Doctor Who Advent Calendar - Day 9
To Whom It May Concern
A short story by Richard Salter
Originally presented in Enlightenment #102 (February/March 2001)
April 24th, 1924
I’m writing this letter on the final day of my life. How do I know this for sure? Because it is I who has chosen to end it. A coward’s way out, one might think, and one would be right. Better to die a coward than live with the guilt.
In order to explain the reasons for my actions, I will recount the occurrences of the last few weeks, in the hope that I may receive some small redemption for the terrible suffering I have caused.
Three days ago, I finished repairing the latest of Edward Chase’s soldiers. This particular toy was a fine fellow with moving arms and legs, and he wore a bright red tunic. This is the design that Master Edward likes the most, and I am happy to make as many as he asks for, and repair as many as he damages in his make-believe battles. When children play with the toys I have made, when they create their own worlds and their imaginations sore to such great heights… why, nothing gives me greater satisfaction. If a few toy soldiers are the worse for wear afterwards, well they can always be repaired.
After ensuring that the paint was dry, I took the toy and wrapped it in paper before placing it in a sack and leaving the toyshop. The path up the hill to Marlborough Manor is a long one, but I’ve found that regular walking helps keep me feeling young, even if I do not look it.
Upon the way I passed a police box I had not seen there before. It was a blue, wooden cabinet with a lamp on top, a more lean and modern affair than I have seen in the past. A man and a woman stood in front of it. The man was dressed in cricket whites with a fawn coat and fedora, while the young lady was wearing luxurious, brown velvet. She seemed remarkably young to be his wife, and too old to be his daughter. As I walked by, I managed to catch something of their conversation.
“Where are we, Doctor?” the young lady asked. So, a medical man it seemed, though obviously off duty today.
“I don’t know, exactly,” he replied, his hands in his trouser pockets, “but it’s certainly England.”
That is all I heard, but it sounded as though they had only just arrived in Walcombe. I saw no method of transportation; the railway station is across the other side of town, so I wondered how they came to be there.
I pondered this as I made my way to the Manor. I pushed open the wrought iron gates and entered the grounds. As you will know if you are local, the Manor is not large, but it is a beautiful building, and the Chases keep it in immaculate condition.
When the door opened, Mrs Chase’s face was heavy with worry. I knew at once that young Edward must have taken a turn for the worse.
“Oh, Mr Jessop. I was hoping it would be Doctor Grant. We called for him half an hour ago.”
“Edward?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied simply, her attention clearly elsewhere. She peered past him, towards the gates, looking out for Doctor Grant no doubt.
“I have brought Edward’s soldier back. Good as new. Maybe it will cheer him up.”
She nodded and held the door open for me. I took off my hat and stepped inside. Together, in silence, we ascended the stairs and walked the familiar path to Edward’s room.
The boy sat propped up in bed. His face was a ghastly yellow colour and his eyes were dark circles. He smiled a little when he saw me, and even more when I produced the toy soldier.
“Thank you,” he croaked.
“Always a pleasure, Master Chase.”
Just then, Mr Chase entered the room, one of the maids in tow.
“Dr Grant?” the boy’s father began. Then he saw me. “Oh, it’s you. Hello, Mr Jessop. Did you happen to see Doctor Grant on your way here?”
“I regret that I did not, Mr Chase. I am so sorry to see young Edward looking so poorly. Last I was here, he seemed to be improving.”
“Indeed. Well, thank you for your visit, Mr Jessop. You’ll forgive me if I don’t invite you to stay. There are some more soldiers in need of your attention on the table.”
“I quite understand,” I said and stood up. I moved to the table and began to load the latest batch of damaged soldiers into my sack. A thought struck me and I turned back to them. “I did see a doctor, though. A stranger in town.”
Mr Chase hurried to the door. “Where is he now?”
“Further down the hill. He was wearing cricket whites, and the young lady with him was dressed in brown velvet. Last I saw him he was standing by a police box.”
“A police box? There is no police box on that road.”
“There is now.”
Mr Chase had already left the room. With a slam of the front door, he was gone.
I spoke with Edward for a short while but it was hard to understand his slurred speech. Mrs Chase and the maid came and went with various tinctures and paraphernalia they thought might help. Everyone was at a loss as to the cause of young Edward’s recurring illness.
About twenty minutes later, Mr Chase returned with the two strangers, the young lady carrying a first aid kit. The man introduced himself only as the Doctor, and the young lady as Nyssa. He was an odd fellow, but he clearly knew what he was doing when he put on spectacles and commenced his examination of the boy.
“How long has he been like this?” the Doctor enquired, flashing an astoundingly small electric torch into the boy’s eyes.
“On and off, for about a year,” Mr Chase told him. “It started as a mild lethargy but grew progressively worse as time went on. Our own Doctor Grant has no idea what the problem is.”
“Stethoscope please, Nyssa.”
The young lady reached into the bag and pulled out the device. It seemed a great deal more sophisticated than the one Doctor Grant owned, and I wondered if this doctor hailed from London.
Mr Chase said, “Thank you for agreeing to see him, Doctor. We didn’t mean to interrupt your holiday but we were so worried. It was a good thing that police box had a first aid kit.”
“Yes, wasn’t it,” the Doctor agreed without looking up.
And a remarkably well equipped kit at that, I mused.
The Doctor straightened up and took off his spectacles. “I believe he’s been poisoned.”
I nearly choked. Mrs Chase gasped and dropped the bowl she was carrying. It didn’t break but the noise was startling. Mr Chase turned pale, and then red with fury.
“Who would do such a thing to my son?” he demanded.
The Doctor shook his head. “Not so much who, as what.”
“Doctor.” It was the girl, Nyssa who spoke. “I think he’s going to be sick.”
