Death Stalks the Streets
A Baker Street Universe Adventure.
By John Pirillo.
The sound of lightning.
The scream of a Banshee, perched on a church steeple.
The howl of a wolf that walked on two feet.
The shrill call of a demon that made his way through dark alleyways seeking out meat for his meals and his dark plays.
The haunting of good people not alert enough to avoid the darkening streets of Old London, for the newer Tesla lamp lit areas, which safeguarded the masses from the predations of the monsters that now roamed more and more freely in the Dark Old London.
Perhaps that was what had gotten Squire Donner to hurry to his home that night from a late meeting. One that he had no idea would run so late. He had scored a massive victory for his business fortune, which if allowed running its course could complete his rise to power in service of the Queen, and eventually himself if granted a Lordship.
The Hyde Street was ill lit as usual and he cursed himself for not having avoided it in the first place, both coming and going, for it had its rumors of death and dying, and of monsters seen and unseen to this day, even since the removal of the dread Hyde by Captain Nemo and the Brotherhood of Baker Street.
No ordinary citizen bought for a moment the coin that the streets were safe in Dark Old London, or even the better lit. For monsters roamed all the alleyways all the time these days. Even Inspector Bloodstone feared to put his men out alone to help the citizens for fear they would be brought down by the invisible forces of darkness that had been gathering to battle and bring down London and its peoples.
"Curse this blasted darkness." Squire Donner said as he urged his horse to pull faster the carriage he sat upon. He had not meant to dismiss his driver, but the man's wife had been noted to be in labor and he could no longer keep him from his true duties as a husband, and had let him go as an act of kindness and trust, as the hour grew late. For a good mother without a husband was like a horse without a bridal. Rider-less.
He shivered suddenly at a sudden wave of cold that swept from the alley he had just passed, and hunched over, drawing his jacket and shawl tighter about his throat, as if that would ward off any evil that might be seeking him at that moment.
Some of us believe we might be able to find a million pounds of gold waiting for us in a pot somewhere at the end of a rainbow too. But his luck was not such.
The shriek from behind him caused every hair on his body to rise to its tallest point. He hurried up, and then broke into a run as the shriek became a deep howl of frustration and anger. He heard uncovered claws scratching the pavement behind him and soon he could almost feel a fetid breath blowing across his shoulders and smothering him.
He reached the safety of the next block, and saw the Good Pub across the street. The own, Jeb Davis, was just shuttering its windows. He made a dash for the Good Pub.
"Jeb!" He cried out.
Jeb turned around with a smile, recognizing Squire Donner's voice. But when he finished his turn, his eyes went wide and he made a run for his front door, which was half open.
Neither Jeb or Squire Donner were seen at their homes that night as something from the darkest parts of hell leaped between them, grabbed them both by their throats and lifted them so high off the ground, their feet could not touch it.
Neither man could speak. Neither man could beg for mercy.
For what held them had not the slightest measure of mercy beating within its savage breast, nor in its philosophy.
A Herald of Her Majesty, the Good Queen Mary of Scots, urges his steed to hurry down the cobbled streets entering into the Castle Dark, where the Queen was staying. She had deferred from staying in her castle proper in favor of the attention of one of the most popular and famous Lords of the Realm, and also one of the most despised and suspicious of them, as he was rumored to be in League with the Dark Druids.
He froze for a moment and his mount let out a cry of terror as the sound of two men's souls departing the world caught his ears.
He caught the reins of his mount and steadied her, listening for further outcries, but heard nothing, though later on he would swear he saw something so massive and frightening that it caught his very soul in the grip of fear as it leaped from the street behind him to the top of the nearest building on his right.
It stopped to look back a moment, two large bundles held in its right and left fists, and its malevolent eyes caught that of the Heralds. He began praying to God with all the fervor of a dying man, for that was what he felt himself to about to become.
Then the creature raised its massive face to the foggy skies above and the few brave stars thrust through the fog and let out a howl that froze his blood and caused his heart to stop.
Both he and his mount stood frozen in time for a moment, their eyes as round as small moons.
