The Blue Cuckoo: Episode Two


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.


The Blue Cuckoo: Episode Four

100dThough the Mould has no obvious hands, a solid force shoves me back into Room 17.  I land hard, hands and knees slamming against dull grey carpeting.  I run my fingers gratefully across its tight weave.  Same carpet.  I take further inventory.  Same walls, same angles, same desks.  No eyeballs, no time station, no warriors.

I imagined it.  I had a seizure.  I passed out and…  CRACK! 

A thin gap rips across the base of one wall, separating carpet from plasterboard.  The crack glows gold like the light from Granddad’s clock.   Spidery patterns crawl out of the golden gap, turning blue as they spread across the walls and ceiling of Room 17.  Blue like the clock, blue like the cuckoo.  Blue like veins.

I am still on my hands and knees when Miss Pemberg bursts in.  ‘What the—’  She braces against the doorframe as a tremor rocks Room 17.  ‘Oh nicely done, Annah!’

‘What?’ I shout over the roomquake.  ‘You think I did this?’

‘Stop being so arrogant and get off the bloody floor before it swallows you whole!’

Miss Pemberg doesn’t wait.  She grabs me under both arm pits and drags me through the door, down the hallway.  Pulling me to my unsteady feet, she thrusts her furious face into mine.  I’m a bit sick of people’s faces having no respect for my personal space.

‘Let me know, will you, if you’re planning more daftness so I can assume minimum safe distance,’ barks Miss Pemberg.

‘It wasn’t me, Miss.  I was—  It—  I—‘

Pemberg lets me sputter half-formed excuses.  We both know my efforts are pointless but I am too angry to stop.  Who does this silly teacher think she is calling me daft?  She’s not even a teacher—she’s a…  Fine, I don’t know what she is but she is nothing!

‘How stupid are you, pet?’ Pemberg snaps.  Stupid?  First daft then arrogant now stupid!

‘You dare call me stupid?  You are nothing!  I can think you into a pile of dust in a corner of your pathetic little life.  You have no idea what I am capable of!’

‘Oh, I know what you’re capable of.  Better than you do, flower.  You play with the universe like some master juggler.  Only you dropped a ball, didn’t you?  How amateur.’

Amateur!  How DARE she?  Miss Pemberg needs to learn some respect.

‘Room 17 has a gas leak,’ I explain in slow, deliberate tones.  ‘You should evacuate the building.’  I look Pemberg dead in the eye, my confident assurance scorching her retinas.  The world bends to me.  Truth is what I say it is.  Truth is what I say, I mantra in my head.

‘That right?  How interesting.’  Pemberg’s voice flatlines and her retinas look remarkably cool beneath her slim spectacles.  Bloody hell she’s tough.

‘Most likely you are suffering from methane poisoning, Miss Pemberg.  Perhaps you should, you know, see Matron?’  I’m not convincing her—not even making an impression.

‘Nice try, only it weren’t a gas leak.  Room 17’s a galactic alarm clock and you set it off.  Any idea what that means, petal?’

Galactic alarm?  Set for me?  I set off an alarm set for me which was set up to set me up?  Set to go off.  Setting the stage.  Setting me up.  Set it off!  All set. 

My brain tangles in a yarn ball of synapses.  There are too many things in my head and I cannot find an end to it.  If I can locate the tail of one string I can pull it and unravel the whole mess.  But there is no ending, only masses of interconnected wool.

Woolly-headed.  Wool gathering.  Pull the wool over my eyes.

I clutch the sides of my skull and scream.  My body contracts into a recovery position.  My head between my knees pushes my ears to shut out the universal cacophony.  Seconds or possibly centuries later, I uncurl my body.  I stand erect, alert and focused

‘Miss Pemberg,’ my voice crisps civility.  ‘I have many ideas of what it means to set off a galactic alarm clock.  If you would be so kind, please assist me in figuring out which one I should use.’  I blink guilelessly and smile.

Pemberg retreats a step.  She regards me speculatively, trying to decide if I am mad or contagious or potentially flammable.  I hold my smile and blink a few more times.

