The metal wheels gave off a shrieking cry as the train came to a halt.
Weird, I thought. It's such an unpleasant sound, but I still love it.
Especially in the deepest night, when unknown stations halt in front of the compartment window, when you glare at the dim lights and the empty benches. The world has forgotten about those places, but not the trains. They still stand still. Wait. For the one lonely traveller in a rainy night.
I grabbed my luggage and rolled it out of the compartment, checking if my face mask was still sitting. A glance at my phone told me it was already past eleven in the evening.
The doors opened with a hiss, letting me out into the cold. It was already spring, but the weather behaved more as if it wanted to hold onto winter as tight as possible. I let out another yawn as I rolled my luggage to the escalators. Go home, shower, sleep. That was the plan. I had to work the next day anyway.
Luckily the way from the station wasn't long. Just a bit through town.
My head drifted away while I walked, returning to the dream I only vaguely remembered. Here and there bits and pieces came back, but none of them made much sense. Even so, it had left a strange aftertaste. As if I had slept for far longer than possible, as if I had been away for half an eternity.
Work was slow this Monday. As a mere apprentice I wasn't allowed to do everything and most stuff was already repaired, which meant I would have to kill the last two hours at the front desk, dealing with old folks bringing in their broken devices, instead of fiddling with electronic components.
Working kept my mind occupied, kept me from thinking too much. I didn't feel so well that day. After having been with friends for a long weekend and coming back to a lonely apartment, I felt the weight of the emptiness weighing me down.
How had I gotten this apprenticeship again? Absently I stared at the ceiling, trying to remember. I had written to so many firms… And one had eventually accepted me. But the interview and even my first days here seemed to have smeared in my memory.
Maybe not, though. That had been a stressful time. Being without work or school for almost six years had taken a toll on me and I had needed a few months to get used to having so much noise and light around me. And people. Hard to believe that I used to have social anxiety, where I now had to be on the phone constantly, let alone the countless people I talked to each day.
And that dream.
Perplex I blinked, wondering why I was thinking about that one again. By now I was rather sure I had been in some sort of spaceship. But the aliens inside had looked like some human dudes. And they had given me an egg to take care off. And then…
Five o'clock. Time to leave. I waved inside the workshop, calling out a goodbye, before I rushed to get my jacket and be in time to catch the bus home.
On the way I bought some takeaway and was happy to finally be back inside my own walls. No more stupid face-mask. I had to wear those all day long and it always was a relief to be able to take them off. But the number of infected people was rising again, so there was no end to this in sight.
I kicked off my shoes, flopped down into my chair and booted up the PC. Some games to fade out the few hours of free time would be nice now.
In the end, however, I found myself unable to concentrate on anything. My attention was slipping away constantly and so I only listened to music and chatted with some folks online. About nothing important, nothing interesting. Max wasn't online, so I couldn't tell anyone about the dream. Maybe he would know how to interpret it, or why it might have left such a weird aftertaste. Sometimes dreams did that and mostly I couldn't explain it.
Now, everything felt so weirdly blank and empty. Or maybe it was just the lockdown depression. If it weren't for my work I would have spent an eternity without seeing a single human being. That weekend had been the first time since… almost four months. Suffice to say… this apprenticeship had literally saved my life.
And still it was hard to keep going, day after day after day, not knowing when all of this would end or get better at least. Most of the time I just felt cold and empty, wishing for the light of summer to return and brighten my life again.
Two weeks later I had all but forgotten about any dreams and weird sensations. Work was busy, life was stressful. Ironically, being without work had given me a more stable financial situation than I had now, so before or after work I had to fill in tons of papers and make various phone calls to ensure I would get something extra - the apprenticeship money didn't even pay my rent.
On top of that did I find myself unable to cope well with the whole virus situation. My life was nothing but a chain of work - eat - sleep. With nothing in between. There were no people to meet, no places to go and the weather was still too cold to be outside much. So the only free time I had was spent alone. And too much time within my own head had never done me any good.
This might have been the - or one of them - reason why I did what I did the next day.
Rain was pouring from the skies and work went by in a daze. The last few hours I was sitting at the front desk again, but the weather prevented people from actually coming in. I was bored, my mind drifted away into a train of way too dark thoughts, when finally the door opened and a man strode in. He was soaking wet from the rain, his dark hair sticking to his forehead.