The Doctor grabbed the bowl from the floor and brought it up under Edward’s chin, just in time. I looked away, my heart going out to the poor lad.
When it was over, the Doctor wiped Edward’s face clean with a towel and passed the bowl to the maid, who took it away. With that, the Doctor stood up and began pacing around the room, examining everything.
“What are you doing, Doctor?” Mr Chase asked.
“I’m looking for the culprit, Mr Chase. Nyssa, help me will you?”
“Of course, Doctor. What am I looking for?”
The Doctor sighed and scratched his chin. “Peeling paint perhaps.”
Mrs Chase seemed more upbeat than I had seen her in months. “You really think you know what’s causing this, Doctor?” she asked him, her eyes imploring him to reply with good news.
“I have an idea, Mrs Chase.” He was now running his hands across the walls, scratching a fingernail against the smooth surface. “This is all in good condition.”
“Can we help?” I asked.
The Doctor turned to me, as if seeing me for the first time. His eyes shifted to the sack on my back and he took a step towards me. “What do you have in there, Mr er…?”
“Jessop,” I told him, opening the bag for him to see. He reached inside and pulled out a battered toy soldier, its once-brilliant red tunic now chipped and battered. He put on his glasses again and peered at the toy. “Ah ha!” he said.
“Master Edward has hundreds,” I explained. “He loves them. I can’t make and repair them fast enough.”
“And why do they need repair, hmm?” He asked, peering at me inquisitively.
“Because I play with them, Doctor,” a weak voice said. The Doctor sat down next to Edward, examining the toy closely.
“Interesting,” he said. “Teeth marks. Have you been chewing on these, Edward?”
“Yes, Doctor. When I want them to look injured, I use my teeth to make wounds.”
The Doctor reached out and opened Edward’s mouth. He gently pulled down his lower lip, exposing a thick black line around his gums.
“Well that confirms it,” the Doctor said, making sure we could all see the evidence. “Lead poisoning.”
“Lead?” Mr Chase looked aghast.
“In the paint,” the Doctor explained, holding up the toy again.
I was staggered. “Lead can do this?”
“Indeed yes, Mr Jessop. The next stage is coma, and then…” The Doctor tailed off.
I was shocked… speechless. I had to sit down lest I collapse to the floor. That Edward’s toys… my toys… had caused such sickness. I felt the blood drain from my face. The thumping of my heartbeat filled my ears; other sounds in the room seemed distant. I felt dizzy, as if I too had succumbed to the deadly toxins I had inflicted upon hundreds of children during all my years as a toymaker. Guilt wrapped its fingers around my throat and left me gasping for air.
The Doctor regarded me with some concern. “Are you all right, Mr Jessop?” he asked.
I waved away his concerns, managing a weak smile. I did not want his attention on me. I wanted to slip away and never be seen by a living soul ever again. I wished the walls would envelop me and hide me from sight forever.
Suddenly the Doctor sprang into action, making me jump. “Nyssa,” he instructed, “Run to the TARDIS and get me succimer tablets, some dimercaprol, and you’d better bring an I.V. drip.” The words he used made my head spin, but the girl clearly understood because she rushed away immediately. “Mr Jessop,” the Doctor continued, shaking me out of my own unpleasant world. “Please collect all the toy soldiers and take them away. Mrs Chase, I want you to move Edward to your bedroom. Mr Chase, you and the maid fetch mops and buckets…” There were more instructions but they were just noise to me now. I was aware that my cheeks were wet with tears. I wiped them with my sleeve before anyone might notice.
I heard Mrs Chase ask, “Will he recover, Doctor?” There was such anguish in her voice.
He placed a consoling hand on her shoulder. “I hope so, Mrs Chase.”
Everyone else set about their tasks. I stood shakily, trying to stop the room spinning. I grabbed the sack of broken soldiers and set about collecting every toy I could find. The task gave me focus, helped clear my mind. I noticed that everyone working to clean the room wore cloths over their mouths and noses, at Doctor’s insistence. It scared me how deadly the paint must be to go to such lengths.
As I left, I passed by Mr and Mrs Chase’s bedroom. I looked in to say goodbye, and there was the Doctor administering an injection of some solution contained in a bag, which he had tied to a hatstand. I have no idea what it was for, but I trusted he knew what he was doing.
Dr Grant arrived then, breathing heavily and apologizing for his tardiness.
They were all so rapt in Edward’s plight that they did not notice as I hefted the heavy sack of toys and quietly took my leave.
Yesterday I burned all the toys, every last item in my shop. Then I put notices up all over town, telling the people to destroy my toys immediately lest they suffer the same fate as Edward.
And now it is time for me to say goodbye. The one thing that has given my life meaning, making children happy, is the very thing that is making them ill. I cannot continue knowing that there may be dozens of children in the area who have been poisoned by me.
I am told that Edward is doing better, and that the Doctor and his young friend are staying at the Manor until he is well again. I admire their dedication. The man is a true saint, and not an unwitting chalice of evil, as I am.
So farewell to all my dear friends in Walcombe. I have loved this life, I have loved my work, but I cannot be allowed to live when I have brought such suffering on the people most dear to me.
Alfred J. Jessop
Richard Salter is a British writer and editor living near Toronto, Canada with his wife and two young sons. Once an editor of Myth Makers, he went on to edit the short story collection Short Trips: Transmissions for Big Finish Productions and is now working on World’s Collider, an apocalyptic anthology. He has sold over twenty short stories including tales in Solaris Rising, Warhammer: Gotrek & Felix The Anthology, Phobophobia and Machine of Death 2. Visit him online at www.richardsalter.com
Posted by Graeme on Thursday, December 8 at 10:38 pm