Disclaimer: I do not own any characters associated with the works of either Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or the works of Charles Dickens. This story was done just for the fun of it. Not for profit.
Summary: Sherlock Holmes has been less than cheerful since his return to London. He needs a bit of an attitude adjustment.
A Holmesian Carol
Moriarty was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt about that. Sherlock Holmes had thrown him from the precipice of Reichenbach Falls himself and the word of Holmes was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.
Professor Moriarty was as dead as a coffin-nail.
Mind! I do not wish to go against the common tradition laid down by our ancestors in their wisdom. They long ago established that a door-nail is the most appropriate example for that particular simile. In my humble opinion, however, a coffin-nail is the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade and Moriarty was as cruel and hard a soul to have ever walked the blessed Earth. His name should never be associated with so homely and warm an object as a door-nail, no matter how dead it may be. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Moriarty was as dead as a coffin-nail.
Holmes knew he was dead? Of course. How could it be otherwise? As I have already told you, he threw Moriarty from the precipice himself and there is no way, short of divine intervention, that any living thing could survive such a plunge as that. I'm afraid that Moriarty's odds of such intervention were only slightly better than a snowball's chance in Hell. We must assume this for there is always a chance at redemption.
The mention of Moriarty's demise brings me back to the original point. Moriarty was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we had not been perfectly convinced of Holmes's own demise at the falls, there would have been nothing remarkable about his return to London three years later in the guise of an old book seller.
Oh! A hard driven, acute intellect was Holmes's. Superior in every way to most of his fellow men; and yet his heart was rarely warmed by those gentler stirrings that make man such as is second only to angels. He viewed emotions in the same manner as a craftsman might view a grain of sand in the gears of a fine watch or a flaw in a powerful magnifying lens. Things to be avoided.
And so it was that Mr. Sherlock Holmes could be found on the eve of Christmas in his rooms at Baker Street. He was sitting in his armchair before a dying fire and smoking another ounce of shag frowning over a case when a knock came at his door.
"Come in, Watson," Holmes called mechanically.
Dr. John Watson pushed open the door and peered through the gloom and tobacco smoke at Holmes. His pleasant smile diminished slightly at perceiving his old friend's mood.
"Merry Christmas, Holmes," Watson said as cheerfully as he could muster in light of his friend's reticence.
"Christmas?" Holmes puffed out another cloud of smoke. "What is Christmas to me, Watson?"
"Holmes?" Watson inquired with a note of alarm.
"Do not be so shocked, Watson," Holmes replied without taking his eyes from the fire. "Crimes do not stop for dates and holidays, no matter how important they may seem to the common mind."
"You are on another case, then?" Watson asked apprehensively. He knew that Holmes had been quite busy of late. Only recently had Holmes cleared up what he called a "little matter of state" for his brother Mycroft. Before that, it had been something for a jewel broker. And before that, there had been the matter of a certain Mr. Handicroft in Sussex.
"Another case," Holmes confirmed. "What at first blush seemed a minor thing, but it has certain characteristics that I find intriguing."
"Well," Watson said, his spirits finally faltering altogether. "I had come to invite you to dinner tomorrow, Holmes. My nephew and his wife have asked me and they were obliging enough to extend the invitation to you as well."
"Your nephew?" Holmes asked finally stirred from his contemplation of the case.
"Mary's nephew, actually," said Watson with a tinge of sorrow. "We grew quite fond of each other before..."
"Yes," Holmes said, not without sympathy for his old friend. "I'm afraid, Watson, that this case can not wait for Christmas dinner. Please give my best to your relations. Would you ask Mrs. Hudson to send up some fresh tea on your way out?"
Slightly stung by Holmes's cool manner and abrupt dismissal, Watson straightened and, swallowing the harsh words he felt rise in his mind, he said, "I am sorry to have intruded on you at this time, Holmes. Never the less, I do wish you a merry Christmas. If you should find time, dinner will be at seven o'clock. You would be most welcome, I assure you."
"If I have the case solved by then; I shall certainly attend. Good evening, Watson."
A few minutes after the door closed behind his old flat-mate Holmes's contemplations were again interrupted by a knock on the door, followed by Mrs. Hudson entering with a tray and tea service. She settled the tray on the small table at Holmes's elbow and poured a cup of the steaming brew for him.
"Will there be anything else, Mr. Holmes?" she inquired sweetly.
"Thank you, no, Mrs. Hudson," Holmes replied with his eyes closed.
"I just wished to remind you that I will be visiting my sister tomorrow evening and you will need to see to your own supper, Mr. Holmes."
"My own supper?" demanded Holmes sharply.
"Yes," Mrs. Hudson said a little more sharply than she had intended. "You know I attend dinner at my sister's every year on Christmas. I'm baking a pie this year."
Holmes sighed heavily. He cast a cool, hard look on her.
"Very well," he growled. "I suppose since it is only once a year you must."
"It is Christmas, Mr. Holmes," the landlady chided the detective.
"A poor excuse for forcing a man to attend to his own victuals." Holmes was not swayed by her sentiment. "I will expect a more than usually good dinner upon the next evening."
