Luke Smith and Pieter Rothstein walked leisurely up Bannerman Road. It was the morning of December twenty-ninth, one of the blank days in the calendar between Christmas and New Year when a feeling of anti-climax could easily set in. Perhaps that, and the fact that they had been indoors enjoying various kinds of Christmas activity since Christmas Eve afternoon was part of the reason the two young men had volunteered to walk to the nearest Aldi to pick up milk, bread and other essential foodstuffs, a boring but essential task that also got them out in the fresh air.
It was a cold morning, the sky a clear, icy blue and the leafy suburban hedgerows of Ealing white with frost even though the sun was well up. Luke liked that kind of day. It was ‘winter’ to him, as a Londoner. Pieter regretted the lack of snow.
“My home is surrounded by deep snow at this time of year,” he pointed out. “It is much healthier than the city.”
“I know, but we’re going to your home for the semester break in February. Mum wanted me to be here for Christmas. Sky is growing up fast, and family Christmases will get harder in a few years. She wanted one absolute chance of having us all together… including you. She knows you are part of the package these days.”
“Your mother is very – motherly, and a good Christmas host. I only miss the snow.” Peter admitted.
“One thing you don’t get in the mountains of Bavaria is that awful smell of fireworks in the air,” Luke added with a disgusted noise in his throat. “Why do people HAVE to let them off every night from Christmas to New Year? It’s a noise nuisance and an environmental menace.”
“It is the modern way to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, I think,” Pieter answered. “But… I don’t think… that smell… it is not fireworks. It is more like…”
“There’s a house on fire!” Luke spotted the black smoke coming from the direction of his own home. He started to run. Pieter raced after him.
It wasn’t number thirteen. It was the house next door, beyond the thick, tall box hedges that gave the two detached Edwardian villas with mock-Tudor detailing on the eaves privacy from each other. As he drew near he heard a woman crying and pounding on the front door.
“Is somebody inside?” he asked the woman. Pieter drew her aside gently as Luke shoulder-barged the door and got a bruised upper arm for his pains.
“Ana,” said the woman, an eastern European accent obvious even in that short word. “And her baby.”
“You have no key?” Pieter asked. The woman shook her head and said something in a foreign language that, despite speaking English and his native German, meant nothing to him. The gist of her wild sign language was that she was locked out and Ana locked in and the house was on fire.
Luke redoubled his efforts to break open the door. Meanwhile other people were alerted to the crisis. Clyde Langer came from across the road at the Chandra house followed by Mrs Chandra. Rani had rushed next door and came a few seconds later with Sarah-Jane. Sky tried to follow her, but Sarah-Jane sent her back home in tones that brooked no refusal.
“I have a key, sort of,” Sarah-Jane said, keeping her sonic screwdriver in the palm of her hand as she applied it to the lock. The door sprang open and Luke sprang forward despite Sarah-Jane’s anxious cry. More acrid smoke poured from the door.
“The fire brigade are coming,” Mr Chandra said as he joined his wife. He turned to the crying woman. “Mrs Bogomil, isn’t it? Your son is in the third year.”
It was a strange fact that she had lived in Bannerman Road for more than a year, but Mr Chandra only knew her through her son who went to his school. Those high hedges for privacy also served to cut people off from each other and made each house an island of its own.
“Milos is with his father, in Finchley,” Mrs Bogomil answered him tearfully. “My sister, Ana, and her child… they are inside.”
Sarah-Jane bit her lip fearfully. Not only her own son’s life was in danger but two more innocent souls. Her heart thumped. The siren scream of a fire engine coming closer and the voyeuristic murmurings of other neighbours who had come to see what was happening all seemed very far away compared to that internal drumbeat.
Then Luke appeared at the door. He was half-carrying, half-dragging a choking woman who herself clung to a bundle wrapped in yellow crochet. Mrs Chandra took the baby from her and examined it carefully while Mr Chandra made sure the woman was breathing properly. Sarah-Jane hugged her son so tightly that it fell to Pieter to remind her that he might need some fresh air after his ordeal.
Two London Fire Brigade officers gave everyone involved, including the very small baby, oxygen, while their colleagues brought the fire under control. They wanted to call an ambulance and take the mother and baby to hospital, but Ana started to remonstrate in her own language.
“She’s scared to go to hospital,” Sarah-Jane explained. “She is in Britain on a tourist visa and she thinks that her baby will be taken away from her if the authorities come to know about it.”
Sarah-Jane talked to Ana and her sister, Mrs Nina Bogomil, in fluent Serbian, thanks to the background radiation of the TARDIS which still had that benign and useful translation effect years after her travels were over. She calmed them both, but Ana was adamant that she could not go to hospital.
