Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ghost Stories

            The following stories are absolutely true.

            My old school was haunted.
            It was a lot like this school, where we are right now, in that the main building used to be a house. It had a big staircase that went up one flight of stairs before coming to a wide landing, where the music teacher’s desk resided, and splitting into two staircases that both led to the second floor. The third floor of the building was accessible only by a cramped, narrow back staircase that wound around from the first floor up. Only the teachers were allowed to use the main stairway for some reason.
            The landing with the music teacher’s desk used to house an organ. Not a body part, the kind that you play in a church. It was a good spot for one, since the grand doors of the school opened directly in front of it. In the old days, when the Scripps family actually lived there, you would have walked in and immediately seen the organ, if no one was playing it. If someone was playing it, you would have heard it before you even got into the building.
            That organ could be heard from halfway down the block, apparently.
            At least, that’s what the neighbors said.
            Not the neighbors who lived there when the Scrippses were alive. No, these were the neighbors who habitually complained about their driveways being blocked by parents’ cars, the neighbors who walked past the sign saying Pasadena Waldorf School every day. The neighbors who still live there now.
            One of the staff members was dealing with a nieghbor issue one summer day (when school was not in session) when a woman whose backyard was just over the school’s fence commented on the music. “By the way, who is it playing the organ over there? I always hear them around three o’clock when I’m gardening.”
            The staff member was puzzled. “We don’t have an organ anymore…”
            But the late Mr. Scripps had always practiced at three o’clock.

            My eight-grade teacher told us that story once, simply to make us shiver. But my mother was the administrator of the school for several years, and she has ghost stories of her own to tell. For instance, once she and another staff member—a woman named Mrs. Ward—were in the Finance office on the third floor. They could hear a voice from the adjacent office outside, very clearly, although they couldn’t actually distinguish the words. The voice was definitely audible, but when Mom and Mrs. Ward went to see who was there…they realized that they were quite alone.
            Or rather, they were the only living people there.
            The neighbors weren’t even the only people to hear the organ. Mr. Baier, one of the sports teachers and a member of the administrative staff, heard it when he was down in the basement of the school, clear as anything.
            But the most frightening supernatural event? That occurred at night, when the school             was being readied for the coming day.
            The cleaning crew always worked at night. I can’t remember ever actually seeing them; they simply weren’t there during the day. But after that night, my mother had to find someone else to clean the building, because they weren’t coming back.
            They were in the main house, vacuuming, dusting, polishing, doing whatever they needed to do before heading home, when one of the men went into the handwork room to dust the windowsills.
            The handwork room sat at the front of the building. The windows overlooked the lawn, and yellow shafts of light cut patterns across the darkened carpet. It had once been a bedroom, but now it was used to teach students how to sew and knit. A shelf of half-finished stuffed animals perched above a shelf of half-finished cloth dolls, casting weird, twisted shadows in what little yellow light there was.
            And in the room…stood a figure.
            It seemed male, the maintenance man was sure of that. It was tall, and dark, and he felt a distinct aura drifting from it. It wasn’t a nice aura like you’d get off of a kind, gentle person. No, this aura was…malevolent. Evil. Cruel.
            The cleaning crew left so fast that no one bothered to turn out the lights. The doors were left unlocked in their haste to get away, the gate unbolted. It was lucky that nobody chose that night to break into the school, because they would have had an easy time of it. 
            The whole affair was kept rather quiet. I would not have heard about it if it wasn’t for my mother. But that cleaning crew…they never, ever came back. 

Friday, October 17, 2014


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Such an honor it is to
Have one's writing read.

The Adventure of the Homicidal Automatons, Part the Last

Last chapter! Thank you for reading! Let me know in the comments if you'd be interested in a sequel...

This is a Sherlock Holmes story I wrote a few years ago, set in an alternate London where the British Empire expanded into the reaches of outer space. This chapter wraps up the story. Scroll to the end for chapter list.

Four days later, at twelve o’clock, I dictated the following to MRS Hudson:

            My dear Miss Morstan,
            Would it be convenient for me to pay a call to your shop at three o’clock? I no longer trust Holmes to re-install the dagger, throwing knife and scalpel in my arm. Thank you for your kindness and generosity.
            Dr. John Watson

