This story first appeared in 2015’s unofficial, unauthorised, charity short story collection, ‘Temporal Logbook’ from Pencil Tip Publications.
A laboured groan overpowered the freezing air, as though the night itself was struggling for breath. Away, in a narrow, cobbled street, parallel to the imposing church which steadfastly commanded the skyline, a blue box blurred into view, illuminated against the blackness by the light atop its roof which proudly beaconed its arrival to all. But no-one was there to admire it. If there were, they would have heard the voices of two people growing louder, as the strained, metallic snore thudded to its clumsy conclusion.
The first voice was a young woman’s, a slight midlands tinge to her accent and bluntness to her vocabulary, currently being used to chastise her companion. The second voice belonged to a man whose own Estuary infused tones rose higher as he protested his innocence.
A door in the box swung open and the woman stormed out. Her long, dark hair swept behind her as she strode, the faded blue jeans, white top and black cardigan she wore, wholly unsuited to the cold night air she had stepped into. She was followed out of the box by a tall, thin man in a brown pinstriped suit, dragging on an impractically long overcoat as he pulled the door closed. Such was his haste he clattered into her, unaware that she had stopped, dead.
“Look, let’s start at the beginning, ok? I’m the Doctor, what’s your name?” the man quizzed, “Just tell me your name and let’s go from there.”
Standing in silence, she barely registered his clumsiness. He took a step back and joined her in gazing at their surroundings. They were in a confined street, lined on one side with the ornate stone carvings of a church wall and on the other with a succession of small shops and drinking dens. The street led to an open square a few yards away, also cobbled and framed with intricately decorated buildings. The far end of the square was dominated by a majestic tower, adorned with an elaborate clock, at once beautiful and imperious.
“I know this place,” the cardigan clad woman, softly intoned. “I came here on Violet Hamil’s Hen Do, Vicky Ford threw up in the corner under the clock tower. This is Prague.”
The man, the Doctor, nodded slowly. “Yeah”, he began, “listen I should probably explain…”
“Why bother?” she interrupted, “Will it change my being here?”
The Doctor shook his head, a little surprised at how philosophically this young stranger appeared to be accepting her situation, but before he could open his lips, she had moved hers once more.
“You spiked me?!” She spat the words in an anger that made the Doctor take a step back.
“Eh?” he queried, incredulous, “No, no, it’s nothing like that!”
His attempt at explanation was being met with little welcome by the furious woman, who stepped defiantly towards him, jabbing a finger in his chest.
“Well, if you think you’re trafficking me, you’ve got another thing coming, mate!” She brought her knee swiftly up, catching the Doctor unawares, causing him to exhale in painful surprise, before she turned and ran down the street towards the open square, her shoes clicking on the cobbled stones as she went.
She heard him scramble to his feet and give chase, shouting protestations behind her.
“Wait, just listen!”
But she was in no mood to listen and she turned and shouted back as the pair ran into the exposure of the large, empty square.
“I’ve got kids!” she yelled, “And a husband, he’ll come looking for me!”
They stopped running, both breathless, a few feet from each other, both wary of taking a step closer.
“Look”, said the Doctor, “This is all a big misunderstanding. Just come back to the TARDIS with me and I’ll get you back to your family.”
“The blue box, it’s back there, you can be home before you know it, honest, just calm down and let me explain.”
There was something about this strange man that almost made Sophie believe him. She opened her mouth to protest further, but, to her amazement, no angry tirade poured out, just words of quiet amazement, gently spoken.
“This is Prague.” She remained fixed on this ‘Doctor’s big, sad eyes, whispering the words so softly, they were almost drowned out by the rumbling that was approaching them. Who was this man? How did he bring her here? And why was she reaching out to take the hand of someone who had brought her so far away from her precious family? But nonetheless, she edged closer to him, a sense that everything would be okay beginning to chip away at her nervous fear.
Screeching tyres and bellowing voices tore her from her train of thought and she broke from the Doctor’s stare to find a stream of men pouring around them from four vehicles, crudely parked just feet away. The transports looked strange to her, as though out of place, but a lifetime of films told her they were military jeeps, no… Kübelwagens.
“Hands up! Stand still!” Voices screamed at the pair and Sophie found herself huddling against the Doctor, unconcerned by the protective hand that grasped hers. She squinted to avoid the glare of the first Kübelwagen’s headlights, illuminating them against the pitch night, but she could still make out the distinctive cut of the men’s olive uniforms and their steel, coal scuttle helmets. Metallic clicks sounded around them and she pressed closer to the stranger she had run from just moments before.
“Yeah…,” said the Doctor, “This is Prague, in 1942…”
Her eyes adjusting to the bright streams, Sophie peered at the group now encircling them, weapons raised and ready. The shock subsiding, she allowed her hand to slip from the Doctor’s and stepped forward, ignoring his hissed warning to the contrary.
