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Stolen Goods

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It was, as the saying went, a dark and stormy night. In the vicinity of the Bad-Tempered Thing's castle, this was the case more often than not. Perhaps the weather was one of the factors that had influenced the Thing's decision to settle there; or perhaps the bad weather was in some way a result of the Thing's presence.

Not that that was any concern of the Thing's cook and general factotum. Berk — for such was his name — was ambling around the basement of the castle, dustpan in one hand and brush in the other, sweeping up anything sufficiently large that it might present an obstacle and sufficiently immobile not to make a run for it at his approach.

At the sound of a distant knocking, he turned, dustpan and brush still in hand, and ambled in the direction of the outer door. Before he'd taken half-a-dozen paces, the knocking was repeated. It was followed a moment later by Boni's querulous "Berk? There's someone at the door! Berk!"

"All right, all right, I'm comin'," Berk grumbled, and resumed walking with a little more urgency. Not that he cared if Boni got discontented; his concern was if the knocking should wake his master. Disturbing the Bad-Tempered Thing's sleep was one of the many ways to get him to live up to his name.

Berk reached the door just after the third knock, unbolted it, and, with a muttered "Let's be havin' yer," pushed it cautiously open. There were two monsters outside, of a kind he'd never seen before: tall and spindly, over twice his height, with heads about the same size as Boni and undersized eyes. One had a white top to its head, and its body was mainly dark blue; the other was a little shorter and plumper, with a red body and black plumage. Berk gave them both a cautious look. Strange looking creatures, no doubt, but he'd seen worse come out of the Trap Door most weeks.

"Hello," the white-topped creature said, baring its teeth in what might have been intended as a smile. "I'm the Doctor and this is Clara."

"Oh, ar." Berk kept his hand on the door, ready to slam it in their faces should they reveal their hideous true forms. Most of the monsters from the Trap Door were inclined to do that, too. "And what can I do for you?"

"You haven't seen a small yellow creature come this way, have you?" the monster called Clara said. "About so high, and he's got this sort of spout on the top of his head."

"Oh. Him." Berk would have nodded, if his body had been capable of it. "Sounds like that pest Bubo. What's he been up to now?"

"He's stolen my sonic sunglasses," the Doctor said. "The most advanced technology this miserable wasteland will see for another fifty centuries."

"What's one of them when it's at home, then?"

"They manipulate the environment by use of carefully directed sound waves—" the Doctor began.

"They look like dark glass you wear over your eyes," Clara said, more practically. "Like this." She held her fingers up, circling her eyes.

"Dunno what anyone'd want with such a contraption," Berk said.

"Let's hope this Bubo doesn't, either," the Doctor said. "The technology can be dangerous in the wrong hands."

Berk reflected that, of all the creatures he knew with the wrong hands, Bubo came near the top of the list. "Sounds bad," he said. "I reckon you'd better get 'em back off him, then."

"That's just it." The Doctor's smile broadened, but there was nothing remotely friendly about it. "When it comes to small yellow monsters, you're obviously far more knowledgeable than we are. What we need is an expert."

"Now just a minute..." Berk began, but the Doctor and Clara had already swept past him into the castle, ducking to fit under the low arch of the door. There was nothing Berk could do but close the door behind them, ensure it was securely bolted, and follow.

"I see we're not the first humanoids to come this way," the Doctor was saying. He was crouching in front of Boni's alcove.

"Berk?" Boni asked. Clara jumped, and the Doctor took a step back, as the skull continued to talk. "What are these creatures doing here?"

"I dunno, Boni. Seems Bubo pinched summat from them and they wants it back."

"Nasty little creature." Boni turned in his alcove, looking this way and that. "He isn't here, is he?"

"No," the Doctor said. "But we're going to have to find him."

Boni sighed. "As long as you don't make too much noise and trouble. Him Upstairs won't be pleased if you do."

"So what do we do?" Clara asked. "Do we go and look for Bubo, or what?"

Berk rubbed his chest thoughtfully. "Normally 'e shows up by 'imself and the trouble's getting rid of him." He pointed at the trapdoor in the floor. "He'll be down there somewhere. Problem is, so's a lot of other creepy-crawlies and monsters and unpleasant slimy things."

Clara patted him on the arm. "Don't worry. The Doctor's an expert at dealing with things like that."

"So perhaps what we need to do," the Doctor said, "is come up with some way of luring him out."

"Like fishing?" Boni suggested.

"Now, just a minute," Berk said. "I can't be sitting around here fishing for hours. There's the plants in the garden needs feeding. And 'Im Upstairs'll be wanting Toad-in-the-Hole tomorrow, and I ain't even caught the toads yet. And then there's..."

