The Monster in the Closet
“Which is why,” the man said to his son, one hand on the boy’s forehead and the other holding the book out at arms length, “all the animals in the Forest- except, of course, the Spotted and Herbaceous Backson - now know what Christopher Robin does in the mornings.”
He took his hand off his son’s forehead and turned the page. He smiled and closed the book with a snap. “Tomorrow we get to see what new game Pooh invents.”
“Is it Pooh Sticks?” the boy asked.
The father’s smile widened and he said, “You’ve read this before, haven’t you?” He knew very well that either he or his wife had read it to their son at least monthly for the past two years. He set the book down on the bedside table and found the switch on the side of his lamp. He leaned down and kissed his son’s forehead. “Goodnight, Sammy” he said gently and switched off the light. He walked to the door, turned and took one look back before leaving the door slightly ajar so the hall light could be seen.
An hour or so later, Sammy woke up, unexpectedly scared. He felt as if he had had a nightmare, but he couldn’t remember one. He tried to go back to sleep, but his heart was pounding and his breathing was heavy. As much as he tried, he couldn’t calm down. He felt like screaming, but he knew his father would be disappointed if he did. He told himself it was stupid, but he pulled the covers over his face anyway.
Suddenly, he heard the closet door creak open. He sat bolt upright. There was a bright light coming from his closet, and the door was wide open. A clawed, bone-white hand came out and dug into his wood floor. When a second extended through the opening and latched onto the door frame, he screamed.
The creature coming out of his closet chuckled, a deep, throaty, evil laugh. The boy saw its face. It had glowing red eyes and sharp features with horns atop its head, and tusks protruding from the corner of its mouth. It looked the boy in the eyes and said, “Boo.”
The child screamed again and ducked back under the covers. He heard the scraping sounds of its clawed hands approaching the bed. The boy scrunched his eyes tight and yelled, “Dad!”
Even through his eyelids, the boy could see a glow start up and intensify. He opened his eyes and saw that the glow was coming from his own chest. A small golden orb appeared from his chest and the boy screamed again. The orb floated out through the blanket and disappeared. The room went dark again, and Sammy heard his closet door slam.
The boy’s father burst into the room. “What’s the matter? What’s going on?” The boy sat up and pulled the covers away from his face. His father was standing there in his underwear with his shirt hastily put on inside out and backwards.
“My closet! Dad, there was a monster!” the boy yelled, pointing.
His dad sighed sleepily. “Well, it appears to be gone now,” he said, crossing the room. He opened the closet door and looked inside. He pushed the hanging clothes aside and looked past them. He knocked on the back wall. “See, no monster here.” He looked back at his son, smiling a reassuring smile. His smile quickly faded.
The boy was still sitting up in his bed, still pointing at the closet, but his eyes had gone blank, and his jaw had dropped open. “Sammy?” his father said quietly. The boy didn’t so much as blink. “Sammy?” he repeated, even quieter.
“Kom hit,” Pandora called, and Obelix immediately forgot about the rat he was searching for and splashed over to her side as she walked along the winding passages of underground London. “He should be somewhere up ahead...” she said to herself.
As she passed one of the dim fluorescent lights, she tapped on it, trying to make it brighten up a bit. “Luktar du honom?” she asked the dog. The dog just looked back at her, raising his ears slightly. “Not one of the commands you know then, huh?”
Ahead of her, on the left, there was a dark alcove to the side of the tunnel that briefly lit up with a strobe of bright light accompanied by the sound of electricity arcing. She patted Obelix’s head and said, “This must be the place.”
Just before they got close enough to see inside, they heard the loud sound of something heavy and metal bouncing off of concrete. “Blast it to Hyneman!“, someone said. It was the Doctor’s voice. They came around the corner to see him get off a three-legged stool and retrieve a vice from under a workbench.
“I was going to ask if we’d come at a bad time, but now I’ve got to ask, ‘Blast it to Hyneman’?“, Pandora said, announcing her presence. She set her box down on his workbench.