Another man, imposingly tall and skeletally slim, stepped from the leading Kübelwagen and walked through the ranks of men to face her. She felt the Doctor appear behind her but she shook his hands from her shoulders and looked into the eyes of this newcomer while the conflict of emotions warring inside her escalated.
A stereotype made flesh stood before her, as though the antagonists of every cheesy adventure flick she had ever seen were personified before her now. The black uniform of a Standartenführer, partly hidden by the black leather overcoat, shining in the headlamp’s beams, the deathly pale flesh stretching cadaverously thin across a face half hidden by the peak of a cap, pulled down low: the perfect identikit of a Nazi villain. Her squabbling emotions bubbled uncontrollably until Sophie heard herself make a harsh and pointed laugh that smacked more of a sarcastic release of tension than any genuine hilarity.
“Oh, this is brilliant!” Sophie spat the words in a tone which betrayed her insincerity. “You’re the stag are you? And these are your mates? Off to find a bar to drink yourselves stupid in?”
“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea…” the Doctor began, but his words were cut off by a Sophie just getting into her stride.
“Sorry, I was forgetting, we’re in 1942, aren’t we? Well, I’m sorry ‘Doctor’, but you’re not Willy Wonka and that box of yours isn’t a great, glass elevator. I don’t know how the hell you got me here, but if you think I’m going to believe these are actual soldiers, then you’ve had one too many. My mate Gill has more facial hair than that one for a start!” She gestured to a young, terrified looking boy whose gun shook noticeably in his hands.
“And as for you,” she turned to the silent newcomer, standing ominously before them, “10 out of 10 for effort mate, but 20 out of 10 for cliché. Between you and me, I don’t think you’ll pull anyone tonight looking like an extra from Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
She gave a sarcastic wink to the tall man, but in an instant, realised the folly of her words as not a flicker of emotion displayed across his face. Instead, a long, painfully thin arm rose up into the air above her head, while the white glint of an eye flashed in her direction from the shadow beneath the cap.
Sophie flinched as the bony hand swung down at her and she closed her eyes, waiting for the pain. It never came. Instead, she opened her eyes to see the Doctor’s hand grasping the osseous arm, holding it in the air and forcing it away from her face.
“That’s not the way a gentleman behaves,” she heard her defender say, and, for a moment, she saw what she believed to be anger in its purest form in the eyes of her would-be abuser, before the expression on the corpse-like face twisted into a grotesque sneer.
Releasing his arm from the Doctor’s grip, the officer lifted his head and barked at one of his men.
The soldier who’s whisker-less face Sophie had taunted moments before, responded, his voice shaking as much as his hands.
The order came with clarity but devoid of passion, a matter of fact notice of termination. This time Sophie said nothing, not quite believing the new reality that was sinking into her senses. Instead, she willingly let this ‘Doctor’ step in front of her as he shouted his protestations.
“Now hold on, just a minute, this is all a big misunderstanding, just stop!”
The Officer shifted irritably, as though not used to his orders being met with procrastination, and he repeated the instruction with gusto, his head turning pointedly to the young man still shaking in the glare of the headlights, as though they were the spot-lights of a theatre in which a hostile audience awaited his nervous debut.
“No.” The word was spoken so softly it was all but drowned out by the sound of the boy’s gun striking the cobbles beneath their feet.
Sophie felt the relief of eyes tearing away from her and her strange companion and joining her own in resting on the boy who had just signed his own death warrant, the still quiet of the Czech night made eerie by the stunned silence of the assembled group. But instead of frothing with murderous resentment, the Officer merely stood straight and closed his eyes, as an altogether more blood curdling sound arose from nowhere, causing every heart among them to turn cold with dread.
A moan, as tortured as it was harrowing, echoed around the four gothic corners of the Old Town Square, causing all present to spin around, searching for its source.
“Doctor,” Sophie began, “It’s….”
“I know”, he answered, the protective arm back around her shoulders, “It’s coming from everywhere, all around us.”
And so it was; a solitary, despairing voice, moaning painfully into the night, coming from every angle, from every position in the square. Impossible, terrifying, but at least the guns were no longer on them, Sophie thought, instead they were spinning around as wildly as their owners and it surely wouldn’t be long before…
BANG! A frightened finger squeezed just a touch too tightly on a taught trigger and a bullet flew aimlessly into the night in a vain attempt to meet the source of the cry. At once, the noise stopped and, for a moment, so did the panic of the group, before, with relish, the howl returned, the mournful cry now a threatening roar, the despair replaced by anger and this time, the source was only too apparent.
