“Witches on Ealing Common?” Clyde Langer looked at the poster on the adjacent lamppost sceptically as Rani manoeuvred her Fiat 500 into the sort of tight parking space a car like that was made for. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. From sundown this afternoon till sundown tomorrow is the Wiccan festival, or Sabbat, of Samhain, and it is being celebrated on the Common as a public event – all welcome.”

“Yeah, but… I mean, how did they get permission from the council for something like that? Isn’t it black magic and stuff? There must have been complaints. Mrs Budge from down the road from you must have been out of her tree. Remember when she went mental at me for having a copy of the last Harry Potter book. She said it was Satanism and an affront to Jesus.”

“She thinks everything is an affront to Jesus,” Rani pointed out. “She objected to the Easter Egg hunt they did right here on the Common because kids having fun looking for chocolate forget about the religious meaning of Easter. She tried to have the Mela banned because it isn’t a Christian festival. Unfortunately that just made her look racist and narrow-minded….”

“Which she is,” Clyde added. “Have you seen the way she looks at me and you when we go past her house?”

Rani nodded. She knew all about her neighbour’s strange opinions. Her father had threatened to report her to the police if she didn’t keep some of them to herself.

“Unlike Mrs Budge, Ealing Council has a policy of openness and equality. Her complaints, and anyone else’s, are overruled. The Easter Egg hunt, the Saint Patrick’s Day parade, Ealing Pride, the Mela, all represent the diverse population of the Borough. So does the Samhain Sabbat of the Wiccan community. The Council, incidentally, recognises Wicca as a religion, equal to Mrs Budge’s Christianity and any other faith… except possibly the Way of the Jedi and anything originating in the Star Trek franchise.”

“But it is still black magic and stuff,” Clyde insisted as they crossed the road and entered the green space known as Ealing Common. A lot of the green was actually covered by marquees and stalls, and in a large cordoned off area a bonfire was being carefully constructed under the watch of a fire marshal. From a distance it all looked like any other event taking place under the auspices of the Council’s policy of openness and equality.

“There is no such thing as black magic,” said a tall, dark-haired man who was standing beside a stall specialising in books about Wicca. He was wearing a white robe covered in gold embroidered sigils. “There is no black or white magic, only magic. How it is used, whether for good or for evil is up to the one casting the spell.”

“I was just about to say that,” Rani told him. “I did a little bit of reading up about this whole thing, and I found that out on the first page.” She gave Clyde a ‘don’t say anything else’ look and smiled at the stranger. He was quite good-looking for a man in his fifties. The iron grey hair made him look distinguished, and his blue eyes were almost hypnotic. She was inclined to like him.

“I… said the wrong thing,” Clyde admitted. “I’d better look and learn before I say anything else.”

“Good idea,” the man told him before turning to Rani again. “I heard you correctly pronounce Samhain. Thank you for that. I grow tired of the ridiculous ‘Sam-Hane’ promulgated by cheap American horror films. The word ‘Halloween’ is not welcome here, either. I expect an intelligent young lady like yourself understands why.”

“Because Halloween is derived from the Christian festival of All Hallows which was deliberately made to coincide with the original pagan festival in order to encourage people to leave the old religion,” Rani answered and was rewarded with a beaming smile from the man who shook her hand, introducing himself as Rowan Wynne, a practicing witch.

“One who uses magic for good,” he assured Clyde. Rani hadn’t doubted him on that score. “Later, I hope you will witness our blessing of the coming year and other benign examples of ‘spell-casting’. Meanwhile, the many stalls and exhibitions should give you a clearer idea of what we are all about, and why the Sabbat of Samhain is so important.”

With that he bowed gallantly and turned with a swish of the cloak that went over his robe. He quickly melded into the crowd that was starting to build up. Or perhaps he had vanished into thin air using one of his spells. Certainly they lost sight of him very quickly.

