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A Birthday Story - The Laws of Time

I've been on vacation this week, and although the world around me has slowed to a crawl, I know the world at large keeps on chugging along its tracks. With another of my oldest friends' birthdays on the horizon, I knew I'd have to outdo my previous stories.

Days went into the thing's preparation. I had big plans that would have meant many thousands of words. I worried. A lot. Spewed ideas throughout the long car ride, talked about it at dinner.

After indulging my blathering for far too long, my wife reminded me that no matter what I came up with, folks would enjoy it, and I can tell you that it's moments like that - when you're worrying about silly things for no reason - that the value of an awesome life partner is put into perspective. I remembered it's not how much you say, but how you say it and after all the hemming and hawing got to work.

I'm not a fan of Doctor Who and know very little about the series myself, but with the help of my fanatic brother, Brendan (who is also an awesome artist), I managed to piece together a fantastical slice of life that I hope added just a little point of brightness to Jess's birthday. She was born on Bastille Day, which celebrates the French Revolution, liberty, meaningful life choices and all that jazz, so yeah, we went there. Kind of. Sure, my depiction of the 11th Doctor wasn't spot-on, but eh, what're you gonna do? Enjoy!

The Laws of Time

Jessica tapped her foot in the grass and checked her watch as she waited for Gus to finish his business. Having successfully relieved himself, the enormous black lab shouted a loud pup bark and galloped through the yard toward his beloved master. She was late for work, but Jessica couldn’t help but reach down and pet the hyperactive hulk, patting his grinning head, running her fingers through his shiny coat.

Jessica opened the back door to her house and shooed the pooch inside. As she watched Gus disappear within to find his elder brother Eli, she stood on the threshold and sighed. Another long day ahead. Another miserable day in a meaningless trial that seemed it would never end.

The young lawyer turned to take in the trees, the looming sunrise, and the warm breeze that signaled the coming of a beautiful mid-summer day. Birds chirped in raucous conversation over the gentle hum of Monday morning traffic. Today was her birthday. Who worked on their birthday?

There’s no justice in this world, Jessica thought. She stepped into the house, closer to her car, the traffic, and the drudgery that waited beyond.

With one foot in the door, Jessica paused again. A faint smell of burning filled the air around her. The hairs on the back of her hand stood on end and the world seemed for a moment charged with dangerous electricity. A loud crack snapped behind her, as if a lightning bolt had struck but yards away.

In the yard in which her dog had just urinated there suddenly appeared a strange, windowed blue shed. Or was it a booth? No, on a banner across its upper edges the words “Police Public Call Box” were stamped in an official, bright white. 

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Jessica said aloud to herself. She shielded her eyes, but couldn't help staring at the sight before her in awe.

Steam arose from the edges of the callbox as the lights inside flashed and pulsed. A long moment of confusion passed. Whatever mechanisms powered the thing, their loud whirring soon diminished to a low whine. The air around it slowly calmed. Behind her, Jessica could hear the loud barking of her beloved canine friends.

“This... This can’t be happening,” Jessica said. She took a hesitant step toward the blue box that seemed as if it had leapt straight from the world’s imagination. What is such a thing doing here? Jessica thought. Doctor Who is nothing more than a television show!

Suddenly, a door in the callbox’s side creaked open. The smell of smoke and burning filled the yard outside Jessica’s home. Seconds later, a man stumbled out of the blue box, coughing and covering his mouth with a sleeve. The tiny wand clutched in his hand blinked and vibrated with frantic urgency.

“Hello!” The man coughed at no one in particular, his voice colored with the precise, dulcet tones of an English education. Whoever the man was, he was not from around here.

He looked in every direction, bent low and smelt the grass, then whipped his face up at Jessica. The young lawyer stepped back in surprise, unable to believe what she was seeing. Long hair tousled across the stranger’s imposing brow and obscured his vision, before he pushed it aside. Well-dressed and adorned with a bow tie, the man stood up straight, patting the dust from his clothes. He would have looked at home on the streets of Brooklyn, rubbing elbows with all of the young turks that admired him. The man smiled broadly, then strode toward Jessica and extended a hand.

“Hello! Yes, you’re Jessica, are you not?”

The Englishman’s singular audience nodded and replied before too long, “Um, I’m Jessica. Yes, I think? And you are...?”

The strange man pouted as if insulted, then grinned, “Come now, I believe you know who I am...”

“I can’t...” Jessica trailed off. The day had started so typically.

“...believe it? Yes, I get that a lot. Well, not a lot since I don’t go out of my way to advertise it, but... Well, I can assure you your confusion is perfectly understandable. If I were you, I’d be just as confused. Enchanted, of course, but confused. I am the Doctor.” The man put a hand to his chest and bowed deeply.

“Is that a...?” Jessica wondered in bewilderment.

“A TARDIS? So you ARE a fan? Keen eye on you. Keen eye! Indeed it is the time-traveling, plane-hopping, space-warping callbox of legend: my TARDIS. Lovely, isn’t it? I bet you thought it – and me! – nothing more than a flight of fancy, correct? Conjured by some brilliant telly writer some handful of decades ago, yah? You can forget all that. The truth is always more compelling than some dumb programme.”

