"Oy! Spit those out!"
I heard a high pitched buzzing noise. My nose itched. I sneezed, spitting pills and soda everywhere. Incensed, I wiped my face and glared at Mr. Smith. Shit, couldn't he let me die in peace? Or was it a cruel ploy of God because He didn't want me, either?
"Go away!" I croaked. "I'm doing the world a favor! Go away!"
"No," he put something back into his coat pocket and rested both hands on the edge of the pipe. "I just found your note and it gives me every reason to not leave you alone."
"Why not? I'm stupid, I'm ugly, I suck at everything and I don't do a damn thing for right for anyone. Why shouldn't I just get it over with?" I hid my face behind my hands. "I'm better off dead. Then it'll stop hurting. Who's going to miss me besides my parents? Screw everything, just screw it! I don't matter and I'm not important enough to cry about."
I tried to reopen the Benadryl box, but Mr. Smith had wormed into the pipe with me and he took it from my hands.
"Everybody says they do, but they roll their eyes as soon as I go away. I'm not good at anything. I suck! I suck at living! I probably suck at dying, too, but at least that's something I can do!
I want to die. I deserve to die!"
Mr. Smith took me in his arms. I went from just crying to full on sobbing. I couldn't control or silence myself. How pathetic was I, weeping on a teacher like that?
"Ah," he spoke quietly, "I've never met anyone that wasn't important before."
"You have now," I sniffed.
"Hm. You said I'm weird. Do you hear anything weird, Cyndi?"
What the hell was he talking about?
I managed to stop crying and...there was
something weird. My head rested on his chest. There were two heartbeats. Instead of a single thump in the middle, I heard one on each side.
"You've got two hearts." I said dully. "It's a trick, right? You're hiding something in your pocket."
"Nah, that's a cheap trick. I'm an alien. I don't belong here. That's why I don't fit in."
"Wish I was a damn alien. Then maybe I'd have a reason to not fit in either. I'm just human and suck at everything."
"You sing fine." Mr. Smith gestured at the pipe. "I heard you."
"I suck at singing. My voice is too weak. Nobody hears me unless they're right there."
The tears started again. I wiped them away with angry swipes of my palms.
"A voice is a voice. Big or small. I don't know anyone who sings exactly like you do. Actually, I don't know anyone who sings exactly like anyone else. They all sound like themselves."
"Yeah, because they have better voices than mine."
"Little things have mystery to them."
"Like your box?" I gasped when I realized I said it out loud. "I...saw you get in it and disappear."
"Would you like to see it?"
I sat up and looked at him. Years of being harassed, bullied and hated made trusting people difficult. If he wanted to fool with me, I figured I'd better start poking holes in his story right away.
"Your name isn't really John Smith is it?"
He curled half his mouth in a smile. "No. I'm the Doctor."
"That's a new one." Mr. Sm-- I mean-- the Doctor, blinked twice. His eyes were green, I realized. "Just the Doctor. Now come along. I don't know about you, but this pipe is giving me a crick in my neck. Great hiding place, by the way. Were you always this good at hide and seek?"
I was crazy to follow him out. Everything I'd been taught about following strange men to their vehicles went out the proverbial window. I stood up and took a good look at the blue contraption.
It resembled a police box from Britain. Strangely, the more I looked at it, the more my gaze wanted to just slide past it like it wasn't anything of interest to notice. I heard its door creak open on the other side.
"So if you're an alien, what planet are you from?"
The Doctor stuck his head out of the door as I came around. "Gallifrey. I'm on my way back to set it free from a frozen moment, but I still have time for you." He smiled like a little kid in a toy store. "Ready? This is my favorite part."
My insides still felt heavy with what I almost did. Maybe if I went on this adventure, he'd leave and I could still do the deed. I had enough money to buy more Benadryl later.
Yeah, go for a ride. You can kill yourself later
. What a charming thought.
I stuck my head into the phone box. I saw a room that had to be as large as the school gymnasium.
"Oh, no way." I backed up to look at the blue box again from the outside.
"Go on and say it, 'it's bigger on the inside.'"
"Is the inside in another dimension?"
The Doctor laughed. "And you say you aren't good at anything! That was science, and yes. She's my TARDIS. Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. She can go anywhere in the universe...and any time
I knocked on the side. It sounded and felt like wood. "It's like Star Trek
Looking around once more, I took a breath and stepped all the way into the ship...this TARDIS, as he called it. The room's center was an ornate glass column with silver tiles near the ceiling and a whole bunch of weird gadgetry on a hexagonal panel near the bottom.