“I’ll take them all to my house,” Sarah-Jane told the fire officer. “They’ll be safe there, and if anyone starts presenting symptoms I can call my own GP. He’ll come out to me. He thinks I’m a frail old woman who needs his attention.”
The fire officer half smiled. He wouldn’t like to guess Sarah-Jane’s age, but frail and old didn’t seem words to apply to her. She and Rani guided the two distressed women through the crowd of onlookers. Mrs Chandra carried the baby. Pieter and Clyde kept close to Luke and looked at him sharply when he coughed twice.
Inside Thirteen Bannerman Road was a haven of peace. Sarah-Jane encouraged the women to sit in the warm drawing room by the roaring wood fire. The baby was restored to its mother. Rani and Clyde quietly went to make a large pot of tea and Sky fetched a box of biscuits left over from the Christmas treats.
“The baby can’t be more than three days old,” Mrs Chandra commented as the simple domesticity of tea and biscuits worked upon the women. “I didn’t know anyone was expecting in the street. I’d have brought flowers.”
“She was born on Christmas Day,” Nina said.
“Oh, lovely,” Mrs Chandra answered in her usual effusive way bolstered by the broodiness of a woman whose daughter was old enough to make her a grandmother if she wasn’t insisting on a career first.
“No,” Ana managed. “It is….” She said a long word in her own language that would require special character sets on a word processor.
“A curse?” Sarah-Jane’s brow furrowed. She examined her translation. “No, of course it isn’t. A baby is a blessing at any time. A Christmas baby.…”
The two Serbian women spoke rapidly in their own language, frequently overlapping each other. Sarah-Jane almost missed some of what they were saying. Even when she understood the words she found it difficult, despite her experience of strange and unusual things, to quite believe it.
“No, no,” she insisted. “Your baby is beautiful. You must not let superstitions like that spoil your joy. Please don’t be afraid to love her.”
Ana clung to the baby as if loving her was not the problem, but she looked desperately unhappy. Both women did. A constant supply of old-fashioned English tea and biscuits gave them a little relief, but then the chief fire officer and one of his colleagues came to the house.
“The cause of the fire was an overlarge Christmas log on a hearth really only made for small, controlled coal fires and a chimney that should have been swept regularly,” he said. “The master bedroom and drawing room are badly burnt but the rest of the house is just smoke damage. It might have been much worse. You should have had smoke alarms. If your neighbours had not been alert….”
Nina Bogomil seemed to take those points on board but her greatest anxiety was about going home.
“I’m afraid the house isn’t really habitable at present,” the fire chief told her. “The power is off and there is water everywhere. Even the unaffected rooms will smell unpleasant for days. I suggest one of you goes over with my colleague to secure the house now we’re done and perhaps collect some clothes, toiletries… things for the baby. If….”
He looked meaningfully at Sarah-Jane who was quick to make a decision.
“Of course, absolutely, they must all stay here, at least overnight, if not for a bit longer. No problem. I’ll go with Mrs Bogomil. Rani, Sky, why don’t you make up beds in the spare room for them both. I’m sure they could do with an afternoon’s sleep after all this.”
The fire chief was satisfied by that. His colleague escorted Sarah-Jane and Nina to the stricken house. They returned a half an hour later with clothes hastily stuffed in carrier bags and a large and slightly soot-stained wall crucifix that Nina insisted on bringing with her.
Sarah-Jane let her hang the crucifix in the spare bedroom. Ana, with the baby tucked beside her in the bed, looked at it and crossed herself before allowing herself to sleep. Nina also crossed herself before murmuring a prayer and lying down under the cool, fresh sheets and warm duvet.
Having seen them settled Sarah-Jane returned to her drawing room where everyone was still drinking tea and talking about what a hero Luke had been and how lucky the family had been to escape the fire.
“Sky, Pieter, would you two make another pot of tea,” she said. “Rani, grab Sky’s laptop there and look up the word ‘Kallikantzaros’. I’m not quite sure of the spelling. Google should sort it out.”
Rani did so. She exclaimed twice at the search results, but kept her findings to herself until everyone had a fresh cup of tea.
Tea was normal. It was sense and order in a world that could be anything but sensible and ordered.
“What did you find?” Clyde asked, unable to contain himself.
“Spelt with two ‘c’s’, Callicantzaros is a Greek female vampire who can only kill during the Twelve Days of Christmas – between Christmas Day and Epiphany, January Sixth… the day Christmas decorations come down. But I don’t think that’s what Ana and Nina are scared of. Spelt with two ‘k’s’ as Kallikantzaros, we have this.”
She proceeded to read aloud the main points of the Wikipedia entry for Kallikantzaros, which contained the same details every other page had contained, but had better grammar and spelling.