            I gave it to a message boy, expecting that it would be delivered within an hour or two. I was quite surprised when, contrary to my expectations, the lovely Miss Morstan decided that she would rather come to me.
            “I hope I am not unwelcome,” she said with a smile. “I was paying another house call in the neighborhood and realized that it would be more convenient for both of us if I simply came here.”
            “My dear lady, you are always welcome here,” I stated warmly. Holmes, absorbed in tinkering with an Id, merely grunted.
            Miss Morstan sat me down at the table and began to take my arm apart. “I confess I have another motive as well. I should very much like to hear the conclusion to the case of the Venusian Lubricant. There were a number of loose ends and I would like to know how they were tied up.”
            Holmes removed his goggles and sat down in his armchair, reaching for his pipe. “Ah yes,” he said. “Most interesting.”
             He described to her the wrappings-up of the case. The scientist lackey, McGrath, had been arrested on the spot. The carriage-driver, still in the hospital, was under questioning, although Holmes was required to pay his hospital fees. (At this point Miss Morstan expressed sincere sympathy—she herself had been forced to repair, or rather rebuild, the mechanical coach pro bono and had lost the business of its owner.) The crown had been safely returned to its case, and the security around it doubled. A team of the Queen’s scientists was working on refining the Venusian Lubricant so that it would no longer be susceptible to villainous signals, using the mastermind’s invention in their research.
            Holmes then revealed something he had not yet told me:
            “I went to question McGrath yesterday afternoon.”
            I sat up. “I thought he would not speak.”
            “I questioned him further. At first he was belligerent and would not answer my queries, but when I said that I could have significant influence over his trial if he would cooperate, he revealed some very useful information. He told me the name of his employer.”
            Miss Morstan and I both leaned forward. “What is it?” she asked.
            Holmes sat back, smoke curling from his pipe. “He said it was ‘Moriarty’.”
            There was a silence broken only by the small clanks of Miss Morstan’s tools against my arm.
            “Moriarty,” she murmured, a small frown on her delicate features. “I suppose you’ve investigated already?”
            “I haven’t found very much yet,” admitted Holmes. “James Moriarty was once a professor of considerable mathematical ability at -------- University. He left just over two years ago and nothing has since been heard of him. That is all that I have learned so far. I shall, of course, keep searching, but I believe that our professor has well and truly escaped. By this time he may be halfway to Venus.”
            “In any case, we should keep up the search for a way of refining the Lubricant,” said Miss Morstan. “I think the ideal thing would be to render the oil so that only signals from the metal it contacts directly may be transmitted. Perhaps putting a sample through a Jovian Percolator along with some Aphros seeds would do the trick?”
            The two began one of their technical discussions that I have such difficulty following, but soon Miss Morstan had finished with my arm. She left nearly an hour later, after taking a very pleasant tea with us.
            “What a very attractive woman!” I exclaimed, watching from the window as she hailed a cab and stepped smartly inside.
            “Is she?” replied Holmes. “I did not observe.”
            “You really are an automaton—a calculating machine,” I said. “I think that even MRS Hudson has more of an emotional range.”
            “The only way in which Miss Morstan is remarkable is her intellect,” remarked my companion. “Indeed, it is almost comparable to a man’s.”
            “Above that of most men, I think.”
            “Impossible. For all her intelligence, she is still a woman, and as such she is weak and in need of protection.”
            I looked at my companion, both irritated and resigned. Then a small smile twitched my mouth. “I think she will surprise you, Holmes. I think that she will surprise both of us.”
            “Then you think we shall see her again?”
            “In our hunt for Moriarty? Certainly. She is tenacious enough that she will wish to assist us, and force us to allow her to. And besides,” I said with a smile, “I shall need her to repair my arm, shall I not?”

Thanks for reading! And keep checking back for the next serial...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Ursine Incident

I wrote this in eighth grade and rewrote it in tenth. I think it still holds up decently. I'll probably come back to these characters eventually.

