Have you ever had a dream that you never wanted to wake up from? One that took you on an adventure, stretched the limits of your imagination and left you filled with awe? I had always thought they were a myth. But all of a sudden my nights became filled with these wild dreams. I was taken to another world by a man who travelled the stars. He seemed to be the closest of friends, yet mysterious and unknowable. He showed me what the universe had to offer: the bright, blazing glow of young stars; the delicate, dancing lights of supernovae; the meaning of friendship and faith.
Each dream whisked me away to new, breathtaking sights. No two were ever the same; even my friend changed! One night he'd be sauntering around in a leather jacket, on another he'd be donning a cravat, and on occasion he'd even dare to be seen in Joseph's technicolour dreamcoat! His face would also be different each time. His hair shuffled between all kinds of styles and colours, although disappointingly never ginger. Not yet, anyway.
But his thirst for adventure never changed. He was always outgoing and courageous, always standing up for what was right. Never cruel, nor cowardly. Never giving up, and never giving in. I felt I could trust him with my life.
But one night was different from the rest. My friend was alone and afraid. He was bathed in a bright, golden glow as a raging fire closed in on him. Maybe he made a great sacrifice, or bitten off more than he could chew. He cried out in pain as the inferno clawed at his clothes. He was falling – falling and falling until–
I woke with a start. My hand was resting on a notebook that moments before had served as my pillow. The page was half-full of notes, ending with a long, wonky line connecting the middle of a sentence to the pen between my fingers. I looked around; I was alone in an empty teaching hall. I guess my evening lecture wasn't very enticing. I stuffed my things into a backpack and rushed out of the room before I could feel judged by the silence.
It was already dark out. A cold breeze cut right through my thick coat. Winter had come early that year, bringing with it a grey and gloomy mood. I set off back to my dormitory, walking the same quiet streets as I did every other night. The wet leaves covering the pavement shrugged off a shine bestowed upon them by the warm streetlamps above.
The peacefulness gave me a chance to reflect. I'd been sleeping in lectures a lot lately, trading the boring for the beautiful. I felt guilty for that. I didn't want to squander the amazing opportunity that I had. But life wasn't what I thought it would be. I was told that university would be the best years of my life, and that once I get in, I'd be set! But instead, I was bound by an endless, repetitive cycle of lectures, tutorials and deadlines. I was lonely here, too. The students were distant and cold, considering each other more as competition than as friends.
I punched the button for the traffic lights. I stared into the red glow that seemed to encapsulate how I felt: trapped, desperately waiting for things to change. Fortunately, the green man appeared sooner than expected and I marched across the road.
I passed through my dorm complex's stone archway entrance, and then stopped in my tracks. Right in the middle of a large, square patch of grass stood something that didn't belong: a big blue box. It was a few feet taller than me and was wide enough to shelter two people inside. The two windows on the front glowed an ominous red, with some of its panels tinted to form a kind of tetris shape. The box wore a lantern like a hat, but it did nothing to counter the windows' menacing crimson light bathing the surroundings.
The cheek of it, I thought. I was told that if I put a single toe on that grass, I'd catch a fine! But my irritation quickly turned to concern as I noticed the smoke billowing out from the gaps between the doors. Before I could react, the double doors swung inward to reveal a man hunched over, who then fell onto the grass. The doors swung shut behind him, as if the box had just thrown him up.
I raced over to him. He was laid on his back, unconscious. "Oh my God, oh my God!" I cried. "Are you ok? Can you hear me?" He didn't respond. If it weren't for the burns all over his face and hands, he would have looked as though he just fell asleep while star-gazing. His oversized dark-green suit enveloped him like a blanket – although the scorch marks seared onto the cloth shattered this peaceful picture. I slowly reached out to check his pulse, fearing the worst. The moment my fingers touched his skin he quickly sat upright, making me jump.
"Oh, hello!" he said, smiling at the world's worst first-responder. I stared at him in shock before finally mustering the words "Are... are you alright?"
"Yep, never been better! Just needed a quick power nap." He stretched out his arms with a quick yawn.
"A power nap? I just saw you collapse! You've got burns all over you and... and is there a fire in there!?" I pointed at the box.
"Oh! Yeah, don't mind her. She always redecorates after I die, it helps take her mind off it." He laid back down.
I raised an eyebrow and played along. "It sounds like she's in need of therapy."
He sat up again and looked right into my eyes. "You're gonna need a bloody good therapist!"
