|Doctor Who Companion Internet Adventure #05 - "Point of Destruction"
"An Instinct of Self-Preservation"
by Vicky Jewitt
I hear the ticking of my tell-tale heart
Like a bomb set to blow my world apart
Now the whole house is rocking
It's so scary...
(R. Stonehill, 1994)
"If," said Alison heatedly, "we travel to one more town in the middle of nowhere on a wild goose chase, I am getting on the plane back home."
Keith looked across at her in mild surprise. "I thought you were interested."
"Kee," said Alison patiently, "the offer of a visit to America was what interested me. I didn't mind the occasional Roswell trip for your sake, but this is the fifth obscure site of a supposed alien visitation we've been to. Feel free to go an another ten, but get me to some shops first. Even a decent museum will do. Anything that has nothing to do with any extraterrestrials."
He rubbed his forehead. "It is hot," he said.
"Yes," agreed the other patiently.
Keith sighed. "Sorry, Ali. But since we're here--"
"Oh, since we're here," she said, more cheerfully. "Since we're here, of course you have to go and check out any space ships, crop circles, and any generally weird features."
He grinned. "It is my work."
"I know," she returned. She smiled reluctantly. She was tired of travelling to these sites and she did want to see some more conventional sights — and do some shopping and bring home some typical holiday snaps as proof for her family that Keith was quite sane, after all. However, she had no intention of making Keith leave the town before he'd even had a chance to walk down the high street.
Keith paused. "You could go back to the hotel. I wouldn't want to drag you around town if you're fed up."
"No!" said Ali, a little too vehemently.
He looked startled.
Ali had to laugh. "Sorry, Kee. I won't be left out, you should know that by now."
"No," he said in the seemingly distant manner he used when he was at his most perceptive. "I don't think that's the reason." He met her gaze. "Is it?"
She coloured slightly and pushed her hair back out of her face. "I don't--" She hesitated. It went against the grain to start sounding so irrational, but it was the truth. People are irrational, she told herself. Even me. "I don't want to be left alone anywhere in this town."
"Really?" Keith kept his eyes on her as she flushed with shame. "Then perhaps I haven't just been imagining things."
* * *
Liz glanced at her watch as she leant back in her seat on the plane. Still several hours to go before she even reached St. Louis for her connecting flight. And that would take several more hours again. She sighed slightly. She did quite enjoy flying, but this was rather a lengthy haul. Still,at least in this direction she was gaining eight hours. Eight hours in which to sleep, she promised herself with a smile.
She jumped as a man leant across the passenger next to her, who was sleeping. She looked at the speaker in the dim light, trying to work out who he was. Newton and Keller were two rows in front and across the aisle, and this man was neither of them.
"I'm sorry?" she tried, cautiously.
He said, in a low tone, "Dr Shaw, I know what they fetched you for and there's no point."
"If you're trying to warn me away," she returned, equally quietly, "you've left it a bit late. I can't make the plane turn back."
The man moved away slightly. "Have a holiday," he murmured. "There's no point in anything else." He slipped away. Liz faced the seat in front of her again. "I don't think much of the in-flight entertainment," she muttered to herself. It was a forced quip. She felt uneasy. Obviously, she had felt wary to begin with. More than wary. The threat used against her by Newton and Keller had been disturbing as it was and now she had received a warning from a stranger with no idea whether he had had friendly or sinister intentions in doing so.
* * *
"Step back, please!" yelled a tall man, unwinding a banner across the street. "Here you go, Bill. Pin it up and we've finished this lot."
Alison and Keith, their conversation interrupted by this incident, exchanged glances and then watched the boy up the ladder fix up a banner which said in large, red letters: "150 GLORIOUS YEARS EAGLETON."
"Town's anniversary," said the man, stating the obvious. "Big celebrations tomorrow."
"Oh?" Keith queried politely. "Street parties, that kind of thing?"