The Ursine Incident

The first time I saw Stephen, he painted a hex sign on my arm, and I couldn’t move my fingers for three hours. It was a rather impressive hex, for an eight-year-old boy. I don’t know where he’d learned it.
     The second time I saw him he broke my broom in half. I had just got it and I had been showing it off. It was in the corner and he tripped over it.
            As you may have been able to tell, we didn’t like each other very much. Stephen thought I was an annoying know-it-all, and I considered him incredibly spoiled.
            Being the children of best friends did not help us avoid each other. Every month or so our parents would have a dinner party (usually at his house) and we would be forced into the same room for several hours. We generally pretended to get along while the adults were watching and ignored each other for the rest of the time.
            Until the Ursine Incident, that is.
            Before I tell you about this, I just want to say that it was entirely Stephen’s idea.
            This particular Incident took place when I was eleven and Stephen, being two weeks younger, was ten. It was at the monthly-or-so dinner party. We had set up the Monopoly board and were now reading different books in opposite corners when Stephen spoke.
            “Hey, Candace,” he said, “there’s a very good spell in this book I’m reading. Want to try it out in the Dungeon?”
            Stephen had never asked me to do anything before (I don’t count requests to shut up) and I was immediately suspicious. “Stephen Parker, what are you up to? Let me see that!” I marched over and wrestled the book from him. After finding the page he’d been on, I scanned it and snapped, “Nice try, Stephen, but there is no way you’re turning me into a tree toad.”
            “Who said anything about turning you into a tree toad? I was thinking of…erm…Libby,” said Stephen unconvincingly.
            Libby was Stephen’s eight-year-old sister, and I happened to know two things about her: firstly, she and Stephen got along remarkably well, much better than most siblings; and secondly, she preferred to spend the night at a friend’s house whenever my sister and I came over. (Smart girl.)
            “Yeah, right,” I said, rolling my eyes, but then a thought stuck me. “Stephen…what about Marcia?”
            Marcia, then seven, was my aforementioned sister. She really was a brat. Stephen, Libby and I all hated her. She was whiny, selfish, and very, very annoying.
            “Say, that’s not bad! Where is she?” exclaimed Stephen, his eyes lighting up.
            “Last time I saw her she was in your playroom,” I said.
             We got up and crept down to the Parkers’ playroom.
            Another thing I should probably mention about the Parkers: They’re rich. They used to live in England, so they all have accents, but now they live in this big house on Walker Hill. Stephen has a playroom and a computer and more toys than he and Libby can keep track of. It’s part of what makes him so annoying. I live in a decent middle-class house on Allen Avenue, but whenever I come to the Parkers, I feel very poor indeed.
            Marcia was indeed in the playroom. She was kneeling on the floor giving one of Libby’s Barbie dolls a tattoo with a black Sharpie.
            The playroom had two doors, one at either end. I stayed at one and Stephen went to the other. From across the room I saw him hold up three fingers. He lowered one, then two, and then we pounced. Marcia didn’t even have time to shriek before she was bundled up with thick yarn from the playroom wound around her ankles and my sweater over her head like a burlap sack. I threw her over my shoulder and, ignoring her muffled cries, we headed down to the Dungeon.
            The Dungeon isn’t actually as scary as it sounds. Rather than being a place where one tortures and eventually kills poor hopeless prisoners, with rats scurrying across the floor and twittering in the corners, it is simply the space where Stephen’s father makes potions and experiments with various combinations of magical substances. He has a job in the research department of the Catalyst University. The Dungeon is basically his home office, nicknamed as it is because it is located beneath the house and has stone walls.
            I hoped we weren’t disturbing anything in progress. The floor had some smudged chalk on it and high on the walls were shelves with books, bottles and vials. “Put her down here,” said Stephen, indicating the middle of a large pentacle that had been painted on the floor. I unceremoniously dumped my sister to the ground.
            “Candace Winsley, I hate you!” Marcia shrieked, thrashing until she dislodged the sweater from her face. “Let me out of here RIGHT NOW!”
            I tied my sweater across her mouth and turned back to Stephen.
            “Okay, so now…?”
            “Now we encircle her with butterfly dust and read the incantation. Then we throw in some salamander blood and stand well back,” said Stephen, scanning the page.
            “I’ll do the dust, you do the incantation.” I grabbed a vial labeled Butterfly Dust off of one of the shelves.
            “No good, they have to be done by the same person,” said Stephen, holding out the book.
            “And that person can’t be you because…?”
            “She’s your sister.”
            I sighed, but I really did want to try doing magic. We’re not supposed to at home.
            I took the book and flipped through the pages for a few moments until Stephen irritably said, “Will you get on with it?” Then I glared at him and started circling Marcia, letting the dust pour out of the vial in a circle around her and saying,
            Salamander blood and butterfly’s rot,
            Change this boy/girl (delete where applic—wait a minute, that can’t be right.”
            “Don’t say that part!” said Stephen, far too late to stop me. I made a move to start over, but he cried, “No! Keep going! We can’t mess it up any more or I don’t know what will happen!”
            I was having some serious doubts, but I picked up:
            Change this girl to what she’s not.”
            I repeated it three times, this time omitting the words “boy” and “delete where applicable.”
            I now know that if we had stopped there, the magic would have hung around for a few hours before turning into sludge. Stephen’s father would have found it the next day and cleaned it up before giving Stephen a lecture, and Marcia would have ratted me out to my parents, but that would have been preferable to what actually happened.
            Maybe it was the misread incantation and the interruption. Maybe it was the smudged symbols on the floor. It was probably all of the above. But whatever it was, when we threw the salamander blood into the pentacle, we didn’t wind up with a tree toad.
            We wound up with an extremely irate bear cub.
            My first thought: Oops.
            Stephen let out a very high-pitched scream and bolted for the door. I took a few nervous steps back. “Nice bear cub,” I said tentatively. “Niiiice Marcia…”
            The bear cub growled.
            I rapidly assessed the situation and ran for it.
            I had never run so fast before, although I think I have since. Marcia, being on four legs, had the advantage on the stairs. I burst out into the house a few steps ahead of her and tore down the hall, the bear cub that was my sister lolloping after me. With a crash, she knocked down a small table with an expensive-looking vase on it.
            Stephen’s father ran out into the hall, with Father and Mother close behind him. Stephen was clinging to his mother’s skirt. “There she is!” he yelled. I wondered if he meant the bear cub or me.
            Stephen’s father made a quick, complicated gesture with his left hand. “Rapio rationis restorant,” he said calmly.
            There was a soft explosion and a cloud of grey smoke, which cleared to reveal human Marcia running after me. She stopped and stamped her foot. “Darn it! That was so much fun!” She burst into tears. “Why’d you have to do that!” she shrieked.
            Mother hurried over and gathered Marcia into her arms, shooting me an evil look. I heard Stephen’s father rebuking him: “What on earth were you thinking? You know you’re not allowed in the Dungeon! And why a bear?”
            “I told you, Dad! We were trying for a tree toad!” Stephen said, exasperated.
            Mother was trying to soothe Marcia with little success. “We’d better go,” she said. “I think Marcia’s had a long night.” She shot me with another evil look, one that promised Death and Disembowelment and No Dessert. “I’m so sorry about this.”
            Stephen’s mother reassured her that it was all right, no harm no foul (she hadn’t noticed the vase), and she’d call later.
            As we headed for the door, Stephen caught my eye. He grinned and winked at me. I raised an eyebrow, and then we left. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Adventure of the Homicidal Automatons, Part the Eighth

Sorry for the late update. I was visiting colleges and didn't have time to publish it earlier.

And now, the penultimate chapter of our exciting adventure!

This is a Sherlock Holmes story I wrote a few years ago, set in an alternate London where the British Empire expanded into the reaches of outer space. Will be posted in chapters on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Scroll to the end for chapter list.