"I saw you check Cosmos
out of the school library," said the Doctor. "You dream about the stars, don't you?"
"Carl Sagan's book. Yeah. I like astronomy." I grasped the railing behind me. "Does this thing come with seat belts?"
"You don't need them here." The Doctor huffed. "So, you're into astronomy? Name a place. Any place. We'll get there in no time."
"I have to be back before four o'clock."
"Time machine..." He said in a singsong voice.
"Right." I looked around again, dazzled by the fact that I was standing inside an alien spaceship. It was just exciting enough to reach through the emptiness I felt towards myself. My imagination came back to life! "Can we go to the Orion nebula?"
"Of course!" The Doctor typed on a keyboard, turned some dials and pointed to a lever, "Now pull that and we'll be on our way."
I grabbed the lever and heaved it towards myself. The column in the center moved up and down and the circular panels above it spun. I started to hear a strange wheezing noise and everything vibrated. "How long is the trip going to take?"
The Doctor took the lever and eased it back up. The TARDIS stopped vibrating. He grinned. "We're there. Have a look out the door. Don't worry, you won't decompress."
We weren't looking at the nebula. We were in it
. I stared outside and fell to my knees, barely conscious of my still wet hair. Bright stars lit up the molecular cloud in colors no telescope can ever capture. The nebula surrounded everything like dense, warm fog.
I stuck my hand out and pulled my fingers through it. Somehow, the gas wasn't hot enough to melt my fingers off.
I touched stardust
with my bare hands.
"We're made of this stuff." I said. "Everything we are came from stars that died as supernovae. All our atoms, like the iron in our blood and the calcium in our bones."
The Doctor chuckled softly. I hadn't heard him join me.
"That wasn't in class."
"I know. I read about it." I looked out again at the globules of gas that would someday be new stars. "Can we see Betelgeuse?"
"I love that movie! Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!"
"I meant the star, silly!"
"Oh! Right! Sorry. Sure, I can work that out." The Doctor snapped his fingers and his footsteps scrambled away. The doors closed, the TARDIS emitted its odd wheezing noise for only three seconds. When I opened the doors again, there it was.
"It's moving pretty fast," said the Doctor. He kept adjusting the controls to keep up with it.
Betelgeuse, the red supergiant star making up Orion's top left-hand corner. I stared at it. From that close, it became a huge, angry looking orange-red sphere surrounded by the gas it's been shedding for...probably thousands of years. Unlike the sun, it looked bright in the center and dimmer towards its edges. Here and there, it had bright spots similar to the white light showing through colored Christmas lightbulbs whenever the paint cracked off.
It was beautiful.
"That star is younger than the Earth. It's not even ten million years old." I whispered. "Huge stars squander the hydrogen in their cores. It'll be one hell of an explosion when it dies."
The Doctor crossed his arms and leaned on the control panel. "Do you want to watch it go supernova?"
"Is that safe?"
"It should be, if we're a safe distance away."
I grinned. Explosions were cool! "Let's go."
"It's been awhile since I watched a star go boom. Things that go boom are fun, sometimes. Hold on. I have to calculate for distance and other wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff."
The Doctor scampered around the hexagonal control mechanism, adjusting and readjusting. He tapped a glass dome. I heard something make popping noises before he pulled the lever that made the TARDIS go. We moved forward in time-- like he said, time machine-- and the stars looked vastly different when the doors opened.
He handed me a pair of silver sunglasses. Identical to the pair he'd just donned himself. "So you don't go blind."
"Right." I put them on and we sat in the TARDIS doorway together, letting our feet dangle. Betelgeuse was off in the distance. From my perspective, it looked no bigger than the holes punched in paper with a hole puncher.
The Doctor crackled something.
"Popcorn?" He held the bag out to me.
I stared. "The TARDIS makes popcorn?"
He grinned like a little kid. "Yeah! She's real good at that."
I took some. Better than anything they made in movie theaters. He passed me a handheld telescope that let me see the star so clearly it was like viewing it from a nearby asteroid.
The Doctor checked his watch. He ate some popcorn and held up his finger. "Ten, nine, eight..."
I hunkered down to wait.
"...three, two, one." He pointed at the star. "Geronimo!"
Betelgeuse shrank into a pinpoint. Seconds later, it blew itself apart. A cosmic white bubble expanding into the universe. I saw flashes of light as the shockwave vaporized everything in its path.
"That's what happens to people who let the hate they feel get to them." The Doctor crunched more popcorn. "They self destruct and everything around them goes to pieces. Quite sad, really. You should never let potential energy like that go to waste."
I smiled, sadly. I wanted to tell him I was too small and useless to do more than make two people cry about me.