“The kallikantzaros is a malevolent goblin in south-eastern European and Anatolian folklore. Stories about the kallikantzaros or its equivalents can be found in Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Turkey. Kallikantzaroi are believed to dwell underground but come to the surface during the twelve days of Christmas, from 25 December to 6 January (from the winter solstice for a fortnight during which time the sun ceases its seasonal movement).”
“The thing about the sun’s movement ceasing during that time goes back before Christmas existed,” Luke pointed out. “The people who built Stonehenge knew that the position at sunset ‘froze’ around the solstice. So did the Incans at Machu Picchu, though that’s fifteenth century, after Christianity began.”
“It’s perfectly well known that Christmas time was set to coincide with the pagan solstice early in the beginnings of Christian worship,” Pieter added.
Rani nodded and went on reading.
“There’s a load of stuff about Greece and Turkey and their traditions, but here’s what it says about Serbian belief in the kallikantzaroi.”
“In Serbian Christmas traditions, the Twelve Days of Christmas were called the ‘unbaptized days’ and were considered a time when demonic forces of all kinds were believed to be more active and dangerous than usual. According to belief, any child born during the twelve days of Christmas was in danger of transforming to a kallikantzaros during each Christmas season, and that the creatures would come for the child to make it one of their own. It was believed that the antidote to this transformation was to bind the baby in tresses of garlic or straw, or to singe the child's toenails.”
“No!” It was Mrs Chandra who was most outraged by that idea. “Oh… please tell me they didn’t set the house on fire trying to burn the baby’s feet. If that’s what happened… I’m going to the police, the social services… that’s just… horrible.”
“I don’t think so,” Rani assured her mother. “There’s some stuff here about ways to keep the kallikantzaroi at bay by burning a great log constantly from Christmas day to Epiphany. It’s where the idea of the Yule log comes from.”
“No, it does not,” Pieter argued. “That is a northern European tradition for good luck, not a southern one for evil things. The word ‘Yule’ is Germanic’.”
“Well, you can amend the Wikipedia page,” Rani told him. “But I suppose these traditions get all mixed up. The unbaptised babies in this time puts me in mind of King Herod and the babies of Bethlehem. Its all mingled about. There’s also a thing about putting a black cross on the door….”
“There WAS a cross on the door,” Luke noted. “I didn’t think about it at the time. I was more interested in getting it open.”
“The smoke had made such a mess I couldn’t see anything when I went back afterwards,” Sarah-Jane admitted.
“There’s another thing,” Rani continued. “This one is really daft. You can keep a Kallikantzaros out of your house by putting a colander on the doorstep. Apparently, they have an urge to count the holes, but they can’t say ‘three’ which is a holy number so keep going back to ‘one’ until the sun comes up and kills them.”
This was absurd compared to the darker things about unbaptised babies and malevolent goblins. Everyone laughed in a kind of relief from the tension.
“But, really,” Gita Chandra said as she wiped tears of laughter from her eyes. “Those two women really believe all that? They’re scared for that poor little baby?”
“From what I could gather,” Sarah-Jane explained. “It is why Ana came from Serbia to stay with her sister. She knew her baby was due in the ‘unbaptised’ days. She’s a single mum, on top of all. Finding a priest to give baptism in Serbia isn’t easy because of that. They’re still a bit old-fashioned there about babies born out of wedlock. But she thought she would be safe here. Just in case she tried the big Yule log and the cross on the door. Possibly there’s a colander on the back step. I didn’t look.”
“The poor baby,” Gita sighed.
“It isn’t even named, yet. Just ‘baby’. They take the ‘unbaptised’ bit very seriously.”
“But it IS all nonsense?” Sky asked. “It has to be. Christmas is a happy time, not dark and scary.”
“Not always,” Pieter told her. “My parents used to warn me about the Krampus taking naughty children. Your British Father Christmas is much jollier.”
“Yes, he is, and I’m sticking with him,” Sky insisted. “He’ll keep us all safe.”
“Father Christmas is back at the North Pole, now,” Clyde said. “We may be on our own if the Kallikantzaroi turn up.”
“The Kallikantzaroi are NOT turning up,” Sarah-Jane insisted. “I just thought you all should know why the two ladies were so upset, and why they accidentally set their house on fire. I thought it would help us to understand their culture which is so very different from our British one.”
Two generations back, Clyde’s family were Caribbean and Rani’s were Indian, but both were grateful for the comfort of ‘British’ culture in this context.
Gita Chandra took her daughter and Clyde back across the road to their post-war house where the chimney was converted to a flue for the central heating system. There was no room for a Yule log even if they wanted one. Sarah-Jane put more smokeless coal on the open fire in her drawing room and placed a guard around it. She didn’t usually bother, but fire safety was appropriate today.
