the maid led them through the house.
'Oh, I'm just the maid, sir,' she replied.
'Come now, nobody's 'just' anything, not in my experience. You must have a name.'
'Well, it's Sarah, sir.'
'Sarah.' The Doctor considered this, then nodded in approval. 'I like it. It suits you.'
'Thank you, sir.'
Sarah was looking at the Doctor's chest, vehemently avoiding eye contact. She was wringing her hands together, nervously.
'You're not used to dealing with guests, are you?' Mina surmised. 'No, don't apologise. It's not a criticism, just an observation.'
'Mr Souter usually greets the guests, ma'am,' Sarah replied. 'I'm supposed to attend her ladyship.'
'Of course you are,' the Doctor agreed. 'So, where is Mr, er, Souter now?'
'Why, he was sent to fetch you, sir,' Sarah replied, surprised.
'Ah, er, yes, of course he did, didn't he, Mina,' the Doctor responded hastily. 'We didn't catch his name, though. Now, where is 'the laird'?'
'He's in the drawing room, sir,' Sarah replied, opening a door for them. 'Just through here.'
'Thank you, Sarah,' Mina said as she followed the Doctor.
Sarah blushed, going crimson beneath her freckles. Mina suspected that she was not thanked very often.
There were three figures in the drawing room.
A tall, thin man with blond hair and a moustache stood straight as a poker beside the bookcase. He was fidgeting with a pair of spectacles. He put them on as the Doctor and Mina walked in, looked them over, then removed the spectacles and began to polish them vigorously.
A second man lounged in a faded green armchair. He had a round face, creased from frequent smiling, and nursed a tumbler of whiskey in a chubby hand. Whereas his companions were fully dressed, this man wore only a robe over his night-clothes.
The final figure was short, with bushy red hair going grey. He glared at the Doctor.
'And who might you be, sir?' he demanded.
'This is the Doctor, your lordship,' Sarah replied.
'Did I ask you?' the laird demanded.
'No, sir. Sorry, sir.'
The laird harrumphed. 'A good maid should be seen and not heard. Now, sir, I repeat, who are you?'
'I am the Doctor and this is my assistant Mrs Mina Harker,' the Doctor replied smoothly. Mina envied him his composure. She was biting her lip to prevent herself from saying something she would regret.
'Assistant?' The laird raised his eyebrows.
The Doctor matched his stare. 'Is that a problem?'
The laird backed down first.
'No, no problem,' he muttered. 'Is 'Doctor' your only name?'
'Is 'Laird' yours?'
The laird chuckled at that.
'I am Robert Douglas McMenemy and these are my sons, Stewart and Christopher.'
Christopher looked up from his chair and waved his free hand lazily.
'Charmed, I'm sure,' he drawled.
Stewart merely nodded.
McMenemy turned back to the Doctor.
'And you are?'
'Here on a matter of some urgency, if your manservant is to be believed.'
'Yes, where is Souter?' Christopher asked.
'He, er, sprained his ankle,' the Doctor improvised. 'Nothing serious, you understand, but he wasn't up to the walk back.'
'Well, it's such a nice night out. Now, I believe there's a medical emergency that requires my attention.'
Stewart replaced his spectacles.
'It's my wife,' he explained.
'And might we be permitted to see her?' the Doctor asked.
'Not until I get some proper answers,' McMenemy responded.
'I really don't believe we have time for all this pointless shilly-shallying, do you?' the Doctor snapped. 'A woman's health is at stake.'
'Why you '
'Father,' Stewart interrupted. 'If he can help Miranda then he could be a visitor from the moon for all I care! Doctor, Mrs Harker, if you would follow me.'
'Thank you,' the Doctor replied. 'It's nice to know someone in this family has some sense. You must get it from your mother.'
Christopher chuckled as they left the room.
'You know something, father? I don't think he likes you very much.'
* * *
'It's just a theory,' the Doctor said, glancing at Stewart's bare calves, 'but I think we might be in Scotland.'
'Whatever gives you that idea,' Mina remarked, dryly.
'Sarcasm? And from such a well-bred lady as yourself. I'm shocked.'