“Are you quite certain this is a good idea?” I whispered to Holmes at eleven o’clock that night.
            Holmes shushed me and peered into the darkness. It was a cold, foggy night, and I shivered as I pressed myself flat against the outer wall of Buckingham Palace. I flexed my mechanical fingers nervously and foolishly wished that Miss Morstan had accompanied us. But no, I chided myself, it was better that she, a fragile woman, remain in her home during this most dangerous operation, although it had taken Holmes and myself the better part of two hours to convince her so.
            Beside me, I sensed Holmes tilting his head. “Something is wrong,” he whispered. “Where are the guards? There should have been a patrol just now.” My friend hastened towards the gates of the palace, with me hot at his heels. The entrance to the palace itself was alarming in its complete lack of guards.
            Holmes raced through, halting just beyond the mighty gates. I heard cries and the sounds of vigorous fighting coming from the courtyard. Holmes started once again for the mighty building. “That is merely a distraction. Quick, Watson!”
            We ran into the darkened palace and dashed through several rooms. Holmes stopped and held out his hand. “Watson, do you feel anything odd in your arm?”
            I looked at it and flexed it. “No.”
            “Good. The device I constructed is working, then.”
            “You mean the device Miss Morstan constructed.”
            Holmes grimaced and motioned for silence. The device in question was clipped to my upper arm, to prevent it from receiving any signals besides those from my shoulder.
            We journeyed through those royal halls, Holmes padding silently and me keeping as quiet as seemed humanly possible. Holmes led the way, suddenly breaking into a sprint as we neared our villain’s target. He burst through the door to the anteroom of the jewel case, his modified revolver in hand. “The game is up!” he cried, but then he started, frowning, for there was no villain to be seen.
            I perceived motion in the corner of the room and cried out. In the next moment, a MAID had flung itself upon Holmes and two more were advancing towards myself.
            I pulled out my revolver and, seeing no other option, shot one of the unfortunate robots through the cranium. It sputtered down in a grinding of gears, but the other was still wheeling towards me at an alarming speed. I ducked as it aimed a deadly blow at my head and I knocked it over to the side where it struggled to stand.
            Suddenly I felt the gears in my arm move against my will. But this time the gears stopped when I commanded them to.
            “Villain!” I cried. “Your foul device will not work a second time!”
            “We shall see,” responded a deep voice, and the gears once again moved.
            It appeared that Miss Morstan’s device did not work quite as well as we had hoped.
            Exerting all my will to stop my arm from moving, I ran to help Holmes but was hampered by the MAID I had knocked down, which had regained its balance. The subsequent skirmish was made all the more difficult for me by the fact that I was also struggling to keep my arm under control. I glimpsed Holmes grappling now with the other human in the room but I was unable to give him aid; indeed, I would have welcomed aid myself. Battling mechanical servants while one’s arm is disabled is nothing to laugh at. Two more MAIDs had joined the first three, one helping Holmes’s adversary and one joining me.
            While Holmes held his own, I must confess that I was overwhelmed. One of the MAIDs pinned me to the floor while the other raised the large pike it held, obtained from I know not where, and prepared to stab me through the heart.
            Helpless, I braced myself for the deadly blow.
            I heard a small noise from the doorway and the MAID holding the pike abruptly jerked, cogs grinding unpleasantly as it underwent a conflict of intentions. The pike imbedded itself in the floor just to the right of my head and in broken tones the robot said, “Commen/men/mencing emergency/cy shutdown/own/own.” Its head dropped to its chest and a click signified its death. The MAID that had been holding me to the ground rolled neatly to its feet and began straightening the debris of its comrades.
            I clambered to my feet and was glad to see that the MAID fighting Holmes had also desisted, allowing him to gain the upper hand on the human villain. Then, turning to the doorway, I beheld a most astonishing spectacle: Miss Morstan stood there, a shining rectangular device crackling with energy in her gloved hands!
            “Miss Morstan!” I cried. “How have you come to be here?”
            “Watson!” Holmes, having rendered his foe unconscious, raced for the room beyond the anteroom we stood in. Miss Morstan followed him and I her, but Holmes abruptly halted in the doorway.
            “Too late!” he cried, and indeed, the case containing the crown jewels had been smashed and the crown itself taken!
            “How is that possible?” I exclaimed. “We halted the villain in the anteroom!”
            “That was not the mastermind, merely the minion,” said Holmes grimly, running back into the corridors of the palace. “He held us off while his master got clean away in the commotion!”
            “Leaving his henchman to the mercy of the guards,” commented Miss Morstan.
            Holmes turned and stared at her. “What are you doing here?” he asked, incredulous. “You were told to stay at home!”
            “Would you prefer it if I had not come when I realized that Doctor Watson’s device could not possibly block the signals at close range?”
            “You are female! You should not have come!”
            “If I had done as I was told, Watson would be dead!”
            “She did save my life,” I admitted reluctantly. Holmes looked at me in astonishment before shaking his head and running towards the palace entrance.
            We were waylaid by the guards, who had stopped fighting each other and run to see what the commotion was. Holmes took charge. “Quick!” he cried, “the villain went this way!” Dodging their confused questions, he dashed into the street. Miss Morstan and I followed with a few apologies and promises of a later explanation. I do not think the guards considered this sufficient, but they were disorganized enough to allow us to slip away.
            Holmes immediately lit upon a piece of fresh manure as evidence of which way the mastermind had made his escape. He glanced about the street and rushed to a mechanical coach that was parked by the palace wall. “Morstan! Open this!”
            Miss Morstan hurried to unlock it, having the key in her pocket. I now recognized the coach as the same one she had been repairing when we first met. Holmes climbed into the driver’s seat and released the brake. The coach began rolling forward incrementally.
            Miss Morstan joined Holmes in the seat to his left, while I sat in the back. The mechanic frowned at my friend as he grasped the vehicle’s tiller. “You do know how to drive a mechanical coach, Mr. Holmes, don’t you?”
            “It can’t be all that different from a traditional one,” said Holmes, stomping on the accelerator.
            The old mechanical coaches were, as I have mentioned, extremely difficult to drive. They had a tendency to weave from side to side on the road, and they were steered by means of a tiller, which made turning the contraption disobliging and dangerous. To my knowledge, Holmes had never attempted to steer one before.
            The coach shot forward, throwing us back into our seats. I dearly wished for something to secure myself with, but the wretched thing had no safety harnesses or anything of the like. I was reduced to clinging desperately to the side of the carriage as we raced through London at dangerous speeds. The few nighttime passersby leapt out of the way as we passed.
            Holmes jerked the tiller far too hard as we barreled into a square. The coach spun, the wheels screeching and throwing up sparks. The noise of the engine was so loud as to be nearly intolerable.
            “For God’s sake, Mr. Holmes, let me drive!” cried Miss Morstan, clutching her seat so as not to be flung out.
            “No! I am getting the hang of it,” growled the detective, pounding the accelerator. Between bouncing from the cobbles and trying not to let my dinner resurface, I caught sight of a regular coach ahead of us.
            “Slow down!” shrieked Miss Morstan. “You’ll kill someone!” A street urchin proved her point by diving for cover, barely avoided near-certain death.
            The carriage ahead was at full gallop now. It swung around a corner and Holmes followed, throwing us into the doors. We were now running near the Thames, which drove my panic to greater heights. Dying was not something I wished to do that night, and falling into the Thames would mean my certain demise, weighed down as I am by my arm. I noticed at this point an alarming rattle coming from the left side of the carriage. Peering as best I could in the dark and bumpy ride, I got an impression of the problem: One of the wheels was loosening. “HOLMES! CAUTION! PLEASE!”
             We were going at full tilt now, far faster that the vehicle had ever been meant to travel. The tyreless wheels caught at every cobblestone, jostling us wildly and increasing the difficulty of steering for Holmes. I saw the carriage ahead of us suddenly turn down a side street. Holmes cursed as we shot past, unable to risk turning. “Never mind!” he cried, “they must follow the river. They are merely trying to—”
            Ahead of us, a cab and four trotted into the middle of the road. Holmes slammed his foot on the brake, but the mechanical coach did not stop until it was not six feet from the horses, screeching unpleasantly. Glancing at the wheel, I saw that it was almost off. I tried to warn Holmes, but before I could speak he once again accelerated. The coach rocketed forward, pedestrians running. It was truly a miracle that we injured no one during that terrible ride.
            A few streets later, once again a coach came in front of us. But this time, instead of braking, Holmes pressed the accelerator. My head snapped back and I was unable to see what was happening for a few moments, but Miss Morstan explained later that the horses spooked and reared, about to bolt. Miss Morstan instinctively threw Holmes aside and stamped on the brakes. The mechanical coach screamed, the loose wheel finally detached, and our vehicle skidded around several times before slamming into the side of the carriage, knocking it clear over on its side.
            I am quite sure that none of us would have survived had Miss Morstan not had the presence of mind to cry “Jump!” as she deployed the brakes. Holmes and I leapt over the sides onto the cobbles, with Miss Morstan following a moment later. I therefore was able to watch the fearful crash not as a victim, but as an observer. The driver of the carriage was not quite so lucky, but he too lived. He was thrown off his seat and one of his legs was caught under the toppled carriage, cleanly breaking the bone.
            We picked ourselves up off the pavement once the two vehicles had ceased movement, besides that of the panicked horse, dragged down onto its side but not seriously injured. Holmes ran to the fallen traditional carriage. He wrenched the door open and gave a cry of anger. Looking over his shoulder, I saw that the carriage was completely empty.
            “Holmes, do not tell me that this was the wrong carriage!”
            “It was the correct carriage, but our foe was wily, Watson. He leapt out in the backstreets and is even now making his way down the Thames! There is no chance of catching him now! I should have seen it immediately!” Holmes groaned and turned away from the coach in disgust.
            Hearing cries from the bystanders, I hurried to help the fallen driver of the traditional coach. Finding that his injuries, although serious, would heal easily, I called out for someone to summon an ambulance. Holmes and Miss Morstan were, meanwhile, climbing about the fallen vehicles, examining them. It was Miss Morstan who, climbing inside the carriage, gave a cry of surprise. “Mr. Holmes! Look at this!” she cried, holding up a bag which evidently carried something angular and heavy.
            Holmes ran to her side and, snatching the bag and reaching inside, brought forth the Crown itself!
            “Aha!” he cried, “our pirate has left his prize! He could not safely jump from the carriage while carrying it, so he sacrificed his treasure for the sake of his own well-being! Well done, Miss Morstan!”
            At that moment, the ambulance which I had requisitioned arrived. I will spare the gentle reader an account of the questions and answers that followed, the lectures Holmes received from the police, and the arrest of the carriage driver except to say that Miss Morstan and I solemnly swore to each other never to let Holmes behind the tiller of any vehicle at any time in the future, no matter what the circumstances. We had most thoroughly learned our lessons.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Adventure of the Homicidal Automatons, Part the Seventh