“There ARE a lot of people here,” Rani noted. Many of them were wearing wiccan or pagan costumes of one sort or another and plainly took things seriously. There were also families who had decided a free festival of any sort was worth a look. Despite the seriousness of the Sabbat for many, there were places where children could have their faces painted as the ‘green man’ or other Wiccan deities and nobody seemed to mind the youngsters wearing the commercial sort of witch costumes that came with pointy plastic hats.

The more serious stalls sold books of all kinds, including spell books and instruction manuals for divination. Others sold the ingredients for potions or the talismen needed for casting charms. The potion ingredients were all just very obscure spices and herbs with names not usually found on any usual supermarket shelf, but all approved as foodstuff by the trading standards agency. Whether it was possible to make a love potion or an elixir for success in examinations and job interviews was uncertain, but nobody was likely to be poisoned by anything on sale.

The talismen were exotic and exciting things made of moonstone and soapstone, of magnetic rock found in the Arabian desert. The craftsmanship that went into carving intricate symbols and shapes and polishing them until they glittered in the autumn sunlight had to be admired. Clyde reluctantly admitted that they were artistic.

“I still don’t believe in it, though,” he pointed out.

“Neither do I, really,” Rani admitted. “But since a lot of people here do, I don’t want to say glib things that put it down. Besides, the whole thing is fascinating. Wicca is a twentieth century renaissance of the old Pagan religion that was eradicated by the spread of Christianity throughout Europe. It’s a deeply complex religion, and those who practice it take it very seriously. All this… the stalls, the books, the face-painting, is sort of dumbed down so that ordinary people can understand.”

“If it’s a reboot of paganism, what about Human sacrifices?” Clyde asked.

“You’ve watched too many of those Hammer Horror films,” Rani told him. “Human sacrifices were never part of it. Being a goat or a chicken around this time wasn’t so good, but people were perfectly safe. Even the chicken sacrifices are out nowadays. The RSPCA would be down on that. The rituals remain and the way of life – which is mostly about living in peace and harmony with the world, so that’s not so bad, is it?”

“I suppose it isn’t,” Clyde conceded. “Even so… I don’t think it will overtake CofE as the main religion in this country. It’s all just a bit too… alternative.”

Rani had a reply to that lined up, but an excited cry distracted her. She turned with a smile to greet Sky Smith, accompanied by Sarah Jane.

“Hi, I didn’t expect to see you here,” she said. “And what’s this outfit?”

“I’m taking part in the bonfire pageant,” Sky answered, turning on the spot to show off the long white dress with moon symbols all over the bodice and skirt. “A lot of us are, from our school and others around the borough.”

“Rani’s dad was up for that?” Clyde asked. Despite all he had seen and heard, he still wasn’t quite over the blood-letting of his favourite horror genre.

“It’s just dancing around the bonfire,” Sky insisted. “I was a parrot in the Caribbean carnival. At least this is more… feminine.”

She twirled again and Rani caught Sarah Jane’s eye, knowing just what she was thinking. Sky was growing up fast, thinking about looking ‘feminine’. Next it would be how she looked to boys.

“It’s all perfectly harmless,” Sarah Jane confirmed. “Wicca is a legitimate way of life, nothing sinister about it. Besides, I had Mr Smith check everything out. There’s nothing at all to worry about. I’m just here to enjoy myself and watch Sky do her fire dance.”

“It’s called the need-fire,” Sky explained. “The fire has to be started without using any kind of metal – not even a flint. Everyone taking part must not have any metal on them. This dress has no metal zips or buttons and my shoes are all canvas, and I’ve got no metal hairclips in my hair. There are no pockets for carrying coins, either. Mum has all my spending money.”

“How come?” Clyde asked. “I mean, how come the thing about metal?”

“It probably dates from when the only metal around was iron,” Sarah Jane explained. “Iron was always considered a mystical metal. The way into the ‘otherworld’ could be barred with a door bound with iron nails, and shod horses could not be taken by the spirits.”