Before the words came out, I heard a telephone ring. A telephone?
"Sorry, better get that." The Doctor rushed to grab the phone. He chattered in a language I couldn't understand. I scooted backwards to sit cross-legged on the warm, weirdly cushiony floor. Wasn't it hard like linoleum when I walked in? Weird!
The TARDIS doors suddenly closed as the Doctor concluded his call.
"What's going on?" I took off the sunglasses and moved away from the door.
"We're taking a little side trip." The Doctor stuffed his shades in his pocket. "You might like where we're going. Hold on!" He pulled a switch and the TARDIS jolted into action.
I held the railing and dragged myself towards the central column to better view the controls.
"What's this?" I pointed to a speaker.
"It goes ding when there's stuff."
"Right, but what does it do?
"It goes ding
when there's stuff
"It goes ding when there's stuff?"
"Yeah, when there's stuff, it goes ding."
"Stuff." The Doctor held up one hand. Then he held up the other. "Ding." He brought his hands together. "See? Stuff makes it go ding. Try to keep up with me here."
"But what kind
of stuff makes it go ding?"
"Oy! You ask a lot of questions! Are you trying to be an armchair physicist? Spacey wacey stuff
makes it go ding!
The Doctor looked so playfully insulted
. I almost laughed. He reminded me of an overgrown six year old. Yet, as I watched him work, something about him seemed incredibly old
"Uh, okay. Spacey wacey stuff." I held onto the railing while the TARDIS vibrated around me. This time it was more intense than the first trip. "Where exactly are we going?"
"Planet Harmonica. Tiny planet orbiting a red dwarf. It's in a galaxy fifteen billion light years from Earth."
"How is that possible? All the science stuff I've read says the universe is thirteen point two billion years old."
The Doctor slapped his forehead. "Oy! Details, details! The universe expands over time, remember? We're going forward. It's-- please
don't touch that. It dispenses ketchup. The yellow one is mustard."
Okay, a ship that made popcorn spat out ketchup and mustard. Did it come with a cosmic hot dog, too? Better not ask.
"So, planet Harmonica...what's going on there?"
The Doctor stopped twiddling dials to look at me. "They've got a pest problem and asked for my help. They're a species that lives under their planet's surface. Quite lovely people, if a bit short. Sometimes stuff gets in and can't get out. Ah, here we go!"
I felt the vibrations stop. A sense of dread knotted my stomach. Underground, where there were probably dinosaurs and Godzilla-like monsters waiting to eat me alive.
The Doctor opened the door and gestured for me to step out. "It's safe. Come along now."
Outside the TARDIS, the air felt cool and slightly humid. Very similar to a movie theater. My cold, damp hair made my scalp ache. I looked around at the world I very much didn't expect. My sense of adventure kicked in, suddenly, when I realized was living something I daydreamed about all the time. And I didn't have to pretend!
Holy crap! I'm standing on another planet in another galaxy!
Everything appeared crystalline. The lights, the structures...everything. I couldn't see the top of the cavern. The walls near me were smooth and reflected color like abalone shells. I glanced back at the alcove where the TARDIS had landed and quietly followed the Doctor. He plunged straight ahead as if he knew this place.
"Where are we? On the planet, I mean. Like...is this their version of Tokyo?"
"We're in the city of Fa-lalalala-lalalala. Just like Deck the Halls
." The Doctor spun to face me and continued walking backwards. "It's about fifteen miles underground." He turned and...licked the wall! "Yup, fifteen miles." He spread his hands proudly. "Welcome to Harmonica!"
Something dark and smoky rose behind him. I heard it hiss like a passing freight train.
"Doctor..." I pointed.
"Yes, I know." He didn't notice my frightened stare. "It's a lovely little hideaway."
"No, I mean, look!"
"Huh?" He turned and the smoky thing loomed over us. "Hello!" He blinked at me. "Cyndi? Run!"
The Doctor grabbed my hand. We took off down a dimly lit green tunnel. He dragged me around a corner, shoved us both into another alcove and shushed me with one finger. The creature floated past the opening, leaving behind a strange smell. Seriously, I swore I smelled baking bread when it went by.
Minutes passed. The Doctor scooted from our hiding place. He took something out of his pocket that emitted green light and made a weird noise.
"It's a Devourer." The Doctor peered at his device. "Aaaand, according to the sonic screwdriver, it's been here for about a week."
Aliens are cool...on TV. This was downright scary. I could shut off my imagination if it got too scary. I couldn't shut off real life!
"So, uh," I gulped, "What is it and what does it eat?"