This is a Sherlock Holmes story I wrote a few years ago, set in an alternate London where the British Empire expanded into the reaches of outer space. Will be posted in chapters on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Scroll to the end for chapter list.
             I reentered the shop, paper bag in hand, to hear Miss Morstan’s voice. She sounded exasperated and frazzled. “All right, let’s start again. I think we must have missed something.”
            She and Holmes were seated near the table, which was completely strewn with the various shiny pieces that made up the MAID and my poor arm. I joined them, setting the sandwiches down.
            “We know that we’re looking for something capable of receiving transmissions,” continued Miss Morstan. “We know that, whatever it is, it has something in common not only to these devices but to the majority of all mechanical objects.”
            “We do not know why our foe wants to build such an odious transmitter in the first place,” I contributed.
            Holmes shrugged. “With such a machine the man could bring London—indeed, all of Britain, and Mars and Venus besides—to their knees. But yes, Watson, you do have a point—there is most likely a specific purpose to this fiendishness.”
            Miss Morstan ran her hand over her hair. “Could the man have been exaggerating the reach of his device to you?”
            “Watson and I witnessed the effects first-hand. I suspect our man may be working on a device larger than the one he carries with him, meant to control robots at a greater range.”
            Miss Morstan frowned. “That would be very difficult, but if we know how he does it we may be able to stop it. What exactly was he stealing?”
            “I believe he took the late Professor Spence’s research on the transmission of signals through etheric sound and frequency. I cannot say what he took from Professor Sadd, although the fellow was an expert in both physics and Martian biology.”
            “Yes, there were quite a few Martian artifacts in that house, weren’t there? He even had a few Aphros Trees,” I commented.
            Miss Morstan smiled. “That must have been handy for him, to keep his robots running.”
            Such a thought would, of course, occur first and foremost to a mechanic. I was about to respond when Holmes suddenly interjected, “Wait. What did you say?”
            “It must have been handy for him to have the trees and the lubricant for his robots,” repeated Miss Morstan.
            “Physics,” murmured Holmes. “Mechanics. He had the trees—” My friend leapt to his feet. “Morstan! Do you have VL here?”
            “There’s a tub of it over there,” said Miss Morstan, frowning.
            Holmes dashed to the tub and scooped out a cup of VL. Setting it on the workbench, he snatched up something that looked rather like a miniature tesla coil, snapped on his goggles, aimed it at the VL, and, looking rather like the mad scientists one frequently finds inhabiting sanitariums, started the device in his hands so that it crackled with electricity. The VL suddenly flashed and sparks danced over it, sending electrical currents into its center.
            “That’s it!” Miss Morstan cried. “The receiver and conductor of the signals is the Venusian Lubricant itself!”
            Having finally grasped Holmes’s discovery, I was aghast. “But every machine in London uses VL!”
            “Exactly,” said Holmes grimly. He turned the electrical device off and raised his goggles. “All of England is prey to that mad, inspired fiend’s foul device!”

