Written by Zoe Lance Adapted from a story by Phil Ford
Have you ever been scared that one day you’ll wake up from your life? As if it were just a dream? And then you realise that after all of that time, you’d been asleep? You discover that all of the pain you endured was for nothing. It was useless. Everything you are, everything you wanted to be just… fades away like a dream, forever lost in the endless struggle.
This is the story of the Thirteenth Floor.
This is the story of Clyde Langer and Rani Chandra.
“I don’t understand.” Rani stuttered, “So, you’ve been here forty-six years, why? Didn’t the lift ever return?”
“No!” Chantelle replied despairingly.
“Are you sure?” Rani tried. Clyde edged closer during the exchange, gently pulling the card from the frail woman’s hands and examining it. He flicked it over repeatedly, desperately searching for a discrepancy, anything to calm Rani’s nerves. “It didn’t pop up ever again?”
“No! I wouldn’t be here if it had!”
“Rani.” Clyde interrupted her, a horrible truth dawning on him. Two pairs of eyes fell on him.
“What is it?”
“The noise. It’s stopped.”
Rani paused, listening intently. She strained her ears, trying to detect the thunderous noise but couldn’t find it. The bellowing had stopped, replaced by deathly silence. Her eyes widened in shock when a shadow fell over the trio. They slowly turned to look at the source. A creature with a round head and two horns tilted its head, staring at them. Its beady black eyes flickered over her, then Clyde, then Chantelle and back again. The horns protruding from both sides of its head glinted in the sunlight. The world stilled, both parties locked in an endless staredown.
The moment was abruptly broken when Chantelle ran away wailing. The creature roared, startling Clyde and Rani out of their stupor.
“Come on!” Clyde exclaimed, grabbing Rani’s hand and dragging her along. They ran, following the path Chantelle had taken. Their breathing was laboured, the shadow that had previously blanketed them was gone, but they could still hear the stomping, tailing them. The mist obscured their vision, but the duo pressed on, desperate to escape the threat. They turned the corner, ready to follow Chantelle when a loud, bone-crushing stomp prompted them to freeze in their tracks. A blood curdling scream made their blood run cold.
Taking action, Rani grabbed Clyde by the sleeve and pulled him into a small alcove beneath two trees. They crawled into it and sat very still, breathing heavily.
“What is that?” Rani asked in a heated whisper.
“I don’t know!” Clyde hissed back. “How am I supposed to know?”
“You fight aliens on a regular basis!”
“Right back at you!” Clyde retorted.
They paused and listened intently.
“Do you think it’s gone?” Rani asked her male cohort. Clyde simply shrugged. After a wordless exchange, the duo slowly crept out of their hiding spot, glancing around nervously. It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. No rustling trees, no tweeting birds, no roaring creatures. Nothing.
“I think we lost it.” Clyde whispered, scanning the environment one last time to confirm his statement. “Yup, definitely think we lost it.”
“Yeah, well I don’t exactly want to stick around and wait for it to find us.” Rani admitted, grabbing Clyde by the sleeve of his school uniform. “Come on.”
It was a quiet day on Bannerman Road. Gita and Haresh Chandra were unloading their flower van, eager to finish and return to the warmth of their home. Sadie Miller skipped down the road, clearly on her way to the shops. Sarah Jane was still away, attempting to snag a meeting with some big-wig official. Sky sat in her bedroom, noting all of this, waiting for something to happen. It was strange sometimes, just sitting around on a quiet day unable to do anything. She was born for adventure - quite literally. Her homework was placed neatly on her desk, her handwriting scrawled all over them as she slowly completed it.
She was bored. Clyde had assured her that he and Rani would keep her company and entertain her after their work was completed but they hadn’t turned up. Sky turned to her mirror, staring at it intently, searching for a glimpse of a distant memory.
Eventually, she decided to abandon her completed homework and trudged up the steps to the attic. Their own batcave. She adored it. A hub of activity. Alien gadgets were scattered across the attic in a fashion that only Sarah Jane truly understood. Her hands brushed over the black marks that indicated her height measurements, something she herself had insisted upon after Rani had explained the mechanics of the technique.
Sky turned to the chimney. It was perfectly ordinary; nobody would even suspect what was hidden inside.
“Mr Smith, I need you,” Sky recited aloud. The chimney slowly opened, a burst of steam spurting out and ruffling her long strands of chocolate brown hair. The monitor came into view, the crystalline screensaver flickering in a practised motion.
“Sky. I trust you have completed your homework?”
“You never used to ask that question,” Sky noted. “Have your circuits been scrambled because you were a human?”
“I can assure you that all systems are functioning normally, and I’d quite like them to continue to function normally.” Mr Smith stated coolly, with a veiled jab at Sky at the end.
Sky simply sat down on the steps and smiled, staring at the computer fondly. The room lapsed into silence, the pair saying nothing. The moment was broken by the sound of the front door opening.
“I’m home!” the distinctive voice of Sarah Jane Smith called out. “Sky?”
“Up here!” Sky cried out loudly. She could hear Sarah Jane hurrying up the steps, bursting into the attic, looking panicked.
“Mr Smith, I need you to run a scan on Fleet Street for Clyde and Rani. If they’re not there, scan the entirety of London, if not there, try Earth, anywhere. Just find them.”
“Of course, Sarah Jane.”