“I didn’t know you knew so much about it, mum,” Sky said. Rani was thinking the same. Clyde was looking around in a distracted way as if he was bored with the whole discussion.

“I have looked into many ‘alternative’ religions,” Sarah Jane answered. “As well as various superstitions – fairies, leprechauns, elves. A lot of them have the potential to be misused by alien interference, so I make sure I know what’s what. Besides, Wiccan tradition doesn’t worry me half as much as Halloween.”

“Because it has more potential for alien interference?” Rani asked.

“No, because all those youngsters out trick-or-treating are potential targets for ordinary, Human monsters,” Sarah Jane replied with the heart of a mother not the mind of an alien hunter. “They’re a lot safer here with their parents than wandering all over the streets.”

It was just then that Rani noticed that Clyde was missing. He was a bit old to be abducted by a child molester, so she didn’t panic, but he didn’t usually wander off unannounced like that.

“There he is,” Sky announced before anyone could start to get worried. Rani turned to see Clyde coming from a stall selling amulets and charms. He had a small paper bag in his hand as he thrust his change into his jacket pocket.

“I got presents for everyone,” he said with a disarming smile as he returned to the women. He reached into the paper bag and presented Sarah Jane and Rani with pewter pendants on thin silver chains. The pendants were shaped something like a woman doing yoga with her hands curved above her head. “Here’s one for you, as well,” he said to Sky. “But since you can’t wear metal I’ll hang onto it for you.”

Sky beamed at him anyway. A present, even a delayed one, was welcome.

“A Goddess charm,” Rani commented as she put hers around her neck. “Symbol of feminine power.”

“Yeah, well, I’m outnumbered here, anyway,” Clyde conceded. For himself he pulled out of the bag a simple pentacle – a five pointed star within a circle. “This represents wisdom,” he added. “Which trumps all manner of deceit - including that of cunning women!”

“Come again?” Rani demanded.

“That’s what the bloke running the stall said,” Clyde told her. He pointed to a dark haired man who was selling a set of rune stones to another customer.

“Isn’t that….” Rani began.

“No, it’s not your friend, Rowan Wynne,” Clyde told her. “That’s his brother, Avery Wynne. I think they might be twins. Anyway, in case you get confused, your man over there has green eyes.”

“That would be an unusual distinction between otherwise identical twins,” Sarah Jane noted. “But at least we’ll know them apart if we meet up again.”

“That’s the man who came to our school to ask for girls and boys to take part in the pageant,” Sky said. “I was a bit surprised that Mr Chandra went for it, actually. He usually is strict about extra-curricular activities, but Mr Wynne had him ‘charmed’.”

She said that in a light-hearted way, but Rani exchanged puzzled glances with Sarah Jane before both mentally dismissed the possibility that witchcraft had been used to persuade Mr Chandra to allow his students to take part in the Samhain Sabbat.

Sarah Jane was quite adamant that nothing sinister was going to happen here.

“It is, after all, just the Pagan harvest festival combined with their New Year,” she said as they wandered around the stalls and sideshows, stopping from time to time to look at something eye-catching like a ‘living tableaux’ of a ninth century pagan bread-making ritual and an exhibition of torture instruments used to extract confessions from witches in the dark days of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

“You don’t need to tell me about that sort of thing,” Sarah Jane remarked. “I don’t know how many times I’ve been tied to a stake or some such thing thanks to The Doctor plunging me into some nefarious plot.”

“Samhain isn’t just the New Year,” Sky remarked as the thought of Sarah Jane getting her shoes singed in a near escape from death passed through everyone’s minds. “It is also a time when Wiccans believe the veil between this world and the afterlife is at its thinnest, making it easier to communicate with those who have left this world. That’s where the comparison with Halloween comes in. Christians at All Hallows remember their dead, and so do Pagans.”

“Remembering the dead and trying to communicate with them through a ‘thin veil’ between worlds are two very different things,” Clyde pointed out. “That DOES sound sinister. And who told you that, by the way?”

