In honour of Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary, I am posting my Time Lord fan fiction The Blue Cuckoo in five installments. This story does not feature any particular Doctor or Companion or in fact any characters from the series. But it does feature a Time Lord and is heavily inspired by Family of Blood and Human Nature.
The Blue Cuckoo
by Katharine Elmer
That night I examined the blue clock in my bedroom. It was so pretty: blue flowers, blue door, pearl enamel, intricate carvings and metal work. Even the chains and weights were exquisite: blue-stained rings linked in an endless swirl resolving into pearl drops like the eyes of the guardian owl. Pretty. I turned it over.
A faded blue door on the back mirrored the ones concealing the cuckoo on the front. A design unfurled across the metal door: swirls, circles and stranger shapes. Time had stained the door but these slender etchings burned a true indigo under layers of rust and dirt. A tiny knob on the back door begged to be opened. I opened it.
I expected messy, broken springs pouring out like intestines. But inside the clock wheeled cogs and impregnating pinions bloomed in beautifully ordered perfection. I squinted further into the blue belly of the clock. Buried beneath the pendulum’s end flickered something like candlelight. I leaned closer.
The light exploded. My eyes flashed gold. The world went out.
Hiking with Granddad across the moors. We see a farm. A blue watermill straddles an energetic river.
‘Once there were many, now watermills are rare. See it scoop handfuls of river and fling it around that great wheel,’ marvels Granddad.
‘It makes the river dizzy,’ I observe.
‘Aye,’ says Granddad. ‘The great wheel takes it, shapes it, uses the river for grinding matter into dust to bake your bread.’
I approach the river’s edge. The shoreline crumbles and I slip into the swift current. The river rushes me to the vortex of the great wheel. I am scooped up by blue fingers at the end of a mighty rotating arm sprouting from a giant churning heart.
‘Stop! Please make it stop!’ But nothing can stop my hydro-powered momentum.
‘Change the rules,’ shouts Granddad from the safe shore. ‘Your mind is stronger than the mill. You are the head of the wheel. Just tell it to stop.’
I am the head of the wheel and the river cannot move me if I refuse to budge.
At the crest of the watermill I stand: one foot on the topmost paddle, one rooted firmly on the axel heart. I press my heel into the centre of the wheel and it stops. All stops. The wheel, the water, the wind. Everything but me.
Granddad applauds. He smiles and I grin back. He presses holy palms together. A tiny blue bird bursts from his hands and flutters toward me. The bird trills a sharp series of staccato chirps. I swear it’s telling me off.
‘Where have you been? What took you so long? Why did you leave me waiting?’ Hovering feather to face, the blue bird squawks a final two note reprimand: ‘cuc-koo’.
The blue cuckoo snaps its curved beak, tucks indigo wings against its narrow body, dips its shining head. I flinch and wince expecting it to my peck my eyes or jump down my throat.
A brief prick of the flesh below my collar bone like an inoculation. Strange fluttering settles around my over-stimulated heart. The bird burrows inside. When its wings spread they break through my shoulder blades. They flap experimentally once.
Then I fly.
Next morning I woke to a repeating sound I thought might be Granddad clapping. But it wasn’t clapping, it was ticking. My searching hands landed on the blue cuckoo clock face down on my bed. The door I had opened last night flapped uselessly, revealing mechanical innards. I slammed the doors and turned the clock over. Three hands ticked happily in a steady rhythm.
‘Granny was right! I fixed it!’
I ruffled my hands through my hair in a congratulatory gesture. Dark strands teased out as if electrocuted. My body felt unusually heavy, but my brain buzzed with activity. I stood up then slammed dizzily back onto my bed. I tried standing again, slowly, digging my fingers into the bed’s edge.
The world did not feel stable. It kept shifting. Slowly but discernibly shifting. Releasing the bed, I adjusted my centre of gravity. I stood and this time kept my feet. The ground still shifted but I let it shift around me. I walked down the hall to the bathroom then collapsed on the tiled floor.
Anticipating vomit I crawled for the toilet. Dizziness, disorientation, buzzing—I must be ill. I laid my hot cheek against the loo’s cool white rim. Nothing happened. I tried to make it happen. I would feel better if I expelled whatever alien invader my body wanted gone. Nothing happened.
When I decided nothing would continue to not happen, I corrected my double negative and went back to bed. While my parents continued clearing Granddad’s attic, I embraced my duvet and tried to ignore the turning earth.
‘What you listening to, Julie?’ Lucie was the music enthusiast in the circle of bland friends I orbited.
‘Fermat’s Last Theorem.’
‘Never heard of it.’
‘Not too surprising.’
‘More of your miserable emo shite?’ Nikki was our arbiter of taste.
‘No, Nikki. It is not more miserable emo shite.’
‘Is that Dawson’s homework?’ Jenny peeked over my shoulder at the book. She was our regular informant.
‘As if Dawson could make sense of this.”.
‘Why you reading it then?’ demanded Jenny.
‘Because I can. Because it’s interesting. Because Fermat’s original proof that no three integers can satisfy the equation for the higher order powers of a Pythagorean triple was ssooo much more simple and elegant than that Andrew Wiles.’
Thus ended my conversation with Jenny, Nikki and Lucie, harbingers of Monday horror.
Why had I said it? I knew better than to say things like that. How did I dare?
‘What have I done?’
I spilled my cleverness all over them. And I liked it. What will they do now they know about me? Where has this new fearlessness come from? Where was I going? Oh right, Mr Barker—first period science.
Which brings me to where I am now: Room 17 with Pemberg and Jordan, bored stupid.