“What’s wrong?” an alarmed Sky inquired, rising from her seat on the steps, all her questions about Sarah Jane’s day replaced with a different, more anxiety inducing, queries. “What’s happened?”
“Rani sent me a message about the office. People are disappearing from it. I tried to call her, but the calls are not going through.” Sarah Jane explained hurriedly.
“My scans are complete.” Mr Smith informed Sarah Jane monotonously. “I have not located Clyde or Rani.”
“That’s not possible. Re-scan,” Sarah Jane ordered.
“I have repeated the scan.”
“I still cannot locate them.” Mr Smith informed her. Sarah Jane’s brain whirred, a million thoughts fighting for dominance. Clyde and Rani were missing and it was her fault. She should have noticed something was wrong with that office block years ago.
Suddenly it dawned on her.
“The office.” Sarah Jane realised. “People are disappearing from the office. Maybe we can find a clue there! Come on, Sky!”
The Smith women sprung into action, exiting the attic and jumping down the steps. They quickly clambered into the car and Sarah Jane sped off.
“So, where do you think we are?” Clyde asked as he climbed over a fallen tree, moving to help Rani. “Cos personally, I’m seeing this as the land that time forgot.”
“Well, let’s look at all the facts,” Rani said, accepting the hand Clyde offered as a boost over the tree. “We’re in a forest, there’s no signal, which means we can’t call for help...”
“And an alien that thinks we’re dinner,” Clyde supplied. “And birds!”
Rani bit her lip in worry. The two continued moving through the forest, searching for any clue or indication of where the elevator might be. Clyde grabbed Rani’s hand before she could continue walking.
“Look at that!” he whispered in awe.
“What is it?” Rani asked, following his line of vision. It was a little cottage, placed directly between the canopy of trees and a stream of fresh water. The cottage was made out of straw, with a thatched roof. It reminded Rani of the Three Little Pigs. “This must have been Chantelle’s.”
“That is so cool!” Clyde whispered in awe, dragging her towards the cottage.
“Er, how exactly is this cool?” Rani asked dubiously as they edged closer. The pair tentatively stepped into the cottage. It was compact, as was to be expected of cottages. There was a straw bed to the far left. A black cooking pot hung in the middle of the room, a little above a burning fire. Meat and an assortment of miscellaneous items adorned the hut, the most interesting being a bow and a quiver of arrows attached to the wall.
“Look at this place!” Clyde gasped in awe. “It’s like Ray Mears!”
“You watched Ray Mears?”
“Yeah, and?” Clyde shrugged innocently as he helped himself to a piece of meat. “It’s almostas good as art or cooking.”
“Oi, Clyde, you can’t eat that!”
“Why not?” Clyde scoffed, helping himself to more meat. “I’m starving, we haven’t even had lunch yet.”
“It’s not ours!” Rani protested. “What if they come back to find you eating their food?”
“Look, Rani, I don’t think that woman is coming back,” Clyde said brusquely. Rani flinched at the comment, it was most likely true. “And we need to eat. We can’t just starve ourselves.”
“But… but what if it’s not Chantelle’s?” Rani tried, sitting next to him. “What if it’s Rick’s? He’s the man who disappeared before her.”
“I doubt it,” Clyde winced. “He’s been stuck here way longer. I don’t think he’s even still -”
“Don’t say it.” Rani commanded.
“Okay.” Clyde said softly. They sat in silence for a few minutes. Clyde chewed on his meat, distracting Rani’s meticulous thought process as she planned a search rota.
“Is it good?” she finally asked, immediately regretting it.
“Oh, it’s so good!” Clyde moaned, offering it to her. Rani stared at the tantalising piece of food, mentally deliberating whether she would take it and give Clyde the smug satisfaction of victory. Eventually, Rani abandoned all logical thought and grabbed the meat, devouring it greedily.
“Told ya,” Clyde smirked victoriously. His smirk slowly faded as he noticed the setting sun, the curtain that usually covered the cottage opening was haphazardly strewn on the floor. “It’s getting dark anyway, I don’t think it’s safe to go looking in the dark.”
Clyde noticed Rani had completely devoured her meat and smirked, “Well, until then, I spot another piece of meat in that cauldron.”
“Race you!” Rani exclaimed, leaping from her seat and launch herself at the black cooking pot. Clyde was not far behind.
Arthur peered over the desk, and noticed Arnold had reverted to his janitor form. He bit his lip, trying to find an escape route. He slunk back down in his hiding spot, when a flash of red caught his attention.
He noted the fire alarm and crawled towards it. He didn’t hesitate when he slammed the button and the shrill alarm rang across the entire building. Arnold was staring at the ceiling in trepidation, clearly annoyed. Arthur watched as he slowly shuffled away from the elevator and sighed in relief.
He would wait a while before making his escape. There was a back staircase on the other side of the corridor.
Sarah Jane strolled into the London Evening Messengerwith purpose, closely followed by Sky. The foyer was completely empty bar one security guard who was sitting behind her desk reading a book that she Sarah Jane could not identify.
“People disappear all the time,” Sarah Jane told Sky, her eyes fixed on the security guard, trying to figure out a way around her. “Whether they’re snatched away by a rift or sent to a pocket universe, there is always a trace. We just have to find it.”
