Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson et al are the exceptional creations 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 Fantastic Horror of the Disembodied Gun
Glancing through the published accounts of those incidents which my friend Mr Sherlock Holmes investigated over the course of a long and varied career, I note that I have made a virtue of the fact that Holmes never undertook a case that did not tend towards the unusual or fantastic.
That he invariably robbed them of any sense of mystery and made the most bizarre of briefs decidedly commonplace is testament to those methods and the fierce application of deductive reasoning which has made his name famous throughout the length and breadth of this country and indeed far beyond these shores.
But if there is consolation in having a companion who, by process of logic alone, can dispel the dread produced by an imminent encounter with the Red Phantom of the Counterblasts or drive away the mists surrounding the strange appearances of the Werewolf of Hanging Sword Alley, then one must admit too that there is a price to pay. The world becomes devoid of romance, no bad thing according to Holmes, but to the average man, it is perhaps less desirable. A writer finds himself at a disadvantage, especially one who relies upon the extraordinary for his bread and cheese, for one cannot help feeling that men draped in sheets and a woman cavorting in a bearskin through central London have rather less appeal for the reader than their supernatural counterparts.
If such has often been my complaint, I found that the tables were turned upon me in the case of the Disembodied Gun, when a surfeit of the fantastic was to cause me more disturbance than any man rightly deserves. If I have been slow to chronicle the events of that night and the events that followed, it is from consideration of the reputations of those involved, none of whom, myself included, escaped unscathed. In our defence, I would ask the reader to judge us kindly, in the certain knowledge that, as improbable as it may seem, at the time impossibility had been all but vanquished.
So it was that on a dismal night in late December of 1899 I had forsaken my fireside chair and one of Clark Russell's fine sea stories to answer a call for assistance from a former patient. A thin rain was falling, enough to make the pavements shine with a coating of water that brought forth oaths from pedestrians and cab drivers alike as shoes and shod hooves slid on the glistening streets. The fog that had been rolling in from the river since late afternoon had thickened and tightened its grip upon the city, so that figures loomed out of the gloom as indistinct shapes seemingly evoked from the pages of a tale of creeping horror.
In that vein, it was, as the shilling shockers say, a dreadful night, one on which a God-fearing man might expect the worst horror to befall him. In my case, I would have settled for safe passage to and from my destination with my limbs intact and my chest free from the stifling fog. But for the urgent nature of the plea, from an ailing and elderly man who remembered my tenure at the Paddington practice more fondly than the current incumbent, I should not have ventured out at all. I had said as much to Holmes when he had left earlier to visit Scotland Yard to settle some trifling point concerning the butler's choice of headwear in the Salcombe Mercy theft. Had he seen me then, struggling along with all the trepidation of a man recovering from a serious injury, he would surely have told me to take my own advice.
As it happened, I made it safely to my patient and administered what little aid I could. The comfort took a good deal longer, so that it was nearly half past ten before I found myself heading back to Baker Street. The fog was worse and familiar noises, stifled by the shifting grey vapours, took on otherworldly qualities. Not so indistinct, however, that I was unable to recognise the sound of running footsteps coming up fast behind me.
Wondering what fool in his right mind would risk life and limb in such conditions, I moved well out of his way and waited for the fellow to emerge from the fog bank behind me. A moment later, a thin, breathless, red-faced figure trailing wisps of white hair and fog and clutching a medium-sized travelling bag to his chest as though his life depended upon it came into view. On seeing me, his course diverted and he came scurrying over.
"God be praised," said he. "I thought these streets abandoned. You must help me, sir!"
"Are you in trouble?" I asked uncertainly.
"My name is Professor Croxley," he panted, glancing nervously over his shoulder. "I have created a monster and now I am pursued!"
I sniffed tentatively to detect the odour of alcohol on the man's breath and became aware only of the smell of camphorated spirits.
"They would take it from me," he persisted. "But so deadly a thing must not fall into the wrong hands. I would rather destroy it than—"
He broke off suddenly. His eyes bulged as he turned his head in the direction in which he had come. He began to back away, gibbering like a mad man, his head shaking from side to side as a globule of saliva bubbled at the side of his gaping mouth.
"There!" he shrieked, pointing into the drifting bank of fog. "Do you see it?"
I saw nothing, save the pattern of swirls and eddies created by our movement in the grey wall. Professor Croxley meanwhile was flailing wildly as if attacked by a swarm of bees roused from their hive.
"Professor," I urged. "Calm yourself. We are alone. There's no one else here."
He stared at me as though I had lost my very mind and a thin, keening laughter escaped him. "Alone? Alone, you say? Would that it were so. But it's already too late. I am sorry. I should not have troubled you."
The watery blue eyes near started from their sockets as his gaze fixed upon something behind us.
"No!" he wailed. "Stay away from me!"
I made the fatal mistake of looking to where he insisted he saw his phantom. By the time I turned back, it was to find the Professor at the mercy of a revolver, aimed unswervingly at his head. But it was his assailant that most held my interest, or rather the lack of him. For the hand on the gun was invisible, as was the rest of the fellow.
Not so the voice, which spoke out of the thin, damp air in a low feral growl, like that of a savage canine given human form.
"Now, Professor," said the voice. "There was no need for you to go rushing off like that. You'd best come along quietly, for your own good. We've no need to involve anyone else."
The gun swivelled in my direction.
"You won't be giving us any trouble, will you, sir?" the voice warned.
"Who… what the devil are you?" I demanded.
A throaty chuckle echoed from the stillness. "I'm into business," said the voice. "Like minding my own, as you'd be best advised." The gun jerked. "Move, Professor. There's someone who'd like a word with you."
As if in answer to my unspoken question, the muffled sound of approaching hooves heralded the arrival of their conveyance and a large black horse in harness slowly materialised through the gloom. With the gun switching between the unfortunate man and me, there was little I could do as the Professor was forced backwards toward the carriage, where he was hauled into the interior. His assailant followed, the door slammed shut and the horse was rattled into motion.
Any thoughts I had about pursuing were firmly quashed by the appearance of the gun trained in my direction at the open carriage window. My last sight of the unfortunate Professor Croxley was of his anguished face pressed against the rear glass before the carriage was swallowed up by the fog.
Kidnapped by an invisible man! What will Mr Holmes have to say about that?
Find out in Chapter Two!