Saturday, November 04, 2017

Material that didn't make the cut #1

"Everything is true. Every work of comedy every work of horror.  The difference is one of perception. The universe is a battleground between joyous irrationality and hateful constriction, between empathy and sophistry."

"Jesus, old man what the fuck do I shoot?"

In the above dialogue reported to have occurred between Master Tactician Omnivalourus of House Mirrorflex, and Fourth Wave cadet Scarratt, lies the essential problem of ENEMY IDENTIFICTION which this series of briefings will address.

Imagine a barrel of seething silver rats, biting and scratching each other endlessly. Can they control themselves an learn harmony and love? One Power believes so.

Imagine a tube pumping scarlet scorpions into the barrel.  The scorpions will eventually kill the rats, but while doing so they will drive the rats to greater frenzy, to worse cruelties, to ever more ludicrous crimes and excesses. This is the solution of another Power.

Are the rats the Enemy?  They are everything that lives.  Are the Scorpions? They re everything that shares the conviction of righteousness.

Are you Rat or Scorpion?

This is the great issue of the War, do you believe that Rats will one day cease to be Rats?  Or do you believe they are always Rats and can only be exterminated no matter how long the vermin hunt must persist?

Is One Power then the Enemy and the Other the Great Houses? Herein lies the fundemental problem of the War in Heaven: within it roles become less defined.  Some of the Great Houses believe some Rats should be expunged- even as they believe other Rats are useful, capable even of domestication.  Some favour the full unleashing of the Scorpions until the barrel be empty - perhaps to house new tamer Rats, turned to Mice more tractably from the start of time.

Then there are those who believe the problem is not Rats and the solution not Scorpions. The problem is the Rats are confined within a barrel. This - in so far as it is understood - by High Command is the position of those prize anarchs and heretics Faction Paradox who would tip over the multivarient worlds if they could and spill Life out through universes unknown and impossible to any bounded structure.

"Yes, but who exactly do I shoot".

(Early material excised from The Book of The Enemy editorial decision.)




Sunday, October 15, 2017

Writing news

Drafts of

1) The Black Archive #19:  Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit, and

2) The Book of The Enemy, a Faction Paradox anthology.

are now in  (although don't panic if you writing something for me for (2) as there are still places for material

open but the framework is done, and the stories already selected by me are with the publisher.)

Simon BJ

Monday, October 09, 2017

Maltloaf : The Duckling Song

Suggested by Bryan Burford saying: I'm not sure what you think ducklings do, but it's not that.
and Rob Buckley saying: The lesser known Meatloaf song. During a discussion about television in which the word imprinting was used.

THE DUCKLING SONG


They may float in ponds, dress an Easter hat, 
I don't know what you think they do, but they don't do that.  
'Cos ducklings a la orange, isn't as tasty as it appears, 
You can get the taste on your tongue at night
Though you've been vegan now for years, 
And all you can see by the dashboard light 
Is little balls of yellow tears, 
Because ducking run over in the orange of night isn't tasty as it appears.
Oh it was long ago that I had my fill, 
And it seems like just my luck,
That no no matter how tender and plump it may be
I can't now face a duck, 
Because when I think of a duckling now, 
I know the bill is due, 
Cause if you'd done to them what I'm thinking of now
You couldn't face one too
They may look good on cards, they may quack a lot
They may be fuffy as a whole ball of yarn
But when a car rolls over their plot
They can't come back from grievous bodily harm.
I was younger then, I didn't have no fear
I'd seen too much street-pizza goin' to waste.
But the orange light of the headlights here
They just bring back the texture and taste. 
Oh it was long ago that I had my fill, 
And it seems like just my luck,
That no no matter how tender and plump it may be
I can't now face a duck, 
Because when I think of a duckling now, 
I know the bill is due, 
Cause if you'd done to them what I'm thinking of now
You couldn't face one too

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Through the Pentagonal Window


Around the house the creatures go
They pass like shadows to and fro
And what they are we can not know
So keep the latches tight.

But father see the fur that gleams
Like rainbows flashing across streams
These are the things that walk in dreams
Not those that tear and bite.

My child you know not the world's tears
Though you may think I nurse my fears
I have the wisdom born of years
I know my way is right.

Father their song is praise of life
They bare no fang, they wield no knife
Where is the merest sign of strife?
Their eyes are clear and bright!

Your mother reasoned thus as you
She trusted in their graces too
And through the door to them she flew
We do not know her plight.

But look I see her in the wood
Where trees stand tall and beasts are good,
In the fair dappled beams she stood.
She's gone now from the light!

That is not her true voice I hear
Though it sounds nearly on the ear,
As her voice sounded pure and clear
Upon our wedding night.

Son, stop, do not step out of doors
They move so swiftly on all fours
And soundlessly they move their paws
Son No!  Oh...no...the sight....

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Ox Bow Train

The Ox Bow Train  (From A Target For Tommy, reprinted here now that collection is no longer commercially available for charity. Please consider making a donation to an anti-cancer charity for reading.
This text contains one slightly rude joke excised from the published version.)



George Morrow wakes with a jolt.  Normally the train is crowded about now.  Some days the commute involves standing chest deep in people, but today the carriage is almost eerily deserted.  Just a few of his fellow wage slaves returning home.

The nights are drawing in and it’s dark at six thirty.  Outside the train window the meandering river makes a slow sweep across its flood plain. The track, newly repaired from the last floods, stands proud with a fresh concrete edge.  If it were day, he’d see under the waves (no not waves, silly, ripples – it’s a river not the sea), the artificial pylons – like the exterior supports you see on old churches, ah, buttresses – that’s the word.  George remembers how that would have made Charles laugh.  One for the Uxbridge English Dictionary that:  Buttress: Mistress who likes it up the arse – perhaps too rude to send in to Radio 4 though. Oh Charles, thou should be living at this hour – why should a worm, an ant, a rat have life, and you none?  He can’t remember the quote (Romeo and Juliet?) any more than before he had remembered the word.  It’s dark, he’s, tired and, frankly, old, and Charles:  dead at twenty, never aged.  In Georges mind he stayed young forever, a twin brother who – like the Dorian to George’s Portrait, preserves the best somewhere beyond time.  If only one could live on forever.

Elsewhere

The TARDIS  stood in a meadow, whose land long fallow had lost the contours of the plough, and either hunched itself up in some tremor, or been endowed by Neolithic burials with a low mound near the centre. Thanks to the mound the ship was on a slant, but that didn’t seem to bother the Doctor who darted out, hat in hand, and stood for a moment in his tattered jacket and checked trousers flinging his arms wide, and taking in a deep breath of the buttercup and daisy scented air.

Ben and Polly followed him, relieved at their arrival somewhere other than the mercury swamps of a lost planet. This newly renewed Doctor, whose different face and mannerisms were still causing Ben some qualms, was no more able to guide the TARDIS to a preselected landing point than his older pre-renewal form had been. Still, he seemed to have regained an almost childlike appreciation for the world which the Doctor who had collapsed at Snowcap Base, had lost – or perhaps hidden.

‘Where are we Doctor?’ Polly asked, willing – as Ben had not been – to at least pay lip-service to the idea that they might have arrived somewhere identifiable even if unplanned.

‘Telegraph Poles!’  The Doctor shouted, ‘lovely twentieth century, Telegraph Poles!
Adopting a declaiming stance like an orator on a rostrum, he proclaimed:

“I think no galumphing Black Hole, as lovely as a Telegraph Pole!  For one no information spares, it has no hair to mark it, the other helps men sell their wares and send demands to market”. Or is that Transmat.  Dear me, how it all runs together. I must look out my diary.’

‘What are you on about, Doc?’  Ben asked, not sure if he actually wanted an explanation. The crucial point, that the telegraph poles were even more familiar artifacts of his time, than the scents of the meadow were identifiers of his planet, he had already grasped.  Maybe he could get back to his ship, maybe even if he timed it right (by being a trifle early in time) manage not to be considered AWOL.  Of course that would mean loosing touch with the Duchess especially if she opted to continue with the Doctor, and he was starting to feel very fond of her.

His train of thought was interrupted, appropriately enough, by an actual train.

But not such a train as he had ever expected to see, passing along the rails, at the end of a meadow, half hidden by English hedgerows.

It was a black iron, parody of a modern train, its wheels silvered with skulls half-glimpsed as they spun, its coachwork dark liveried with baronial arms of monsters and mer-folk entwined in battle or lust.  It did not steam (although it had funnels and brass domes atop its modern lines), and it was only as it passed that the sheer silence of it stilled the birdsong of the meadow like a blanket of awful suffocating density.  At the windows faces white and dark alike pressed with a finality that suggested a terminus to its journey that ended at the world’s edge, or at a forest of gallows.

‘Well, that’s not a British Rail train,’ the Doctor said, affronted – ‘I knew denationalisation would end in tears’ (Neither Ben nor Polly understood this remark) ‘But this is ridiculous’.

Elsewhere

Sally Carruthers sat in her window seat, looking out over the downs and hoping that her journey would be in vain. In her bag a telegram crunched once in a fist that though dainty had closed with all the anger of despair, and then smoothed as best she could manage, spelled out her fears in cautious medical terms.  He might die before she ever saw him again.  If only she could avoid that meeting, if there were some honourable way.  If she saw him she would have to forgive him, and in her heart she knew she would sooner die.  No one could blame a daughter delayed by a train. If only she could just sit in this seat forever, or until his life had slipped away. 

Elsewhere

The Doctor had bustled them back inside the TARDIS, and spent a minute ferreting about in a wicker basket under the Ormolu Clock marked, Pantoloon’s Props.  He stuffed something in one of his pockets.

Ben and Polly clamoured for answers.  ‘What what was it?’  Polly insisted, ‘some sort of fancy ghost train?’ 

‘I reckon you’re right Duchess’, Ben pitched in, more nervous himself than he wanted to show. ‘It’ll be an excursion tour, round the haunted castles and that.  All the toffs dressed up for a lark, like on The Good Old Days’.

‘They looked so scared, though’, Polly faltered. She was a kind hearted woman even if her kindness sometimes had a noblesse oblige edge to it that Ben teased her about.

The Doctor was pacing round the TARDIS’ controls, looking thoughtful. ‘I don’t like some of these readings.  Look at the colour of this indicator, would you say that was cerise?’

Ben and Polly exchanged glances – the TARDIS’ workings might as well be in black and white for all the sense they made to them. 

‘Yes,’ Polly said, and ‘No,’ Ben said – at the same moment.

‘That’s what I thought,’ the Doctor beamed, ‘hang on!’ and he flung the dematerialisation lever in a direction he’d never thrown it before, almost as if it were a gear stick going into reverse, or a switch being thrown on a railway.