“But how do we get past her?” Sky gestured towards the security guard. Sarah Jane pondered, uncapping her sonic lipstick. She released a wave of sonic energy, disrupting the lamp behind to the guard’s desk. The woman jumped in her seat and Sarah Jane used the distraction to grab Sky’s hand and pull her further down the hall and up the emergency staircase.
“What are you doing?” Rani asked Clyde as she returned from hunting. They had set up a rota: Clyde would cook the meat that Rani hunted daily. They had argued about it initially, Clyde pointing out he had more hunting experience- even if it whittled down to a week in cub scouts and a documentary, but receded when he realised Rani needed to keep herself busy, even if she wasn’t very good at acquiring food. Clyde tried to assure her that he would probably be just as bad, but Rani often returned home with an empty bag. Today was such a day.
Her usual styled locks of hair were unkempt, choppy. The clothes she had worn when she arrived in the forest had been replaced with more practical clothes tailored with material they had scavenged and cut with the scissors Clyde had carried in his backpack and sewn with a discarded fashion tool kit they had found buried underneath the bed the day they had arrived in the forest. They weren’t fashionable but they were practical and helped with daily activities.
Clyde stood up with a grin, his hands dirty. He also looked worse for wear. His school uniform had gradually devolved into a dirty shirt, his school trousers and trainers. He had been the one who had coped with the situation better, having glimpsed the life of sleeping rough. A soil mound was next to him. He gestured her over, and Rani complied.
“What is it?” Rani asked, bending down to examine the soil mound.
“It’s an apple tree!” Clyde declared proudly. “Or it will be, in a couple of years.”
“Years?” Rani repeated incredulously, her temper flaring. She rose from her position. “A couple of years? Clyde, are you hearing yourself? I don’t want to stay here! I want to go home! Home to my mum and dad! Home to where I can actually cook food without trying to kill it!”
“We’ve barely eaten in the past week and you’re already planting apple trees! Maybe you should go out and hunt the animals, then you can see what it’s like when they - when they...”
She stormed into the hut with teary eyes, not sparing Clyde another glance.
Clyde sighed, picking up a discarded stick with a sharp end and marking another day off.
They had been trapped for eight weeks.
A week later, Rani returned from hunting in a relatively happier mood. Her bow was slung over her shoulder and she dragged meat in Clyde’s old backpack. Everything had its use as she had quickly realised. The elevator hadn’t returned, to her dismay. She had checked.
She entered the cottage and paused.
“What are you doing?”
“A present for you,” Clyde grinned, stepping back to admire his handiwork. “I think I did quite good.”
“I don’t believe it.” Rani gasped. Placed above the bed in their little hut were sketches of important people in Rani’s life: Sarah Jane, Luke, Sky, and her mum and dad. Clyde’s mother, Carla Langer and Maria Jackson were also sketched and placed on the wall. They were all framed in a pattern, their parents at the top, and their friends directly below. “You did this?”
“Course,” Clyde grinned. “Used a lot of my paper doing it, but I like to think it was for a good cause.”
Rani brushed her fingers over Gita’s sketched picture. Her breath caught in her throat and she shook as unshed tears spilled from her eyelids.
“Thank you…” she whispered, her voice choked. “Thank you.” she repeated, louder this time. Clyde smiled sadly, wrapping an arm around Rani and hugging her. They stood there, admiring the pictures of their friends and family.
Sarah Jane and Sky paused to catch their breath. They had reached the tenth floor.
“Where now?” Sky asked between pants, regaining her breath.
“The twelfth floor and then the fourteenth.” Sarah Jane replied determinedly. “We’ll check there first.”
Sarah Jane faltered at the distinctive squawk of a parrot, a sound uncommon in office buildings. Looking up the next flight of steps, she noticed the green parrot perched on the banister, staring back at her with beady eyes.
“I have a much better idea, Miss Smith,” a man clad in a regal robe told her in a rich voice. Sarah Jane gasped, while Sky eyed the mysterious figure with a sense of awe.
The noticeably older Clyde and Rani sat on the log situated next to their campfire, a daily tradition. They would sit on the log, bask in the warm glow of the campfire and look up at the stars, regaling each other with tales of fiction and tales of their home. It had initially been a coping mechanism but had gradually evolved into an act of nostalgia over the ten years they had been stuck in the thirteenth floor.
“My mum used to watch every single movie that had George Clooney, you know.” Rani told Clyde fondly, smiling into the flames. “She adored them.”
“Even the one with Kelly Brook? I worry for your mother.” Clyde stated dubiously.
“Shows what you know, I could’ve sworn I heard your back go out!”
“I’ll have you know that I am a very athletic man.” Clyde deadpanned, moving to sit next to her. They huddled together for warmth. The pair didn’t share many stories this time, it had been a long day and they were both tired. Neither of them were as young as they used to be, though they didn’t care to admit it.
“Could’ve fooled me,” Rani quipped as she yawned, her eyelids beginning to droop. She rested her head against Clyde’s shoulder, already feeling the spell of sleep washing over her. She felt Clyde’s head rest on her own.
“Rani?” he called out for her quietly.
“You know I love you, right?” he asked in a whisper. It was soft, quiet, heartfelt. It filled Rani’s chest and made her feel warm. She smiled, her eyelids continuing to droop.
“Love you too.” she managed before they both fell asleep. The centaur creature watched them sleep, his head tilting in a curious manner. He left the pair to sleep in peace. Maybe one day he would reveal himself.
