The Playground

By Michael Mayo

More alone than he had ever been before.

The blackness was laced with a sinister evil, and the cold bit into him like a savage animal. He pulled his long, multi-coloured coat around him even tighter.

“Where am I?” he called, his throat dry. “Where am I?”

The Doctor stepped forward. He was in a void. An infinitely huge void, without even the faintest hint of light.

“You are in my heart of hearts,” said a voice. It was deep and rich, and came forth from all around the Doctor. He turned, but there was nothing.

“You are puzzled?” asked the voice, a hint of mockery becoming apparent.

“I am,” said the Doctor.” How did I get here?”

“You didn't,” said the voice. “You didn't get anywhere. You are where you were, and were where you are. Ponder in that for awhile.” The voice chuckled lightly and died away.

“Who are you?” demanded the Doctor. He waited.

“Your Master,” said the voice. “Master of everything. Now I am Master of nothing.” There was a sharp twist in the voice's tone. It was angry now.

The Doctor paced forward a bit, hoping he'd bump into a wall. Anything that'd give him a sense of reality. “Would it be too much to ask why, perhaps?”

“You already know. He stood alone, and you destroyed him. Now you stand alone. Do you beg for mercy?”

“No,” said the Doctor. “Never. At least not until I know what I've done.”

“I know what you've done.”

“I've done many things. Do you expect me to remember everything?”

“You should. Murderer. Coward. Liar. Run, Time Lord, run away as you always do. Little good it will do this time.”

A surge of fantastic fear poured through the Doctor. And he ran.

He ran for his life.

He ran into nowhere. He ran from nowhere.

Then he was falling.., down and down, tumbling over and over, like a leaf falling into a hurricane...

He woke up with a scream.

“Doctor,” cried Peri,” are you all right?” She held him up by his shoulders. The Doctor sat on the console room floor, numbed by his awful nightmare.

He had a throbbing headache. “ What happened?”

“You collapsed,” said Peri.

“Oh.” The Doctor pulled himself to his feet. “Look.” He pointed to the control column on the console. It was motionless, meaning that they had materialized. Somewhere.

“Why did you collapse?” asked Peri as the Doctor gave the console a brief glance.

“I'm not really sure. Something horrifying . . .a nightmare. I'd rather not talk about it.” There was something different in the Doctor's usually bright voice - it was fear. He ran his hands through his hair. “I don't seem to remember setting the TARDIS for anywhere in particular.”

“I had a look,” said Peri. “It's Earth. London, I think.” She operated the scanner switch. The screen showed a deserted street. It was dark, very probably a cold winter's night, judging by the thick layer of smog that hung a few feet above the black surface of the road. There were a few neon street lamps, but they did little to improve visibility.

The Doctor looked with distaste at the screen. “I'm going out,” he said. There was something about it, some aura, some feeling. He was attracted like a magnet.

“Out there? Why?” asked Peri. It wasn't her idea of having fun.

“Oh, no reason. Stay here, will you.”

“But-”

“Please trust me on this one, Peri.” The TARDIS doors opened and the Doctor stepped out.

It was bitterly cold. The Doctor locked the TARDIS door behind him and slipped the TARDIS key into his waistcoat pocket. Then he walked silently away.

There were traces of snow next to the small cobbled houses that lined one side of the street. The Doctor thought of the warm little houses, and people inside who lived their closed little lives away, unaware of events no further away than their own little planet.

On the other side of the street was a tall iron fence. The Doctor wandered over and took a look through the rusted iron bars. There was a gate just in front of him and it led down to a small concrete playground at the bottom of some steps. There were a few swings, a seesaw, and a roundabout. It was all relatively harmless, he thought.

But there was something else. Something that urged him to step down those dirty, well-trodden steps onto the asphalt playground. He put his hands on the bars and then withdrew them quickly, surprised at how cold the metal was. The fence was about two metres high, each bar ending in a sharp spike. He walked up to the gate and pushed it open. It swung inwards with a screech that suggested it hadn't been used in years. The Time Lord carefully walked down the ancient steps, wondering what it was that had attracted him to this place. A few seconds later he stood in the center of the playground. It was completely silent and the only light was a tiny trickle that crept in from the street and filtered through the fog. The Doctor went and sat down on one of the swings. It had a wooden seat and was held up by two chains. He sat in the darkness, thinking. Wondering.

The gate closed. It slammed shut as though some hurricane wind had slammed into it, and yet there wasn't even the slightest breeze. The sound rang in the air for a few seconds.

The Doctor stood up, immediately scanning the fog at the top of the stairs for any sign of movement. But there was none.

“Hello?” he called cautiously. The only reply was the echo of his own voice.

He went up the stairs when something immediately caught his attention.

He wasn't sure if he'd actually seen it, but he stepped into the shadows next to one of the concrete walls that surrounded the playground. Instinctively he knelt down next to the gutter and put his hand in it and felt a viscous, mucous, icy cold substance.

Surprised he drew his hand back. It was smeared in old congealed blood. He quickly wiped it away, horrified at the thought of what it was and how it might have gotten there.

“Do you want to play, mister?”

The Doctor's hearts almost stopped.

Slowly he turned to face whatever had spoken.

It was a child. Five, maybe six, years old. It wore a mud caked anorak with a hood that hung down, and tattered old jeans that were ripped at the knees.

