Whumptober Prompt 16: A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Hallucinations - Sherlock Holmes
Warning: drug use referenced, possibly disturbing images, I don't know what my imagination will come up with. This is hard, y'all. Take a moment when you're done, if you would, and let me know if the horror worked, or fell flat? Please?
Mrs. Hudson had dinner waiting for us when we reached the flat. Holmes did not eat on a case, but I ate with relish, watching with interest as he carefully took off his coat and set it on his chair near the fire. He did not usually take such good care of his belongings. He got his vials and chemicals out, which was not surprising, though I hoped for a dinner with no noxious fumes. Then, to my utter astonishment, Holmes went over and began collecting the cobwebs off of his coat. Finished, he took them over to his vials, and began mixing them in with other things. Knowing he would be so absorbed he wouldn't hear my questions, I went over to his coat to examine it myself. He'd left some cobwebs on it, and I caught them on my fingers, lifting them over the fireplace to see them better in the light of the flames. To my astonishment the middle of them, though held far above the fire, began to melt.
"Watson, put that down!" came Holmes' sharp voice, and I turned.
"I was just looking, Holmes," I objected, though I replaced the cobwebs onto his jacket.
"Don't bother with my things, not right now." His tone was already regaining the absent-mindedness his chemical experiments induced, and I shrugged. I was rather surprised I'd drawn him out of it to begin with. I sat down in my own chair, put my feet towards the blaze, and enjoyed the way the warm relaxed all of the aches. Before long I began dozing.
I must have been dozing, for the fire began taking strange shapes. A dancing shape, a human shape, no bigger than my finger. It was laughing at me, and I wished to draw Holmes attention to it. "Holmes?" He did not answer. I looked back at the fire. Surely I was sleeping, for the figure became more distinct, with two furry, goated legs, and a devilish smile under two small horns. I was deluded. I wondered what Holmes would make of it, what he would say science said. I got up abruptly, catching up the poker to wave it through the dancing half-goat to see if it would disappear.
But the poker came alive in my hand, a twisting, writhing length of black with words beginning to glow on it like the embers of a fire. You lost them. I dropped the poker in horror, backing away from it, hitting something with my knees. I turned, and the chair behind me had a body in it, a body in uniform, my aide in the war, shot through the arm, it wasn't fatal, it wouldn't be, it wouldn't, I just had to get to him in time! I reached for him, but my hands betrayed me, turning palms up, facing me, the fingers beginning to wither, all but the thumbs—the thumbs grew. They grew larger than my palms, blunt, bloated things, beginning to bend my palms with their weight. I stared at them in horror. How would I save anyone with hands like these? I looked back at Tommy, the boy-turned-soldier, and saw—no. No, I hadn't been too late! But I was now, his eyes—the eyes of the dead. The empty eyes that never moved, never looked away, never gave the living peace! I couldn't even close them, not with my hands. I backed away. How was I a doctor now? I lost him! I was lost too, for I could feel the heat of the desert on my feet, and I could hear the noise. God of mercy, the noise. People yelling my name, yelling for a doctor, a doctor with no hands, a doctor who lost them.
Where was Holmes? I looked towards the table. But no, this was the desert? But the table was there, in the middle of the sand, the four legs beginning to sink! Holmes! I lunged forward. Something pulled me backwards, away from him! Something was around my chest, pulling tight, the noise growing louder. Be quiet! I have to save him! But the thin band around my chest was metal, spikes beginning to grow outwards, going down my arms. My hands were gone, they had fallen off! There they were on the floor! The metal band grew in their place, new hands, metal hands, hard hands. Could I be a doctor? Holmes!
But the metal was pushing me down, making me sit. It held my wrists, forced me to sit and watch. Tommy was sinking. His eyes, why didn't they close his eyes before burying him? And Matthew Harrington was there with him, but they'd opened his eyes—the bloodshot, punctured eyes. He had seen too much. Bury him, bury him! Cover those eyes that cannot see, but stare into me!
The walls! The walls were changing! They were falling outward into the desert, all but one, it was coming closer. It had feet, thirteen feet, hopping under the wall, bringing it closer! It meant to crush me! Where was Holmes?
Something pricked my arm. A needle-like snake! Green against the sand, with bullets falling out of its mouth, it grew larger, larger, the bullets spent, all the bullets the desert ate up in our wars, dumping around me! They would bury me, bury me with my eyes open! Holmes!
No, I could close my eyes. They were heavy. The bullets were attaching to them, weighing them down, pulling them closed. The dead should be buried with their eyes closed…
"Watson? Watson! Wake up, Watson!" I stirred. I did not want to open my eyes. I knew I didn't. There was a reason.