The Doctor put his sonic screwdriver away. "It's made of strange matter. Like dark matter, but stranger." He leaned on the wall and frowned. "Sometimes they get in when a new universe goes bang."
"But what does it eat?
"It doesn't eat, it absorbs. It floats in space for billions of years, 'till it bumps into a nice planet like this one. It's attracted to war, chaos and-- " his face dropped when he looked up, " --self loathing. But only when it's angry. Usually, they're pretty harmless. They feed off the interstellar medium like big fish eating little bits of plankton. So, like I said, pretty harmless."
I froze at the smell of bread. "It's behind me, isn't it?"
"Here we go again." The Doctor almost took my arm off, and we escaped through another tunnel.
"Think about-- something-- you-- like about yourself!" He spoke in quick spurts, "Hurry!"
I gasped at him, "But I don't like anything!"
My legs burned. I still felt sick from earlier, and the popcorn I ate wasn't sitting well in my stomach.
"Okay...okay...I'm short! I like being short!"
The smell went away. We stopped running. I'm good at it in short bursts, not long sprints. I could hardly breathe. The Doctor didn't seem very winded at all. So not fair.
A triangular door split open on my left. The being who stepped out wasn't any taller than I. It wore white clothing, had white hair and shimmering silver-white skin. It wore a long veil, much like a bride's. The alien moved the veil to reveal large, faintly glowing blue eyes. Solid blue, no irises or pupils, and shaped perfectly like almonds.
"Hello, Companion of the Doctor, hello, Doctor." The alien spoke...English?...with a musical sounding voice. Almost as if it sang the words rather than speak them.
"Hi." I looked to the Doctor for an explanation, but he only winked at me.
He turned to the creature. "Hello, I got your call about the Devourer."
The alien beckoned us into the room it came from.
I nudged the Doctor. "Boy or girl? I don't want to look stupid."
"Girl," he said back. "The boy ones don't wear veils."
We passed through a foyer and entered a huge domed cathedral-like building full of Harmonicans. None were taller than me. The Doctor towered above everyone there!
"How are they speaking English here?"
"They're not. The TARDIS is translating everything for you. You hear your language when they talk, and they hear theirs when you talk." He gestured subtly towards the Harmonican sitting in the exact center of the elaborate dome. Her veil was so long it had been arranged to pile behind her. "That's Allellullilla, the Queen."
"Maybe she'll let me call her Lily for short," I tried to joke.
He made a face. "Tried that once. She doesn't like it."
"Doctor," the Queen's voice gently interrupted us. She had a quiet alto singsong voice.
"Ah, yes, your Majesty," the Doctor walked up to her and offered a sweeping bow. "Been awhile, eh? Glad to see you got the acoustics fixed in here. Sounds lovely now. So, about the Devourer..."
"Such a creature cannot be allowed to stay here," Allellullilla said simply.
"There's a reason it ended up here. The answer is finding it." The Doctor rocked back on his heels.
"I'm Yayeyiyo," said the man next to me. I didn't need to look, I just knew
by the tenor tone of his voice.
I looked anyway. No veil. Definitely male.
"I'm Cyndi," I whispered back hastily. "You guys know the Doctor?"
"He helped us find this world after a war cost us our old planet."
"Ahh. I'm glad you have a home." I said back.
"...caught in a supernova shockwave and, ah! That might explain it!" The Doctor twirled on his heels, apparently proud of himself. "Your Majesty, you're lovely as always. We'll try the main vent and see if we can't show this thing the way out. Cyndi! I think we have the solution!"
Suddenly, all the Harmonicans were staring at me. I stood there, shivering, my hair still not quite dry from my toilet dunking. I had to look terrible. What a crappy first impression I was making.
I offered a small half-hearted wave and dropped my gaze to my feet.
"Come, you shouldn't suffer with the cold." Yayeyiyo beckoned me to follow him. "I will give you dry attire fit for the environment."
"Clothes are hard for me." I said dejectedly. At the Doctor's nod to go on, I followed the Harmonican man into a short hallway. "Nothing fits."
Yayeyiyo-- his name was easier to remember if I sang it to myself the same way he said it-- handed me a robe. He pulled a curtain shut between us. I shrugged, abandoned my smelly school clothes and put the robe on.
It fit perfectly
. I wanted to cry with joy. I put my old tennis shoes back on. They looked almost ridiculous with the robe, yet I didn't care. I was wearing the same thing as everybody else. I almost fit in.
"I'm dressed," I said. "Thanks, uh..." I sang the name, "Yayeyiyo
Yayeyiyo moved the curtain. He tilted his head at me. I couldn't quite read the squint of his eyes. He was
smiling. I hoped that meant I did something right.