“Hello,” said the Doctor. He wondered what a child this young was doing out in the middle of the night, alone. “Are you lost? Tell me where you live?” he asked.

The child sat in the swing and began swinging back and forward, slowly at first and then beginning to go higher and faster. The aging swing screeched loudly and the noise echoed all over the playground.

“I said, where do you live?” called the Doctor as he stood up.

The little boy stopped swinging and jumped off the seat. “Will you push the see-saw for me?” he asked, running around to the other side of it and sitting down. “Hurry up,” he called, when he saw the Doctor just standing there.

“Not until you tell me your name,” the Doctor countered, kneeling down next to the boy. “And where you come from.”

“I don't come from any place, Mister,” said the child. He looked behind the Doctor and said, “Will you play with me?”

The Doctor swung around. Behind him stood five more children. There were two boys and three girls, all about the same age as the one that sat on the seesaw. All wore old and ripped clothing and they were muddy and unclean, their hair looking as though it hadn't been done in weeks. One girl, with twisted red hair that hung down in what had once been a pigtail, had a particularly large gash on her cheek.

“Ah... how are you?” the Doctor asked cautiously.

There was no response from the children. The boy that sat on the seesaw ran over to join them. “That man wouldn't push me,” he whispered almost inaudibly in the ear of the red-haired girl.

Another boy stepped forward. Again he was ragged and dirty, his black hair an awful mess. His sneakers had once been white; now they were covered in mud. They were both undone, one having laces that dragged behind it and the other not, and the front of both so worn that the toes showed through.

“You're mean,” the boy said advancing.

The Doctor backed away, suddenly afraid of the child for no reason he could think of.

“What are you going to do about it?” asked the boy with a sneer. In the background the other children began to chant “Scaredy cat! Scaredy cat!”

The Doctor decided that he had better get back in the TARDIS. Slowly he began edging towards to steps.

“Look at the scaredy cat!” cried a girl. There was a babble of laughter. “The scaredy cat's trying to run away!” said a boy's voice out loud.

The Doctor stopped trying to get to the TARDIS. Two children had sneaked around to the steps - a boy and a girl both with black hair and fingernails like talons. They slashed at the Doctor and advanced, the little girl hissing and baring her teeth.

The Doctor drew back in horror - she had fangs! They all had fangs! And he was trapped!

He drew back against the wall while the children closed around him in a semi-circle. They all had blazing red eyes. Their fingernails had transformed into vicious, razor-sharp claws and they displayed their filthy green and yellow teeth with pride. Their long dog-like fangs were instruments of death and terror on hundreds of worlds.

The Vampires flew at the Doctor in a flurry of limbs. The Time Lord tried to run but they pounced on him like cats playing with a ball of string.

A little girl gashed at the Doctor's eyes with her claws. Another ripped at his waistcoat, and the girl with the red hair dug her fangs into the Doctor's neck, feeding on the Time Lord's rich, powerful blood. The Doctor tried to push them away but the effort was too much. He felt his mind spinning, and was only vaguely aware as the animal talons ripped up his face and dug deep into his soft flesh.

It was raining.

The Doctor lay in the middle of the playground, drenched and bitterly cold.

Carefully he ran his hands over his face. He was all right, hadn't been harmed. What had happened?

He pulled himself to his feet and staggered over to the metal frame of a swing to lean against. He felt the rain patter against his head. It ran all over his face and down his back. His coat was water-logged, weighing him down as if it were made of lead. He pulled it off and threw it on the ground. Then he stumbled over to the gutter where the blood had been. It was gone. He wondered if it had ever been there. Had he imagined it, like the Vampire children, or had it been washed away in the rain?

He forced himself up the steps and pulled the old rusted gate open and then stepped out onto the pavement. The cold rain poured down in buckets, creeping into his body and eating away at his bones with an icy-wet chill.

He staggered like an old to his homely blue box and pulled the key from his waistcoat pocket. With shaking hands he unlocked the door and pushed it open. Then he vanished inside and the door slammed shut.

Outside in the rain and fog a tiny child walked up to the TARDIS. He wore a tattered blue anorak and ripped jeans. His hair was a mess and a glazed expression adorned his face.

The TARDIS faded away into oblivion, leaving only an unnatural groaning sound in the air.

The child stumbled on, uncaring, unthinking. It too was cold and wet. But it had only one all devouring desire - hunger! It was desperately hungry. And so was its master.

The child stumbled on over the road to one of the small, tightly packed houses that sat under the light of one of the street lamps. It was drawn by warmth within the house.

The ragged child stepped up to the front door and rapped loudly on it with its fists. It sensed movement somewhere inside. A light flickered on and there were footsteps on the other side of the door...

The playground was empty again. The drains overflowed with water, which poured down into the foul smelling, putrefying sewer below.

Somewhere deep in the playground, something existed. Something deadly. Something evil.

The creature was the last of its kind. It had been on this planet for thousands of years. Yet it could never leave. All of its body, everything except its beating, pulsating heart had been obliterated. By the Time Lords. By the Doctor.

The Vampire was a servant of the Great One.

In its mind it traced the path of the TARDIS across the plains of infinity. The Doctor thought he was free. Far from it. One day the Time Lord would return.

It was his destiny.

The Doctor would pay.

This item appeared in 25 Years of a Time Lord (January 1989).

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