All around them, dirt began to rise from the stone cobbles, the very dust lifting from unkempt window ledges, muck wrenching itself from under the finger nails of horrified soldiers. Each tiny molecule began to piece together with another, waste upon waste, building, constructing, until behind the Officer stood a monstrosity of even greater proportions.
Sophie stared in terror at the abomination; enormous in stature, its features vaguely present but formless in arrangement, its colour a powdery grey. All around her, rifles rose towards the creature, which gazed blankly back through ill-defined eyes, and as the first shots began to uselessly strike, it raised a huge arm into the air, swooping downwards with phenomenal force, the howling tones reaching an horrendous crescendo.
The first huddle of men lay dead on the floor, their brief cries of terrified objection drowned out by the increased fire of their still more frightened comrades. Before they had even fallen, the Officer was inside one of the Kübelwagens, an ashen-faced driver alongside him, speeding out of the square in the direction of the Charles Bridge. Sophie watched them, noting the odd expression on the Officer’s face; one of pride?
The Doctor freed her of her distraction, grabbing her by the arm.
“Come on!” He bounded over to another nearby Kübelwagen, dodging the swinging arms of the monstrosity and the stinging bullets of the rapidly depleting soldiers, pulling her with him and depositing her in the front seat.
“And you!” The words were directed at the young Private Immel, who had remained rooted to the spot since his earlier attack of conscience. The Doctor didn’t wait for a response, hauling the youngster into the driving seat before climbing into the back himself, and turning to face the monster as it inclined its head towards them.
“Drive!” shouted the Doctor and Sophie echoed him in agreement, but the boy shook his head.
“It won’t start!”
By now, the creature had discarded the last of the Company and was shuffling across the square towards them, its ever present howl accompanying it. Unwilling to go quietly, Sophie took out her mobile phone and stood up to hurl it at the creature, in a final show of petulant defiance, but stopped when she saw the Doctor reach into his own pocket. He produced a metallic, pen-like object, adorned at one end with a blue light, and pointed it towards the Kübelwagen’s dashboard. It made an electronic, whirring sound and, at once, the vehicle’s engine sparked into life. Private Immel wasted no time in slamming his foot to the accelerator, sending the car forward and the Doctor and Sophie back into a heap, just as the creature’s shuffling became an awkward jog and finally a lolloping run.
The trio sped along the narrow, gothic streets, pursued by the howling form, which, it seemed to Sophie, grew in agility and speed with each bound, steadily narrowing the gap between it and them. As the car skidded, clumsily towards the deserted Charles Bridge, it was almost upon them and Sophie felt herself drawn to it, pulling herself up and scrambling towards the back of the vehicle.
The Doctor blocked her path, kneeling with his hands outstretched. She couldn’t make out his words but she could tell he was talking to the creature, calmly with just a hint of sternness, as she would address her children when they objected to bedtime. Whatever words this Doctor was speaking were apparently effective as just as the creature had grabbed hold of the car’s rear bumper, lifting its back wheels from the ground, its other, giant hand raised, ready to deliver the killer blow, it stopped. The enormous, crude head tilted on its side, taking the Doctor in, while the howl dropped to a low, curious moan, but just as the three breathed an audible sigh of relief, the menace in the cry returned and the partly lowered fist raised once more in the air.
“No!” Sophie surprised herself by the tone of her exclamation, an order, not a plea, and was even more surprised by the result. The creature, as if noticing her for the first time, paused, fixing her with its full, blank gaze and then simply crumbled apart; each particle of grime, each lump of clay, separating from each other as quickly as they had assembled, leaving the battered Kübelwagen to thump unceremoniously to the floor.
The three sat, stunned, in the vehicle, covered in the dusty remnants of their erstwhile attacker, as the final gritty specs sprinkled over the cobbles beneath them.
“Well”, said the Doctor, “he wasn’t happy.”
Sophie was locked into incredulity and sat there, shaking her head. “Doctor, that…” she stopped herself from completing what sounded to her like a stupid sentence, but the Doctor nodded his encouragement.
“That was the Golem.” Young Private Immel said the words for her.
“But that’s impossible!” Sophie snapped, “The Golem is just a story for the tourists, something to stick on a T shirt!”
The Doctor looked at her, his wide eyes suddenly reassuring, yet no less dangerous. “As impossible as finding yourself in war-torn Prague, surrounded by Nazi soldiers? In this Universe, anything can happen; we just need to find out why this is happening here and now.”
“The Colonel made it happen,” Immel spoke again, as quietly as ever, his eyes nervous and still, “He’s obsessed with the Golem, everyone knows that. He wants to harness it as a weapon for the Reich.”
The Doctor laughed a harsh, contemptuous laugh. “No chance!” he scoffed, “raising a Golem requires phenomenal amounts of psychic energy; you don’t just wake up one day with a craving.”