Everyone went about their quiet activities on a day free from festive parties or frivolity and the prospect of ‘leftovers’ for the evening meal.
A little after four o’clock, as it was starting to get dark, Sarah-Jane was disturbed by noises at the front door. She went to investigate and found Nina Bogomil with a thick black crayon trying to draw a cross on the woodwork. The paint was glossy and the crayon kept slipping, but she persisted.
“I would rather you didn’t,” she said to her guest. “But if it makes you feel better, then all right. Come along to the kitchen. I’ll make turkey sandwiches for everyone. Later I was thinking of a goulash. I still have half a pork joint from Boxing Day that would be nice spiced up with paprika and some sweet peppers for colour and texture….”
Satisfied that the front door was secure against evil beings of the night, Nina came with her to the kitchen and helped with the preparation of the sandwiches while explaining in both English and Serbian some western European misconceptions about how a goulash was made. Sweet peppers were at least one heresy Sarah-Jane had been committing for many years.
The evening meal was cooking nicely in an automatic multi-cooker that wouldn’t burn on the bottom when a hammering on the cross-protected front door disturbed the domestic normality. Luke reached it first and admitted Clyde, Rani and Mr and Mrs Chandra.
“It’s the kali… Kallik… those THINGS,’ Gita declared. “They’re ripping the kitchen to pieces.”
“The kallikantzaroi?” Sarah-Jane queried. “Are you sure?”
“I don’t know what it is,” Mr Chandra answered her. Gita was talking too fast to make any sense. “Giant rats or something. Maybe urban foxes or… feral cats. The cold must have driven them in. I’m sorry to bother you, Miss Smith, but Gita insisted that you knew what to do.”
Mr Chandra was a modern thinking, practical man. Despite living opposite Sarah-Jane for several years and being mixed up in all sorts of odd goings on, he didn’t believe in alien invasions and was even more sceptical about eastern European goblins.
“Nasty foot high things with pointy ears and hairy legs like goats,” Rani answered. “They smell like the dung heap at London Zoo and tried to bite me.”
Nina and Ana both screamed in horror when they heard and crossed themselves over and over again. Gita Chandra listened in astonishment as they told her why her house had been attacked.
“Because I looked after that poor little baby for a few minutes this afternoon?” she echoed. “That’s… ridiculous.”
“You should have protected your house,” Nina added. “The Holy cross should have been put on the door.”
“We’re HINDU!” Gita exclaimed. “WHY would we want to put crosses on anything?”
Nina’s reply was hardly tactful. Gita was outraged.
“There is no such thing as a ‘one true religion on Earth.’ Have you never heard of diversity? Besides, you didn’t care that I was a heathen when you were choking on smoke and somebody had to look after your baby.”
“This doesn’t help anyone,” Sarah-Jane said tactfully. “Where are the boys?”
Luke, Pieter and Clyde were missing from the chaos. Sky tentatively suggested that they had gone across the road to the Chandra house.
“The boys know how to catch rats?” Mr Chandra asked. Nothing that had been said around him about kallikantzaroi, black crosses, the unbaptised, or even Nina Bogomil’s failure to grasp the concept of world religion had sunk in with him. All he knew was that some sort of animals had got into his house. He was complaining about the local council and the way the bins hadn’t been properly emptied before the Christmas holiday, allowing feral creatures to forage.
He just couldn’t see what was happening any other way. It didn’t matter how often it was explained to him.
“Pieter does,” Sky answered him. “Foxes and stuff. They have trouble with those all the time in Bavaria. He knows how to trap them and dispose of them… humanely.”
“I ought to help,” Haresh suggested. “It is hardly fair that the boys should be left to do that by themselves.”
“Leave them to it,” Sarah-Jane answered him. “Pieter is a very smart boy. And as Sky said, they do this all the time where he comes from.”
Rani was worried, but whether that was because of any danger the boys might be in or because her home was being destroyed by the kallikantzaroi, nobody, not even herself, was quite sure.
It was an hour before the three young men crossed the road again. Their clothes were torn and covered in something black and foul smelling. Luke rushed upstairs with a wooden crate containing something even more foul. Sarah-Jane followed him to the attic where Mr Smith and K9 were co-operating in analysing the dead bodies of three kallikantzaroi.
“I’ve got some spray, here,” she said, looking in a cupboard. “It’s like antiseptic, but it deals with all sorts of alien nastiness as well as ordinary Earth infections. You all have scratches that should be treated.”
“We won’t turn into kallikantzaroi,” Luke promised his mother. “It’s not like with vampires.”
“I didn’t think you would. But I’d rather none of you got sick, either.”
She listened as Mr Smith confirmed that the disgusting creatures were dead. He identified them as of Earth origin, falling into a category of ‘unclassified’ species. K9 backed up his findings.
