whistle stop page 2

‘So,’ he said brightly, ‘what’s your story?’ 

‘My what?’ 

‘Your story,’ he repeated, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder at the advertisement that had been put up prior to our arrival. That there were no families waiting for us to be trotted out for at the local opera house or church seemed strange. Then again, given the state of disrepair of the buildings, I had a sneaking suspicion that a next meal was as much a concern here as it was for the countless children roaming the streets of New York City. The Doctor and his telegraph box were as out of place here as any of us. Which begged the question; how had he arrived here at all? And why? 

Which brought us back to the first question. 

‘I don’t have a story,’ I told him. I did, of course. We all do, but I wasn’t going to tell him. Not that easily. 

‘You must have. A story I mean. Everyone does.’ 

‘Including you?’ 

‘Oh, I’ve got lifetimes full of stories. Don’t get me started…’ 

But he didn’t elaborate and I knew, in an instant, that he wouldn’t. 

Not that easily. 

‘The thing about stories,’ he confided, ‘is that the ones that haven’t been written yet may be the best of all.’ 

I didn’t want to tell him that the only thing I could write was the name inscribed in my locket. The boys were whooping and hollering as they climbed over bales of hay bound for some far off stock yard. I shivered as blowing rain seeped through my wool collar and ran cold as melted snow down my back. Is that what we were now? Cattle? But it looked warm and smelled like summer, and the thought of laying down my head on something other than a hard wooden bench was appealing. Not a one of us had had a good night’s sleep in more days than I could remember. I was so lost in my thoughts that the sharp whistle of the train made me jump.

‘All aboard,’ the Doctor said cheerfully, ignoring the gusting wind, the rain pelting down on us, soaking us to the skin. After another long whistle prompted us to leave the platform or be left behind, I took a deep breath and looked up at him. 

‘Do you think it will ever stop raining?’ I asked him. 

‘Always does,’ he told me. 

He was so right. Of course he didn’t mention that after the calm, the oncoming storm might be even worse. 

As the sun began to shine and the train picked up speed, our spirits began to rise. I cast off my soaking wet coat and Mrs. McCrimmon wrapped a dry blanket around me. There were plenty to go around. I could have done with forty winks, but for the first time in days, we were all full of beans. We had a sing song and Mac played the spoons on Colin’s head and we all laughed so hard when the Doctor told us where he was from and Patrick, brimming with inspiration serenaded us with: 

‘Tra la la boom de ay
We met a man today
He comes from Gallifrey
He took us all away.
He has a big blue box
We tried to pick the locks
We think there’s more inside
than he could ever hide.
We’re on the Number Nine
The weather’s fair and fine
Not much more I can say
Tra la la boom de ay!’ 

As we rolled along, the Doctor heaved open the cargo doors to let in the fresh air and sunshine, cautioning the boys to keep away from the edge. Some of them even listened. He only had to grab one or two before they fell out. 

Miss McCrimmon was all fluttery in the company of the Doctor. Her face turned three shades of crimson when he sat beside her. In the space of a few hours she had told him the entire history of St. Luke’s, the Children’s Aid Society, her previous excursions out west placing children with good Christian families and how she had met Charles Loring Brace personally at a church picnic when she was still a young girl. He seemed to be doing his best to keep smiling and nodding, but every so often I saw him glancing around as if he expected something to happen. More than once he looked at me and I pulled the blanket closer. Eventually, he excused himself to check on the boys at the other end of the carriage. I heard him chastising one of them for the looping chalk art that now adorned the side of the telegraph box. 

After he’d walked away, Miss McCrimmon started to breathe again. ‘A man of few words, isn’t he?’ 

‘Well,’ I told her; one has to listen.’ It seemed to me that the Doctor was right good at listening. 

That’s exactly what he was doing, only this time it wasn’t to her, it was to the boys, who were all talking at once, asking question about the box, about him, about what it was like to travel about with that box of his (as if he took it everywhere he went). Someone asked him if the telegraph box belonged to the coppers as apparently that’s what the big white letters at the top said. He laughed at them and said no, it was his, but the way he said it we all knew. He’d nicked it for sure. The boys thought the whole affair was quite a hoot, though. Before you could say “Bob’s your uncle,” and ignoring his protests, Daivi was on the Doctor’s back, Mac was picking his pockets (he had more in them than Thomas did!) and at least four others were pulling him down into the hay. In no time they’d have him shooting marbles and playing Old Sledge or Beggar-My-Neighbor. Even Kipp had been drawn out of his customary solitude and had moved into the rowdy group. By his expression, the Doctor was completely out of his depth. 