The box chimed in with a loud crash, making both of us jump. The man took my arm. "Let's step away, shall we?" He tried to stand up, then fell. I caught him before he hit the ground.
"Careful!" I said. He quickly became stable, so I let go of him.
"Did someone stop the Earth from spinning? I'm gonna have to do something about that," he said, confused. "Or perhaps it's the new ears! The balance may take some getting used to." He flapped an ear with his finger to make sure it was still there underneath his long blonde hair. Then he dramatically pointed downwards. "And these shoes are so big! I must've shrunk a couple of sizes at least! Oh no, wait. Please, tell me: am I still tall?"
"Ok, you're either delusional or drunk. I'm calling an ambulance, for your burns if not for a concussion!"
The man looked threatened. "No no! No ambulances, no doctors! I'm fine. I just need... oh what was it? Ah yes! I just need a cup of tea!"
"I think you need a bit more than that!"
"Great! I'll take three then! Do you have any? In your pocket maybe?"
"Yes. No! I have some in my room, but–"
"Wonderful! Let's go then!" He grinned at me with excitement, as if all his problems had just been solved. He tried to take a step forward, but wobbled and grabbed my shoulders for support.
I looked back at the box, its windows now glowing a deep orange. "But what about the fire!?"
"No need to worry! It's quite safe. Oh, unless the transdimensional drainage pipes are moved! She's never been good at placing things where they want to go."
"Mad? There's nothing to be mad about! Oh, it's my new face – I might need to work on my expressions." He twisted his mouth, cheeks and eyes in some kind of facial jamboree.
This man was really trying my patience. But I couldn't just leave him – nor could I do anything else while he hung on to me. I rolled my eyes as I decided it was best to just get him to my room, sit him down and excuse myself so I could call an ambulance. "Alright then, c'mon. This way." I sighed.
I helped him stay on his feet as we journeyed across the quiet campus. I had hoped to see someone on the way so my responsibility could be halved, but no such luck. I had to suffer his ramblings alone, something about the fate of the time-stream and something or other. It dawned on me how strange a situation I found myself in. It felt like the trees were laughing at me as the winter winds rustled their leaves.
We made it to my room. Just like on moving-in day, I was glad I lived on the ground floor. I fumbled for my key card, unlocked my door and almost hauled my unexpected guest inside.
"Oh good, we're here!" he sleepily exclaimed. Our arrival inspired him to use the last of his strength and coordination to stumble across my room and onto my bed.
"No you don't!" I cried in frustration, but it was too late. He was already laid down and fast asleep. "You cheeky gi..." I suddenly felt exhausted. All my energy was zapped in a single moment. I sank into my sofa-chair, door closing behind me, and shut my eyes.
My traveller-friend fell to the floor in the middle of a grassy park. He had gashes all over and was clutching his side in agony. Blood soaked his shirt, which now blended in with his red jacket. He pleaded with a woman who was on her phone, then he fell unconscious. His pulse flatlined. A bright golden glow then surrounded him, healing him of his wounds. He opened his eyes and jumped up, shocked and ecstatic.
I opened my eyes. It was morning. Some kind of high-pitched ringing sound brought me out of my grogginess. I squinted at the blinding light coming from the windows. Wait, no. It was coming from my bed! A bright, golden glow was gushing out of the sleeping man. I stared in shock, but my attention was soon stolen by a loud, aggressive knock at the door.
"Ms. Challis! Ms. Challis open this door immediately!" It was the Warden – a kind of head-master for the university.
I cursed under my breath as the memories from the night before flooded back. I rushed to put my weight against the door. "No, I can't! Sorry! Not dressed!" That was far from the truth; I was still wearing my coat! I bit my bottom lip as I did my best to undo the zip silently.
"Then I suggest you get dressed! I need a word with you." he barked.
"If you open this door I swear I'll scream. Half the dormitory will be down here in seconds!" I closed my eyes tight, hoping I wouldn't have to make good on my threat.
"You're in university now, don't be so childish!"
"There's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes! Just talk to me through the door."
"For goodness sake, fine! Last night, emergency services were called to a fire inside a wooden police box. It's completely ruined the quad! Thousands of pounds of damage has been caused!" I put a hand over my cheek. I was suppose to call for help. I wasn't about to tell him that, though.
"What? I don't know anything about that!"
"Is that so? Some students have told me they saw you there, along with a man!"
