Copyright 2015 Rachel Beth Ahrens, Lady in the Blue Box Publishing, blah, blah, blah-de-blah-de blah, blah… This story is written by yours truly in its originality. So anyone who tries to pass it off as their own without using quotation marks (“”) and a reference footnote is asking to be eaten by a bear.
All Doctor Who characters and references are inspired by the actual series as created for BBC Cymru Wales and BBC America, in which they are all used fictitiously. All rights reserved to them. Respect.
One morning, I was constantly reminded of the Labyrinth movie for some reason. “Sarah, go to your room,” said David Bowie, the Goblin King Jareth, to little Jennifer Connelly. “Go play with your little toys and costumes… Forget about the baby.”
Already, I felt like I regretted my decision in following Mr. Midnight down a tunnel after I had fully recovered from my sinus infection. It had been extremely too long since he walked by me and hovered over my shoulder whenever I wrote. Much later that night when I had trouble sleeping and felt his presence, I found a tunnel through the wall of my closet.
This looked like no ordinary tunnel, for it was small enough to fit below my hanging clothes and Ikea cubby shelves holding my shoes. For a while as I looked inside it, I hoped there weren’t any spiders or creepy things out to grab me or say, “Hi, how ya doin’?”
I kept it all to myself as I wandered down the hall. The dank hollow halls of the tunnel led to a table worthy of the Mad Hatter and March Hare’s un-birthday tea party. The glass table had been set for four with quaint tea cups and a porcelain kettle in the center, but the whole room was deserted. The rabbit, the hatter, and the mouse were nowhere near the table; perhaps they “went on holiday” to stave off the Queen.
At least there were some Jammie Dodger cookies on a plate in the center of the table. I thought, why wait another minute for the science fiction convention coming up in August when I could grab a couple with some tea…
But someone slapped my hand as I was reaching for them. He stood towering over me, staring down at me like I should never have come.
“What are you doing here?” Mr. Midnight growled. “Those are not for you.”
My breath caught. I scoffed after he startled me. “I got bored. And hungry. I should ask you the same. What’s with the tea party?”
“There is no tea party,” Midnight said. “You’re not supposed to be here. You should be in your kitchen cramming your American mouth with ice cream or some such junk food.”
“You really think all I eat is junk food?” I said.
I waited for him to make another sneering snarky remark until he looked over at the Jammie Dodgers just as I had. I had to agree, but the Japanese had better diets than either of us. “Well, look who’s talking,” I told him off. “You with the rest of the United Kingdom have appetites worse than ours anyway!”
Mr. Midnight stood there, taken aback, when I caught on that he took offense. “Sorry, no offense.”
“None taken, I understand,” he said. “But if anything, you should take your medicine and go to bed right now.”
“I’m sorry, I’ve been such an insomniac and I found a hole in my wall…”
“What kind of hole?” I showed him the tunnel leading to my bedroom, but a hidden sliding door closed itself on my bedroom before we could enter it. “Now you see what you did? We can’t get through and you’re stuck here once again.”
“How could I be stuck in here again?” I asked. “I’ve never been here in my life.”
“You’ve been stuck in many places,” Midnight concurred. “School, strange streets of Baltimore City, shops, bus stations, home, in tight places, in rocks and hard places; you’ve been trapping yourself in every place possible. Now you can’t get home in time for your night siesta and you’ll be nauseous from the medicine in a moment.”
He couldn’t possibly be serious about any of that. “I haven’t taken my medicine yet,” I yelped.
“Sure, of course you haven’t,” he said. “You really want that on your mind when we have no way of getting back? It’s a vanity trap here…”
“What kind of trap?” I started to say, until a huge clanging interrupted our conversation. The door slammed shut and Midnight disappeared.
I wondered if this was some kind of trick. This already looked to be a scene out of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, with a strange sinister version of the London Underground, dark with rats and rat speakers running this way and that, the filth and grime in every corner, and the scary images of dark shadows falling or soldiers of metal and murderous angels.
A voice echoed from overhead: Having fun yet, Rachel? Not so much fun going to sleep now. We’re here to keep you awake this time…
I started running down the hallway adjacent to the tea room. The hallway in itself felt like a maze, another labyrinth or wormhole tunnel, narrowing in places and going on and on. I had to sidestep through one section of the hallway as the walls became too narrow for me to slip forward, the air too difficult to breathe as I pushed my chest and belly through the path.
At the apex point of near complete suffocation from squeezing through, the hallway funneled into a huge ballroom. The ballroom remained empty, and clouds of mist and fog covered the floor. I suspected this was similar to the London Underground or my special version of hell, in which Richard Mayhew could never escape alone without the help of a certain lady named after a house fixture and a key. Something was amiss, there had to be.
Then came more thick clouds with rolls of thunder almost laughing at me. The ballroom was dark enough; there didn’t need to be more darkness making everything pitch black. Bolts of lightning flickered past, one of them striking my head. It didn’t paralyze me, but it did have the capacity to inflict pain and damage to the blood vessels surrounding my skull.