The Doctor turned to look at her. He was wearing his customary cargo pants, running shoes and t-shirt, but over that he was wearing an apron that said ‘Kiss the Cook’ across the front, along with welding gloves and goggles. “Ah, Pandora. What? Oh, that, yes,” he said. He set the vice down on top of the workbench then flipped the front of the goggles up on a hinge.
He turned back to Pandora and said, “I’ve always admired people that could swear. I’ve just never liked the words much. They’re so crass, vulgar. But the idea itself is very creative, and let’s face it, sometimes you need an outlet during painful or frustrating moments. So I’m trying it out. Only I’m using the names of program hosts off tele. How do you like it?”
Pandora laughed. “Good on you, mate. Can’t wait to hear what else you’ve got. What are you up to?” she asked, climbing onto his stool. She picked up a c-clamp and tightened it to the base of the vice. In the teeth of the vice was a small aluminium pipe about 6 centimeters long with a bundle of copper wiring sticking out the end, and some sort of mechanical frame around that.
“Bit of welding,” he said. “I’m working on a new sonic screwdriver.”
“For me? I could really use that trick you do with the cash points,” Pandora said.
“No, I’m making myself a new one.”
“What do you need another one for?”
The Doctor hesitated, and took off his gloves to cover the fact. “That one belonged to... him.” He set the gloves down on the stool then banged hard on the handle of the vice, spun it a half-turn and removed the cylinder from it. On the underside of it, Pandora could see a small ring on a lever. The Doctor slipped his index finger through the ring as he held it up. “Besides,” he said, “when I’m done with it, this one will have a setting for wood. I’ve been meaning to get around to that for a while, and now I’ve got the spare time.” He pulled back on the ring, and four points surrounding the tip of the sonic moved forward, emitting four lasers that met at a point about 2 centimeters from the tip. He let go and the mechanism returned to its starting position, shutting off the beams.
“So this is what you’ve been doing for fun? This is how you’ve been spending your holiday? Holed up in the tunnels, welding and that?” Pandora asked.
“Not only. I’ve had a full few days. You know, getting to some of those things I’ve always meant to do. Teach myself a new instrument... Learn a few dead languages...”
“What, like Aramaic or Aztec or something?”
“Sure, like that, but I’m concentrating on English just now. Funny, I’ve spent so much time in this country and I’ve never bothered to learn the language.” He picked up a pocket guide from the workbench to show her. It read ‘Dictionnaire Francais-Anglais’.
“But, you know English, you’re speaking it now,” Pandora said, confused.
“Ah, no. The Tardis translation circuits automatically translate for me. It actually takes some effort to hear you in your native tongue. I can only pick out one word in ten really.” He waved the book, then set it down. “Still working on it. The pronunciation rules are mind-boggling.”
Something else struck her just then. “Hey! What do you mean, ‘dead language’?”
“Oh, um, not yet of course. But nobody speaks it anymore in the 34th century. You’ve got some time left,” he said sheepishly. “Still, wouldn’t hurt to learn some Mandarin. Anyway, change of subject. What brings you my way?”
“Right. I need to bring Obelix up to the surface so he can do his thing, I thought I’d swing by and see if you fancied a walk.”
“Yeah, I could take a break.” He took off his apron and hung it up on a hat stand in the corner. His t-shirt underneath had no picture, but simply read, “The world needs more women like you.” He retrieved his hoodie from another hook and threw it on. He stood in front of the workbench for a moment, looking at his unfinished screwdriver, then reluctantly picked up his old one and dropped it into an inside pocket. “Let’s go,” he said, and walked out of the alcove.
“Hey, aren’t you afraid someone will stumble on your little workshop here?” Pandora asked, stepping out and looking back. Obelix was padding about the room, sniffing at the acetylene tank, then an old toolbox, then at the Doctor’s apron.
“Oh, um, no. I’ve got a perception filter set up. I’ve programmed your brain wave patterns into it as an exception. If you want to see what anyone else would see...” The Doctor suddenly smacked her in the back of the head.