“Mr Wynne when he was rehearsing us in the Sabbat dance,” Sky answered. “It’s all right. Nobody is going to be raising the dead or anything. It’s just something they believe the same as Christians believe in things like Transubstantiation.”

“Well, EXACTLY,” Rani agreed. “If you think about it, Holy communion… consuming the body and blood of Christ… for those who really believe in it, that’s actually a very deeply spiritual concept, but to an outsider it would seem quite horrific. We have to be open minded about Wiccan rituals in the same way.”

“Oh, I agree,” Sarah Jane responded. “But I would have put my foot down at actual raising of the dead. As it is I am quite happy that nobody is coming to any harm – at least as long as common sense fire safety regulations are observed once the bonfire is lit.”

It was almost time for the bonfire lighting. It was quite dark now and the Common was illuminated with flaming torches that cast interesting shadows. The crowds of spectators made their way to the arena where the bonfire had been prepared.

“I need to go join the others,” Sky said. “To get ready for the pageant.”

“Have fun,” Sarah Jane told her.

“Hang on a sec,” Clyde called out. “Your collar isn’t straight at the back.” He adjusted the top of her dress carefully and then arranged her hair over it so that it couldn’t be seen anyway. Rani and Sarah Jane both wondered why he had made such a fuss about it, but he didn’t offer any explanation. Sky ran off to the mustering point while her family and friends found a good vantage point right by the safety barrier that kept the general public back from the fire. They were soon hemmed in by hundreds of spectators waiting for the excitement to begin.

The Wynne brothers, now with hoods pulled up over their heads, entered the arena first. They carried with them something that looked like a cross between a longbow and a violin. Avery Wynne set the instrument on the ground near the base of the bonfire while Rowan, using a plastic megaphone - with no metal parts – explained to the crowd what was happening.

“The bow-drill is an ancient way of making fire – a bit more sophisticated than rubbing two sticks together.…” People laughed as he intended them to do. “Making fire with flint is much older – and also much newer. How many of you have cigarette lighters with a sliver of flint upon your persons?” A few people held up their lighters. Rowan Wynne laughed. “Thank you for the offer, but our tradition dictates that no metal or stone must be used to spark the flame that lights our Need-Fire. Ah… there you are. There is the spark.”

In a very short time Avery had produced a tiny light by rubbing a stick against the taught string of the ‘bow’. From that he lit a torch and ceremoniously touched it against a second torch held by his brother. They both touched the dry tinder at the base of the huge bonfire and it caught immediately. As the bonfire began to burn in earnest, the girls and boys, including Sky, entered the arena. They all carried small items like straw dolls or bundles wrapped in cloth. These they threw onto the fire.

“The handmaidens and boy-servants of the God and Goddess bring offerings for good luck in the coming year,” explained Rowan. “If anyone would like to give a small item – something they don’t mind giving up to the fire – as an offering, please pass them over to my friends who are coming along before you. Meanwhile, the youngsters will sing the song of Harvest and Renewal that harkens the New Year.”

“Nothing about raising spirits,” Rani whispered as she found an old handkerchief in her pocket and tied an unwrapped bar of chocolate inside. She passed it to one of the robed figures who walked around the perimeter while the children circled the bonfire singing their pagan hymn.

A year of beauty. A year of plenty

A year of planting. A year of harvest.

A year of forests. A year of healing

A year of vision. A year of passion.

A year of rebirth.

This year may we renew the earth.

This year may we renew the earth.

Let it begin with each step we take.

And let it begin with each change we make

And let it begin with each chain we break.

And let it begin every time we wake.

They repeated the song several times as they paraded around the bonfire, going out of sight beyond its glow several times. The collectors passed them the offerings given by members of the public and they threw them onto the fire. A lot of people must have chosen to give sweets or chocolate for burnt offerings, because a sugary smell could soon be detected beneath the scent of burning wood.

