When finally it was over, the snow came down again. It felt upon the rooftops and it fell amongst the trees. It made the road impassable, but that wass all right. Few people used them anyway.
It was going to be a White Christmas. There was no denying that. Christmas '93, New Year '94. A time for drink and partying, a time to block out memories. A time to forget the sorrow and the pain, to hope that maybe by the the snow had melted, the scar tissue beneath might finally have healed.
It was Christmas Eve in Arandale. It was the last day of Malcolm Blyth's old life. It was the first day of his new one.
He swayed unsteadily as he tramped across the fields. His senses were blurred by alcohol, his feeling swathed in melancholy. He wore the uniform and insignia of a police sergeant, though his jacket was unbuttoned and his tie loose around the ncck. He should really have been getting home, getting out of these old clothes forever. Getting back to his wife and kids, and the preparations round the Christmas tree. but he wanted to put off that moment. He wanted the old life to last a little bit longer.
Because he didn't know what he was going to do next.
The memories still hurt. Almost two months later, he still woke in the heat of the night and lay with heart pounding, sensing danger in every shadow of the room. over thirty years in the force - thirty years of experience as the 'friendly local bobby' and yet he had still been caught completely off guard by the events of that November; those days when the energies beneath the castle had been unleashed, when a friend had turned into an enemy, when lives had been lost and secrets revealed... when all hell had heen let loose in the village he was supposed to be protecting.
Nothing could be the same after that. Nothing about his once cosy life and his once cosy job. These last seven weeks, he'd been jumping at his own shadow, barking at anyone who dared catch him by surprise. There was no reason for any of it; things could hardly have been calmer. Well, there was the day that Tina was carried off to hospital of course. And then there was Rosemary, and her wonderful yet terrifying discovery in the shower that cold mid November morning. Blyth liked to think of those events as just tiny epilogues to the weirdness, aberrations that would not be repeated. Since then, things had been absolutely normal - perhaps more so than usual thanks to the absence of Mason Grimshaw.
Okay, so Billy James Junior had gone missing for a few days, but there was nothing untoward there, just a juvenile tantrum. Then Rosemary's kids had come home for their holidays and, along with the Mitchell boy and the DanieLs girl, had solved the mystery of the town hall ghosts. Just a small band of smugglers with sheets on their heads. Blyth would have worried had things been any different.
So why did he still feel he was living on the edge? Why did he spend each day in fear, terrifed lest the chaos break out again, lest he still be in his position of responsibility when it did?
Eventually he found himself on the bridge. He wasn't sure how he had readched it, how he had walked there from the village without even noticing. He remembered how Norman had once sat here, night after night, not such a long time ago. Like Norman, thoughts of jumping flashed through his head. He knew they weren't serious one - he could never do that to his family. And in any case, the river below had frozen solid in the cold. He'd probably break borh his legs and end up in the hospital, and then where would he be?
Besides, he knew it intellectually, anyway. The though had comforted him through the long, gruelling weeks of December, as he worked out his notice and looked forward to the day when the fear would finally end. His superiors had graciously accepted his early retirement, muttering a few platicudes about the difficulties he had had to face and how they were so sorry it had all been like this. An hour ago it had finally ended, his last half-day concluding with a round of drinks in The Black Cat Tavern and a few handshakes and farewells from people he would probably se back there in three days time anyway. Not much to mark thee end of a career, he thought. Not much to mark the end of a life.
He heard the village clock strikes three. Ac least they'd been able to fix that, though it had taken them long enough. Childrens' voices drifted on the wind: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. It was time he rested himself. Time he went home.
He was more aware of che cold now, but at least it cleared his mind a little. He wondered where his cap and overcoat were, though he supposed it didn't much matter anymore. His wife would be worrying about him, wondering where he'd got to. They'd planned to do their last minute shopping that afternoon; crackers for the table, presents for the children. Life would soon settle back into its accustomed series of patterns. he might even take up a hobby, perhaps see about doing something with the gardenn once summer came round again.
Or maybe not.
He trudged onwards then through the clean white snow, following the voices back into the village. A smile pulled at the corners of his mouth as he passed the police station again. He barely gave a second glance to the shadowed passage where the third body had been found. His footsteps seemed lighter, his neck and shoulders more relaxed than they had ever been.
Then he turned the next corner, and the weirdness began again.
There was a telephone box in the screet.
He recognised the type: a battered police call box, of the sort in use when he'd first joined up. He felt almost nostalgic, the image harkening back to his younger days. But he knew the box had not been there before. There were none of its type left in Arandale, certainly none placeded bang in the middle of the road.
A mixture jumbled in his mind. He was worried, frightened, concerned (perhaps strangely excited?) - he didn't want this to be any of his business, but the sick churning of his stomach told him he would have no say in this matter. He had to get away from this place, it was all he could think to do. He would tell his wife tonight - they could move up to her parents' house in Manchester, for a while at least.
But he had to know what was going on. This was still his village.
When the door of the box opened, Blyth didn't know quite what to feel. Relief? Annoyance? He recognised the new arrival, of course - the short man with the piercing eyes and the crumpled cream suit. he had filed in numerous forms about him, wasted hundreds of man-hours trying to track him down. What was this clown doing back here? Why had he chosen today, of all days? What evil might befall him, Malcolm Blych, even in his new role as innocent bystander?
The stranger seemed not to notice him at first, his brow furrowed as he stepped from the box and cook in his surroundings. Then a smile lit up his face, and he doffed his fedora hat politely and wished rhe ex-sergeant a very good afternoon.
Blyth tried to match him for casualness, tried to affect an expression that was not unfriendly but which at the same time showed just a hint of disapproval. It was not so good. His shoulders were trembling an his stomach as tight.
"Hello again Doctor," he mumbled, awkwardly.
"Dr Who, actually!" the stranger corrected him, not unpleasantly. A boy and a girl stuck their heads round the doorway hehind him. "And these are my grandchildren, John and Gillian. Tell me sergeant, are you aware that almost everyone in this village has been kidnapped by the Vogans and replaced with robot doubles?"
Blyth's jaw fell open, his eyes bulged and his heart sank.
It was starting all over again.
The snow carried on falling. Elsewhere in the village, a child leapt for joy as he fancied he heard the sound of sleigh bells approaching. A grandmother smiled as she put the finishing touches to a very special parcel. A young woman fled from her android attacker, but was chopped down and killed instantly.
Life in the village went out.
The lastest, the newest adventures began.
And a Merry Christmas to all of you at home.