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A Change in the Wind…


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

Though barely mid-day, a change in the wind brought a sudden chill to the atmosphere. Gazing upwards, I noted the sky had darkened considerably, imposing a curious sense of impending doom on the three of us as we trundled along. Not for the first time, I began to wonder if we’d made an error of judgement.

Ahead, the road divided into two, and as if warning that to go any further would be to our disadvantage, a wooden crucifix reared up like a stick-man silhouetted against the sky. As we drew closer, I realised it was signpost. Bearing the legend ‘East Protor’, the crosspiece hung limply, the whole thing leaning at a precarious angle amid a tangle of purple heather.

“This be as far as Oi go, sor,” muttered our driver, pulling the horse to a standstill.

We had reached the brow of a hill. Looking down across the fells I perceived what appeared to be a village. On closer inspection I surmised it to be nothing more than a handful of weather-worn buildings huddled together like a group of surly shepherds, pitting their wits against the oncoming rain.

“What the devil d’you mean?” barked Holmes, giving the old man a thump on the shoulder.

“Just what Oi say, sor – Oi ain’t goin no further.” The churlish fellow turned to peer at us and added, “so Oi can wait ‘ere, or Oi can bugger off an’ leave the pair of you.” He turned back to face the front. “Makes no neither nor to me.”

Gazing up at the greying sky, a few drops of rain splashed against my cheek. Recalling something Doctor Hirsch had told us, I peered at an object sticking out from the closest of the stone buildings. The faint squeak of a hanging sign, creaking against its hinges told me all I needed to know. “Well, I don’t know about you, Holmes,” I said, “but I’m all for popping down to the pub for a pint of Old Peculiar, or whatever passes for a decent drink out here. I’m sure the locals will be only too happy to regale us with tales of werewolves and the like.” I began to clamber down from the trap and after a moment, Holmes followed suit.

“As you wish,” he said. Tugging the driver’s sleeve, he waved a bony finger in the man’s face. “And don’t forget that half-crown I gave you. I shall expect change on our return.”

The old man grunted but said nothing more.

The road we were on now split in two – one running off to the left towards the woodland, and the other, a rough farm track, sloping down over the fells in a wide arc that took it past the nearest of the buildings. The pub.

“Your round,” I chirped, striding off down the track.

A few minutes later we had reached the inn. Sliding out of my Mackintosh, I gave it a shake and was all for barging straight through the door, but Holmes held me back.

“Have a care, Watson,” he said, his chin angled upwards.

Following his gaze, I peered at the inn sign. “The Slaughtered Lamb?” My mouth dropped open and I gave Holmes a sharp look. “It can’t be…”

“I know what you’re thinking, Watson, but this is simply a public house that just happens to have the same moniker as that den of iniquity we encountered in the adventure of the…the er…” He clicked his fingers irritably.

“The Wicker Mannie,” I said, helpfully.

“The very same. But this does not mean that whatever lies within these walls promises anything more sinister than a badly-pulled pint of Sheepshagger’s beer.”

“But Holmes,” I said.

“But me no buts, Watson, it’s just a name.” He sniffed and lowered his voice. “All the same, have a care.”

And with that he grasped the iron knob, gave it a firm twist and walked inside.

I looked up at the inn sign again and winced at the gory image. It depicted a severed sheep’s head with blood dripping from the jagged wound. I swallowed hard and went into the pub.

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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Beware the Moon…


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

The following afternoon, along with my dear wife and Doctor Hirsch, Holmes and myself travelled by train to Yorkshire – the town of Thirsk, to be precise – and took rooms at The Golden Fleece, an old coaching inn. Most of our journey had been taken up with planning our ‘expedition’ to what my large-nosed companion referred to as the crime scene. Judith filled us in on the gory details of her own encounter on the moors and was keen to caution us to the dangers of wandering about on that place of rolling hills and upland fells after dark.

“I warn you, Mister Holmes, she said, “though it may be an area of supreme beauty and tranquillity during the hours of daylight, the night brings trepidation and terror.”

“Yes, yes,” muttered Holmes. “I expect it does. Luckily Watson and I are au fait with trepidation and terror.” He gave me a sly wink and I groaned inwardly, knowing what was coming next. “In the morning, my companion and I will make a provisional reconnaissance of the immediate area around East Proctor and report back by late afternoon.” He took out his meerschaum and began tapping out the dottle on the edge of the seat. “Or, early evening at the latest. Before dark, at any rate.” He gave me a questioning look. “Wouldn’t have an ounce of hard shag on you, by any chance, Watson?”

“I don’t smoke, Holmes. Haven’t for years.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Really? That explains it, then.”

“Explains what?” said I, with not a little irritation.

“Why you never carry any Swan Vestas.” He shook his head and peered out of the window.

Mary had been listening intensely to this exchange and I could tell from the way her wonky eye glared at Holmes, that she was about to erupt. I leaned forward with a view to patting her knee in a calming manner, but it was too late.

“Just who the bloody hell do you think you are?”

“What’s that, m’dear?” said Holmes distractedly.

“Haven’t you heard a word Judith has said? D’you imagine that everything she’s told us is utter drivel?”

“Well, I…” he began, but Mary was far from finished.

“Whether you believe in werewolves or not, there is clearly something very wrong here and you are not, I repeat not, going to drag my husband out on a fool’s errand when there’s a full moon. If anything happens to my Johnny, I will bite you myself!”

Holmes appeared taken aback (an unusual experience for him), and for a moment words escaped him.

Now it was Judith’s turn to take up the protest, but not before laying a hand on Mary’s thigh and rubbing it with a gently calming motion. The effect was quite extraordinary. I am accustomed to my wife’s anger subsiding gradually over several hours, but now it petered away as if she’d been injected with a some fast-acting tranquilising solution. Letting out a low sigh, she turned her head towards Judith and smiled shyly.

“Sherlock,” said Judith, turning her attention back to Holmes, “it would be altogether more sensible for all four of us to travel to East Protor, and that way, if anything does happen, I shall be on hand to advise you.”

Holmes coughed and looked at the floor. “As you wish.”

The following morning, Holmes and myself climbed aboard a pony and trap and began a journey that would become nothing less than a nightmare, though we little did know it. I had, of course objected to his plan to ‘outwit the ladies’ under the pretext of having a game of darts with the chaps in the bar, but Holmes can be very forceful, and he ably manoeuvred me through the Lounge Bar, into the Snug and out into the back lane via the kitchen, leaving Mary and Judith to discover our deception when we failed to return to our rooms for morning coffee.

“You really expect we can get back here before dark?” I asked him.

“Don’t see why not,” said he. Tapping the driver on the shoulder, he urged the
dour-faced man to hurry-it-along and within a few minutes we had reached the edge of the moors.

The way ahead was indeed one of beauty and tranquillity as Judith had described, but already the mist was descending over distant woodland and the familiar loosening sensation that often accompanies our many journeys into the unknown, began to make its presence felt in my lower quarters. I only hoped I’d be able to hold onto my dignity if we should encounter the individual – man or beast – who assaulted Judith.

As it happened, messing my pants was the least of my worries.

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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