But that was neither here or there. What was there was the purpose of Good Queen Mary of Scots visit. Her true purpose. Which she veiled beneath layers of makeup and good, cheerful words as her eyes took in every nook and cranny of the Castle's domains, looking for hints of malice and darkness that she might be able to use in her search for the truth. And that purpose had been hinged on important news which she had been told a specific Herald would bring to her...dead or alive!
Little did she know that his demise had just occured as she considered her plight within the vast castle chambers. Though for the briefest of moments she felt the dying thoughts of the Herald. A young man she had raised from poverty to become one of most trusted riders.
Normally, she would seek out someone like Sherlock or even Challenger at times to do that kind of work, but she feared their more sharp and abrupt nature might upset the Lord Dark into betraying his true course of actions sooner than she was prepared to move upon. Heralds of truth they might be, but also harbingers of death should they confront the right person at the wrong time.
Hence...She held back her royal dogs...as she liked to call those two...in favor of a simpler investigation to see what was of merit to pursue further.
Maybe that was her first or even her second mistake.
Sherlock was new to London and had never seen such a frivolity of purposes in his entire life. His more rural upbringing in his father's cottage, which dwelled in a small village several dozens of miles from the bustling life of the city, never came close to the more perverse and sometimes deeply exciting mysteries of the metropolis that was London. Even the idea of seeing the Good Queen Mary of Scots was exciting, though not because of her power or station, but because it afforded him the opportunity to see and hear a woman who was like his own mother...proud, stern where necessary and capable of whipping the pants of any man brave enough to try her patience.
Her husband, his father, was the only man who could delve beneath her bat like sonic pulses of behavior badminton. He was dapper, but not so much that you would consider him a snob, but also quite intelligent, as his mother, though perhaps not so much as her it seemed at times as she scalded him and Sherlock had to endure the heartbreak of his father as once more his intellectual rhetoric was blasted to smithereens by the stern and very sharp, hawkish wit and vision of his mother.
"Who are you listening to, Sherlock?" His father would ask in dismay when he was losing an argument and his son happened to be there to catch the brunt of its force alongside him.
"You were listening to us?" His mother would scald if she caught him first. "Well, then I hope you keep a proper tally of blows since we don't want any misreports of who did or did not win this argument."
After which she'd thoroughly brow beat his father, who would retreat to the sanctity of London where he was a member of the Lord's High Member Club, a club for intellectual giants. His mother could not join as women were considered neither intellectual nor male enough to be entered into such lofty realms. A fact which irked his mother to no end, and especially when Sherlock's father retreated there post haste after an especially losing argument on his part.
Perhaps being the cricket ball between those two lofty giants is what formed much of Sherlock's later attributes of being somewhat aloof and cold, but in fact he was far from it. He had merely allowed his emotional nature to subside where it would not draw attention in favor of a more dry, and observant intellect that kept him in a safe harbor of opinion by both his parents.
"Sherlock, you're not saying anything." His father had said one day, when his father was busily trouncing Neighbor Arbor Bentley, an older man from the Lord's High Member Club, renown through the Greater Britains for his acerbic wit and humor, as well as his ability to crack devilish jokes with such a dry look on his face as to cause others to truly believe he meant exactly what he didn't.
"Father, it was quite clear to me that you can't shake salt onto a bird to force it into flight, any more than you can twit a dog's tail to make it mewl like a cat." Sherlock had responded.
"That's just rubbish." Neighbor Arbor Bentley had butt in.
Big mistake. Now he had the worst of the family members after him...Sherlock, who could dismantle the bravest of fellows with a few dry remarks.
"Sir, rubbish is exactly what you distribute to my father to his and my dismay. Any sane man listening to your diatribe about the superiority of the male species over the female is either asking to be thrown off the nearest cliff by a mob of angry females, or has no desire whatsoever for a future conjugal relationship with a woman."
Both his father and Neighbor Arbor Bentley had looked at him in shock, their eyebrows raised in surprise. Neighbor Arbor Bentley did a strange thing next. He took Sherlock's hand and pumped it with a great big smile on his face of approval.
"Young man, I'd like to invite you to the Diogenes Club. I can think of no other more qualified than you for such a lofty element of gentlemanliness and intellect."
"But what of my brothers?" Sherlock demanded.
"Oh, they are already members."
Both his father and he stared at Neighbor Arbor Bentley, who refused to budge from his happy place and kept on smiling.
