PG-13, Life On Mars, gen. Sam falls to earth.
Even after everything, it was quite ordinary when it happened. It was night,
and there were no clowns, no test card girls, no frenzied, hysterical screaming
in the deserted toilet cubicles of Sam’s mind. Instead, there was dim, smoky
light filtering through the internal glass, and the evening sounds and silences
of people and their paperwork.
Sam’s own pile of paperwork was an unscaled mountain on his desk, put there by
Gene in a fit of vindictive spite, and it had become a test of wills. Neither
was going to crack, so it teetered. He was contemplating the coffee he was
planning to force out of Phyllis later, and the sleep it would hold off, that
would only come when he was exhausted deep within his bones, gone beyond even
the slightest footfall of a dream.
Ray was somewhere in the background, leaning back in his chair and adding to the
rising blue smoke clouds congregated below the ceiling. As Sam caught his eye,
he flashed across a quick, on-principle glare. Sam nodded, coolly.
“The time is precisely about four-ish...”
Sam turned. Chris was fiddling with the tape recorder; he looked up,
embarrassed, as further random snatches of static and sound drifted across the
It happened without preamble.
Above the low-level sound, Sam heard it. The slow, mournful bleeps of a hospital
monitor, firstly as a counterpoint to the background noise, then above it,
obliterating it, filling his ears and his head, not coma-thick
edge-of-perception echoes but real and sharp and accompanied with a dozen other
sounds, heartbeats, voices.
“He’s waking up.”
“Sam, sweetheart, we’re here, we’re just waiting for you, Sam...”
“He’s getting more responsive…”
The sound of a penlight, click... a rush of greenery from long ago...
click... Daddy was a bad man... click... up you Reds... click...
is there life on Mars?
Light. Hot, white, broad, burning, cauterising the back of his eyeballs, then
“He opened his eyes!”
Click. Someone crying, far away.
“Sam, dear, wake up.”
Light, dark, light, light.
“Hi,” said Sam.
Sam woke up spreadeagled on his desk, limbs akimbo, feeling hungover. The
mountain of paperwork had apparently been pushed to the floor. Some of his
clothes were missing.
“This,” he murmured, from behind half-closed eyelids, “is fucking pornographic,
is what it is.”
“Will you watch your bloody language?” Gene’s face drifted into view like a
florid waxing moon. “There is a bird present.”
“Sorry, guv.” Sam had a sudden urge to laugh hysterically. “Where’re my
“WPC Cartwright informs me that she’s got ‘em off you to see you weren’t
bleeding to death from anywhere. And while there’s precious little reasons I’d
believe for a plonk stripping a copper, there does remain the fact that you
would lose a fight with a kitchen table.”
He sounded worried, Sam thought. “Annie?”
“I’m here.” Sam’s eyes had fallen closed again, but he smelled her perfume as
she drew near, and wasn’t surprised as both of her hands clasped one of his and
squeezed tight. “I had to, Sam. Chris said he saw you go down like a tonne of
bricks, Nelson said you hadn’t been drinking or anything, and we waited for you
to wake up but you didn’t for ages.”
“Lazy bugger.” Gene sat down on the desk chair with a thump. “You’re more
trouble than you’re worth, Tyler.”
“I’m fine.” Sam thought about it, the fuzziness in his head, the looseness in
his muscles. “I’m fine, guv, honest...”
“People who are fine, DI Tyler, do not spend their nights passed out on my
station floor. Now, I don’t, honestly, give a flying piece of...”
“Excuse me, I thought I was talking?”
“Annie,” said Sam quickly, and he opened his eyes. She stood there, above his
head, masking the table light so her hair was a halo, her face an eclipse. There
was something ethereal in the smoke. “Listen to me.”
His voice was shaking, he noticed, while Gene’s voice, ranting in the background
about the insubordination of plonks and other pains in the arse, was already
fading away. “Time, it’s time. Time to go home.”
“You’re right.” She stepped away from the light, leaving a white hole in his
vision. “Me or DCI Hunt’ll run you home, you shouldn’t be in work today, you
need rest, come on now, can you get up...”
