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The Haunting of Molly Hooper

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There was so much happening after Sherlock's 'suicide' that she couldn't tell when it began, really. Anything strange - lights she thought she left on that were off when she returned to a room, things moved, things missing - were all chalked up to her harried mental state. When someone has a secret that feels like it's eating them alive, it's easy to become forgetful.

 

At least, that's what she told herself every time she found tins of soup in the microwave, or all the boxes in the cupboard turned upside down. Silly things she must have done when not paying attention, that's all.

 

After getting sacked - and subsequently spending a great deal more time at home - she started to feel uneasy. Vague and uncomfortable, she chalked it up to paranoia; every time she felt it she sing-songed, "Pa-ra-noia will destroy-ya" to herself, tittering at what a loony she would come off as if anyone heard her.

 

Toby's behaviour changed; he wasn't sure how to handle her being around so much. Sometimes she couldn't peel him off of herself for love nor money; other times he would hiss and spit and strike with his claws if she got too close. His weight started to drop because he was eating less; she reckoned it was due to her increased attention. She used to overfeed him out of guilt for being gone all day, anyway, so it was probably good for him.

 

It wasn't the hottest summer she remembered, but there were days when she couldn't seem to get warm. Her electric blanket went back on the bed in the beginning of July.

 

*

 

The first time something happened that she couldn't brush off was in early August.

 

She was cleaning her teeth before bed as she always did. The florescent tube light above the medicine cabinet buzzed and flickered; she reasoned it must have been the damp, since she'd only changed that bulb a few months before. It dimmed, then died as she was taking the dental floss out of the cupboard.

 

"Bollocks," she swore. She swung the door shut, only to see the shadowed shape of a man standing directly behind her.

 

She yelped and spun around without conscious thought, her arms coming up to defend herself.

 

There was no one there, of course. She clutched her hand to her chest, laughing nervously at how silly she was. The light hummed and clinked, then flickered back to life.

 

Still shaken and feeling like a complete idiot besides, she decided to skip flossing and went straight to bed. Every familiar shadow suddenly seemed menacing; every nighttime noise was loud and distorted in her ears. It was a long time before she was able to fall asleep.

 

*

 

She mostly forgot about her experience in the bathroom; life went on as it always did. Finding work was her number one priority, but she was unofficially blacklisted by the NHS. There were private labs in London, but all she applied to were fully staffed. She couldn't leave the city; Sherlock needed her to run errands every now and then, the ones Mycroft wouldn't do.

 

She still had that feeling of... something, like an itch under her skin. She began leaving the lights on, even though they would cut out regularly. The wiring was old, some of it original from before the war; she'd never had a problem with it before, but it had to go sometime, she reasoned. Could be mice, since she sometimes heard scratching noises coming from the walls.

 

She phoned the landlord, who swore the wiring had been fine when he'd inspected it before she moved in. He told her to set traps for the mice, and no, they probably weren't chewing the wiring. His reluctance to come and check that things were okay wasn't surprising; it took him almost two years to fix the tap that had been leaking when she moved in. She supposed she'd just have to deal with it and hope her flat didn't burn down.

 

She'd always been a bit skittish by nature but, as the days wore on, she became more so. She nearly jumped out of her skin when her land line rang one evening; it had been so long since she used it, she'd forgotten how shrill and loud it was.

 

"Hello?"

 

"Did you lose your phone?" It was Sherlock.

 

"Erm, no? It's in my pocket, has been all day."

 

His response was drowned out by a burst of static that had her pulling the handset away from her ear; she caught the last word -- voicemail.

 

"Hang on a tic," she said, trying to move away from whatever had caused the interference while pulling her mobile from the pocket of her jeans.

 

She flipped it open (antique that it was; she never saw the point of upgrading from her old Nokia), but the battery must have died or the phone itself had finally given up the ghost.

 

Sherlock needed her to get in contact with Raz; she stopped him as he rattled off a list of the likeliest places to find him. He waited in annoyed silence while she tested every bloody pen in the junk drawer to find one that worked.

 

The static in the phone came back, then resolved itself into what sounded like human speech, but from very far away.

 

"Do you hear that?" she asked, scribbling furious loops and squiggles with yet another dried-out biro.

 

"Hear what?"

 

"Sounds like there's someone else talking."

 

"It's probably just the baby monitor from the flat below you bleeding through. Change the channel on your phone. Are you ready yet?"

 

There was a stubby, dull pencil from a stationery set she'd got in a Secret Santa exchange years ago in the back of the drawer; it was better than nothing.

 

"Go ahead."

 

She found it hard to concentrate on what he was saying. It almost sounded like the staticky voice was whispering her name.

 

"Text me as soon as you find him," Sherlock rang off.

 

She put the phone back in its cradle and plugged her mobile into the charger, hoping she only needed a new battery and not a new phone. The tiny screen on the outside lit up; she watched as it booted and found her network. Bizarrely, the clock read 6:66 when it came up.

 

She knew things like that could happen on digital alarm clocks and timers; she'd even had a bit of a laugh when a mate at uni swore his microwave was possessed. Funny, though, that it would happen on an LCD screen. Good thing she wasn't superstitious.

