Holmes of the Dead
The streets were bedlam. I fought my way through panicked hordes, an endless stream of terrified refugees, wounded and unwounded alike, half-dressed and shrieking, wide-eyed with hysteria. Women clutched their crying children to their breasts, men fired wildly over their shoulders with revolvers - others simply ran, faces fixed firmly to the ground.
The windows of houses were smashed, the frantic whistling of constables mixing with the screams from the streets as I pushed my way towards my abode. Further along the street a horse was screaming in its traces as two men and a woman brought it down, teeth tearing into its frantic flesh and I shuddered at the insanity. The woman raised her head suddenly, as if scenting the air and her face turned towards me with an unearthly slowness. My body jerked forward, medical instincts aroused by the sight of the terrible wound upon he cheek, but then I saw the blood on her teeth and the madness in her eyes as she rose to her feet, an ungodly moan issuing from her lips and hurriedly jammed my key into the lock, desperate to escape to the sanity of my rooms.
Through the railing of the stairs, a hand snatched clumsily at the cuff of my trousers, the nails torn and grimed with blood. I grimaced between my teeth in disgust and struck it a smart blow with the base of my cane, the key finally turning against the tumblers and spilling me into the hall as I was released. I shut the door hurriedly against the mindless grasping, turning the lock and bracing my back against it, waiting until the moans had subsided.
Madness, pure madness had struck my beloved London.
Mrs. Hudson was conspicuous by her absence as I made my way up the stairs and I prayed our stalwart housekeeper had found a safe haven from the turmoil that had struck the city.
Relief struck sharply at the site of Holmes silhoutted against the windows of his lab. Clad only in shirtsleeves, the bands of his braces dangled carelessly from his hips as he frantically worked on some bizarre chemistry. At the sound of my step he paused, staring out of the window.
Holmes whirled. I barely caught a glimpse of some terrible wound on his forearm before he was upon me. "Have they injured you? The creatures outside?" He was almost frantic, in a state I had never seen before, hands on my arms, my chest, turning my head this way and that, ignorant of the blood streaming down his own arm; rifling through my clothing, searching in a desperate fear. "Have you been bitten Watson? Tell me!"
I wrenched his hands from my jacket, pressing my hands to his shoulders. "I am fine, Holmes - which is more than I can say for you." I reached for his left arm, the material covering it shredded and stained with blood and he jerked away from me with a flailing motion.
"Ignore it, ignore it, It's nothing, I promise. Nothing. You have your revolver? Good, good. And your cane? If you fail with shot perhaps decapitation will suffice." He turned away from me and once more to his lab.
"Decapitation! Holmes, what in god's name is going on? All of London is a madhouse, the police are overwhelmed!"
He worked feverishly at his bench, decanting, mixing. "A contagion, Watson. A vicious, ungoldy contagion - one spread by the bite of these creatures."
I recalled the chaos of the streets. "Those poor, mad wretches outside?"
"Do not mistake me, Watson! They are not wretches - they are not even people! Not any more." He leaned heavily against his bench for a moment, brushing me away as I went to his aid, returning to his frantic chemistry. "The illness takes it toll until it stops the heart - the very heart! But that is not the worst of it." He laughed suddenly, a stuttered, staccato sound that verged on the unhinged. "The dead rise, Watson. Against all logic and reason, the dead rise!" He poured the result of his crazed alchemy into a beaker and swallowed it before I could halt the action.
"It takes its toll in a rapid manner from what I have observed. A feverish swoon, the muscles stiffen and paralysis quickly follows. The brain burns, reason departing from its victims as they thrash in delerium. Then there is only coma and death. The blood stills, the heart stops, the skin begins to cool." The glass fell from his hand, smashing heedsly upon the floor as he clutched at his forehead with his hand, blood smearing in his forelocks. "And then - then the victim rises, Watson! He rises, and he functions, with no breath, no heartbeat. No memory. No sign of humanity. He feels no pain, no remorse, only the desire to feed, to feed on the living. A single bite is all it takes, a single bite and all is lost."