“Hey! Ow!” she yelled, holding the back of her head. “What the hell was that for?”
“I just jostled your brain waves a bit. Look again. Look for the alcove. Quickly, before you reset.”
Pandora looked around, but they were just in a bare corridor like any other down here. The room was completely gone - she couldn’t even remember for sure where it was. Suddenly she worried where Obelix was. “Obelix, kom!” she commanded. She watched as the dog padded out, passing straight through the brickwork of the corridor wall before happily coming to sit at her side. Then the bricks slowly faded away, and the room was back where it was.
They took a lift to the surface and began walking toward the park, Obelix loping ahead to investigate every car tire and lamppost along the way.
“Evening already. The time does fly,” the Doctor commented.
“It’s a hot one though,” Pandora responded.
“Well, climate change. What’cha gonna do?” They passed through a residential area of identical houses along the way, when they heard yelling coming from an upstairs window nearby. “No! Oh, not you too! Johnny! Snap out of it!” They saw the silhouette of a man come to the window. He was quickly dialing a phone, then he called out loudly, panicking, “Is there a doctor about?”
“Doctor?” Pandora said quietly. “Maybe we should...?”
“No...” the Doctor said gazing up at the window as the silhouette disappeared. They could still hear the man speaking loudly. “It sounds like he’s got 999 on the line. They should be able to sort out whatever it is.” He turned away and began walking again. “I’m on vacation.”
Pandora stood where she was, watching the Doctor walk away, unbelieving. The voice called out again, “Oh, my poor little boy! Johnny, why you?”
The Doctor stopped. When he turned around there was a complete change to his demeanor. He walked with swift, but reluctant determination to the door below the window where they had seen the man. He pulled out his sonic and pointed it at the door lock. “Are you coming or not?” he asked, looking back at Pandora. The sonic lit up and buzzed. The Doctor pushed open the door and went inside.
Pandora shook her head, then ran after him. “Kom!” she yelled. Obelix whined. He hadn’t yet gotten to relieve himself, but when she disappeared inside, he padded in through the open door and followed his mistress up the stairs.
The Doctor pushed open the door to the room facing the street. The room was done up with posters of the milky way and the crab nebula. A mobile of the solar system hung in one corner, and there was a Galeleoscope on a desk next to the window. The bed had an image of BB8 from Star Wars on it. There was a man sitting on the bed, rocking a young boy and crying. He looked up when the Doctor entered, but didn’t change his position or expression.
“I’m the Doctor,” the Doctor said. “This is Pandora,” he added as she entered, “and... um, Obelix. This must be Johnny. You called for me?” He approached the bed and waved his sonic over the boy.
“Oh, Doctor. It’s just like the kids next block over. He was yelling in his sleep, but when I got here, he was just like this.” He unwrapped his arms, and the Doctor could see better what ‘this’ was like.
The boy was sitting straight up of his own power, but he was looking, unblinkingly at the doorway. His face was in a neutral expression, not frozen in fear, but unresponsive.
The Doctor knelt at the side of the bed and cupped Johnny’s head. He shone the sonic’s beam in Johnny’s eyes, left, then right, then down. He held up the sonic and contemplated it, then scowled. He tucked the sonic into an inside pocket of his hoodie and pressed his lips against the boy’s forehead.
“Doctor!” the boy’s father exclaimed.
The Doctor pulled away and stood thinking. “Heart rate’s normal, temperature normal, pupil response normal. Skin conductivity’s high, consistent with a recent fright.” He licked the salt from his lips. “A very bad one, I’d say.”
He lifted the boy’s hand and let it drop. It fell to the bed normally. Then the Doctor grabbed the crown of the boy’s head and twisted. Johnny’s hair moved, but his head stayed rigidly pointed at the door, his neck refusing to move. “Very odd,” the Doctor muttered. He put his index finger on Johnny’s chest and pushed. Johnny tilted backward and returned to his stock upright position.
