For the twelfth day in a row, the cicadas were deafening.
They were very interesting, in a purely scientific sense. Having little else to occupy his mind with while Mycroft was at work, the man once known as Sherlock Holmes had turned his formidable intellect toward the study of insects. There were certainly plenty on hand here. He was spending his second Australian summer collecting specimens of the shrieking cicadas that congregated in the trees along the fence line of the house.
It was all to do with finding new things; if not criminals, then lesser beings would have to do. Sherlock drew very little distinction between the two, so far as intellectual possibilities were concerned; a humble creature could still be a complex one. Cicadas were wonderfully designed and fascinating to study, and he had no idea why they seemed to be taken for granted in this country. They were far more interesting than cricket games, or reality television, or whatever else was flavour of the month just now; he'd only the week before remarked to Mycroft that he liked insects more than he liked people. They were of similar collective intelligence, but insects were less irritating to him and had no capacity for malice.
Australians did, to do them credit, have some interesting names for these creatures: Black Friday, Dark Sage, Forest Demon, Whisky Drinker, Yellow Monday. The cicadas spent most of their lives underground, dormant. And then, at the very last, they broke forth from the earth and from their dull brown pupae shells. The males climbed into the trees and screamed for a mate. The females responded. Birth. Sex. Death. Sherlock had never understood Mycroft's opinion that they were "quite insignificant."
Still, they weren't the brightest of creatures in the animal kingdom, and ridiculously easy to catch, provided you knew how to climb a tree and didn't mind the occasional bite. The chirping turquoise cicada that Sherlock now brought into the house, cradled gently in his cupped hands, was a new find. This one they called Blue Moon. Sherlock placed it in its terrarium and watched it flutter about in confusion for a few seconds, before it found footing on a small branch that he'd placed in there for it.
Sherlock watched it bring itself at ease, smiling slightly. Then he drew out a notepad and pen and, from memory, began to scribble the specifics:
He'd keep this one alive. Cicadas only lived a few weeks, anyway; there'd be plenty of opportunity to pin it to an identification card when it died of natural causes. Besides, he wanted to experiment with how cicadas reacted to noises at various different frequencies, and to examine the limitations of their sight. So far, his experiments in this area had been disappointing, and it had only been the night before, smoking by the open window in his bedroom and letting the briny sea breeze wash over him like a hot wave, that he'd wondered if they were worth the effort after all.
But under magnification...
Anything was fascinating under magnification, whether it was a human fingerprint, a drop of blood or the crystallised wings of a cicada. It was all a matter of perspective. Magnification opened up vistas of possibility and imagination most idiots had never even dreamed of; something beyond the weakness of the human eye.
Perhaps cicadas were of more value dead than alive, like some people Sherlock had known. This beautiful blue creature was probably going to test itself against that theory by giving itself an early death, bashing itself against the glass walls of the terrarium.
But then, it was natural for all things sentient to blindly try to escape captivity.
The vistas once open to Sherlock Holmes were now closed, both in the literal and intellectual sense. The heavy stink of brine that had wafted through the whole suburb for weeks on end; the brief glimpses of the outside world he was able to get at sunset through the third-floor gable window; this was the world now. And sometimes, in still, dark moments at the gable window, a verse came time and again to the front of Sherlock's caged mind like drifts of music from behind a closed door:
Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
Sherlock had read Ode to a Nightingale many times, both as Sherlock Holmes of London and Christian Yearsley of Sydney. And while Christian was just as captivated as Sherlock about seascapes into faerie lands forlorn, Christian was, he'd found, increasingly struck by the lines before it:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn...
Sherlock was abruptly interrupted in these musings by a knock on the door - one that was not expected, and not one that was welcome. Generally, Mycroft dealt with any visitors. His brother was the ghost of the house, sometimes perceived, rarely seen, never heard.
But Mycroft was at work, at the British Consulate General in Macquarie Street. It was a building Sherlock had never seen. Sometimes he wondered if Mycroft, too, was using an alias in Sydney.
Christian Yearsley went reluctantly to answer the door. So reluctantly, in fact, that by the time he opened it, it was just in time to see the Australia Post van drive away, winging a leisurely curve around the tree-lined bend in the road. But looking down, Sherlock noticed a long blue, red and white envelope wedged under the mat; he picked it up, turned it over, and froze.
7 Bradleys Head Rd
Mosman 2088 NSW
He felt the shock like a blow to the chest, and stood staring at the envelope in heart-thudding silence for a few seconds. It was post-marked from London. The only person in London who knew - or was supposed to know - that Sherlock Holmes was not buried there was quiet, self-effacing Molly Hooper. Sherlock had not seen or heard from her since his sudden flight from home over a year before. And this was not her handwriting.
He ripped the envelope open in haste; that it could be poisoned or booby-trapped seemed not to occur to him. It was neither. Inside was a small scrap of paper, and on it, written in stark, swooping black lines:
Sherlock Holmes was, on the dotted line, an adherent of the Church of England, but both he and his brother were casually atheist. There had been a Bible at Baker Street, for reference, just as there had been a Qu'uran, a Book of Mormon, a Book of the Dead, and several other religious texts. One had to keep these things handy for research purposes. Sherlock had a feeling that there was no Bible in this house. He'd certainly never seen one. The solution was immediate and obvious: he pulled out his phone and entered the reference into Google.
Google obliged, instantly spitting out thousands of hits. He opened the first:
And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes; and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.