“Time to go home.” She was gone, into the dark, and she wasn’t listening.
Or maybe, Sam thought, he wasn’t actually talking any more; the smoky light was
changing, leaving, vanishing…
Time to go.
“What’s your name?”
“How old are you?”
“Do you know where you are?”
“In Manchester.” After a pause, he added: “In hospital. St. James’s.”
“What year is it?”
“Sam, love, we’re not to upset you, but you must want to know what’s been
happening while you’ve been... away.”
Sam smiled a little at the euphemism. His mum, looking rather unlike how he had
seen her last, was sitting primly in the red plastic chair by the end of his
bed. From the way she was sitting, he could tell she’d settled herself in it for
the long haul, comprehensively exhausted its possibilities for comfort, made it
her own. She was good at sitting and waiting, his mum. She’d waited months, and
then she’d waited for hours as the doctors and nurses congregated, tested,
examined, panicked, calmed down, and finally, drifted away, leaving a wake of
machinery and trailing IV lines.
“You tell me, Mum. What happened?”
She twisted a bit then, shifted in the chair – which must get more uncomfortable
the longer you sat in it – and avoided his gaze. “When they brought you in,
Sam... oh, it was dreadful. Maya... that poor, poor girl.”
“Maya!” Sam sat up. “She was taken... there was only a day to find her...”
“They found her. They found her, Sam, and they got statements from her – oh, you
know better than I do what sort of thing they’ve got to do! – and the very first
thing she had to be told, poor dear, was… well, about you. You gave us all such
a scare.” There was a pause, and she smiled at him. There was something
indefinably sweet in that smile, Sam thought; something that lit up whenever she
looked at him and watched him catch her gaze. It had been missing from her
smile, before. “Maya was wonderful, Sam. She hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in
months. She’s not left your side.”
“Where is she?” Sam asked.
“Having her good night’s sleep.” His mum smiled again. “I insisted. There’s all
the time in the world, now. She’ll be here.” Her voice faltered a little. “Sam,
are you all right? I’m not tiring you out?”
“Mum, I’ve been asleep for five months.”
She nodded, slowly, taking the flippant comment more seriously than he’d wanted.
When she spoke, her voice was more grey, more thoughtful than he would have
liked. “What was it like?”
Sam considered. “It was very bright, very vivid. Sometimes it was dark, and
sometimes it was painful. You were there, and so was… so was Dad.”
She said nothing, and for a moment, she shifted; Sam saw not an elderly lady,
but a young mother in pinny with chewed strings, large worried eyes and ginger
cat whirling around her ankles, silhouetted against a painfully blue sky.
“Are you all right? I think you were a little lost for a minute.”
“I’m all right, Mum, honest.”
She still had that look Sam remembered; the one that said as clearly as speech
that she didn’t believe him, and she stood up. “I’m going to let you rest. I’ll
be back in the evening, when it’s visiting hours again. Sleep well, dear.”
“Ruth?” The new voice was soft, female, younger. “Is he awake?”
“I’m awake,” Sam said, softly. “You weren’t on first-name terms, before...”
Maya marched across to him, heels clicking on the hard floor, and for a moment
Sam thought she was going to hit him. But she stopped a foot away., gave him a
long, appraising stare, and leaned down and kissed him. “Sam, don’t you dare
start getting obsessed with tiny details.”
“I’ll leave you to it.” His mum’s voice drifted along the corridor and faded
beneath her receding footsteps.
Sam wasn’t sure how to ask her. “You didn’t... I mean, you haven’t...”
“No, you utter fucking bastard.” This time he was even more surprised that she
didn’t hit him. “I didn’t go through this for nothing. I didn’t get kidnapped –
kidnapped, Sam! – and then spend months, months, in that chair, all for
nothing!” She kissed him again, less chastely.
Sam wished for a long moment that he wasn’t in a very public hospital bed, and
for the first time in months, in years, fell firmly into the embrace of the here
and now. There was nothing else, for a moment, nothing but her face, her eyes,
her hair, her perfume, citrus sweet cinnamon and inescapably modern.