“It’s the same, isn’t it? He’s got what they got, hasn’t he?”
The Doctor stood silent, studying Johnny intently, so Pandora spoke up. “What who’s got? What happened on the next block over?”
“You haven’t heard?” the man asked. For the first time, he took a good look at them. Pandora was wearing patched up jeans with a midriff baring tee, a jacket with faux-fur trim and gloves with the fingers cut off. “What sort of doctors are you again? Out for a walk with your dog, I’m not expecting scrubs, I’m just happy to have you, but...” He looked Pandora up and down. Then another question occurred to him. “How old are you?”
The Doctor snapped out of his thoughts. “We’re the sort of doctors with just the kind of expertise you need. Paramedics will be here soon, and they’ll do all sorts of comforting stuff. But until then, could you answer Pandora’s very good question?”
“But you must have heard. Children next block over’ve been going comatose since a week ago. One a night. But I don’t get it. It skipped over so many houses now, and my boy don’t even play with them.”
“It was hitting every house until now?” the Doctor clarified.
“Well, not every house. Same house the first two nights, then the neighbors, then it skipped one, but they didn’t have kids. The one next door got it. Then the next night it was some kid a few doors down-”
“How many doors down, exactly?” the Doctor asked.
“I don’t know, exactly. A few.”
“Thank you sir,” the Doctor said, shaking the man’s hand. “I may have more questions later. Paramedics will be here shortly. I don’t think it’s a good idea to try to straighten him, okay? Let them know. Come on Pandora.”
The Doctor turned and walked to the doorway. Pandora wasn’t sure what to do. She felt like she should say something, but she was a stranger to situations like this. Obelix padded over to sit next to Johnny. Even sitting, the mastiff was level with the boy’s face. He whined quietly and looked back at Pandora. She called out “Kom” but not forcefully.
“No,” the Doctor said, taking Pandora’s arm. “Let’s see what he does. This could be a good thing.”
Obelix turned back toward Johnny and sniffed at his face, then he licked him several times, getting slobber all over the boy’s lower face. There was absolutely no response from Johnny.
“Fascinating,” said the Doctor under his breath. “Which direction were the other victims then?” he said, pointing in one direction then sweeping his arm around until the boy’s father pointed. The Doctor gave a double-thumbs-up, then he turned and left the room. “Kom!” he yelled.
The dog got up and hurried out the door and down the stairs after the Doctor. Pandora stood there nervously for a moment, looking at Johnny’s father. He was looking at his son and threatening to start crying again. “Paramedics will be here soon,” Pandora finally said and followed Obelix.
“Hello!” the Doctor said cheerfully when the woman came to the door. “Good evening to you, I hope we didn’t wake you.” Her face was blank, but damp from tears. The Doctor decided not to mention it. “I’m the Doctor and this is Pandora.” He looked down at Obelix. “Don’t worry, the dog will stay outside - though, if you’ve got a patch of grass, he would be much appreciative. No? That’s okay, I didn’t think so. Are your children in?”
“No, they’re at hospital. “Who the hell are you?” the woman said, off-put.
“I’m the Doctor. I should have mentioned. Pretty sure I did.” He pulled out his psychic paper and flashed it at her briefly before returning it to his pocket. “Could I maybe see their room? Just a routine follow up.”
“Leslie? Who is it?” called a man’s voice.
“It’s a doctor,” Leslie yelled over her shoulder. A man stepped into a doorway down the hall, dressed in a nightgown. “He’s asking about Sammy and Linny.”
“I’ll get some tea on,” the man grumbled and shuffled across the hallway to disappear through another doorway.
The Doctor pushed past Leslie. “Just black for me,” he called. “Squeeze of lemon would be lovely.” He turned back to Leslie. “The kids’ room?”
“Which one? Linda is old enough she has her own room,” Leslie said and turned on the stairway light.
“Both, actually. Which one was first?”
“That would be Sammy,” she said. Tears flowed freely down her face though she made no sound of crying. It happened automatically, and she made no move to wipe them away. She turned and went up the stairs, and the Doctor followed.