With the offended dignity of a cat sprayed with water, Mrs. Hudson strode stiffly from the room.
On into the evening Holmes worked his mind. He sipped from the cooling tea and nibbled occasionally upon a biscuit and smoked ever more of his special blend of shag. He made notes and paced the floor. There must be some solution! The clues were all quite clear yet the one crucial detail eluded him. Why? Finally he settled into his chair again to light yet another pipe. He was so engaged when the front bell rang. It was quite late. He knew that it must be a caller for him. Holmes waited for Mrs. Hudson to rouse herself but the ring at the bell came again. Upon the third ring Holmes strode to his door and flung it open. He waited in hopes that either the caller would depart or that the landlady would answer it. Instead there came another pull at the cord. With gritted teeth Holmes descended seventeen stairs and, stepping up to the door, he tore it open. No one stood upon the mat. Indeed, there was no sign that anyone had stood there for some hours, as the snow lay quite heavily in the remnants of Watson's boot-prints. Holmes blinked. He examined the bell cord finding that a skim of frost had accumulated upon the brass handle hanging from the stout cord. Tentatively he pulled it down and heard the bell chime lightly. He was still contemplating the cord when Mrs. Hudson's voice broke in on his thoughts.
"Mr. Holmes?" she said. "What are you doing? Is everything all right?"
"Hm?" Holmes said, snapping out of his reverie. "I thought... Never mind, Mrs. Hudson. Sorry to have disturbed you. It was just..."
"You've been working too hard lately, Mr. Holmes," the elderly little woman said kindly. "Really, you should try to get some sleep. Standing there you'll catch your death of cold."
Holmes frowned but nodded. He allowed her to usher him away from the door so that she could close it.
"Perhaps you are right, Mrs. Hudson," he said turning to climb the stairs. "For once, it may be that sleep is just what I need."
Smiling benignly, Mrs. Hudson returned to her rooms. Holmes contemplated a return to the front door but decided against it. It would serve no purpose. Sleep might be useful to relax his mind and let the facts sort themselves through his unconscious mind. Certainly he was getting nowhere with the case at the moment. He climbed wearily to the landing before his door and was reaching for the knob when he noticed something strange about the little brass knocker mounted at eye level.
Now, it is a fact, there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was remarkably well polished. Holmes, of course, noted Watson's finger prints and the small smudge of grayish polish on its corner but I dare say that you or I would have noted nothing whatever out of the ordinary save that Holmes's reflection in the bright surface seemed more than usually distorted. It seemed for a moment to be nothing but the poor lighting and yet it struck the detective for he had never observed this effect before. He peered more intently at it until gradually it resolved into the features of his arch nemesis, Moriarty. It was not as other reflections for it seemed to exceed the boundaries of the knocker and the eyes regarded Holmes much as they had on the last visit to this flat of the late Professor. Cool and calculating.
As Holmes observed it, the face faded and the knocker resumed its accustomed reflective nature. Frowning over this, Holmes turned the knob and entered his rooms. It would not be fair to say that he was disturbed or upset; but it is certain that Holmes was intrigued by what had just transpired. He lit a pipe and tried to banish the memory from his thoughts. He failed.
Sitting once more before his dwindling fire, Holmes could not tear his mind from the singular event he had just experienced. There came to him through this contemplation the distant sound of metal clinking. He paid it no mind for a few moments until the sound persisted. As he listened, puffing on his pipe, he made out a rhythm like a man walking beneath a great burden. He listened absently until he realized that the steps of this burdened man were climbing the stairs of his own home! With trepidation and no little concern, Holmes sat absolutely still. There came a pounding upon his door as a man might who demanded redress of some wrong. It made the very floor shake and the ornaments and oddments about the shelves bounced with each blow. Holmes closed his eyes, knowing well the signs of hallucination. With a final blow like a great hammer, the door sprang open to slam hard back against the wall and rock the coat rack which stood close by.
Opening his eyes, Holmes perceived the figure of a man wrapped 'round and 'round with a great chain from which depended skulls, the bodies of slain children, corpses of men who had died in great pain and those, too, of women shamefully used. Great cash-boxes and weapons of all kinds were twisted up in those ponderous links. It was a horror to behold. Holmes sat speechless. Moriarty. Professor Moriarty in inhuman form. The figure stepped heavily across the threshold dragging ever more links of chain behind him. Link upon link extended out of the door and into the darkened stairwell beyond to disappear from sight. It seemed that such a chain could not fit in the hall. It could not be made to fit in the entire house or perhaps even the city of London itself. It was a monstrous chain, indeed.
Holmes's calculating mind fought against what his senses beheld. This could not be, so it was not.
"How now, Moriarty?" Holmes said ironically.
The thing before Holmes opened its mouth to speak and forth gushed brackish water to spill down the front of its fine coat and the chains which bound it closed.
"Much the words I should have expected," the apparition said evenly, though it still sputtered water.
"So you speak," Holmes observed. "What is it that you want from me?"
"Much!" it said.
"Then you had better have a seat if you can," Holmes said mildly.