Elsewhere

‘Are we nearly there?’  Jane and Bartholomew chorused, for the thousandth time.
Headache at full swell, their mother snapped.  ‘It would serve you right if we never get to Weston-Super-Mare, you spoilt children!  Now please try to be quiet, and look at the nice countryside.’

‘I don’t like it any more,’ Jane sniffed, ‘the trees are funny.’

Mrs. Merridew, squinted through the dark (really the clouds had rolled up suddenly, it would be typical if it rained all holiday), and saw the thrashing motion of the branches (were they branches, really?) against the awful horror of the sky.  This was dreadful, she would, she would write to the railway company, as soon as, as soon as...

Elsewhere

‘Now, listen this is important,’ the Doctor said, after the TARDIS had come to a shuddering and clunking halt.  ‘You have to remember three things’.

‘Yes, Doctor.’  Polly looked expectant.

‘Firstly, if you see the conductor don’t tell him your name.  Secondly don’t eat anything from the buffet or in the train at all – not even a pomegranate seed, and thirdly...’

Ben tapped his fingers on the consol edge impatiently.

‘Don’t do that you’ll leave finger marks, now since that’s all clear, I’m going to open the door.’

Ben, wondering if he’d missed something, asked ‘Should we not take a look on the scanner Doc, before going out.’

‘If we were going out, that would be very good advice, Ben, but I’m afraid we’re going sideways.’

Elsewhere

George Morrow wakes with a jolt.  Normally the train is crowded about now.  Some days the commute involves standing chest deep in people, but today the carriage is almost eerily deserted.  Just a few of his fellow wage slaves returning home.

The conductor is standing in the aisle of the train, he’s checking tickets.  His uniform is the colour of mottled grey velvet, or cold gravy. There’s a clacking sound as he moves, jerky as a stop frame animation.  George finds he can’t bring himself to raise his gaze up to the conductor’s face.

‘Charles Morrow’  -  The voice is sepulchral and also somehow unctuous as of a plump churchwarden imitating the tolling a bell.

‘No I’m George, George, I tell you.  I didn’t die.’

George/Charles voice rises in a nightmare scream, ‘I didn’t die’.

‘Oh but you did, see your ticket is punched clean through, it’s the Dark Terminus for You.’   And the Conductor put his bony hand on Charles Morrow’s shoulder and pushed him back down into his grave-soil seat.

Elsewhere on board the train

The TARDIS filled a whole private compartment, and the Doctor, Ben and Polly had only just been able to squeeze out (Ben by climbing over the seats). The upholstery was patterned with odd illustrations of toadstools, fashioned into little fairy houses.

Ben suspected that Polly had been about to proclaim them quaint, but the Doctor’s identification of the fungi as Death Caps (Amanita Phalloides), Destroying Angels (Amanita Virosa), Deadly Web Caps (Cortinarius Rubellus), Panther Caps (Amanita Pantherina), Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria), and False Morel (Gyromita Esculenta) – all of them poisonous (although as the Doctor said of the Panther Caps, still very desireable as residences) had taken the word from her lips.

‘Right, Doc, before we go any farther, I think you ought to tell us where we are.’ Ben said, keeping his voice as reasonable as he could.

‘Didn’t I?’  The Doctor ticked off three fingers – ‘I was sure, I’d been sure to tell you.

‘One of you must have interrupted me.  This is a Fairy Train Of Granted Wishes and it’s possibly the most dangerous place a mortal can tread, but I don’t see how we can let it go by without trying to help its vict...er..passengers.’

‘Fairies? Polly simpered, ‘honestly Doctor you must think I’m eight.’

‘No, no.  I’m not talking about cardboard cut outs photographed by naughty school girls, or the Red, Yellow or Green Fairy Books of Mr Andrew Lang.   I’m talking about a very dangerous phenomenon indeed, to which the term Fay or Sidhe, or the kindly folk, has been attached in the past, but which your near future will come to know as alien abduction.’

‘What, kidnapping by aliens?’  Ben scoffed, pull the other one.

The Doctor took off his hat and rolled it nervously between his hands. For a moment he seemed as abashed as a schoolboy caught in some vulgar prank.  ‘Well you know my dears, there is a sense in which...I hardly like to say it, but there is a point of view from which it could, I suppose, be said that....’

‘Oh never mind all that,’ Polly jumped in, ‘we forced ourselves on you, you didn’t kidnap anyone. We wanted adventure and we found it. Just tell us what we have to do.’

‘There’s a good girl.   Well there are some corners of Old England that have bred the most terrible things.  The iron railways did for them mostly, but every so often the way the trains shift of the tracks, the masses of iron shunting to and fro – do you know how waves can resonate?  Increase or cancel out?  No?  Never mind.

Well, very, very, very, rarely something that mainly stops a thing, suddenly amplifies it, and then the ghosts ride the rails!   Then an ill-considered wish in a commuter’s noggin can send them sideways into the halls of hell.  Just remember what I said about the conductor and the pomegranates, and the other thing, and we should be fine.’

‘Pomegranates,’  Polly rolled the word around, and a memory from her Latin class surfaced.  ‘Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, and went into the Underworld and the Gods demanded she be released but she’d eaten three Pomegranate seeds so Hades had a hold on her, and she had to be married to Hades for half the year, and so we got the seasons.’ 

‘Oh well done.’  The Doctor beamed.  ‘Gold star, Polly.  Now come along behind me carefully, we’re going to go up and down the train and see who can get off at...’  He pointed at the ship: ‘TARDIS HALT.’  He paused and Polly could see the sadness in his eyes. ‘We may be here too late for some, but we can try.’

Here

Osmond, Elspeth, and Clive were bored. The holidays were almost over and the train taking them back to Whitemeadows School, was taking simply ages. Even the familiar countryside seemed grey and washed out, and Clive wasn’t helping by playing a game that involved pretending to see zombies every time they passed a level crossing or an abandoned siding.

‘There’s another one, Elspeth,’ he shouted. ‘A postman, with the bottom of his jaw hanging off’.  As before when Elspeth and Osmond looked the figure had been whisked away into the foggy murk.

‘You beast Clive, you wouldn’t carry on like this if Penelope were here.’

‘I did see zombies,’ Clive shouted, ‘drooling zombies!  Why won’t you believe me, I say I wish you’d...’

A hand clamped around his mouth, at the end of an arm clad in a misfitting black sleeve.  Almost convinced they were about to see a zombie, Elspeth and Osmond cowered back in their seats – but it was only a funny little man in an odd hat, with two teenagers (a man and a woman) with him.

‘Now don’t bite, my young master.’ the man said – with what Osmond later said had been a west-country accent.  Elspeth – incidently ­­- did not agree on this point and she always maintained that whatever accent it was, the man had only that moment adopted it, for she had been watching the faces of the teenagers particularly the man, whom Penelope would later josh her about, and he (so Elspeth said) had rolled his eyes to heaven with a ‘what now’ expression as soon as the Man in The Hat had begun to speak.

‘Those that bite, live and die as animals, or don’t they?   I’m going to take my hand away, and I’m a-askin’ you as a personal favour to an old Hurdy Gurdy Man – not to go making any wishes on this here train.  There’s been quite enough of that already.’

‘Are you a hurdy gurdy man?’  Clive asked, when the hand released him.  It had tasted of bread and butter, but he hadn’t been inclined to bite it even though he had been the biter of the family as a baby.  Something about the taste had suggested electric bread and butter, or an electric eel sandwich.

‘No he’s not, he’s the Doc..’  Ben began, but the whirl of flapping hands and panic from Polly, stopped him.  ‘If you see the conductor don’t say your name,’ she hissed. ‘Well I see him, so don’t say his.’  She was looking back over Ben’s shoulder.

‘That’s not his name.’

‘It’s quite enough of a name,’ the erstwhile Hurdy-Gurdly Man, said, ‘to make it inadvisable here.  How we’re known, lights us up, or doesn’t it.  Names end up in Lights or so they say.  Or maybe only named things can end. So my young friends (this to Osmond, Clive, and Elspeth) I won’t be asking your names either, and you should keep them behind your teeth.

‘Tickets please,’ the Conductor said, looming up like a cloud or a special effect. ‘Osmond James, and Elspeth and Clive Moonshiner, isn’t it – all bound for Summer’s End term in the Whitemeadows. No Penelope...?’

‘She’s ill’. ‘We don’t know any Penelope’, and ‘My name is Violet actually, so much more sensible than Elspeth’, were uttered almost in one breath, and with the same
Panic.

Seeing the conductor was almost impossible, but feeling you were about to see him was horrible. He was like something behind a curtain or edging around a corner that you were certain would be awful when it came fully into view, but which seemed the worse for the way it prolonged the process.

The Hurdy Gurdy Man shouted that they should close their eyes tight, and trusting him, they did.

Much, much, later the three (who were all saved) would try to tell Penelope what little they had seen but the best they could manage was:

(Clive) – He was like Major Shuttler at school, the one who keeps trying to be friends with the younger boys, but who looks as if he’d eat them up if he could.

(Osmond) – It wasn’t a man at all, but a thundercloud in a conductor’s uniform, and where there should have been a face, there was only a billow of cloud and two glints of lightning.

(Elspeth) – Well I didn’t see a cloud, or a teacher, I saw three dwarfs crammed into a conductor’s outfit, trying to make it look as if they were a single man. How you couldn’t have seen that Clive, I’ve no idea. 

Penelope said the dwarfs didn’t sound that frightening, but Elspeth refused to say any more after that, and there was bad feeling between her and Penny for a week until the Joint Fete with St. Mumin’s and their triumph on the coconut shy.


Here

Once Ben had bundled the three into the TARDIS with firm instructions to keep their eyes closed tight.  He hurried back along the train’s corridor (a stone clad corridor on a train?) in the hope of catching up with the Doctor and Polly.

He found them leading a harassed mother and two children (all blindfolded) back in his direction.  

‘But I don’t understand why we can’t see the way to Weston,’ the mother was grumbling. ‘This isn’t like any security exercise I’ve ever been involved with. I shall certainly write to the papers about this.’ 

The Doctor was making placatory noises and speaking soothingly as a person might to a horse that having been lead to water had still to be persuaded to take a drink.

‘It’s the meteor shower,’ he said ‘best you don’t see it or you’ll have no end of trouble with weeds.  We in the Gardener’s Question Time Tactical Response Unit are very quick on Triffid outbreaks’.  He winked at Polly, ‘I always say if you have to have a catastrophe you should try to have a cosy one.’

He past the woman’s hand to Ben, ‘take her off the train at TARDIS HALT, and make sure she and the children keep their eyes covered until the emergency is over.  It’s best no one sees anything alarming, on the train or off.  Come on Polly, more people to see!’