The Doctor looked from Berk to Clara and back. "Supposing Clara helps you with your duties?"

"Yes." Clara gave Berk what may have been intended as a bright smile. "What's first?"

"Well..." Berk gave her an appraising look. "There's the plants. Hang on a mo." He went to his cupboard, returning with a spade and a rolling pin, and handed them to Clara. "Couple of shovels of compost for each one."

"What's this for?" Clara asked, indicating the rolling pin.

"In case any of 'em tries to bite yer. Just bonk 'em on the beak. Does the trick every time."

"Bite?" Clara repeated. She gave the rolling pin another look. "Fair enough."

"Now then," the Doctor said. "About this bait..."

Fishing down the Trap Door for monsters might not have been as relaxing as fishing in the swamps for actual fish, but it was just as time-consuming. The Doctor's original plan had been to open the Trap Door, lower the bait on a rope while hanging on to the other end, and wait for results. It had taken the combined efforts of Berk and Boni to persuade him that leaving the Trap Door open was far too risky. Eventually, they'd compromised on propping it open just a crack, enough for the rope to fit through.

"I spy," Boni said, "with my little eye, something beginning with W."

"Worm," the Doctor said, glancing without interest at the small purple creature wriggling across the floor.

"You're good at this. Your go."

The Doctor, who seemed to Berk's eye to be becoming steadily less patient, nevertheless looked around. "I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with..." He brightened up at the sound of approaching footsteps. "With C!"

"Clara," Berk and Boni chorused.

Clara arrived, somewhat redder in the face than when she'd left.

"That's it for the plants," she said. "You weren't kidding about them biting, were you? Why do they do that?"

Berk considered the question. "That's how they're made, I reckons."

"Yes. I suppose so. That's helpful." She looked at the pair. "Caught anything yet?"

"Nothing," the Doctor admitted.

"So... I suppose I'd better get on with the housekeeping. Catching toads next, wasn't it?"

"That's right." Berk got to his feet and led her across the stone flags. "There's a bucket here you can put 'em in. And they lives in a bog just outside and a bit to the right."

Clara looked at the bucket. "Isn't there a net or anything?"

"Never needed one," Berk said. "You just waits for one to show his head, then you grabs him and pops him in the bucket. And so on."

"You're kidding me—" Clara began, but broke off at the sound of a distant shout from the Doctor. "Have you got a bite?"

She rushed back to where she'd left the Doctor. He was on his feet, backing slowly away from the Trap Door. From the slit, a long, green serpent was emerging, a forked tongue protruding from its mouth.

"Not yet," the Doctor said. "But I think our visitor has other ideas."

"Then get away from it!"

"I can't. Not while I'm holding the rope."

"Don't you worry," Berk said. "I knows how to deal with the likes of him."

He picked up a mallet and ambled towards the snake. As he came close, the creature's head snapped around, fixing him with a worryingly aggressive glare.

"...Or maybe that's not the best idea," he conceded.

"Hang on a moment." Clara hurried to the kitchen area, snatched up a broom she'd seen earlier, and dashed back. Holding the broom before her, she advanced on the snake; its jaws closed around the broom's head.

"Now!" she said.

"What? Oh, right." Berk raised the mallet. The snake, its jaws locked around the broom, was unable to dodge the blow; it collapsed limply to the floor. Clara pulled the broom free of its jaws, and pushed the creature down into the Trap Door. There was a distant thud as it hit the bottom of the shaft.

"Nice work," Berk said.

"Yes, it was pretty good, wasn't it?"

The Doctor gave her a narrow-eyed look. "Thank you, Clara. Now get on with catching those toads."

"But I—"

"Clara."

Clara shrugged. "Suit yourselves, then."

"Aha!" the Doctor proclaimed, springing to his feet. "A bite! Berk, get ready to open the Trap Door when I say!"

"Oh dear, oh dear," Berk muttered, watching as the Doctor reeled in the rope. As far as he was concerned, there was no way this would end well. Even if the Doctor's bait managed to tempt out the right monster — and Berk didn't have any reason to think it would — Bubo wasn't the sort of monster whose visits he enjoyed.

"And... now!"

Berk obediently pulled the Trap Door fully open. The Doctor gave one final tug on the rope, and the free end of the rope emerged. Clinging onto it was a small, yellow form which Berk recognised all too well. The Doctor's bait, whatever it was, had done the trick, and tempted Bubo out of hiding. He was wearing what Berk presumed were the sunglasses the Doctor had mentioned, though Bubo was of such a size that they went over his shoulders and hung across his chest.

"Right!" Berk slammed the Trap Door shut. "Now where's he..."

Bubo, finding himself surrounded, had scurried into one of the corners of the room. There, standing atop a heap of discarded cooking vessels, he placed one hand to each ear and made a series of defiant, uncouth noises.