 

On her way out to find Raz, she knocked on the door of the ground-level flat. No better time to meet the neighbours she'd been putting off introducing herself to for the last year, she thought. Certainly was a quiet baby, if they had one; she'd never heard it cry.

 

The door was answered by an elderly chap. Nice enough bloke; when she asked if he had a baby monitor he laughed it off with a joke about Des O'Connor. No cordless phone, mobile, or wifi, either.

 

Must have been something with the lines, then.

 

*

 

Toby's behaviour only got worse; he started scratching doorways and weeing in corners, as well as tearing things up and knocking things off shelves when she went out. The vet cleared him of any common illness and advised that he was still adjusting to her being home; some cats had a hard time dealing with change. He suggested a consistent feeding time and keeping the litter box clean, which was entirely unhelpful since she'd done that with him from the day she'd brought him home.

 

She was in the kitchen one morning petting Toby while he ate his breakfast (hoping the positive reinforcement of routine would help, somehow) when there was an awful clatter from the lounge. She went in to investigate; all the framed photos and knick-knacks from the mantel were smashed to pieces on the floor. Most disturbing was the mirror above; cracks radiated from what looked to be a fist-sized point of impact in the centre.

 

She looked around the room to see what could have caused it, feeling the first icy tendrils of real fear creeping up her spine. Her eyes darted to the door -- closed and bolted as it had been minutes before. Windows locked and intact. Nothing had fallen over, or fallen from the ceiling.

 

Okay, she told herself. Rational explanation. What's on the other side of the wall? Another flat. Something must have happened on their side, though she couldn't for the life of her think of what. Renovation, maybe?

 

Yes, right, a bit of DIY, must be.

 

One way to find out (and put her mind at ease) -- she went next door. She pressed the intercom button for the first-floor flat and waited, then pressed it again after a few minutes when no one answered. She balled her hands in her jumper and crossed her arms, taking a few steps back to look up at the windows.

 

"She's already left for work," a woman's voice called.

 

It was the woman from the sarnie shop on the ground floor, setting out the sandwich board of daily specials.

 

"Oh, thank you. Do you happen to know if she's, erm, got any workmen in? Only, my flat shares a wall with hers and I know, it's silly, but my mirror just broke, and I thought maybe..."

 

The woman looked at her as if she'd grown a second head.

 

"Nevermind. Ta," she said, waving a bit as she turned to go back to her own flat.

 

She bypassed the lounge to get the bin from the kitchen; she stopped short when she rounded the sofa. The debris from the floor had been arranged in a perfect circle, one of the photo frames propped in the very centre.

 

It was a picture from Greg's birthday do the year before. No one was sure how John had got Sherlock to come, but he'd been there; she remembers one of his team had got a bunch of people crammed into a booth and she'd ended up between a slightly drunk (and handsy) John and a sour-faced Sherlock, then they'd snapped a picture and wandered off. It was the only photo she had of Sherlock; she got away with displaying it because it was a group shot.

 

The photo had been altered in the five minutes or so she'd been gone. Sherlock's face had been scratched out, presumably with one of the shards of glass from the frame.

 

She swallowed down a thick feeling of panic. She knew no one had been in her flat, but there wasn't any other explanation. There had to have been someone in her flat.

 

"H-hello?" she croaked, then raised her voice a bit. "Hello? Is someone here?"

 

Please don't let me get an answer, she thought.

 

She listened for anything, but she heard only the faint sound of her downstairs neighbour’s telly and the muted noises of the city.

 

You've lost it. This is a dream, or a stress-induced hallucination. Not real. No way anything like this can be real.

 

She closed her eyes and opened them again; the mess was still there. She began to shake, the coldness in of the room and the adrenaline catching up to her.

 

You're being stupid, she told herself.

 

She let the bin sit and grabbed her phone, then dialled 999 and kept her finger on the call button before making her way slowly back the hallway.

 

"I'm calling the police," she warned.

 

The bathroom door was ajar, just as she always left it for Toby to get to his litter box; she pushed it open slowly, using just her fingertips, ready to jump back and flee if there was someone in there. She waited until the door bumped against the wall and peered inside. Empty.

 

She crept to the shower, then yanked the curtain aside, as though she would somehow catch whomever might be hiding there off guard. Unsurprisingly, there was no one there.

 

She listened again but heard nothing; she continued on to the bedroom. Empty. The wardrobe was too small for even a child to hide in; her bed frame was a modern, boxy kind of thing with drawers underneath, so no one could fit in there, either.

 

Silly bint, she thought. At least she could relax a little, knowing no one was hiding in her flat. She slipped her phone back in her pocket. Keep calm and carry on, old girl.

 

They were gone, whoever they were. She wouldn't phone the police; how the hell would she explain it without sounding like a mental case? Best not to get them involved, at any rate, considering her involvement with Sherlock.

 

She should tell Sherlock, she thought, remembering his scratched-out face on the photo. Someone might know that he was still alive, and that she helped him; that may have been their way of sending a message. Things like that happened to him all the time. Or, well, at least once before. She'd read it on John's blog.

 

She sent him a text asking him to phone her when he got the chance; it was too much to tell 160 characters at a time.

 

*

 

Mycroft's minion was a nice woman, dressed in a smart pantsuit and with a wry smile. Molly envied her a bit; not one hair out of place after climbing on chairs and even crawling on the floor at one point to install the cameras. She showed her how to access the files from her laptop and reassured her that her privacy would be respected and the footage would only be viewed if there was another incident.

 

She didn't feel any safer after the woman left.

 

*

 

Sleep wasn't something she found easily; she had the constant feeling of being watched. It was the cameras, she told herself.

 

Her lack of sleep was making her mind play tricks on her; she kept seeing movement from the corners of her eyes, hearing whispers, feeling draughts when there were none, even smelling phantom scents -- cologne and hot tar and blood. It scared her, but she laughed it off afterwards.

 

More than once she drifted into consciousness to see the shadowy figure of a man somewhere in the room, waking herself fully with a strangled scream only to find it was the last remnants of a dream. They must have been terrible nightmares; the covers were always in a pile on the floor at the foot of the bed, kicked off from her thrashing.

 

After it happened every night for a week, her curiosity got the better of her. She opened the folder containing the recordings from the cameras and found the one for her bedroom. She played the most recent, skipping ahead to the time she went to bed, then playing it on 8x speed.

 

She stopped and rewound when the picture became snowy, trying to make out the details through the static.

 

What she saw made the hair on her body stand on end. The dark shape of a man moved into the frame and stood at the foot of her bed, watching her. It was some trick of the cameras, bad recording, but he looked translucent -- a spot of black, like a shadow. She could make out the shape of the edge of the bed through him.

 

When he didn't move, she thought maybe it was an odd shadow cast by something in the room, or a speck of dust that had settled on the camera lens. She fast-forwarded until he began to inch the covers slowly off of her.

 

It was unmistakable; the shadow was doing it.

 

She watched as the covers puddled on the floor; he (it?) reached out and ran his hand over her ankle and up her calf.

 

"Oh God," she whispered. covering her mouth with her hands. She felt sick.

 

The shadow moved around the edge of the bed, trailing his hands up her legs, over her hips, her belly, her chest, her arms; it looked like something between foreplay and an examination. It touched her face, cupping her jaw and running over her forehead before covering her mouth with its palm.

 

The Molly on-screen made a tiny noise of distress in her sleep; it was answered with a high-pitched giggle. It stayed there for a few moments more, then bent its head close to hers.

 

She heard it whispering something, but couldn't make out the words even when she turned the volume up all the way on her speakers. The shadow stepped back from the bed and she saw her eyes flutter, then flash white in the night-vision camera as they flew open with her scream. The screen burst into static for a few frames, and then the shadow was gone and it was only an image of her, struggling to sit up to turn on the light.

 

She closed the lid of her laptop then, not needing to see any more.

 

It was all a trick of the light, had to be. Ghosts, demons, supernatural things weren't real. There had to have been a real man there with some kind of electro-magnetic thingy to disrupt the camera, technology like that existed, she'd read about it in the news somewhere, sometime.

 

She startled when she heard Toby yowl from the kitchen, the sound tapering off to a guttural whine. She went to investigate; she didn't believe what she saw.

 

He was... floating. Four feet off the floor, about chest height for a person. His body was stretched, back legs dangling; his front legs were straight out ahead of him, like someone was holding him with their hands under his armpits.

 

"T-toby?" she asked stupidly, not understanding what she was seeing.

 

He bounced three times to the right, then three times back before falling to the floor. He ran past her, still making that awful noise. It would be almost comical, if it were happening in a commercial on telly and not right in front of her.

 

That was not a trick. There was no half-baked explanation she could come up with to reassure herself that it was anything other than something... other. Paranormal.

 

Her instincts were screaming at her to run and not look back. No, she told herself, face this like the strong, adult woman you are. If ghosts or poltergeists or whatever are real, they can't hurt you. No one's ever been murdered by a ghost, no one's ever died of fright. Well, no one with a strong, healthy heart, at least.

 

"Hello? I erm, I'm Molly. I'm not going to hurt you," she said.

 

She heard that terrible, high-pitched giggle again; seconds later all the cupboard doors flew open and began banging on their hinges.

 

That was all she needed to convince her to get the hell out. She grabbed her keys and phone on the way out and fled the building.

 

She had nowhere to go and no one to tell who would believe her. She wouldn't believe her, if it was someone else telling her about it. Even so, she needed to at least hear a friendly voice; she pulled out her phone and dialled Sherlock while huddled in the doorway of the building across the street.

 

He answered with an annoyed, "I hope this is important, Molly."

 

"Do you believe in ghosts?" she blurted.

 

"Are you drunk?" he asked, accusation shading his tone.

 

"No. But- just listen. Things have been happening in my flat for the last few months, ever since... you know, and I thought it might be the stress, but I swear it's not. I just saw my cat levitate in the middle of my kitchen. It's not- it's not something natural."