Here

‘Sally Carruthers, your ticket please.’  She had been staring at her hands for maybe an hour, and hadn’t decided what she could, what she’d say if her father wasn’t dead, and she hadn’t heard the conductor come close.  A sound of rustling leaves came from the
direction of the voice, and the sound was odd.

Her father was wearing a conductor’s uniform, and his smile hadn’t changed. But it wasn’t leaves that were rustling, and he hadn’t used to have snakes in his hair.

Recalling the myth of the Medusa, she clamped her eyes tight.  What the hell was happening. She must have fallen asleep, be dreaming.

Her father’s voice.   And another man?  Talking.

‘You don’t fear me.’

‘Oh, that’s not true at all.  But I know better than to let it get a hold of me, and Polly and Ben have their eyes closed by now.  So it’s just you and me.’

‘Their lives are mine by the old rules. They wished in my place of power.

‘I wasn’t in time, not for everyone. Let me take this woman and go. You have no hold on me.’

‘You may have no fear, you may not have wished, you may have no name – but she is fearful, she has wished. Her name is on my lips.  She must get out at the Dark Terminus.’

‘What if I stayed instead of her?’

‘What is she to you that you would do this?  What are you to us that we should value you above her?’

‘Oh, I’m a genius: I’m sure I could be more fun to boss around for an eternity, and she?  I just think maybe she’s suffered enough.  Besides, look see, I have something in my pocketses.’

‘A sandwich…?’

‘Indeed, and you know that anyone who eats in your world is yours for the taking.
So promise you’ll let her go, and I’ll promise to take a big bite. Yum Yum!  You know promises bind here.'

Elsewhere

The Doctor flung himself through the doors of the TARDIS, creatures in conductors’ uniforms gibbering and moaning at his heels, and spitting chunks of polystyrene from his mouth.  His fingers stabbed at the dematerialisation switch.




Captain Scarrett - the preBrakespeare Years

Among Captain Scarrett's most peculiar assignments in the War, was the time he was given a deep cover position in a version of WW1 and told simply to wait for 'the doubling'.

He protested this unhelpful briefing by adopting an especially ludicrous false moustache.




Extract from The Book of The Peace

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

In the 'Days of the "Days of ""The Days of Our Lives"" " ' (Cut 3)

This story was originally printed in Missing Pieces (2001)
(It's intended to be capable of being read in 3 different orders, this version is the 'puzzle box' order it was originally printed in - intended to heighten the mystery of what's happening.)


Prologue 1939

The throne was huge.  From it, the tips of his toes barely reached the floor, and the leather strapped sandals were cutting into his feet; but he knew that he must not let his mother down by squirming.  This was an important moment; the climax of the battle of wills that he could see being played out before his young eyes.

He could no more look away than he could remove the heavy two-tiered crown that signified - so his mother had told him - the kingship of the upper and lower Niles.  It would be over soon now, he hoped; the heat of the brilliant lights that flooded the throne room was burning him.

The bearded prophet was shouting his demands for the slaves, again and again.  He was a giant of a man. Idly the boy wondered if he'd grow so straight and strong. Maybe if he ate all his greens as his mother insisted.  He kept his eyes on the prophet as he cast his staff upon the floor. There was a flash of powdery smoke and a snake writhed on the ground.  The boy stifled a smile - he had seen this trick before.  It was time for the next trick.

He knew he should not look up. It wasn't right that he take his eyes off the prophet; but even so he could not resist a glance towards the roof. It was a glance of admiration. There crawling along a ledge seemingly faced with stone slabs was the ancient sorcerer Ammon-Ra.  His long bones cast a gruesome shadow. In his hand he carried an iron staff.  It was shiversome to watch him; he had the moves so well, so spider-like, so evil. He would bang his staff on the stones and send them crashing down on the Prophet.  His intent was clear from his very stance.

It was, Alfie thought, the best acting he'd ever seen. He hoped he'd do as well when he grew up.  Until then the part of the boy-King Tutmoses was the best role his mother had ever got him.  It was the sensational children's character role of 1939!  His name was going to be in lights - well his stage name anyway, his mother said Alfie Trousdale wasn't a good name for an actor. He let his bored King's gaze drop to the Prophet, and so he did not see the other man crawling just behind the Sorcerer reach out toward him.

He did however see the flash of light, and he heard the make-up girl scream from behind the cameras, and he saw the body of Ammon-Ra fall to the floor of the set, burning as it fell.

Inside the Ship:  Act 1 Scene 1

Polly and Ben were arguing.  Good naturedly enough and with only a modicum of teasing banter but there was no denying it was getting on the Doctor's erratic nerves.  Since his change when his body had renewed itself with the help of the TARDIS he had been nervous around Ben. The young able-seaman had doubted the Doctor's identity to begin with, and in a sense maybe he had doubted it himself: no amount of theoretical knowledge could prepare the psyche for the shock of renewal. Polly had been kinder but even she could have no real conception of what had happened to him: neither of them could.

"Hey Doc," Ben shouted, "settle an argument?"

"Oh," the Doctor fidgeted as if he had been unexpectedly asked to shoot a mettlesome horse, "I don't know if I could do that. I mean I'm no authority."  A quirk of his lips suggested he didn't believe himself for a moment.

Polly beamed sweetly, "But you must have an opinion?"

He beamed back. "Must I?  I try not to get involved in local disputes, you know that!"

"No, bur really" Ben said, "Cliff Archer right? Was he better as Hornblower or Hamlet 'cause I say Horatio but Miss High Culture here holds out for the Prince of Denmark."

"Well," the Doctor paused. "I think we've established Ben, that you prefer his middle period: Devil Dogs of The Marines, Bedtime for Bingo, and that film you can't remember the name of, in which he plays a man who loses both legs in an accident.

Ben looked surprised - he hadn't thought the Doctor had been listening - and Polly winced at the return of a painful subject, but the Doctor didn't seem to notice.  "But most serious film-buffs consider that his finest performance was as a child as Prince Tutmoses in Cecil B. De Mille's epic sampler of history The Days Of Our Lives."

"That black and white effort were he plays an Egyptian?" Ben snorted, "It's so slow."

Polly looked serious, "You know it's only just occurred to me but the Doctor's probably seen films that haven't even been made yet - in our time I mean."

Ben perked up, "Yeah that'd be interesting, come on Doc so what does Cliff get remembered for?"

The Doctor muttered something under his breath.

"Come again?" Ben said, but the Doctor was already busying himself setting co-ordinates.  "Did you catch that Duchess?"

"I'm not sure. What sort of film has a character in, called something like O'Brian Ken O'Boyo?"

"Something Irish" Ben guessed. "Sort of Leprechaun flick probably; you know pots of gold."


1999: Act 3 Scene 3

The editing suite was a mess of gutted 1960s and 1930s cameras - the videocam tech that had been packed inside spilling out with the brutal insolence of a hernia. The Director put down his clipboard, and smirked at the Doctor.

"Nothing to say?  I imagine the audacity of our masterpiece has struck you dumb!  You might like to compliment me before I have you thrown off the lot."   Polly entered.  "And your make-up girl imposter too!"

The Doctor scowled. "Audacity! hardly - a simple bit of temporal trisection, like making a jug by origami. It might look pretty but it won't hold water and you know it!"

"We have three of the finest performances of the most popular film actors of his day within a single film with no expensive SFX or CGI".  The Director grinned his Hollywood Cheshire Cat smile, teeth perfectly capped, in a surround of beard. "And by filming in the past we saved so much on expenses. Our accounts make the Blair Witch Project look like Heaven's Gate.  We owe a tremendous debt to the late Professor Whi..."

"I don't care whose research your flimflam is misusing!" - the Doctor cried - interrupting him - by filming in the past you've disrupted your own history you orthodontic ninny!"

The Doctor pulled a tatty copy of the Radio Times Guide To Films On DVD (2003) out of his fur coat, and started to read...

2003: Inside the Ship : Act 3 Scene 1

"Stay in the Ship," The Doctor's voice was terse. Ben tried to stand up to him but there was something in the small man's eyes that admitted of no compromises. "I'll just be a moment, but it could be very dangerous, if we saw or heard too much."

Polly ran over to the consol from the chair where she had been sobbing, her mascara running onto her sleeve where she'd rested her arm on the little card table .

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"I'm going to buy a film guide, I won't be long."  He paused and looked at Ben expectantly. "Well have you got any money?"

Later he cradled the thick book on his knee, reading aloud:

"Archer, Clifford : born Alfred Trousedale 1929. A somewhat undistinguished character actor whose childhood career floundered after the filming of Cecil B. De Mille's The Days Of Our Lives , an unfinished epic trawl through history in which he played Prince Tutmoses of Egypt.  He would return to the film ironically in 1969 when a would-be remake cast him as Ishmael leader of the Egyptian slaves."

The Doctor snorted. "Ishmael, I suppose Pharoah's army was swallowed by a white whale".

Polly bit her lip. "Does it say anything about the death?"

"No Polly it does not. And that might mean we can prevent it."

Ben glared a the Doctor.  "That's not the sort of thing you used to say. What about that sideshow affair you showed us when we started travelling with you. 'Hello I'm Troy McClure you might remember me from such safety films as So You've Altered History, and Butterflies On My Blue-suede Shoes.'  "

"That was quite different, Ben."

"How different?"

"Ben," the Doctor said, slowly and patiently, "a man is dead".

Polly sniffed, "And we killed him."

The Doctor held a finger to his lips and gave a meaningful tilt of his head at Ben, to which Ben remained luckily oblivious. Polly subsided.

"Now Polly, we don't know that for certain, and besides if I'm right, there's a sense in which the death hasn't happened yet. And anything that hasn't happened yet can be prevented. Besides goodness knows who'd fill the film vacuum left by Alfred's unavailability," the Doctor continued, "suppose someone else starred in all his films. They might do anything with their popularity, even run for President. The whole political spectrum of 20th century Earth could be very different!"

"Oh sure," Ben scoffed, "an actor as President! Still if it matters so much to you Duchess maybe we should try something."

The Doctor set the controls for 1999, and noticeably, crossed his fingers.

1999:  Act 3 Scene 2

The aging, the reclusive, the down-at-heel Clifford Archer was already rehearsing his self mockery as he opened the door of the squalid digs he shared with half the students in London, expecting to blink in the lens of a videocam.

Instead he found himself staring down into two quizzical brown eyes under a ridiculous out of date and over-tall hat. The hat immediately struck a chord; thirty odd years ago he'd known someone who wore a hat like that.

Odd, the tricks memory played, things from his childhood were coming into sharp focus these days, his middle years were a blur with the occasional close-up, and where he'd put the cat food last night he certainly didn't know.  The bane of being seventy.