"Oh, globbits," Berk muttered. "He'll be throwin' scunge around any minute."

The Doctor, discarding the rope, took a step forward.

"You get one chance," he began. Before he could continue, the sunglasses had emitted a whirring sound, and the Doctor's trousers had slid to his ankles.

"Ar, I told you," Berk said, as the Doctor pulled his trousers up and refastened them. "Nothin' but trouble, he is."

The Doctor bared his teeth in a positively feral grin. "So am I."

He dodged to one side as Bubo scooped up a lump of green mush and hurled it at him; there was a muffled complaint as it hit Boni. The Doctor crouched down, bringing his face more on a level with Berk's.

"What we need you to do," he said, "is distract him."

Berk looked around. "I don't like the sound of this," he remarked.

"No, it's simple," the Doctor insisted. "All you've got to do is—"

The outer door opened, revealing Clara. She had the bucket in one hand, a frog sitting on her shoulder, and a great deal of mud adhering to her clothes.

"Here," she said, leaving a trail of drips and muddy footprints as she squelched across the floor. "All the toads I could find, and they'd just better be—"

Splat. With the Doctor's and Berk's attention on Clara, Bubo had taken the opportunity to renew his barrage. His first handful of gloop had hit the Doctor on the shoulder; his second took Berk in the chest.

Clara set the bucket down, with a puzzled look. "Do I want to know what's going on?"

"It's that Bubo," Berk said. "Told you he'd be chucking scunge around if you give 'im half a chance." He picked up an oozing handful, and hurled it back in Bubo's direction; the creature ducked, taunting him with rude noises and ruder gestures.

"Chucking what around?"

The Doctor had taken a pinch of the slime between thumb and forefinger, and was thoughtfully rolling it to and fro. "Some form of protoplasm," he said. "The basis for all these lifeforms, I shouldn't wonder. Fascinating substance, really."

Splat. Splat.

"Yes. Really fascinating." Clara cautiously raised her hand to her head. "I think I've got some in my ear now."

"Revolting stuff," Boni remarked, to the world in general. "I've never been so grateful not to have a sense of smell."

"You're not kidding." Clara made to dodge a flying lump of purple slime, slipped, and fell backwards into a heap of half-rotted fruit. As she tried to get up, another handful of sludge hit her full in the face.

"Right!" she announced, wiping multicoloured ooze from her face. "That is enough."

She rose to her feet, and advanced slowly and deliberately on Bubo, every inch the vengeful schoolteacher preparing to discipline an habitual troublemaker. Ignoring the renewed bombardment of gloop, she walked steadily toward him, her eyes fixed on his.

"I'll make you wish you'd never been spawned, you horrible little thing," she said. "And... got you!"

She darted forward as she spoke, reaching for Bubo, who jumped down from his perch and backed away. Clara's momentum carried her forward; unable to stop, she collided with the heap of pots, pans and cauldrons, sending them flying in all directions, and herself ending up prone on the floor.

Bubo looked down at her and blew another raspberry. At the same moment, the Doctor's hand lifted the sunglasses off him.

"There we are." The Doctor tucked the glasses into his pocket. "Nice work with the distraction, Clara."

Clara, dripping from head to toe with multicoloured gunk, and with one hand still wedged in an earthenware jar, managed to raise herself on her elbows. "A distraction. Is that what I was?" She shrugged, yellow slime oozing down her back. "Can we go now?"

"Well, I think it might be an idea if we helped Berk with the tidying—" the Doctor began.

"BERK!" The castle shook at the sound of the booming voice. "WHAT'S ALL THAT NOISE? I'M TRYING TO TAKE MY REPOSE!"

"Oh, nothing, sire, just knocked over a couple of pans," Berk called up. He lowered his voice. "You two'd better get out o'the way quick as you can. If Him Upstairs comes to see what the noise is... well, you'd just better not be here." He made a dive, and grabbed Bubo, who had been trying to sneak away. "And that goes for you too, you little pest."

"I think we could—" the Doctor began, helping Clara to her feet.

Clara shook her head. "I don't. Come on, let's get out of here."

With all the haste compatible with politeness, Berk ushered his visitors from the premises, and firmly bolted the door behind them. Then, pausing only to throw Bubo down the Trap Door, he made a few attempts to clean up the worst of the mess.

"Have they gone, Berk?" Boni asked.

Berk continued stacking the scattered cooking vessels. "Yes, Boni, they've gone."

"Good. I didn't like them. Making all that noise and fuss."

"No." Berk set the last pot in place. "And the trouble they had with that Bubo — and he's only a pest. I wouldn't fancy their chances if they ever meets a real monster."