I tossed my old Earthly clothes down a chute-- I never wanted to see them again. We were about to leave the hall when I smelled bread. Dread filled my stomach and I sucked in a breath.
"Oh no, it's back." I spun to face the Devourer.
It recoiled! Then it took off in the direction it came.
Yayeyiyo and I bolted back into the main dome. We almost tripped over each other when came we upon an older Harmonican standing guard.
All three of us burst into the main dome again, gasping.
"It's in there!" I ran straight towards the Doctor, not caring who saw me or how shrill my voice sounded. "I think I scared it away when I screamed, but it's in there!
"Shh! Cyndi, mind your manners." The Doctor covered my mouth. "Don't shout in front of royalty."
I dipped my knees in a quick curtsey towards the Queen. "I'm sorry, Queen Allellullilla."
Queen Allellullilla blinked her huge blue eyes. Something in her face softened almost imperceptibly.
"She sings with a voice like ours," the Queen said.
Taken aback, I lowered my head. "Did I do it wrong, ma'am?"
"Nope." The Doctor gave my shoulders a squeeze. "There's a reason this planet is called Harmonica."
Allellullilla lifted her hand, beckoning me closer. "What songs does your world sing?"
"We, um..." I closed my eyes and sang the soprano line of O Magnum Mysterium
. The dome above me gave the place amazing acoustics. My voice just...carried...without any effort at all!
More voices joined mine at varying intervals. They sang the soprano line at different harmonies. I heard thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, octaves. Even the dissonance was beautiful. The world ceased to exist around me and there was just the sound surrounding me.
I felt so peaceful. Like I truly belonged there. I fit in
The Doctor patted my shoulder. "Keep singing. Don't open your eyes."
His sonic screwdriver whirred. Something above me clicked. The air started to smell like rotten eggs. No wonder they lived underground...the planet was a volcanic wasteland on the surface.
Against my better judgment, I looked up at the smell of baking bread. There was the Devourer, a huge angry cloud hanging near the ceiling.
When I stopped, the Harmonicans stopped, and the beautiful music we made dissolved into discord.
"It's supposed to go out!" The Doctor shouted in frustration. "Cyndi, I told you not to open your eyes! Now it sees you!"
Someone took Queen Allellullilla's hand and whisked her away to safety. Everywhere I looked, veils, robes and hair flapped as people raced through each of the fourteen doors in the round room.
The Devourer descended straight at me!
"Oh, shit." I cringed, "I, um, I-- I-I like how I look in these clothes!"
The Doctor shoved me to the ground and came down on my back. I saw the Devourer detour past us and engulf a lone Harmonican man who didn't run fast enough. There was a gurgle seconds before the creature moved on, leaving a pile of dust on the ground. The Devourer poured itself through a doorway and was gone.
My heart kept pounding. I just saw someone die
"Oh God, this is my fault. He's dead because I'm stupid!"
"No, Cyndi, he's dead because he didn't like himself enough to fend it off. Pity." The Doctor slowly climbed off me. He pulled me to my feet.
"It didn't take the vent. It was supposed to go out." I gasped for the breath I couldn't catch. "Why?"
"Don't know, but I'll find out. Come on. They're safe for now. They know where to go for shelter."
Good thing he told me; I'd lost track of the Harmonicans in the chaos.
The Doctor and I entered a different cave than where we landed. The walls were largely blue and rough. I didn't see anyone else anywhere, but I did spot a bowl of smooth black fruit on an abandoned cart. "Oh."
Despite my earlier nausea, I started to feel hungry. I picked up a piece of the fruit and it felt squishy in my hand. It had the same weight and texture as a plum.
"Doctor, can I eat this?"
"Yes you can-- wait, no!" He slapped the fruit of my hand just before I bit down. "No, no! No, don't eat it. Very bad, very not good for you."
"Ack! What is it?"
"Acidonium. It'll burn your stomach up in a tick, and that's if you live long enough to swallow it. Very acidic. Harmonicans are built to live in acidic environments. You aren't."
The food didn't look too appetizing anymore. But it seems the Doctor is always prepared. He handed me a sandwich. Grilled cheese, still hot, with a bite taken out of it. The same sandwich he'd rejected before!
"Here, do you like bacon? I hate bacon. Eat up and follow me."
Best sandwich ever, but I didn't have time to savor it. I gulped it down, bacon, crust and all, while following the Doctor through the narrow passageway. I fit easily, he had to duck through every door. The only light came from long strings of white neon-looking lights lining the walls and floor. I made sure I kept the Doctor's long jacket within my sight.
