a/n: Thanks to AmatorLinguae and Bowen Cates for inspiring me.
...and...I hate summaries...I went through so many ideas for this one...ugh.
I hurried to meet him as he got out of his automobile. "At last, the good Watson arrives! Exquisite timing, too; I've just gotten the brandy to a perfect temperature."
"Well then it needs to be the first thing on our itinerary, doesn't it."
"It really does, Watson. Here, I'll take your bags, if you'd be good enough to open the door for me. We shall take a walk later today, and I'll show you my favorite route of late. It seems to pass the most quiet and interesting rock formations and tidal pools."
"Such peaceful scenery helps the thinking process, I'd imagine."
"Would you shut the door behind us? Thank you. Yes, it does help, and I know just what you'll think when you see it—the usual florid romanticism about the colours of the water and the swaying of the seaweed fronds, and next you'll be settling down on a rock and bringing out your pen and paper."
Watson smiled. "How are you liking your new housekeeper?"
"Oh…that. She's um—she has a hard time grasping that certain areas of the house must not be disturbed."
"Two experiments destroyed and more on the way, most likely."
"Yes, and I was quite eager about the last one—you see those reams of paper over there? Those are my preparative writings. Twenty hours straight I put into it, not counting the time required to fetch the chemicals from town. And all for naught. It was a calamity, Watson. I'll set your bag on the couch; I see no need for you to rush into unpacking."
"You said the brandy was cooled?"
"I'll let you be the judge, Watson. Sit wherever you like and I'll bring you a glass."
I heard him flop into an armchair rather heavily, though he smiled quickly when I turned around with the drink.
"...and here you are." I presented the glass with a bow that was no less dramatic for its conservative angle.
He took the glass with a word of thanks and began drinking rapidly.
"Have a care, Watson; my stock isn't limitless," I chuckled, returning to the sideboard to pour myself a glass. "How's business going, by the by?"
"Well, it's business, Holmes."
"Yes—I believe in some recess of my mind I knew that."
He held out his empty glass. "Would you mind…?"
"Upon my soul, you enjoy it more than I do. Here you are...any new patients?"
"Holmes, I told you everything in my last letter, and I see the letter open on the table so I know you've read it."
"Well, well, my mind is so full of chemical equations I have to put some things in storage, you know." I swept the letter and envelope into a drawer. "But, in general, things are going well?"
"That's not what I wrote."
"I wasn't trying to quote you verbatim."
"Yes, you did put it in your own words," Watson said quietly.
I drained my own glass and curled up on the couch end.
Watson cleared his throat after some time had passed.
"How is the weather in London these days?" I asked quickly.
"Only difference is the rainy days bother my leg more than they used to."
"Have you seen Inspector Lestrade?"
"Some days it hurts even if it's only foggy."
"He's still at Scotland Yard, isn't he? Lestrade?"
"And on the days when a storm is coming, it aches with a sharp, burning, inescapable pain." He glared.
"Why are you so touchy today, Watson? Did you get a bad review?"
"I told you--I can't write anymore. I explained it in my letter--a letter that I had to write over a three-day period because my hand was hurting so much. I told you I'd rather talk on the phone--that it was easier for me--but you never replied. Holmes, tell me why."
"Because I can't believe it," I said after a long silence.
"Well, believe it Holmes," he said shortly. "My hand cramps very easily now, and holding the pen is too painful for long periods, so I can only write for ten-minute intervals. For note-taking when talking to patients I can manage, but as a writer—a writer, Holmes? To be denied the expression of my thoughts, and my ideas…they build up in my head, and--but, enough." He held up a palm. "You're not a writer, and I don't expect you to understand. I just hoped you would try," he added, so quietly I had to strain to hear.
Sighing miserably, he looked about the room. "What was your latest successful experiment?"
"Can't you find a secretary, Watson?"
He groaned. "I'm not going to let just anyone hear my story ideas; they crack under careless scratchings."
He motioned vaguely with his hand. "I'm very particular about it--I tried to dictate once, but they did it all wrong. The way they scratched so apathetically with the pen…it was like my words were just sounds to them, something to record and then forget. I fired them after two minutes."
I could not hold back a guffaw. "Two minutes, Watson?"
"It was deuced embarrassing, Holmes! I couldn't stand seeing my words treated like an insect collection, row upon row of dead things, to be arranged with a cool eye…I rather like the way that sounds," he remarked, rubbing his chin. "There's a poem in there. Ah, well. Nevermind."
"You might forget it."
"Of course I will. I've forgotten poem after poem, story after story. Sometimes when I've written all my hand can bear and I've still more ideas, I sit quietly and feel the words die; first the exact wording goes, and then I might forget a phrase or two…then the structure starts to fade, and then it's gone.
Sometimes I kill them," he added, turning to face me. His voice was iron steady. "I put them out of their misery with brandy, or by going to word cemeteries; when I'm there, I walk about the rows of tombstones, black on the white grass, and forget all that's in my mind."
"Books, Holmes. You know, books. The words of the people who lived before us are buried in books, dead until we resurrect them with our minds; it's the intellect that gives the ink its power. Otherwise it's just ink, spatters and shapes."
"If the words are dead, how can they have power? I don't understand."
"I give the words power, when I read them. You do, too. When you go and walk along the paths of words, all in rows—you see, rows just like tombstones?—well, as you read, they stop being ink and start being real, living ideas in your brain. You bring the words to life."
"So…then you're not alone, in the graveyard. There must be spirits, people."
"That's true. It's not so quiet when the ideas come to life."
"Do they…do they talk amongst themselves?"
"That's a funny thought, Holmes, all the ideas walking and talking together." His eyes twinkled. "You're thinking like a writer now, letting everything, every flicker of the brain, generate possibilities."
"It seems an extraordinary power."
"It is, but Holmes--I'm drowning in ideas. I'm going mad--I really think I am. Feeling these possibilities disappear every hour of every day is killing me." He turned away, giving a sigh that shook him to his soul.
I quickly stepped to my drawer and took out paper and a pencil, taking one moment to touch the letter I had recently secreted. Returning to Watson, I threw myself on the couch and scribbled the two ideas he had thought of so far. "Now, Watson, tell me all the other ideas that have died. We must bring them back and let them tell us their story."
He shook his head. "It's too painful, Holmes; like exhuming corpses. They're so far gone…I might not even recognize them."
"But you have to try."
"Because...I don't think they're dead. They're only sleeping, you see."
"Sleeping?" He smiled almost shyly. "Do you really think so?"
"Yes. We only have to wake them up, and think of this—they'll tell you all their dreams. That will be a story to record."
"Only…I can't record it," he said softly.
I waved the pencil in his face and then wrote down the newest idea in a dramatically purposeful and bold hand.
He laughed, and then quieted--his eyes took on a deeply pensive look, and he began to wake the sleepers.