Behind the shadow stalked a blue suited figure, peak capped with a truncheon at the ready.
It stepped off the stairwell into the sudden glare of a torch beam.
“You’ll never take me alive, Copper!” came the screaming voice of the shadow. Before the sentence ended it was drowned out by rattling gunfire.
The blue suit fell backward, missed its footing and tumbled down one flight. Then it crashed through the banister and dropped the rest of the way in a hail of woodchip.
At ground level the twisted body twitched and clicked as it came to rest on the marble floor, crazing the stone.
“Dammit Zinc.” It breathed tortuously “this isn’t a game.”
And that’s when the light in its eyes faded to black.
The town square was quiet. The sun was high in the cloudless sky, throwing avenues and alleyways in to pits of darkness. Lamp posts and call boxes had black clones stretched across the sidewalk behind them. Loose paper fluttered in the pretence of a breeze.
Otherwise the township was still as night.
Into this came a delicate footstep. It was clear in the expectant air, between the bank and the malt shop. Somewhere in the shadow, a flash of lemon, a glimpse of rich blue denim. Another step, this one more cautious than the first, revealed the glitter of eyes in the contrasting light. Wary, uncertain eyes, one deep blue one almost turquoise.
Lily Yeats Wood placed her palms against the cool brickwork of the malt shop and peered down the high street.
Her brow furrowed, she stepped lightly over to the bench by the bus stop and gathered up the folded newspaper that lay there. With a searching sweep of her head she vanished back into the alley.
Behind the bank, past the car park, the mountains began. The very edge of the Rockies, crowning the horizon. Dappled in the shade of the tree line sat the solid blue shape of the TARDIS. At the doors stood its owner. For once he looked completely at home in the pioneer green velvet coat and silver waistcoat. He had his eyes closed and was gently inhaling the heavy scent of the forestry around him. He only jumped slightly when Lily pulled his sleeve and handed him the newspaper.
“Place looks deserted. Can’t tell you how long the paper’s been there.” She told him, peering around as Max and Xantist Kowarth rejoined them from the trees.
“Empty farmsteads on the slopes, all in clearings. Judging by the flags I’d say somewhere in the United States.” Max informed them.
“Lies, just east of the Rocky Mountains. Seems to be in some border dispute between states though.” The Doctor pointed at the newspaper.
“Nice place to settle, if you’re mining, but farmers?” Max looked around the cold grey of the mountainside.
“Max is right.” Xan muttered darkly “this earth is pretty useless for farming. Even the trees here smell wrong.”
“Wrong?” Lily asked confused.
“It is difficult to explain to human senses – they smell hollow.”
“Like a fungus inside them?” Max guessed. Xan nodded and knelt, running her hand over the ground.
“Whatever it is, it’s coming from the soil.”
“AHA!” The Doctor exclaimed wildly. He turned the paper around to show them what he’d found.
“Local man’s record breaking beard?” Lily guessed. The Doctor frowned and peered over the top of the newspaper, pointing at an advertisement below.
“No, no, no, no. Sale at Bakula’s, everything must go!”
“Sounds like they took everything a little literally.” Max joked
“Max, it’s a gardening goods shop.” The Dr deadpanned.
“Leave it with us.” Xan smiled, taking her husband’s hand and dragging him into town.
Max peered around him at the deserted street, checking windows as he walked along it. “Regular Marie Celeste, even the restaurant has meals prepared. Everyone’s just gone.”
“This must be the place” Xan pointed to a ramshackle wooden porch littered with tools, hardware and horse brasses. Max itched at his neck, something more than the noonday sun making him uncomfortable. He reached for Xan’s wrist as she stepped up to the building.
“I’ll go first, just in case.”
“It’s no use Doctor, I can’t see Ichi anywhere.” Lily reported as she stepped out of the TARDIS. She’d changed into a yellow and blue floral print dress that suited the weather a little more.
“She’ll turn up when she wants to be found, she did last time.” he reassured her with a smile.
“What was she doing so deep in to the TARDIS?” Lily asked as she watched him lock the doors. The Doctor coughed and sucked his lower lip.
“Exploring.” He told her unconvincingly. Offering his arm he led her into town after their friends
“This is odd.” Max noted as he scanned the shelves behind the shop counter.
“More odd than usual?” Xan laughed from her position amongst the shelves.
“Fishing supplies but all the bait boxes are empty.”
“Maybe the sale was popular?”
“Maybe...” Max frowned. “But there are no signs up, nothing to say the sale’s on at all.”
“Perhaps there’s more than one branch, or we’ve got the wrong shop.”
“Nope, this is Bakula’s, says so on the receipt book.”
The bell above the door rattled into life as the Doctor and Lily entered. Max grabbed the edges of his jacket with a grin and called over to them “Good afternoon, how can we help you?”
“I’d like to see whoever’s in charge” the Dr smiled at him.
“So would I.” Growled Xan as she walked towards them. She held a stuffed racoon in her arms. “What sort of monsters are we dealing with here?”
“In the case of the racoon, that’ll be human’s.” The Doctor sighed.
Lily had taken the ornament from Xan and hugged her in consolation. It was only as she moved to put it on a nearby bench that she noticed an inscription on the base.
“Caught locally by H.D Groover and son. July 10th 1952”
“Well, that paper was printed August 3rd 1952, so it says.” The Doctor pulled it from his jacket pocket again. Max reached across the counter and tapped a pile of newspapers on the customer side.
“Same edition. So whatever happened here was on or after the 3rd of August.”
“Caught locally...” Lily muttered under her breath.
“Max? What was that you were saying about bait?” Xan asked, an idea flashing across her face.
“Some of the bins are empty...”
“Would the humans of this time have used live bait?”
“No Racoons, no birds.” Lily nodded in understanding.
“All life in the area, gone? Is that what you think?” Max asked. “But there was food in the restaurant, it must have been instantaneous.”
“And leaving the buildings intact.” The Doctor mused.
“But what about the forest, that’s alive.”
“Barely.” Xan told her, “Remember what I said about the soil. The forest is possibly just working on some sort of reserve.”
“You said before, you felt something coming from the soil, could there be something underground?” Lily speculated.
“It was a figure of speech, I felt... something rotten.”
“Farmers not miners.” The Doctor pointed out. “I wonder if there was reason for that.”
From out in the street came the sound of gunfire. The four companions ran from the shop.