‘You don’t know what you are, do you?’

‘I’m the blue cuckoo!’  I flap my arms for her.

A blue cuckoo hidden for so long I forgot myself.  Now I’m stuck under a clueless kid who pulled the pin from a bomb she didn’t know existed.  But there’s a spark in me.  A blue pilot light struggling.

‘I’m new,’ I confess.  ‘I hid because I didn’t want to be me.  Only I wasn’t really hiding I was waiting to be found.  It was a long game of hide and seek.  I’m still trying to figure out if I won.’

‘I know who you are, Juliet Annah.  You’re Alfie’s girl.’


‘Granddaughter.  Do you know what that means?’

‘Brown eyes and a prominent chin?’

‘Don’t be stupid!  We’ve no time for stupid, you know.  You made a problem.  Fix it!’

‘Can I do that?’ I wonder.

‘You’re the only one who can,’ snaps Pemberg impatiently.

‘Because I’m a Time Child?’

‘Aye!’ she bellows.  ‘So, get on with it, then.  How dramatic a finish you going for?’

‘A big one?’ I venture.  Pemberg slaps my back as if performing aggressive first aid on a choking victim.

‘I have to stop The Mould from using the vortex of Room 17’s Station to pull the warriors of Polemis 5 through space time so they can colonise Earth,’ I regurgitate.

‘I left you alone for three minutes!’ Pemberg scolds.

‘I was bored!’ I snap.

‘Your Granddad made Room 17 a galactic station for shuttling folk about or keeping them waiting—for ages if he needed to.  Looks like he left a passenger in’t queue holding a ticket.  Over to you then, Time Girl.  How you going to sort it?’

  I am the head of the wheel.  The river cannot move me if I refuse to budge.

I’m going to change the rules,’ I announce, leaping to my feet.  ‘But first, I’m going to need some vinegar.’

The Blue Cuckoo: Episode One

100dIn 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

‘Juliet Annah, stop talking rubbish!’

‘It’s not rubbish because you don’t understand it, Mr Barker.’

‘The mathematics of relativity can’t be applied to quantum mechanics.  Everyone knows that—‘

‘It can.  You just carry the infinity and divide it by—‘

‘Ridiculous nonsense!’

‘Your limited understanding of Higg’s boson is ridiculous nonsense!  Honestly, Sir.  Do you know nothing of Unified Theory?’

The classroom gasps in fascinated horror.  Mr Barker’s face looks like a nuclear detonation as I punctuate my statement with a derisive chuckle.  Possibly it’s the chuckle which motivates him to remove me from his classroom.  He isolates me in the hallway outside Lab 4 then rounds on me.

‘Who do you think you are?’

‘I’m not sure I—‘

‘How could you presume—‘

‘Not my fault you can’t cross multiply Einstein by Newton!’

‘How dare you speak to me like that?’

I’ve done it now.  I made a teacher lose control.  This is not affected fury meant to frighten me.  Mr B’s bollocking is heartfelt.

‘I am your teacher!  you will show respect!’  Barker stutters more half-formed warnings before winding down. ‘I never thought you of all people,’ he sighs bewildered.

Me eitherI never thought me either.  Mr Barker glares then pronounces sentence.

‘Juliet, report to Room 17.’  I try not to panic.

‘I don’t know where Room 17 is.’

This is a lie.  Everyone knows where it is.  They just hope they never need to.

‘Now!’  Mr Barker jabs his finger along my appointed route.

‘But sir, I only told the truth!’ I protest.

Barker inhales and clenches before repeating my instructions.  ‘Room 17.  Now.’

Fine.  I will go to Room 17.  But I will not go quietly.

‘Mr Barker, sir.’  I make my voice polite and contrite.  ‘I apologise for my inappropriate behaviour.  I’m sorry you do not understand physics as well as I do.  I am sorry you find it difficult to be challenged by a student—and a girl,’ I add with minimal snarl.  ‘And I am truly sorry you are so disappointed in me.  Believe me when I say, sir, that I don’t know, as you say, who I think I am because who I think I am is not who I thought I was and I think who I am might be someone who you don’t want to know.  But I shall take myself—whoever I think I am—to Room 17 as per your request.  Sir.’