I straightened myself greeting the man and asking if I could be of help.
"Mhm, not sure," he said, bobbing up and down on his heels, while curiously glancing around. "I was… sort of… sent here. Was told I could get help."
"Yeah sure, that's what we're here for." I tried to sound friendly and cheerful, even though he seemed a complicated customer. One of those whom you had to drag out every piece of information one by one.
He produced a pen. No, not a pen. It was thicker and made of metal and had a blue light attached to it. The man - he wore a pinstripe suit and a brown coat over it - waved his device over the counter, then over me, then held it to his ear and raised a brow.
"'m not sure we're repairing toys," I cautiously told. "Doesn't look like something we're selling anyway."
"Oh. That's not a toy. Doesn't need repairing either. Works just fine." The man grinned from ear to ear and I remembered that I actually was supposed to throw him out for not wearing a face-mask in here. But no one but me was around, so why bother. And the man didn't seem like the kind who would stop babbling anyway. "I just don't know what kind of help she meant," he went on.
"We… uh… repair stuff. Household and entertainment devices. Stuff like that. Do you… have anything that needs fixing?"
Now his face lit up- "Yes! Yes I do!" - only to drop again. "But you can't. You don't have the skill."
I sighed. Due to looking so young, people always assumed I could do shit. It was annoying. "Just show it to me. I'll see what I can do."
"Mhmm…" the stranger made, eyeing me intensely. He had dark, chocolate brown eyes that bore into mine, but, strangely enough, not in an uncomfortable way. "Why are you a déjà vu?"
I blinked confused.
"Did we meet before?"
Puzzling over his question, I tilted my head a little and took in the appearance of the man. He did look familiar indeed. He….
"I think… I once bumped into you." The situation had been memorable enough, after all. "But that's ages ago. Over ten years… You don't look that old."
"Neither do you," he quipped with glinting eyes. "I remember. Jack was there and Martha. Was before the Ma…" He stopped himself, humming thoughtfully. "Must be what she meant. Doesn't make sense otherwise. Guess you might wanna take a look, after all."
"Okay. Just bring it in."
"Uh. That's not possible." He rubbed his neck and smiled apologetically. "You need to come with me. It's right in front of the door."
Ugh. Always those people who left their stuff in the car... Well, why not. I nodded and followed the billowing coat out into the rain, my eyes already searching for the vehicle. But the parking lot was empty. Instead we stopped in front of… a blue, wooden phone box that said 'police' at its top.
I stopped dead in my tracks, a heavy lump thudding into my stomach.
My mind screamed that word over and over, almost like some sort of warning. Why did the sight feel so familiar? Why was my chest tightening so horribly? Not even the cool rain on my skin could wash away the sensations.
The man waved me closer and put a key into the hole, before he tentatively pushed one of the doors open, waving a hand inside.
I swallowed, unable to move for some seconds. The box was too small to house something truly terrible, right? On the other hand, there were enough small things that would definitely fit. Or he might lure me inside, just to lock me away.
But… no. That wasn't a thing the Doctor would do.
I took one step closer, then halted dead in my tracks. What had I just thought? Why would he be a doctor?
"It's in here," he said with an encouraging smile. One that was sort of anticipating.
And then he simply stepped inside. Maybe to get the something out. Slowly I took the last few steps, my hand brushed the painted wood, wet from the rain. The texture felt smooth and warm and a slight tingle rushed over my skin, as if electricity was running through the material. The Doct… the stranger didn't come out again, so I finally dared to peek inside.
Now that was impossible. How could there be such a big room inside? My head spun, my stomach turned and I had to grip the door frame tightly.
I knew I had definitely never seen anything like this and still it felt as if the mere image wanted to tear apart my brain, to shred every knowledge and perception of reality I had ever possessed. It was impossible.
"How can this be bigger than the box itself?" I asked and carefully stepped inside.
"Transdimensional engineering." The stranger beamed from ear to ear. "I'm the Doctor, by the way." He waved a hand around. "And this is my TARDIS. Can travel everywhere and everywhen. Well… used to. She's kind of stuck."
"Doctor," I muttered dumbfounded. Hadn't one of the people he had been with called him that? How else could I have known? "And time travel." I shook my head and huffed.
He nodded to himself and tossed a glance at the hexagonal console behind him.
"Yeah… can you fix her?"