The young Private was insistent, finally breaking his fixed stare ahead to focus on this strange, pinstriped man in his over-long coat.
“It’s true!” The ferocity in the voice shocked Sophie, who in a short time had grown used to Private Immel’s more timid inflections. The Doctor, it seemed, shared her surprise, so much so that he placed a calming hand on the young man’s shoulder, in a simple expression of belief.
“Then we need to find him”, he said, “Where are Headquarters, these days? Still up at the castle?”
“Yes,” said Immel, “But we’d be there quicker if you can get the engine started again with that magic wand of yours.”
“Screwdriver”, the Doctor countered, his voice defensive, accompanied by the now familiar whir of the Doctor’s device, “And your wish is my command!”
The journey was brief and Sophie stayed quiet for much of it, wholeheartedly accepting the reality of her situation but equally resentful of it. Her planned evening of getting the kiddo’s to bed then settling down in front of the telly with her bloke and a bottle of wine had been superseded by some crazy man’s desire to chase monsters around World War Two Europe. The ludicrousness of it all struck her and she laughed out loud, catching said crazy man’s attention, hitherto focussed on pointing his screwdriver at a handful of ‘Golem dust’.
“Okay?” The question was uncertainly posed, as though the prospect of an honest answer filled the Doctor with more dread than facing the Golem again. Sophie laughed again in response.
“Oh fine,” she said, “leaving aside the fact that a trip to the shop ended up with me being captured by a Nazi death squad and chased through the streets of Prague by an ancient monster alongside the front man in a Pulp tribute band, while my kids wonder where Mummy’s got to, yeah I’m great!”
“Okay then, good.” The Doctor looked back at his handful of gravel, either oblivious to her sarcasm or wary of prodding it further.
“Seriously Doctor,” Sophie’s silence was well and truly broken, “How do you even plan on getting in to see this ‘Colonel’ without us all being shot? He’s already tried to kill us remember?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” The Doctor retorted, an impish grin spreading across his face, “I’ve got a couple of tricks up my sleeve…”
Right on cue, the tired vehicle pulled up outside the entrance to Prague castle’s elaborate, gilded gates, one of the guards standing sentry stepping forward to meet it, while his comrade raised his weapon in preparation. The Doctor instantly took charge, impressing Sophie with his air of authority.
“At ease soldier!” His disarming smile was wasted on the sentry, who opened his mouth to begin his questions, but was stopped by the Doctor raising his hand.
“I know, I know, this is a restricted area, authorised personnel only etc. Well, I am Doctor Johann Schmidt and these are my colleagues and we’re here at the personal invitation of Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, to assist the Colonel with his work.”
Sophie saw him pull out a thin, black wallet from inside his suit pocket and flash it at the soldier, who examined it, grim faced.
“I think you’ll find my papers in order, so if you’ll tell me where I can find the Colonel, we’ll be on our way.”
The confidence Sophie had felt to this point began to slip away as she realised the sentry’s bleak expression had not changed and he was making no attempt to stand aside. After what seemed an age, she heard the sentry speak.
“Yes,” said the Doctor, “He called me two days ago, in Berlin, demanding my urgent presence on a matter of the highest importance.”
The butterflies in Sophie’s stomach flew at a new depth as the sentry slid his own weapon from his shoulder and pointed it at the group.
“Gruppenführer Heydrich has been dead for six months.”
The Doctor’s face went pale and his smile dipped at the edges.
“So”, he began, “that would make this January 194… 3…?”
The sentry nodded. The Doctor looked over his shoulder to the Kübelwagen, in which Sophie and Private Immel were watching the catastrophe unfold.
“Do me a favour”, he shouted, “Remind me to have a serious talk with the TARDIS chronometer when we get back.”
Sophie, repressing her urge to release a torrent of expletives, nodded her consent and closed her eyes, as she pressed her face into her palm.
Her posture was unchanged shortly after, as she struggled to halt the tears that were threatening to start trickling from her eyes and drip to the floor of the stone cell she was standing in. The man that had led her into this version of hell now lay a few feet away, unconscious on the stone floor; the victim of a rifle butt to the head after one failed untruth too many. Young Private Immel, deemed a traitor by his comrades in arms, joined them, crouching protectively by the Doctor’s side.
She turned her face from the wall back to the stricken man, this Doctor? As much as Sophie’s instincts had led her to run from him earlier, those same instincts told her that he was her best, her only chance of getting through any of this. Her watery gaze seemed to stimulate the young soldier to speak and he raised his head towards her.
“Who is he, this friend of yours?”
Sophie exhaled a contemptuous laugh. “He’s not my friend,” she said, “and I don’t know who he is, a Doctor, or so he says.”