It all seemed perfectly charming and far less objectionable than Guy Fawkes Night, which actually celebrated a man being executed.

Then the sinister turn Sarah Jane had dismissed as unlikely happened. At first nobody thought there was anything wrong. The youngsters were dancing around the fire as it crackled away merrily. It just looked like an optical illusion when they went behind the fire and didn’t come out again.

Then Sky ran out, crying hysterically. Clyde vaulted the barrier in a single bound and was the first to reach her. Sarah Jane and Rani had to struggle through the panicking crowds who had realised that all the other children were missing.

“What happened?” he asked as he comforted her. “Tell me everything.”

“There was a light,” Sky told him. “Everyone went into it. They couldn’t stop. It… didn’t take me. I don’t know why.”

“I do,” Clyde answered. He reached around the back of her neck for the goddess charm he had pinned to her collar. “If metal stops people crossing over to the ‘otherworld’ - wherever that’s supposed to be, then I made sure you had some metal on you.”

“What’s going on?” asked Rowan Wynne, not of Clyde and Sky, or of Sarah Jane and Rani who had forced their way past the Wiccan stewards now desperately trying to stop a mob pressing forward. He turned to his brother.

“They have been sent to the otherworld – as handmaidens and boy-servants of the gods,” Avery replied.

“What?” Sarah Jane exclaimed. “What kind of nonsense is this?”

“What have you done?” Rowan Wynne was appalled. His brother was smiling triumphantly. “This isn’t what our Sabbat was about – child abduction. Bring them back. Bring them back and make it look like some kind of trick – before those people over there tear us to pieces.”

“I can’t bring them back. It is done,” Avery insisted.

“I’m not sure it is exactly,” Sarah Jane said. She was examining her wristwatch that was a link to Mr Smith and a powerful scanner and particle analyser at the same time. “Rani, take Sky to my car and wait with her. You’ll be safe there. The car is METAL.”

Rani would have preferred to get stuck into the mystery, but Sky was frightened and upset and needed company. As they walked away Sarah Jane took out her sonic lipstick and scanned the ground below her feet. It looked like an odd thing to do. Some of the confused spectators must have thought she was a witch using a magic wand to divine something in the earth. Perhaps they wouldn’t have been far wrong, except that it was science, not magic, that she was employing.

“The children are underground,” she said. “Most of them, at least.”

“They’re buried alive?” Rowan asked, aghast. Again he turned an appalled gaze on his brother. “What HAVE you done?”

“Not buried,” Sarah Jane assured him. “Come with me. Clyde, and both of you. I’m not sure if either of you are completely blameless. I want to keep an eye on you.”

The Wynne brothers probably thought, as the chief witches of the Ealing Wiccans, that they were above taking orders from anyone. They were wrong. The authority of a woman who had faced down Daleks more than once, who had resisted the Mandragora Helix and the mind of Morbius, met them eye to eye. The two men visibly deflated and walked behind her, followed by Clyde who was ready to act if they tried anything precipitous.

Besides, there were approaching sirens in the air. Somebody had called the police. Sarah Jane’s custody seemed a better option just now.

“Where are you taking us, madam?” Rowan dared to ask as they used the glow of the fire as camouflage to escape the attention of the crowds. They were in a darker part of the common, now, away from the Sabbat fayre. Sarah Jane used her sonic lipstick as a penlight to find her way. She stopped beside a rectangular flagstone set into the grass.

“Do you two know any levitation spells?” she asked the two witches.

“No,” Rowan admitted.

“Not a lot of use, then. Luckily, I have some advanced science that might help.”

The sonic lipstick was limited compared to the screwdriver her oldest and dearest friend owned, but it had a couple of functions she regularly used. It was good at unsealing things, and it had a very basic levitation field. She unsealed the flagstone and made it hover an inch or two above the ground making it easy for the Wynne brothers, on her instruction, to move it aside.

