Sherlock Holmes is the singular and exceptional creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This story is a work of fan fiction, written by a fan, for the pleasure of other fans and no harm is meant or intended by its creation.
The Abominable Affair of the Charming Chiromancer
It is the shock of the cold that wakes me. The water opens its arms and hauls me into its inky heart. I was not aware that I had been moved, nor that my hands had been tied, my feet also, manacled to some great weight that pulls me down, ever further from the watery yellow halo at the well head. Water fills my nostrils and I fight the need to breathe. I am dragged down, what little air I have escaping either side of the gag that has been forced into my mouth in drifting collections of bubbles that flee to the surface and pock the writhing waters with ever-radiating circles.
A dull thud reverberates through my legs and the downward impulsion ends. The bottom has been reached and the chain about my feet slackens. My ankle bones, no longer rubbing painfully together, part by an inch. The chain loosens as I struggle and kick. One shoe comes free, then the other. Above, the circle of light is being eclipsed into a thinning crescent. My chest burns, my lungs cry out for air. Never has the need to breathe been this urgent. But with escape close, I dare not contemplate the failure of my resolve.
The chain reluctantly yields another half inch. My foot slides through, followed quickly by the other. My bound hands do not make for the easiest ascent. My race is against the all-consuming need for air and the diminishing sliver of lamplight high above. I break the surface just as the light fails – and I am cast into eternal darkness.
I bob on the still waters, and casting the gag from between my teeth, I drink in the stale, blessed air in great gulps, easing the fire in my chest with the green water that slops into my mouth. In the dark, the lap and gurgle of the water as it teases the circular walls of my prison is oppressive; save for my own laboured breathing, there is nothing else to contest this battle of sound. We cannot play this game forever, the water and I. Unless rescue comes, my strength will surely fail. Already the chill is biting into my bones, already my hands are numb and too many times has my head slid under the surface.
The problem, of course, is that no one knows I am here.
It is night and the sleepers will not wake until long after I am drowned. If they do wonder about my failure to appear at breakfast, it will be some time before anyone thinks to investigate. When they find the room is empty, my bed unslept in, they will come to the inevitable conclusion, that I have slunk away, an admitted murderer of elderly widows who knows the hand of the law is about to fall on his shoulder. They will say that their suspicions were right all along, and the police will concur. They will not think to search the gardens, nor find this old disused well. In time, someone, many years from now, will stumble across my water-logged bones and exonerate my memory. Much good will it do me, when I shall be too long dead to care.
If I cannot rely upon others, then I see that I must look to own resources. The rope around my hands is tight and the water has made it intractable. I cannot free myself, either with teeth nor any sharp projection that I had hoped to find on these slime-encrusted walls. Round and round I travel, feeling my way in the darkness for some hand-hold to which I might cling and give my aching legs a rest. I grope through the slippery vegetation and find a brick standing slightly proud of the others. With my nails, I grasp at it, taking a firmer hold and pulling my upper body free of the water. I shiver from cold and the sheer effort of what I have done, until suddenly my fingers are slithering across the coarse surface, shredding my nails down to the quick. I fall and once more the waters close above my head.
In that moment of suspension, when one is neither falling nor rising, I hear the voice of reason telling me that I cannot win. How much easier it would be to submit now, to forsake air and let the water claim its victory. No more struggle, it tells me, surrender, surrender now.
I do not listen. If I had not the stomach for a fight, I would not have come this far. I push for the surface and break through, from dark water to dark air. What to do? With my hands free, I might have been able to work my way to the top of the well, push the lid aside and return to the world. As it is, the walls are set just far enough apart, so that I am not able to brace my legs against them. Even my protruding brick seems to be eluding me, except when I find a vaguely rectangular-shaped gap where once it had been and realise I had pulled it free.
It seems to take forever for my cold fingers to obey my will and hook themselves into the hole. When I am secure, I hang there, my chin grazing against the exposed brickwork as my teeth keep up a constant rattle. My sodden clothes are like lead, sapping what little energy I have. Worse of all, I cannot concentrate. My mind wanders, away from the problem how I am to avoid drowning to a questioning of what foolishness it was that brought me here in the first place.
A man looms large in my mind, not that in person he was of that stature. Rather smaller, squat, barrel-like almost, with a shambolic gait, neat black hair that gleams from the overgenerous application of lime cream and a foppish moustache, twirled into pin-prick points at the ends. We sit, amidst a crowd, face to face, my hand uppermost, held in his, while the fingers of his other hand trace the lines of my palm.
"Why, Mr Holmes," I hear him say again, "it almost seems that you will die by water."
By water! The irony does not escape me as I struggle to keep my head above the surface of this foetid pool. He could not have known, I tell myself, he could not have foreseen this! One's destiny is not to be found etched into the skin of one's palm or in tea-leaves or to be glimpsed in dew-smeared mirrors at the break of day. To believe that is to yield to that voice whose urgings grow ever more strident until I am speaking my defiance out loud to smother that impulsion to surrender to my fate.
I will not go quietly, I tell the darkness. I will not be silenced while such men live to prey upon the innocent and unsuspecting.
"Curse you, Ricoletti," I yell in defiance. "Curse you and your abominable wife!"
My words echo and fall back to me, robbed of their strength, as am I. I have gone past coldness into a state where I feel nothing of physical pain or emotional turmoil. I have no fear of death and few regrets, except that my brother must hear things said of me which he alone will know are not true. He will suspect my fate, but will not be able to prove otherwise. In my mind's eye, I see him shake his head and say that he told me so.
Perhaps, brother, you were right, or perhaps you have been my undoing. You sent me here, after all.
My fingers slip and inch towards the edge. I try to dig in, but I have lost whatever command I had over them ages ago. How long has it been? Twenty minutes, thirty? My futile efforts have claimed a few minutes more of life, nothing more. Do not struggle, he had said. It is easier if you do not fight. I teeter on the edge of extinction, held by the jagged, bleeding remnants of my nails. I am too tired and too cold to care. I shall die quietly in the darkness on a date that my brain is too addled to remember, my life counted in years that seem irrelevant now.
That you will die by water. Could it be that the chiromancer had spoken the truth? If so, another of his predictions is about to come true.
To find out how this alarming situation came about, onwards to Chapter One!