Once upon a time, there was a girl who lost her clothes. Not (it should be stressed) the ones she was wearing. This is not the story of the foolish emperor. If it were, Amy Pond would not be the naked king, or the tailors that duped him. She would be the girl amongst the spectators, the first to point and giggle. (Look closely, in the crowd scenes of any story, and you will find her. The bright hair kindles at the corner of the page.) No – this is the story of the girl who lost her other clothes, which was a bother. It stopped her from being someone else.
And so, Amy Pond set out to find them.
She found her nurse’s costume on a woman folding linen in a long room full of narrow beds. Her hair was pulled back into a bun. Her eyes were clear. Amy knew, looking at this woman, that she was more grown-up than Amy would ever be. This made Amy nervous, which made her bullish. She cleared her throat.
“Excuse me? I think you’re wearing my nurse’s costume.”
“I am not wearing a costume,” the woman said. She twitched a corner into place, and examined it. “Real people wear clothes. Pretend people wear costumes. I am a real nurse. I make people better, as nurses do. Some would say that of doctors, as well.” She frowned. “The evidence, to my mind, is ambiguous.”
Amy glared. “Are you calling me a pretend person, madam?”
“My acquaintance with pretend people is extensive.” The woman nodded in satisfaction, and moved to another bed. “I’m afraid that you fill most of the criteria.”
“You are so out of order, Miss High and Mighty.”
“Am I?” The woman turned to look at her. “Why do nurses matter so much to you, Amy Pond?”
“I... I...” The words caught in Amy’s throat under that clear gaze. “I... don’t know. Give me back my costume, for pity’s sake!”
“Poor foolish child.” The nurse plumped up a pillow, and set it down. “Did you really expect pity from a fairy-tale?”
The woman who was wearing the PC costume sat on the margin of a pool, in a room of massy contraptions and vaulted shadow. Amy noted with irritation that she had the legs to carry off the tights. But they weren’t as long as Amy’s, which was something.
Sometimes, back in Leadworth, she would feel toes walking along her thigh, and hear the murmur: “English foot, meet Scottish mile.” The memory slid and slipped down the incline of the italics. Before Amy could grab it, it was gone.
“You took your sweet time, didn’t you?” This woman’s voice sounded Welsh. “I’ve been freezing my bum off, sitting here. This get-up isn’t very practical, you know. You wouldn’t want to catch your death while you dash around catching other people’s.”
“I’m... I’m sorry.” Amy, more used to giving than receiving Celtic sass, felt wrong-footed. “What is this place?”
“The house Jack built.”
“It’s very...” Amy groped for a compliment, “... solid.”
The policewoman snorted. “Nothing in this world is solid, Amy Pond. Nothing but him. It’s all dead leaves. The first breath of the storm will sweep it away.”
“Umm... great.” Amy could now see that the room was, indeed, collapsing. Dark fragments feathered down from the ceiling, as she backed off. “I’ll let myself out.”
“Fine,” said the policewoman, absently. She gazed down into the pool, watching as the room’s ruin rushed up to meet her. “Keep ’em peeled, and don’t have nightmares. He wouldn’t appreciate the competition.”
The bride had hair as red as Amy’s. She sat on the floor, amidst a confusion of playing cards.
“Hello,” she said, as Amy approached. “I seem to have lost my story. I don’t suppose you know where I could find it?”
“Er, no.” Amy watched in horrified fascination, as the bride picked up a playing card and licked it. “Why are you...”
“Eighties housing estate,” the bride smacked her lips and cocked her head on one side, considering, “with a hint of petrol. The story of the girl who became a cat.” She sighed regretfully. “Not the one.”
“You seem to be wearing something that belongs to me.” Amy shifted from foot to foot, while the bride picked up another card, and licked it. “I was wondering if...”
“Healing factor, and a dash of gold. The story of the boy who undertook the puzzle of three locks, and doomed himself in the undertaking. Not the one.”
Amy’s fists clenched. “I’m warning you...”
“I think you’ll find that’s the other way around.” The bride looked up. The sudden shrewdness in her eyes took Amy aback. “You live in a world of stories, Girl Who Waited. What are the three women for, if not for warning?”
Amy’s eyes narrowed. “I’m not a little girl anymore.”
“True enough. But what have you forgotten, Amy Pond?”
The bride pointed at Amy’s cheek. Amy’s hand came away wet after she touched it. On her fingers, when she brought them to her mouth, she tasted the salt of tears.