"Oh really? Were they drunk students going to a nightclub or even drunker students coming back?"
"Don't play smart with me, young woman! Come and see me in my office this afternoon. If I find out you had anything to do with that box, or the moved statues, there will be hell to pay!" He stormed off, the thuds of his angry footsteps faded as he retreated.
"Young woman? Bit unnecessary." I said, under my breath.
"Indeed, that was a tad condescending," said a voice behind me. I stifled a scream and spun around. The man from last night was standing at my cluttered desk, turning on the kettle and putting tea bags into two mugs.
I took a deep breath. "Don't you ever do that to me again!" I hissed.
"What, agree with you? I must say that is an odd request, but I shall do my best to honour it." He began shovelling sugar into one of the cups.
"No, I didn't mean it like that."
"Oh, I'm afraid I can't agree with you there."
"Oh, shut up! Hey, how much of my sugar are you taking!?"
He looked at me without stopping. "Eight spoonfuls! I need a kick after last night."
"I swear I'll give you a kick in a minute!" I put both hands over my face and slumped onto my sofa-chair. "Oh God, what is going on?" The man poured the freshly-boiled water into his cup and moved over to the mirror.
"Oh, loving the blonde hair!" he announced joyfully, running a hand through it.
"I'm in big trouble!" I lamented.
"Shame about the eyesight though. Oh, wait!" He fished through his jacket pocket. "Nope, too strong; too strong; too weak; really scratched. Ah!" He pulled out a dark pair of glasses and put them on. "Perfect!"
"I was meant to get help."
The man drank his tea in one go, then pulled a face towards the mirror. "Bleaugh, needs more sugar!"
"Why the hell did I sleep?"
"The nose is fine, I've had worse. Much worse..."
"I'm gonna get blamed for this!"
"Wow so many lines on my forehead!"
"I'm gonna get expelled!"
"Where am I gonna go!?"
I blinked. The man was in front of me, knelt on the floor with his hands softly holding my shoulders. "Breathe," he said. He managed to stop my train of thought from spiralling any further. I felt myself calm as I stared into his concerned eyes. They matched the blonde hair that tried to hide them.
"You need a haircut," I noted.
"I only got this hair yesterday!" He countered.
I widened my eyes at a realisation that had been staring me in the face. "Wait! Your burns have gone." I slowly lifted my hand and lightly brushed his cheek. "But how can they, so soon?"
"Ah yes, well, you see–" he took his hands off my shoulders and placed one behind his head, unsure of how to explain.
"It was that golden glow!" I exclaimed. "It's completely healed you!"
"Yes it– wait, how did you know that?"
"I saw it happen in my dream last night: a glow healed this man, then you had that same glow around you when I woke up." He raised an eyebrow in thought.
"Oh, now that is strange. Could we have shared a psychic link and you saw a vision of me?" he mused rubbing his chin.
"It can't be that, the man in my dream looked nothing like you." I paused. "Wait, what!? A psychic link? Ok this is getting way too weird." I stood up and paced around the room, attempting to collect my thoughts. I stopped and pointed an accusing finger at my unexpected guest. "You got me into so much trouble! You need to come with me to the Warden's office and tell him I had nothing to do with that fire!"
"Yes, I heard your chat with the angry guy." He fidgeted with his hands. "Sorry about that."
"Sorry!? You put a wooden box – with a fire inside – slap bang in the middle of the quad! And now I'm getting the blame for it!" He decided not to engage, instead he looked at me with an apologetic smile on his face. It worked; the stillness helped me to calm down again. "Although to be fair," I breathed, "that is pretty cool. The Warden said it was a police box. Were you sending some kind of political message then? Setting fire to it in the middle of a ridiculously protected patch of grass?"
"No no, it was more of an accident you see–"
"An accident!? How? Did you trip and the box just happened to fall out of your pocket?"
The man smiled. "How about I just show you? C'mon!" With that, he turned to leave.
"But what about the Warden?" It was too late, he was already out the door.
I ran after him, but he was too fast for me. That was surprising given how oversized his shoes were. I lost sight of him outside the drama club, so I stopped there to catch my breath.
I hoped he'd wait for me at the quad. If he made a run for it, I'd have to face the Warden alone, without any proof of my innocence! I didn't fancy that. It occurred to me that I was living a kind of be-careful-what-you-wish-for moment: last night I longed for change in my life; this morning I'm facing expulsion. Funny how life works like that.