 

"Molly, cats don't 'levitate.' You--"

 

"No shit, Sherlock," she said, her fear spilling over into anger. "I know what I just saw, and I'm not drunk, and it wasn't some hallucination or optical illusion. I'm a bloody doctor, I know what's real and what's not!"

 

He sighed heavily. "Molly, I don't have time for this. You're not stupid, use your brain. Try drinking less coffee, you're making me twitch from seven hundred miles away. Now, if that's all, I have a global crime syndicate to dismantle."

 

You utter arse, she thought. But being who she was, she only said, "No, right, you're probably right."

 

"Of course I'm right." His tone softened a bit. Whether it was genuine compassion or a ploy to get her off the phone, she didn't know. Six months ago she would have said the latter; since his suicide, Sherlock had been... different, though. More human. "Get some sleep, Molly. I can't have my assistant getting herself sectioned, hmm?"

 

Patronizing as it was, maybe he was right. She hadn't slept more than a few hours a night for weeks, even before the cameras had been installed. She hated him for making her second-guess herself but, as she'd just told him, she was a doctor. She knew the brain was a funny, fragile thing, just a mass of electrical connections and chemicals; things went wonky sometimes when something was out of balance.

 

Her surety melted in the face of logic and his soft baritone.

 

"Okay," she sighed. "I'll erm, I'll talk to you later."

 

She flipped her phone closed and pressed it to her lips, looking across the street to her front window. The curtains moved; probably just Toby.

 

She wasn't ready to go back just yet. She counted the spare change from her pocket; she had enough for a cup of (decaf) coffee from the sandwich shop down the street. Maybe she'd even warm up a bit inside.

 

*

 

As if plucking the strings of Moriarty's web one by one single-handedly wasn't enough, Sherlock was worried about Molly.

 

He'd never known her to be anything but rational. Jumpy at times and always a bit anxious, but not hysterical. He thought she'd been handling everything remarkably well, all things considered.

 

He'd always had a soft spot for her, a bit like what he imagined he would feel for a younger sister. He'd known she was a strong person, had to be in order to do her job and do it well, but he thought that maybe he'd finally proved to be her undoing.

 

She didn't know it, but Mycroft had sent him CCTV stills of her every week along with John, Lestrade, and Mrs. Hudson. Never the most put together of women, she'd grown increasingly more haggard as time passed. She wasn't cut out for the kind of life he'd all but forced her into.

 

He wished he could have investigated the break-in at her flat. He hated trusting his brother with monitoring the situation when there might be someone who knew his secret. He couldn't stand knowing she might be a target too, but his hands were tied. He didn't have the time to spare to return to London, not when his leads were drying up and all his trails were going cold; not when being recognized by the wrong person could end everything.

 

Levitating cats. She must have been strung out on days without sleep to come up with that.

 

*

 

After she'd nursed the very last of her cold coffee and couldn't justify sitting in the sandwich shop any longer, she left.

 

She didn't want to return to her flat just yet; she picked a direction and began walking, thinking exercise would help her sleep better that night. Funny, she'd lived in the area for four years, but there were so many things she'd never noticed about it before. She'd never really had reason to explore, then; she'd usually done all her errands on her way to and from work, mostly staying near the hospital for everything she needed.

 

There was a Caribbean grocery that did take-away two streets over from hers, and a shoe shop that offered repairs while you waited, and a store that sold wigs. She stopped in a New Age shop she'd never known existed, something that looked like it belonged on the high street in Glastonbury rather than wedged between a Starbuck's and a dry cleaners. Normally she gave places like that a wide berth; she held a marked disdain for homoeopathy and astrology and all those other things the beardy weirdies believed in, even if she did think all the crystals and dreamcatchers and purple velvet capes were kind of pretty. Right then, it seemed like a safe, welcoming kind of place.

 

The air was thick with the smoky scent of sandalwood incense. It was dimly lit and packed to the gills with everything you'd expect to find in a place like that -- earth-toned rayon broomstick skirts; primitive drums and rainsticks; crystals and tumbled stones of every shape, size, and colour; hand-carved wooden walking sticks; shelves crammed with paperback editions of everything ever published by Aleister Crowley and Llwellyn. There was some kind of soft Celtic flute music interspersed with whale song playing in the background.

 

She wandered around a bit, picking things up and putting them back down again, paging through books on palmistry and cryptozoology. The woman behind the counter was watching her warily, as though she were a hoodie in a corner shop. She'd usually make a pity-purchase at that point, but having no money on her, she supposed it was time to leave.

 

She casually browsed her way to the door, taking in the corkboard on the wall pinned full of adverts for tarot readings, massage therapists, and drumcircles. Underneath was a table with neat little piles of business cards; she picked up a few at random and stuffed them in her pocket before she pushed open the door.

 

On the walk back to her flat, she resolved to get some proper sleep. It was only a shadow on the video and Toby pulling the covers off of her; what she'd seen in the kitchen was only the product of her imagination.

 

If she told herself that enough times, she would believe it.

 

*

 

A week passed without incident; no random objects moved from their places, no strange noises or static on the telly, even Toby seemed to relax a bit. She still hadn't got a good night's sleep, but at least everything was normal.

 

At least, until she woke up one night while being flipped violently on onto her back, the weight of a human body on her stomach, invisible hands pinning her wrists next to her head.

 

She thought she should fight but her muscles wouldn't cooperate; she finally understood the meaning of the phrase "paralysed with fear." The most she could do was whimper.

 

The weak ambient light of the city filtered in through the window; she could see the room clearly. There was no one on top of her. No person, at least.

 

One arm was yanked above her head, then the other; the grip on her wrists changed, as though they were being held together with one hand rather than two. She felt pressure on her throat, making it difficult to breathe. She struggled then, trying to buck the thing off of her with her hips and pull her hands free.

 

Her body went rigid as pain blossomed over the top of her right breast, icy cold and worse than anything she'd ever felt before. She dimly registered that it felt like she'd been bitten. She wondered if she was about to be raped by... by whatever that thing was.

 

The thing bit her again, this time on the side of her breast. Its teeth were blunt; human teeth. Spots danced in front of her eyes; the pressure let up just enough for her to gulp air before it squeezed again. It wouldn't even grant her the mercy of letting her pass out.

 

Another bite, this time directly over her nipple; she screamed but it came out as a choked gurgle. She squeezed her eyes shut against the tears leaking from the corners.

 

The pressure on her throat eased again; she was slapped across the face. Fingernails raked down the centre of her chest and over her stomach. Her pyjamas were still on; the sensations should have been dulled by the fabric, but it felt like the contact was against her bare skin.

 

When she cried out with the next bite, her mouth was held closed and her nose pinched shut. It moved to her stomach, then her hips and thighs, letting her breathe when her struggling began to weaken.

 

And then, just as suddenly as the attack began, it was over. The pressure on her body let up; she sucked in a desperate lungful of air, then another and another until her vision cleared and her heart rate slowed to something approaching normal.

 

She shook violently, her teeth chattering. She didn't understand what had just happened. It had lasted less than five minutes by her reckoning, but time had no meaning. The doctor part of her brain told her she was in shock.

 

She slowly began to untangle her legs from the blankets. She needed to... to something. Get warm, hydrate herself.

 

Nightmare. It had to have been a nightmare. Sleep paralysis.

 

She staggered to the bathroom for a glass of water; she stopped short when she caught sight of herself in the mirror. The side of her face was red from where she'd been slapped and her throat was beginning to bruise. She knew ligature marks; it was made by a man's (or very large woman's) hand. She pulled up her shirt and stifled a sob. Bite marks, a dozen or better, as well as four bright red lines on her stomach.

 

Pictures, she thought. Take pictures, document the evidence. She couldn't go to the police. The whole thing was probably caught by the CCTV in her bedroom, she could phone Mycroft. But what could Mycroft do?

 

If it was a person, he could catch him. If it was something in her mind, he would probably have her locked away - or worse - for being a security risk to Sherlock's mission. And if it was a... a demon, or something unnatural... Well, who would believe that anyway? She had a hard time believing it herself, and she was the one living it.

 

The lights in the bathroom began to flicker.

 

Out, she had to get the hell out of the flat. She ran back to the bedroom and pulled on the first items of clothing she could find, a pair of jeans tossed over a chair and her shirt from the day before. She grabbed her phone and her bag and fled.

 

By the time she checked herself into a hotel, she was in the kind of zen-like state that came from utter exhaustion following a trauma. She undressed and showered on autopilot, ignoring the bruises and scratches covering her body. She curled on top of the duvet in the hotel bathrobe and fell into a dreamless, dead sleep.

 

*

 

She woke with a start, having thought she heard her name. She was disoriented, but then everything from the night before came rushing back to her. She felt herself begin to panic, then reminded herself she was safe, breathing through it until she got herself under control.

 

She had to go back, at least to get some of her clothing and her laptop, and Toby. She'd phone the vet and see if they had a boarding space open. Past that, she didn't know exactly what she would do, since she couldn't stay in a hotel forever.

 

She began to dress; when she picked up her jeans, the contents of her pockets emptied onto the floor. She scooped up the loose change and the business cards she'd picked up at the New Age shop the week before; the one on the top of the stack caught her eye.

 

Bert Twippens, Spiritual Medium, it read, as well as an address, but no phone number.

 

She'd always held a low opinion of those types of people, charlatans exploiting gullibility and grief to make a profit. Only, that was before, when she didn't really believe in things that went bump in the night.

 

Maybe... Maybe it wouldn't hurt to simply phone and see what he had to say. It was that or call a priest, and she had just as low an opinion of the church as she did alternative spirituality.

 

Later. First thing's first, she thought, slipping the card back in her pocket.

 

*

 

She let herself into her flat, expecting Toby to plaster himself to her legs in his customary greeting.

 

"Toby, Mummy's home," she called, peering into the kitchen.

 

She checked under the sofa and the chair in the lounge, then moved back the hallway. She popped her head in the bathroom, but he wasn't in his litter box; she continued on to the bedroom.

 

She stopped short just inside the doorway.

 

"Oh, Toby," she whispered, horrified.

 

He lay on the bed, his neck obviously broken, twisted around so his head faced the wrong way. He was surrounded by a circle of coins and hairpins from her dresser.

 

She was momentarily paralysed, so scared she thought she was going to cry or throw up.

 

"Who are you, you sick fuck?" she screamed. "Why are you doing this to me?"

 

She heard that same high-pitched giggle from the kitchen and the video, this time no more than a foot from her ear. She broke out in gooseflesh as she felt the first brush of icy fingers over the back of her neck.

 

For the third time in a little over a week, she ran from her flat.

 

*

 

"First. New. Message. Saturday. October. Thirteenth. Twelve. Ten. Pee Em.

 

"Sherlock? It's Molly. I don't- I don't know what to do right now. It- it killed my cat. It-- Please, just ring me back as soon as you get this.

 

"Second. New. Message. Saturday. October. Thirteenth. Two. Forty. Two. Pee Em.

 

"Sherlock, it's me again. I tried phoning your brother, but his assistant said he couldn't be reached, and to try back tomorrow, so... I- I have videos. They're on my laptop, which is still at my flat, but Mycroft is recording everything somewhere. Ring me back when you get this, please.

 

"Third. New. Message. Saturday. October. Thirteenth. Three. Nineteen. Pee Em.

 

"Sherlock? My mobile is almost out of battery and I don't have the charger, so, erm, I probably won't answer if you phone. Only, erm, phone me back anyway. Please.

 

"End of new messages. For playback options, press--"

 

Sherlock grunted and cast his mobile aside, already clicking over to the login page for Mycroft's database. He'd been near the bottom of an active marble quarry all day without signal on his phone; he'd only thought to check his voicemail after he'd been home.

 

He located where the footage from Molly's flat was archived; he clicked on the file timestamped just before Molly's phonecall. It was corrupt, large blocks of magenta and green that froze in place before shifting to almost-discernible shapes, then to black and back again. He caught snatches of audio, bursts of static that sounded like they could be words, but weren't easily discernible. Probably a bad video codec on his end, though he'd thought everything was up to date. He tried updating the program, but to no avail; must have been some kind of problem with Mycroft's equipment.

 

If it were anyone else, a client or even one of his former acquaintances, he would have dismissed it as rubbish out of hand. Molly's distress was real enough, even if her belief that it was a spirit of some kind was ridiculous. What was more worrying was the possibility that someone knew - or even only suspected - something about his death was amiss and they were targeting Molly for her involvement.

 

He should have had Mycroft assign her a security detail. He hated his brother's spying, though, and wouldn't willingly subject anyone to it.

 

There was nothing for it; he'd have to go to London himself.

 

*

 

She sat in a coffee shop and turned the business card over in her fingers.

 

The medium was probably a phony. A mentalist, or just mental. Or maybe not. After what she'd experienced, she wasn't sure of what and wasn't possible.

 

Really, it wasn't as though she had anything to lose.

 

*

 

Here goes nothing, she thought when she rang the bell for the flat. She was expecting a short little fellow with a ponytail and a scraggly goatee, wearing either a dashiki or a leather motorbike jacket; instead, a tall, thick-set ginger woman in jeans and a wooly jumper answered the door.

 

"Oh my," she said quietly. Molly thought that she must look as strung out as she felt, judging by the expression on the woman's face.

 

"Hi, I'm looking for Mr. Twippens?" she said. "I, er, picked up his card, and there was no phone number..."

 

"That would be me. Roberta, or Bertie, if you like. I don't like to use a telephone, the EVP can be quite distracting," she said offhandedly. "I can see you have a problem. Please, come in."

 

The woman didn't really seem like a nutter, or much of a weirdy at all. She sat Molly down at her kitchen table and went about fixing tea, offering to make Molly a sandwich.

 

At Bert's prompting, Molly told her about what had been happening; the little things like her stuff being moved around and the interference in her phone, then the broken mirror and the video and Toby. She took off the scarf she'd bought before she went to the coffee shop and showed the purple bruises on her neck.

 

"I'm - was - a pathologist, I've seen injuries like these before. Bite marks like these," she lifted her shirt to expose her mottled stomach, "don't just appear."

 

Bert hummed in agreement. "You said you've lived there for four-? Four years. And this only started recently?"

 

At Molly's nod, she continued, "Have you bought or received anything around the time it started, like an antique of some kind?"

 

"No, nothing," she answered.

 

"You don't really strike me as the type, but have you done anything like an evocation, used a Ouija board, mirror scrying, anything along those lines?"

 

When Molly shook her head, Bert continued, "Do you have a new neighbour?"

 

"Sort of? He moved in in January, I think?"

 

"Mm. If things started happening in July, it's unlikely he's the cause. Usually the disturbances begin almost immediately. Has anyone you knew died recently? Friends, family members? Maybe rather suddenly or unexpectedly?"

