Read Falls the Shadow Online

Authors: Daniel O'Mahony

Falls the Shadow

Falls the Shadow
by Daniel O’Mahony

‘We are deranged. We are psychopaths, sociopaths, up the garden path,’ said Tanith. ‘We are mad, and you are trapped with us.’

The TARDIS is imprisoned in a house called Shadowfell, where a man is ready to commence the next phase of an experiment that will remake the world.

A stranger dressed in grey watches from a hillside, searching for the sinister powers growing within the house. A killer appears from the surrounding forest, determined to carry out her deadly instructions. In the cellar, something lingers, observing and influencing events, the last survivor of a doomed race mourns for the lost planet Earth.

Full‐
length, original novels based on the longest running science‐
fiction television series of all time, the BBC’s
Doctor Who
. The New Adventures take the TARDIS into previously unexplored realms of space and time.

Daniel O’Mahony
has contributed to a wide variety of
Doctor Who
fanzines. Occasionally he has managed to be controversial. He lives in Hampshire and
Falls the Shadow
is his first novel.

Prologue
Apocalypse Now

Qxeleq would have screamed, had she a mouth.

She had woken with a new sense of freedom, feeling the empty days ahead of her between terms at the hival university. Her exams were finished, passed, passed easily. In three weeks she would be celebrating the third anniversary of her gendering in the company of her friends, and their drones. And her drone, of course.

Her body was numb as she woke, responding sluggishly to her thoughts. It had been her first night sleeping in the open hive – she hadn’t expected it to be this cold. After all it was summer and her body was covered by three light cloaks and a layer of sensitive nervous fur. Something was wrong. Even with her eyes covered she could feel darkness around her, reaching into her deepest soulcells, the reserves of ancient fears. Darkness.

The first Darkness was known to the entire Mind, forgotten between birth and death. There were childhood darknesses, crafted tales of fear before bedtime. But Qxeleq had seen actual, physical darkness. Deep in the hive – under the university where the older records were kept – there were no airholes or luminous wall linings, just the dark. Qxeleq had found a pocket of death trapped in the tunnels and she had panicked. To her everlasting shame, and the equally everlasting amusement of her cellmates, she had fled, half‐
flying, back to the hives of residence.

Once she had stood on the threshold of darkness. Now it was inescapable, surrounding her. She was surprised by her calmness. The darkness didn’t seem matter. She wasn’t alone. She gave thanks to the Atheist Martyrs of Kaleidoscope Theory that she was lying beside the person she trusted most in the world. Xhallaq, her first dronemate, was with her.

Two seconds later she discovered that Xhallaq was missing. Her antennae began to twitch through the darkness, searching for the shape of Xhallaq’s body. Useless – he had left her. Or he had been taken.

Qxeleq wasn’t panicking. Not yet.

She panicked when she couldn’t find the confined walls of the drone pit. She tried listening. Silence. There were no sounds echoing down from the mouth of the pit, from the hive. Desperately she tried to make contact with the hive Mind. An agonizing process – she dreaded the university ceremonies when it became necessary. This time she barely noticed how easily, painlessly she slipped into the state of union.

The Mind was barren. The chaotic chatter of six million people was gone. It had been extinguished, erased from existence.

Qxeleq ignored the shock of withdrawing from the Mindscape. More confused than she had ever been, she let her consciousness spread out, stretching to reach the countless embryonic auras that radiated comfortably in her womb.

These too were gone. Taken from her. Like the light, the sound, the Mind – burned away into nothing with the rest of her world. Her children were dead.

Everything she knew and loved, everything she had ever heard of had been shorn away, quietly and simply as she slept. One muffled apocalypse – then nothing but the sleeping body and mind of Qxeleq. Everyone was dead. From the lowest, most ancient and despised societology lecturer to the queen of the hive herself. Drones, workers, young queens, children, university and hive were gone. Possibly even the entire Earth was destroyed.

The voice of the darkness echoed around her, vicious, filled with malignance and sadistic amusement. A voice with two themes – no, two voices, speaking in stereo. The language the voices used was unfamiliar, but Qxeleq understood perfectly.

This is the way the world ends.

