Thanks so much for choosing BEFORE HOLMES MET WATSON! This book is an experiment born out of a Tumblr writing challenge. September is the month of 30 Day Challenges for writers. A Tumblr blog I follow shared a 30 Day Challenge that featured a prompt for each day (Shopping, Gardening, Gifts, etc.). I decided to use the prompts to see if I could write a prequel novella to my novel, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE ADVENTURE OF THE PAPER JOURNAL, in 30 days. The results will be posted here. The quote cards in the heading of each chapter are shared from my Instagram (@harrisonkitteridge). Please let me know how you think the experiment is going in the comments!
Samples of SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE ADVENTURE OF THE PAPER JOURNAL and its companion piece of outtakes and deleted scenes, THE PAPER JOURNAL CHRONICLES, are posted here as well.
Harrison Kitteridge asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
Copyright © 2016, Harrison Kitteridge.
All rights reserved.
Sherlock Holmes was a thing of the shadows. He was also the bearer of the light that drove out the darkness. Living out this paradox could be quite stressful. Obfuscation. Lies. Deceit. He had always been fascinated by people’s attempts to subvert the truth while living in a world in which there were cameras everywhere, constantly recording, sending everything back to The Archive, where anything governments or other powerful entities hadn’t obscured was searchable. Everyone could see everything, know everything about everyone else. “The Age of Transparency” was how the headlines had heralded The Archive coming online. Mendacity now took careful planning. Saying you were working late when you were really at a seedy motel rolling around on the bed with a colleague was a nearly impossible sell now. As were most forms of impersonation. The ubiquity of biometric readers employed to do everything from unlock doors to sign for packages meant most impostors quickly set off alarms when The Archive recognised someone was in two places at once. It had become so difficult to hide, and detective work was about uncovering concealment. The spotlights The Archive shone into people’s lives made Sherlock’s illuminating insights seem like a flickering candle, and he feared he was obsolete.
As a boy, Sherlock would spend hours upon hours neglecting his school assignments to browse the Personal Archive Files of strangers. He watched in fascination as the chain reactions of their ill deeds accelerated towards their explosive finales. All the evidence was there. The outcomes were predictable, yet the affairs, the embezzling, the betrayals always seemed to blindside the victims. They see, but they do not observe, Sherlock often thought. More damningly, they thought The Archive could do the observing for them. Everyone was watching everyone else all the time, so the misapprehension wasn’t wholly unreasonable. Nevertheless, it didn’t erase the simple consequence: Sherlock Holmes was a detective who almost never had any cases to solve. If you are what you do, what did it mean that he was constantly doing nothing?
John Watson was a doctor and a soldier. He lived and worked in a war zone. He saved the dying and on rare occasions had to pick up a gun and kill the living. He’d been trained well to do both. He preferred the former. There were moments when John was alone that it seemed to him his life was some sort of dream or even a simulation. War was terrible and chaotic and hellish. It was also thoroughly ludicrous. There was always something to do, though, and that left you with little time to realise that nothing made sense. The why of the fight was impossible to appreciate when you were in the valley of death. And when you stepped away far enough to look in at the mass slaughter, you realised the why was never good enough, and the true insanity was anyone thinking the depth of the suffering was justified. John struggled with the contradiction in himself: he was a healer and a killer. There was something he enjoyed about the risk of standing next to that yawning, dark abyss. He tried to ignore that part of himself and focus on the bit that spent exhausting hours in the operating theatre patching up the wounded. He thought of himself as a surgeon first, but his title belied that. Everyone called him Captain Watson.
Day One: Shopping
Adaptation. It is the driving force behind evolution. The species that is better adapted to its environment is more likely to survive. Humans are incredibly adaptable. We can adjust to almost any circumstance, survive nearly anything. John Watson pondered these things as he broke into a clammy sweat and hid behind one of the large potted plants lining the gleaming hallways of the mall. He’d adjusted to life in Afghanistan, to the gunfire, the bombs, the blood, the death. Calm in the face of chaos had become his default setting, and all this… peacefulness had his nerves singing and his pulse racing. He wished he’d thought to spend his leave in his hotel room and just have everything he needed delivered: food, spirits, companionship, but especially the items he’d promised to pick up for his mates stuck back in Kabul. He’d thought the novelty of going to one of the few remaining shopping centres would be a bit of a lark, but he hadn’t realised just how much he had changed. He’d always managed to take leave with friends he’d been deployed with, and without that familiar buffer he was flailing wildly and on the brink of a panic attack all because he was in a shopping mall that was too brightly lit and filled with civilians whose situational awareness rivalled that of a thick plank. He was beginning to get strange looks.
In another part of London, Sherlock Holmes was doing shopping of his own.