He smiled. "Of course. And the annual parade out to the old burial place, too."
"That's where--" began Keith before being elbowed by Alison.
She hastily said something else. "Is anyone invited or do you have to be a local yokel?"
"Oh, no," said the man, giving her a slow, wide smile. "Strangers are particul'y welcome at this time of year."
Alison smiled back. "That's really nice! I'm sure we'll want to see that, won't we, Kee?"
"Maybe," said Keith, walking on, pulling her after him. "Ali, we're not going anywhere near their celebration!"
She raised her eyebrows. "Oh?" "No," said Keith, before fading into a frown. "That's what we were just saying, wasn't it? And..." Now it was his turn to look embarrassed. "I didn't like the way he said it."
Alison gave a laugh. "He did suddenly seem to want to audition for a horror film."
"Interesting, isn't it?" Keith said. "We've been getting extremely odd reactions from a place that has plenty of tourists." Alison sighed. "Could be why we're getting 'interesting reactions'."
"This could be the time I finally discover something," said Keith seriously, ignoring her common sense. "If there really had been an alien visitation here, then it would be bound to make some difference, wouldn't you think? It could be the cause of the oddness here."
She shrugged. "So would inbreeding. This place is about as isolated as you can get. They're probably wary of us because they don't know what we'd say if we found all the raving lunatics and mutations they're hiding inside."
"What?" said Keith, forced to attend to her. "Alison, what are you talking about?"
She folded her arms. "I'm just being daft, okay? But you don't like the atmosphere here and I don't like the distance from the shops, so let's just visit the old burial site--"
"Oh, yes," said Keith. "If you could try not to hit me obviously mid-conversation, I'd be grateful. It made us look even more dodgy than he did."
Alison shook her head. "Hah. Impossible." All the same, she realised now the motive behind her instinctive halting of Keith. She had not wanted to hear the man on the subject of aliens. She followed Keith down the street, feeling cold despite the heat. Since knowing Keith, she'd come across so many hoaxes and empty sites that she had taken for granted that he never would find the end of his rainbow. Now, the atmosphere here in this hateful, isolated town was making her feel that it might be possible and she shared none of Keith's excitement. She was afraid.
"D'you want to hear the story? Only cost you a dollar," offered a boy sat on the fence round the old burial place.
Keith looked up from examining a nearby stone. "No, thank you. I've heard it."
"Spoilsport," said the boy.
Alison handed him a dollar. "Tell it to me. It starts with Josiah Eagleton, right?"
He nodded and with ghoulish relish related the events of an inky black night in 1830. "The aliens wanted Josiah to start the town here, the boy said, finishing. "And when he did, they visited him here again."
He nodded, enjoying himself. "Right here!"
"And," said the boy, "they're still here! Right now, right here... just waiting."
Alison stared at the boy, his pleasure clear on his face. She had to speak. "Waiting for what?" Her gaze went involuntarily to Keith, on his knees on the grass amid some stones. She looked back at the boy, her panic lessening slightly. She was being superstitious. All her fears had been centred around some nameless amalgamation of sacrifices, gods, monsters, possession, witches and so on. Evil. Not aliens. Aliens would be a matter of science. Hostile, maybe; possibly terrifying. But probably not up on folklore and myths and legends and, as another part of the universe, presumably imperfect but not simply evil. This town, thought Alison in irritation. It's driving me crazy.
"For tomorrow night," whispered the boy.
She smiled at him. "You told that very well. I bet you get the best parts in your schools plays."
"You're stupid," said the boy staring back at her.
Keith turned sharply. "You apologise for that!"
"No," said the boy. "She is. She didn't listen. You came here because of the aliens, but you won't believe me when I tell you that you're going to see them tomorrow night if you stay here."
"Agh!" Keith leapt up suddenly.
Alison felt that she was falling back into the nightmare. "What?" She heard an unfamiliar edge to her question. Could it be that she, Alison Knight, was getting hysterical?
