Somehow, I never posted my Yuletide offering for this year (I was a pinch hit writer because I didn't get my act together in time to go through the regular draw, which is excellent because I probably never would have gotten to write this story and it's made my reading/writing life so interesting, not to mention gave me a great excuse to read Lovecraft over Christmas).
If you've never read A Study in Emerald, it is an amazingly spine-tingling and excellent short story by Neil Gaiman that answers the question: what would happen if the world of Lovecraft and the world of Sherlock Holmes... were one and the same? He has a pdf of the story for free on his website, so first go read that. I'll wait.
I love this story down to its creepy crawly bones. Hope you enjoy it!
Title: The Case of the Limping Doctor (AO3)
Summary: There once was a man named John who was fairly intelligent and respectable and had an honest face. This is (not quite) his story.
Fandom: A Study in Emerald
Warnings (highlight to read): psychological torture and trauma, physical torture, vague and specific references to Lovecraftian insanity. Graphic depictions of violence and self-harm.
Notes: Written for Yuletide 2013 for shadowkeeper
to explore how Watson and Holmes meet in this universe.
The Case of the Limping Doctor
Years upon years ago, they came from the air. On wings and not-wings, crawling and skittering and slithering across the clouds, even as the wisps of moonlight bled red, they came…
Years upon years ago, they came from the ground, dragged and drained from the waters and mud to slosh and slip across paths and roads, as the land seemed to shrink from them, dim and deaden until only the foulest of plants grow and thrive, they came… and they never ever left.
--written in faded black ink on the inner cover of the journal of J.H. Watson, MD
There once was a man named John who was fairly intelligent and respectable and had an honest face. He died under the hills in Afghanistan and the things that heard his screams had no mouths of their own to repeat them.
That would be the simplest story, and sometimes the simplest story is true. However, the world is anything but simple, and so the story goes like this.
There once was a man named John who was fairly intelligent, yet he was not intelligent enough to stay away from the Army. Medical school had not been hard, simply time-consuming. It was filled with endless lectures about the ease in allowing any incurable illness to simply be alleviated permanently by a visit to one of the Queenkin, and wise men explaining complex diagrams detailing the most convenient methods to “release” a patient that had wandered astray of a shoggoth or Mi-go. John had found himself at loose ends upon graduation and happily enough followed the suggestion of Professor Henry that someone with his steady manner might do well fighting overseas.
(That a “steady manner” was simply another way of suggesting that John’s mind seemed hardy enough to resist madness at the first glimpse of an Old One did not occur to him until much later, a realization that caused John to break into an unending bout of horrified laughter, great gasps of it until he cried, bolstered by the welcome weight of Sherlock’s hand on his shoulder.)
John was respectable; though in London society, that was simply well-known shorthand for being someone who kept his head to the ground, inspired no intense feelings in the positive or negative, and generally emulated an automaton as closely as possible. He was never sought out by his fellow physicians, nor specifically avoided. These characteristics usually guaranteed safety, for the most part. John’s family followed these traits to the letter, though they had vanished into the many streets of London long before John’s discharge and return. He hoped that they simply moved and are living healthily if not happily, though he feared (knew) that one can respectable and safe up until the moment that an Old One’s interest is piqued. He’d seen too many abandoned rooms and abandoned bodies to think otherwise.
He supposed he had an honest face and could dimly remember seeing its calm and relatively innocent gaze reflecting back from looking glass and shined metal. That honesty drew men to him, his commanders claimed, and in turn the Army promoted him, pushed him up the ranks with little fanfare and littler reward until he led a squad of fifty into the hills, scurrying and clawing into the mountains.
Their mission began in following orders to search the caves, but it ended with a fierce and unnatural enemy finding them. John knew they were an enemy, because they fought back before provoked, quickly and violently, and John knew they were unnatural, because no wound dealt by a man left such marks.
In their squad of fifty, only three returned back to look upon the bloody sun again. Cadet Nolan died moments later, still dragging fingers through his eyes long since blinded and torn, screaming that he didn’t want to look, sir, please don’t make him.
Captain Ross seemed remarkably hale and whole in body, but after the polite and professional debrief, he calmly saluted his superiors, slipped a Bowie knife into his pocket and proceeded to the officers’ mess, where he began carving whole slices of his skin off and offering them to the men at his table with all manner of solicitude until he fainted from blood loss.
Major John Hamish Watson was missing in action after two days, presumed dead after ten. On the thirty-seventh day, a gaunt, wild-eyed skeleton crawled out of tunnel 221B, his right leg covered in weeping sores and small incisions that (the men whispered later) looked like mouths wide open in a scream.
The man who had been John could not walk unaided, his leg would not bear his weight and it took five men to gather and bear him to the medical tent. Another three had to tie him down as the doctors debated whether it would just be kinder to let him die.
Mike Stamford, a medic newly arrived in country, argued most ardently for Waton’s care. Without his support, John is sure that he would have been given an overdose of morphine and a posthumous medal. Instead, he was left crippled and scarred, shaken in mind and soul, but alive, at least in the conventional medical sense.
It took them three weeks to stop him from screaming every moment he closed his eyes and when the drugs ceased their function they shook their heads, offered suggestions for quiet and rest and large amounts of alcohol and packed their problematic patient back to London.
There once was a man named John and he was fairly intelligent—though he could barely keep ahead of the way his thoughts raced and gibbered and rambled—and respectable—though once he mentioned that he had been in the Army, people melted away and refused his gaze, fearing such a stark example of Old One exposure—and he had an honest face—though the frighteningly ancient eyes that glared back in the mirror no longer seemed his own. Much of him died under the hills of Afghanistan and he always woke with a scream echoing his rooms and another locked in his throat, shivering hard against the vision of the mouthless yet ravenous things that had slithered and slipped through the dirt.
The first boarding house gave way to another and yet another as more complained of the noises, the yells. The pity gave way to frustration and avoidance and finally John sat huddled against a moldering alley wall near the St. Giles Rookery wondering what walked here that he could not see, what evil slept without dreaming beneath the cobblestones. That was where Stamford (about business more seditious than licentious) found him, recognizing the Major he’d known in the lost man on the cobbles.
The man who died under the hills went with the man who saved him deep into the basements of the university. There, they met a man who was sharply intelligent, not very respectable at all, and who had a face that said being honest wasn’t the same as being kind. He’d had many names, he said, but the first was Sherlock Holmes.
The limping doctor smiled.