They claimed the stigma had been removed, but it hadn’t. He could see it in the eyes of the pedestrians who saw him make the left turn into the building; he could see it in the eyes of the staff. There was always a measure of contempt chased with a sharp spike of moral superiority. It was the pity that rankled him the most, though. But he kept coming to the Controlled Substances Dispensary because he knew the molar concentration of what he was getting down to four decimal places. The precision of it all provided a sort of comfort, although he found the blankness of the stark, unadorned white walls sinister – their cool inhospitality was quite deliberate. He provided a retinal scan and was assigned a number. He’d long realised that no one liked to sit by the vents on the north side of the room, which blew arctic blasts in the summer and seemed to ooze positively equatorial humidity in the winter. It was early spring, so predicting the temperature was a bit chancier, but he took his usual seat directly under the openings and was shocked to find the problem seemed to have been repaired. A pleasant, gentle breeze wafted over him, and as he watched a young man (early twenties, art student, hooked on some variant of methamphetamines) shamble towards him, he knew his day would go poorly.
“Nice day for it,” the art student said, smiling as he took the seat right next to Sherlock.
“Is it?” Sherlock replied, giving him a scathing look.
“I suppose not,” the young man said, recoiling slightly. At least he had the decency to take the hint and move a few seats away. Sherlock sighed in relief. He abhorred familiarity.
Back in the shopping centre, John had abandoned his cover and made his way into a supermarket. He’d picked up some chocolates and biscuits for his colleagues at the hospital and was consulting his list for what to buy next when he came to the fresh fruit section. He paused in front of what seemed like acres of bananas and stared. The sheer abundance of it all seemed preposterous to him. It’s all that unblemished yellow, he thought. He picked up a hand of seven and added it to his basket. He consulted his list again and headed off to find some authentic hot pepper sauce for his Jamaican anaesthetist.
Sherlock’s number was called, and he was ushered into the back room to receive his standing order. He’d never seen the woman manning the inventory before. She had brassy red hair and a nosy demeanour. He braced himself.
“Mr Holmes?” she asked, and her nasal inquiry made him want to throw things. Of course he was Mr Holmes. Hadn’t his number just been called? Hadn’t he just been escorted in?
“Yes,” he replied. He could hear the faint whir of the machinery retrieving his medicine and felt the blood in his veins pulse a bit faster. The vials popped up from beneath the counter.
“A bit strong, isn’t it?” the clerk said, examining one of the labels.
“I prepare the final solution myself,” he replied, reaching for the vials. She withheld them.
“And you’re allowed?” she asked.
“Yes,” Sherlock responded, clenching his fist. “I’m allowed.” He stared at her without blinking, and after several moments she handed him the vials.
“Would you like some syringes?” she asked.
“I have my own, and I don’t share,” he replied, tucking the vials into his coat pocket. Part of him didn’t like the profound sense of relief he received from feeling their slight weight set him ever so marginally off balance. But hearing them clink together, knowing he had them if he needed them set his mind at ease in a way nothing else could.
As Sherlock left the dispensary, he witnessed a strange phenomenon. In the distance, dark objects were falling from the sky. At first, he thought they might be delivery drones that had been clumsily hacked and were part of an inept terrorist attack, but they were the wrong size and shape. In addition, there were no wailing warning sirens, no people running, no screams. There was only an ominous silence that seemed to have swallowed the noise of the city.
John heard them smack into the pavement wetly before he saw them out of the corner of his eye. It took every ounce of his self-control not to yell “Incoming!” and dive into an improvised foxhole. But they weren’t bombs; they were birds, plummeting from the sky like giant black hailstones, already dead before they hit the ground.
“It’s raining crows,” a woman wearing a mauve dress stated as their small crowd stood and watched disbelievingly as the avian projectiles exploded as they hit the pavement, splattering blood and entrails astonishing distances. “It’s raining a flock of crows.”
“A murder,” John said mostly to himself. “That’s what you call a flock of crows.”
“I think they’re ravens,” a man said, grimacing at the carnage and flinching at each thudding splat. “They roost in the bell towers of some of the cathedrals and in the Tower of London.”
“What are they called?” a boy asked, pulling at John’s sleeve. “If crows are a murder, what are ravens?”
John looked down at the boy. He was slender to the point of breaking, white as milk, and something about the seriousness in his pale eyes and the wildness of his dark curls set John on edge. He reminded John of the stories of the Daoine Sith his grandmother had told him. The strange boy standing there looking like one of the faie, the dead birds, the constant prickle down his spine – it all seemed to augur ill, and suddenly he wished to be back in Edinburgh starting his medical studies. That’s when he’d been happiest. Hadn’t he? “An unkindness,” John finally answered, feeling compelled by the child’s unwavering stare. “They’re called an unkindness.”
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