"Where are we going?"
He kept scanning the walls with his sonic screwdriver. "Following some footprints. The Devourer leaves a chemical trail everywhere it goes. I'm trying to figure out why it keeps wandering about in here."
My stomach rumbled. The Doctor looked at me, wide-eyed.
"You're still hungry?"
I shot him a look. "I might be skinny, but I like to eat a lot. Forget about it, I'll eat when we find out why that cloud of yuck is harassing these people."
"Good plan." The Doctor squinted at his sonic screwdriver. He tapped it on his hand and looked again, but I couldn't see any screens or data. "Well that's a little weird. Yes..." He glanced at me. "There's more than one Devourer here."
"How many more?"
"Not quite sure yet."
"Great. It's going to eat me, isn't it?"
"It might if you keep acting like that."
We started through another long corridor. This time the lights had a red tinge.
The Doctor stopped and nudged me backwards. "Ooh, okay, okay. I found out where it went. Slowly. Back up, back up!
Never mind, run!"
I didn't need to get told twice. I spun on my heels and took off like someone lit my butt on fire.
I like my singing, I like my singing, I like my singing!
I chanted the happy thought as much as I could through my fear. The Doctor passed me. He glanced over his shoulder. Just in time to smash his head on a doorway and knock himself senseless.
"Doctor!" I shrieked.
The Devourer that was advancing on me shot back the way it came. I didn't care. I grabbed the Doctor's jacket lapels and shook him.
"Doctor, wake up!"
"Huh?" He sat bolt upright. Far faster than any human with a concussion. For a second I'd forgotten he wasn't
human. He rubbed the side of his head. "Quite a lump from that. Word of advice-- don't look backwards when running forwards at very high speeds. Where did the Devourer go?"
"Back where we found it, I guess. It left pretty fast when I screamed. The same thing happened in the hall where I got this robe."
He touched the bump on his head. "You say it went away?"
"Yeah, pretty fast, too."
"I see. Okay, okay. Think, thinking..." The Doctor tapped his sonic screwdriver against his forehead. "Cyndi, sing that song again. The one you did in the other room. That Latin thing."
He sighed. "Don't ask, just do!"
"Right. Okay. Um."
"Well? Aren't you going to stand up?"
"I can't. You're sitting on my hair."
"Oh. Sorry." He moved.
I felt very self conscious as I got to my feet and engaged all the abdominal muscles I used for breathing. The familiar notes of O Magnum Mysterium
echoed down the corridor.
In about thirty seconds, I smelled that odd baking bread scent. The Devourer floated slowly towards me.
"Keep singing," the Doctor whispered in my ear. He stood up behind me, watching.
This Devourer didn't seem as large as the first one, and it wasn't rushing at us like a tsunami. I swear it just...hovered there, inches from me. It came closer to me as soon as I stopped singing. I blew on it the same way I sometimes blow on cigarette smoke to make it go away. The smoky creature rippled without moving. I think it liked
me puffing air on it.
Maybe if I sang something else...
I took in a breath and let out the first line of Handel's Hallelujah
chorus. The Devourer bolted away from me.
"What the? I sang!" I faced the Doctor, "I thought it liked that!"
"Actually," the Doctor studied his sonic screwdriver, "It was feeding off the carbon dioxide you breathe out. You produce more than the average Harmonican. As for not liking higher pitches...ah! Of course! Come on, this way! Back to the dome!"
The Doctor was already twenty feet away. I scrambled to catch up.
"Come on, short stuff, keep up!"
"Short stuff? Grrr! Just don't hit your head again before I slam it into a door!"
The Doctor laughed. "Catch me, first."
He stayed well ahead of me. I didn't catch up to him until we reached the same domed room from earlier. I smacked his arm in pretended annoyance and worked on catching my breath.
Whispers surrounded us. The Harmonicans were milling about, watching what we were doing.
"Now, are you going to tell me what's up?"
"Cyndi, did you ever get lost when you were little?"
I blinked. "A couple of times. Once, my dad took me to Las Vegas. We went to Circus-Circus and agreed to meet by an archway. Except there were two, and we didn't know it. I spent an hour waiting at one and he spent an hour waiting at the other. He was so mad when he found me. I told him about the other arch. He said to show it to him, but I couldn't find it again. It was awful. He thought I was lying to him."
I made a face and clenched my fists in frustration at the memory.
"And I got in so much trouble because he refused to believe there were two arches. He still holds that mistake over my head as an excuse to not trust me. It was hell getting permission to walk to and from school. Sheesh, I was twelve when that happened! I'm sixteen now, and he always treats me like I'm two!"