“He’s waking up,” came a voice, but he ignored it.
“Sammy-boy! Wakey wakey!”
He was very, very wet. He was very wet and very pissed off. Sam leapt to his
feet, dripping with water, and then sat heavily back down. “Did you,” he
demanded of Gene, who was holding a metal bucket, “just chuck six pints of
freezing cold water on me?”
“It was the only thing that’d get you up, lad.” Gene set the bucket down with a
clang. “Now will you get your arse back into gear, or what?”
“Sam, I’m sorry, I couldn’t stop him!” Annie was there too, hiding behind Gene’s
bulk. “He kept saying he knew a surefire cure...”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” said Sam, and tetchily went back to sleep.
“I am not mad,” Sam told his pillow. It was white, cool, a little scratchy,
smelled of washing powder and soap. Pillows didn’t change in thirty years.
Neither had his mum, very much; she’d left behind a tin of biscuits and a
treacle tart in a box.
“No-one’s saying you are, Sam,” said an equally cool, scratchy voice from
somewhere near at hand. The psychiatrist had a name, but Sam had decided to call
him Doctor Who. It seemed appropriate. “Why don’t you sit up and talk to me,
“Because,” Sam continued, voice muffled, “you’ll tell me I’m delusional.”
“You’re not mad, Sam!” was the reply, but without the requisite conviction. The
psychiatrist had a voice that was carefully modulated according to circumstance.
To make him show any sort of real feeling, Sam thought privately, he’d have to
do something really crazy, like yank out all the tubes keeping him alive and
jump out of the window. Maybe that wouldn’t be enough. Maybe the man actually
possessed no emotions of his own and took up psychiatry so he could poke at
Too late, Sam realised he was glazing over.
“Sam?” said the psychiatrist, curiously. “Sam, are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Sam mumbled. He’d rolled over to face the ceiling rather than the
fabric, but there was no real improvement; the tiles were white and bedraggled,
like the pillow had been. “I’m fine. Go on.”
“Right.” The psychiatrist tapped his clipboard with his pencil. “Where was I?”
“Telling me I’m mad.”
“Sam.” Again, it was a careful simulation of fond exasperation rather
than the real thing. The psychiatrist leaned back in his uncomfortable chair.
“As I was saying, you’re not remotely crazy and no one thinks you are. You’re
troubled, as anyone would be who’d spent the last five months in a coma.
Actually, I think you’re coping admirably.”
“I lived,” Sam said, straight-faced, “in 1973. In a flat with horrific seventies
décor. I was a copper. I mean, I am a copper. But I was then, too. And as far as
I’m concerned, it was real.”
“But people don’t travel in time when they’re in a coma, Sam,” said the
psychiatrist reasonably, and Sam had a sudden,
unaccountable-if-you-hadn’t-met-Gene-Hunt urge to slam him up against a
filing cabinet. His fingers itched. “They might have extraordinarily vivid
dreams – such things have been documented in the literature – and I think that’s
what happened to you.”
Sam said nothing.
“You didn’t dream about people, Sam!” the psychiatrist persisted. “You dreamed
about archetypes. Manifestations, if you will. You’re an intelligent man. Think
Sam wondered, briefly, if he should feign sleep and the man would go away. But
there was something repugnant about it, more wasteful sloth after months and
months of it. He hadn’t slept much at all since his careful emergence into
hospital bleeps and bright white light; the psychiatrist would say it was
because he didn’t want to go back to that place, but it wasn’t that, not quite.
“Sam, I can see you’re thinking about it,” the psychiatrist told him. “You need
to think about it to get better. Your family, your mum, your girlfriend, they’re
all gunning for you to get free of this, to get better. I’d like to talk to you
about some of the things you’ve told me. Would that be acceptable?”
Sam sighed, deeply, and closed his eyes. “Go ahead.”
“The man you’ve told me about.” There was a pause whilst he shuffled his notes.