No rain came. I wondered when the power play was about to start. It never came. The clouds only fired lightning bolts at my neck, shoulders, and head while the thunder guffawed at my cries of torment. I started running through more tunnels.
Some of the tunnels were bright enough to cause more electricity to sting my eyes. Other times, I could hear the storm’s shouts of ‘You’ll never be good enough!’ ‘You’ve tried this author thing enough!’ ‘Give up!’ ‘When everybody wants to be a writer, and everyone is, no one will be!’ ‘Journalists are using YouTube and Instagram! You’ll never be like them!’ ‘Why are you still writing?’ ‘What is wrong with you, you moron?’ ‘You hate yourself!’ ‘Put up or shut up!’ ‘Your dreams need to take a dirt nap!’
I shouted back at them to get a grip and none of those statements were true. But in a sense, they were a little true, because I’ve had those nauseating feelings for years. I was conditioned and programmed over time to think like this, and now it turned into a great, big, disgusting, hollow, pessimistic and degrading cold front worthy of a migraine.
Too many adjectives. I’ll scratch those later.
I worried I wouldn’t be able to get back to my bedroom and go to sleep. My TMJ pain coincided with my jaw’s exhaustion from screaming and I couldn’t wait until I got my wisdom teeth fixed. October was long enough to wait for a normal routine impacted third molar surgery. All four have to go.
I searched and searched for a way back. The clouds called, you can never go back. I said, are you sure? I’m tired and breathing just feels like more pain cramming through my skull. I just want to sleep.
No, you can’t go back, they said. You can never go back to the way you were. What’s happened has happened and there’s nothing you can do to change the past. Only fret about what’s happening right now, understand?
That was also true, but it stung more than anything. I’ve tried looking to the future, only to realize my future looked as bleak as the nimbostratus and cumulus clouds hovering over me and giving me negative affirmations. They came at me from all sides; I didn’t want to fight this alone.
There had to be a way out. I needed a way out. Maybe a little aspirin could go a long way, but the caffeine in the aspirin I normally took would keep me up all night long.
The voice overhead boomed: Some fun now… some fun now… at least I have you to entertain me and do my will.
There, in front of me was a skeleton inside a space suit. Since I was in the shadows of the clouds, I knew I was going to die, being eaten away by the Vashta Nerada. But a green light burst through the clouds and broke away all the darkness until I could only see the blinding light.
Moments later, I awoke in my bedroom again, head pounding. Great, another headache, I caught myself thinking. Then there he was, standing next to a man I easily recognized as his predecessor in the Victorian purple suit and bow tie.
“Good to see you again, Rachel,” Midnight began. “There’s no need to fret, this is a good place now.”
“We thought you might be lonely,” said Mr. Eleven standing beside him with his British accent and his youthful winsome smile. Despite the chin, I did have a little crush on him that lasted months. “So we brought you some friends. Aren’t I a clever doctor?”
I turned and went downstairs as Eleven and Midnight followed me down. In the kitchen were my pals: the one with the glasses and the Superman t shirt, the girl with the long red velvet cake painted hair, her sweet steampunk loving boyfriend, his friend whom I almost fell in love, and the karaoke friend who’d ask to be my roommate at a training facility. They were all there for me, wearing smiles and all addressing me to give me a hug.
“For heaven’s sake,” I said, not believing they’d all be there at the same time and that I must have been dreaming it all. “He doesn’t give up, does he?”
And forgetting my dreary headache, I gave every single one of them a hug and tearful hello. This was where I wanted to be.
But then I remembered once again that this was a dream too. I woke up again, in my room, my father downstairs slamming pots and pans around because he spilled some orange juice. I wanted Mr. Midnight to come over and make everything ok, but he didn’t show up. I looked at the date on my calendar, which read July 26. It was the day after my 27th birthday and I was having my very first-ever migraine while my parents were having a duel of shouts, whoever screams the loudest wins.
After all that, I remembered it has nothing to do with me. My sickly state is triggered by my wisdom teeth marching in, plus my bipolar disorder making me moodier than PMS twenty four seven. The sooner I make an appointment with my oral surgeon to have all four of them yanked, the better.
And if I learned how to make my self esteem any higher, I would have been feeling a little better. Maybe I’d have been able to eat a whole cup of chicken soup to stop the stomach spins and the damaging head pain. But the wandering thoughts of how I’ll never get to be a writer clung to me, never changing.
I still want to be successful and be free to live a normal independent life, without any gimmicks or games or bylaws and price tags to hold me down from going anywhere.
After all, regardless of the date on the calendar, it was my birthday. I didn’t want to fuss over little things like headaches or big things like being a complete failure at careers, romance, and life in general. I’m still 27 years old, nonetheless. And I’m convinced that nothing will ever get better until the fat lady sings.
So if you see me crying or yelling about how I hate the planet Earth, do me a favor. Don’t let me walk alone. Hold me.
For your listening pleasure: