The scenery is quite remarkable in its own way if you only plan on admiring it once. It’s far from London and the air feels far too clean for my liking but the mountains and lakes weren’t altogether unappealing to the eye. Just dull. Once you’ve seen one mountain you’ve seen them all. It doesn’t take much imagination to imagine them green, rocky or snow-capped. Not particularly useful to remember them beyond using them as geographical reference points. What kind of tedious idiot would want to walk up them as a hobby let alone take endless photographs?
“Why d’you even want t’go there? Godforsaken place.” The cabbie mumbled the last words and it wasn’t the first time I’d heard the term ‘godforsaken’ in conjunction with my current destination. Others terms like ‘ghost town’ and ‘haunted’ had been prevalent too. Complete hogwash, of course but it amused the simple minded locals. “Silent Hill ‘tisnt a tourist destination.” It was the aging taxi drivers fifth attempt at making conversation. The absence of family photos and a wedding ring suggested a lonely man, probably gotten as far as being engaged a few decades ago but no further. Gambling problem, horses. He’s barely washed or groomed, he has no reason to bother.
“I’m looking for someone.”
“Who? Dead wife?”
“No one you know.”
“Well shouldn’t take you long, t’place is a ghost town, not a soul lives there.”
“Good.” I want to cut the conversation dead, I’m not interested. None of it helps and he knows little more than gossip about the town. He is of no use to me.
It’s been thirty-one hours and thirty-eight minutes since he was taken. A text and accompanying photo from John’s mobile was sent to me seven hours and thirty-eight minutes ago to mark twenty-four hours since he was snatched after a bogus home visit. John, bound at the wrists, ankles and mouth laying on his side one a bare concrete floor. No obvious blood or injuries but even thinking about the picture made my heart rate pick up unnecessarily. There was little I could deduce from the photograph alone other than his eyes were open and looking straight into the camera. He was defiant. Alive. Alive is what mattered.
I’d memorised the text after the first read through.
We’ve gone on an impromptu holiday!
Come join us in Silent Hill!
It’ll be everything you’ve ever imagined and worse!
Love, Jim and John!
Silent Hill. An old tourist town until forty years ago when a series of occurrences took place causing the town to be evacuated. Something to do with unstable ground and sinkholes. I’d questioned Mycroft who of course would have easy access to the ‘real’ reason the town has been left to decompose but he was belligerently obtuse and not worth the single calorie of energy it took to text. If it had been something truly harmful Mycroft would have stepped in by now. He couldn’t have his little brother growing an extra limb as useful as it might be, it would upset mummy.
It’s getting darker, much too dark for the evening this time of year and the weather is closing in. There hadn’t been fog before but now it’s surrounding the car.
“Right friend, this is, uh, as far as I go, I’m afraid.”
“But we’re not there yet!” Useless, absolutely useless!
“Look, there’s the sign ‘Welcome t’Silent Hill’” he pointed, “but the fog, it never leaves, I can’t drive through it. That and the sink’oles.”
“Use your lights man, a day has already passed! It’s not like you’ve got anyone waiting for you at home!” This imbecile is ruled by ridiculous hocus pocus while John is certainly in need of aid! Why else would I be here if it wasn’t important, surely he could figure that much out? John Watson was worth twenty of him.
“Sorry, listen, I’ll give you ‘alf off if you get out ‘ere and walk t’rest of the way, ok?” His voice was shaking as well as his stubby hands. Even being in close proximity to the town was tearing his nerves to shreds. Pathetic really, how fear can rule people.
“Fine.” I thrust some notes into his palm and got out. He tore away before I’d barely had time to close the door leaving me standing in the middle of the road. If John was here he could kill him for me, maybe with his bare hands. That thought made me glad. “Coward.” There was little time to waste cursing at the incompetent fool so I tightened my scarf against the chill in the air and head into the town. I had to find John as quickly as possible. There had been no deadline, no threat, no deal to be done. Just an instruction to come. Moriarty was hiding in this town and he had John. Again.
It wouldn’t be long before further instruction arrived. Moriarty had gotten me here; he’ll want to control my movements the best he can and have me walk through his little traps. Having a whole deserted town to play with actually sounds like fun. Like a ghost house but infinitely less dreary and predictable. Oh what a clever mind could do with a town at their disposal and a rat to run through the maze! Unfortunately for me, I’m the rat. Fortunately for John, I’m the rat.
The rat will have to be smarter than the scientist.
The fog was getting thicker still, blocking out some of the late evening sunlight but I can feel myself descending step by step into the town. It was built by the mountainside and the faint breeze blowing off Toluca Lake. This would be much more fun if the image of John didn’t keep flickering at the front of my mind. There was nothing else to be learnt from the photograph, it wasn’t useful anymore but still I kept thinking about unhelpful things. Was John scared? Would he try to escape? Was he depending on me to find him? Would Moriarty hurt him? Did he trust me enough to find him? These were unproductive thoughts and I half wished I’d brought my skull along so I had someone with which to converse. I’d left in such a hurry when the text arrived I’d not packed a bag, just grabbed my coat, my mobile and a box of nicotine patches for emergency thinking.
Step, step, step, step.
My footsteps had begun to echo. Buildings, mostly grey. I’d reached the town, the high street, not residential like a usual town layout. A florist. A twee cafe. A gift shop. I tested the door belonging to an old pharmacy; the lock appeared to be broken. All the shops were boarded up and decaying, their signs weathered and peeling, they’d long lost their colour and vibrancy. The fog had lifted a little, revealing more shops and wide empty roads, much wider than the usual old towns in England.