The answer did nothing to discourage the young man, who pressed on with his questions, returning his eyes to the face of their prostrate and silent companion.
“What were you doing in the square with him?”
The very question Sophie had been asking herself these past couple of hours. She turned to look out of the cell window, at the moon peeping tauntingly around dark clouds in the night sky above, her voice soft, like a lost child, scared of asking directions.
“I’d just popped out to grab a bottle of milk while Rog got the kids’ tea ready, I’d have been there and back in two minutes, but there was an old fella who tripped up, just outside the shop. Zish, the owner, he came out to help, got him up to his feet and everything. He was ok, just a bit shaken up. Then I saw this blue box, just across the road, it’s strange, I’d never noticed it before, but the sign above the door said, ‘Police Public Call Box’, I thought it must be some kind of community outreach, PR thing. Anyway, I saw a bloke in a suit, him, go inside, so I went over to see if he could help get the old fella home. But when I went through the door… I don’t know, it was like I’d stepped into another world! He was there, standing at some weird, electric mushroom thing. He must have heard me close the door behind me because he span around and stared at me, then I heard this noise starting up and, I think I must have blacked out. I remember waking up with him looking down at me, and that’s when I ran to the door and found myself here, in… Prague.”
She stopped talking, hoping that hearing the story out loud would help her believe her own senses, but still she shook her head in incredulity. The young soldier, for his part, smiled faintly at the fantastical tale she had recounted, before shaking his own head and offering a smile.
“I’d just thought,” he whispered, “you were a prostitute”.
She laughed, for the first time in hours, but it soon gave way to her sadness. “I shouldn’t be here!” She shouted her anger at the stars, “I should be getting my babies ready for bed, in front of CBeebies, not sitting in a prison cell with a German solider and a kidnapper!”
“Oh,” the Doctor’s voice sounded, “I love CBeebies, CBeebies is brilliant!”
Sophie spun around to see the Doctor sat, bolt upright, staring straight at her, an enormous and somewhat goofy grin on his face, which quickly snapped into a frown as he scrambled to his feet.
“And I’m not a kidnapper thank you very much, I didn’t ask you to come stomping on board, did I?”
“Well how was I supposed to know that a box with ‘Police’ written all over it was really a time machine?” Sophie responded, angrily.
“Space and Time machine, actually,” he corrected, “no point in doing things by halves.”
“What, you fly off in that thing to Mars, or Jupiter or wherever?”
The Doctor looked hurt, “Of course! And incidentally, Jupiter isn’t its real name, it’s only you humans who call it Jupiter, the people there get really fed up with that.”
“Jupiter doesn’t have life,” Sophie was trying hard to keep up with this man’s hyperactive chattering; “It’s a gas giant.”
“No human life maybe”, the Doctor countered, “but there’s plenty of little gaseous people running around up there, well, swirling around really.”
“So what should we call it then?” Sophie asked, irritably, disinclined to play this insane game much longer.
The Doctor paused slightly in his tracks, clearing his throat before offering a quiet answer.
“Garry,” he said.
“The Planet Garry?” Sophie’s anger had turned to bemusement as she raised an eyebrow at the Doctor’s assertions. He responded by quickly changing the subject.
“Well!” His voice was defensive, once again, “The Universe is a finite place, only so many words you can fit in it, one or two are bound to show up now and then with multiple meanings, but never mind about that now,” he shouted, back to his whirlwind best, “we need to figure out what’s going on here! You!” he bellowed, spinning and pointing at the soldier who seemed to have receded as far as possible against the wall. “Private Immel, what’s your first name?”
“Uwe,” the youngster responded, nervously.
“Uwe,” the Doctor’s eyes were burrowing into the young man’s. “Tell me about the Golem.”
Uwe shrugged a little. “You’ve heard the stories, Doctor,” he said. “After the Maharal had used to the Golem to halt the persecution, it was hidden. People have searched for it for centuries without success, but now the Colonel…”
“Has found it,” finished the Doctor, “Just like that, oh, very convenient.”
Uwe ignored the Doctor’s cynicism and continued. “We’ve been hearing the cries we heard tonight for months now, each time louder, but we’ve only seen glimpses. The men think the Colonel is learning to control it.”
“Well he wasn’t doing a good job at controlling it tonight was he?” Sophie exclaimed, “It attacked his own men!”
The German nodded in agreement, narrowing his eyes in concentration. “But you, both of you, the Golem didn’t attack, it was almost listening to you, Doctor, and when it saw you”, he pointed to Sophie, “it just fell apart.”
The Doctor’s brow furrowed and he rubbed the back of his head. “Long story,” he began, “but it might have briefly recognised me, on a sub-conscious level. I gave the Maharal a hand mastering psychic energy control, back in the day. And if this ‘Colonel’ managed to raise it once, he can do it again.”