“But they can be killed?” Sarah-Jane asked.
“They are organic beings,” Mr. Smith confirmed. “They can die by decapitation, strangulation, suffocation, disembowling….”
“Good,” Sarah-Jane replied. “We’re going to have to use all those methods to deal with the rest of them.”
“Rest of them?” Luke asked as Sarah-Jane picked up a number of artefacts from around the room, most of which he had never dared touch. She told K9 to stay alert and headed for the stairs.
Mr and Mrs Chandra wanted to get back to their home. They announced the fact when Sarah-Jane returned to the drawing room.
“The kitchen is really messed up,” Clyde told them. “The microwave is busted and there’s icky stuff everywhere. Stay out of it altogether and order a take out for supper. Rani and I will get onto the clean up first thing tomorrow.”
“You’re a good lad, Clyde,” Mr Chandra said, something that seemed quite unlikely when he first came to Ealing as headmaster of Park Vale High School. “Rani, love, are you staying here for a bit?”
“Sarah-Jane’s made goulash,” she answered.
“That’s all right. Come over when you’re ready.”
He took his wife’s hand. They quietly left Sarah-Jane’s house and crossed over Bannerman Road. Rani and Clyde watched as all of the lights apart from the kitchen were turned on in the Chandra house. A little while after a take away meal was delivered.
“They’ll be all right,” Clyde assured his girlfriend. “But our work is just beginning. The kallikantzaroi will know that Sarah-Jane gave refuge to Ana and the baby. They’ll come for this house.”
“Yes, I thought they might. I wondered why they went to our house, first, really.”
“Your house was easy. No crosses or roaring fires. Mrs Bogomil put a cross on this front door and the two chimneys are secure. The one leading to the drawing room has a fire in the hearth. The other one is cut off in the attic by Mr Smith installed in the space where the fireplace should be.”
“So, it will take a while for them to get in. But they WILL get in.”
“It’s not too late to go and have a take out with your mum and dad.”
“No, I’ve made up my mind. Its goulash and goblin fighting night.”
Clyde laughed, but the prospect of tackling more of the horrible creatures wasn’t especially edifying.
At least the goulash, served with creamed potatoes, which were a luxury vegetable accompaniment in Serbia, so a real treat for Niña and Ana, was enjoyed in peace. Ana fed the baby from a bottle of formula and hugged her close to her. She still looked frightened. The fact that the demon creatures might arrive at any time worried her, of course.
At least everyone at the dining table fully believed in the kallikantzaroi, now. She didn’t have to battle with scepticism.
After they had eaten, Sarah-Jane brought everyone back to the drawing room. She found a film on the television, something everyone except, possibly, Ana, had seen at least once before, just something to pass the time until….
...Until just before midnight when Sarah-Jane’s watch buzzed. Mr. Smith was sending a message. He reported that lifeforms matching the dead ones he had scanned earlier were encroaching on the garden of Thirteen Bannerman Road.
“How many?” she asked as Sky reached to switch off the film and everyone became quite alert.
“Thirty,” Mr. Smith replied. “Correction, thirty-five… forty… perhaps more.”
“That many?” Rani said with a suddenly dry throat. “There were only three over the road and they destroyed the kitchen.”
“Advance guard,” Sarah-Jane acknowledged, though the numbers shocked her, too.
“But what if they go back there… mum and dad….”
“I made your house safe,” Clyde assured her. “Your mum has a perfectly valid point about crosses, but I put some on your front and back doors with black light marker. Also a colander on each doorstep. Your parents are safe. Over here, we’ve got crosses on the doors, too. We also have a fire roaring….”
“Plus four colanders, a large cheese grater and a spare piece of circuit board from Mr Smith punched with a hundred and fifty holes,” Sarah-Jane added. “But those will only delay them. Ana, Niña, I’m moving you and the baby to the attic. I have the ultimate guard… dog… up there. Don’t touch anything other than the tea set and the TV remote and let K9 look after you until this is over.”
She brought the puzzled family upstairs to the room almost nobody in Bannerman Road knew about. She would have preferred to keep it that way, but it was the safest place for non-combatants.
When she got back downstairs, everyone else had armed themselves with edged weapons of one sort or another. She looked at Sky dubiously.
“You should stay in the attic, too,” she said.
“Luke and Clyde tackled worse than these goblins long before my age. So did Rani, and that girl, Maria, who used to live in her house.”
“You were about my age when you met the creator of the Daleks,” Rani added.
That was the truth, but Sarah-Jane wished it wasn’t.
“The Doctor was with me, then,” she conceded. “I wish he were here, now. But I can’t expect him to look after me.”