Sky had never seen the Shopkeeper move much during their first encounter. She found it amusing and interesting how his robe swished as he almost hovered up the steps at a speed faster than her and Sarah Jane combined.
“Where are we going?” Sarah Jane demanded, stubbornly attempting to keep up with the man.
“The sixteenth floor!” the man informed her.
“We’re on the fifteenth,” Sky pointed out.
“Very good observation, young Sky!” the Shopkeeper proclaimed proudly. “You seem to have grown since our last meeting.”
“Why the sixteenth floor?” Sarah Jane interrupted.
“Because, Miss Smith…” the Shopkeeper stopped suddenly and Sarah Jane almost ran into him. Sky skidded to a halt, observing the man. He held up a finger, waiting patiently. As if it had been staged, a blonde teenage boy around the same age crashed through a door, freezing when he noticed them. “I do not believe you have had the pleasure of meeting Sir Arthur Matthews.”
Arthur stared at them in surprise.
“You’ve done it wrong,” Rani informed Clyde smugly.
“I think you’ll find I have not,” Clyde shot back.
“Clyde, I’m telling you, the goats don’t need more food!”
“It’s not like I’m going overboard! And what are you doing up anyway? You’re meant to be resting!” Clyde hissed protectively, guiding Rani away from their little farm and towards to the log. Rani scoffed.
“Oh please, I’m fine!” she assured him, patting her baby bump. “I spent my days as a teenager battling aliens!”
“Yeah, I did too.” Clyde replied. “You know, just in case you forgot.”
Rani bit back a venomous retort when she noticed Clyde’s expression. It was a cocktail of emotions: wistful, wary, sad, elated.
“Are you okay?” she asked worriedly. Clyde sighed and sat down next to her, rubbing her belly absentmindedly.
“What if I’m not a good dad?” Clyde asked Rani worriedly. “What if I end up like my dad?”
“You won’t.” Rani assured him.
“How do you know?” Clyde mumbled. “It scares me, Rani. I don’t want to be like him.”
“You won’t be like him,” Rani assured him, placing her hand atop his. “You’ll be better than him. I’ll help you, if you think you can’t handle it. I’ll start by actually feeding the animals properly!”
“Oh no, you don’t! Resting, remember?” Clyde jumped up, placing his hands on her shoulders to keep her in place. Rani grinned at him.
“See that? You just proved you’re better than him already.”
“So you’re Arthur.” Sarah Jane stated as they hurried to follow the Shopkeeper.
“Well, yeah, but - what’s going on?” Arthur was confused. One minute he was fleeing from his hiding spot and the next he found himself face to face with three strangers and a parrot. “I’m a little lost here.”
“We’re here to find a friend and we haven’t a lot of time.” Sarah Jane explained.
“Less chatter please!” The Shopkeeper spoke up as he led his three compatriots through the fifteenth floor. They turned a corridor and entered a room. The room was unspectacular. Aside from the musty floorboard and drab grey wallpaper, multiple wooden oak drawers dotted the room. A single bulb lit up the area and an unbearable stench wafted through.
“This place is awful,” Sarah Jane winced. “The smell is horrible.”
“Mm, there’s a clue here somewhere…” the Shopkeeper muttered, digging through a drawer. Arthur pulled Sky to the side and the two conversed in hushed whispers. Sarah Jane ignored them, approaching the shopkeeper.
“How do you know there will be a clue here?”
“Oh, it’s difficult to explain and I’m afraid we do not have the time,” the Shopkeeper said resolutely.
“But can you find Clyde and Rani?”
“Yes, Sarah Jane, I can,” the Shopkeeper assured her. He opened another drawer and continued rummaging determinedly. He cried out triumphantly as he pulled out a photograph from the drawer. It was a group photograph of several people in various pieces of clothing dated several years prior. Sky and Arthur paused their conversation to join them, the latter noticeably calmer.
“A photograph?” Sky chimed in confusion. The Shopkeeper turned to face the young girl and Captain the parrot flew to the cage.
“Very good, young lady! I see you have been tutored on Earth customs thoroughly,” the Shopkeeper noted, holding up the photograph so they could all see it.
“That’s Arnold the janitor!” Arthur stated dubiously when he noticed the stooped man hunched in the corner of the photograph.
“Ah, so he’s been seen recently.” the Shopkeeper’s voice adopted a grave tone. “The one that guards the elevator is not a gentle fellow, there is only one way to summon him.”
In a flash of movement, the photograph was crumpled in the Shopkeeper’s hand. A moment later, a loud howl of agony reverberated around the mostly empty office block. An ugly looking janitor with a mop of greasy red hair stormed into the room. He snatched the photograph and tossed it to the floor. The Shopkeeper watched him, his lips pursed. Sarah Jane pulled Sky towards her.
The hunched man slowly turned towards them, his eyes glowing a shade of gold. Membranes snapped across his eyes and in a burst of light, the janitor was gone, replaced by a grey skinned reptilian humanoid with snake-like features. His eyes were slitted, his tongue forked and his fingernails were replaced by large claws.
“I presume you are the Creator?” the Shopkeeper inquired calmly.
“Oh, I have heard stories about you,” the Creator hissed. Sarah Jane frowned, it reminded of the Ice Warriors. “The Wielder of the Two Souls. Look at you now, reduced to a babysitter for infants,” he gestured towards Sarah Jane and the two teenagers with a scaly hand.