The thing struggled across the floor under its burden, dragging links behind it. Before the settee it stopped and, with great effort, sat. The settee did not so much as sag for there is no weight to an apparition no matter how heavily it is burdened.
"You do not believe in me," said the apparition calmly.
"I do not," Holmes replied.
"Why not?" asked Moriarty. "Do you not believe your eyes?"
"They can be deceived as you well know." Holmes took up his pipe again.
"A reasoned response. Very logical," Moriarty said with a tinge of bitterness. "What proof would convince you?"
"Truly?" Moriarty gazed harder at Holmes.
"I do not remember using the needle this evening but clearly I must have." Holmes lit his pipe. "By morning you will fade away and I will be left ill and shaking with chills. You are not real, sir."
"I suppose screaming and shaking my chains would not impress you then."
"No indeed." Holmes puffed out a cloud of rich smelling tobacco smoke.
"Then perhaps you will accept me hypothetically?" Moriarty asked sedately.
"Explain the hypothesis," said Holmes in reply.
"For the sake of argument let us say that I am a ghost," Moriarty said. "Let us also say that I have, for whatever reason, only this night been able to communicate with you after attempting to do so for years. Since my death, in fact."
"That would beg the question 'Why?'" Holmes was peering intently at the spectre now.
"For my own gain, naturally."
"Naturally," Holmes smirked.
"It would be a lie to say otherwise."
"You were not above lying in life, Professor."
"I have greater reason to speak the truth these days." Moriarty gestured to the mass of chain stretched behind him.
"What is it?"
"Justice," Moriarty said simply. "The justice I avoided all of my days caught me when I plunged into the abyss. Had I known this awaited me, I would have mended my ways and likely would have restrained myself. I wish now that I had remained the humble professor of mathematics."
"Rather than the Napoleon of crime?" Holmes's tone was ironic.
"That was your title for me."
"So it was." Holmes puffed again. "Why come to me?"
"To save you from a similar fate and so, perhaps, relieve me of some of this suffering."
"What have I done to deserve such a fate as yours?" Holmes demanded.
"Your fate would not be so cruel as mine, yet it would be cruel enough." Moriarty's eyes drifted over the links and that which depended from them. "I tell you, Sherlock Holmes, that you have forged such a chain, though it is by no means so heavy as that which binds me. Your virtues have lessened the number and size of its links, yet the fetters that bind you are more than any sane man would care to endure."
"And yet you have not wholly answered my question."
"You have driven from you any who would be your friend and what's more you have begun to drive from you those that are your friends." Moriarty lifted a link with a severed head hanging upon it. Holmes saw that it was the head of Sebastian Moran. "It was one of my faults, also."
"Watson remains my friend," Holmes said defensively.
"For how much longer?" Moriarty's eyes burned into Holmes's. "You did not trust him with your secrets. You used him. You often criticized his talents. Belittled his efforts to emulate you. Most grievous of all, you withheld from him the one bit of information that might have lightened his grief when his wife died."
"I only spoke the truth. And as for his wife, I was not even in London when she passed away!" Anger rose in Holmes as it had not done in years. "Even if I had been here there was nothing I could have done for her!"
"For her? No. But had you informed Dr. Watson that you still lived he would not have been grieved doubly in so short a time." Moriarty was relentless and remorseless. "Watson suffered deeply at your apparent loss. Followed so soon afterward by his wife's death, it nearly broke his mind. And what of your brother Mycroft?"
"Mycroft? What of him?"
"When was the last time you spent an evening together?"
"Why, it was the fifth of September," Holmes said with dignity.
"And since then you have worked upon a case for him. A half an hour's consultation. And now it is the twenty-fourth of December," answered the spectre. "And Mrs. Hudson?"
"I saw her just this evening," Holmes replied stiffly.
"And what did you talk about?"
Holmes set his pipe aside but did not reply.
"How long before there will be no one who will tolerate you? How long before you are quite alone?"
"Watson will never desert me."
"Are you so confident?" Moriarty shrugged as if any answer to that question was irrelevant.
Holmes sat quietly contemplating the conversation for a few minutes. Finally he asked, "What do you suggest, Professor?"
"Nothing," Moriarty said meeting his eyes again. "My place is not to counsel you. Rather, I have come as a harbinger of others."
"Expect the first when the clock strikes two. The second when the clock strikes three." Moriarty rose with a great cacophony of clinking chains. "The third will come in its own time, as is its wont."
With these final words, the spectre flowed backwards through the open door as if being drawn by the great chains. They seemed to drag him away in an implacable rush. As the ghost disappeared into the darkened stairwell the door slammed shut with a resounding bang. Holmes was left sitting by his rapidly diminishing fire. Though outwardly he showed no emotion whatever, inside he felt dread. Cold, hard dread. He closed his eyes, drawing in a meditative breath, and after a moment he released it slowly and opened his eyes.
Before retiring to his bed for the night, Holmes examined the door only to find his suspicions confirmed. There was no sign whatever that anything had happened.
"Humbug!" snorted Holmes as he crossed to the door to his bedroom. Once inside, however, he threw the bolt.