“Gene Hunt, it says here. A policeman given to random violence, I understand. A
man very unlike yourself. I’m going to put to you that Gene represents something
not unlike you, but a part of you; perhaps a manifestation of the part of
yourself you’d like to suppress. What would you say to that?”
“I would never,” said Sam carefully, “slam an innocent man into a filing
“But in the heat of the moment, an unruly suspect, a dangerous situation, you’ve
“That doesn’t make me disturbed! Hasn’t everyone? Haven’t you?”
The psychiatrist ignored that. “Perhaps he represents all the urges you haven’t
given into, the ‘bad cop’ in you, if you’ll excuse the expression.” When Sam
didn’t say anything, he went on, “Something else, Sam. I’ve been talking to
Maya, to your mum, and they’ve telling me a bit about you, trying to give me a
sense of who you were before... before all this.”
“Before two tonnes of metal hit me at fifty miles an hour?”
“Yes.” Sam had to give him credit for not taking the bait. “Yes, before that.
And they’ve been telling me about the things that you like. You like jazz, glam
rock, T-Rex, David Bowie, yes? The nurses tell me that they played music to you
for most of the time you weren’t with us.”
“And your favourite books are Catch-22 and The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to
the Galaxy. Is that right?”
“Yeah.” Sam nodded again. “Look, is this relevant? Not that I have many other
places to be, but it’s your time that you’re wasting.”
The psychiatrist smiled indulgently. “Bear with me, bear with me. Now let me
bring the conversation back to your friend Gene, the bad copper. Do you think
there’s something unusual about his name?”
Sam frowned, genuinely confused. “Gene. Gene Hunt. What’s wrong with it?”
“When you hear the name Gene, what do you think of?”
“No, Sam. Before that.”
Sam thought about it.
The psychiatrist laughed, just a little bit. “Don’t you think it’s a tad strange
that such a hard character, such a violent man, should have a first name that’s
so stereotypically… well, you could put it better than I could, I’m sure. It’s
what you might expect from a man with an ironic sense of humour. Now, when this
man is also a fan of seventies music, and books about science fiction, about
“Catch-22, ” Sam informed him freezingly, “is nothing to do with time
“Semantics aren’t going to help you, Sam.” The psychiatrist stood up and
stretched out, his knuckles cracking. “I think I’ll leave that thought with you.
Unless there’s anything else I can help you with?
“Doctor,” Sam said. “Explain this to me. When I was first... there, and I wanted
to get out, I wanted to take a definitive step, get out of there.”
More note-shuffling. “The suicide attempt.”
“Yeah. I was on the roof, and she, Annie, she wanted to save me. She took my
hand, and, and...”
“And her hand was gritty, covered in something. I asked her what it was, and she
said she’d fallen on her way up, ended up putting her hand in a fire bucket and
got it covered in sand. And I said: why would I imagine that? Why would I
imagine a detail like that?”
“I think you should think about that, for next time.”
“Does that mean” – and Sam’s confidence was rising – “that you don’t know?”
“It means you should think about it.” The psychiatrist smiled briefly and turned
towards the door. “Goodbye, Sam.”
His shiny shoes tapped regularly down the corridor and away, and Sam nodded to
himself. “He doesn’t know. You don’t know, do you! No one knows!”
No one answered. With some difficulty, Sam extracted his hands and held them in
front of his face. They were smooth and white; someone, possibly a nurse,
possibly Maya or his mum, had kept his nails clean and trimmed, so they were
pearlescent and fragile beneath the hospital’s fluorescent lights.
Which made it all the more ironic, somehow, that 1973 was disappearing, had
disappeared, like grains of sand through loose, curled fingers.
It was late in the evening, late in the spring when Sam woke up to a knock at
the door. The window in the room was open, and the breeze ruffled Annie’s hair
as she entered. “Hi.”
“Sam,” she said, coming straight to sit down at the edge of the bed, “you’re
He nodded. “You knocking woke me up. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine.” She kicked off her shoes. “I came to see if you were.”