Underneath were some rough steps leading into a dark passage.

“What is this?” Clyde asked.

“There wasn’t an underground service to Ealing during the war, so the council built these bunkers under the common as communal shelters. Hundreds of people hid down here from the Blitz.”

“I didn’t know that,” Clyde admitted.

“Now you do,” Sarah Jane replied. “You two go first.” She put the Wynne Brothers in front of her this time. The penlight shone off their fine robes as they groped their way in the dark. It was Rowan who reported that they had reached the bottom of the steps and found a passageway before Sarah Jane and Clyde had got that far.

“Keep going,” Sarah Jane called out. “There were half a dozen entrances, but as far as I know they all led to the same area. We’ll find the children any time soon, as long as nothing else is going on except for a short-range transmat beam.”

“Transmat beam?” Clyde queried. “Not magic, not the veil between worlds thinning?”

“No,” Sarah Jane replied tersely. “Avery Wynne, you know more than any of us about this, but you didn’t know that. You didn’t know that it wasn’t your benign gods who set up this thing so that they could kidnap children. It was aliens.”

“Aliens?” Avery was much less sure of himself now. “No… no… It was the moon goddess and the green man. They told me…to bring the children to be handmaidens and servants in the otherworld.”

“Even if that was true,” Clyde said. “What made you think it was a good idea? How did you think you were going to escape arrest for kidnapping – assuming that the mob didn’t rip you to pieces.”

“That is an excellent question,” Rowan Wynne said quietly. “What were you thinking, Avery?”

Avery didn’t reply. His deep, despondent sigh as he realised he had been extremely foolish, echoed in the musty tunnel.

“The worst thing is,” Clyde added. “You almost had me convinced. I saw lots of stuff that made me really think that Wiccan really was a religion based on nature and the seasons, solstices and equinoxes and all that, something harmless if a little bit potty. I expect a lot of the people who came tonight thought the same. But now you’re right back there with virgin sacrifices on the altar. Nobody will ever trust you lot again.”

This time it was Rowan Wynne who sighed despondently. He said something to his brother who replied angrily. It sounded as if a brother on brother fight might start when Clyde called out for them both to ‘shut it’.

“I can hear voices, up ahead,” he said. “Get out of the way.”

Clyde brushed past the feuding brothers and ran towards the strong wooden door that blocked the passage. He kicked it twice, but to no avail. It was still as strong as it was the day it was installed as protection against possible gas attack on London.

“I suppose you don’t have any spells for opening doors?” he asked sarcastically. “Alohomora, or something.” Clyde was past being polite now and the casual Harry Potter reference was absolutely meant to insult the two witches.

“Our craft is not meant to be used in that way….” Rowan began. Clyde got ready to be sarcastic again but Sarah Jane intervened with her sonic lipstick.

“Ancient rites 0, advanced science 3, I’m afraid,” she said as the door unlocked and swung open. Then she looked in horror at what was beyond.

She had expected to see the children in a pitch dark air raid shelter, scared but otherwise unharmed.

Instead, the shelter was eerily lit by the blue-green glow of an unprotected vortex. The children were holding hands in a long chain that was being drawn into the portal to goodness knows where, on who knew what planet and amongst what malevolent species. They seemed to be in a semi-trance that made them follow each other into what they, otherwise, would surely have run away from.

“Clyde, break the chain, turn them around and get them out of here,” Sarah Jane he ordered as she ran to get as close as possible to the portal as she could. She had no intention of falling into it herself, but surprisingly she found she COULDN’T even if she wanted to. She was being pushed back by an invisible force.

“Metal!” she exclaimed. “I’ve got metal all over me – belt buckle, zips, coins in my pocket. For whatever reason, this portal is susceptible to metal.” She looked at Avery scathingly. “That’s why you made the children leave all the metal behind. You knew. This portal could have been established down here months ago, but the problem with metal meant that anyone walking across the Common was protected. Who doesn’t have some form of metal on them these days? You had to make a way for dozens of children to be here without metal on them.”