“And I have heard about you in return.” The Shopkeeper retorted gracefully. The being that achieved the feat of deluding himself into thinking he is in control of the universe.”
The Creator hissed, “Why do you summon me?”
“I want my friends back!” Sarah Jane yelled, drawing their attention. “You’ve sent them away but I’m here to bring them home.”
“Oh but my little world will be so lonely,” the Creator clicked his tongue. “And how can you be sure you want them back now?”
“What do you mean?” Sky piped up.
“Time works differently in my pocket universe. Your friends are shells of their former selves. You’ll never be able to retrieve them. I am in control. I win.”
“He does not speak the truth,” the Shopkeeper spoke up. “He is not in control of the pocket universe, he just feeds off the energy. There is a data bank- an archive- located on this floor; it must be located and destroyed, but you will need to have your friends in this realm if you wish to keep them from being lost forever.”
“LIAR!” the Creator roared, shooting a dark stream of energy from his eyes. The Shopkeeper retaliated, clicking his fingers and opening a time fissure as a shield.
“Miss Smith, I am afraid time is of the essence,” the Shopkeeper grunted as he blocked another burst of energy. Sarah Jane nodded and sprung into action. She grabbed Sky by the arm and pulled her out of the door, closely followed by Arthur.
“The Shopkeeper must have had a reason for bringing you along,” Sarah Jane noted as she studied Arthur. “Is there a room here that nobody goes into?”
“I- I dunno.” Arthur stuttered lamely. “I don’t think - hang on… there’s the old board room, but that was closed down due to flooding!”
“And how long ago was that?”
“I dunno, it’s always been like that.”
“Then that’s where we start,” Sarah Jane said firmly.
“I’ll go get Clyde and Rani,” Sky added. Sarah Jane faltered, turning towards her defiant adopted daughter.
“No, Sky, it’s too dangerous!”
“But the Shopkeeper said that we need them in this realm. This Earth! I can open the lift, I have to be the one who goes! It’s the quickest way, Sarah Jane! You can’t be in two places at once. If I go and get them, you can destroy the archive!”
“Okay, but be careful!” Sarah Jane receded. Sky nodded and ran off to find an elevator.
“You’re getting really good, Sarah,” Clyde marvelled as he watched his daughter work. Sarah Langer’s tongue was poking out the side of her lip, her eyebrows furrowed in concentration as she sketched the stream. Rani finished feeding the animals and admired her family. A number of years had passed since Clyde and Rani had stepped onto the thirteenth floor together. There was once a time when Rani was desperate to get home, to be rid of the strange woodland jungle and return to the safety of civilisation and home, but she had adapted to the new environment and she was happy. Happy with Clyde and Sarah. What was once a scary forest had turned into the utopia.
“Finished!” Sarah cheered, bouncing on her feet excitedly. She was full of life, almost as inquisitive as her namesake. Sarah eyed the hunting bow and the quiver of arrows. “Can I go hunting now?”
“What, without me?” Rani asked. She wasn’t surprised anymore. Sarah often ventured into the woods alone to hunt or explore. They had been worried at first but the two parents had long since realised that the forest was harmless and peaceful.
“Please mum. Please?” Sarah bounced on the balls of her feet, looking at Rani expectantly.
“Oh, go on then,” Rani nodded. “But remember, if you see anything that frightens you, just come straight back, okay?”
“Mum, the forest isn’t scary!” Sarah scoffed at the thought. “It’s my friend!”
Rani smiled at thought as Sarah grabbed the bow and quiver of arrows. She skipped off happily down the path after giving them a quick goodbye. They had cleared it over the years, ensuring it was safe for their daughter to travel through.
“She’s right, you know,” Clyde interrupted Rani’s train of thought. “She’s grown up here. She hasn’t known anything else.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Rani nodded. “I’m just being silly.”
“Tell you what, though, I never expected this place to become paradise,” Clyde admitted as he packed his sketch pad away.
“No,” Rani agreed, picking an apple from the nearby tree and biting into it. “Neither did I.”
Sarah skipped through the forest without a care in the world. The warm sun beat down mercilessly on the forest but it was never too warm or cold. It was almost as if the forest set the temperature at the most comfortable standard for the humans that resided inside it.
Sarah loved the forest. It was her home and it always would be. Sometimes, at night, her parents would regale her with stories of their old life in Ealing, a land far, far away. They would tell her stories of her grandparents, her godmother Sarah Jane Smith and her family, but what fascinated her the most were the stories her father told her about the ancient technique of skateboarding. She stopped skipping when the sound of snapping roots caught her attention. Sarah gasped quietly, looking left and right frantically.
Another twig snapped and the ground rumbled. Suddenly, a creature that looked like a hybrid of a centaur and a minotaur galloped straight towards her.
Rani popped her head out of the hut door, her eyes darting around the surrounding area quickly. When she couldn’t find Sarah, she frowned, stepping out and approaching Clyde, who was busy feeding the animals.
“Have you seen Sarah?” Rani asked worriedly, constantly checking the forest in case her daughter came bounding back. A sense of dread washed over her.
“She’s not back yet?” Clyde blinked. He looked around, dumbfounded. Sarah had never been late to dinner, she had developed his love for food and always skipped back on time.
“No, and it’s almost dark.”
“Okay,” Clyde sighed, setting the food bowl down and dusting off his hands. “Look, I’m sure she’s fine. She’s probably distracted by a pretty… flower or something.”