'You must be a bad influence,' Mina retorted. 'Besides, I'm hardly a lady.'
'Only by accident of birth,' the Doctor muttered.
'Away from that fire, it's no warmer inside than it is out there,' she said.
'Hm, there does seem to be a certain lack of central heating, doesn't there?' the Doctor replied.
'Doctor, I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking,' Mina apologised. 'You should have your coat back.'
She began to shrug it off, but the Doctor stopped her.
'You need it more than I,' he said. 'Now, come along. We're lagging behind.'
As they ascended the main staircase, the Doctor paused to examine the paintings on the walls.
'Family portraits?' he asked.
'Yes, Doctor,' Stewart McMenemy replied. 'All the great and the good of our family are commemorated here somewhere.'
'You don't sound terribly enthusiastic,' the Doctor commented.
'I've never been one for history,' Stewart admitted. 'It's high time this house stepped into the here and now, but I'm afraid my father won't hear of it.'
'Yes, he does seem a man of strong opinions,' the Doctor replied.
Stewart smiled. 'And you are a man of some tact.'
The Doctor returned his attention to the wall.
'There seems to be a void here,' he said. 'Has one of the paintings been removed?'
'Ah, yes.' Stewart considered. 'I think that would have been my great-grandfather, William McMenemy. I imagine the painting's been taken away to be cleaned.'
'That is what one has servants for, Doctor,' Stewart replied. 'Now, if you please, my wife is waiting.'
* * *
Stewart gestured for the Doctor and Mina to wait outside the bedroom door, while he went inside to make sure that Miranda was ready to receive them. The Doctor, however, took the opportunity to force his way past and then threw open the door with a flourish.
Mina peered over the Doctor's shoulder.
The room was smaller than she had expected. The lady of the house should be surrounded by finery, but this room was simple and plain. The lady herself was standing by her bed wearing a robe over her night-dress. A fire burned in a grate and the light it gave off cast long shadows around the room, a circumstance Miranda was using to her advantage.
'Here, follow my shadow,' she cried. A toddler scrambled across the floor, throwing herself down on her behind as soon as she entered the pool of darkness.
'You'll have to do better than that, Lisabeth,' Miranda laughed, taking a couple of steps to her left so that the girl was no longer shadowed. 'Come along, catch my shadow.'
Using the bed as a support, Lisabeth struggled to her feet and set off purposefully in the direction of her mother.
Across the room, a slightly older boy watched the proceedings with disdain. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor with a book in his lap while a woman in black watched over him.
'She doesn't look unwell,' Mina whispered. She had hoped that the Doctor alone would hear, but Stewart also caught the words.
'My wife suffers from headaches and lethargy. It has gotten to the point where she is unable to leave her own room. I we cannot go on like this.'
'So you took it upon yourself to summon me in the middle of the night,' the Doctor said.
Stewart seemed oblivious to the sarcasm. 'My wife's health is my only concern.'
'Very noble, I'm sure. Now I'll need everyone to leave the room.'
Stewart turned to the woman in black.
'Mrs Gregory, will you return Richard and Lisabeth to their room. We shall discuss what they are doing up at this hour later.'
'They couldn't sleep,' Miranda explained. 'I doubt anyone can in this cold. Lisabeth was crying and I asked Mrs Gregory to bring them both to me.'
'Miranda, in your condition I don't believe these distractions can be good for you,' Stewart said.
'Let me be the judge of that, Mr McMenemy,' the Doctor interjected. 'That is why you summoned me, after all. Now, I believe I asked you to leave.'
'Doctor, if you believe that I am about to leave my wife alone with a stranger the you are sadly mistaken,' Stewart insisted.
'Mr McMenemy, I need to speak to your wife away from the influence of any member of this household. If it makes you feel any better, Mrs Harker will be present during the entire interview and may act as chaperone. If you value your wife's health as much as you claim, you will leave. Now.'
The Doctor waited by the window until the room had cleared. The drapes were already open and he stared out into the fog. The wind howled and the glass rattled in its frame.
'I suspect this is a lovely view during the day,' he said. 'It faces out on to the sea, doesn't it?'