Sherlock smiled at the memories of his naive youth as he tamped fresh tobacco into his pipe, and cross his left leg over his right and surveyed the few silent members of the Diogenes Club who dared to be there so late at night. He was also beginning to wonder at why his good friend and partner, Doctor Watson, had not shown up yet. He suspected that it was either because he had overslept his usual nap, or he had been called in to help on some kind of forensics by the good Inspector Bloodstone.
So it was no surprise to him when the Inspector showed up instead of Doctor Watson. But it was a very large surprise when Inspector Bloodstone, his face flushed with worry and fatigue stopped before him.
"We have need of you."
"Doctor Watson, I am assuming."
"Yes. And Professor Langdon."
Sherlock's lips pursed thinly. "Ah. I see. And how are the two connected?"
The Inspector looked about suspiciously. "I dare not speak...here."
Sherlock rose slowly, went to the door with the Inspector, took his cape and hat from a servant there and followed the Inspector out to the street, where Constable Evans sat in a Constable Wagon at its wheel. The Constable dipped his cap to Sherlock, but though a warm gesture, his face was far from it.
Sherlock arrived at the last murders, thoughtful and quiet. Doctor Watson met him at once as he disengaged from the Constable Wagon and dropped to the cobbled street to meet him.
"Take me there at once, Watson."
"You already are."
Sherlock then saw the very large shape in the alleyway and the smaller one partially under it. He strode over there, noting the red streaks from the center of the street that went to the alley. He paused just one moment to make note of the original direction of blood flow, then followed Watson into the alley, where Watson nodded to a Constable, who raised the hood of a Tesla lamp, flooding the alley with its light.
Sherlock's eyes narrowed as he gazed upon the wicked work that had been accomplished this night. "It is the Good Queen Mary of Scots' most trusted Herald."
"And there is no record of any sort upon his body, nor upon his steed."
Sherlock followed Watson to look closer at the corpses. Both were stiff as if they had been frozen, but their throats were slit and their skulls split aside, like a baked potato sliced for butter. There were no brains in either the horse of the Herald's heads.
"A Creature of the Night." The Inspector suggested.
"They do eat brains." Sherlock agreed. "But look here." He pointed to the narrow trail of blood that led from the center of the street. I don't believe either the horse or the man fought for freedom. There is no sign of breakage in the blood flow which would have occured had they done so."
"And...He took the lantern of the Constable and held it higher." You will note the bloodstains that mark the wall of the alley just several inches below the rim of the building here and then vanish over its top."
"That makes no sense." Inspector Bloodstone disagreed. "A werewolf tears its victim apart and eats it. A Creature of the Night tears the brains out and devours it, but it does not leap to such a height."
"Nor." Sherlock went on. "Does it leap from the top of the opposite building to the street below without leaving some kind of footprint? The fog is heavy and the street damp with mud and soot from the chimneys of good citizens warming themselves this coolest night."
"Are you saying then that this creature is some kind of Vampire then?" Doctor Watson inquired, mystified as to where Sherlock was going with all of this.
Sherlock said no more. He clenched his hands behind his back and climbed back into the Constable Wagon. He nodded to Constable Evans. "To Castle Dark."
"What about me?" Doctor Watson demanded, angry at being left behind.
Sherlock looked to his friend. "Keep the Inspector safe. I suspect he will need your good help this night."
"And you? Will you need help?"
Sherlock said nothing, but his face made Doctor Watson frown with deep fears and worry. He didn't want to lose his friend again. He started to rush after the Constable Wagon as it drove off. The Inspector stopped him.
"We'll be needing an autopsy to be sure. And this is but the third and fourth murders this evening."
Doctor Watson turned to look at him. His face was dark with dismay. "And you let Sherlock go off without knowing it?"
"Oh, he knows of it all right. And I suspect that is his reason to hurry to the Queen's assistance this very minute."
"But if she's in danger..."
The Inspector shook his head. "Some dangers require a man lacking passion, not fulfilled by it. We would only hold him back. I suspect this is a challenge he will require all his reserve and powers to overcome."
The Inspector looked into Doctor Watson's face. "As might we."
It was then that Professor Langdon descended from the rooftop, his face as grim as death itself was it a living being.
"It's worse than we thought."