“Anyway, the point is, there isn’t much we haven’t all faced that measures up to these little beasts,” Clyde told her. “We’re ready.”
“We are, mum,” Luke added.
“Not quite,” Sarah-Jane contradicted. She reached into her pocket and brought out an object Luke hadn’t seen for several years. “I used to have a sonic lipstick,” she added, handing it to Sky. “The Doctor gave me a screwdriver for Christmas a few years back, because, seriously, how patronising to women is a sonic lipstick? But it works just as well as the screwdriver. Just don’t get it mixed up with your real cosmetics.”
Sky took the powerful tool and pressed the button. A powerful laser burnt a hole in the TV remote control.
“Luckily it has a function for turning the TV over,” Sarah-Jane remarked. Then another signal from Mr. Smith warned her that the delaying tactics weren’t going to delay much longer. There was a noise of glass breaking somewhere near the front vestibule. Clyde went to investigate. Everyone else came slowly to the hallway, ready to defend whatever part of the house needed defending.
“What stops them coming in through windows?” Rani asked. “This house has lots of those.”
“I put crosses on all of the windows,” Pieter answered. “All except the attic, but K9 is guarding that.”
“But they could break windows,” Sky pointed out. “All they have to do is find a rock in the garden.”
That was very true, and the sound of rocks hitting the windows on the ground and first floor came horribly soon after the girls had identified that obvious weak point in any structure.
“I’m glad we’re not in my office,” Rani pointed out. “The building is almost entirely glass held together with steel struts.”
“Modern architecture rarely takes ancient eastern European folklore into consideration,” Sarah-Jane remarked. “Luckily, this house is Edwardian – with mock Tudor exterior decorations. Dining room… kitchen… go… go.”
Sky and Pieter went one way. Luke and Rani went the other. Sarah-Jane waited for Clyde to return from the downstairs toilet-cum-cloakroom where he had sliced a kallikantzaros in half then blocked the little window with a pair of trainers with lots of little holes punched into the leather for ‘breathability’. This had paused two of the kallikantzaroi to crouch on the windowsill counting, thus closing off that entrance to the house.
“Luke’s room,” he said as they heard a noise upstairs. They dashed up together, Sarah-Jane reaching the door to her son’s room first.
Three kallikantzaroi were ripping the duvet and mattress to pieces with their sharp talons and razor-like teeth. Clyde sprang forward wielding a long kitchen knife. Sarah-Jane noted with a wry smile that her temporary charge, Lok, teenage warrior of another dimension, had used the same knife to kill monsters on Ealing Common a few months ago. But the thought was brief. She was soon busy dispatching another four kallikantzaroi climbing through the broken window. Her sonic screwdriver, while primarily a tool, not a weapon, had functions that could leave a hole in the rancid flesh of eldritch creatures. Four more tried to climb over their dead brothers. They met the same fate. Meanwhile, Clyde had sliced the bed rippers to pieces and grasped three rectangular objects that he knew as protoboards – for building home made computers on. They were full of holes. He laid them down on top of the three deep kallikantzaroi bodies piled on the windowsill.
“Sky’s room,” he said as breaking glass indicated a new battle front. They got there in time to stop the destruction of the bedroom. Sky owned three pairs of delicate white training shoes with ‘breathability’ holes all over them. They were usually placed in a neat row under her window, but now they were occupying the minds of six kallikantzaroi, each holding a shoe and counting…
“Jedan, dva….” The creatures stopped after one, two – in Serbian – and looked worried before beginning again – jedan, dva.
“Three!” Clyde cried out and stabbed two of the creatures before they could react. Sarah-Jane got three more and Clyde slashed the last one in the neck before grabbing the three pairs of shoes and laying them out on the windowsill. He and Sarah-Jane managed to kill twelve of the kallikantzaroi before the window was blocked with the bodies and they stopped trying to come in that way.
“I can’t believe that works,” Clyde said. “The hole thing, I mean.”
“It’s not the holes so much as the counting,” Sarah-Jane explained. “Triskaphobia is the fear of the number three. I never heard of it as a ‘sacred’ number before. But the Holy Family is three – Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, and Three Kings…. That ties in with the season, anyway. Whatever it is, it works. Come on… my room.”
Sarah-Jane gave a cry of distress as she stepped into the main bedroom and saw some of her best clothes being ripped to shreds while two kallikantzaroi gnawed the wardrobe door to splinters.
“You leave THAT alone!” she cried as they tried to fling a suit bag out of the wardrobe. That was Harry Sullivan’s naval uniform. She had kept it many years for reasons that were sentimental and a bit foolish, but very real to her. They were reasons that made her grasp a kallikantzaroz by the throat and bash its head against the wall before dropping the filthy body in horror, not just at the malevolent nature of the creature, but the savagery it brought out in them all. Her barely sixteen year old daughter and Rani, a girl of refined and gentle sensibilities, were downstairs killing goblins with edged weapons. Beneath long held convictions about gender equality she couldn’t help feeling neither of them ought to be doing something this brutal.