But even funnier was this guy! Who was he? I had never seen him around campus before; I was sure I'd remember someone wearing clothes that were five sizes too big. I hadn't known him for long and I'd already found him infuriating and perplexing. However, he did seem caring, too. Also kind of cool – you know, being an extreme political activist and all.
That last thought was interrupted by the drama club's door swinging open to reveal the activist wearing a purple toga with a white T-shirt underneath. He also wore sandals on his feet and a plastic laurel wreath on his head. Scratch what I said about him being 'kind of cool'. I just stared at him in disbelief.
The 'fashionista' noticed my negative reaction and gave a disappointed look. "Is it too formal?" he asked, lifting the cloth slightly.
"Too formal? You're wearing a bedsheet! What are you doing? I thought we were going to the quad, not playing dress up!"
"We are, but I had to find some new clothes – my trousers were falling down! And what do you mean 'dress up'? I'll have you know these robes are worn by noblemen!"
"Yeah, in ancient Greece!"
"Ah no! Rome actually!" He paused, placing a hand on his chin, with his other hand holding his elbow. "Oh, ancient Rome? I'd better change into something more modern. Be back in a tick!" and with that, he disappeared back into the drama club.
I didn't know what to think. I just stared ahead wide-eyed, wondering whether that golden glow managed to heal his concussion or not. I didn't have much chance to dwell on it; the door swung open again, revealing a confident figure wrapped up in household tin foil. It was creased all over and wildly reflected the sunlight as its wearer turned to show off the costume. The foil rustled loudly as he stretched his arms out. "So, what do you think?" he asked, with a big grin on his face. Again, my shocked expression wiped his smile away.
"What the hell are you wearing this time!?"
"It's an E9-type Platinum overall! Very fashionable among those overseeing the mines in the Delta System!"
"...Does this look like the Delta System?"
"Hmm, fair point. I wouldn't blend in here – think of all the jealous looks I'd get!" He dipped back into the room.
"Stay away from that clown costume!" I quickly shouted before the door closed. I meant it as a joke, but with this guy it may have actually been solid advice. He appeared once again in almost no time at all, now wearing a normal-looking suit from the Victorian era.
"Ok, that'll do! Can we get going now?" I went to set off, but paused and took another look at his new outfit. He wore dark trousers paired with a navy-blue jacket, which enveloped a brown waistcoat that matched his blonde hair. A dark-red tie posed against the backdrop of a white shirt, and a top hat sat low on his head.
"Actually, you look great," I said, raising my eyebrows in surprise. "You just need a few changes." I removed the top hat – despite his protests – and dropped it to the floor. I took off my blue scarf and hung it around him, tucking it under the lapels of his jacket. "There you go. Perfect!" I proudly exclaimed. "I want that scarf back though!"
The man looked down at his outfit, then back at me, smiling with a charming gratitude. "Thank you, Charley." He began walking towards the quad.
"Hold on," I quickly followed. "I meant to ask you this earlier: how do you know my name? I don't think I told you."
"I saw it on your quantum homework. Good job with question four! Shame about the sign error, though." That caught me off-guard. So he's a physicist, like me, yet I've never seen him before?
"Who are you?" I asked him bluntly.
"I'm the... hmm." He stopped walking. His mood suddenly changed, switching from giddy to serious. "Actually, if I'm quite honest, I don't know yet."
"What do you mean you don't know?" I said in surprise. I felt a pang of guilt for the abruptness of my response; it was clear this was a sensitive topic for him. He furled his eyebrows and looked off into the distance in deep thought.
"I've just had my slate wiped clean. Like a phoenix poking its head out from the ashes, carrying the memories and legacies of all those who came before it. But it doesn't just saunter off! No! It's overwhelmed! Its ears are hearing for the very first time. All those bright colours for never-before-used eyes. How about food for the fresh tongue, will it taste the same? Will I still like custard? Can I still fly through the storm? Do I still stand for the same principles? Do I still have that same impeccable sense of style?"
I had to stifle a laugh as he gestured towards his third attempt at an outfit. His mood swiftly swung back to giddy. "So! Tell me about the man in your dream last night. Perhaps I could take some inspiration from him!"
"Umm..." I didn't know where to start. "I dream of him every night. He's a traveller, and I travel with him. In my dreams, I mean. He's called... the Medic."
"The Medic!?" He smiled mockingly.
"Hey!" I pointed my finger at him. "These are my dreams. No judgies allowed!"