“Your jokes still aren’t funny, Clyde.” Rani sighed, rubbing her shoulder absentmindedly.
“Who said I was joking?”
“I just get this feeling that the creature is still out there, you know?”
“We haven’t seen it in years,” Clyde reasoned.
“That doesn’t mean it’s not waiting for us or something,” Rani retaliated morbidly. “Just - come on, the sooner we find her, the sooner we can eat.”
The elevator shuddered violently but Sky wasn’t scared. She was too focused on her mission: to find Clyde and Rani and bring them back to the real world before the archive was destroyed. The elevator stopped its violent discourse and the doors slowly opened to reveal a beautiful, picturesque forest, the kind Sky had always wanted to see up close.
It was beautiful. It reminded her of an alien Jurassic Park, a movie she had watched late one night with Luke and Clyde despite Sarah Jane’s insistence that they find something else to watch.
The elevator pinged and Sky spun around just in time to see the doors closing.
“No!” she yelled, placing the palm of her hand on the side of the elevator. A burst of yellow electricity crackled around the elevator panel as Sky urged the machine to remain open. The doors slowly opened again, and remained open.
She sighed with relief. She was never quite sure how potent her ability was ever since she had been diffused as a weapon and she didn’t want to test her luck. She turned and ran down the path, calling out for the pair she considered to be part of her family.
“Stand back!” Sarah Jane ordered, expertly opening the locked door with her sonic lipstick. She and Arthur stepped into the dry boardroom. There wasn’t a trace of water.
“I don’t get it.” Arthur struggled to formulate his words. It was all a bit too much. First Rani sauntered into the building for work experience and he was suddenly helping a familiar looking woman rescue the teenage girl. “Why did nobody think to check on the boardroom?”
“You’d be surprised at the number of aliens that are old hands at hypnotism and thought manipulation,” Sarah Jane murmured, brushing her hand along the wall, searching for a secret entrance. “There has to be something…”
“That wasn’t there before.” Arthur pointed at the mirror wedged between the interactive whiteboard and a window. “I mean, granted, I’ve only been in here once but it’s been flooded ever since.”
“Gotcha!” Sarah Jane grinned triumphantly, raising her sonic lipstick and pointing at the mirror. The glass shattered at the frequency and a loud click reverberated off the walls. The window slowly retreated backwards and a door handle appeared directly beneath it.
“That’s impossible!” Arthur spluttered. “We’re on the eighteenth floor!”
“Arthur, I’ll happily explain perception filters to you after all this is over.” Sarah Jane retorted as she twisted the knob. The door opened to reveal an expansive room filled with machines that reminded Sarah Jane of Van de Graaff generators. It was an odd setup, but Sarah Jane didn’t have time to dwell on it.
“Through here.” Sarah Jane stepped into the room, searching for the correct archive. They walked through the room for a few seconds until Sarah Jane found a pixelated image of Clyde and Rani hovering over one of the Van de Graaff generators. “It’s this one!”
“Well, what are waiting for? Zap it!”
“No!” Sarah Jane turned sharply. “Not until Clyde, Rani and Sky are back.”
“Sarah!” Clyde and Rani cried out simultaneously as they travelled down the beaten path. They had decided to check the flower meadow. It was Sarah’s place to escape boredom, although she also hid there if her parents were arguing.
Clyde stopped suddenly at the bridge that would lead to the flower meadow. He backtracked slightly, his eyes narrowing on his daughter trapped under the arms of the creature that had plagued them on their very first day.
“Sarah!” Clyde cried out in horror. Adrenaline coursing through his veins, he jumped down the three big steps, desperate to save his daughter. “Get away from her!”
“Dad, what are you doing?!” Sarah exclaimed in horror.
The creature’s arms were still wrapped around Sarah and he looked at Clyde in confusion. The man launched himself at the centaur and raised his fist.
“Stop! He’s my friend!”
Clyde faltered. His mind whirred. The sheer thought of the creature that had killed a defenceless old woman making friends with his daughter was almost too much for him to comprehend, but Clyde knew that his daughter would never lie to him. Hesitantly, Clyde unclenched his fist and clambered off the creature, eyeing it warily. Rani joined them, grabbing Sarah by her shoulders and holding her close to her chest.
“Your daughter speaks the truth, Clyde Langer,” the creature wheezed, slowly propping itself up on its elbows.
“But - who are you?” Rani stuttered, eyeing the alien warily. “Why did you chase us that day?”
“I am Amon and I mean you no harm,” Amon explained between his bitter coughs. “I didn’t wish to frighten you that day. I apologise. It had been a long time since new visitors had arrived to the forest.”
“You killed that woman!” Clyde interrupted. “We heard her scream and your stomping.”
“Ah, Chantelle.” Amon sighed sadly. “I am afraid she was long since gone. She tripped. Fell into the ravine, I tried to save her but I was too late… old age would have taken her in the end. I am already feeling the spell of death consume me. It is surprisingly peaceful.”
“All this time, I thought you were a monster.” Rani whispered mournfully. She released Sarah and scooped down to help the ailing creature. “You weren’t even that. I am so sorry. You must have been lonely. Me and Clyde, we had each other, and you had -”
“I had Sarah.” Amon replied firmly as his breathing slowly stopped. Sarah grinned happily, blissfully ignorant of what was occurring around her. Sarah had never seen a humanoid die before, she couldn’t possibly have known.
