Anne only met the man twice when she was four years old, but she never forgot it. The first time she was playing hopscotch on the sidewalk outside Mrs. Banks’ house, where Anne spent the days Mum worked. She had a new dress that day, one that Aunt Ellen had knitted. It had a white bodice and yellow puff sleeves and the skirt was striped in white and yellow and stood out around her legs like an umbrella when she swirled. She was also very satisfied with her shoes, red patent-leather Mary Jane’s that she could almost see her reflection in. It was a wonderful day, really, she had just learned to jump on one leg and Mrs. Banks hade given her a bag of sweets that she held very tightly scrunched in her hand so she wouldn’t drop it. It was difficult to jump on one leg, though and suddenly she over balanced and would have fallen if not someone walking on the sidewalk had caught her.
“Thank you!” she said and looked up at the man who had helped her. He looked down gravely at her.
“I’m not a child, I’m a sunbeam!” Anne protested and he nodded, still looking very serious.
“I see.” Then he started to walk away and Anne remembered that you should be nice to people who helped you and she ran after him.
“Mister, would you like some candy?” She held up the bag to him and he looked surprised, but then he took one piece and bowed a thank you for her.
Anne would probably never have thought about it if she hadn’t seen him again a few days later. She was sitting in Mrs. Banks living room and painted cats when the door opened and the man came in. Mrs. Banks was in the kitchen talking on the phone so she didn’t hear anything and the man stretched out his hand to Anne.
“Come here, Miss Sunbeam.”
Of course Anne had been warned not to go away with strangers, but she thought he wasn’t one anymore. After all she had met him before, so she took his hand and left.
When she returned, the street was full of fire engines and people and Mrs. Banks house was just a smoking ruin. Her parents were there and her Mum was crying and when Anne came into view Mum just screamed and hugged her so hard it hurt. People were talking and asking her questions and somehow Anne understood that there had been a terrible accident and that everyone thought she had been in the house with Mrs. Banks and that Mrs. Banks had died.
Anne hadn’t been afraid before, but now she became frightened. A policeman who was large and scary asked her a lot of questions and then he got angry with her when she told him of what happened and said that little girl’s shouldn’t lie and she started to cry. Her parents were upset and everyone talked with too loud voices and Anne just cried in Mum’s arms. Then new people came, an old man with wild white hair and a pretty lady who smiled very sweetly at Anne. The old man got angry too, but with the policeman and sent him away. He told Anne that he was a Doctor, but not the kind who gave shots, only lollipops. He pointed at the lady who had come with him and said that this was Jo, the Not-Nurse and Anne stopped crying and giggled a little.
“I didn’t lie!” Anne said to him and he smiled at her.
“I know you didn’t.” Then he asked her a lot of questions and she told him how the man had taken him to his car, only it wasn’t a car on the inside but a spaceship and then the man had punched a few buttons and then she had been back on the street. That really was all that happened; she told the Doctor and he nodded.
“I’m sure it was and you have nothing to worry about.”
Then he gave her a lollipop and showed her his car, which wasn’t bigger on the inside, but very yellow and called Bessie. Jo sat beside her in it and Anne pretended to drive while the Doctor talked with her parents. Everyone seemed much happier after that and people stopped asking her questions and eventually Anne stopped thinking about it, even if she didn’t really forget. At least until she got her first apartment and she and her mother were packing her things and in an old box Mum suddenly found a knitted dress in white and faded yellow.
Anne smiled. “I remember that dress, I wore it the day the man came and took me away.”
Mum sat very still. “Do you really remember that?”
“Of course I do. And I remember that it was such a fuss after and I remember the Doctor and his Not-Nurse, but what was it all about, really?”
“It was such an odd thing. We were all sure that you were inside the house and then you came walking, right as rain, with a story about a spaceship.”
“I remember the spaceship too,” Anne said slowly. "But that can’t have been real. I remember that we went to his car and I guess I fell asleep there and dream about it.”
“Yes, I guess. First I was so happy that you were all right, but then the police came and told me that the man was a dangerous criminal and I got so very worried that he had done something to you.”
That was an unsavory idea, one that Anne had never thought about. “You mean you thought he was a pedophile? He didn’t do anything to me. He was very serious all the time, but he was nice. He only ever touched me when I held his hand.”
“Yes I know. Your story was so odd, though, even if you seemed fine. But then that Doctor came and talked with you and he assured me that I had nothing to worry about. That this man was a criminal, but not in that way. And you never seemed to have any ill effects of it, so I guess he was right.”
“Of course he was!” Anne said.
“It was still so strange. Why did he come and take you away like that? Almost like he knew the house would burn down, but no one could have known that. And Mrs. Banks was left in the house. I can’t help thinking about that from time to time.”
A frowned down on her old dress. She had a hard time imagine that she had once been so small that she could fit into it. “I have never thought about it like that before. Yes, very strange.” She folded the dress carefully and put it away. “Well, I guess we will never know.”
He really hadn’t intended to save that little girl. He knew the house would burn down, of course. He had walked this particular route on various times, trying to pinpoint a bit of alien technology that would be stranded there and his TARDIS had a little problem with finding the exact date. It wasn’t that he had intentionally remembered the gas leak, but things got stuck in his brain even when he didn’t found them interesting and he remembered what was about to happen when he passed that day. It was just an impulse, a moment’s decision to take the child away. He didn’t even like children of any species, noisy disturbances most of them. But this child had been cute, in the same way a kitten was; she really had reminded him on of a little sunbeam. She had had good manners too. He appreciated good manners. And it really hadn’t taken him more than a few minutes to take her away and return her to a few hours later, safe and sound. And he never thought about it later, at least almost never. And it wasn’t as if he ever wondered what happened to her, because he really wasn’t interested in humans at all. Not in the very least.