He shook his head, saying nothing.
"Pick up your stuff," said Alison, carefully not looking at his face. "We're going back to the hotel."
Keith nodded, pale. He did so and they left. The boy sat on the old wooden fence, swinging his legs. He shook his head slightly. They were both stupid.
* * *
I need someone to talk to, thought Liz as she sat in the humid airport of St. Louis. There's only so much you can read when the middle of the night is suddenly early evening and you've already had one long flight. Newton and Keller were nowhere to be seen; neither was the stranger who had addressed her earlier.
Liz considered putting a phone-call through to UNIT just in case she vanished and was never heard of again. However, even as she had been willing to take the risk and spend the money, she realised that she had no idea what the phone number was. As for the Doctor — off planet. She smiled slightly. Ironic, really. Presumably his TARDIS had finally worked and, now he was off-planet she had no chance of phoning the person who lived in a phone box.
* * *
"Keith," said Alison seriously. "Have you ever seen me hysterical? Have I ever panicked or been really afraid of anything?"
He opened the door to her room. "No. Not that you've let me see, at least."
"Well, unless you want to see," she returned. "Get me out of this place."
He nodded soberly.
"You don't mind?" she asked.
Keith turned away. "The ground--"
She stifled a desire to put her hands to her ears. "Don't tell me!"
"It moved," he continued heedlessly. "It moved under my hands. I'm quite happy to leave. I don't think I'm ready for real aliens yet."
She leant against him in sheer relief. "Kee, I've never been so afraid! And there's no reason. I was thinking that when the kid told us that awful story. It was just superstition. All the things I really don't agree with. It's like — I don't know — just an old, old fear that in the unknown is something evil. And it's just nonsense!" She began to have the strength to feel angry with herself. "I'm reacting like an idiot and I hate that as much as anything else."
"No," said Keith, holding her closer.
Alison swallowed. "I am! Until this moment, nothing has happened and I felt just as scared. It's just feelings and jumping at shadows — and I want to hit somebody for making me this nervy!"
"Well, not me, please," said Keith. "Pack anything you brought, and we'll go. I'll get my stuff."
She grabbed his arm. "No! First, we'll gather up my things and then we'll both go and get yours."
"Ali," said Keith slowly. "We're both being unreasonable."
She gave a shaky laugh. "I know. But, please, let's be unreasonable together. I can stand this if I'm at least with you."
Then she took a deep breath. "Oh, you're right. I've had enough of this. Go and get your things, but don't be long."
"Not if it bothers you."
She gritted her teeth. "It does, but leave me some self-respect. I'll come running if I get terrified again. You know what? We're probably being scared out of town by the locals."
"Why?" Keith asked in amazement.
She shrugged. "Dislike of tourists, or a backwards way of attracting more. We go running in terror and tell everyone else that there really is something in the Eagleton story. Whatever. And we buy it, wholesale."
"Maybe," he replied, unconvinced. "We can always come back."
She pulled out her bag from under the bed. "They'll laugh as we go. I bet you anything they will." She thumped the bed. "But I can't work up the courage to stay."
"Perhaps it's an instinct of self-preservation," said Keith before leaving.
Alison stared after him and gave a shiver. The she hastily removed the few things she had actually bothered to unpack. An instinct of self-preservation. Something that recognised something wrong; something dangerous that perhaps they could not consciously accept.
She fetched her toothbrush, blaming Keith for bringing them both here. If he had taken her shopping instead, this would never have happened. What would never have happened? That was the most irritating part. She had been scared witless by nothing.
Alison dragged her bag out into the hallway and knocked on Keith's door and then tried to step inside. It was locked. She bit her lip, pushing it and twisting the handle. "Keith?"
There was no answer. She threw herself against it. "Keith!" Fear swamped her; a chill flood. She felt white. The sheer terror of being left totally alone in a town where she felt she could trust no one eclipsed even her earlier panic. She stood with her back to the door gripping the handle behind her back as if it was the only anchor left to her in a drowning world.