I drop a curtsey then spin on my heel to flounce down the hallway.  Only I turn so sharply my neat plaits smack me across the face. Epic dramatic exit fail.

If a piece of interior architecture can harbour homicidal intentions then Room 17, with its expressionless grey walls and precise geometry, is a stone-cold killer.  I have known of Room 17’s existence for some time and I’ve seen the faces of those who’ve endured its tortures: cadaver grey to match the walls.

‘Sit,’ instructs Miss Pemberg, 17’s bullish warden.  I sit.

Rumour claims Pemberg was a West Yorkshire Police Officer.  Now she is the Detention Supervisor for Wellsthorpe Grammar where her Northern accent terrifies everyone (assuming they can understand her).  She receives the most severe classroom offenders, those who violate the rules of academic behaviour to the nth degree.

Like me.  And Alistair Jordan.  Judging by his gormless expression Jordan has been quarantined here for some time, possibly since his first term at Wellsthorpe.  He’s a short, pug-faced tosser who compensates for his stupidity with violence.

I choose a grey plastic chair far from Tosser Jordan and deposit my bag on a square grey desk.  At a glare from Miss Pemberg I reposition my bag under my chair.

‘How long will I—

‘SHUT IT!’ bellows Pemberg with vowels which betray her origins.

Right.  Fantastic.  Visual and verbal silence.  How did I get here?  How did this happen?

It happened because I opened my stupid gob.  I ignored my own strict rules for survival.  Now everyone knows what my teachers in primary school knew.

The first day of Reception I arrived fresh-faced, eager.  I knew my times tables to twelve and clutched an abridged Oliver Twist.  I wanted to impress my teachers.  My teachers wanted to test me for Autism.

‘Just because she’s clever doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with her’, my father protested.

He was wrong, of course.  No four-year-old should be that clever.  No twelve-year-old should be either.  So I hide it.

Academically, this is easy.  Teachers are predators: only bright objects and sudden movements attract their attention.  Visually muted and motionless, I fall under their radar.  Ask any teacher who Juliet Annah is and they will look blank, blink then refer to the photos on their electronic register.

‘Oh yes.  Round girl, brown plaits, third row.  She’s lovely.’

“Lovely” means I don’t misbehave and perform precisely as my test results indicate.  Final year of Primary School, I faked my exams to make certain I achieved a moderate standard.  Nothing too high or too low—both would draw unwanted attention.

Socially hiding is harder.  Teenagers gravitate to anyone remarkably marvellous or ridiculously odd.  Since I am potentially both, I force myself to remain blandly ordinary.  I orbit the fringes of a modest circle of girlfriends.  These average creatures gossip and giggle so energetically I can easily drift in their magnetic pull.  The girls assume I am giggling and gossiping with them.

Survival.  That’s all I ask for until I am old enough for this much clever to make sense.  Today killed that.  I’m on the radar now.  I may as well paint my face purple then dance on this desk while serenading Miss Pemberg and Tosser Jordan with an aria from Faust.

It’s that damned clue cuckoo clock!  The cuckoo clock in Granddad’s attic.  His cuckoo clock changed everything last week-end.

Alfred Annah, legendary Wellsthorpe Grammar Physics teacher and my Granddad, died three years ago.  My parents have tried persuading Granny Joyce to move from the massive family home into a manageable flat.  Last week she agreed.  Last weekend we agreed to help.

I did not want to be there, but I love my Granny.  I loved Granddad too.  Or I tried.  So, brandishing a roll of bin liners alongside Mum and Dad, I charged in.  We excavated ordinance survey maps, various scientific instruments in various states of disrepair, and many, many clocks.  Pocket watches, wrist watches, digital, wind-up, carriage clocks, clock radios: anything anyone had ever used to tell the time anywhere ever.

I had just filled my third bag of clock parts and watches when I found a wooden crate slightly larger than a shoe box.  Dust and neglect frosted its surface.  When I picked it up the box lid flapped at me like an irritated bird.  When I opened it a bird’s face greeted me.