The man took off his hat, revealing a mop of hair that to Clifford's practised eyes looked very like a wig. The thought made Cliff wonder if his own was straight.

"The washing machine," the man said, "can I come in?".

"Did the landlord send you?" Cliff asked. He hadn't noticed that the shared communal washing machine that served his and the student's one-room 'flats' was broken.  "Only it's not very convenient. I've got some people coming."  He found himself embarrassed enough to try to explain even though it was none of the man's business. It was the hat mainly - he couldn't for the life of him remember where he'd seen it before, but he was sure he had.

"A film crew, actually," he said. "They're doing a documentary with reconstructions. On the Curse of The Days Of Our Lives - the film, you know."

The man looked at him as if he was mad.  "Ah, no I'm afraid you misunderstood me. I don't know your landlord, but the cat food is in the washing machine and you must not make that documentary."

As it turned out the cat food was in the washing machine. Clifford shrugged: that explained the socks in the larder then. He was getting vaguer. His doctor's hadn't given him long: all the more reason to keep working - screw one last tenner out of this unforgiving wretched business - leave enough to get his daughter out of debt and pay the funeral expenses.

"How did you know?" he asked the stranger.

"Obvious place," the man remarked giving the household tabby a tentative pat. It hissed at him.

"I can't take your advice I'm afraid."

"I thought not. If you did it would have complicated things but Polly wanted me to try."

"Hang on!"  Polly. There had been a make-up girl called that on the remake back in 1969 when he'd been playing the Hebrew rebel, thingummy-bob, the one based on Moses they couldn't call Moses for some legal reason.  A makeup girl called Polly and a man with a great big hat.  The same man?  Impossible, the chap didn't look a day over...actually Clifford couldn't get to within a decade of the man's age. He had one of those born old faces that worked you over for leading parts but gave you the pick of character roles.
"Surely, we've met?" - Clifford found himself saying  oh well he could only look stupid (and poor, and old, and undervalued). "Weren't you technical advisor on the remake?"

The man looked startled. "Oh now, not really possible is it?  My  er father, yes my father did some work on British films: old school technical work, painting backdrops on glass, all very specialised -always known as the Doctor."

Clifford's memory clicked into place. "Yes that was what he liked to be called. Bit of a poser really if you don't mind my saying so." He gave the man an appraising look. "He really stamped on your face didn't he. You could be his double."  He set his face into his best scowl. "It must really have been a family thing. Wasn't his father in on the 1939 shoot?"

A look of panic passed over the stranger's face.  Clifford felt a pang of compassion.

"Listen if their reputation is on the line I can't help that. Everyone on the set was absolved of blame at the time by the police. I'm not about to point any fingers. This is an artistic recreation for the South Bank Show, not bloody Watchdog.

"A precise recreation?"

Clifford sniffed, "well look at me! I'm hardly set up to play the romantic lead am I.  I'll be taking the role of the elderly magician Ammon-Ra: the sorceror that Moses, well whatsisname, defeats in the turning staffs into snakes contest. So it'll be my second role."

"You third surely?"

"If you're referring to my performance as Prince Tutmoses in the 1939 original - I regard that as a mere cameo."

"It doesn't worry you then?"

"I'm not superstitious. Not every actor wets himself when someone says Macbeth you know."

"Even so wouldn't you call it odd. Two deaths in two attempts to film the same story, both of the same character, the one you're due to play now?"

"In a re-enactment of a scene not the whole film."

"Ah forgive me, but which scene exactly have the asked you to re-enact?"

Clifford bit his lip.  "Get out".

He slammed the door behind the man - his heart pounding.

They both knew which scene he was being paid to re-enact.

Ammon-Ra's most important moment.  The biggy.  The death scene.


1939:  Act 1 Scene 2

"You reckon we can just walk up and have a butchers, then?" Ben asked, as the Doctor locked the Tardis in the backlot.

Polly looked puzzled, and taking pity on her, Ben added, "Butcher's hook, look, Duchess."

"Yes, I don't see why not." the Doctor answered. "We only want an autograph, if anyone asks you can be an extra; Polly can be from make-up."

Polly executed a mock half ironic bow; and seemed to  be considering demanding a starring role instead but let it pass.

"And you?" Ben asked. He'd started to feel the same respect for 'this' Doctor as he had for the old man he'd met the Day Wotan Went Mad, but it didn't feel right calling him sir, like he would have the old geezer.

"I shall say I am on the technical side."

1969:  Act 2 Scene 1

"....wouldn't listen the thick-pated nincompoop," the Doctor grumbled as the TARDIS materialised on the backlot, again, thirty years later than its previous visit.

Ben looked puzzled, "but you said he wouldn't listen, that's why you didn't want to ask him."

"Well of course I knew he wouldn't listen," the Doctor spluttered, "If he'd listened we wouldn't have been in this hodgepodge of a dog's breakfast in the first place would we."

"I don't think we ought to go out there," Ben said setting himself up to block the Doctor's passage to the doors.

Polly put her hand on the able-seaman's arm - knowing he couldn't deny his Duchess anything. "Please Ben".

Ben shook his head, angrily, stubbornly, the same stubbornness that had made him deny his own eye when they had seen the Doctor change so recently from a white haired patrician of around 800 years of age into this dark haired scamp.

"What if we make it worse?"

The Doctor looked him in the face, "for once I don't think that's possible, do you?  Pass me my hat there's a good fellow."

Cliff Archer strode out of make-up with, he was aware, a cheesy grin on his face, the image of the beautiful girl who'd put the finishings on lingering in his mind.  Nice girl, gorgeous blonde hair. Posh woman to be doing such a menial job, might be worth asking out once the picture was in the can. She'd obviously been starstruck too.

A man in a tall hat, a tatty jacket and and frankly Chaplinesque trousers bounded onto the set, framing the empty air at the back between his hands.  "Ah Cliff Archer," he cried, "I'm so pleased to meet you."

"You are?"  Cliff edged away hoping he could get away with a simple autograph.

"You again, Doctor!"  An older voice cut through the question as a figure robed in green, his face hidden within a carven mummy mask, stepped onto the dais that formed the central feature of the set.

Cliff recognised the costume from the 1939 production.  It was a classy replica - the new film's designers had opted to pick up on the original designs. Cliff suspected it was to let them drop in background scenes from the original painted out of black and white with a single tone for mood. Art they called it: he called it cheapness. The mask was an art nouveau horror the faked winkles of the plastic bandages stretching the face into a distorted scream. He wondered for a moment what idiot would wear it replica or not, knowing the gruesome fate of the actor in the previous production. The mask had been burned right onto his face. As if by lightening.

He felt a momentary pang of guilt to realise he'd never bothered to learn the name of the actor who was electrocuted in 1939, still he could rectify that now by learning the name of this chap and giving him some encouragement.  "So you are?" he asked getting as much heartiness into his tone as he could manage faced with that evil, near reptile face.

"Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra, who do you bloody think I am, the jolly green giant?"  - the voice was old, cultured, and bitter.  Cliff felt himself blushing at such language. Well damn the man, if that was his attitude he could just stay a nameless figure in a mask, for all Cliff cared.

The man in the hat rested his hand on Cliff's arm.  "Do try to forgive him. It must be very hot in there and I'm not sure he can see out very well." He tapped a finger on the mask's glassy eyes.

"Do you mind" The Mask jerked away on Ammon-Ra's scrawny neck and his voice came out angry as a hornet. "I'm only in this iron-maiden of a thing for one scene. I don't need the sons of hasbeen technical advisors getting me trapped in it."

Cliff turned to the man in the hat.  "Your father worked on the last film? I don't remember..."

"Oh, no reason you should," the man said quickly, "spent his whole time getting painted into a corner. I mean painting the corners".

The masked mummy, groaned, and Cliff realised the bitter old fool was laughing.  "Vain git more like. Going on about how the film would end in tragedy. I wouldn't have been surprised if it turned out to have been his electrical work that fried my predecessor.  Still he was proved right I suppose which was a bloody strange co-incidence what with it happening just like..."

"He predicted," the man in the hat finished, capping Ammon-Ra's sentence.  The Mummy seemed to take that as the last straw.  "Listen I have to do this, don't think you can get me off set by hanging about with poor quality look-a-likes either!  I'm going through with it.  And he stalked off.

Cliff whistled. "Bit of a chip on his shoulder!  Did you father work on the 1939 film then? I played Prince Tutmoses you know - something of a break for me, not a normal child role you see. Had some meat to it. When the magician got struck by lightening and the film got shelved, I'm afraid my mum and me went to the dogs.  Alcohol. Mother's ruin."

"Listen," the technical fellow said suddenly, "You could do much better than this film you know. You're a genius. You could get a better role at MGM tomorrow. Today probably if you told them to go hang."

Cliff choked back a laugh. "A genius? Hmm, you know what MGM offered me: a role with Bingo their best selling chimp. I almost took it too then this came along. My chance to put things right - make up for lost opportunities."

"It's very important not to live in the past Mr. Archer - human's aren't designed for it!"

Cliff looked at the little technical advisor with the big hat and snorted with laughter.  "I'm sorry," he said,
"no offence man but look at us, this whole set looks like something out of the 1930s, and you look like the 1890s and your telling me not to live in the past?"

"Well appearances aren't everything," the Doctor frowned wrinkles pushing up his brows and mussing his Beatle-cut hair.  He stopped as if clearing his throat before delivering a scripted line:
"I must warn you this film will end in tragedy".

Cliff chortled, "You are a card Doctor, just like your dad eh?"

"You just remember I said it. Now can you tell me where I can find your Director?"

1939:  Act 1 Scene 3

Polly came out of the make-up tent at a full run straight into Ben's arms. She was almost hysterical.

"I've just done Cliff's make-up," she shouted, as if it was a crime.

"Calm down, calm down" Ben said, feeling her sobs heave against his body: "That was the idea wasn't it; see what the boy looked like, get a better idea of his Greatest Film?"

"No, no you don't understand this wasn't Prince Tutmoses."

"But that's his part isn't it? The Royal?"

"This was Ishmael, the rebel and he was thirty years too old.  It wasn't a different actor it was him, again. Him as he will be. I've just put make-up on someone from thirty years in the future.

Ben didn't doubt her word. "Come on lets find the Doctor. He'll know what's going on.

1999: Act 3 Scene 4

"I'm ruined."  The Director was slumped in his canvas-backed chair, his bearded face in his hands.

"Possibly," the Doctor conceded. "Ruining your own star's career isn't the brightest publicity move.   He had the box office appeal of a brick after drinking himself stupid between your thirty years seperated takes. The only films he ever made were Italian westling movies. And it was your magnum opuses fault.  Time trauma can do that."