Qxeleq tried to scream. She discovered that she no longer had a mouth. No mouth, no eyes, no antennae, no wings. No body.

It occurred to her that she hadn’t survived after all.

1
The Man with the Child in His Eyes

Autumn brought mists to the woodlands and the village, and the mists brought the grey man. He arrived early on a crisp November morning, stalking along a rough forest track. He came from the direction of the house – the ‘Shadowfell’ as it was known by some of the older villagers – making straight for the village. Once there, he asked questions. Questions about the house and the land around it.

The villagers were happy dealing with superstition and rumour. They had honed gossip to a fine art. The man seemed very interested in anything they had to say, so they gave him the answers they thought he was looking for.

They began with the premise that the house was inherently evil, then embroidered the theme until it became a catalogue of rural myths. The house was the scene of gruesome rituals and sacrifice, the evil atmosphere soaked into the foundations. Babies and women had been bricked up alive behind the walls – walls that had been known to bleed. The architect had scratched the designs into the wall of his cell in Bedlam. The earliest owner had been an aristocrat who sold his soul to the devil and had combusted as a result. The derelict house had been home to gangs of grave‐
robbers, cannibals, vampires or possibly all three simultaneously. The unimaginative majority simply said that the house was haunted, and set about producing inventive variations on murder, revenge, sex and epic genealogies.

The grey man sat and listened to each story with barely a flicker of interest. He didn’t spend anything. He sat alone and dry in the pub, frightening the regulars. He spent five minutes dispassionately reading the names on the war memorial, but the villagers didn’t charge for that. Realizing that there was no profit here, they closed ranks and the flow of information dried up.

The man left the village, heading back through the woodlands towards the house. It had passed noon, and the mists were beginning to clear. The man trudged along the track to the house, following a route that was a good three‐
quarters of a mile longer than any other. The grey of his clothes was perfect woodland camouflage, blending in with the bark of the naked trees.

The track brought him to a ridge on the fringe of the woods, overlooking the rear of the house. He squatted down on a cold tree stump, and began to watch. A breeze blew up, growing into a harsh and violent wind. Dark clouds conspired on the horizon. Drops of water fell through the shifting air, a herald of storms in waiting. The grey man ignored them.

He
was
grey. Grey coat over a grey shirt and trousers. Grey shoes with loosely tied grey laces that never came undone. His hat: casual, wide‐
brimmed, grey. Even his skin: paper‐
thin, cold and bloodless, tinged grey by the cold daylight. His hair, though, was white, but streaked with lines of pure black. Almost grey. His eyes…

His eyes were hidden, covered by dark glass lenses in a wire frame perched on his thin nose and sharp cheekbones, beneath a forehead worn with an eternity of frowning. His eyes were invisible. They might have been grey.

Sitting on the stump, watching the house, something ancient and eternally patient was brooding.

Something was wrong about the house.

The man in grey had learned nothing from the villagers. He knew more about the occupants of the house than they ever would, but he lacked psychology – insight into the workings of the alien and impenetrable minds in the house. In the villagers he found a wealth of information, none of it helpful, a patchwork quilt of superstitions and gossip, escalating in outrageous claims. The village seemed populated by superstitious rumour‐
mongers and frustrated novelists. It was almost as if they had gravitated to the area in order to exchange the products of their lurid imaginations. Something in the air? Or the water? More likely it was the result of complicated interbreeding.

Some of the stories, the man considered, might be true. There might be people bricked up in the walls, or the foundations, though he doubted that the walls had ever bled, except perhaps with dry rot. The architect might have been insane. Judging by the sprawling, styleless shape of the building that was probably true. The house boasted one gargoyle too many to be the work of a sane man. It was a monstrosity, rising out of the bleak landscape like a jagged, rotten tooth. It was horrible, but it was still standing, and in a twisted way it was beautiful.

The house was isolated. Communication was limited; a weekly delivery of groceries, stationery and the odd luxury from the village; an irregular flow of mail in both directions. The householders rarely showed their faces outdoors, never in the village. It was a mile from the nearest proper road. It seemed unusual that a house should be built so far from the rest of the human race.