“Recriminations should wait,” Rowan Wynne told her. “As well as how involved in this eerie conspiracy my foolish brother has been. The important thing is getting the children back.”

Most of them had already been ushered out of the air raid shelter by Clyde, who had simply taken the hand of the child closest to going through the portal and turned him around. The chain followed him. But how many had already gone through? The thought was terrifying.

“I have no metal on me,” Rowan pointed out. “I can go through… I can get them back.”

“Assuming it is a two way portal,” Sarah Jane told him. “But somebody has to try.”

“No, it should be me,” Avery said before his brother could stop him. He dashed forward into the portal and vanished. Rowan and Sarah Jane watched anxiously.

“I think I can close the portal if… when… he comes back,” Sarah Jane said, examining the data on the hologram her wristwatch was producing and adjusting her sonic. “That should stop any more attempts.”

“If….” Rowan murmured.

“When,” Sarah Jane corrected him. “I’m pretty sure somebody who spends so much time communing with nature ought to have a bit more positive thinking.”

“I’m not sure what to think any more,” Rowan answered. “Everything I believed in… my brother has destroyed it all in one foolish action.”

“No, your philosophy… your religion… is fine,” Sarah Jane assured him. “Keep believing. Keep doing what you do. Don’t let this disillusion you. We need good things to counter the bad.”

Rowan bit his lip and stepped back as the portal swirled a little more violently, then gasped in relief as two children stepped through, then three more, five, six. Sarah Jane directed them to run down the corridor as soon as they were free of the strange influence.

Finally, Avery started to come through after another six children. He was almost there when a vicious clawed limb reached out and swiped him across the shoulder. He cried out and lurched forward, but the creature tried to pull him back.

Sarah Jane frantically pointed the sonic lipstick and hoped she was right about being able to close the portal. Vicious clawed creatures were fairly high on her list of aliens who might want to steal Human children using interstellar portals rather than going to the trouble of sending space ships. What they wanted them for didn’t bear thinking about – slaves, food, even organic drive controls for their ships. She had heard of all those possibilities before.

The portal began to close. Avery screamed and pulled himself forward. Something else screamed briefly before it was cut off. A severed limb fell to the ground, but it was a few moments in the sudden dark before the penlight showed where it had gone. Sarah Jane picked it up and scanned it with the sonic.

“I think this might be the limb of a Trajorian,” she said, looking hard at Avery Wynne. “You REALLY don’t want to know what THEY do with their captives. You almost condemned those children to a terrible, long-drawn-out death.”

“I really thought….”

“I don’t care what you thought,” Sarah Jane responded coldly. “Come on. Let’s get out of here. You can tell your story to the police, if they believe you, and possibly to some friends of mine who WILL believe you and will know better than the police how to punish you.”

But when they got back to the arena Clyde had already dealt with the police. All of the children had been accounted for and he had devised an explanation for what had happened worthy of a U.N.I.T. clean up operation.

“I told them it was a part of the show that went a bit pear-shaped. I said the kids were meant to go down into the old shelter and reappear in a different place – like magic – but a door was blocked and they couldn’t get out… everything all right now, all’s well that ends well, etc.”

“That lets you off talking to the police, Mr Wynne,” Sarah Jane told Avery. “But my friends will still be conducting a thorough investigation of how aliens nearly broke through under Ealing Common. You’re a material witness. I suggest you tell them the whole truth and hold nothing back. Your co-operation might just save you from further punishment.” She turned to Rowan Wynne. “I really am sorry this spoilt your Sabbat. The next big thing on your calendar will be the winter solstice, I suppose. You’ll have to assure the Borough Council that there won’t be any more incidents with missing children, but otherwise I hope it goes well.”

With that, she and Clyde left the two witches, both of whom were realising that, for all their worship of a mother goddess, they had never really fully appreciated the power of a strong-willed woman before.