But there was no help for it. Sky and Pieter in the dining room were back to back dispatching kallikantzaroi with a sonic lipstick in laser mode and a Bazoolian steel sword, souvenir of one of Sarah-Jane’s old exploits with The Doctor. The sword was eternally sharp. It would never blunt no matter how many kallikantzaroi necks it sliced through. Pieter, a son of Bavarian nobility, wielded it expertly, silently thanking his parents for making him learn fencing instead of football. Bayern Munich’s loss was his gain this evening.
“My arm is getting tired,” Sky complained in a brief respite while three kallikantzaroi examined the ‘snowflake’ paper doilies they found under two plates of minced pies on the sideboard and the rush at the window was stopped by four bodies tangled in Sarah-Jane’s favourite lace curtains, now irreparably damaged by goblin claws, laser burns and sword slashes.
“Mine, too,” Pieter admitted. “But have courage. The enemy is not unlimited. We must only have the stamina to keep going.”
“Until dawn….” Sky didn’t mean to sound whiny, but it was another five hours until daybreak this close to the solstice. She hoped it wouldn’t take that long. She WAS tired. Normally she would go to bed about ten o’clock. Several late night parties had kept her up a bit later for the past few days, but they were nowhere near as arduous as this task, nor as nerve-wracking.
In the kitchen, Rani and Luke had just killed one of the kallikantzaroi in an inventive but quite unsettling way. Both looked away from the microwave oven and the nasty mess on the inside of the glass door.
Another foul-smelling body had been pierced five times when a rack of knives had fallen on it.
The rest had been killed by hard battle with a carving knife and a pair of ancient Chinese butterfly swords that were another souvenir of Sarah-Jane’s time travelling youth. Luke wielded one in each hand using fencing skills he had learnt in a couple of lessons from Pieter. His genetic ability to learn quickly had proved very useful in the hard hour of non-stop fighting.
“Is anyone counting how many we’ve killed?” Rani asked. “Mr Smith said there were forty. We’ve done ten in here….”
They were coming more slowly, now, in ones or twos. It was easier to kill them. But was there any reason to hope they would stop coming before the dawn that, according to Wikipedia, was a limitation on the kallikantzaroi.
Was Wikipedia even to be believed about that? Rani recalled her father often warning students at Park Vale against relying on that website in their essays. A similar injunction was given out at the newspaper where she worked.
She just hoped it was right about eastern European goblins.
Footsteps clattered outside the kitchen. Rani turned with the carving knife but put it away when she saw Sky.
“Mr. Smith says they’re all dead inside the house. There are still a dozen in the garden, but they’re not coming so fast, now. Mum says we should all go up to the attic… a sort of last stand.”
Actually, Sarah-Jane’s intention was to give some of them a chance to rest. There was no chance that the kallikantzaroi would retreat completely until sunrise, which was six minutes past eight. It was half past one, now - six and a half hours to go.
Sky and Rani sat with Ana and Nina on the old sofa. Both fell asleep after drinking a cup of cocoa. Sarah-Jane may or may not have put some harmless alien sleep potion in it.
The boys didn’t react the same way after their cocoa. They sat where they could and waited, slightly sleepy, but keeping alert manfully.
They had need to be. Several times, kallikantzaroi climbed far enough up the drainpipes outside to reach the window and three of them got as far as the top landing outside the door. K9 helped dispatch them all with his own laser adaptation.
The longest stretch of peace was between three and four o’clock. There were still kallikantzaroi in the garden, but these latest ones were more distracted than the earlier batch by the ‘traps’ around the doorstep and took longer to find ways inside.
Only Sarah-Jane and Pieter were awake. When she sighed deeply in the silence he asked her what was wrong.
“I’m… just wondering if I did the right thing, tonight. I’ve exposed everyone to danger and expected them all to do terrible things. Even if those things are against nature, my own daughter was KILLING them. What sort of parent puts a teenage girl in that situation… where she has to kill living things.”
“We all did what we had to do.”
“Bu did we have to? I could have called U.N.I.T. They have men… soldiers… who understand about killing. We could all have gone to a hotel, including Ana and Nina, and the baby.”
“That would not have helped,” Pieter told her. “The ungeist want the baby. They would only attack the hotel or anywhere we go. It is better that this is done, tonight, and the creatures banished from all our lives. As for Sky… she is a brave girl. You should be proud of her.”
“I am proud of her. But I worry about her, about all of you. It’s a parent thing. You’ll understand when you’re a bit older.”