 

She started to shake her head again, but then remembered that Sherlock was supposed to be dead. "I did have a friend - or, well, colleague, really - who died in June."

 

"Ah," Bert said, sitting back in her chair and nodding to herself. "And were you close to this colleague?"

 

"Oh, erm, not really. I... fancied him a bit, I suppose you could say. But I knew he wasn't, erm, interested. I don't, er, I don't think it's him, though," she hedged.

 

Bert hummed again, politely dismissing Molly's last statement. "Spirits are drawn to people familiar to them, as well as strong emotion. It's something they remember from life, something they needed. You have to understand, a 'ghost' is simply a remnant of a person - almost a... base impulse, I suppose - with a singular focus of seeking what made them human. Fear is the same to them as any other feeling, love included. It charges them, a bit like a battery; the more feeling they provoke, the stronger they get. The acts aren't intentionally malicious, per se, but more like a child misbehaving to get attention."

 

Hell of a way to get attention, Molly thought.

 

"I think, if you're willing, I can help the both of you to find peace with his death and allow him to 'move on,' so to speak," Bert said, rising from her chair to take her empty mug to the sink.

 

"How?" Molly asked. She was still sceptical, but desperate enough to try anything.

 

"Well, if you're expecting candles and crystal balls, you may be a bit disappointed," Bert said with a little smile. "I will need to make contact, though, so I can find the best way of resolving the situation."

 

*

 

Once he touched down at London City Airport, Sherlock pulled out his phone and texted Molly. When she didn't text back by the time he'd got through customs, he dialled her number. She still had her mobile turned off; the call went straight to voicemail. He tried her land line, but he got a recording telling him her number was temporarily unavailable.

 

Worry churned in his gut. It could be coincidence, some kind of technical problem or maintenance or Molly not switching the phone off properly, or it could be something more sinister.

 

He hailed a cab and gave the cabbie Molly's address, hoping he wasn't already too late.

 

*

 

"Now remember to stay calm. Spirits are strongest when emotion is high," Bert reminded Molly outside the door to her flat.

 

"Right," Molly said. As if it were that easy.

 

She unlocked the door and pushed it open; she could smell the faint odour of death in the flat, even though it was as cold as a mortuary inside.

 

"Sorry about the smell, I erm- didn't get to take care of Toby before I left," she said, poking her hand in the doorway so she could flip on the lights.

 

The flat was a disaster. There was broken glass and crockery everywhere, the sofa cushions had been ripped apart and the insides strewn everywhere, lamps and tables overturned, food from the kitchen smeared on furniture and splattered on the walls.

 

"Oh God," Molly whispered.

 

"There is definitely something here," Bert said quietly. She brushed past Molly and entered the flat, stepping gingerly through the debris.

 

Molly followed her. She stopped short when she saw the wall dividing the kitchen from the lounge.

 

SHERLOCK was written all over it, scribbled in marker pen and gouged into the plaster.

 

"Was your colleague by chance the bloke from the news a few months back?" Bert asked, staring at the wall.

 

"Yes..." Molly answered faintly.

 

She thought then that maybe everything she'd seen actually had been someone playing games with her, which was at once a relief and terrifying in a different way.

 

"Hello, Sherlock? My name is Bert. I'm Molly's friend. We're here to help you," Bert said, addressing the room at large.

 

The television turned on, the picture upside down; the speakers of her stereo hummed and crackled; the lights flickered. Molly felt a sensation like static electricity, raising the hair on her arms and the back of her neck; when she exhaled, her breath clouded in front of her.

 

"It's alright," Bert reassured her. "He's only trying to let us know he's here. Sherlock? We know you're here with us. Indicate if you can understand me."

 

That same high-pitched disembodied giggle rang out from close behind her. She jumped and let loose a strangled scream, spinning to face the direction it had come from.

 

Bert walked toward where the sound originated, one arm outstretched. "We're not going to hurt you. We- No, no you are not going to-"

 

Her body went rigid, back bowed as with a seizure, whatever she was about to say lost to a choked gurgle. Then she relaxed, but her posture was... different, somehow.

 

She turned toward Molly; everything about her was different. Her eyes were opened wider, her face slack, devoid of expression. She tilted her head slowly to the left, then swivelled it back to the right.

 

"Hello, Molly... my dear," she said. Her voice had deepened and softened a bit; her accent went from a bit Essex to Dublin. "You look like you've seen a ghost."

 

"That- that isn't funny," Molly said, taking an instinctive step backward, bumping into the table next to the sofa.

 

"Hmm. I suppose it's not. But then, you didn't like my other little jokes, did you Molly? No sense of humour."

 

"Who are you?" Molly asked, edging around the table to get it between her and Bert.

 

Bert's voice changed again, this time to something sort of shy and dopey. "Oh, darlin', don't you remember me? Our 'office romance?' Coffee in the canteen? Having a bit of a cuddle on your sofa, watching telly? I really thought we had something special."

 

"No," she said weakly, not wanting to believe it.