The Director looked at the little man. There was something like kindness in his tone. A ruthful acceptance of human folly maybe.  "You think there might be someway out?"

The girl from make-up nodded, picking up her business from the little man the Director noted, she'd have made a good actress herself.

"Couldn't you call off the shoot?", she said, "say your backers have pulled out?  You don't want to kill a man do you?"

"No...no...I don't but how do I know that will happen, it hasn't yet."  He wavered. People died all the time shooting films. There had been The Crow after all. And if he just thought of Cliff as a stunt man, well they were two-a-penny.

The Doctor waved his film guide, "and this though written has not yet been written. I got it from a bit of time caught up in the cat's cradle your lash-up has created in the continuum. Walk away, let it unravel. There's been too much harm. If you end it now, the filming in 1939 will peter out. Cliff's career will falter but by 1969 he'll have a..." He glanced at a dog-eared page, its edge turned down to mark the reference...'a pleasingly inoffensive, minor comedy with a chimp' awaiting him."  He smiled at the girl.  "Maybe not Hamlet, Polly, not yet, but a step away from immolation."

The Director rubbed his beard nervously, "If only I had something else to offer the studio."

The Doctor put his arm around his shoulder, "Tell me, have you ever considered making a film about the Titanic."

1999: Act 3 Scene 5

"Cut."

"That's it, shows over, get down from the gantry. We won't be needing you after all Ammon."

Clifford tensed in the mask: Not need him? After all these years? Not bloody need him? His old muscles ached but he was buzzing with adrenaline. He'd show them a performance!

He edged foward casting his shadow over the scene below.  The bloody look-a-like playing Ishmael, his fatuous face a parody of Cliff's own at that age looked up at him.  The man was shouting something: couldn't he stick to his bloody lines?

Clifford's hand shock as he raised the iron staff. He just had to strike it on the fake stones supported by the gantry: the FX boys would handle the flash as the accident was recreated.

Then he saw the other face looking up at him.  The boy - Pharoah Tutmoses.  It was like looking into a mirror at the far end of a dusty hall way, but reflecting the sun.  The admiration in those eyes. The brighter memories of his childhood froze him, and Ben inching along the gantry behind, tackled him before he was within a yard of the exposed cable.
1939: Act 1 Scene 4

The boy perched on the throne was tiny, holding his legs stiff as a board so as not to swing them.
Naked enthusiasm in his darting eyes. The tyke. Cliff wished he'd had time to talk to him, swap memories, offer him some savlon or zambuc for his feet if those sandals hurt as much as his had thirty years before.
But everything was rush rush on this shoot; no rehearsals, just single run throughs with multiple cameras.

"Editing, my boy" the Director had said, "it's all in the editing. All in how you put the pieces together."

He banged his staff on the floor.

"Let my people go!"

Up above Mr Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra would be getting into position.

Just a little bit longer and the past wouldn't be closing in so much.

He cast down his staff and watched as the flash powder hide the substitution of the fake snake.

"Behold the power of the One True God!"  His voice was still steady. Surely the cue would come anytime now.

And there was a clap like thunder.

And there was a familiar lightening.

And then he heard the make-up girl, the nervy one, scream from behind the cameras, and he saw the body of Ammon-Ra burning as it fell to the floor.

"Did you see?" Polly shouted as the Doctor dragged her away.  "Behind him on the gallery?  It was Ben, he pushed him!"

The sizzling sound had barely stopped.

The Doctor let go of her suddenly. "It can't have been. I sent him back to the TARDIS to get some of my equipment.  It's too late now for that though. We have to get away before we get caught up in events."

"But he's dead," Polly said as though that was all that mattered.

"Dead and he should never have been here," the Doctor whispered.  "You couldn't have known, Polly, but I've seen the man who died, unmasked, in  the future. Those long limbs, that habit of moving at a half-hunch, that trick with the shoulders.  Moves honed over a lifetime of acting. A dozen films carry those signature moves."  He mopped his brow with a hankerchief.  "We've just seen Clifford Archer die at least sixty years too soon."

Epilogue

"And this is the last one I intend to buy for some time!"

"Only one he's paid for," Ben muttered, attracting a dig in the ribs from Polly.

The Doctor settled down to read. "Hmm, Not to bad; missed some of the highs but got others. Oh no!"

Polly and Ben jumped.  "What is it, Doctor?"

The Doctor was flipping frantically to another page of the newer film guide.

"Poor Alec Guiness, not his cup of tea at all.  He must have hated it."

And try as they might they never did get the Doctor to explain that, and although Ben looked for the film guides later himself, he never found either version again.

THE END


In the 'Days of the "Days of ""The Days of Our Lives"" " ' (Cut 2)

This story was originally printed in Missing Pieces (2001)
(It's intended to be capable of being read in 3 different orders, this version follows Cliff Archer's timeline, and will need to read in conjuction with either of the other two versions.)


Prince Tutmoses (1939)

The throne was huge.  From it, the tips of his toes barely reached the floor, and the leather strapped sandals were cutting into his feet; but he knew that he must not let his mother down by squirming.  This was an important moment; the climax of the battle of wills that he could see being played out before his young eyes.

He could no more look away than he could remove the heavy two-tiered crown that signified - so his mother had told him - the kingship of the upper and lower Niles.  It would be over soon now, he hoped; the heat of the brilliant lights that flooded the throne room was burning him.

The bearded prophet was shouting his demands for the slaves, again and again.  He was a giant of a man. Idly the boy wondered if he'd grow so straight and strong. Maybe if he ate all his greens as his mother insisted.  He kept his eyes on the prophet as he cast his staff upon the floor. There was a flash of powdery smoke and a snake writhed on the ground.  The boy stifled a smile - he had seen this trick before.  It was time for the next trick.

He knew he should not look up. It wasn't right that he take his eyes off the prophet; but even so he could not resist a glance towards the roof. It was a glance of admiration. There crawling along a ledge seemingly faced with stone slabs was the ancient sorcerer Ammon-Ra.  His long bones cast a gruesome shadow. In his hand he carried an iron staff.  It was shiversome to watch him; he had the moves so well, so spider-like, so evil. He would bang his staff on the stones and send them crashing down on the Prophet.  His intent was clear from his very stance.

It was, Alfie thought, the best acting he'd ever seen. He hoped he'd do as well when he grew up.  Until then the part of the boy-King Tutmoses was the best role his mother had ever got him.  It was the sensational children's character role of 1939!  His name was going to be in lights - well his stage name anyway, his mother said Alfie Trousdale wasn't a good name for an actor. He let his bored King's gaze drop to the Prophet, and so he did not see the other man crawling just behind the Sorcerer reach out toward him.

He did however see the flash of light, and he heard the make-up girl scream from behind the cameras, and he saw the body of Ammon-Ra fall to the floor of the set, burning as it fell.


Ishmael (1969)

Cliff Archer strode out of make-up with, he was aware, a cheesy grin on his face, the image of the beautiful girl who'd put the finishings on lingering in his mind.  Nice girl, gorgeous blonde hair. Posh woman to be doing such a menial job, might be worth asking out once the picture was in the can. She'd obviously been starstruck too.

A man in a tall hat, a tatty jacket and and frankly Chaplinesque trousers bounded onto the set, framing the empty air at the back between his hands.  "Ah Cliff Archer," he cried, "I'm so pleased to meet you."

"You are?"  Cliff edged away hoping he could get away with a simple autograph.

"You again, Doctor!"  An older voice cut through the question as a figure robed in green, his face hidden within a carven mummy mask, stepped onto the dais that formed the central feature of the set.

Cliff recognised the costume from the 1939 production.  It was a classy replica - the new film's designers had opted to pick up on the original designs. Cliff suspected it was to let them drop in background scenes from the original painted out of black and white with a single tone for mood. Art they called it: he called it cheapness. The mask was an art nouveau horror the faked winkles of the plastic bandages stretching the face into a distorted scream. He wondered for a moment what idiot would wear it replica or not, knowing the gruesome fate of the actor in the previous production. The mask had been burned right onto his face. As if by lightening.

He felt a momentary pang of guilt to realise he'd never bothered to learn the name of the actor who was electrocuted in 1939, still he could rectify that now by learning the name of this chap and giving him some encouragement.  "So you are?" he asked getting as much heartiness into his tone as he could manage faced with that evil, near reptile face.

"Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra, who do you bloody think I am, the jolly green giant?"  - the voice was old, cultured, and bitter.  Cliff felt himself blushing at such language. Well damn the man, if that was his attitude he could just stay a nameless figure in a mask, for all Cliff cared.

The man in the hat rested his hand on Cliff's arm.  "Do try to forgive him. It must be very hot in there and I'm not sure he can see out very well." He tapped a finger on the mask's glassy eyes.

"Do you mind" The Mask jerked away on Ammon-Ra's scrawny neck and his voice came out angry as a hornet. "I'm only in this iron-maiden of a thing for one scene. I don't need the sons of hasbeen technical advisors getting me trapped in it."

Cliff turned to the man in the hat.  "Your father worked on the last film? I don't remember..."

"Oh, no reason you should," the man said quickly, "spent his whole time getting painted into a corner. I mean painting the corners".

The masked mummy, groaned, and Cliff realised the bitter old fool was laughing.  "Vain git more like. Going on about how the film would end in tragedy. I wouldn't have been surprised if it turned out to have been his electrical work that fried my predecessor.  Still he was proved right I suppose which was a bloody strange co-incidence what with it happening just like..."

"He predicted," the man in the hat finished, capping Ammon-Ra's sentence.  The Mummy seemed to take that as the last straw.  "Listen I have to do this, don't think you can get me off set by hanging about with poor quality look-a-likes either!  I'm going through with it.  And he stalked off.

Cliff whistled. "Bit of a chip on his shoulder!  Did you father work on the 1939 film then? I played Prince Tutmoses you know - something of a break for me, not a normal child role you see. Had some meat to it. When the magician got struck by lightening and the film got shelved, I'm afraid my mum and me went to the dogs.  Alcohol. Mother's ruin."

"Listen," the technical fellow said suddenly, "You could do much better than this film you know. You're a genius. You could get a better role at MGM tomorrow. Today probably if you told them to go hang."

Cliff choked back a laugh. "A genius? Hmm, you know what MGM offered me: a role with Bingo their best selling chimp. I almost took it too then this came along. My chance to put things right - make up for lost opportunities."

"It's very important not to live in the past Mr. Archer - human's aren't designed for it!"

Cliff looked at the little technical advisor with the big hat and snorted with laughter.  "I'm sorry," he said,
"no offence man but look at us, this whole set looks like something out of the 1930s, and you look like the 1890s and your telling me not to live in the past?"

