(Sean and Liz over at Sherlocking have been running a fan fiction contest. Their only rule – all stories submitted had to be under 1000 words! Here’s my entry. Please feel free to let me know what you think!)
THE SINGING OF THE SEA
I’d been crouched in the freezing cold for three hours. The wind had chilled my ears into memories. My sole comfort was the sweeping beam from the lighthouse, which seemed to batter the driving rain back from the coast. I stamped my feet and wondered again how Sherlock had talked me into this vigil.
“Take note of everything, John,” he’d instructed, “and be careful! One man has died already.”
I was about to give up when I heard the click of high heels. She passed by me, huddled forward into the wind, and disappeared into the darkness. I strained my ears to hear over the roar of the wind and the sea.
Suddenly there was a scream, a low inhuman moan that rose into a frantic banshee wail. It had found her. She hadn’t exaggerated. Whatever it was, it was real. Then it was upon me, its claws tearing at my clothes and my throat. I twisted away, and with a thrill of terror found myself stepping into the void. The rail had broken. I was falling, and all I could think was I’d never know my killer.
I was going to die…
Four hours earlier, Sherlock and I had climbed down to the beach at Dungeness to examine a corpse. Above us, the power station towered over the coastline, a space station on an alien landscape. As we passed under the police tape, Sherlock gestured around us.
“I’m no poet, John,” he said gloomily, “but this is a landscape made for madness.” It was a disturbing thought with which to preface our examination. The young man in the duffel coat was lying face down in the surf. His head was caved in.
“Condition’s consistent with having been in the water all night,” I said. “The cuts and bruises on the face and hands will have been sustained in the undertow.”
Williamson, the lighthouse-keeper who’d reported the body, ventured an opinion, “Makes sense. It’s shingle all along this coast.”
Sherlock raised a sardonic eyebrow. “Thank you. What do you make of these cuts, John?” He pointed towards some distinctive wounds. “The skin appears to have been hooked and pulled.”
“My God, Sherlock,” I muttered. “ You don’t think this poor devil’s been caught on a fishing line, do you?”
“I know where he was thrown in…” said Sherlock, pointing up at the power station.
In a glass-fronted office looking down at the generator room, the Right Hon. Violet Smith fiddled with the ornaments on her desk.
“Mr. Holmes,” she said, “I assure you that no-one is missing from my power plant. We’re running at optimum efficiency. Indeed, the government’s generous provision has guaranteed our future for some time.”
“Then why are you asking your employees to work double-shifts?” I asked. I’d noticed a sign on the notice-board in the lobby. Sherlock shot me an impressed look.
“Just about to ask the same thing,” he claimed. Liar.
Unsurprisingly, the politician’s story had been untrue. The dead man was Charlie Carruthers, her accounts manager. Many of her employees had been refusing to turn up to work after being harassed by a mysterious assailant.
“All of these attacks have taken place at night,” she explained, leading us out of the power plant. “You see, my workers have to cross this walkway to get to the car park. Many have heard a bizarre scream, like a tormented soul calling out from the water. You know that many ships landed here in the old days in order to avoid the customs men? The locals claim to have seen phantom ships in the beam of the lighthouse.”
“This is a human agency, Miss Smith,” said Sherlock severely. “No ghosts need apply.”
We stood out on the clifftop walkway, a single rail separating us from the rocks below. With the hum of the generator behind us, and the scream of the wind in our face, it seemed like nature itself was promising our destruction. I imagined the tempest plucking our corpse from the gantry and tossing him down onto the rocky fangs below. A shudder ran through me and, as though reading my thoughts, Sherlock laid a hand on my shoulder.
“Light at the end of the tunnel, John,” said he. “Look at this!”
He had stooped to examine the railing with his lens. Through it, I could see deep irregular scratches, bright and fresh. Sherlock smiled and shouted into the wind, “Our monster begins to take shape!”
The lighthouse was dark and cold but still a relief after my ordeal in the rain. Somehow I had snatched at the gantry as I fell, so that I landed on silt rather than the rocks. I took the stairs three at a time.
At the top of the lighthouse, Sherlock was standing tense, his arm outstretched. Williamson the lighthouse keeper was outside on the gallery, upon which perched a large sea-bird.
“I didn’t mean for that lad to die,” Williamson was saying. “I just wanted to scare off the suits from London. That nuclear waste is killing everything around here. We don’t want it!”
Slowly, Sherlock was edging towards him. “So you trained this cormorant to swoop down at employees during the night? Bit Scooby Doo of you, wasn’t it?”
Williamson hung his head in shame. “You get some funny ideas up here on your own.” He smiled ruefully. “I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you pesky kids.”
Sherlock reached forward, catching Williamson’s arm. Without a struggle, the lighthouse keeper stepped back in out of danger. Behind him, the cormorant croaked and flew off into the storm.
“One of our failures, John,” said Sherlock as he watched the winged murderer disappear. “Carruthers’ killer escapes and we have a story that no-one will believe.”
I looked out into the inky blackness, following the light around as it cut through the sky. Shivering, I remained in that windswept beacon as Sherlock guided Williamson down the steps.