This is one of my entries this week for therealljidol. I invite you to read and vote for the many fine entries. We writing on several topics this week. This entry is in response to the topic "Just One Look."
While it had always been difficult to judge his emotions given his cool exterior, shortly after we arrived at this mystifying place I noted a hint of disquiet in Sherlock Holmes' eyes when one of his deductions missed the mark.
After coming out of retirement to track his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty, to a small rural community north of Nottingham, Holmes attempted a citizen's arrest inside a retired steam engine Moriarty had been using as a lair, on an unused expansion track. During the resultant fisticuffs, with a cry of wicked triumph, Moriarty pulled a lever, and the date -- visible in a control panel of brass dials -- spun from August 4, 1908, into a blur. Outside the windows, the countryside of Lincoln likewise blurred and changed. I felt the vertigo one feels when traveling at full steam.
As Moriarty produced his air rifle, aiming it at Holmes's head in what would certainly be a deathblow, I cudgeled the villain with a sturdy toolbox I'd found at an auspicious moment. Simultaneously, I must have backed against the lever, pushing it back to its initial position, for I noticed the scenery outside the windows had stopped moving.
Joining me at the window, Holmes said, "I would put us just outside Grimsby, given the rate of speed at which we were traveling." He pointed out the changed skyline: where trees had given way to buildings. Gesturing at the unconscious devil, Holmes suggested we lug him to the local police station.
We followed the train track, since Holmes reasoned it was the surest way to reach the town's center. Our efforts were aided by the physiognomy of the stupefied blackguard, who was much lighter than his larger-than-life presence would suggest. Within minutes, we reached the railway station's stone tower, which elicited the first indication of uncertainty from my colleague. "In my recollection, the Grimsby station is fashioned almost entirely of red brick," he said, musingly, while this building was most obviously made of yellow brick and stone. "Perhaps we have not traveled as far as I thought," he said. Indeed, we had not. The sign on the outer wall read "Lincoln Central Station."
But the incertitude I spotted in that moment transformed almost immediately into the sort of deep concentration with which I was familiar. Holmes stopped a train attendant and asked for directions to the police station, and the fellow told him it was roughly a 10-minute walk, along Wigford Way and then Beaumont. "And it's only about 5 minutes from there to Lincoln Castle, Mr. Holmes," he said, "the site of this weekend's festivities." With a wink, he added, "I'm assuming you blokes won't be taking the bus."
"Of course not," Holmes replied. Confidentially, as we walked away, Holmes told me, "The gentleman was an imposter. He seems unaware that steam buses have not yet reached the northern part of the country, and he is wearing a repurposed work shirt to substitute for a railway uniform. I suspect he is one of Moriarty's henchmen, from London, which would also explain why he recognized me. We should be cautious."
"Why not attack us and rescue his master?" I inquired.
"Did you not notice the way he kept fiddling in his pocket, and the yellowed tips of his fingers? The man is a smoker, whose thoughts were consumed with taking a cigarette break. Look behind you."
As I glanced over my shoulder, I saw the henchman, around the corner of the building, puffing on a cigarette.
Despite the meager weight of our burden, I was beginning to tire when, much to my relief, I heard a jovial voice call, "Holmes! Watson! Can that be Moriarty you're carrying? Let me give you a ride." The voice came from a gentleman wearing an ensemble cobbled together from old and new fashions. He wore peculiar gold-rimmed goggles and was seated behind the wheel of a strange contraption.
"Do you know this fellow?" Holmes whispered.
"I do not, but he appears to know you," I replied. "Perhaps you met him in an opium den."
"Never resist an opportunity to chide me, do you?" Holmes said to me. To the gentleman, he called, "I'm afraid your name escapes me. Have we met?"
With a laugh, the man said, "No, but I'd know you anywhere, thanks to your good friend, Watson. I've read every one of his stories."
Relaxing, Holmes said, "Yes, he does tell a ripping yarn. Of course, there is much more thought and science involved in our cases and much less adventure than the way he relates it." Turning to me, he added, "I think we should take this man up on his invitation, and along the way you can regale him with more overblown versions of our work." With that, he opened the back door and began dragging the still-unconscious Moriarty inside.
"Not to be a killjoy," I said, "but I'd like to know what sort of vehicle this is before I climb aboard."
Before the driver could answer, Holmes said, "It's the new Model T, a gasoline-powered carriage that has become quite popular in America." Having unburdened himself of Moriarty, he climbed into the front seat next to the driver, where I joined him.
"Exactly!" the driver exclaimed. "Can you believe I found one? A real Model T, with the steering wheel in the right place for the U.K.?" For the duration of the ride, he professed himself delighted with my colorful recounting of a few tales that remained unwritten. Our driver asked, "Is that really true, Holmes? Did you identify a killer merely from a dangling thread on his cuff?"
Holmes only nodded. His attention had become focused on the sinewy man whose wizened head reclined on the back seat. "I'm afraid our captive may be coming around," he said to me. Then, to the driver, "How long before we arrive?"
"We're here," the driver told us. "But it's foot traffic only from here on." Pulling the vehicle over to the curb, the man disembarked from his vehicle, stretching his arms way over his head.
Holmes and I stepped out, as well, leaving behind the supine Moriarty. With irritation, Holmes declared, "You've taken us too far. We are nearly at Lincoln Castle, when I told you we were going to the police station."
A passel of chatting people in a mixture of formal and casual clothing -- some of it excessively formal, with satin morning coats and a style of top hat not seen outside the royal court -- brushed by, almost entirely obliterating the driver's response. "... really go to the police station? I thought you were coming to The Asylum, like me."
