MRS WIBBSEY'S FESTIVE DIARY
Even with all the goings-on in the night I’m feeling unusually festive when I go downstairs on Christmas morning. I shall treat myself to hedgerow jam on my toast and cream in my coffee. Let’s push the boat out.
In a way, it would be nice if there was a knock at the door and someone was calling. It would be lovely to have a surprise.
Down in the dining room before the hearth that strange devil dog is waiting to greet me. Cheery tone as he wishes me a Merry Christmas. Taking me aback somewhat.
I make coffee on the stove and when I return he’s looking at those books again. I sit and watch him. He uses a fuzzy kind of torch beam that comes out of his nose to turn the page and memorize everything he sees.
They look like kids’ books to me. Lurid illustrations. Very peculiar stories. They remind me of the only book I had as a child – The Wonder Book. I haven’t thought of that in years. Its cover was black and gold and I used to polish it up, I was so proud of having a book of my own.
‘Shall I read to you?’ asks the metal dog.
‘Why not?’ I smile and sip my cooling coffee. The Doctor used to sit here and tell me outlandish tales, whenever the mood took him. Outrageous things he claimed had happened to him on the journeys he made into the Omniverse in the days before he knew me or the days when he slipped off and left me here to mind the cottage.
The dog tells me about a queer kind of place. A world the Doctor once visited with his friends Sarah and Harry. A world where the men went off to live in the jungle. They actually lived within the fleshy leaves of huge cabbages. They were hiding from the women, who had turned rebellious and noisy, having fallen under the influence of a terrible yellowish-green monster. It was a cloud of vapour that approached from the horizon under a sky the colour of tomato soup.
‘The Sinister Sponge!’ I interrupt excitedly. And then I roll my eyes. ‘Oh, I know all about that awful old thing. The Doctor brought one back in the Tardis and kept it in the downstairs bathroom for more than a month. He was supposed to be returning it to its own dimension, somewhere or other. Then he forgot all about it and the ghastly thing just hung there behind the shower curtain in a horrible mood. I had to clean up after the wretched monster. Even after it had tried to take over my mind…’
The fire crackles and the grandfather clock ticks. It must be telling the wrong time. Surely it’s later than six in the morning. Outside it’s light, but a very muzzy, unclear sort of light that sparkles the frost. There’s no one out and about. The windows around the village green are all dark still.
The dog is telling me a tale about a world of spiders. They were bigger than even the spiders of Metebelis Three. And what’s worse, these spiders of Pergross had large, staring eyes for bodies. They built webs inside intricate, slime-filled jungles and they lured their victims by mesmerizing them with their spiraling irises. Their victims walk straight down a dark, all-seeing tunnel into the mind of the spider itself and there they find a sofa and a television set. And on the television set plays films of their whole lives and everything they ever did wrong…
‘Yes,’ I murmur. ‘I think I’ve heard of them… I think we even went to see the Eye-Spiders of Pergross once, the Doctor and I…’
But the dog has moved on and he’s describing the shrieking Sto-Cat: a robot made of bricks that floated through space boasting on many frequencies. And the Doctor’s friend Swee, who’d gone to the bad. Like so many old friends who’ve gone to the bad. And wasn’t it me – Fenella Wibbsey - standing in that alien desert, looking up to see the face of a Sphinx and realizing the thing was alive? Then it woke and looked down at me with the oldest eyes imaginable and I felt so tiny, having these adventures in space.
Do I remember these things because I was there, or do I just remember the Doctor’s voice telling me all about them? We were sitting in front of this fire when he told me improbable stuff and I always scoffed, though I knew there was a germ of truth in everything he said. But maybe I actually was there in the psychic jungle with his friend who looked like a cheetah? And I was in the Neuronic Nightmare world ruled by the man whose face was on fire. And the blue baboons who flew about the place on ships that looked like spoons and I laughed at first when I saw them and the Doctor said: hush! We’re at the very edge of the universe and those are the Thousand and One Doors to Elsewhere, Mrs Wibbsey.
Or was I just here in Nest Cottage? Peeling spuds, carrying out the rubbish and feeding the rabbits?
All at once the dog jerks into life. He’s off. The books he’s spread out on the floor slam shut of their own accord and he reverses across the stone flags, back into the hall. He bumps into the elephant foot umbrella stand and opens the front door wide.
‘Mistress Wibbsey!’ the dog calls me, and I hurry to catch up as he sets off down the garden path into the crisp morning. I’m on his trail, into the lane, and my slippered feet hardly touch the ground.
‘Dog? Where are we going?’
Now he’s running across the Green and the frost crackles underfoot. He’s gliding and I’m accelerating too… Nothing aches. Nothing breaks. I’m running like I used to when I was a girl.