'Yes, it does,' Miranda replied, sitting down on the bed. 'I'm sorry, but did my husband say that you were a doctor?'
'Yes, I'm the Doctor and this is my associate Mrs Mina Harker.'
'And what do you do, Mrs Harker?' Miranda asked.
'Please, call me Mina,' Mina replied. She was torn between going to sit with the other woman or standing closer to the fire. 'I'm a teacher down in London.'
'And what do you teach Mina.'
'Children.' Mina smiled. 'Sorry, I couldn't resist.'
Miranda smiled back. 'Don't apologise. I shall have to remember to tell that one to Richard.'
'Richard is your son?' Mina surmised.
'Yes. I'm lucky enough to have two beautiful children,' Miranda replied. 'And you, Mina? Do you have children.'
Mina's mouth dried up and she turned away.
'I have a son,' she said at last.
'I'm sorry,' Miranda said. 'I didn't mean to pry.'
'So, Mrs McMenemy, is what your husband has been telling us true?' the Doctor asked changing the subject.
'I imagine that depends entirely on what he's been telling you.'
'Quite,' the Doctor agreed. The wind was roaring now and he had to raise his voice to be heard. 'Your husband claims that you are unwell, that you've been suffering headaches?'
'Yes, that is true,' Miranda agreed.
'I'm sorry, I don't mean to be rude, but I see no sign of that now.'
'It's curious,' Miranda explained. 'I feel fine for as long as I do not leave this room. The moment I step outside the malaise takes me.'
'Hm.' The Doctor began drumming a tattoo on the window pane. 'Would you mind demonstrating for us? Mina will go with you.'
'Well, if you think it's wise '
Miranda rose to her feet and walked towards the door. Before crossing the threshold, she paused and looked back at the Doctor.
'Go on,' he encouraged.
Miranda stepped outside of the room.
She took two more steps.
He knees buckled and her eyes rolled up into her skull. She collapsed and would have struck the floor had not Mina been there to support her.
The Doctor darted from the window and scooped the fallen woman up into his arms. She hung there limply, like a puppet without its strings.
'I'd say that was conclusive,' the Doctor muttered.
'Is she going to be all right?' Mina asked.
'Let's test a theory, shall we?' the Doctor suggested.
He carried Miranda back into her room and laid her down upon her bed.
He snapped his fingers in front of her face.
Her eyes fluttered open. Colour flooded her cheeks as Mina watched. She sat up.
'What happened?' Miranda asked.
'And that is the question,' the Doctor replied.
'You said that you had a theory,' Mina prompted.
'That's because I do,' the Doctor said. 'Would you like to hear it?'
'What's that noise?' Miranda interrupted. 'It sounds as if someone is trying to get in through the window.'
The Doctor crossed the room to investigate.
'Hail,' he explained. 'There's a hailstorm going on outside. And what a storm!'
Mina went to join him. Much of the view out of the window was still obscured by fog, but out of the grey she could make out the flashes of thousands of white shapes pelting the house.
'Doctor,' she began, 'do you see what I see?'
'I wondered when you'd notice,' he said.
'It's as if the hail is being deliberately aimed at the building, but that's impossible, isn't it?'
'I wonder ' The Doctor began to chew on his lower lip. The he looked up sharply.
'Mina, get down!'
The Doctor dived forward, knocking both of them to the floor, just as a hailstone smashed through the window, shot across the room and embedded itself in the far wall.
'That can't be naturally, can it?' Mina asked as she slowly got to her feet, breathing heavily.
'I don't know,' the Doctor replied as he examined where the ice crystal had torn through the wallpaper. 'Hurricane winds can propel blades of grass with enough force to embed them in tree trunks so I suppose it could be possible, but '
'Something doesn't feel right,' the Doctor said. 'I have an instinct for this sort of thing. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up like soldiers. Of course, that could just be the cold Mina, stay with Mrs McMenemy. I'm going to get some answers.'
* * *
The Doctor found McMenemy in the drawing-room.
'Doctor, can I offer you a drink?' McMenemy asked, as he poured himself a measure from a decanter. 'Souter normally does this sort of thing, but I suppose we shall all just have to muddle through in his absence.'
'Yes, I suppose we must,' the Doctor replied. 'And no, I don't drink while on duty.'
'Your loss,' McMenemy responded, refilling his own glass. 'So, if you don't want my alcohol, what can I offer you?'
'Oh, I just thought I'd pop down for a chat,' the Doctor said.
'A chat?' McMenemy shrugged. 'What would you like to talk about?'
'Just the usual things,' the Doctor replied. 'I thought we might start with the weather.'
'Did you indeed?'
'Yes.' The Doctor crossed to the window and pulled back the cauldron. 'Have you noticed how cold it is out there?'
'Could hardly have missed it, could I, Doctor?' McMenemy replied. 'Still, this helps to fight the chill.'
McMenemy drained another glass.
'Are you sure you won't join me?'
'Quite sure,' the Doctor replied, absently, as he stared beyond the glass. 'Dulls the mind as well as the nerves. Tell me, is it usually as cold as this? Now, I don't mean to boast, but I don't normally feel the cold, but this '
'Maybe you'd have been better off down south where you belong, Doctor,' McMenemy chuckled then belched.
The Doctor frowned.
'Mr McMenemy, you really don't seem to be treating this with the seriousness the situation deserves,' he scolded. 'This house seems to be at the centre of a freak meteorological occurrence and, for your own safety, I strongly recommend we move everyone out of this house until this storm passes.'
'Frightened of a gust of wind, Doctor?' McMenemy taunted him.
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. 'Aren't you?'
'No, I'm not,' McMenemy responded. 'And I think the best place for us in a storm is inside this house, not out there exposed to the elements.'
'So you won't leave?' The Doctor asked.
'Mr McMenemy,' The Doctor snapped. Then he deflated. 'Never mind. Wheres Sarah?'
'What do you need Sarah for?' McMenemy asked.
'I want her to watch Miranda for me,' the Doctor explained. 'Whether you want to admit it or not, something is going on here and I suspect Mrs Harker and I don't have very long to get to the bottom of it.'
* * *
Miranda sat on the edge of her bed, her arms wrapped around herself. She rocked gently back and forth.
'Are you all right?' Mina asked.
'All right?' Miranda echoed softly. 'How can I be all right? I am a prisoner, unable to go out, unable to feel anything but this stale air.'
'I'm sorry,' Mina said.
'No, I'm sorry,' Miranda responded. 'It's not your fault.'
She shivered and Mina lifted a blanket from the bed and draped it over her shoulders.
'Here,' she said. 'No sense in you catching a cold in addition to whatever.'
Mina smiled and crossed to the window. One of the panes had shattered where the hail had come through and now the wind howled through the gap.
'It's a pity we can't repair this window,' Mina remarked. 'I suppose we can at least close the drapes.'
She reached for the fabric.
'No, don't!' Miranda cried out. 'Please, leave them open. I don't like to be enclosed.'
'All right, it's all right,' Mina said softly, returning to the bed. 'Whatever helps to make you comfortable.'
There was a knock at the door.
'Who is it?' Mina called.
'It's the maid, ma'am.'
'Sarah? Come in, the door's open,' Mina replied.
Sarah crept in.
'Hello, Sarah,' Miranda said. 'What brings you up here?'
'The Doctor said that I was to keep you company ma'am,' Sarah answered.
'That's quite all right,' Miranda responded. 'Mina is here with me. You needn't trouble yourself.'
'He also said that I was to give this to Mrs Harker,' Sarah explained, producing a folded piece of paper, which Mina took.
The paper was thick and coarse and had a yellowish hue. Mina unfolded it.
'What does it say?' Miranda asked.
The note was written in shorthand. Mina could decipher it, but she guessed that the Doctor believed no one else in the house could.
I'm sorry I cannot speak to you in person, but we do not have much time. Something is very wrong here and, while I have theories, I lack facts to support them. I believe that our troubles centre on Miranda and I would like you to question her children to see if you can discover anything untoward. Sarah will look after Miranda while you are gone. I will be downstairs questioning the brothers.