“I’m fine, too.” He motioned in front of him, vaguely. “I’m just... sleeping a
lot. I’m fine, really.”
He knew she didn’t believe him.
“Sam, I think you should see someone.”
“Someone like who?” he asked, stalling.
“Someone, you know, who’s a professional.”
There was a long pause. The reddish sun was shining through the window, making
the horrible chintz of the flat just the slightest bit less horrible, but Annie
was suddenly an embodiment of doubt, standing in the dying spring light, and Sam
didn’t know what to do. “A professional what?”
“Sam!” Annie jerked away from him. “Please, please don’t make this more
difficult. You know what I mean. Someone who can, you know, help you with
“Delusions,” Sam repeated.
“Sam, please. You’re not well, and you know it.”
“I’m not mad! I’m not!”
“I’m not saying you are!” She was wringing her hands, and Sam noticed that her
make-up was smudged around
her eyes. “I’m saying you need help. And don’t try and tell me you’re fine. I
know you’re not. You’re falling apart.”
“The guv doesn’t think so.” Even as he said it, Sam knew what the answer would
“He didn’t even notice you turning a gun on him! As long as you’re catching
thugs it’s all the same to him! But, Sam, it’s not all the same to me!”
“Hey,” he said, quickly, roughly, “don’t cry. Don’t cry.” His arm slipped
naturally around her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
She shifted, but didn’t draw away. “You’re not sorry. Sam, you thought Vic Tyler
was your dad when he’s younger than you, Ray told me about you screaming in the
toilets, now you’re sleeping all the time... you’re coming to bits and you don’t
even seem to care!”
“Annie.” He turned to face her, warm against him and still shaking from
suppressed sobs. “You know I’ll never believe this is real.”
“Okay. All right. We’re not real, we don’t matter, I’m just a fantasy, this is
just a figment of your imagination.” Suddenly she wasn’t shouting. Somehow her
talking so quietly and reasonably was worse. “But you still need help. It’s not
normal to sleep through the whole day like this, and it’s not normal to not wake
up when people throw water on you.”
“I did wake up.”
“Not for long, and anyway that’s not the point! I’m only telling you this
because I care about you. I think you need help.”
“I’m not here at all,” Sam said, suddenly. “I don’t need help because I’m not
actually here. The psychiatrists are giving me a drug to help me sleep, and it
makes me come back, but just for a while.”
Annie didn’t say anything.
“Annie, it’s true. Where do you think I go, when I sleep? I go back there. Back
home. Where it’s real.”
She still didn’t say anything, and from the way her body was shaking, he knew
she was crying again. “God, I’m sorry.”
“You’re not,” she said, “you’re not, you’re not...”
She didn’t move away, or speak. But she was still crying, hours later, as Sam
fell asleep with her held loosely in his arms.
The new drug came in iridescent yellow capsules, and the psychiatrist had great
hopes for it. “It’s anti-anxiety, and it should help you sleep better, Sam,” he
said, happily. “Hopefully, you won’t...”
“Go back to that place?” Sam asked, a tad bitterly.
“Dream,” he said, and he was gone before Sam had started listening to him again.
The drug was dissolved and administered intravenously, but he knew that he
wouldn’t have been able to refuse it, anyway. 2006 was a memory, still;
Manchester-grey and distant from cold, white sterile walls, but there were
glimpses, in the colours of Maya’s clothes, in the flashes of life beneath
newspaper headlines, in the yellow, flickering sodium lights through the windows
after dark. Something was out there still, something unlike Schrödinger’s cat,
that endured even when you weren’t looking at it.
He was watching Doctor Who – the psychiatrist had had a lot to say about
a fictional time traveller named Rose Tyler – when he fell asleep, and when he
woke up, it was still night. The window was open, as he had left it, and the
breeze fluttering in was cold and persistent. The frame creaked as he pulled it
shut, and with the curtains drawn, the room seemed to grow darker.