A single drop of blood slid from his sleeve and my heart froze. "Holmes - " The remainder of the sentence, the question could not come, my voice locked and choking in my chest, drowning in fear and all I could say again was his name as I took his arm - gently at first, then roughly, pulling him to face me. "Holmes."
He would not meet my gaze as I pulled at his sleeve, gently easing the blood-soaked material away from the wound. A brutal gouge, rough, unclean, a chunk of flesh missing from the lean form of his forearm. Despite my years in the regiment and as a doctor, the gorge rose in my throat at the sight and stench of it. The shape was ovoid, the edges ragged. This was no clean injury caused by shot or blade, this was - this was -
His hand closed over it, hiding it from my sight, pressing his forehead into my breast.
"The victim rises an unthinking, unreasoning beast." he murmured softly into my shirt. "Devoid of all rational intellect." He shuddered suddenly, tearing himself away and pulled my old service revolver from its pocket, pressing into my hand with fingers streaked with gore. "There is only one way sure way to halt the spread." He wrapped my fingers about the grip with his own. "A shot to the head - that is the only way I have seen that will stop them. Nothing less." He dragged my hand up and pressed the barrell to his own temple. "Here. The head. Destroy the brain. And quickly. Remember that Watson. Do not hesitate." His finger quivered against the trigger and I pulled my arm away with a cry of fear, suddenly certain he would press upon it and end his life.
"Promise me, Watson! If my concoction should fail and if I should - " his voice failed him and his hands clutched at me with a feverish urgency. "Please. Promise me. If you have ever loved me - if you love me still, I beg you, do not let this be my fate. Promise me!"
The gun was a heavy weight in my hand, but nothing compared to that on my heart. Screams rose from the street outside, shrieks, moans, a hellish cacophany of the damned and my mind reeled on the verge of madness.
"I..I promise." Each word was wrenched bleeding from my breast, half-spoken and half-sobbed. "Damn you."
"Thank you. My friend. My dear friend, my Boswell, my dearest Watson." He reached up with a sudden affection, his uninjured hand hooking behind my neck, pulling my head down so that our foreheads pressed together. My hat tumbled unheeded to the floor; I could feel the heat of fever already building through the skin touched to mine. "Forgive me, please," he murmured, voice soaked with an uncharactistic remorse. "Forgive me for asking you this. I would never have wished it upon you, I swear of it. Not for all the world." He pulled away, the brightness in his eyes reflecting my own. "You have never failed me, my friend, I know you will not fail me in this."
I reached for him then, laying a hand upon his cheek. "I will not fail you," I whispered. I could not.
I dressed and cleaned the hellish wound as best I could, helping him to the couch as his strength failed then took up solemn guard in the seat beside as Holmes slipped into a restless sleep, occasionally raising a hand to touch his throat, his chest, needing to feel the strong heart that raced until I feared it would burst; murmuring words to calm him as he stirred in the throes of fever.
I cannot recall the words I said to him as his body fought to rid itself of infection, the external fires reflecting some unfathomable battle raging deep within. I cannot recall the tone, the timbre of my voice during those fearful hours, only the terrible dread that overtook me and the sick resolve that clawed at my heart.
I waited faithfully beside him, a helpless observer as the night dragged its dark hand across the city, the grip of my webley revolver cold and unwelcome in my grasp. I waited as Holmes trembled and cried out in delirium; as the screams and chaos from the streets outside filtered in through the open window. I waited, alone and afraid, a fearful friend in vigil to see which would rise victorious from this terrible battle: my beloved Holmes or a shambling, unholy fiend.
I pressed the back of my hand to my lips, feeling the cold metal of the gun caress my cheek at the motion as the moans began again at the door downstairs. How long it would last? How long until the fiends burst through my feeble barricade? The webley was loaded and my aim was sure even at this extremety but for how long could I hold them off? And what if all was lost, what if the entirity of London itself came beating at our door?
It did not matter, I decided. If it should come to that fateful climax, if all indeed was lost and these were the last of days, then it did not matter how many shots I had within my gun.
I released the safety from the Webley, resting a gentle hand on the still, silent cheek of my friend.
Only two bullets would be required, after all.