            Holmes paced nervously about the room while Miss Morstan repaired my arm and I sat and watched him. I was gratified to see Holmes open the bag I had brought back from the Cat and Fiddle. My efforts had not gone entirely to waste.
            Miss Morstan was reconstructing the inner workings of my arm. “If I had a machine like that and no moral standards, the first thing I would…” She stopped, her eyes wide. “He can commit any crime and no one will realize it is him.”
            “We have already established that,” snapped Holmes. “Our foe can do anything in any house where robots…” He looked at Miss Morstan. “Yesterday, you said something about the MAID we brought in. What was it?”
            Miss Morstan frowned in concentration. “I believe I merely stated that I had heard it was a good model. New, but the Queen herself has—”
            “Buckingham Palace!” Holmes cried out. “If I had that sort of machine and no ethical standards to stop me, the first thing I would accomplish would be the robbery of Buckingham Palace! Oh, imagine the fame! The notoriety it would bring!” He spun to face us. “And our villain is certainly the type who wishes for acclaim.”
            Miss Morstan fastened the outside structure and returned my arm to me. Anger, nervous tension and a prior knowledge of what to expect seemed to have sped her work. “Well, Mr. Holmes, surely all that is now required is to warn Buckingham Palace and keep a close watch on the crown jewels.”
            “If only it were that simple,” murmured Holmes. “Our foe has the perfect way of infiltration. He shall not be caught unless—” He straightened, a new light coming to his eyes, and turned to us. Miss Morstan and I looked at him expectantly.
            Sherlock Holmes smiled. “I have a plan.”

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Hitchhiker's Tale

            It was just my luck that my car broke down on a deserted rural road in the middle of the night. Moreover, my cell phone was absolutely drained, preventing me from calling a cab. Fortunately it was a warm night, but that didn’t change the fact that I was squarely in between Danville, where my plane had landed, and Littlestown, where the mythology conference was. I was to present a paper on the symbolism behind Loki’s imprisonment the next morning, and I could not be late.
            That was what prompted me to stick my thumb out when the headlights snaked down the road ten minutes later. Inadvisable, I know, but I was desperate. It was almost thirty miles to Littlestown.
            The headlights turned out not to belong to a car, but a pickup truck. It pulled over and the driver, a ginger-haired boy in maybe his late teens or early twenties, leaned out of the window. “Hey, you want a ride?” he called amiably.
            “Thanks.” I got into the front seat, settling my briefcase under my knees. The car was, I had noticed, badly dented and scraped in several places.
            “Where are you headed?” asked the boy, pulling back onto the road and glancing at me curiously. I must have been quite an atypical hitchhiker: a thin man with academic glasses and a briefcase, wandering the empty roads at midnight.
            “Littlestown,” I told him. “I’m on my way to an academic conference on mythology. I specialize in the Prose Edda, you know.”
            “Oh yeah? I haven’t heard of that,” said the boy, a smile tugging on the corner of his mouth. “I don’t get out much, though.”
            “What about you?” I asked. “What brings you to this stretch of road so late at night?”
            “Me?” He shrugged. “I just like driving.”
            A thought struck me and I chuckled. “This is like something out of an urban legend. When I get to Littlestown and describe you, someone will tell me that you died ten years ago and still keep driving around picking up hitchhikers.”
            “Twenty-three, actually,” said the boy, turning the wheel slightly as the road curved.
            I frowned. “Twenty-three what?”
            “It was twenty-three years ago,” he explained, “not ten.” He glanced at me, deadpan.
            I laughed and after a moment his mouth quirked upwards and he laughed with me. “Nah, I kid,” he said, checking the rearview mirror. “So tell me—what do you do for fun?”

            The drive took less than half an hour, and the boy, who introduced himself as Asa Baker, let me out beside the hotel. I walked into the lobby and called in my reservation, planning to rescue my car the next day (or rather, that afternoon—it was one-forty-five a.m. when I got to the hotel).
            After I presented my paper, I got a ride from one of my colleagues, a woman who taught creative writing at Littlestown University and had presented a paper on story tropes. When I told her where my car was, she stared at me in confusion and said, “How on earth did you get all the way here in time for the conference?”
            I told her that a young man called Asa Baker had picked me up and brought me to the hotel, and she looked at me with half-lowered eyelids.
            “My students put you up to this, didn’t they,” she said. It wasn’t a question.
            “What do you mean?”
            “Asa Baker. He’s one of the more popular urban legends around here. He was a nineteen-year-old farm worker who died in a freak road accident twenty-something years ago. People say he drives around in his pickup truck and offers hitchhikers rides. My students are always joking about meeting him on a dark road in the middle of the night.”
            I stared at her. “You’re kidding.”
            “Nope.” She raised an eyebrow. “So how’d you really get here?”
            “But…” I shook my head. “My God, he wasn’t joking. He actually wasn’t joking.”
            “Who wasn’t joking?”
            “Asa Baker. It really was twenty-three years!”