 

"No?" Bert, or rather, Jim asked, the register of his voice fluctuating. "And you see, Molly, that... That stupidity... That's why Sherlock could never love you. So ordinary, you're just not good enough. Well, good enough for some things. I did overlook you, egg on my face for that mistake, but I figured it out soon enough."

 

He shifted his weight from side to side, swaying like a cobra. "That's the funny thing, you know. It was supposed to be over. Out with a bang, and all. But it's NOT!" His voice rose sharply on the last word.

 

"It's not over," he said, his tone returning to something flat, emotionless. "Sherlock's a dirty cheater."

 

He stared at her, unblinking. "What's the matter, Molly? Nothing to say? Cat got your tongue?" He giggled then, a chilling mockery of a smile splitting his face.

 

"Why are you here? What do you want from me?" she asked, trying to edge her way around the room to the door.

 

His smile dropped. "Finally!" he said, rolling his eyes.

 

"It's simple, really. Sherlock and I had a deal. Either he died, or his friends did. So I want you to tell him that he needs to keep up his end of the bargain, none of his clever little schemes this time. And as an added incentive for you, Molly Hooper, you're first on my list."

 

She made it to the door, groping behind herself for the knob.

 

"Oh, silly, silly Molly." He pursed his lips and widened his eyes in an expression of exaggerated sympathy.

 

"You can run, but I'll find you. I'll always find you," he said, his voice going soft and light, at odds with the clear threat in his words.

 

He ambled closer. She was frozen with fear, trapped between him and the door. It was as if everything was in slow motion as she watched him reach for her; finally something unstuck inside her brain and she recoiled, dodging to the side. Her foot caught on the power cord to the toppled lamp and she fell to the floor, hands reflexively outstretched to break her fall. Shards of glass cut into her palms as she scrabbled backwards away from the door.

 

Jim turned to look at her and raised his eyebrows, bemused, then gripped the doorknob. He let himself out, leaving the door standing open behind him.

 

"Do give Sherlock my love," he called as he strolled down the hallway, then began to whistle. Moments later she heard a thud, then the unmistakable sound of a person falling down the stairs.

 

Oh God, she thought, pushing herself up off the floor. She raced out the door and to the top of the stairs; Bert lay at the bottom, her head resting against the wall at the wrong angle to her body. Blood trickled sluggishly down the side of her face; she wasn't breathing.

 

*

 

His heart leapt into his throat when he saw the flashing lights of the ambulance on Molly's street. He paid the cabbie and pretended to take a phonecall, milling around outside the building across the street from Molly's flat, twirling his keys around his finger to make it look like he was intending to head inside at any moment.

 

He watched as they wheeled a blanket-covered body out, then breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Molly, huddled inside her own orange blanket, following behind.

 

He waited for several minutes after the ambulance had left and Molly went back inside, then crossed the street.

 

*

 

Molly was almost giddy with relief when she got back into her flat. The paramedics had taken everything she said at face value; she'd heard her friend fall down the stairs while she was cleaning up after Bert left, then tripped and fell onto the plate she was carrying in her haste to get to the door. Miraculously, they didn't phone the police or come into her flat. Her neighbour wasn't home for any of it, either.

 

She had to talk to Sherlock. She didn't know what she was going to tell him; he wouldn't believe her no matter what she said. She had to warn him to stay away from her. He was safe somewhere in Europe, thank goodness, but until she figured out what to do, how to get rid of Jim, she had to make sure he didn't come back to London.

 

The handset for the cordless phone was broken, smashed to bits on the floor; she hoped her mobile worked. Her hands shook as she plugged it in and turned it on. It took forever to find her network, so she began to do what she could in the flat, righting the upended furniture and gathering papers and books into piles.

 

Her mobile buzzed an alert that she had a new text and a new voicemail; she opened the text first.

 

At London City Airport, coming to your flat. SH

 

It was timestamped 21:34, almost an hour ago.

 

Oh no, she thought, fumbling through the menus to get to her address book.

 

As she hit the connect button, there was a knock at her door.

 

*

 

"And in a bizarre twist to an already bizarre story, the body of Sherlock Holmes, the so-called 'consulting detective' thought to have jumped from the roof of St. Bartholomew's Hospital in June, has been found after a frantic call to emergency services. A suspect, Dr. Molly Hooper, has been taken into custody..."

 

Mycroft switched the telly off as they looped the footage of Molly Hooper being led from her flat, covered in blood and only partially shielded by a policeman's jacket. He rubbed his hands tiredly over his face.

 

He'd ordered the videos from her laptop be destroyed after he'd watched them, having immediately seized it under the Official Secrets Act. They would only muddy the case against her; first and foremost he had a nation to protect. No one could ever know what actually happened inside Molly Hooper's flat that night and certainly not in the weeks before; they would believe she was simply a mentally disturbed woman.

 

He opened the CCTV feed of Dr. Hooper's holding cell. She huddled in the corner, her arms hugging her knees; her wide-eyed, fearful gaze was directed at the opposite side of the room, where the pillow from the bed rotated lazily, suspended in mid-air.

 

The image jumped and wavered; the grinning face of Jim Moriarty appeared in front of the camera before going snowy with static.