A loud rumble interrupted our merriment, sending a shudder through the floor and a shiver up every spine. Above us, a kerosene lantern swayed as the freight car shifted side to side. 

‘Thunder,’ Miss McCrimmon assured us, settling herself again in as ladylike a position as could be had sitting on a hay bale as the train rushed—clackity, clackity, clackity—over the rails. 

‘Inclement, northern weather. We’re safe as houses in here. We have all this warm hay, and wool blankets and, oh, children, I was saving it, but we have muffins and a jar of apple butter! Gather closer now – ‘ 

Another rumble rolled slowly over us, this one ending with a splintering crash. The Doctor was on his feet, gently lowering Daivi to the floor, and extricating himself from a tangle of wide eyed boys. For a full ten count all I could hear was the grating and squealing of iron as if the brakeman felt our very lives depended on the train coming to a timely stop. 

I looked at the Doctor and he looked at me. 

‘We aren’t stopping,’ I said at last, feeling foolish for stating the obvious. 

‘No, we aren’t,’ he agreed. 

More rumbling followed, and popping and shuddering and grating and all manner of distressing sounds that swept over us as if the train was being pulled apart, starting up front at the engine and ending at the tail end in the caboose. 

‘That’s not thunder,’ Piotr observed. 

‘Sounded like blasting caps!’ Jean said, excitedly. 

‘You say that like it’s a good thing,’ Mac told him. 

‘Depends on what you’re doing, hmmm?’ Willie pointed out. 

‘True enough,’ the Doctor agreed. ‘But we aren’t in mining country yet and besides, explosions on trains are rarely a good thing.’ 

The word explosions got everyone’s dander up and they were all babbling at once again with dear Miss McCrimmon trying to corral the lot; might as well have tried to put a dozen frogs back in a box. 

‘Oh my giddy aunt – ‘ 

‘Hmm, I wonder – ‘ 



The Doctor turned sharply toward the usually silent Kipp. ‘Hey – ‘ 

Paul drew me close to him so he could whisper in my ear. He smelled like sweat and hay and apple butter. ‘When he says run, be sure to run.’ 


The next explosion sent the lot of us tumbling to the inside wall of the freight car. A good thing seeing as the cargo door was still open, wind and snow whipping loose hay into a storm around us. The undercarriage creaked and groaned and for a long moment it felt like the train had pitched so far to the side it had lifted from the tracks. I could almost imagine what it might look like, tipped sideways, running along on one side of the track, sparks flying. Daivi buried his head against my shoulder, Kipp clung to the other arm, and somewhere in the maelstrom of hay and snow, little Matieu was crying. Colin scooped him up and put him into my arms and I held them all as close as I could. The smell of smoke and sulfur was suffocating and I felt a sudden dread about those kerosene lamps hanging above us and all that hay.

All eyes were on the Doctor. In his hand, balanced mere inches from the hay, was one of the kerosene lanterns. He reached up and nonchalantly put it back into place as the carriage shuddered right way up again. We all gasped. 

‘What?’ he asked. 

Another loud boom made us all jump and the boys, well some of the boys, couldn’t help but giggle. They tussled and punched one another and called one another “featherbrained nimenogs”. 

No one was looking outside anymore. No one, except me. 

‘Rose?’ It took me a moment to realize he was talking to me. 

‘I think something’s wrong,’ I whispered, breathless and not half frightened. 

‘Why’s that?’ asked the Doctor. 

I pointed at the open door. It wasn’t snowing anymore. It wasn’t daylight anymore. It wasn’t anything I’d ever seen with my waking eyes. We were hurtling through what looked like a million shooting stars. 

‘Is that..?’ 

‘Are we..?’ 

‘Well, that seems highly improbable.’ 

‘We aren’t in Michigan anymore.’ 

‘We aren’t on Earth anymore.’ 

‘Goodness gracious me. That wasn’t supposed to happen,’ said Miss McCrimmon, and she fainted dead away. 

‘Well, it’s about time,’ the Doctor muttered, glancing over at me. ‘Com’ on then, stop playing with the kids. We have work to do.’ 