Uwe stared incredulously, “The Maharal of Prague?” he asked.
“Yeah”, the Doctor replied, “but it was years back, I was a different man then, the change is too great for a simple force like the Golem to fully comprehend; Rabbi Loew always said old clay face was more beauty than brains.”
Sophie gave a short laugh. “That’s a coincidence,” she said.
“Rabbi Loew; that’s my name too, Sophie Lowe.”
The Doctor walked over to her, the big, sad eyes apologetic.
“I didn’t ask your name,” he said, regret in his voice.
Sophie offered a smile in return. “It’s okay,” she said, “you did ask, but I wasn’t in the mood for answering and then things got kind of out of hand.”
“I should have asked again though,” the Doctor replied, refusing to be let off the hook. “I’m sorry.” His apology made, the Doctor’s eyes widened once more with his infectious mania. “Sophie Lowe!” he exclaimed, “Is that your married name?”
Sophie, struggling to adapt to this strange man’s mood swings, shook her head. “Maiden. I kept it after the wedding because…”
She gasped as she found herself suddenly caught in the Doctor’s enormous embrace.
“That’s brilliant!” he said, releasing her. “You’re the answer!”
“What do you mean? What answer?” her confusion had returned tenfold.
“Why the Golem stopped its attack; it only partially recognised me as a friend of its creator, but when it saw you, it saw family. You, Sophie Lowe, just might be descended from Rabbi Judah Loew, the Maharal of Prague, himself.”
Sophie stood for a moment, taking this new revelation in. “Might be?” she asked.
“Yes,” the Doctor answered.
“But you think so for sure?”
“Oh, but it is!” The Doctor was almost jumping on the spot in excitement at his discovery, “Maybe that’s why the TARDIS got confused, because it thought it recognised your genetic imprint. But it means that there’s still a chance of reaching the Golem and it isn’t just a huge bag of negative energy!”
“Negative energy?” The words came from Uwe, clearly unable to hide the confusion on his face.
“Lots of it!” answered the Doctor, “that’s all a golem is: kinetic emotion! A super-concentrated field of negative emotional energy, encased within a malleable physical form. The Maharal was able to harness the negative, resentful emotional energy created by the oppression of his people and channel it into the shape he made for it, but he also provided it with a positive focus, a mission: the protection of his race. When the mission was over it lay dormant until now.”
“Until the Colonel awakened it,” Uwe finished.
“But this time it doesn’t have a mission, there’s no ‘Maharal’ to give it one,” Sophie interjected.
“Exactly,” the Doctor agreed, “and without a focus, a golem is just a creature of vengeance, a phenomenally powerful and utterly random force for chaos.”
The voice came from behind the trio and they spun around to see the Colonel stood in the doorway to the cell, flanked by gun-toting guards. Sophie once more felt the Doctor’s protective arm around her shoulder and saw him reach out his other hand to gently guide Uwe, who had leapt in front of the two of them, back behind him.
“That’s three times tonight I’ve been at the end of a gun barrel,” Sophie whispered to the Doctor, “Regular pastime of yours?”
The Doctor shot her a look, then stepped forward, hands in suit pockets, to stand inches before the Colonel. “So that’s it is it?” he began, his voice quiet and measured. “You raised the Golem and now you’re content to let it stomp around Europe, bringing terror to millions; oh the irony…”
“Irony?” Sophie quizzed.
“Think about it,” replied the Doctor. “The Golem was created as the ultimate protection for Rabbi Loew’s people, and now here it is, being pressed into the service of their enemies.”
The Doctor’s words had been met thus far by a silent and unsettling grin. But now he broke his self-imposed silence with a terse, brief response.
“The Golem does not belong to the Führer,” he hissed. “It is mine.”
Sophie was unimpressed and stepped forward to join her new companion. “What does it matter which of you controls it? One Nazi is the same as another.”
“Leave the Nazism to the likes of your friend down there”, the Colonel spat his response and gestured towards Uwe, who instantly sprung forward in retaliation.
“I am no Nazi!” he shouted his answer, his words louder than any Sophie had heard him speak before. “They took me from my family, my parents; dressed me in this uniform and had me march through my neighbour’s countries!”
“Then you are a coward for betraying your convictions!” The Colonel’s own voice rose to drown out the young conscript’s, though his body remained perfectly still. Uwe sank back, wounded by the words, though the anger remained on his face.
“Don’t rise to it,” the Doctor said. “He’s just trying to intimidate you, make you scared.”
“He’s doing a good job,” whispered Sophie.
“Of course he is! That’s what he’s good at, isn’t it?” The Doctor’s eyes were fixed onto the Colonel’s now, his stare relentless and cold.