"That does explain his dress," Holmes said, confidentially, to me. To the driver, Holmes said, "Yes, I believe The Lawn is nearby. We shall escort you and call the authorities from -- where is Moriarty?" Holmes declared, his eyes suddenly affixed to the now-vacant vehicle.
With a nonchalant shrug, the driver replied, "Oh, he joined that group of people who passed a little while ago. Probably tired of all the gabbing." Clapping a hand onto Holmes' shoulder, he said, "I admire your dedication, but I'm anxious to go see what there is to see. I hear there's a fashion show and dozens of vendors, musicians, and, of course, the Empire Ball this evening."
Before the man had completed his sentence, Holmes dashed in the direction of the disappearing crowd. I tipped my hat to the strange but chipper man and tossed him a copper. "For your trouble," I said.
"Dirk," the man replied. "The name's Dirk. And thanks!"
With his long legs, Holmes had always bested me in running. This time was no exception, as he shot across the tree-lined green lawn in search of our quarry. Soon, I'd lost him in the array of people. Calling out his name, I was met only with laughter. "Looking for Holmes, are you? You must be Watson, then?" a woman wearing only a cotton shift said. I surmised she must be an escaped inmate, but how on earth she recognized me, I did not know. Perhaps she, too, was a fan of my writing.
Parting the crowd with his angular arms, Holmes again appeared in front of me. "I don't see him anywhere, and the young woman at the entrance says we have to pay to enter any of these buildings."
"So pay her," I responded.
Turning uncharacteristically pale, Holmes said, "She asked for an exorbitant fee: £22."
"Extraordinary!" I exclaimed. "Perhaps they're all mad here."
He shook his head sadly and added, "There is more to relate, but for that you'll need to sit down."
I had difficulty making sense of the conversation that followed. In a bewildering array of detail, Holmes described to me all the peculiar things he'd noticed in his short but fruitless pursuit. First, he listed an array of small things, such as the unusual pigment of a brocade coat, which he called an alien shade of green, much brighter than was commercially available. Then, he said he'd spotted a peculiar woman in a tea hat that had been out of fashion for two decades but nevertheless looked brand new. Such sartorial strangeness could have been dismissed as a regional peculiarity, he told me, except that he soon noticed other inescapable oddities.
Amongst the passersby in Victorian and Edwardian attire, he said, roamed others wearing clothing of an entirely different construction. Men and women alike wore trousers and short pants. The men wore loosely tailored, ill-fitting jackets, and the women button-front blouses or simple tops that resembled undergarments. They all carried compact devices that chirped and made music. "After some initial confusion, I deduced they were phones," Holmes told me, "based on the fact that they were using them to converse, although they are no bigger than cigarette cases and have no wires." Stranger, still, the people of all attires stopped often to point handheld devices at each other and to smile. Holmes had overheard someone telling another to, "Take a picture with my camera" before handing over such a device.
"You mean Brownies?" I asked, referring to the boxy hand-held cameras which had become popular in recent years.
He shook his head. "Nothing like it. These are silver, sleek contraptions, half the size of a Brownie. And in some cases, people seem to take pictures with their cigarette-case phones, as well."
"What sort of strange goings on have we stumbled into?" I asked.
"Stumbled, perhaps. Jumped, to put it more succinctly. Watson, my friend, we have traveled in time." At my amazed expression, he added, "The signs at the entrance to The Lawn read 'Welcome to The Asylum 2012'."
Capitalizing on our popularity, Holmes soon hit upon a plan to earn our entrance fee. Penning a sign on a piece of scrap cardboard, reading "Deductions, £2," we took up residence on a bench. There, a steady stream of visitors was delighted to put the detective to the test, and even on the rare occasion when he made an error, they paid our fee, and sometimes extra for the honor of taking a photo with us.
But by the time we secured our passes, Moriarty had had too much lead time. We scanned the crowded hallways for his charcoal gray suit coat, with no success. When we finally spied a man who seemed to be wearing the very garment in question, he turned out to be someone else entirely: a man wearing what I've since learned are "street clothes," incongruously paired with Moriarty's coat. The man in street clothes told us a strange man had begged him to trade vestments, offering him an antique coin as part of the exchange. Like so many times before, the cunning professor had found a way to disappear.
Since then, we have been biding our time in hopes of effecting a return to our own era. Holmes has paid a crew of "Lincoln irregulars" to keep an eye on the steam engine we now know to be a time-travel contraption. In the meantime, never one content to bide and wait, Holmes and I have taken up rooms in a hotel which doubles as a detective agency. When not pursuing a case, he is a frequent customer at an "Internet Cafe" on Portland Street, where he drinks a seemingly never-ending supply of Espresso and learns everything he can from a mysterious device known as a computer.
At my continued dismay and confusion at our turn of events, Holmes reminds me, as he has many times, "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
This story takes place during the seven-year gap between the Arthur Conan Doyle stories "The Lion's Mane" and the last adventure of Holmes and Watson, "His Last Bow," set in 1914. This allowed me to incorporate some 20th Century technology -- such as gasoline-powered automobiles and personal cameras -- which were just beginning to become popular. It also means that it takes place during the time when Holmes was officially in retirement on his farm in the Sussex Downs.
For those who don't have the ability or desire to follow links, The Asylum is an annual Steampunk convention in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, the United Kingdom. With roughly 1,000 attendees, it's one of the biggest in Europe and takes place in the historic district of that city, which includes an ancient castle and a former lunatic asylum, called The Lawn, which has been redesigned as a hotel and community center.
Thanks very much to my fantastic beta reader, roina_arwen, who read not just one but TWO drafts of this piece! Also, thanks to my husband, toanstation, who let me bounce ideas off him, even though he knows very little about Sherlock Holmes.