"Mm, dads worry. Mums, too. Little ones like to run off towards things that go ding and things that light up. Like the vents in the dome."
"Come on, into the dome. You! Your Majesty!" The Doctor bowed and beckoned to Queen Allellullilla. "Please, bring everyone to the dome. We need as much carbon dioxide as we can get."
The Doctor filed everyone into the huge, domed room. I found myself between Queen Allellullillia and Yayeyiyo. Once a large gathering had formed, he used his sonic screwdrivers to open all the doors.
"All right now. Everyone! I need you to sing!"
Everybody looked at me
. I went with the familiar and sang the Latin song again. At the start of the school year, I couldn't make any sense of it. Now, it was part of me. It just came out, effortless, and I wasn't afraid to let it happen.
The Harmonicans joined me. Our music...the sound we created...it was peace
From my left came the small Devourer I saw after I changed clothes. Another one, slightly bigger, emerged through a door ahead of me. A third one appeared from a vent set between two rows of tiered benches.
I heard the Doctor laugh. "And here comes mum!"
The largest gray cloud flowed into the domed room like, well, smoke!
"Frightening when the little ones get away, isn't it?" The Doctor said to the Devourer. "I'm sure they're in quite a bit of trouble, so I'll leave you to it. Off you go, mum!"
He aimed his sonic screwdriver upward, opening the vents in the ceiling. The Devourers-- all of them-- shot through it and disappeared.
The quiet singing erupted into cheering.
"She wasn't trying to hurt anyone here. She was cross with her kids for running off," said the Doctor. "Devourers are blind. They live on instinct, and she mistook the negative emotions of everyone's fear of her for the little ones trying to sneak away."
He closed the vents via his sonic screwdriver and put it back in his pocket.
"I thank you graciously." Queen Allellullilla lowered herself to sit on her gold throne. A child gently tucked her veil into neat folds behind her. Between earlier and now, her cold demeanor warmed up. She even smiled! "Allow us to thank you with a song, Doctor."
"I really-- "
"Please?" I held onto his arm. "They sing so beautifully here. I'd like to listen one time without hearing myself, too."
"Uh..." The Doctor grinned. "Why not? It's all relative." He sat right down on the ground, making himself shorter than the other Harmonicans around him. I sat-- and fit-- on one of the small chairs next to him.
The Harmonicans began a glorious polyphonic song in a language I'll never understand, but I didn't need to. I know what their beautiful singing meant.
They were thanking us.
Yayeyoyi offered me something in a goblet. I glanced at the Doctor for the okay before I took a drink. Plain, purified water. I didn't realize I was thirsty until I drank it all down. The song ended moments after I handed the goblet back.
I jumped up and applauded. I thought I was alone until the Doctor joined me.
"May I sing one more?" I asked.
Queen Allellullilla dipped her head and gestured for me to stand in the middle. How weird, I felt perfectly comfortable there, encircled by people who wanted to hear what I had to offer.
I sang Clouds
by Cynthia Gray.
"Gently falling rain, falling from the sky...streaming down like teardrops. Teardrops from on high.
"Clouds, oh won't you tell us what those tears are for? Do you weep for something...something we've ignored?
"Could it be that from your lofty post so high above, you have seen how little we have given of our love? Do you see the lonely, weary, troubled and the poor? Have you seen the fighting and the war?
"Clouds, there must be some way to make your crying cease. Share with us the secret of happiness and peace...
"Do you mean to say that each of us can play a part? With each spark of love we light, a flame of love may start? Reaching all around us, giving hope to those we know...this, you say, can help true peace to grow?
"Clouds, though you are parting...your point you've made quite clear. Peace will never happen...unless we start it here. Unless we start it here.
Nobody made a sound until I finished. Then I heard clapping-- I guess they really do learn everything fast on Harmonica!
The Doctor and I left to the sound of them singing Clouds
in their own magical way.
"You saved this planet, you know."
"Me?" I looked askance at him. "You figured out the problem."
"Not without your singing." He was grinning at me as he opened the TARDIS doors and ushered me in. "Now, you need to go back home. And don't buy any more of this rubbish..." he shook the Benadryl at me, "...unless you're itching, sneezing or turning funny colors."
He offered the medicine back. I held it in my hands and felt tears welling in my eyes. The TARDIS doors closed. Its engines wheezed.
The longer I looked at the Benadryl, the more my throat hurt. My vision blurred. A sob escaped before I stopped myself. Embarrassed, I covered my face at the same moment the TARDIS landed. I got up without a word and rushed outside. We'd arrived at exactly the same moment we left.