"Well appearances aren't everything," the Doctor frowned wrinkles pushing up his brows and mussing his Beatle-cut hair.  He stopped as if clearing his throat before delivering a scripted line:
"I must warn you this film will end in tragedy".

Cliff chortled, "You are a card Doctor, just like your dad eh?"

"You just remember I said it. Now can you tell me where I can find your Director?"


Ishmael (1969) later

The boy perched on the throne was tiny, holding his legs stiff as a board so as not to swing them.
Naked enthusiasm in his darting eyes. The tyke. Cliff wished he'd had time to talk to him, swap memories, offer him some savlon or zambuc for his feet if those sandals hurt as much as his had thirty years before.
But everything was rush rush on this shoot; no rehearsals, just single run throughs with multiple cameras.

"Editing, my boy" the Director had said, "it's all in the editing. All in how you put the pieces together."

He banged his staff on the floor.

"Let my people go!"

Up above Mr Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra would be getting into position.

Just a little bit longer and the past wouldn't be closing in so much.

He cast down his staff and watched as the flash powder hide the substitution of the fake snake.

"Behold the power of the One True God!"  His voice was still steady. Surely the cue would come anytime now.

And there was a clap like thunder.

And there was a familiar lightening.

And then he heard the make-up girl, the nervy one, scream from behind the cameras, and he saw the body of Ammon-Ra burning as it fell to the floor.


Ammon-Ra (1999)

The aging, the reclusive, the down-at-heel Clifford Archer was already rehearsing his self mockery as he opened the door of the squalid digs he shared with half the students in London, expecting to blink in the lens of a videocam.

Instead he found himself staring down into two quizzical brown eyes under a ridiculous out of date and over-tall hat. The hat immediately struck a chord; thirty odd years ago he'd known someone who wore a hat like that.

Odd, the tricks memory played, things from his childhood were coming into sharp focus these days, his middle years were a blur with the occasional close-up, and where he'd put the cat food last night he certainly didn't know.  The bane of being seventy.

The man took off his hat, revealing a mop of hair that to Clifford's practised eyes looked very like a wig. The thought made Cliff wonder if his own was straight.

"The washing machine," the man said, "can I come in?".

"Did the landlord send you?" Cliff asked. He hadn't noticed that the shared communal washing machine that served his and the student's one-room 'flats' was broken.  "Only it's not very convenient. I've got some people coming."  He found himself embarrassed enough to try to explain even though it was none of the man's business. It was the hat mainly - he couldn't for the life of him remember where he'd seen it before, but he was sure he had.

"A film crew, actually," he said. "They're doing a documentary with reconstructions. On the Curse of The Days Of Our Lives - the film, you know."

The man looked at him as if he was mad.  "Ah, no I'm afraid you misunderstood me. I don't know your landlord, but the cat food is in the washing machine and you must not make that documentary."

As it turned out the cat food was in the washing machine. Clifford shrugged: that explained the socks in the larder then. He was getting vaguer. His doctor's hadn't given him long: all the more reason to keep working - screw one last tenner out of this unforgiving wretched business - leave enough to get his daughter out of debt and pay the funeral expenses.

"How did you know?" he asked the stranger.

"Obvious place," the man remarked giving the household tabby a tentative pat. It hissed at him.

"I can't take your advice I'm afraid."

"I thought not. If you did it would have complicated things but Polly wanted me to try."

"Hang on!"  Polly. There had been a make-up girl called that on the remake back in 1969 when he'd been playing the Hebrew rebel, thingummy-bob, the one based on Moses they couldn't call Moses for some legal reason.  A makeup girl called Polly and a man with a great big hat.  The same man?  Impossible, the chap didn't look a day over...actually Clifford couldn't get to within a decade of the man's age. He had one of those born old faces that worked you over for leading parts but gave you the pick of character roles.
"Surely, we've met?" - Clifford found himself saying  oh well he could only look stupid (and poor, and old, and undervalued). "Weren't you technical advisor on the remake?"

The man looked startled. "Oh now, not really possible is it?  My  er father, yes my father did some work on British films: old school technical work, painting backdrops on glass, all very specialised -always known as the Doctor."

Clifford's memory clicked into place. "Yes that was what he liked to be called. Bit of a poser really if you don't mind my saying so." He gave the man an appraising look. "He really stamped on your face didn't he. You could be his double."  He set his face into his best scowl. "It must really have been a family thing. Wasn't his father in on the 1939 shoot?"

A look of panic passed over the stranger's face.  Clifford felt a pang of compassion.

"Listen if their reputation is on the line I can't help that. Everyone on the set was absolved of blame at the time by the police. I'm not about to point any fingers. This is an artistic recreation for the South Bank Show, not bloody Watchdog.

"A precise recreation?"

Clifford sniffed, "well look at me! I'm hardly set up to play the romantic lead am I.  I'll be taking the role of the elderly magician Ammon-Ra: the sorceror that Moses, well whatsisname, defeats in the turning staffs into snakes contest. So it'll be my second role."

"You third surely?"

"If you're referring to my performance as Prince Tutmoses in the 1939 original - I regard that as a mere cameo."

"It doesn't worry you then?"

"I'm not superstitious. Not every actor wets himself when someone says Macbeth you know."

"Even so wouldn't you call it odd. Two deaths in two attempts to film the same story, both of the same character, the one you're due to play now?"

"In a re-enactment of a scene not the whole film."

"Ah forgive me, but which scene exactly have the asked you to re-enact?"

Clifford bit his lip.  "Get out".

He slammed the door behind the man - his heart pounding.

They both knew which scene he was being paid to re-enact.

Ammon-Ra's most important moment.  The biggy.  The death scene.

Ammon-Ra (1999) later

"You again, Doctor!"  Clifford interrupted the little man on the dais, as he was talking to the youngster the documentary makers thought looked like him thirty years ago. (Cliff couldn't see it himself - although that might be the view through the carven mummy mask).  Ishmael looked like any washed up forty year old dressed as an ancient Egyptian.

The middle aged actor smiled heartily: "So you are?" he asked.

Typical, they hadn't even told him who he'd be working with:  no-one cared.  "Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra, who do you bloody think I am, the jolly green giant?"  - Cliff snapped.

The man in the hat rested his hand on Ishmael's arm.  "Do try to forgive him. It must be very hot in there and I'm not sure he can see out very well." He tapped a finger on the glassy eyes of Cliff's mask.

"Do you mind"  Cliff jerked his head away.  Somehow the tech ignoring him and playing up to the younger man infuriated him more than ever.  "I'm only in this iron-maiden of a thing for one scene. I don't need the sons of hasbeen technical advisors getting me trapped in it."

Ishmael turned to the man in the hat.  "Your father worked on the last film? I don't remember..."

"Oh, no reason you should," the man said quickly, "spent his whole time getting painted into a corner. I mean painting the corners".

Clifford groaned, the oddball was going to spin his father's doom prophesies out unto the next generation.
Cliff laughed.  "Vain git more like. Going on about how the film would end in tragedy. I wouldn't have been surprised if it turned out to have been his electrical work that fried my predecessor.  Still he was proved right I suppose which was a bloody strange co-incidence what with it happening just like..."

"He predicted," the man in the hat finished, capping Cliff's sentence.

That was the last straw.  Cliff boiled behind his mask. "Listen I have to do this, don't think you can get me off set by hanging about with poor quality look-a-likes either!  I'm going through with it.  He stalked off.

Ammon-Ra (1999)

"Cut."

"That's it, shows over, get down from the gantry. We won't be needing you after all Ammon."

Clifford tensed in the mask: Not need him? After all these years? Not bloody need him? His old muscles ached but he was buzzing with adrenaline. He'd show them a performance!

He edged foward casting his shadow over the scene below.  The bloody look-a-like playing Ishmael, his fatuous face a parody of Cliff's own at that age looked up at him.  The man was shouting something: couldn't he stick to his bloody lines?

Clifford's hand shock as he raised the iron staff. He just had to strike it on the fake stones supported by the gantry: the FX boys would handle the flash as the accident was recreated.

Then he saw the other face looking up at him.  The boy - Pharoah Tutmoses.  It was like looking into a mirror at the far end of a dusty hall way, but reflecting the sun.  The admiration in those eyes. The brighter memories of his childhood froze him, and Ben inching along the gantry behind, tackled him before he was within a yard of the exposed cable.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

In The Days Of "The Days Of 'The Days Of Our Lives' " (Cut 1)

This story was originally printed in Missing Pieces (2001)
(It's intended to be capable of being read in 3 different orders, this version follows the Doctor, Ben and Polly's timeline, so I'm going to post it 3 times.)



The throne was huge.  From it, the tips of his toes barely reached the floor, and the leather strapped sandals were cutting into his feet; but he knew that he must not let his mother down by squirming.  This was an important moment; the climax of the battle of wills that he could see being played out before his young eyes.

He could no more look away than he could remove the heavy two-tiered crown that signified - so his mother had told him - the kingship of the upper and lower Niles.  It would be over soon now, he hoped; the heat of the brilliant lights that flooded the throne room was burning him.

The bearded prophet was shouting his demands for the slaves, again and again.  He was a giant of a man. Idly the boy wondered if he'd grow so straight and strong. Maybe if he ate all his greens as his mother insisted.  He kept his eyes on the prophet as he cast his staff upon the floor. There was a flash of powdery smoke and a snake writhed on the ground.  The boy stifled a smile - he had seen this trick before.  It was time for the next trick.

He knew he should not look up. It wasn't right that he take his eyes off the prophet; but even so he could not resist a glance towards the roof. It was a glance of admiration. There crawling along a ledge seemingly faced with stone slabs was the ancient sorcerer Ammon-Ra.  His long bones cast a gruesome shadow. In his hand he carried an iron staff.  It was shiversome to watch him; he had the moves so well, so spider-like, so evil. He would bang his staff on the stones and send them crashing down on the Prophet.  His intent was clear from his very stance.

It was, Alfie thought, the best acting he'd ever seen. He hoped he'd do as well when he grew up.  Until then the part of the boy-King Tutmoses was the best role his mother had ever got him.  It was the sensational children's character role of 1939!  His name was going to be in lights - well his stage name anyway, his mother said Alfie Trousdale wasn't a good name for an actor. He let his bored King's gaze drop to the Prophet, and so he did not see the other man crawling just behind the Sorcerer reach out toward him.

He did however see the flash of light, and he heard the make-up girl scream from behind the cameras, and he saw the body of Ammon-Ra fall to the floor of the set, burning as it fell.