He realized what was wrong. The house was out of balance. It had too much weight, concentrated around a single point on the architecture. Lines of universal force radiated round it, swirling in a whirlpool pattern to tighten into that singularity, like a knot in the grain of wood.

The corners of the grey man’s mouth twitched slightly.

‘There,’ he said, satisfied.

He rose from the stump and climbed down a muddy slope to the back of the house. A low barbed‐
wire fence cut the house off from the woodlands. The grey man scaled it, leaving a small fragment of his coat on one of the barbs. Beyond the fence a sprawling hedge rose out of the landscape to bar his way. The grey man didn’t count gardening skills among his better qualities, but he couldn’t fail to notice that the hedge was overgrown. It probably hadn’t been checked for years. It was riddled with holes. One was comfortably sized and the man was able to push through it quickly. He emerged on the other side, brushing away loose leaves which had settled on his shoulders. He stopped, turning slowly to draw in his surroundings; his first clear view of the house’s garden. It was a small, thin strip of stone, lined with flowers and bushes that had been left to fend for themselves. The plants were either dying or weeds. The air was a hazy green and thick with the sickly smell of decay – where the plants weren’t green they were grey or brown. November rot.

It was impressively overgrown. The slabs on the ground were almost invisible beneath the dirt of ages. Weeds thrived, rising tentatively from cracks between the worn stone. Brickwork hollows surrounded the area in which the grey man found himself. These too were submerged by bushes, by the green. Vegetation ran riot over brick, chaotically clawing back that which had originally been its own. Dying flowers wound together with weeds, crushing the remnants of the human building.

Perfect.

The walls of the house were visible nearby, beyond another hedge. They rose sheer out of the ground, broken irregularly by wooden frames and glass, or gargoyles, or (the grey man clicked his tongue with distaste) plastic pipes. The walls soared upwards, elongated out of normal proportion. The line of the roof was distant against the grey sky. It was unsettlingly high, a house that liked to play at castles.

It seemed a melting pot of styles. Bare patches of red brick moulded smoothly into plain walls of cathedral grey. Glass and aluminium fitted snugly into an indented corner where a conservatory had been added.

More interesting than the house was the statue which stood in the grounds, close to the grey man. If the brick remains had once been a building, the statue would have stood at the entrance, impressive in its day. Now it was shrouded in weeds and almost defeated by the weather, but it had survived well enough to catch the eye of the grey man.

It wasn’t particularly good. Competent but uninspired, a simple scene of religious vengeance. A bronze‐
skinned, bare‐
chested angel, holding a lowered spear, staring into the sky. Its face had been obliterated, eroded by persistent rain. A second angel knelt beside him, his wings torn and ragged. His head was held low and had been protected. The carved expressions were still intact on the angel’s face – fear, hate, shattered pride, pain, guilt. Mostly fear. The angel was staring down an infinite abyss, terrified. And the abyss was staring into him.

The grey man found an almost obscured plaque on the base of the statue. It read, simply,
Fall
.

Of course – the man realized – the angels Michael and Lucifer. The triumph of righteousness and purity over ambition, false pride and evil intent. The man in grey smiled, understanding what he found so fascinating. It seemed that Michael was stabbing Lucifer in the back.

‘Most appropriate,’ he decided.

He turned sharply and ambled over to a sprawling bush on the periphery of the garden. It was a skeletal excuse for a plant, a thick rib‐
cage of twisted branches. The grey man plunged an arm into its heart. The bush squealed and the man withdrew.

Shortly afterwards a girl crawled out from behind the bush. She smiled without hope at the grey man, blushing deeply. The man’s eyes narrowed, drawing in her features.

Girl
– that was wrong for a start. She was about seventeen, possibly eighteen, an age still given to clogged pores and greasy hair. Despite this she was probably attractive. Long, dark hair framing a thin face given to presentable misery. The impractical – and badly lacerated – walking clothes, anorak and recently unwashed hair said
tourist
.

Her eyes, he noticed, were worried, verging on fear. Too real to be put down to the simple embarrassment of being caught spying. The dark rings under her eyes told him she’d been crying.

‘How d’you know I was there?’ the woman asked. The accent was familiar but not a local one.

‘I pay attention.’

