We were walking Biscuit when we found the sunglasses.
The air was cold enough to sting a little when you breathed it in, coming out in clouds of steam that made us all look like dragons. I was busy breaking icy puddles with my new wellies when I heard Dad laugh.
The sunglasses were sitting in a blackened crater just outside the wood. Dad said they looked as if they had fallen like a meteor, but obviously someone had just made a campfire. It was still funny though.
He crouched down to pick them up. I thought he was going to pass them to me, but as soon as he touched them he looked distant. Then he put them on, looked at me and said ‘Well, my eyes appear to be working at any rate.’
Only now his accent was Scottish.
It was a bit like his Shrek voice. I giggled because I loved it when he did voices. That usually meant fun.
Then he turned and walked straight into a tree, a real head butt. He fell over onto his back but his arms were still swinging and his legs were still striding, as if he didn’t realise he wasn’t walking anymore. I roared with laughter and lay down beside him and tried to copy him, the frosty leaves crunching under us. Biscuit jumped around us and over us, barking and licking our faces.
Dad used to do this all the time. Well, not exactly this, but games where he wasn’t Dad. He was a vampire or a troll or a robot or a giant. He would chase me or carry me or I would chase him. Doing voices, pulling faces.
The games had stopped for good when Mum left. And that was months ago. I was so happy to see them back it hurt my heart. (The note from Mum just said she needed a Bit of Space, but then Mrs Dunwoody had seen her at the bus stop with Another Man. And she never came back.)
Dad finally stopped moving his legs and looked up at the tree.
‘Not as easy operating this body as I’d hoped. The interface is a little glitchy. You’re going to have to help me. Lead me that-a-way. And try not to walk me into any more trees.’
He held out an elbow and I started leading him through the wood. Biscuit seemed entirely happy with this new direction and I was just happy to be holding onto Dad, even if it was only his elbow.
On the way Dad told me a story, which went like this:
He wasn’t really Dad anymore. When Dad touched the sunglasses he activated something called a ‘Telepathic Emergency Beacon’ which basically meant that someone else was now controlling Dad. An alien called ‘The Doctor’ whose real body was currently in orbit in a broken spaceship which was going to explode. We had to find something that had fallen from the spaceship and bring it to The Doctor.
I loved the story. I loved the fact that Dad was making things up again. Stories were another thing which left with Mum, so getting a game and a story in the same day was like Christmas. I didn’t want our walk through the wood to ever end.
After a while he stopped and said ‘And here we are.’
In the middle of the wood was a battered old blue box, half buried. It had the words POLICE BOX written on it. Of course, if you squinted, you could imagine it was half buried because it had fallen from the sky, but you could also imagine that it had been here for years. Dad stood in front of it clicking his fingers and arguing with it.
‘Come on. Open up. I know I don’t look like me. But it’s me up here. Surely that’s what counts. I mean honestly, the amount of faces I’ve had you’d think you’d make an exception.’
I was laughing until the door opened and he climbed inside.
After a moment I followed him.
I thought I’d hit my head because we were suddenly somewhere else: a big boiler room full of lights with a tall machine that reminded me of a church organ. Dad was skipping around it, pressing buttons, pulling levers and whistling. I gasped and Biscuit barked.
The story was true. All true. This wasn’t my Dad anymore. This was an alien called The Doctor. So where was my Dad? Trapped in his own head?
Then the room began to groan and shudder. I thought about running, just leaving him. But whoever was in his head, it was still my Dad’s body. I had to look after it (even though he hadn’t - he’d put on three stone since Mum left.)
All of that was scary and horrible, but the idea that made me really sad was that Dad hadn’t really played a game with me or told me a story.
My Dad, The Doctor, turned to me and smiled happily.
‘Well thanks for your help. Oh, and tell your Dad thanks for the loan of his body.’ Then he took off the sunglasses and threw them across the room.
They were caught by a thin man with grey hair who was just entering the room. Behind him, through the door, I could see something that didn’t make sense: a room of metal on fire, then the door closed. The thin man put the sunglasses in his pocket and carried on talking in the Doctor’s voice as he moved over to the church organ machine. He was The Doctor. Of course he was.
‘You’ve both been very helpful, it could be argued, against your will. So as a reward, I’m prepared to offer you one free trip, anywhere in time and space.”
My Dad was blinking, confused as he looked around himself, but he heard that. He looked from me to the Doctor and back again.
Mrs Dunwoody was just driving past the bus stop when she saw my mum talking to the Strange Man. But he wasn’t. He was just my Dad, three stone heavier. Even Mum didn’t recognise him.
‘I can give you space.’ said my Dad.
Over his shoulder, the blue box waited…