Sam shivered, and moved towards the television. It fizzed as he drew near, but
didn’t resolve into a clear picture. He ignored it, turning suddenly at a
growing sense of unease, and he darted towards the window. Annie’s shoes were
there, on the floor by the wall, but their owner was nowhere to be seen.
There was something flat about the world. It was starting to rain, but the water
was trickling into puddles without leaving ripples and the streetlights,
reflecting blackly in the surface, did not flicker. As he looked beyond the
pane, the greasy whorls of his own fingerprints were beginning to blur into each
other, into simpler and simpler patterns until there was no complexity left,
only the flat uniformity of unmarked glass.
Automatically, Sam looked at the television. The test card’s occupant had
half-stepped out into the room, with one little-girl shoe on the edge of the
screen, toes pointing into reality.
“What?” he asked, a little hysterically. “What’s happening?”
“You’re here for something, Sam. But something is no longer here for you.” She
emerged fully, dropping down onto the floor. “You wanted so much to go home. In
the future, where will you be? Why are you back again? What do you want?”
“Yes, but what do you want?” She held up her fabric clown. “Bubbles wants
to know too.”
“Bubbles?” Sam repeated, with more hysteria as effervescence beneath his words.
She looked thoughtful, a viscerally disturbing adult expression on her small
face. “I was going to call him Sam. But Bubbles is better.”
“Of course it is!” Sam yelled out. “What’s going on?”
There was an ominous creaking behind him, and he leapt forwards, turning as he
landed. The window had large cracks spreading across the pane, and it burst
inwards as he watched. The noise shattered his eardrums, but there was no broken
glass in the room. The wind from outside howled in, lifting until Sam couldn’t
walk into it, and the noise seemed to drown out every scream of his own.
“Annie,” he said, quickly, quietly into the vortex of sound, “Gene, Annie,
Her voice a whisper directly in his ear, the little girl asked: “What do you
Sam tried desperately to look out. There were more cracks out there, in windows,
in buildings, in the roads, in the dust-scatter from the streetlights. There
were no people. The cracks were in the fabric of reality, inside his head, and
their edges were iridescent yellow.
“What do you want, Sam?”
“I want to go home!” he yelled. “I want something to be real!”
He rose through glass, through water, washing off him in gleaming, night-black
droplets, and came out in another world, where it was still night. The shadows
were grey, edged with purplish dawn, and the nurses were swift-moving shadows,
departing from the graveyard shift. There was a freshness from an open window,
and a sense that the new day would bring rain.
Sam sat up in the dimness and didn’t realise he was crying, even as the remade
world grew fuzzy, dissolving into twinkling saltwater, becoming nothing.
“It’s like,” Maya said, carefully, “that philosopher bloke.”
“Oh, and here was me thinking you were going to be vague.” Sam fell back on his
pillows. “I’m sorry, it’s the diazepam talking. Go on.”
“As I was saying,” – and she prodded him lightly, to make sure he was paying
attention – “there was a philosopher, Chinese I think, I’ll google for it later,
who said something that’s pretty relevant to this.”
“What was that?” he asked. He’d told her, in the end. Without the fine detail,
without the fear, without the woman in the red, red dress, but he’d told her.
And she’d listened, and not analysed, which was more than the psychiatrist had
done, and somehow it was easier telling her than telling his mum, who blurred
into blue sky whenever he thought of it.
“He said that one day, he dreamed he was a butterfly. In the dream, he believed
he was a butterfly, flying around the sky, doing whatever it is that butterflies
“Die, I think. They don’t do much else.”
“That’s cheerful, Sam, thank you. So he dreamed he was a butterfly, and then he
woke up. And then he was left with a bit of a dilemma. Because now he doesn’t
know: is he a man, who dreamed he was a butterfly, or is a he a butterfly...”
“...dreaming he’s a man,” they chorused.
For a moment, neither of them spoke. Sam slipped further down on his pillows,
eyes raised up to meet hers.