“Possibly not,” Pieter whispered. Sarah-Jane nodded and smiled wryly. Pieter understood plenty already. She would have asked him a question only he could answer, but the appearance of two kallikantzaroi at the attic window, dispatched by Pieter’s swordsmanship even before K9 could react reminded everyone just how vital it was to be vigilant this night.
“We do what must be done,” he said again as he wiped ichor from the blade and sat down again to rest until the next assault.
It was a long, anxious, tiring night. Everyone, even Sarah-Jane, drifted to sleep from time to time, but woke suddenly when each new phase of the battle of Thirteen Bannerman Road came. To answer Rani’s question from earlier, Mr. Smith was keeping a count of how many kallikantzaroi had been killed. By half past seven in the morning when Sarah-Jane started to think about venturing downstairs to make coffee and toast for everyone, he had tallied one hundred and fifteen.
“Look,” Sky said fifteen minutes later. The official daybreak was six minutes past eight, but the attic window was high enough to catch the very first light of morning, and it had a surprising effect on the bodies of the kallikantzaroi stuck on the sill. They first started to glow, then smoulder slightly, before disintegrating into a pungent kind of ash.
“That solves the problem of what to do with the wretched bodies,” Sarah-Jane said. “A good vacuum all through the house, later. Meanwhile, it is definitely time for breakfast. Come on, downstairs, everybody.”
She went to the kitchen while everyone else made themselves comfortable in the drawing room. As the kettle boiled and the toast toasted she heard a rattling noise outside the back door. Carefully she opened the door and saw a blonde woman in a biege raincoat lifting up a colander with a booted foot before stepping on the vile creature hiding underneath. It died with a nasty squelching sound before disintegrating in the morning light.
“Horrible things, aren’t they,” the woman said. “Sorry I’m late. I detected a huge meisson surge around your area, but I was having a spot of bother with the TARDIS materialisation circuits.”
“TARDIS.” Sarah-Jane looked beyond the woman to a blue box that was mostly familiar. The panel with instructions for use of the telephone was blue with black writing instead of white but otherwise it was recognisable.
She looked at the woman again. She smiled warmly and waited for the penny to drop.
“Doctor? Really… you regenerated… this time… into…”
“Sarah-Jane, you brought gender equality to medieval England and the queen of Peladon. You, of all people, should be able to accept me.”
“Oh… I do. Really, I do,” Sarah-Jane answered. “Come in, please. The house is a mess, I’m afraid, but come in. Have coffee and toast with us all. I’ll tell you all about what happened, here.”
The Doctor had arrived too late to do anything other than confirm Mr. Smith’s assessment that the kallikantzaroi were now well and truly gone, but she had a couple of suggestions for sorting out the mess.
“Kate Stewart can send some people round to clean up both here and the Bogomil house, and across the road at the Chandras, and replace anything that got damaged… windows, beds, microwave ovens….”
“Three pairs of trainers I never want on my feet again,” Sky added.
“Better than trying to explain all this to our insurance companies,” Sarah-Jane admitted.
“There are a couple of other things I can do…” The Doctor called Sky to her side. She put her hand on the teenager’s forehead. It felt cool and soothing.
“Next year your most important school terms begin,” The Doctor said to her. “Revising for your exams should be the only worry you have – well, that and whether Carl Sanderson really does like you. The answer to that is, I’m afraid, no. He’s not worth distracting yourself over. There will be other prospects soon enough. As for what happened tonight… I could take away your memory of it, but it would be better just to take away your anxiety about it, so that remembering what you faced up to tonight never preys on your mind or changes everything about you that your family love you for.”
“Yes… yes, that’s… that’s fine,” Sky said with a relieved sigh. “Thank you.”
“What about you, Sarah-Jane?” The Doctor asked. “Do you need to let go of any anxiety?”
“No… not now. Only… who is Carl Sanderson?”
“Nobody worth worrying about,” Sky assured her.
“One more thing I can do,” The Doctor added. “I’m going to pop out and bring an eastern orthodox priest to you. Once that baby has been baptised the kallikantzaroi won’t be able to come near her. Everyone in the street will be safe.”
Ana listened to that proposal and protested. The unbaptised days meant, among other things, that baptisms couldn’t be done during this time.
“I’ll bring a priest from next week,” The Doctor said decisively. “Give me half an hour. That should be long enough to decide on a name for the child. That’s YOUR only anxiety right now.”
“She will be called Sara,” Ana decided without any hesitation. “Which means noble woman. A fitting name for any girl child.”
“Good enough,” Sarah-Jane commented.
“Absolutely good enough,” The Doctor agreed. “By the way, Merry Christmas, everyone. Sorry I was late with that, too.”