Inside the Ship:  Act 1 Scene 1

Polly and Ben were arguing.  Good naturedly enough and with only a modicum of teasing banter but there was no denying it was getting on the Doctor's erratic nerves.  Since his change when his body had renewed itself with the help of the TARDIS he had been nervous around Ben. The young able-seaman had doubted the Doctor's identity to begin with, and in a sense maybe he had doubted it himself: no amount of theoretical knowledge could prepare the psyche for the shock of renewal. Polly had been kinder but even she could have no real conception of what had happened to him: neither of them could.

"Hey Doc," Ben shouted, "settle an argument?"

"Oh," the Doctor fidgeted as if he had been unexpectedly asked to shoot a mettlesome horse, "I don't know if I could do that. I mean I'm no authority."  A quirk of his lips suggested he didn't believe himself for a moment.

Polly beamed sweetly, "But you must have an opinion?"

He beamed back. "Must I?  I try not to get involved in local disputes, you know that!"

"No, bur really" Ben said, "Cliff Archer right? Was he better as Hornblower or Hamlet 'cause I say Horatio but Miss High Culture here holds out for the Prince of Denmark."

"Well," the Doctor paused. "I think we've established Ben, that you prefer his middle period: Devil Dogs of The Marines, Bedtime for Bingo, and that film you can't remember the name of, in which he plays a man who loses both legs in an accident.

Ben looked surprised - he hadn't thought the Doctor had been listening - and Polly winced at the return of a painful subject, but the Doctor didn't seem to notice.  "But most serious film-buffs consider that his finest performance was as a child as Prince Tutmoses in Cecil B. De Mille's epic sampler of history The Days Of Our Lives."

"That black and white effort were he plays an Egyptian?" Ben snorted, "It's so slow."

Polly looked serious, "You know it's only just occurred to me but the Doctor's probably seen films that haven't even been made yet - in our time I mean."

Ben perked up, "Yeah that'd be interesting, come on Doc so what does Cliff get remembered for?"

The Doctor muttered something under his breath.

"Come again?" Ben said, but the Doctor was already busying himself setting co-ordinates.  "Did you catch that Duchess?"

"I'm not sure. What sort of film has a character in, called something like O'Brian Ken O'Boyo?"

"Something Irish" Ben guessed. "Sort of Leprechaun flick probably; you know pots of gold."


1939:  Act 1 Scene 2

"You reckon we can just walk up and have a butchers, then?" Ben asked, as the Doctor locked the Tardis in the backlot.

Polly looked puzzled, and taking pity on her, Ben added, "Butcher's hook, look, Duchess."

"Yes, I don't see why not." the Doctor answered. "We only want an autograph, if anyone asks you can be an extra; Polly can be from make-up."

Polly executed a mock half ironic bow; and seemed to  be considering demanding a starring role instead but let it pass.

"And you?" Ben asked. He'd started to feel the same respect for 'this' Doctor as he had for the old man he'd met the Day Wotan Went Mad, but it didn't feel right calling him sir, like he would have the old geezer.

"I shall say I am on the technical side."

1939:  Act 1 Scene 3

Polly came out of the make-up tent at a full run straight into Ben's arms. She was almost hysterical.

"I've just done Cliff's make-up," she shouted, as if it was a crime.

"Calm down, calm down" Ben said, feeling her sobs heave against his body: "That was the idea wasn't it; see what the boy looked like, get a better idea of his Greatest Film?"

"No, no you don't understand this wasn't Prince Tutmoses."

"But that's his part isn't it? The Royal?"

"This was Ishmael, the rebel and he was thirty years too old.  It wasn't a different actor it was him, again. Him as he will be. I've just put make-up on someone from thirty years in the future.

Ben didn't doubt her word. "Come on lets find the Doctor. He'll know what's going on."

1939: Act 1 Scene 4

The boy perched on the throne was tiny, holding his legs stiff as a board so as not to swing them.
Naked enthusiasm in his darting eyes. The tyke. Cliff wished he'd had time to talk to him, swap memories, offer him some savlon or zambuc for his feet if those sandals hurt as much as his had thirty years before.
But everything was rush rush on this shoot; no rehearsals, just single run throughs with multiple cameras.

"Editing, my boy" the Director had said, "it's all in the editing. All in how you put the pieces together."

He banged his staff on the floor.

"Let my people go!"

Up above Mr Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra would be getting into position.

Just a little bit longer and the past wouldn't be closing in so much.

He cast down his staff and watched as the flash powder hide the substitution of the fake snake.

"Behold the power of the One True God!"  His voice was still steady. Surely the cue would come anytime now.

And there was a clap like thunder.

And there was a familiar lightening.

And then he heard the make-up girl, the nervy one, scream from behind the cameras, and he saw the body of Ammon-Ra burning as it fell to the floor.

"Did you see?" Polly shouted as the Doctor dragged her away.  "Behind him on the gallery?  It was Ben, he pushed him!"

The sizzling sound had barely stopped.

The Doctor let go of her suddenly. "It can't have been. I sent him back to the TARDIS to get some of my equipment.  It's too late now for that though. We have to get away before we get caught up in events."

"But he's dead," Polly said as though that was all that mattered.

"Dead and he should never have been here," the Doctor whispered.  "You couldn't have known, Polly, but I've seen the man who died, unmasked, in  the future. Those long limbs, that habit of moving at a half-hunch, that trick with the shoulders.  Moves honed over a lifetime of acting. A dozen films carry those signature moves."  He mopped his brow with a hankerchief.  "We've just seen Clifford Archer die at least sixty years too soon."

2003: Inside the Ship : Act 3 Scene 1

"Stay in the Ship," The Doctor's voice was terse. Ben tried to stand up to him but there was something in the small man's eyes that admitted of no compromises. "I'll just be a moment, but it could be very dangerous, if we saw or heard too much."

Polly ran over to the consol from the chair where she had been sobbing, her mascara running onto her sleeve where she'd rested her arm on the little card table .

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"I'm going to buy a film guide, I won't be long."  He paused and looked at Ben expectantly. "Well have you got any money?"

Later he cradled the thick book on his knee, reading aloud:

"Archer, Clifford : born Alfred Trousedale 1929. A somewhat undistinguished character actor whose childhood career floundered after the filming of Cecil B. De Mille's The Days Of Our Lives , an unfinished epic trawl through history in which he played Prince Tutmoses of Egypt.  He would return to the film ironically in 1969 when a would-be remake cast him as Ishmael leader of the Egyptian slaves."

The Doctor snorted. "Ishmael, I suppose Pharoah's army was swallowed by a white whale".

Polly bit her lip. "Does it say anything about the death?"

"No Polly it does not. And that might mean we can prevent it."

Ben glared a the Doctor.  "That's not the sort of thing you used to say. What about that sideshow affair you showed us when we started travelling with you. 'Hello I'm Troy McClure you might remember me from such safety films as So You've Altered History, and Butterflies On My Blue-suede Shoes.'  "

"That was quite different, Ben."

"How different?"

"Ben," the Doctor said, slowly and patiently, "a man is dead".

Polly sniffed, "And we killed him."

The Doctor held a finger to his lips and gave a meaningful tilt of his head at Ben, to which Ben remained luckily oblivious. Polly subsided.

"Now Polly, we don't know that for certain, and besides if I'm right, there's a sense in which the death hasn't happened yet. And anything that hasn't happened yet can be prevented. Besides goodness knows who'd fill the film vacuum left by Alfred's unavailability," the Doctor continued, "suppose someone else starred in all his films. They might do anything with their popularity, even run for President. The whole political spectrum of 20th century Earth could be very different!"

"Oh sure," Ben scoffed, "an actor as President! Still if it matters so much to you Duchess maybe we should try something."

The Doctor set the controls for 1999, and noticeably, crossed his fingers.

1999: Act 3 Scene 2

The aging, the reclusive, the down-at-heel Clifford Archer was already rehearsing his self mockery as he opened the door of the squalid digs he shared with half the students in London, expecting to blink in the lens of a videocam.

Instead he found himself staring down into two quizzical brown eyes under a ridiculous out of date and over-tall hat. The hat immediately struck a chord; thirty odd years ago he'd known someone who wore a hat like that.

Odd, the tricks memory played, things from his childhood were coming into sharp focus these days, his middle years were a blur with the occasional close-up, and where he'd put the cat food last night he certainly didn't know.  The bane of being seventy.

The man took off his hat, revealing a mop of hair that to Clifford's practised eyes looked very like a wig. The thought made Cliff wonder if his own was straight.

"The washing machine," the man said, "can I come in?".

"Did the landlord send you?" Cliff asked. He hadn't noticed that the shared communal washing machine that served his and the student's one-room 'flats' was broken.  "Only it's not very convenient. I've got some people coming."  He found himself embarrassed enough to try to explain even though it was none of the man's business. It was the hat mainly - he couldn't for the life of him remember where he'd seen it before, but he was sure he had.

"A film crew, actually," he said. "They're doing a documentary with reconstructions. On the Curse of The Days Of Our Lives - the film, you know."

The man looked at him as if he was mad.  "Ah, no I'm afraid you misunderstood me. I don't know your landlord, but the cat food is in the washing machine and you must not make that documentary."

As it turned out the cat food was in the washing machine. Clifford shrugged: that explained the socks in the larder then. He was getting vaguer. His doctor's hadn't given him long: all the more reason to keep working - screw one last tenner out of this unforgiving wretched business - leave enough to get his daughter out of debt and pay the funeral expenses.

"How did you know?" he asked the stranger.

"Obvious place," the man remarked giving the household tabby a tentative pat. It hissed at him.

"I can't take your advice I'm afraid."

"I thought not. If you did it would have complicated things but Polly wanted me to try."

"Hang on!"  Polly. There had been a make-up girl called that on the remake back in 1969 when he'd been playing the Hebrew rebel, thingummy-bob, the one based on Moses they couldn't call Moses for some legal reason.  A makeup girl called Polly and a man with a great big hat.  The same man?  Impossible, the chap didn't look a day over...actually Clifford couldn't get to within a decade of the man's age. He had one of those born old faces that worked you over for leading parts but gave you the pick of character roles.
"Surely, we've met?" - Clifford found himself saying  oh well he could only look stupid (and poor, and old, and undervalued). "Weren't you technical advisor on the remake?"

The man looked startled. "Oh now, not really possible is it?  My  er father, yes my father did some work on British films: old school technical work, painting backdrops on glass, all very specialised -always known as the Doctor."

Clifford's memory clicked into place. "Yes that was what he liked to be called. Bit of a poser really if you don't mind my saying so." He gave the man an appraising look. "He really stamped on your face didn't he. You could be his double."  He set his face into his best scowl. "It must really have been a family thing. Wasn't his father in on the 1939 shoot?"

A look of panic passed over the stranger's face.  Clifford felt a pang of compassion.