“That’s how you found the Golem. We hid it too well to ever be found by any normal person, we hid it not as a physical body, but as an echo of pure kinetic emotion, a psychic remnant, only retrievable by an immensely refined ability; the kind which comes naturally to your species.”
The Doctor’s voice was quiet and, Sophie thought, devoid of any of the warmth she had grown accustomed to in this short time.
“You’re a Percolian.”
“What?” Sophie stared at the smiling Colonel, desperate to understand the Doctor’s words.
“A Percolian, an alien race of emotional leeches with a tremendous psychic sensitivity, from a planet, oh, far, far away from here. This one feeds on fear, and terror. But he doesn’t have to feed here anymore.”
He stepped, still closer to the pale, rigid officer. “Leave these people and this planet alone and I’ll take you back home, I promise, you know I’m telling the truth. Just leave them be.”
A tortuous silence hung between them, broken eventually by the Colonel’s ear splitting laughter.
“Back there?” He grinned in disbelief at the Doctor. “What is there for me back there, Doctor, except ostracism and contempt? Nothing. Those of my kind who feed on love, on joy, grow fatter still on the unjust praise they receive, but I? Those of us who crave the succulence of negative emotion are cast out, forced to live on the rationed scraps of each other’s despair. Better to stay here, trapped but always satisfied in a war-ravaged world.”
The Doctor shook his head, sadly. “This war won’t last forever. No matter how bad things get, these people’s hope will always outweigh their fear.”
“Precisely why I awoke the Golem.” The Colonel spat the words at the Doctor. “When I first heard the stories, I thought them fairy tales, but then I sensed it, Doctor, I sensed it! And in time, I learned to draw the emotional residue you and your ‘Maharal’ had left scattered in this city, and control it. Oh, it resisted at first, but I grew stronger. And now I can scarcely believe my good fortune! To be trapped in a world at war would satisfy my hunger, but in a world where such a creature exists, and the others I will learn to raise? The fear will feed me for all eternity. This world, Doctor, is to become my own, private banquet hall, and I will not allow you or your little friends to spoil my meal.”
The Colonel closed his eyes and, around them, the room began to crack and shake. Just as in the square, dust and debris began to rise from the floor, lift away from their clothes and sweep through the windows, as if magnetically drawn to the Colonel, in front of whom the dirt began to take shape.
The trio dropped back against the wall as the now familiar moan began to sound and the creature became more solid with each second. But the Colonel had miscalculated. The cell in which they stood was narrow and cramped, with none of the openness afforded by the Old Town Square. The Golem was steeped, its bent back pressing against the cell’s low ceiling. The moan increasing in ferocity, the creature swung its huge fists against the wall to its side, desperately trying to make room for itself, pushing bricks and slabs from the wall with each blow.
As they watched, the east wall of the cell crumbled and the Golem howled louder as chunks of the ceiling began to fall loose above it, the Colonel had long since vacated the room. Sophie felt the Doctor grabbing her hand and pushing her through the hole, young Uwe quickly following.
“Come on, we’ve got to move!” The Doctor was shouting over the sound of falling rubble. “The Percolian is trying to re-establish control and bricks won’t stop old clay face forever!”
“But where are we going?” Sophie shouted back.
“We have to get to the epicentre!” he said, pulling Sophie onto the back of an army motorcycle, into the sidecar of which he had already deposited the bemused Uwe. “Back into Old Town, that’s where we shrouded most of the emotional residue and where we’ll have the best chance of re-establishing control!”
“We?” Sophie shouted over the roar of the engine.
“You”, corrected the Doctor, “Allons-y!”
The Doctor pressed the accelerator and smashed through the Castle gates, skilfully avoiding both the sentries and their gunfire, and sped downwards through the streets, across the bridge and back into the bosom of Old Town. All three could hear the Golem’s cries growing louder and the sound of rhythmic thumping accompanied by the screech of Kübelwagen tyres behind them, alerted them to their hunter’s approach.
Skidding into the square, the Doctor brought the bike to a halt and climbed off, a frantic look on his face. “Into the clock tower,” he ordered, “That was where the Maharal first began to harness the energy, it’ll be easier for Sophie to establish a connection there.”
“But I don’t know what to do!” Sophie continued her protestations as they swiftly climbed the steep stone steps to the top of the tower, from where they saw the creature thundering into the Square, alongside the Colonel in his transport. As if instinctively, they both turned their heads upwards, staring, Sophie thought, directly into her eyes. The Colonel raced to the door to ascend the steps while the Golem gripped the ancient stone walls of the tower and began to haul itself up to where the trio stood.
Uwe ran to the hatch, to slow the Colonel’s entry, while the Doctor took Sophie by the hand.