“Do you get it, Sam?” Maya said, at last. Her voice was softer, more earnest
than flippant. “If you tell me you don’t think it was a dream, then I believe
you. Course I do, because you’ve never lied to me. But the thing is, it doesn’t
matter if it was a dream or not. Because you’re not going back there. You’re
here with me, with us, and this… this is real. I mean, do you think the Chinese
philosopher bloke actually lost that much sleep over it? It was a clever thing
to say, yeah, but, well, he had to carrying on living after he’d said it. And so
do you. Have to carry on living, I mean.”
Sam said nothing, but he nodded. She shuffled her chair across to be closer to
him, and impulsively, he reached out to grab her hand. It was warm, soft,
sharp-edged from her nails, and it was real. “Maya?”
“Yeah?” She looked across at him, still earnest and vulnerable.
Sam sighed deeply and asked, very seriously: “Do you want a treacle tart?”
She laughed, and the world changed again. After some rummaging, she retrieved
the box from behind her head. “Yeah, of course I do. But the people in charge
round here, they say you’re not allowed to have any.”
She ate it slowly, savouring every bite, especially to torture him, and when
visiting hours were over, stood up to leave, the sweep of her skirt a mere
whisper of sound. “Goodnight, Sam. Sleep well, when you do.”
And then she was gone; but there was still movement in the room, and the sound
of someone else breathing. “She’s right, you know,” said a soft voice from near
“She is?” Sam asked, lazily.
“She is. You have to go on living.”
“You shouldn’t listen at doors.”
“It’s in the job description.” The psychiatrist entered the room and perched
himself on the edge of Sam’s bedside table. “She’s something real, Sam.
Something to hold onto. You’ve lost a lot, you know. Five months of your life,
for one thing, and it’s not like you’re going to step right back in where you
left off. There’s a long way for you to go, still. You’re going to need
something to hold onto, and memories won’t be enough.”
“Look, Doctor – what’s your first name, by the way?”
The psychiatrist looked surprised. “Neil. It’s Neil.”
Sam nodded. “Right. So, that was a dream, it wasn’t real, it was me dreaming I’m
a butterfly, and now I’m awake, and well, what happens when I lose this? What if
I wake up, and I’m...”
“A cockroach?” asked the psychiatrist, dryly. “A mackerel? A police officer
called Sam in the year 2039? Maya told you the answer, Sam. Listen to her if you
won’t to me.”
And then he was gone, too, and so, sadly, was the treacle tart, but Sam had
Maya, and little yellow pills that might not, themselves, be real, and maybe
it’d make some sense some day.
One of the pleasures left behind, forgotten with childhood, was the deep-down
sensuality of the snooze. There was something delicious about it, about the
light touch of oblivion, the layers of sheets, distant sounds and
all-encompassing warmth. Sam had learned, over time, how to launch himself from
unconsciousness to sprinting in the space of seconds; he’d learnt never to
daydream because there was crime going on. But crime was always going on now,
crime had happened when he was hit by a car that skidded and didn’t stop, so
there was time for dreams. He was curled up, a foetal mess of limbs and tangled
cotton, pillow-weave beneath his head and all bathed in a spread of dim, diffuse
Below the background noise, he could hear the usual rhythmic bleeping of the
heart monitor, and cutting into the silences in between, footsteps, nurses’
murmurings, the muted whispers of life in St. James’s. And suddenly, into the
peace, came a clear, welcome voice.
“Jesus Christ, Sammy, you look like shit.”
He didn’t want to wake up. He’d live with being insulted.
“Still asleep, as usual, and white as a sheet. Lazy bugger.”
Sam shifted at that, pushing the covers from his head. “I’m not. Got hit by a,
by a car.”
“And drugged up, too! No, Sam,” – and there was a bit of shuffling, followed by
a pause – “don’t open your eyes. The sight of me now, it’d put a growing lad off
all his hot dinners.”
“I’m not a growing lad.”
“Course you’re not. Keep your eyes tightly shut, now.”
Obediently, Sam kept them shut. The light through the cotton grew less white,
taking on more of the livid red of his eyelids. He spoke, slowly, through the
drug haze. “How come... how can you be here?”