She flipped on a light and stepped out of the way, so the Doctor could walk into Sammy’s room. The Doctor looked around, noting the dinosaur motif. The room was otherwise exactly the same as Johnny’s, windows in the same place, closet door in the same location. Obviously based on the same architectural plan.
The Doctor pulled his sonic from the inside pocket and waved it around the room. He pointed it at the light hanging overhead and idly pushed the attached fan around. He swept it slowly over the bed, paying particular attention to the pillows. Leslie looked on numbly.
“Tell me about that night,” the Doctor said, moving the sonic over the bedside table and lamp.
“You should ask Phillip. He got up when Sammy called out. He says Sammy was saying something about a monster in his closet. Then he was just, you know. Frozen.” She wiped at her face, doing little but reddening it.
“And was there?” the Doctor called over his shoulder, moving over to examine the closet door. There was a poster on the door of a tyrannosaur rearing back and roaring amidst fossilized bones and with a large banner draped across his snout.
“Was there what?” Leslie asked, confused.
“Was there a monster?” the Doctor asked. He shut off his sonic and turned toward Leslie, waiting for an answer. To all appearances, he was serious.
“Of course not! What kind of stupid question is that?”
The Doctor nodded, then opened the closet door and swept the inside with his sonic. “Did you find the closet like this?”
“Look, I don’t know what kind of mad-man you are, but the closet isn’t important! What’s happened to my children?”
The Doctor turned off his sonic and shut the closet door. He turned to her sympathetically. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” he said quietly.
Pandora gave a little knock at the door. “Um, there’s tea.”
The Doctor led the way back down the stairs to the kitchen. A single shaded bulb hung over a Formica table from a rope embedded in the ceiling. Dishes filled the sink. Sam and Linda’s father stood indicating a serving tray by the edge of the circular table. On it was a china teapot with a floral pattern and the strings from several tea bags hanging out from under the lid. Surrounding it were a hodge podge of drinking vessels; a tea cup with matching pattern, a mug with a logo for Victoria B.C., a tumbler and a beer stein. There was a saucer with four lemon wedges on it. By way of apology, he tightened the belt on his dressing gown and muttered, “If you don’t like it so strong, I’ve got hot water in the kettle.” He indicated an electric kettle on the counter next to the drying rack, also heaped with dishes.
“This’ll be lovely,” the Doctor said. He took the tumbler and poured it half full with dark brown Twinnings. He picked up a lemon wedge and gave it a small squirt. He looked around for somewhere to put the used lemon, then just popped it in his mouth and started chewing. He moved the tumbler in small circles to stir it. “You’re the one who found Sammy comatose?” the Doctor asked, taking a small sip of his tea.
“No?” the Doctor asked, confused. He set down his tea and picked up a dishtowel. He pushed up his sleeves and turned on the hot water. Leslie’s eyes flickered and her mouth opened as if she was going to say something, but then her shoulders just slumped.
“Well, yeah, I found him, but he wasn’t like that when I got there. He was terrified. He’d had some dream about a monster in his closet, but he was fine. I turned my back for one moment-” he said, voice cracking. He sniffed and hardened his face and his voice, “and he was gone. Stiff as a board and just empty behind the eyes.” He drifted off for a moment. The Doctor cleared off the drying rack and started adding clean dishes to it.
Pandora poured the father a mug of tea and placed it in his hands. His eyes found hers, and he nodded his thanks, then went on. “That whole night and the next day was all sirens and doctors and nobody knowing anything. I never dreamed the same thing would happen to my Linny the next night. I don’t think I got more than a few minutes sleep that night, but I never heard her scream like Sammy did.”
The wife picked up the story at this point. “They all said we should try to be as normal as possible. Just go about our life like usual, so I got Linny up for school. She had her covers pulled up over her face and she wasn’t answering my calls. I actually thought, ‘At least one of us was getting some sleep’, but she was like Sammy. Just frozen there, eyes open.”