Clyde and Rani stared at each other. They weren’t sure how they were going to explain the sad truth her friend had just died.
Clyde froze. That voice. He turned rigidly, just in time to see Sky spot them. She stood there with a victorious grin on her face, far younger than he remembered her to be. Rani also turned to the voice, tears filling her eyes as she laid eyes on her old friend.
“I’ve found you!” Sky cheered.
It had all happened so suddenly. Sarah Jane had been leaning against a table, studying the generators intently when the Shopkeeper flew into the room, crashing into a row of tables. The generators toppled over and Sarah Jane cried out in surprise. Arthur rose from his position on the table in alarm.
The Creator stormed in, his reptilian eyes ablaze. His eyes locked on Sarah Jane.
“Step away from my archive!” the alien hissed, and released another beam of dark matter energy from his eyes.Reacting on instinct, Arthur grabbed Sarah Jane and pulled her away. The beam narrowly missed its intended target, searing the archive record that contained Clyde, Rani and Sky. The destruction of the record led to a domino effect; the surrounding articles subsequently burned and disappeared. The Van de Graaff generators sparked and exploded.
“No!” Sarah Jane cried out in horror.
“You have no right! You robbed me of my universe! My archives!” The Creator roared. Sarah Jane brought her hands to protect her face, terrified. Suddenly, Captain the parrot swooped in, clawing at the Creator’s eyes. The alien cried out in agony, swatting at the air aimlessly. He tripped over an upturned table. Captain flew to a comfortable perch on Arthur’s head.
“Saved by a parrot,” the teenage boy croaked. Sarah Jane ignored him.
“The generator’s been destroyed too early! Sky, Clyde, Rani!” she sprung to her feet and sped out the door.
“Sky…” Clyde whispered. Sky grinned, hopping down the stairs and leaping into his arms.
“You’re so old now!” Sky noted excitedly.
“Gee, thanks, Sparky,” he scoffed, ruffling her hair. She was still so young, so innocent. He wondered if his age showed more than he thought it did. The thought scared him. Rani approached them, wrapping her arms around Sky in joy. The two giggled like they often did when Rani was younger.
“Sky, what are you doing here?” Rani asked, wiping the happy tears from her eyes. Sky opened her mouth to speak when the ground shuddered violently. The pair managed to keep themselves upright while Clyde reached over and gripped Sarah steadily.
“I’ve come to take you home!” Sky exclaimed, grabbing Rani’s hand. “Something must have happened in the archive! Come on, we don’t have long!”
“Dad, where are we going?” Sarah screeched as Clyde scooped her into his arms and trotted up the stairs.
“To the place I told you about!” Clyde cried out in glee. He had enjoyed his time in the forest, but the thought of returning home excited him. “You remember all the stories I told you about?”
“Will there be skateboarding?”
“That’s my girl!” Clyde whooped with joy. Sarah, however, had one thing on her mind.
“Dad, what about Amon?!” Sarah screamed. With great difficulty, Clyde ignored her cries and protests as he followed Rani and Sky. They stumbled their way towards the elevator, a sight Clyde thought he would never see again. A tree snapped and crashed to the ground, a few inches from where they stood originally.
Sky and Rani clambered into the elevator, quickly followed by Clyde and a screaming Sarah, who begged for everything to be explained to her. Clyde didn’t listen. He was excited to finally go home, to give Sarah a better life. The elevator doors snapped shut and the lift shuddered as violently as it had twenty years ago.
The Creator howled in pain and anger, turning to Arthur.
“You...will...pay,” he roared, ready to unleash another beam of dark energy when there was the snap of fingers and a fissure consumed the alien. Arthur stared at where the alien stood, nonplussed. The Shopkeeper rose from the ground and dusted himself off, like nothing had happened.
“I left him in his universe, just like he always wanted.” The Shopkeeper explained callously.
“Isn’t that a bit…” Arthur trailed off, unsure of how to phrase his words.
“No. He had one chance and he blew it.” the man replied darkly. Arthur felt the prickle of goosebumps grow on his flesh. “One chance. That’s it.” he smiled jarringly, Arthur didn’t quite register it. “Would you like to go home now?”
The group regained their breath and composure as they stood in the motionless lift. Clyde and Rani stared at each other wordlessly, too shocked to speak. They were teenagers again. They were in their school uniform and suit respectively, the same outfits they had worn when they had stepped into the elevator. They looked down at their joined hands, expecting to see Sarah, their ten year old child, staring back at them with wide eyes, confused eyes, any kind, but there were no eyes. There was no Sarah.
“Sarah…?” Rani breathed quietly, looking around frantically. “Well, where is she?”
“She was just there.” Clyde whispered. “She was just there. Where did she go? She was… she was…”
Rani pushed past her two friends, ready to pry the doors open when the elevator pinged and the doors slid open to reveal Sarah Jane Smith.
“Oh, thank goodness.” Sarah Jane allowed herself to breathe. “Clyde, Rani- oh!”
Rani collapsed into Sarah Jane’s arms, too exhausted to move. Tears spilled from her eyes as she shuddered uncontrollably, crying and crying and crying. Clyde leaned against the lift wall to support himself, rigid, silent.
Sarah Jane didn’t say anything. They would explain to her soon enough.