“Well, that’s a long story.” There was a brief moment of silence, then the sound
of boots clumping down in a pattern of rhythmic pacing. “I think you know most
of it. You want the whole story from the beginning?”
“Back in the seventies, I had a DI, name of Sam Tyler, same as you. Bit of a
posh nark, but he was a good lad, had whatchamacallit, charisma. Lots of that.
Course, he had a screw loose. They tell me I’m not supposed to say that any
more, so maybe he was a schizo. Still, I didn’t give a rat’s arse what he did in
his own time, and it never stopped him getting the job done. In them days it was
easier to turn a blind eye.
“So, the years go by, and in time I don’t have a DI called Sam Tyler any more,
because he’s gone long since. And given he was screwy in the head, maybe that’s
a good thing. But there’s always that nagging mystery, isn’t there? And in my
line of work, we don’t approve of that kind of thing. So I reckoned there wasn’t
no harm in making a few enquiries of my own, find out what happened. And, well,
here I am, and here you are, and you know the rest.”
“How’d you find me?”
“How’d you find me, he says. How’d I find you? S’what I do for a living, lad.
I’m a copper, or had you forgotten?”
“In matter of fact, you’d best be grateful you’re not under arrest. I’d handcuff
you to the bed, but you’d like that, eh?” He was laughing, and Sam smiled to
himself beneath the layers of sheets and shade. “To be honest, Sam, I don’t even
know if you remember, but you told me where you live. Do you remember? That
bloke Saunders, who got killed in the old mill under your kitchen table?”
A brief shudder. “I remember.”
“And Annie, she’s a good girl, she remembered what you said about that psycho
Tyler and his little kid Sammy. Reckon you were related, after all.”
There was another long pause, broken by more shuffling and the thump and squeak
of someone sitting in the red plastic chair. “So I came to find you. Told your
mum I was an old friend from way back when, which isn’t that far off true. Nice
old lady, your mum. Get the feeling that if I put a foot wrong round you she’d
Another pause. This one was longer, and Sam found himself listening for
movement, for receding footsteps. But there was warmth in the room, and he knew
his visitor hadn’t gone.
“Look, Sam. I dunno why I’m here, really. We – that’s Annie and me – wanted to
find you. Sort of a loose end, right? It’s been thirty years in the making. Just
wanted to check you’re not in trouble, because you always are.”
“Not in trouble. I’m in a coma.”
“No, you’re bloody well not, not any more.” A brief pause. “If you were, I
wouldn’t have had to come and find you. But you don’t need me watching your back
any more. You’ve got good people here.”
Another pause, another set of shuffling, and then a soft, warm hand on Sam’s
head. “Look after yourself, Sammy-boy. You’re all right, you did good. I’m gonna
leave you now, unless there’s something else I can do for you, Detective
“There is something.” Sam closed his eyes tighter shut and tried, for a minute,
to forget the bit of him that was still a copper, would be the badge on his
gravestone, would be a copper now and forever,
“Oh yeah? What’s that then?”
“There’s a man. Psychiatrist. Got an office down the corridor, and a lot of
hair, and his voice sounds like, um, an egg yolk dripping down a window.”
“Still got that talent for metaphor, I see.”
“Could you, um...”
“Could I what?”
“Could you slam him up against a filing cabinet?”
A familiar sound, then: a burst of startled laughter. “You just leave that to
the Gene Genie.”
Sam grinned. “I remember.”
“Yep, knew you wouldn’t forget it, baby glam rocker like you.”
“S’all right.” The briefest of touches, again, and then a change in the air, a
brief pause in the bleeping rhythm of Sam’s heart. “I’ve got something of yours
here that you might want back. No, don’t open your eyes, you can look at it when
you wake up. Goodnight, Sam. Sleep well, now.”
His footsteps faded with Sam’s consciousness; the yellow tinge was disappearing
at the edges of his dreams, and when he woke up, hours and hours later, Maya was
there, and so was his mum, and so was a thirty-three-year-old police badge made
out for DI Sam Tyler, and it was real.