What I had seen-
But I was not a coward. I refused to be a coward, and I opened them.
Holmes was bent over me, a needle in one hand, his other raised to slap my face. We were in the study, the walls standing immovably in place. But my shoes were flung near the door.
"Holmes?" I blinked, looking up at him, and the raised hand lowered slowly. "What happened?"
"Are you all right, my dear friend?"
"I don't know. Holmes, what was that?"
"Now this is very important, Watson. Where have you been today?"
I did not understand why the question would be important, but Holmes's mind moved faster than mine did. "I went to Mrs. Babbit-"
"No, Watson, after! This afternoon!"
"Just the places with you," I returned, still a bit muzzy. "Holmes, did I have a nightmare?" What I had seen had been too vivid, too real for a nightmare, but I could think of no other explanation. Holmes got to his feet, placing his hand on my shoulder when I would have risen too. He kept me in place, then, satisfied I would not move, began to pace.
"The cobwebs contain residuals of a hallucinogenic, Watson. Effective when burned, and both fireplaces in the hall had been lit. It's harmless in small portions, used sometimes for recreational effect, if enormously expensive."
I thought to Matthew Harrington's eyes punctured, of the walls moving in—of what he might have seen, and shuddered. "You think he tried it, and took too much?"
Holmes walked to his violin, picking it up and then setting it down. I blinked again. It was rare to see him turn away from his help, unless he was truly bothered. He turned back to me and examined me. "I would consider it possible, Watson, but for one thing. You had some of the powder on the bottom of your shoes."
My shoes? I had propped my feet up near the fire when we returned. "But I did not go near the fireplace."
"So where were you? We must hypothesise that you picked it up at the house; it is too rare a powder to be found commonly in London, and most of what does exist has been confiscated and is being held with other valuables by the authorities. In the house, Watson, in the house? Where were you in the house?"
I thought back. "I went up the stairs with you, and waited while you examined everything—and I was tired, and went back and leaned against the wall."
"Behind the door!" Holmes exclaimed. "Of course, but that would mean—I wonder—Watson, old chap, I'll send Mrs. Hudson up with something for you, but I must be off at once! You'll be alright?" I nodded—I could feel the hallucinogen's effects fading, but he still hesitated.
"Go on, Holmes."
He paused, still uncertain, then went to the mantle and poured me a glass of brandy, making sure I lifted it for a drink before heading down the stairs full speed, calling Mrs. Hudson as he went.
He was gone all afternoon. When he came back he seemed most satisfied. "I have looked into all three owners, Watson, and I am confident I know both the who, and the how. We are up against a clever opponent! But how are you faring, old fellow?"
I had experienced a calm, tedious afternoon, and was fully recovered. "Mrs. Hudson has fed me more soup than a dinner at a soup kitchen," I grumbled, and Holmes laughed, the laugh that preluded excitement and a chase.
"I left you in excellent hands! But you are ready for an adventure? Your nerves are recovered?"
"I am ready if you are."
"Wonderful! But we must wait. I have an idea, Watson, an idea, but we must wait till it is dark to fully reveal it." He threw himself into his own chair across from me.
"What have you been doing?"
"Looking into the three who might profit from Matthew Harrington's death. I soon satisfied myself as to the cousin's story—a beggar who found his weeping wife and played with the small child." Holmes shuddered. "I spent an hour listening to her cry. The neighbors confirmed Matthew lived with the family, and quite amiably, except for when he indulged in his drug use. The neighbors could hear the family quite clearly on those days, or at least the cousin and his wife. Those days he proved a most unfortunate houseguest, and then a most unfortunate neighbor, as he took to indulging outside, so his hosts wouldn't find him. The uncle, however, also stood to lose a great deal if Matthew sold the properties. He had claimed that particular house for a new laboratory, and Matthew had already given him a key. He is still most upset his claim is being challenged, at least to this particular house. And the solicitor stood to gain a promotion if he could get the properties added to the valuables already owned by the crown."
"I am for the uncle," I said, thinking it over. "It might be easy enough to mix the powder if he had the ingredients, and it would be easy enough to trick his nephew there, and to lock up after he was done."
"Do you think so? Well, we shall find out if you are right. Tonight, Watson, tonight!"
Holmes then called up for a hearty dinner, though he forbore eating any. After dinner we waited till the sun set, I took my revolver, and the two of us set off in a hansom cab, though we let it go two streets over, there meeting Lestrade and a few of his constables. All of us walked quietly to the house at Holmes' instruction, where Holmes let himself in with a key, his eyes gleaming in the moonlight. He led us up to the empty room the young man had died in, the moonlight pouring through the windows, and motioned us to sink into the musicians' alcove, hiding in the shadows near the floor. Lestrade, long accustomed to Holmes' theatrics, motioned his men to obey.