The husband put a hand on her shoulder. “They’ve taken so much blood. Stuck them both in those magnetic tubes. Run every test devised. Hasn’t done one sodding bit of good. Kids keep going odd.”
“The same thing happened to the neighbor kid?” the Doctor asked over his shoulder, elbow deep in suds.
“Yeah, one of ’em. So far Shelly’s okay.” There was definite jealousy in his voice. “The Foster’s boy fell ill the night after that. Blamed me, he did. Scared the hell out of the Kellermans too, figured they was next. But it skipped their house. It got little Amy Porter instead. Skipped the Tulley’s and Barnard’s place too. It took Billy Sawyer last night. Tulley family left for the coast this morning, can’t says I blame them. We’ve been waiting to hear screams all night. We’re both so tired, but how can you sleep?”
“You can’t sleep,” the Doctor answered. “I wouldn’t. But you missed the screaming. It came from the next block over.” He finished rinsing out the glass in his hands and added it to the dishes on the drying rack, then plunged his hands back into the soapy water. “A boy this time, by the name of Johnny Hanscom. Same story. Screaming in the night, found sitting bolt upright and unresponsive.” He pulled out a clutch of silverware and started scrubbing at them with a brush. He looked back at both of them, but neither seemed to recognize the name. He rinsed the silverware off and tossed them in the rack. He dug around at the bottom of the sink and emerged with the plug, setting it aside.
“Well, I’ve had a good go at them. I think there’s a few left, but I’m afraid Pandora and I have to go.” He dried off his hands and threw the dishrag over the back of a chair. He picked up his tea tumbler and finished it off in one gulp. “You’ve given us some good information, and I think we’ll be able to help. Someone will be in touch.” He handed the man his tumbler, then shook both his hand and his wife’s before leaving.
“We’ll show ourselves out!” he called as he left. “Come along, Pandora, we’ve got one more stop.”
“Where are we going now?” Pandora asked as she left the house.
“Why, I thought that would be obvious,” the Doctor replied absently. He bent down in front of Obelix, scratched behind his ear and asked, “Har du gjort din sak nu?” The dog stood up and wagged his tail enthusiastically.
“Wait, you never bothered learning English, but you know Swedish?”
The Doctor looked up at her sheepishly, then patted Obelix’s head and stood up. He looked both ways, then stepped back into the street, looking at the houses.
“It’s hit this one twice, then went on to the neighbor’s, and the next one too. But then it skipped this one,” he said, pointing and running down in front of it.
“Yeah, but they don’t have any kids...”
“I’m not sure that matters. It hit this one next. But then it skipped this house and that as well. Both having kids.” He stopped and looked at her expectantly, then he ran back down to the first house.
“One, one,” he said, pointing at the first house twice, then he started running down the block. Obelix stood up and raced after him. “Two, three, skip, five, skip, skip, eight.” He stopped and looked at Pandora again.
“Thirteen?” She counted over, skipping over one street. “The Hanscom house is number thirteen. It’s the Fibonacci sequence?”
“Yes, Pandora! And another house will be hit tomorrow night.”
“Um, 21 then?” Pandora said. She started counting over eight more houses. “The twenty-first house will be hit tomorrow night.” She stopped in front of the twenty-first house. It looked virtually identical to the others. “Wait, if it’s so selective, it has to be intelligent. Someone is doing this on purpose!”
“Not necessarily. There are plenty of natural processes that follow Fibonacci’s sequence. The placement of flower petals for instance.”
“You think there’s a virus that skips houses based on Fibonacci?” Pandora asked, incredulous.
“No, that would be unlikely, but there could be a carrier wave that determines where this phenomenon occurs next.”
“So, our next stop is the twenty-first house. We have to warn them.”
“What? No. They won’t get hit until tomorrow. May as well let them sleep tonight. No, we need to go where this started.”
“Weren’t we just there?” Pandora asked, confused.