He held his arms up as if at gunpoint, still smiling. "Ok, ok! No judgies."
"Honestly though, he's so cool. Imagine this: he's just defeated this big meanie, and the people he saved ask him 'who are you?'. He takes a step forward, gives a big smile, puts his hands on his hips and says: 'I'm the medic' ". I dramatically performed all the actions, then squealed. "Ah! So cool!" The man gave an embarrassed expression and scratched the back of his head. "What?" I asked.
"Nothing!" He smiled, raising his arms again. "No judgies!"
I couldn't help but smile back at him, feeling a little silly. "You haven't told me your name," I realised.
"Oh, my name? Yes well," he hesitated. "People call me... the Doctor."
"The Doctor!?" I gave a short laugh. "I'm not calling you that."
"Hey! I thought 'judgies' weren't allowed!" he said, pointing his finger at me now.
"This isn't a dream!" I countered. "Are you being serious?"
"I am, yes. Got a problem with that?" he asked, playfully.
"Not at all." I replied. "But 'the Medic' sounds cooler though."
"It does not!"
My retort was swallowed up in a gasp as I saw the state of the quad. "Oh my gosh," I breathed. Chunks of grass had been ripped up in a storm of footsteps spilling from the footpath towards the police box. The debris hinted at a frantic battle, but the box stood calm, untainted by the fire it held the night before. It was as if it didn't belong in this picture at all. The blue of the wooden exterior was radiant and without blemish, despite the surrounding grass being singed and blackened. The windows no longer held a red glow, but were pure white.
The Doctor casually strolled onto the grass and towards the centre of the battleground. I hesitated at the edge. We were strictly told the quad was off-limits. But then again, it was already wrecked and I was getting the blame for it anyway. Plus, no one was around this early on a Saturday morning.
"Aren't you coming? I want to show you something!" The Doctor called over, wearing an excited grin. He brandished a silver key that shined as he waved it. I stepped on to the grass and made my way over. "You're in for a surprise," he said, putting the key into a lock on the right-hand door.
"Why? Are you gonna tell me it's bigger on the inside, or something?" I teased. He paused, then slowly turned around to look at me.
"How did you know–" he started, but his attention was caught by something behind me. The colour drained from his face. "Charley?"
"Yes?" I responded, confused and concerned.
"Did the Warden mention something about statues being moved?"
"I think so, why?"
"Well... I think I've found one." He nodded past me with a worried expression on his face. I turned around. On the other side of the quad stood a stone figure of a winged angel. Both its hands were outstretched and covering its face, with its elbows and arms pressed together in a sombre pose.
"That wasn't there a minute ago!" I exclaimed.
"No, it wasn't! Keep your eyes on it, Charley!" he said. I could hear him failing to turn the lock with his key. "Oh no no no! She won't let me in!" he cried, a clear panic in his voice.
"What? What's going on?" I asked. I quickly glanced at the Doctor for a second. When I looked back, I found that the statue had advanced several paces. Its hands were now lowered from its face to reveal a blank and fixed look. I stepped back in shock; my back pressed against the box. "Oh my God! It moved!"
"I told you, keep watching it!" he warned. "But not the eyes! Anywhere but the eyes." He gave up trying the door and turned around. "Oh no," he said quietly. "There's another one."
Without thinking, I threw a quick glance over to a second stone angel that seemed to have appeared out of thin air. When I looked back, my angel had moved much closer to me, with arms stretched out to grab me. I let out a gasp.
"I've got this one, Charley! You keep your eyes on that one. Don't take them off it, not for a second! Don't even blink! Blink and you're dead!" he shouted.
"Oh yeah great! No pressure then!" I panicked. "What are we going to do?"
"I don't know, I'm working on it! The TARDIS won't open with the angels around, they're probably disrupting the time field too much!"
I couldn't help it. I blinked. In that time, the angel had lunged forward to near touching distance, with large fangs bared ready for its prey. It only needed one more blink. I screamed.
To be continued...
Just a couple of things I wanted to say:
- Please avoid taking a stranger back to your room alone. Whatever the situation, make sure a trusted friend is with you or a public destination is set. There's always an alternative; please don't take any risks. Stay safe!
- I loved my years at university. Please don't be discouraged by Charley's feelings in this story. Some people do feel this way from time to time and that's completely valid. However, I had a great time on the whole and made life-long friends. I wish I could go back!