Before long we heard faint footsteps in the hall behind us. They stopped just short of entering, but Holmes did not move when I glanced at him.
I gripped my revolver. Holmes did notice that and shook his head, and I sank back into a more relaxed crouch again.
Ten more minutes passed. Then again came the sound of footsteps, this time from the main hall, two pairs of feet climbing up the stairs.
"I don't know why I had to come," the deep voice of the uncle protested.
"Because it's your key and your laboratory, which you cleaned, and if they're settling the entailment tonight, especially if it reverts to the Crown as it should, they'll need a record of everything you've do—where is everyone?"
"There's no one here," the uncle said uneasily.
"I am here," breathed a ghostly whisper from behind us, and the Constables tensed. Holmes quickly shoved his hands over the mouths of two, jerking his head at me to cover the other. Both the uncle and the solicitor turned abruptly, looking for the source of the sound, and one of the doors swung slowly open with a prolonged creak.
"Who is there?" the solicitor asked sharply.
"Matthew Harrington," came the whisper again. "I come to avenge my murder." From the hall something white streamed into the room. It did not use steps as mortal men did, and I breathed hard in fear. But my fear was nothing compared to the fear of the two men.
"I didn't know, Matthew, I didn't know!" the uncle cried. "He said he wanted to borrow the key for an experiment, and if I told, I'd be accused of murder! I didn't know what he planned to do!"
"Silence!" roared the solicitor. "You—you cannot be real! There are no ghosts! You—you do not exist!"
"But I do," the ghost moaned. "I cannot rest, you killed me!"
Both men were backing away as the ghost floated forward, more slowly now.
"But you were useless on earth, you cannot be here! I killed you! I rid the earth of you! Don't come closer! I'll do it again!" and the solicitor plunged his hand deep into his pockets.
"And that, gentlemen, is what we needed to hear," Holmes said in a normal voice, standing up. "Constables, if you would?"
All three beings turned towards us, and the "ghost" reached a hand to his head, grabbing a portion of it and pulling. A filmy white fabric flowed up and off, dancing in the moonlit air, and revealed Matthew's cousin, standing on a wheeled contraption laid close to the ground.
The other two stared in disbelief. "What is this?" the solicitor asked, anger growing with every word.
"This is an arrest, sir, for the murder of Matthew Harrington. I suppose as a solicitor you don't need your rights read, eh?" Two of the constables went and grabbed him, the third restraining the uncle, who had begun sobbing. "Now tell me, Mr. Holmes, how did you know it was him?"
"Simple deduction, Lestrade; Watson and I found the drug and the good doctor was unfortunate enough to experience its effects, and it was found in a quantity far too large. Now whoever had put it there had neglected to clean behind the door—you'll find more residue there, if you wish for evidence—and that immediately pointed suspicion away from the uncle, who was far too methodical a scientist to miss such an obvious thing. And shame on you, sir, for giving in so easily to fear! You, a man of science! And then I found our representative for the Crown, here, had access to where the drug was stored along with other various samples, and a known dislike of drug users. I have no doubt he was supplying Matthew Harrington with drugs for some time, and lured him here with a promise of a new drug away from the house of his friends, and inside, where it would be warmer. Did I miss anything, counsellor?"
"Curse you," he snarled. "I rid the earth of trash to enrich the ones who care for it. That shouldn't be a crime."
"Matthew was not trash, he was brother," said a familiar, accented voice, and a moment later the cousin punched the solicitor in the face.
"Now, now, we don't hold to that! No punching the prisoner," Lestrade intervened, but I noticed he did so only after the cousin had given at least one good right hook. "Well, that's all the confession we need, then. And you, you're facing charges as an accessory, since you didn't come forward with what you knew!" he added to the uncle. "Now let's get you all off where you belong, and we'll sort out all the charges down at the station. Come along then!"
Holmes watched them depart with a smile. I couldn't help but interrupt, for his dramatic methods proved a good way to tease the scientifically minded man.
"A ghost, Holmes?"
He waved carelessly as we descended the staircase. "It fit with the legend of the house, though I confess I did not expect the uncle to fall for it, instead of the solicitor. It's sad, Watson, when a scientific mind loses itself to fear. That, truly, is science gone wrong."
Response to Guest on "Hope Deferred," if you read this: thank you so much for telling me; it is a glorious thing to hear a story is that good. :)
A/N: Yes, I am aware of this irony considering Arthur Conan Doyle's passion at the end of his life.
Author's Accusation: four and a half pages for this chapter. You...really? :S Or me, rather, too, but it's almost bedtime and I haven't touched Crown of Life yet!