“That was the first reported case, but Fibonacci starts at zero.” He pulled his sonic out and twisted it. When he activated it, it emitted a torch beam without its customary sound. He walked back to the first house, Obelix loping after. Pandora followed along. The Doctor shone the light at the house next door. “What are the chances that this one here is zero?”
“I dunno. Looks the same as all the others. But why wouldn’t they report it? Maybe they don’t have any kids?”
“I told you. I don’t think that matters.” The sonic buzzed, and he opened the front door.
The two of them sneaked into the dark house and made their way, tiptoeing upstairs. The Doctor twisted his sonic again, and the light it emitted went from bright white to dull red. The floor plan of this house was identical to the other two they had been in tonight. The Doctor stepped around the banister at the top of the stairs and walked along the railing to the front of the house. The door to the front bedroom was barely ajar and he pushed it slowly open. The door creaked only slightly as it swung gently on its hinges.
The room was filled with boxes, some filled with paper, others with old electronic equipment and still more with dusty exercise gimmicks. The Doctor swept the beam of his sonic across them idly as he crossed the room skirting his way between boxes, toward the closet door. This door was also slightly ajar, and he pulled it open with his sonic and shone the light inside, but since the whole room was essentially one big closet, there was no reason to expect the actual closet would be any different.
“What’s so interesting about the closet, Doctor?” Pandora whispered.
“Have you noticed that all the houses are the same? Evenly spaced, and with the same architectural details?” the Doctor responded, also whispering.
“Sure, but that’s quite common, in’nit?”
“Certainly,” the Doctor said dismissively. “But that means, if you measured the distance between this door and the next, then followed Fibonacci from there, there is a closet door at this point in every house where a child went sick.” He twisted his sonic again until the light went blue, then he pressed the button on its side and with its familiar buzz, he swept the trim all around the door frame.
“Yeah, but you could do that from the top of the stairs, or the kitchen or whatever. Why the closet?”
“Sammie woke his family up talking about the monster in his closet,” he said simply.
“Right. He woke up from a nightmare. Kids have those. You aren’t suggesting that a monster actually came out of his closet, and didn’t eat him or nothin’, but scared him into a coma or something?”
The Doctor didn’t respond. He just stood contemplating his sonic as if reading it in the dark room.
“Then it goes, house to house, following Fibonacci’s sequence, scaring all the other kids, what, mathematically?”
The Doctor looked up at her, twisted the sonic around to deep red again, and shown it under his face. “I believe this monster follows a wormhole that moves based on a carrier wave that follows Fibonacci. I also think it is taking something from these children. Something they can’t live without. Something I can’t detect.” He shone the light at Pandora, but it wasn’t so bright that she had to do more than squint, then he shone it around the room, and finally back at the closet before switching it off. “But there’s nothing here. I picked up trace anomalies at both Sammy’s door and Johnny’s, but nothing here.”
He walked past Pandora, squeezing her shoulder as he passed. “Still, best to check the rest of the house. Our monster must have left Sammy’s closet to enter Linny’s room.”
Pandora imagined a child in the next room laying stiff as a board for the past week. She shivered and followed the Doctor quietly back into the hallway.
The Doctor pushed open the next bedroom and shone the red light around. There was a double bed and a desk with a small television on it, and a rubbish bin overflowing, but no sign that anyone has used it in a while. The Doctor turned off the light and went on to the master bedroom.
The door was closed, but the Doctor tested it and found that it wasn’t locked. He slowly twisted the handle, wincing every time the brass mechanism made a click, then he pushed the door open slightly and reversed the process. He gently pushed the door open far enough to fit inside, then shone his light around again. This time there was a figure lying motionless on the left side of the queen size bed. The Doctor shone his light to the closet door, which was closed, then illuminated the floor all the way to the door where he stood. He turned around and nodded to Pandora. He held up one finger, then turned and entered the room. She followed closely.
“Are they breathing?” Pandora whispered.
“I can’t hear him if he is,” the Doctor said, even quieter, creeping closer.
“Are their eyes open?”
“I can’t tell yet, but he’s probably just like the others.”