“Okay, Sophie, it’s up to you, you can do this.”
“But I can’t!” tears were in her eyes and she screamed her words to the Doctor.
“Just focus!” the Doctor was insistent. “Focus on family. I know you’re scared, I took you away from your kids, and I’m sorry, but that creature is family too and it’ll listen to you.”
His pleas were interrupted by the Golem heaving itself through the stone arches, smashing several on its way to leave a precarious hole in the top of the tower.
Uwe ran to his friends, the creature catching him a glancing blow as he did so, knocking him casually to the side where he lay still. The Doctor ran to his aid, but was clasped by the Golem and pressed high against the wall.
“I can taste your fear, Doctor.” The Colonel came through the unguarded hatch and stood by his monster, “and I intend to savour it.”
The Doctor wheezed as the Golem’s giant hand began to constrict, pushing the breath from his lungs and turning his face red. Sophie watched in horror, desperately trying to tap into whatever abilities the Doctor insisted she had, but could find nothing. And then, as she saw the Doctor’s eyes fluttering, they focused on her. A word came into her head, just one word, and she spoke it.
The Golem dropped the Doctor to the floor. It turned and looked through its blank eyes at her, its head once more tilted to one side
“It’s okay, Jozef,” Sophie continued, softly, “Everything will be all right.”
To the surprise of everyone, the Golem, somehow smaller, calmer, shuffled across to the young woman and knelt before her; she crouched down to touch its cold, powdery head as its moan became almost a tired purr.
Rage erupted from the Colonel and he closed his eyes, straining to re-assert control. The Golem began to rock in agonised confusion and Sophie felt the connection she had made begin to slip away. She looked, desperately, at the Doctor for help, but he was still struggling to his feet after the Golem’s attack and the creature was falling further out of her reach with each second.
A dull green blur shot past her eyes, and she saw the revived Uwe, racing towards the Colonel. The young conscript grabbed the surprised Percolian by the lapels and hissed into his face.
“You want to feed on fear? Feed on your own.” And as the Doctor and Sophie screamed and reached for him, Uwe pulled the alien Officer down, over the edge of the hole made moments earlier by the Golem, plummeting down to the cobbles far below.
Sophie, tears streaming down her face, ran to the edge in vain hope that the boy had survived, but it was useless. She turned back to see the Doctor, kneeling beside the prostrate Golem, stroking its dusty cheek.
“Time to rest, old friend,” the Doctor whispered, “Go and rest with Rabbi Loew.”
The creature turned its head once more towards Sophie, its face, she could have sworn, holding an ill-formed smile, before it crumbled, once more and forever, into dust.
Rain began to pour as the Doctor and Sophie descended the steps, washing away all trace of the Golem’s existence, the military arriving soon after to restore their version of order. The pair hung in the shadows, undetected, as the soldiers attended to the bodies of the alien Colonel and the young hero who had saved the day. Sophie sniffed back her tears and whispered a silent “goodbye” to the boy she had barely known. The Doctor’s expression remained grim as he led her back to the TARDIS.
“Doctor,” Sophie began as the neared the box, “How did that name, Jozef, get into my head?”
“Because you tapped into the energy,” he replied, still preoccupied by their fallen friend, “and I gave you a little telepathic nudge. That’s what Rabbi Loew called the Golem. Using its name helped it to home in on your psychic projection.”
“So I’ve got special powers or something now?”
The Doctor offered a weak, distracted smile. “Don’t worry, they were triggered by your proximity to the Golem and the Percolian, they’ll lay dormant in your mind from now on.”
“Oh, good.” Sophie tried hard to mask her disappointment. She looked back, sadly to the square, now crawling once more with occupying soldiers. The Doctor noticed her expression.
“This is 1943,” the Doctor sighed, “there’s still a long time to go before this city is free again. Nazis, Communists; everyone wants their turn playing god. But don’t worry,” he said, “by your time, this place will be back to being all beer and goulash again.”
He grinned at her, a wide grin full of confidence, mischief and hope, as he reached into his pocket for the TARDIS key. “What do you say? One more trip?”
Sophie grimaced. “You see, Doctor,” she began, before he cut her off with a curt nod of understanding, the smile vanishing.
“It’s not that I don’t want to,” she continued, “but if I’m not home, the kids, Rog…
“No, that’s fine” the Doctor said, with an inflection implying it was anything but. “Back home then, no problem, just in time for tea and telly.”
He opened the door and stepped inside, poking his head back out when she didn’t follow.
“I suppose”, she said, with a mischievous grin of her own, “that just so long as I’m back for the kid’s bedtime?”
“Don’t worry”, he beamed, taking her by the hand as she stepped into the time ship, “I’ll have you back before you left.”