One final thing: be sure to examine their hands.
Be careful, as always.
The note was unsigned, but Mina was in no doubt that the Doctor had written it.
'I have to go,' Mina explained. 'The Doctor needs my help with something.'
She hated lying to Miranda, but the Doctor had written in shorthand for a reason.
'You will be back?' Miranda asked.
'Of course,' Mina promised. 'Just as soon as I can.'
She hurried from the room, swamped by the Doctor's coat.
* * *
'Mr McMenemy,' the Doctor called. 'I was hoping to find you.'
'You're lucky you did, Doctor,' Christopher McMenemy replied. 'The library isn't a room I usually frequent.'
'Not a book-lover then?' the Doctor commented as he scanned the shelves.
'I leave that sort of stuffy behaviour to my brother,' Christopher remarked, throwing himself into a chair and swinging his bare feet on to a reading table. He was still in his night-clothes, but had swapped his robe for a heavy greatcoat.
'Personally,' he continued, 'I believe there are far more productive pursuits a man can be engaged in.'
'I'm sure,' the Doctor said, sitting down opposite him. 'In that case, may I ask what you are doing here?'
'My brother is not the only member of the family who cannot stand my father's company,' Christopher commented. 'Besides, it's not such a bad room. You can see the sea through those windows on a clear day.'
'Do you get many clear days around here?' the Doctor asked with a grin.
Christopher grinned back. 'Not too many, but I suspect you didn't come to talk to me about the weather.'
'You'd be surprised.' The Doctor leaned forward, elbows on the table, hands folded beneath his chin. 'Actually, I wanted to talk to you about you sister-in-law.'
'Ah, the lovely Miranda.' Christopher took a cigar from the pocket of his coat. 'Would you care for one?'
'No thank you,' the Doctor declined. 'I gave up the habit several lifetimes ago.'
'Suit yourself,' Christopher remarked, trimming the end of the cigar with his pocket-knife. 'Do you have a match?'
The Doctor reached for the pocket of his coat, then realised that he was not wearing it. He smiled apologetically.
'Sorry,' he said.
'Not to worry.' Christopher got to his feet and used the flame of one of the oil lamps to light the cigar. He exhaled a cloud of smoke in the Doctor's direction.
'You were asking me about my brother's wife,' he said. 'Pretty girl. And I should know.'
'Oh, I can still turn a girl's head, Doctor,' Christopher explained.
'And yet you've never married,' the Doctor commented.
'The problem, Doctor,' Christopher said as he settled back into his chair, 'is that you never know quite what you're going to get. Take Miranda, for example. Lovely to look at, but she's so highly-strung and, well, limp, I suppose. No fire.'
'You like a woman with a spark, then,' the Doctor deduced.
'Oh yes,' Christopher responded. 'I need someone who can give me a run for my money. It's the chase that makes it really worthwhile.'
'But your brother thinks differently.'
'He didn't always,' Christopher explained. 'We used to be the terrors of this part of the country, he and I. Before she came. Whatever she's got, it's infected him, too, Doctor. You mark my words. She's bewitched him, that's what she's done.'
He burst out laughing.
'Well, thank you for your time,' the Doctor said, rising to his feet.
Christopher grabbed his arm.
'You watch her, Doctor, she'll take you, too,' he hissed.
'I'll be very careful,' the Doctor promised. He tried to pull his arm free, but Christopher's grip was firm.
'She's probably responsible for all this cold, too,' he said. 'That's why she's locked herself in her room, so she can work her magic. She's got her claws into Stewart and now she wants to do away with the rest of us.'
'I'm sure that's not the case.'
The Doctor began to prise off Christopher's fingers one at a time.
Christopher's eyes widened.
'She's got to you, too, hasn't she? Oh God, you're one of them!'
'I assure you that I am not!' The Doctor shouted. He wrenched his arm free, throwing Christopher to the floor in the process. 'There is nothing to worry about. Now please, leave me be.'
Christopher cowered behind his chair, his arms wrapped around its legs.
'I had a dream last night, you know,' he whimpered as the Doctor left the room. 'A dream of the future. We're all going to die!'