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Adventure of the Homicidal Automatons, Part the Sixth

Sorry about the slightly late update. I had minor technical difficulties.

This is a Sherlock Holmes story I wrote a few years ago, set in an alternate London where the British Empire expanded into the reaches of outer space. Will be posted in chapters on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Scroll to the end for chapter list.

               Morstan’s Master Mechanics was slightly neater than it had been the previous day, especially since the mechanical coach was now absent. I believe that Miss Morstan wanted to make as good an impression on Holmes as possible. She listened attentively as he described the events of the previous night, then said, “Well, then, perhaps the most sensible way to go about this would be to examine both the robot and Doctor Watson’s arm and isolate any similar parts. That way we shall automatically narrow down the objects that could be the receiver until we find it.”
            Holmes helped me remove my arm. On any other day I might have objected to this, but with the experience of the previous night still fresh in my mind I was quite glad not to wear the limb for a while.
            The two mechanics set the robot and the arm on a large table Miss Morstan had dragged in and began dissecting them. I watched intently, wishing to contribute something to the investigation, but soon began to grow bored. I had not slept well the previous night, and I fell into a sort of trance.
            Holmes nudged me out of it. “Watson, old friend, move a bit to the right, would you? I need the space.” I migrated to the other side of the table to stand beside Miss Morstan. “Thank you. Ah! The main transmitter. Does Watson’s arm have one?”
            Miss Morstan reached across and took the object he held from him. She brought it close to her eyes, frowned, and glanced at me. “Doctor, could you please move? You’re blocking the light.” Embarrassed, I moved to her right. “Thank you. No, Holmes, this is a Radial886 model. The doctor’s is a Nimbus24.”
            Holmes nodded. “Of course.”
            “Does it matter?” I asked.
            Both Holmes and Miss Morstan fixed me with a gaze that made me feel very foolish. “It certainly does,” said Miss Morstan. “The former is made of copper and sends out the signals of its own accord, helped by readings of what situation the robot is currently in, and the latter is of Venusian phostlite and receives very precise signals from your shoulder. The signals are entirely different.”
            I frowned. “But if the signals are so different, than how can one device control two machines?”
            “Obviously not through the main transmitter,” said Miss Morstan, turning back to her work. I believe she may have rolled her eyes at my stupidity. (Holmes certainly did.) Miffed, I poked at a round metal piece like a top balanced on its point, making it wobble.
            “Don’t touch that!” cried Miss Morstan. “You’ll upset its balance!” Sure enough, no sooner had she uttered the words than the part fell onto its side and rolled off the table. I managed to catch it with my solitary hand and put it back. Miss Morstan sighed, picked it up, and gave it a few gentle taps with a screwdriver before carefully balancing it once again upon its point. She then began a discussion with Holmes that, not being versed in mechanical science, I was unable to follow. I thought to help by arranging a number of gears lying near me in order of descending size, and proceeded to do so until Miss Morstan gave a cry of dismay and confiscated them from me.
            Undaunted, I went to examine some of the projects on the back shelves. There were a number of children’s toys, as well as automatic dusters, auto-butlers and MAIDs, and even a prototype “vacuum-cleaner”—the sort of things one would entrust to a female mechanic. There were also several little robots much like Holmes’s Ids, but looking back at Miss Morstan I realized that rather than being awful annoyances, a few of them were actually assisting her. I poked at an auto-butler and was considerably dismayed when it fell apart with a series of loud clanks. I had been unable to steady it due to my lack of a right arm. Miss Morstan groaned and directed me back to the worktable.
            Returning to her side, I picked a piece of my arm up. It was a beautiful thing of iridescent glass that must have been hidden near the center of the limb, for I had not seen it before. Unfortunately, it was slick with VL, and it slid from the clumsy fingers of my left hand and plummeted towards the floor.
            Miss Morstan, showing great agility, caught it a few inches from the ground.
            Holmes groaned. “Watson,” he growled through his teeth, “if you do not cease in your endeavors to ‘help’ this job may take us another two years.”
            “There are a few journals and such in that box over to the right,” said Miss Morstan pointedly.
            I sat down on a stool near the corner and rummaged through the box. I was pleasantly surprised to find a medical journal, although I suppose it made sense—Miss Morstan would, of course, need to be up-to-date in bionic science. I immersed myself in it for perhaps an hour and a half before Holmes cried out, “Watson!”
            I leapt up, certain that I was being summoned to witness a ground-breaking event, or, better yet, to participate in one. “Yes?”
            “Would you mind running down to the pub and bringing back some sandwiches? We may be here for quite some time.”
            As I trudged down to the Cat and Fiddle, with Holmes’s coat covering my right shoulder, I morosely mused that the entire order of things had been upset: Miss Morstan was occupying the position normally taken by Holmes, who was impersonating me, while I was entirely expendable. 

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Parts Four and Five
Part Seven

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Adventure of the Homicidal Automatons, Parts the Fourth and Fifth

This is a Sherlock Holmes story I wrote a few years ago, set in an alternate London where the British Empire expanded into the reaches of outer space. Will be posted in chapters on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Scroll to the end for chapter list. (Two parts in this installment because Part Four is fairly short.)