If he's just gone to the bathroom, I'll kill him, she thought faintly.
She got a curious look from one of the hotel's few other guests but he walked on past and she sagged back against the door, loosening her hold on the handle and sinking to the floor. It was ridiculous to sit there, she knew that, but it was all she could do.
She opened her eyes to see the proprietor. "Miss," she said before she even had time to think. Stupid as the correction was — now was not the time to be pedantic — it freed her from the fear's paralysing grip and she rose awkwardly.
"I'm sorry," she said, "You must think I'm very strange. The thing is, Keith and I were just going to leave and he went to get his things and now he's just gone."
"I know," said the man. "He left a few minutes ago. He said you were staying on for a few days."
Alison stared at him. "Are you trying to tell me that Keith has deliberately left me here?"
"He seemed to think you wished to remain," said the man carefully. "Had you just had a quarrel?"
She glared at him. "No, we had not! I'm--" She stopped. "If he'd wanted to leave me," she said awkwardly, "he could have done it before we came to America, don't you think? It would have been a bit more reasonable."
He moved away. "I'm sorry, madam."
"So'm I," she said, finding it difficult to keep her voice steady. "Do you think you could open the room? He might have left me a note or something."
He nodded. "I'll just go and fetch it."
Alison watched him leave. "Liar, liar," she muttered. "Wish your house was on fire." Whatever else Keith might do, he would hardly have left her here. He had known how frightened she was — he had been terrified himself. And in any case, as she had said, he would not leave her like this in a strange place. My mother may think I have a strange taste in boyfriends, she reflected, but not that strange.
There was a sudden general noisiness downstairs and Alison gathered that someone else had arrived. The man would be distracted, sorting them out first, she was sure. He had no concern for Keith. He had lied, for one thing.
She contemplated moving from the doorway, but she still did not dare. For one thing, what if he did come back — or if he was locked in the room, hurt. She would be the first one to enter, not that liar downstairs.
The proprietor and a small group came up the stairs. One of them was a woman who gave Alison a curious but not unsympathetic look.
"Please," said Alison. "Can you open this door first?"
He paused in irritation. "I was just showing these people to their rooms. They've come a long way and all you can think about--"
"Is Keith," supplied Alison. "All you have to do is turn the key in the door. It's not really going to take that long, is it?"
He shrugged. "There you go." The group passed on. Alison opened the door with a trembling hand.
* * *
Liz put her bags down on the bed and then made her way out into the hallway again. She could not help being nosy, but that woman who had stopped them had looked as if she might need help. She moved across to the open door and peered inside. The woman stood there, looking about her anxiously.
"Are you all right?" she asked quietly.
The young woman jumped. "Yes. No. I don't think Keith is."
"I'm Liz," said Liz, moving across. This was not the time for full titles. "If I can help--"
She turned to face her. "Thanks. I'm just-- It's Keith. The hotel manager just said he left without me and he wouldn't. He wouldn't."
"Oh," said Liz cautiously.
She smiled shortly. "Sorry, I'm Alison and I'm not normally in such a state. I just think--" Her voice trailed away as she noticed something and bent down. She picked it up, looking as if she had been struck.
"What is it?" asked Liz.
Alison held up a brightly coloured badge that read: "I'VE SEEN THE EAGLETON ALIENS". She was white; whether with rage or fear, or both, Liz could not tell.
"They're laughing at us," said Alison. "At me. I'm no threat." She gripped the badge. "They have done something to Keith."
Liz tried to follow this. "Why?"
"An instinct of self-preservation," said Alison. "Strangers are welcome at this time of year. We were going to leave." She looked down at the badge.
Liz wondered what to say. She didn't understand what the woman meant, but she would like to.
"It's all right," said Alison more normally. "I'm not insane. I just might be soon."
To be continued...
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