"Listen if their reputation is on the line I can't help that. Everyone on the set was absolved of blame at the time by the police. I'm not about to point any fingers. This is an artistic recreation for the South Bank Show, not bloody Watchdog.

"A precise recreation?"

Clifford sniffed, "well look at me! I'm hardly set up to play the romantic lead am I.  I'll be taking the role of the elderly magician Ammon-Ra: the sorceror that Moses, well whatsisname, defeats in the turning staffs into snakes contest. So it'll be my second role."

"You third surely?"

"If you're referring to my performance as Prince Tutmoses in the 1939 original - I regard that as a mere cameo."

"It doesn't worry you then?"

"I'm not superstitious. Not every actor wets himself when someone says Macbeth you know."

"Even so wouldn't you call it odd. Two deaths in two attempts to film the same story, both of the same character, the one you're due to play now?"

"In a re-enactment of a scene not the whole film."

"Ah forgive me, but which scene exactly have the asked you to re-enact?"

Clifford bit his lip.  "Get out".

He slammed the door behind the man - his heart pounding.

They both knew which scene he was being paid to re-enact.

Ammon-Ra's most important moment.  The biggy.  The death scene.


1969:  Act 2 Scene 1

"....wouldn't listen the thick-pated nincompoop," the Doctor grumbled as the TARDIS materialised on the backlot, again, thirty years later than its previous visit.

Ben looked puzzled, "but you said he wouldn't listen, that's why you didn't want to ask him."

"Well of course I knew he wouldn't listen," the Doctor spluttered, "If he'd listened we wouldn't have been in this hodgepodge of a dog's breakfast in the first place would we."

"I don't think we ought to go out there," Ben said setting himself up to block the Doctor's passage to the doors.

Polly put her hand on the able-seaman's arm - knowing he couldn't deny his Duchess anything. "Please Ben".

Ben shook his head, angrily, stubbornly, the same stubbornness that had made him deny his own eye when they had seen the Doctor change so recently from a white haired patrician of around 800 years of age into this dark haired scamp.

"What if we make it worse?"

The Doctor looked him in the face, "for once I don't think that's possible, do you?  Pass me my hat there's a good fellow."

Cliff Archer strode out of make-up with, he was aware, a cheesy grin on his face, the image of the beautiful girl who'd put the finishings on lingering in his mind.  Nice girl, gorgeous blonde hair. Posh woman to be doing such a menial job, might be worth asking out once the picture was in the can. She'd obviously been starstruck too.

A man in a tall hat, a tatty jacket and and frankly Chaplinesque trousers bounded onto the set, framing the empty air at the back between his hands.  "Ah Cliff Archer," he cried, "I'm so pleased to meet you."

"You are?"  Cliff edged away hoping he could get away with a simple autograph.

"You again, Doctor!"  An older voice cut through the question as a figure robed in green, his face hidden within a carven mummy mask, stepped onto the dais that formed the central feature of the set.

Cliff recognised the costume from the 1939 production.  It was a classy replica - the new film's designers had opted to pick up on the original designs. Cliff suspected it was to let them drop in background scenes from the original painted out of black and white with a single tone for mood. Art they called it: he called it cheapness. The mask was an art nouveau horror the faked winkles of the plastic bandages stretching the face into a distorted scream. He wondered for a moment what idiot would wear it replica or not, knowing the gruesome fate of the actor in the previous production. The mask had been burned right onto his face. As if by lightening.

He felt a momentary pang of guilt to realise he'd never bothered to learn the name of the actor who was electrocuted in 1939, still he could rectify that now by learning the name of this chap and giving him some encouragement.  "So you are?" he asked getting as much heartiness into his tone as he could manage faced with that evil, near reptile face.

"Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra, who do you bloody think I am, the jolly green giant?"  - the voice was old, cultured, and bitter.  Cliff felt himself blushing at such language. Well damn the man, if that was his attitude he could just stay a nameless figure in a mask, for all Cliff cared.

The man in the hat rested his hand on Cliff's arm.  "Do try to forgive him. It must be very hot in there and I'm not sure he can see out very well." He tapped a finger on the mask's glassy eyes.

"Do you mind" The Mask jerked away on Ammon-Ra's scrawny neck and his voice came out angry as a hornet. "I'm only in this iron-maiden of a thing for one scene. I don't need the sons of hasbeen technical advisors getting me trapped in it."

Cliff turned to the man in the hat.  "Your father worked on the last film? I don't remember..."

"Oh, no reason you should," the man said quickly, "spent his whole time getting painted into a corner. I mean painting the corners".

The masked mummy, groaned, and Cliff realised the bitter old fool was laughing.  "Vain git more like. Going on about how the film would end in tragedy. I wouldn't have been surprised if it turned out to have been his electrical work that fried my predecessor.  Still he was proved right I suppose which was a bloody strange co-incidence what with it happening just like..."

"He predicted," the man in the hat finished, capping Ammon-Ra's sentence.  The Mummy seemed to take that as the last straw.  "Listen I have to do this, don't think you can get me off set by hanging about with poor quality look-a-likes either!  I'm going through with it.  And he stalked off.

Cliff whistled. "Bit of a chip on his shoulder!  Did you father work on the 1939 film then? I played Prince Tutmoses you know - something of a break for me, not a normal child role you see. Had some meat to it. When the magician got struck by lightening and the film got shelved, I'm afraid my mum and me went to the dogs.  Alcohol. Mother's ruin."

"Listen," the technical fellow said suddenly, "You could do much better than this film you know. You're a genius. You could get a better role at MGM tomorrow. Today probably if you told them to go hang."

Cliff choked back a laugh. "A genius? Hmm, you know what MGM offered me: a role with Bingo their best selling chimp. I almost took it too then this came along. My chance to put things right - make up for lost opportunities."

"It's very important not to live in the past Mr. Archer - human's aren't designed for it!"

Cliff looked at the little technical advisor with the big hat and snorted with laughter.  "I'm sorry," he said,
"no offence man but look at us, this whole set looks like something out of the 1930s, and you look like the 1890s and your telling me not to live in the past?"

"Well appearances aren't everything," the Doctor frowned wrinkles pushing up his brows and mussing his Beatle-cut hair.  He stopped as if clearing his throat before delivering a scripted line:
"I must warn you this film will end in tragedy".

Cliff chortled, "You are a card Doctor, just like your dad eh?"

"You just remember I said it. Now can you tell me where I can find your Director?"

1999: Act 3 Scene 3

The editing suite was a mess of gutted 1960s and 1930s cameras - the videocam tech that had been packed inside spilling out with the brutal insolence of a hernia. The Director put down his clipboard, and smirked at the Doctor.

"Nothing to say?  I imagine the audacity of our masterpiece has struck you dumb!  You might like to compliment me before I have you thrown off the lot."   Polly entered.  "And your make-up girl imposter too!"

The Doctor scowled. "Audacity! hardly - a simple bit of temporal trisection, like making a jug by origami. It might look pretty but it won't hold water and you know it!"

"We have three of the finest performances of the most popular film actors of his day within a single film with no expensive SFX or CGI".  The Director grinned his Hollywood Cheshire Cat smile, teeth perfectly capped, in a surround of beard. "And by filming in the past we saved so much on expenses. Our accounts make the Blair Witch Project look like Heaven's Gate.  We owe a tremendous debt to the late Professor Whi..."

"I don't care whose research your flimflam is misusing!" - the Doctor cried - interrupting him - by filming in the past you've disrupted your own history you orthodontic ninny!"

The Doctor pulled a tatty copy of the Radio Times Guide To Films On DVD (2003) out of his fur coat, and started to read...

1999: Act 3 Scene 4

"I'm ruined."  The Director was slumped in his canvas-backed chair, his bearded face in his hands.

"Possibly," the Doctor conceded. "Ruining your own star's career isn't the brightest publicity move.   He had the box office appeal of a brick after drinking himself stupid between your thirty years seperated takes. The only films he ever made were Italian westling movies. And it was your magnum opuses fault.  Time trauma can do that."

The Director looked at the little man. There was something like kindness in his tone. A ruthful acceptance of human folly maybe.  "You think there might be someway out?"

The girl from make-up nodded, picking up her business from the little man the Director noted, she'd have made a good actress herself.

"Couldn't you call off the shoot?", she said, "say your backers have pulled out?  You don't want to kill a man do you?"

"No...no...I don't but how do I know that will happen, it hasn't yet."  He wavered. People died all the time shooting films. There had been The Crow after all. And if he just thought of Cliff as a stunt man, well they were two-a-penny.

The Doctor waved his film guide, "and this though written has not yet been written. I got it from a bit of time caught up in the cat's cradle your lash-up has created in the continuum. Walk away, let it unravel. There's been too much harm. If you end it now, the filming in 1939 will peter out. Cliff's career will falter but by 1969 he'll have a..." He glanced at a dog-eared page, its edge turned down to mark the reference...'a pleasingly inoffensive, minor comedy with a chimp' awaiting him."  He smiled at the girl.  "Maybe not Hamlet, Polly, not yet, but a step away from immolation."

The Director rubbed his beard nervously, "If only I had something else to offer the studio."

The Doctor put his arm around his shoulder, "Tell me, have you ever considered making a film about the Titanic."

1999: Act 3 Scene 5

"Cut."

"That's it, shows over, get down from the gantry. We won't be needing you after all Ammon."

Clifford tensed in the mask: Not need him? After all these years? Not bloody need him? His old muscles ached but he was buzzing with adrenaline. He'd show them a performance!

He edged foward casting his shadow over the scene below.  The bloody look-a-like playing Ishmael, his fatuous face a parody of Cliff's own at that age looked up at him.  The man was shouting something: couldn't he stick to his bloody lines?

Clifford's hand shock as he raised the iron staff. He just had to strike it on the fake stones supported by the gantry: the FX boys would handle the flash as the accident was recreated.

Then he saw the other face looking up at him.  The boy - Pharoah Tutmoses.  It was like looking into a mirror at the far end of a dusty hall way, but reflecting the sun.  The admiration in those eyes. The brighter memories of his childhood froze him, and Ben inching along the gantry behind, tackled him before he was within a yard of the exposed cable.

Epilogue

"And this is the last one I intend to buy for some time!"

"Only one he's paid for," Ben muttered, attracting a dig in the ribs from Polly.

The Doctor settled down to read. "Hmm, Not to bad; missed some of the highs but got others. Oh no!"

Polly and Ben jumped.  "What is it, Doctor?"

The Doctor was flipping frantically to another page of the newer film guide.

"Poor Alec Guiness, not his cup of tea at all.  He must have hated it."

And try as they might they never did get the Doctor to explain that, and although Ben looked for the film guides later himself, he never found either version again.

THE END