I slowed my pace, scanning broken windows and rooftops for signs of Moriarty or his minions. My arrival could not have gone unnoticed. The town was completely empty, barely a weed grew in the pavement or the noise from a squat or two. It was too quiet, not even the tweet of a bird. Cars were parked but abandoned, their owners long since gone but probably dead after whatever disaster actually happened here. Apart from the general neglect, the town looks for all intents and purposes absolutely fine.
That would be apart from the massive hole in the ground.
The road just stopped and a muddy cavern lay in its place. The shops either side were unharmed but now the doors opened directly into a huge gaping abyss. I edge a little closer, testing the stability of the ground. The hole spanned twenty five meters forward and another thirty-five deep. A sheer drop, not survivable without debilitating injuries or probable death. Maybe a collapsed mine shaft or the sink hole story wasn’t the utter rubbish I’d postulated. Another quick scan to make sure I was alone and I head down the only street available.
Step, step, step, step.
Steady, slow paces in the middle of the road, gives me the opportunity to spot my attackers when they come out of their hiding spots. They couldn’t shoot accurately in this fog, they’d have to get closer and that plays in my favour. Hand to hand combat was always most exhilarating. John will enjoy hearing about it later over tea.
Step, step, step, step.
With each step I could feel the tension building in my every cell, that one thought thrumming through my entire body. Get John back. He was here somewhere in this town and I don’t have the faintest idea where to begin. So many hiding places. Buildings and sewers not to mention possibly and underground network of mine shafts. He could have had weeks to prepare unnoticed. Where are you Moriarty? Text me. Play the game. Where am I supposed to be?
Wait. Footsteps, not my own. New data. I stop. Think, listen. One person. Ahead of me, street to the right. Running. Lots of clothing, rustling, metallic. Closer. Closer. Closer. I step behind a car out of sight to watch who is coming.
The figure running out of the fog, five foot seven in full desert army kit. John. Unmistakable. I smile just to be seeing him again. He stops running and darts behind a car but on my side so I can see him. Breathing heavy, gun clasped in his hands, he's looking side to side and his lips are moving but I can’t hear what he’s saying. There’s no one to talk to but his head is turned like he’s speaking to someone. Hold back, need more data. I scan the area before approaching, despite not seeing anything it wasn’t safe yet.
John’s scurrying to the next car along so I mirror his movements unnoticed. He’s still looking around, peering over the bonnet of the car before slumping back down. The only view he could possibly see is of a graffiti covered wall shielding a car park. Think. Drugged. Moriarty had given him a hallucinogen. John was back in Afghanistan. The gun was likely loaded. Clever, John wouldn’t do well having shot me to death, even if he believed I was the enemy at the time. He’s over-dramatic in that way.
There was one situation in which John wouldn’t shoot him.
“Help! I’m hurt! I need a medic!” I stood and let myself be seen and I clutched at my leg while waving an arm. I tried to be convincing as I could for all the lack of blood. I threw in a pained cry for good measure.
“God man! Get down! Can’t you see we’re in a bloody warzone?” He shouted louder than necessary, like he was yelling over the sounds of gunfire and mortar shells. “How bad?”
“Really bad, broken, maybe severed an artery.” I shout back, I needed to have a time sensitive injury. He hasn’t recognised me or been perturbed by my coat and scarf ensemble opposed to fatigues. The hallucinogen had taken care of that detail.
“Ok, I’m coming to you, hold on.” Of course he’d risk his life to help, whether he believed I was friend or foe. He appeared to give instructions to his imaginary cohorts and took one last peek over his shoulder. Once he was over it wouldn’t take much to incapacitate him, well, John would put up a fight but the rock I’ve just acquired would help. I’m sure he’ll forgive me once his headache passes and he’s drunk the requisite amount of tea and whichever painkillers he fancied. Probably should pay for dinner too. John had readied himself and started to run, crouched close to the ground.
The explosion was huge enough to knock me backwards on to my back. The car John had been sheltering behind burst violently into flame. Gelignite, efficient and powerful blast. John was thrown off to the side somewhere, I can’t see him. I try to call out to him but the air has been knocked out of my lungs. He was too close, too close not to be badly hurt, maybe dead. I feel sick for some reason. Please not dead, I can’t have failed this early. Did I miss something? Was I too focused on seeing him alive? Please, no, this can’t have happened, I can’t go back to how it was before. I don’t want to go back. I can’t.
His body was thrown like a ragdoll but I was blinded before I saw him land. He can’t have gone far, he wasn’t upright, the angle was shallow but he’ll have hit the ground at quite a speed. He can’t die like this, not an explosion, we beat that one. He beat Afghanistan too. What happened to your fucking creativity, Moriarty?
“John!” I scramble to my feet but I stumble and end up with my legs crossed and my hand holding me somewhat bent over but upright. I feel the glass crunch beneath my shoes and prick into my palm. I’m still off steady and my ears ringing so loud I can’t think but I try to right myself. “John!” My legs won't work properly, or maybe it’s my ears, but I stagger in the direction John was thrown.
The acrid smell of burnt fuel and metallic iron fills the air along with dust from the explosion that I have to force from my lungs repeatedly. I can smell the blood but it’s not my own. “John!” I could hardly hear my own voice, let alone a reply. “I’m coming, it’s Sherlock, ok? I’m coming. I can’t hear but I’m coming.” More steps and it’s getting easier to walk now. I can sort of hear the blackened car still burning through the ringing. “John, you’re ok, where are you?” I see him, I see him on the ground. “I’ve got you. I’m here.”