Monthly Archives: September 2021

The Book in the Barn

Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

Reaching down through the hole he had created, Johnny wiggled his arm around for a moment.

“I’ve got something,” he said.

Holmes and I knelt close to him and pulled at the rotting floorboards, enlarging the hole. As Johnny removed his hand, I saw that he held the spine of an ancient tome.

“My God,” I gasped. “It really exists.”

Laying the book on the ground, Johnny knelt there for a moment, contemplating his find. The book had a cover made from leather, all rotted around its edges, and there was a rancid smell about the thing that reminded me of mouldy cheese.

“Come on then, Watson,” said Holmes. “Open the damned thing.”

Still kneeling, Johnny did so, holding the front cover in a gentle, almost reverential way. Smoothing a hand over the frontispiece, he began to read the inscription quietly to himself.

Just then, a buzzing noise caused all three of us to look up. Somewhere outside, someone, or something appeared to be approaching the barn.

“Watson—guard the book. Mary come with me.” And with that, Holmes and I rushed to the door.

But the approaching thing did not stop and instead came flying through the very window the so-called ghost had so recently vacated. Screeching to a halt, our visitor dangled for a moment before letting go of the mechanical device that had propelled him along the cable and dropping deftly to his feet.

“Doctor Watson. I see you’ve found it.”

Picking up the book, Johnny stood, holding the book to his chest. “It would appear so.”

Holmes and I hurried over to join him.

Still standing in the spot where he had dropped, Ravensburg stared at the hole in the ground and shook his head as if in disbelief. “Under the floorboards—of course.”

Johnny nodded. “I expect the barn was erected long before you turned up. It never occurred to you to look underneath.”

Ravensburg waved a hand at Holmes. “You see? This is why I needed a team of detectives to help me.” He cackled in a rather menacing way that reminded me of Professor Moriarty.

“Anyway,” the bearded one went on, “thank you for finding it. I’ll take care of it now.”

“Don’t move, Watson,” barked Holmes. Then, positioning himself between Johnny and the newcomer, he said, “As this is quite clearly an historical document, I demand you at least allow us to examine it properly.”

Ravensburg sighed. Reaching into his coat, he pulled out a revolver. “Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary, Mr Holmes. I know what the book contains, and what it’s worth to a certain individual, so unless you’d like me to pop holes in all three of you, I suggest you hand it over right now.”

Holmes stared at Ravensburg. “I see. One moment, please.” Raising a hand, he rubbed his chin thoughtfully, his head swivelling back and forth between Ravensburg and the book. Then, giving my husband a long hard look, as if totting up the possibilities of him surviving a gunshot wound, he said, “Very well. Hand it over, Doctor—whatever this is, it isn’t worth dying for.” He turned to look again at the man with the gun.

Holmes and I stood there for several long seconds watching Ravensburg. Hearing a familiar sound, I glanced back at Johnny and saw he’d lit a Swan Vesta. Holding the flickering match over the book, I saw his eyes skim across the pages. His face had gone pale, a look of dread transforming his familiar features. Taking a step backwards, I touched his arm.

“What is it, darling?”

Johnny murmured something so softly I didn’t catch it. “Sorry, darling?”

Looking up, my husband’s mouth tightened into a hard line. “He lied.”

Holmes whirled round. “About what?”

Ravensburg jiggled his revolver and took three steps towards us. “Just hand the bloody thing over—it’s of no use to you lot.”

Johnny didn’t move. He looked at Holmes. “This is no medical journal written by some long-dead village healer. Listen.” He flicked back to the front of the book. “This be the book of the Master of Darkness and it containeth within all the means and methods for a faithful disciple.” He looked up.

Ravensburg laughed, a little too heartily. “Just a fanciful title, that’s all, you silly man. I can assure you, this is a collection of natural remedies passed down over hundreds of years. Worth a fortune to a collector, but of no value to a bunch of amateur detectives.” Still holding the gun, he held out his free hand.

“I think not,” said Johnny, gripping the book firmly. “These aren’t remedies, natural or otherwise. They’re not even the sort of thing I might expect an actual witch to have written. Even our old pal Mr Crowley would find this thing scary…”

Holmes frowned and pointed a bony finger at Ravensburg. “A moment ago, you said the book is worth a fortune to a ‘certain individual’. Who might that be?” When the other man didn’t reply, Holmes glanced at Johnny. “You thinking what I’m thinking, Watson?”

I saw a frown crease my husband’s forehead, then his eyes widened. “Oh, shit.”

I grabbed his hand. “Oh shit what?”

Johnny turned to face me. “Remember the library at Roderick Usher’s house? He had books on alchemy, vampirism and sexual abnormalities, but compared to this one, they were little more than nursery rhymes. This…” he said tapping a finger on the cover, “…is what you might call a necromancer’s handbook—a collection of rituals for summoning demons and for the acquisition of supernatural powers.”

I blinked. “I see, but why did you say, oh shit?”

“Because,” said Holmes, “there is only one man who would have the intelligence, the resources and the sheer audacity to make use of such a book.”

I blinked again. “You don’t mean…”

“Yes,” he muttered. “The most evil man in England—Lord Henry Blackwood.”

“But he died, didn’t he?”

Holmes let out a long mournful sigh. “Indeed he did. Twice. Unfortunately, like our old pal Moriarty, Blackwood has a habit of coming back from the grave.”

Ravensburg jiggled his revolver again and nodded at the book. “Mine, I think.”

Johnny stepped forwards and handed it over.

“Thank you, Doctor. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” Tucking his acquisition under his arm, Ravensburg backed out of the barn, keeping the gun trained on us. When he’d covered thirty yards, he turned and ran into the woods.

“Shouldn’t we get after him?” I said.

Holmes shook his head. “No need. If Blackwood is still alive, once he has the book. he’ll make a move. Whatever he’s planning, I’m sure it will include taking revenge on those responsible for his previous deaths.”

“You mean us?”

Holmes nodded.

“Oh, shit,” I said, again.

“Yes. I believe the game, Mrs Watson, is afoot.”


Posted by on September 4, 2021 in Detective Fiction


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