The man calling himself “The Doctor,” stepped toward Jessica, palm still extended, teeth still smiling. The man’s face exuded an open warmth, as if he had very little to hide. But in the deep recesses of his dark eyes there was an unmistakable sadness there, carried like an old wound he’d never let a day pass without thinking on.

Jessica held out a hand and shook the Doctor’s. The man’s smile grew even more broad and Jessica returned it with uncertainty.

“Excellent! We’ll make fast friends, I can tell. And speaking of fast, I have a favor to ask you. Sorry to be so quick off the blocks, but I need your help. More precisely: 18th century France needs your help.” The Doctor’s face grew more serious by the second, as he disclosed his true purpose in coming here. His warm grin transformed into a grim scowl. “It seems my old admirers, the Daleks, have decided to intervene in the storming of the Bastille. They’re determined to set back the cause of French liberty through the extermination of any and all revolutionaries. Or some nonsense like that. Who really knows with those mad little creatures? Despite what my accent would otherwise imply, I’m quite fond of the French. Baguettes, croissants, mimes, the whole bit. It’d be a shame to see it all rendered rubbish. In any case, I need your help.”

“My help...? Daleks? Why me?” Jessica looked at the man in utter bewilderment. She still couldn’t believe what she was seeing, what she was hearing. Is Matt Smith actually standing in my yard, or is this the early onset of dementia? Jessica thought to herself.

“It’s complicated, silly, outlandish, I know. But my calculations indicated you were one of the few humans most qualified to negotiate the delicate situation.” The Doctor slipped what appeared to be a sonic screwdriver into his jacket pocket and clasped his hands, as if begging. “And it’s your birthday, so I thought you might be up for an adventure! Will you help me? Help them? Help me help you help them?”

“I don’t understand why you need me... I have work... I’m not even that important...” Jessica shrugged and vaguely gestured in the direction of her house.

“As I told someone else a long time from now, ‘In 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important,” the Doctor said. He grinned again, turned, and extended an arm toward the TARDIS. Jessica smiled, and despite the day’s commitment, strode toward the blue callbox.

* * *

The TARDIS blinked back into existence outside Jessica’s New Jersey home. The callbox powered down and the door swung open. Dressed in typical 18th century French peasant dress, Jessica sprang from the blue box, exuberant and joyful.

“Viva la revolucion! I still can’t believe we turned them back! I thought we were finished when they blew up the west wing! Oh MAN!” Jessica shouted, her arms stretched by her sides, fingers splayed. She shook with adrenaline, as if she had just finished running a marathon. The Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS behind her, grinning. He was pleased to see his young charge so overjoyed with the satisfaction of victory.

“Thank you for your assistance, my fine lady. There was simply no way I would have been able to convince the lieutenant to engage the Daleks without your brilliant argument. Who would have thought such intimate knowledge of Newsies would prove so invaluable? To say we would have been doomed without you is an understatement,” the Doctor said, a boyish grin spreading across his lips. He hugged Jessica and stepped away. He noticed the dogs panting in the house’s window and waved at them. The black labs barked in reply. The strange man returned to the TARDIS’s door and turned. “Well, same time next year?”

Jessica nodded and smiled, uncertain what else to say. Words escaped her. She waved as the Doctor backed away, then vanished inside the callbox. He poked his head out and tossed a wine bottle to Jessica. “Happy birthday!” he shouted, before disappearing inside again.

A storm of lights and sounds stirred the out-of-place structure and in a flash, the TARDIS was gone , leaving only a depressed square of grass in its wake. For a moment Jessica was dumbstruck, staring at that patch of grass.

What just happened? She thought to herself. The rags-clad lawyer looked at her watch. According to it, only seconds had passed since the Doctor’s arrival. She watched the little hand tick and tick, then raised her eyes as a pair of birds flew past overhead. The sun continued rising, its brilliant rays reaching out across the blue sky.

Jessica reached into her pocket, and grasped her cell phone. Removing it, she thought on what she’d seen that day, what she’d heard. She thought of the old French lieutenant, reluctant but resolute, determined to do the right thing and see his remaining days spent well. She thought of the Doctor’s sad eyes and air of regret.

The young lawyer unlocked her phone and scrolled through her contacts. She found her case’s judge and after a moment’s hesitation, thumbed the number. The phone rang once, twice, three times, before a tired-sounding clerk answered. The clerk mumbled some generic greeting before Jessica responded in a clear and confident tone.

“Hello? Yes, it’s Jessica Palmer, representing the plaintiff. I apologize for the trouble, but I will need a continuance. Yes? Why? Well, it’s a beautiful day and you only live once. Ha, yes, I will. Thank you.” Jessica thumbed the phone again and returned it to her pocket. She breathed deep, smiled to herself, and smelled the evaporating morning dew.

It would be a good day, after all.