“How do you know it’s a he?”
The Doctor stopped, straightened to his full height, and turned toward Pandora. He shown the light up at his own face again, the underlighting giving him a spooky campfire-like look. “Do you really think this is the time to discuss how your language has no proper neutral singular pronouns for refering to a gendered sapient, and how the translation matrix causes my progressive, gender-positive thoughts to sound to you?”
“No,” Pandora said sheepishly.
The Doctor nodded, turned, and immediately stepped on a creaky floor board. He froze, listening for any sign of life from the occupant of the bed. The moments stretched on with no response.
“Why are we whispering if you’re pretty sure he’s comatose?”
The Doctor turned again, an exasperated look on his face.
“What? I talk when I’m nervous.”
He turned back around without saying anything, but he stepped a little less cautiously until he was standing at the side of the bed, next to the decidedly male figure.
The man was balding and wrinkled, with white eyebrows but a cleanly shaven face. He wore button-front striped pajamas, top and bottom, and there were a matching pair of slippers at the side of the bed. The mid-spring nights have been unseasonably warm, so while there was still a comforter on the bed, it was neatly folded to the side and he slept without it. His eyes were closed.
“I still can’t tell if he’s breathing,” Pandora whispered, standing directly beside the Doctor.
They waited for at least a minute, but no sign of life came from the recumbent man.
“Can’t you use your sonic?”
“It’ll make noise. I don’t want to wake him.”
“Shouldn’t we try to wake him?” Pandora asked at last.
“It’ll scare the life out of him if he’s not gone already,” the Doctor responded.
“Well, maybe he’s dead. I mean, properly dead, not comatose.”
The Doctor frowned at her, but then leaned closely in and sniffed at the man as quietly as he could. He stood back up.
“How does he smell?” she asked.
“Old. But not dead,” the Doctor responded.
“I suppose we could do the old back-of-the-spoon trick.”
The Doctor frowned at her again, but then started patting down his many pockets. “I nicked one while I was doing dishes,” he said.
“You what?” Pandora said and punched him in the arm.
“Ow!” he said.
Suddenly the man’s eyes opened. He immediately focused on the Doctor. “Ahhhhh!” he screamed.
“Ahhhh!” Pandora screamed and jumped.
The man turned toward Pandora and screamed again. He sat up in bed.
The Doctor jumped back and grabbed Pandora by the arm. “Sorry!” he yelled. He stepped back toward the door, pulling Pandora with him. He dug into his pockets again and retrieved his psychic paper. “Sorry! Health inspector,” he said, flipping open the paper, even though a sillouette was all the man could see at best. “We’re responding to a report of gas leaks in the neighborhood, and when you didn’t come to the door, we thought you may have succumbed! We’ll let ourselves out!” He turned and ran out the door and down the stairs, keeping Pandora in front of him.
When they got outside and the Doctor had closed the door behind them, they both stopped, hands on knees, panting and hearts racing. Pandora laughed heartily, and the Doctor couldn’t help himself. He joined in.
“Imagine if he’d woken up with the back of a spoon in his face,” the Doctor said. Pandora started laughing even harder. He shone his light at her. “You okay?” he asked. He switched the beam back to white light.
“Yeah, just about. Almost scared the life out of me though.”
“Yeah,” the Doctor agreed. “Did you-” He stopped, and his face fell. He moved the sonic to focus the light past Pandora over her shoulder and stood up.
Pandora caught on and stopped laughing. She turned around and looked where the Doctor was focusing his sonic. The Doctor walked past her toward the garden path separating this house from Sammy and Linny’s. There, on the side of their house was a child’s drawing. The Doctor approached and reached up to touch it, standing on tip-toe. Blue chalk came away on his fingertips and he rubbed them together before idly wiping them off on his pant leg and stepping back.
He shone his light up at the second floor of the house. There, eight feet up, was a chalk sketch of a bright blue door with a yellow handle. “There it is. Zero. The start. Someone did do this deliberately.”