But the Doctor caught me. He pulled me into a tight hug, knelt to my level and cupped the back of my head in his palms. We were forehead to forehead. His green eyes stared deeply into mine, though I barely saw anything through my tears.
"Talk to me. Tell me what hurts."
"I have to go back to my life," I whimpered. "Nobody'll believe me if I tell them about today. I was a heroine up there, and I'm nothing here. I'm crap here."
"Oh, Cyndi..." The Doctor kissed my forehead. "The coming school years won't be easy. It's going to be very dark for you, but I promise you...it gets better. It gets better, love." He gave me a little squeeze. "You're going to grow up and do a thing. A small thing on the outside, but to other people it will be a really big and really, really good thing
. You're going to touch people you might never meet face to face. You're going to save lives with this thing
that you're going to do. You're going to cry happy tears when you grow up. I promise."
"What am I gonna do?"
His eyes glinted when he smiled. "Spoilers."
I sniffed and tried offer one back, but it didn't quite work.
"Only your voice could have saved Harmonica. They're going to sing songs about you for eons. Heh, none of those kids who hassle you can do what you did today." He wiped my tears away with his thumbs. "You mattered yesterday, you matter today and you're still going to matter tomorrow. And you're going to matter every day after that. Okay?"
Somehow, during his speech to me, my tears stopped. I gave him a strong, tight hug and closed my eyes.
"Where are you going after today?"
"Bah, just a place called Trenzalore. Don't worry yourself over it. I'll be fine."
"That sounds like a metal band."
He chuckled. "I know a planet made of metal. Nasty place. Too cold."
I glanced around. It felt so weird, returning to the same moment after being gone for-- my watch said about five hours. Wow! I used the clock above the sign on the grocery store to correct my timepiece.
"Will I ever see you again, Doctor?"
A brief flicker of fear crossed his face when he stood up to his full height. "I don't know. If you do, you might not recognize me."
"It's complicated." He laughed, "Don't worry about it. I'll be okay, and so will you
"Good luck," I said, "and thank you."
The Doctor's smile became that candy store grin. I found it kind of cute.
"Every life is worth saving. Even yours. Now run along-- and remember! It gets better!"
He hopped back into the TARDIS. I shielded my eyes from the sun as it slowly faded away, still making that strangely soothing wheezing noise.
The Doctor was right. My adventure didn't stop the bullying. I went through things no teenager should. Through it all, I held tight to his words. I believed him when he said it gets better
A little over a year later, at my high school graduation, I bumped into an elderly man. He didn't speak-- he just winked one of his brilliant blue eyes and headed past the bleachers full of families. Moments later, I heard a familiar wheezing sound that left me smiling.
Everyone thought I was proud of myself. I told anyone who asked that yes, I was, but not because of my grades.
I made it to graduation alive
Graduating granted me my freedom from the bullies, but I did not heal overnight. Working my way through the scars, self-esteem issues and self-loathing took a long time. There are still things I'm working on, but the point is-- I'm still here.
My hands relaxed on the keyboard.
It was done. In a flurry of passion, memories and a desire to save the world, the thing
I didn't want recognition for it. I didn't care who saw it. The only desire I had was my words stopping someone from taking their own life. Too many kids were dying because of bullying. It has
I opened my eyes to read what I'd written.
This is a message to anyone who is being bullied right now. It doesn't matter if it's online or IRL. This is for you.
Your opinions matter.
Your feelings matter.
Your thoughts matter.
Your dreams matter.
Your LIFE matters.
You are special.
You are beautiful.
You are talented.
You are valuable.
You are wonderful.
You are respected.
You are cared about.
You are STRONG.
You are a good person.
You are loved.
You can succeed.
You can reach out.
You can hold on.
You can overcome.
You mean something.
You have worth.
You deserve to LIVE.
I LOVE YOU
I called it Affirmations for Bullying Victims
. I shared those words everywhere I could possibly share them, hoping to poke a hole in the self-loathing surrounding bullied people everywhere.
Three days after posting my message on the internet, I got a response.
"Thank you. I was going to kill myself. Your words made me put down my razor."
Tears spilled down my cheeks, and I remembered the Doctor's words when I wiped them off. It made me laugh. I felt like the superhero I tried to be in my imagination.
After all the misery I endured, I knew helping others through the same pain was my key to happiness. I wasn't alone, and today's teenagers aren't alone either as long as my message stays out there in cyberspace.
I'm okay, and you're going to be okay, too.
Like the Doctor said, it gets better