Sarah Jane stood alone in the silent attic, contemplating as Mr Smith ran his diagnostics. She barely registered his monotonous tone, which was informing her that the traces of the pocket universe had all but disappeared, as her mind wandered to her two dear friends. She couldn’t imagine what trauma they must be going through now; the heartbreak of losing a child, the slow but eventual disintegration of the past twenty years of their life. The only way she could try to compare it to her own life was to imagine losing her memories of her travels with the Doctor. To have all those spectacular and personal memories wiped away as effortlessly as footprints on a beach, washed away by the waves… it didn’t bear thinking about.
Thankfully, her melancholic introspection was interrupted by a flash of light behind her, followed by an all-too-familiar squawk. She wiped a solitary tear from her eye (she wasn’t aware that she had been crying) and turned to face the shopkeeper, smiling sweetly at her, with the Captain on his shoulder.
“You have done well, Miss Smith,” he purred at her.
Sarah Jane sighed in exasperation at this mysterious man’s comings-and-goings. “You again!”
The man chuckled, “Oh yes, it’s me. Just popping to make sure everything is in order. And I can see that you have been checking up on the pocket universe as well. It seems the Creator will not be bothering this universe any longer.”
He raised his hand, in his traditional leaving pose, but Sarah Jane stepped towards him with her finger pointed at him. “Oh, no. You don’t get to leave just yet. I have questions!”
“Ah, questions,” he mused. “They keep the world turning. Without curiosity, the universe would stop. Ask away, Miss Smith. Though I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to answer.”
“What were you doing there?” asked Sarah Jane, her hands on her hips. “How did you know to come and help us at the office?”
The Shopkeeper gave a smile that warned Sarah Jane that he would not answer. “That is the way of the Universe, Miss Smith. When I am needed, there I am. I cannot be explained,” He let out a small laugh at his own cryptic utterances, before turning his attention to an assortment of trinkets on Sarah Jane’s desk. “Now, the girl. Young Sky. How is she?”
Sarah Jane bit her lip. She knew better than to attempt to stop the Shopkeeper from interfering with her belongings. “She’s fine,” she replied. “She was very brave that day, she always is.”
The Shopkeeper wandered over to the doorframe, where he traced his fingers carefully over the pencil markings that Rani had etched into the wood. “And she’s certainly been growing. Look how tall she's getting. And it's barely been a few months since I saw her last.”
Sarah Jane watched him suspiciously, crossing her arms to let him know that she was no fool. “Is that something I should be worried about? I mean, she doesn't stop growing!”
The Shopkeeper let out a deep, hearty chuckle. “My, my, Miss Smith. There are far worse things to be worried about than a child’s growth spurt. I can feel it… blowing towards us on the wind. The events to come, they are far less gentle than a summer breeze. But, then again, it is possible that even the most catastrophic events and the tiniest differences like pencil marks on a wall, may somehow be intertwined.”
Sarah Jane rolled her eyes. She'd had enough of the cryptic riddles that this man seemed to speak almost exclusively in. “And just what do you mean by that? You never seem to say anything that makes sense, do you?”
“Everything makes sense in the correct context.” The Shopkeeper retaliated coolly, stroking his parrot. “The will of the Universe moves in mysterious ways. Every cloud has a silver lining. But know this, Sarah Jane: you must be prepared for battle. Already, I can see strange forces at work. And you may be the only one to stop them. But until then, I must bid you farewell, Miss Smith!”
And with that, he disappeared into a burst of light accompanied by an echoing parrot’s squawk, leaving a flabbergasted Sarah Jane alone in the attic. She looked around, digesting the words she had just heard. Finally, she whispered to herself, “What battle?”
Meanwhile, Rani sat on a park swing, pushing herself back and forth aimlessly. Everything had gone back to normal. The lift had become a normal lift, there was no way back to the thirteenth floor. She never told her parents, she couldn’t tell them. Something just felt… off.
Clyde approached her and sat on the second swing wordlessly. They remained silent for a few minutes, unsure how to alleviate the awkwardness that had festered ever since they had returned from the the place they had considered home for twenty years. Clyde looked up, admiring the park. He had sat here once, with Luke while Sarah Jane and Maria worked. Everything was so much easier back then. Clyde had never anticipated this would ever happen.
“What were the colour of her eyes?” Rani’s voice was barely above a whisper. She sounded so tired. “I can’t even remember anymore.”
“No,” Clyde agreed. “Neither can I.”
“How old are you, Clyde?”
“Seventeen.” Clyde replied automatically, bowing his head almost instantly. Was he seventeen or thirty-seven? He didn’t know anymore.
Sarah Jane had explained to them that the memories would slowly fade with time. Their memories would become unattainable dreams and they would forget the love they had developed for each other. They would lapse back into the people they once were, the class clown with a passion for art and the budding journalist who skirted around their feelings for each other because they were afraid of the consequences attached to it. It broke their hearts, though they didn’t care to admit it to the other.
“Will anything ever go back to the way they were?”
Of course they wouldn’t. The two would be plagued by the fact they had lost a child in their dreams, they would both separate to move on with their lives. Rani would study to become a journalist and Clyde would study to become a comic artist. Their time with Sarah Jane would be over. They would no longer be kids. Nothing would ever be the same again.
“Yeah.” Clyde said simply. Rani accepted the answer, and the two held hands as they smiled fondly at the children playing in the park.