It was an extraordinary, ancient blue cuckoo clock shaped like a house or a barn.  An owl spread its wings across the top, like a real bird might perch on a roof.  I wiped grime from the enamelled face with my thumb and concluded it had originally been pearl white.  Tiny wheel-shaped indigo flowers ran along the edges like faded forget-me-nots.

These metal flowers had tarnished into pale blue stains, though etched details showed the true blue of its original paintwork.  Above the clock face two dusky blue doors stood sentinel.  The cuckoo must come through there to chime the hours.  I tried to pry open the doors.  Fail.

‘Does this still work?’ I asked no one in particular.

‘That clock’s never worked.” Granny had climbed the attic stairs to supervise.

‘Not even when it was new?’

‘That clock’s not been new for a long time,’ chuckled Granny.

I stroked the clock’s face. ‘Too pretty to throw out,’

Granny squeezed my shoulder.  ‘It should be yours, love.  You’re clever.  Maybe you can get it to work.’

I replaced the clock in its wooden crate.  I closed the lid.  With a strange weight of prophecy my forefinger embossed three words in the layer of dust: Save for Juliet.  


Coming soon: Episode Two…

My newly decorated writer’s space

Since I have reduced my teaching hours  this year in order to devote more time to my writing, I figured it was time I had a useful space in which to write other  than the dining table.  With some err….negotiation shall we say, I carved out a corner of my husband’s “man cave”.   Fine.  Not a corner.  Half the room.   Half is fair.

cornerThe centre piece of my corner is a fold out chair, in case I am up late and fall asleep writing and also to serve as a guest bed in case anyone doesn’t mind the chaos of our lives.  A laptop desk has been purchased but not yet assembled.  I made the quilt throw and lace cushion ages ago.  The wolf cushion, a gift for my eldest daughter Freya made by our Rock Star Quilter Gill Young, fits the space nicely and reminds me of my first novel.

A Shakespeare doll I purchased for my youngest daughter Juliet perches over my shoulder.

The jacket slung over the  door is one I made in high school and which became something of a legendary artifact among my teenage friends.   I wanted it in my space to remind me of the audience for which I write.  Beside it is a bag made for me by a friend.  I wanted to have as many hand-made and sentimental objects in my creative space.  The better to channel the creativity.

The painting is a compromise.  My husband loves it.  I hate it.  My back is generally turned to it.

cupboardAcross from my chair is a book shelf topped by an antique medicine cabinet given by my in-laws when they renovated their bathroom.  As with the corner of my space I tried to include as many hand made items as possible here.  On the top of the cabinet is a photograph staged by my eldest daughter, a poseable artist model and sugar paste prairie roses made by my friend Jo.

inside the cabinet, on the first shelf, a ceramic pot made by my mother holds my grandfather’s ashes.  Beside him are copies of my three favourite novels from my own Child/Young Adulthood.  Below that is an old clock, a reminder not to waste my time, a Union Jack/Yankee hybrid flag made for my 40th Birthday cake and a strange Lego thing my daughter keeps putting back in the cupboard each time I try to take it out.  On the bottom shelf is a candle, a clay Totoro whistle made by my childhood friend and fellow Anime fan Jamie Addams, and a heart cushion filled with lavender from my father’s garden to remind me that every story is really a love story.

Snuggled on either side of the cabinet are my writer’s notebooks, post-it notes for organsing plot and two reference books on Folklore.

notesFinally the bookshelf, filled with old games my husband refuses to part with, is covered with images and notes.  There is a very badly sketched map of the fictional town of Burly-the-Wath and the surrounding Burrdale area.  Some photographs, taken by myself or a family member, indicate settings for my novel.  Others are basically costume plots for characters.

Just outside of the room hangs a mirror for modelling gestures, poses and facial expressions.  Beside my chair a blank wall is papered with post-it notes  to keep the various plots, time lines and characters of four different time lines straight.

Now I just need a kettle, mini fridge, mini-bar, hot tub, masseuse…