Once we had made our way back to the house, Holmes took charge of the police officers. The victim was, of course, a scientist: Professor Richard Sadd of Oxford University. He had recently returned from an expedition to Mars and had an impressive collection of Aphros. The refined sap of these trees is the Venusian Lubricant relied on by robots and humautomatons. It was at the time uncommon but not unheard of to own a few of the trees on Earth, rather like owning an exotic bird or a pet hedgehog.
            Holmes examined the study, where once again the crime had taken place, and saw that more research had been stolen. Sadd had apparently been an expert in physics and Martian biology.
            Holmes carefully leaned over the desk, the lenses of his goggles glinting. He frowned and tapped it before glancing at the ceiling. Following his gaze, I saw a large golden stain on the white wall and ceiling. “Ah,” said Holmes, turning to the young Martian officer, who standing in the corner. “Could you be so kind as to get that down for me, please?”
            “Yes, sir,” said the lad, lisping slightly as all Martians do, because of their sharp, pointed teeth. He peeled off his boots and, carefully placing his hands and feet upon the wall, scaled it as easily as a gecko might. I had read in a medical journal of the tiny filaments on the hands and feet of Martians, which allow them to stick to sheer surfaces and even hang upside down. It had given them an advantage in the Martian War and indeed, it had cost me my arm, but now that the war was over and the Martians at peace with England it made for a handy trait in police officers.
            The officer cut the stained plaster off the wall and sprang down to land lightly beside Holmes. “What is your name?” my friend inquired
            “Ygruky, sir.”
            “Thank you, Ygruky.” Holmes examined the piece of wall. “Interesting.” He adjusted his goggles. Ygruky looked delighted to have been of use. I believe he was a bit in awe of Holmes, going by his physiognomy. Martians are very expressive and cannot hide their emotions.
            Leaning against a wall, I stifled a yawn. The adrenaline from our chase had worn off and the incredible events of the day were taking their toll on me.
            Holmes glanced at me and, taking one more look through the study, decided that he had seen enough. We retired to Baker Street for the night, where I slept uneasily, plagued by nightmares of an unseen force controlling me.


            The next morning, as Holmes and I took breakfast, we heard the doorbell downstairs. Holmes sighed. “That will no doubt be Miss Morstan.”
            I put down my teacup. “How can you possibly know that?”
            “I expected that she would come to inquire as to whether her analysis was in fact correct. It is what I would do, given her situation.” Holmes frowned. “What is taking her so long?”
            I volunteered to go see.
            I went down to the door and found Miss Morstan talking with MRS Hudson. She was in a state of excitement, and upon seeing me she cried, “Hello, Doctor! What a wonderful robot you have here! She’s beautiful!”
            “Thank you.”
            “Do you know how rare these old Hudsons are? I haven’t seen one for years, and this is a particularly lovely model! She’s in wonderful condition, too!”
            “I wasn’t aware that they are rare,” I said truthfully, although I could not recall seeing another like MRS Hudson at any other house.
            “Oh, yes. The Hudson corporation went out of business about a year after yours was built. They used to make robots specifically for houses, you know, so yours is really MRS Hudson221B. Was there ever an MRS Hudson221A?” This last inquiry was directed to the robot.
            “She was sold by 221’s previous owners, before Mr. Holmes rented here,” responded our landlady.
            “Pity. Still, you’re an absolute wonder!” Miss Morstan suddenly looked alarmed as a thought crossed her mind. “Er…Mr. Holmes hasn’t made any, ah, temporary fixes, has he?”
            I daresay MRS Hudson would have smiled had her face been mobile. “He has done nothing more drastic that replacing a few bolts and changing my oil.”
            “Ah. Good. Still, tell Doctor Watson to bring you down to my shop some time.”
            I cleared my throat. “You may tell me that yourself, Miss Morstan. I believe you wish to ask Holmes the results of his inquiries?”
            She blinked. “Why, yes. Did you deduce that yourself, or did he?”
            “It was Holmes,” I admitted, leading her up the stairs. “And you were perfectly correct, as was confirmed by the six other mechanics he visited.”
            Miss Morstan let out a relieved sigh. “Thank God. I was beginning to wonder if I was losing my touch. I am sure you understand, Doctor—in your case it would be like being unable to find anything wrong with a patient who was sick and dying.”
            I winced. “A most unsettling notion, indeed. Will you step inside?”
            Holmes looked up from the paper he was reading as we entered the room. He rose from his chair to shake Miss Morstan’s hand.
            “I understand that I was correct?” she said with a small smile. “Or at least the six other mechanics made the same mistake I did?”
            Holmes gave me an irritated look. I suppose he had wished to downplay her victory. “Yes. Thank you for visiting us this morning, Miss Morstan. I think, however—”
            Miss Morstan pounced upon the paper Holmes had left lying on his footrest. “What’s this?” She scanned the front page. “Oh, dear! Another attack of the same kind! I expect you will be going over the robot once again.”
            Holmes nodded. “I have a better idea of what to look for this time.”
            “You do? Then let’s go.” Miss Morstan tossed the paper aside and headed for the door.
            She turned back to find both of us frowning at her, perplexed. She sighed. “If you’re going to examine a robot, what better place to do it than the shop of a professional mechanic?”
            Holmes’s voice was icy. “I am sure that this room will be perfectly adequate.”
            “Really.” Miss Morstan tilted her head. “Tell me, Mr. Holmes, will you be searching for something that could receive a transmitted signal?”
            Holmes was momentarily surprised before nodding wryly. “A trade journal, I suppose.”
            “As I said, this space is adequate.”
            “Do you have a Moxillian hydraulic screwdriver?”
            “As a matter of fact, I do.”
            “What about a Galaxiantic socket wrench?”
            “I possess that as well.”
            “Really. Well, then, do you have a Hansom robotic clamp?”
            Holmes paused. “I won’t need one.”
            “You certainly will. How do you propose to hold the robot steady?”
            “I can find some way.”
            “Ah! More jury-rigging. Tut, tut, Mr. Holmes, I expected better. There’s nothing that’s going to work in here. And besides,” Miss Morstan continued as she gestured around her, “if you examine that here, either you’ll lose something or it will be stolen by those awful clockwork boggarts you’ve made to keep yourself amused. The light isn’t bright enough for this kind of work, and you’ll never find what you’re looking for. The whole process will be one disaster after another.”
            Holmes hesitated, then icily conceded. “Very well, Miss Morstan. We shall meet you at your shop in half an hour.”