Written by Michael Storm
Based on a story by Warwick Gray
The oak panelled dining room was buzzing with activity, the ten people in the room were sitting at the vast dining table which was topped with detritus of a traditional Christmas feast. A half eaten goose took centreplace, with empty silver bowls of cooked vegetables huddled like ducklings around their mother and empty bottles of plonk were discarded. The ten people were immaculately dressed, albeit slightly disturbed by food stains. There were ten empty places at the table which were all distinctive by having the most left over food on them. The head of the table and proffered a toast to his compardres decanting ten large glasses of Sherry , “I would like to raise a toast to another successful round of the game. This was truly a fascinating round and I would like to look forward to the next round and thank Elsa for such a fascinating pitch.” A murmur of ‘here, here’ filled the air alongside the clinking of glasses. A well dressed woman, who clearly was the subject of the toast, rose from the table. “I would like to thank our host for his words. This round of the game has been such a rush. Ephemerals have such short existences, it is very amusing how much of their drive is detected to what is little more that a speck of sand in the vastness of eternity and their own shallow existences.” There was a murmur of agreement from the table.
A second speaker rose, “I suggest we retired to the lounge and continue the tradition set by the ephemeral cattle.” The group concurred and they pushed open the doors to a vast lounge which was dominated by a heavily decorated Christmas tree and a roaring log fire. The host stopped, this was unexpected, sitting on one of the chairs was a man whom would be described by the ephemeral cattle as middle aged. He was tall with grey hair which was slightly curled; he was sporting a pair of checked trousers and a long black coat with red lining which covered a plain white shirt.
“Who are you?” Asked the host. The man rose and smiled, “all of the ephemerals were disposed of.”
“You don’t know?” Quizzed the man.
“You are not an ephemeral… you walk in eternity but are not its master.”
“Nor are you, you merely ride eternity and exploit those who are lucky enough to be absent from it.”
“They are merely toys for those who are greater,” said the woman flatly.
“Oh I am well aware that is what you think, I encountered your kind many life times ago.”
“How can one who is not an Eternal survive the Game? ” asked the host.
“By understanding those whom you need so desperately to have an existence. Do you know what today is and it’s significance?”
“It is what the ephemeral humans call Christmas. It is a day which proves the worthless existence they are. By playing the game we give their lives meaning.”
“Meaning? Christmas is a time for celebration on many levels, to celebrate a change of direction in time. Variations of Christmas appear in all religions and all worlds across time and space.” Snapped the stranger, “you have empty minds and fail to see how celebrating the passage of time is a privilege you are denied.”
“Why would one celebrate the passing of time if one were confined by it?” Asked the woman.
The stranger smiled, “well I see you missed one aspect of the Christmas tradition.” He produced a small star much like the one on the Christmas tree. “Gift giving, this is a very special star for your tree.” He gestured to the host to take the star, the host extended his hand. “Merry Christmas from the Doctor,” the stranger said and dropped the star deliberately a few centimetres short of the hosts hand. The star fell and shattered on the floor, as it did so a ball of energy crackled from the remnants and filled the room with a bright light. Once the light disipated the host and his party began to stagger, their eyes reddened and their demeanour changed. Pain, the host felt pain his head. He felt lethargic and bloated…he felt. All on his own, these weren’t borrowed feelings from an ephemeral. He felt the heat of the fire for the first time and he stammered looking at the Doctor. “Wh-what have you-”
“-done?” Completed the Doctor. “I gave you all a gift. Your are all humans now, make the most of your short lives.” He added with a smile and strolled out.
The lounge was silent save for the ticking of the clock. The chimes struck midnight bringing in a new day…. No one in the party went to greet it.