The woman shrugged, trying to seem nonchalant but only succeeding in looking worse. ‘I’m trespassing, aren’t I?’

‘Yes, but I can’t condemn that. Don’t worry.’ A baffled, edgy look slunk across the girl’s face. ‘You’re on holiday aren’t you?’

‘How d’you know that?’ The girl rounded on him, genuinely angry, genuinely afraid.

‘Your clothes, your accent. The anorak gives you away.’

‘Oh.’ The girl slid from anger to embarrassment. She glanced round the garden, avoiding eye contact. ‘Sorry, it’s my brother. He’s only ten, you know what they’re like.’

‘Yes,’ the grey man lied. He was fighting back the demons of awkwardness. This woman was clearly distressed, and he wasn’t entirely sure how best to handle the situation.

‘I’m supposed to be looking after him. Only I’ve, uh, misplaced him.’

‘And you think he’s here?’

The girl nodded, fixing the grey man with a hollow‐
eyed stare. She suddenly appeared gaunt and worn with frustration.

‘He was going on about this place all morning. Wanted to come down here to,’ she paused to add a contemptuous depth to her tone, ‘to play. Thought no one lived here.’

‘It does look like that, doesn’t it?’ The grey man hoped he was sounding reassuring. ‘How long ago did you, um, mislay him?’

The girl shot a glance at her wrist.

‘Over two hours ago,’ she replied. She giggled, with no humour, just embryonic hysteria. ‘We should’ve been back by now. Cheese sandwiches for lunch.’

‘I haven’t seen anyone for a while, certainly no boys. Ten years old or otherwise.’

The girl’s face registered disappointment. The grey man wasn’t fooled. He could see her nonchalant calm was a barely credible front. Her reserves were being worn down gradually by fruitless searching. He counted himself fortunate that she wasn’t hysterical yet – he
knew
he wouldn’t be able to deal with that. He was uncomfortable dealing with humans. Especially emotional ones.

There is nothing you can do to help her. Reassure her. Get rid of her. With luck her brother will have beaten her back to wherever she’s staying, and helped himself to her sandwiches.

‘I’ll keep an eye out for him,’ he suggested. ‘It might be best if you told your parents… you are here with your parents?’

The girl nodded.

‘They’ll kill me for this,’ she said.

‘I’m sure everything will be all right,’ the grey man told her, faking conviction.

The girl nodded unhappily. She edged towards the hole in the hedge. He wheeled round to watch, but didn’t try to follow her.

‘If you do see him, tell him his family’s waiting for him. Tell him that Rose told you.’

‘If I see him,’ the grey man called back. She was already gone, slipped through the hole into the outside world. The man turned away. He was feeling hollow and useless, as if someone had just kicked him and he didn’t know why. Or how to react.

‘O Rose,’ he said, faking bitterness for his own benefit, ‘thou art sick.’

The grey man spent no more time in the grounds. He wanted to leave the bitter taste he associated with them behind him. Telling himself that he had wasted too much time, he strode uneasily round to the house wall, searching for a suitable entrance. Nothing too conspicuous. This was something that had to be done as quickly and quietly as possible.

The door he found was perfect. It was set in a hollow, cut into the ground, half‐
hidden by bushes. Steps sank into the hollow to the door, blocked by piles of abandoned cardboard boxes. Insects constructed intricate societies in the damp patches, eating away at corporate logos.

The grey man had studied the writhing, shifting lines of the cosmos as they twisted around the point of the irregularity. They swirled into an eye which the man had located underneath the house. In the foundations, perhaps, or a cellar. He was delighted to discover a doorway that led to the very place he wanted to go. The boxes weren’t a formidable barrier.

It was an unmarked door. The man guessed that it was a tradesman’s entrance with access to the cellar, from a time when tradesmen came here. Possibly it hadn’t been used for years. Centuries even. He shoved at it.

The door crashed open. It hadn’t been locked. It hadn’t even been properly closed. The lock – a basic mechanism – had been forced.

The opening was dark and silent. The smell of ancient things abandoned to rot drifted from within. And something else – the sickly smell of decay, like the garden but different. The stench was stronger, more bitter. It wasn’t the smell of rotting vegetables but rotting meat.

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