Jean was fit to be tied when the Doctor told him to stay put while we investigated the next carriage up. Instead, the Doctor instructed him to help Thomas close the cargo door before someone fell out—Miss McCrimmon in particular, seeing as she was wilted away and not even the smelling salts the Doctor offered up were having any effect. At least not on poor Miss McCrimmon. 

With a shrug, he extinguished the kerosene lamps, cut away the straps holding the telegraph box in place, stepped inside and lit the flame at the top of the box. 

‘If things get too rough,’ he told the boys, entrusting a key to Paul, ‘get in the box. And don’t touch anything, you lot, you hear?’ 

Next thing I knew, the Doctor told me to put on my coat, grabbed me by the hand and dragged me outside. I clung to him, blinded by ash and soot and swirling starlight. The noise of the train rushing over unseen tracks was deafening. We were racing at a fearsome speed, too fast for us to jump to safety. Even if we could jump to safety, I couldn’t bear to look up or down or anywhere except for at the Doctor. 

He jumped from one carriage porch to the next like there was nothing to it and held out his hand. 

‘Come with me,’ he said, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t move. I didn’t know what I was thinking, following him onto that train, following him out here into something that I couldn’t tell was a dream or a flight of fancy or a nightmare. I squeezed my eyes closed and wished for it all to go away. It didn’t. I’d as goods go back to the orphan asylum. 

‘Well, you can’t just stand there,’ the Doctor pointed out, looking more than a little put out. I got the keen sense he was accustomed to getting his way. Colin was like that. They all were, come to think on it; different as the phases of the moon, but somehow the same. 

‘Can’t I? I mean… you don’t need me. I’ll just slow you down. You need Jean or Thomas or Mac. They’re sharp as pins. They can even read. Jean was practically begging you to take him along and, and, and…’ I was talking faster than Miss McCrimmon and making about as much sense as a jabbering monkey. 

‘Are you done now?’ 

‘No!’ I cried. I’m nobody, I wanted to tell him. I’m nothing. You don’t need me here and I don’t want to be here and... 

He rolled his eyes and settled back with crossed arms against the door into the next compartment. ‘Hurry up, then. Get it over with.’ 

‘Why are you doing this? Why did you pick me? I don’t know what you expect me to do! I’m not smart and I’m not pretty and I’m not even remotely brave, and I don’t know why I’m following you! I don’t know who you are or where Gallililly is—‘ 


‘I don’t where that is either!’ 

‘I never said that you did.’ 

‘Who the devil are you?’ 

‘Seriously? We’re going to do this now? The whole of the universe may be hanging in the balance and you’re going to stand there asking foolish questions and having a pity party?’ 

I wasn’t entirely sure I understood what he meant by that, but the disapproval in his eyes was enough to tell me that I was disappointing him. 

‘This isn’t what I expected from you—‘ he began. 

‘Why would you expect anything of me? We’ve only just met!’ 

‘You know, that’s the trouble with time travel,’ he said. ‘And I ought to know better after this long, but it never ceases to amaze me how stupid people can be before you’ve met them properly.’ 

I don’t know what sort of a chowder head he thought I was, but that made no sense at all. At least this time he seemed to understand that I hadn’t a clue what he was on about and that every word he said was laying more track between us. I turned to go back to the boys, the only family I expected to ever have. 

‘You can’t do that,’ the Doctor called after me. 

‘Why?’ I yelled back, gripping the door frame, my hair twisting around me as we hurled deeper and deeper into my worst nightmare. 

‘Because you didn’t.’ 

I stared at him. ‘How could you possibly know that?’ 

‘I’ll explain later.’ 

I scowled. Adults always say things like that, but they never explain anything. 

‘Alright, you want to know the real answer? Because you told me, you told me about all of this. Well, you will tell me, from your perspective. It’s complicated, and, quite frankly, we don’t have time to debate temporal physics right now. Now, are you coming or not? Rose,’ the name caught in his throat once again and I turned back to him. ‘Trust me.’ 

I must have been completely mad, but there was something about his stern face in the shifting light, cinder and ash and the smell of the night sky and his blue eyes beacons of hope, wide as eternity, offering me the chance of a lifetime. He knew me from a future I could only imagine. A future I had come to doubt I would ever have. Here, now, we were writing the pages of the story of my life. The story I would tell him. Trust me.

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