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Red on White

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It was snowing outside when John left his flat that morning. A thin veil of fresh snow was covering the pavement underneath his feet, a white runner rug interrupted only by one small spot. A red spot right next to his right boot. He looked at his right hand, only to realize he was bleeding. It was a small scratch but it broke the skin enough to make him bleed. He felt the slight pain only after he saw it. He imagined his blood pumping through his system and travelling all the way to this small cut.


John looked back to the door of the building that housed his flat and took a step towards it. One of the two screws holding the knob in place was loose and protruding slightly. He glanced at his hand again. He must have cut his hand on the screw without realizing it. He’d have to make sure to call the landlord once he got to the clinic so he could have it fixed. Now he had to run to the tube station, he had wasted enough time standing in the cold. He just got the job back last week, after 18 months of trying to pull himself together, and he didn’t want to be late. He wanted everyone to know he was fine, he was over his bad days after... the difficult days he had after...


He was okay now.


He sat on the tube inspecting the newly acquired cut, marveling at the sensation the whole ordeal gave him. What if the screw had been rusty? When was the last time he had a tetanus shot? He felt a shadow of a thrill, a shadow of excitement at the mere thought of danger. Silly, he realized. Even though he was up to date with his shots, the moment between asking himself the question and answering it had his blood pumping faster.


Upon entering the clinic, he greeted everyone, smiled, made small talk with the pregnant nurse who squeezed his hand in greeting.


‘Dear God, what is it like in your funny little brains? It must be so boring!’  


Only after he took the chair in his office did he look at his cut again. It had stopped bleeding. He squeezed his skin on both sides of the still transparent scab to make it bleed anew. It did. John felt the rush again.


‘Want to see some more?’  


The low familiar voice which he hadn’t heard in reality for so long appeared in his head. The voice he knew wasn’t real, but he still relished the sound of from time to time. Sadly, he never knew how to make it come back once it was gone. John closed his eyes and squeezed his hand again.  


‘It might be dangerous.’


John felt a rush excitement in his stomach, spreading underneath his skin, echoing in his bones. He had missed this feeling for the last eighteen months. Eighteen months alone, in a friendless flat far away from Baker Street.  


“Doctor Watson?”


John nearly jumped in his chair at the sound of a female voice disturbing his musings. He hid his palm under the desk and looked at the blonde woman’s head peeking through the door.




“Are you ready for your nine o’clock patient?”


“Yes,” John cleared his throat to fully come back to reality. “Yes, of course I’m ready.”




John kept glancing at the cheap white clock on the wall. Its hands seemed to move so slowly that John stood up twice to check if the batteries needed changing. It seemed years have gone by since he saw the red dot on the snow this morning. Years of coughing 5-year-olds, old men with bumps on their heads and elbows, teenagers with conjunctivitis, toddlers with lice...


Years seemed to have passed until it was finally time for a break.  


He got his home-made sandwich from the break room fridge, and the nice nurse brought a cup of tea to his office, for which he thanked her and smiled. He quickly returned to his paperwork, waiting for her to close the door. He looked at the scab again, squeezed it. However, that wasn’t enough to make it bleed this time. His eyes fixed on the letter opener.


It was sharp enough.  


John took a sip of his tea, his eyes still fixed on the small brass sword-like adornment which, before he consciously realized, appeared in his hand and was slowly jabbing at the scabbed skin to open the wound.  


John let the trickle of blood flow freely, staining the white napkin next to his teacup on the desk. The red stain was getting bigger as the paper absorbed it. The awaited tingling feeling was back. He felt like running from the room hastily, grabbing his gun on the way just in case, and catching a taxi to an unknown destination.


‘I wouldn’t miss it for the world!’  


“I’m right behind you, Sherlock.”




This time John did startle on his chair and turned abruptly to see the same nurse in the doorway.


“If you’re done with your tea, I can take the cup,” she said darting her gaze to his bleeding hand. “Are you all right, Doctor Watson?”


“I’m okay and I’m not done with the tea yet, thank you. Just close the door behind you, please.”  



That same evening John watched crap telly after he wrapped himself in a blanket on the bed, his back resting against the cool wall. He could heat the room all he wanted but the walls always stayed cold to the point of dampness. He was dozing off when he heard the voice.


‘Of course he's not the boy's father! Look at the turn-ups on his jeans!’


Abruptly, John sat straighter and felt dampness on his hand and thigh. He had spilled hot tea on his right hand and all over himself as he dozed off and his grip slackened. It burned, but it wouldn’t leave a mark.  


He cleaned up the mess and changed into clean jogging bottoms. He wanted the arsehole with the velvet voice to come back even if just in his head. John looked at his hand, at the pinkish skin where the liquid spilled. No. That place was too visible. His eyes travelled along the length of his arm.


John stepped towards the desk and opened the bottom drawer. The stainless-steel folding knife remembering his army days, lay there in a black weathered sheath. John picked it up and upon sliding it from the cover inspected its engraving “The Genuine Lock Blade British Army Knife”. It had served him well back in the day.


John opened the knife and slid his thumb along the sharp edge before touching his upper arm with the tip of the blade. The first prick made him suck in air through his teeth then he slid the knife on the very surface of his skin, just enough to break it and to feel his pulse quicken at the sensation. He exhaled audibly and relaxed, letting his body fall to the chair nearby.  




He enjoyed feeling alive. He looked death in the face way too many times. He saw people die. He killed people.  


‘I don't suppose you'd serve time for this, but let's avoid the court case.’


The knife clattered to the floor when John let it go to stop the bleeding on his arm. From the bathroom, he took his first aid kit and bandaged his arm after cleaning it and dabbing it with antiseptic cream. The knife received a thorough  cleaning as well after which John put it in his coat pocket.



For the next several days, he reached for the knife at work, at home in the evenings, and, at times, even in the middle of the night. He slept soundly after even a small breaking of the skin, so small he didn’t have to clean or bandage it, just go back to sleep.  


In his dreams he ran through the streets of London, over the city’s rooftops, inspected abandoned buildings for clues, all the while following Sherlock who was right in front of him. Sherlock’s coat floating around him, his long legs eating up the distance as he ran. John could never see his face though. Until one night when Sherlock turned to him and his face was covered in blood. Then Sherlock was lying on the sidewalk, his eyes closed, his body broken and unmoving.


John woke up then with a start. He was already sitting on the bed when he opened his eyes. His t-shirt, drenched in sweat, was clinging to his body.


It was nearly morning anyway so John took a shower and got ready for work. There, he went through the motions he had gotten used to again. It was Friday, he realised looking at the calendar on his desk, so he could spend two days at his flat without anyone interrupting him.

The bandage on his arm had soaked through with blood and stained his shirt so he had to stay in his suit jacket all day making him long for the end of the work day all the more. He darted out of the office the moment his last patient left as if he had an urgent meeting, as if his flat was on fire, as if someone was dying...



Just two hours later, John was lying in a bathtub full of water. The only good thing about this awful flat was that it had a tub. He had been soaking for less than 5 minutes when he became restless. His eyes darted to his trousers, neatly folded on the top of the toilet lid. He reached for them, making wet splashes on the tiled floor and took out the pocket knife that he’s been carrying with him at all times lately.  


He looked at his arms. There were little scabs of already healed previous cuts, never deep enough to scar. He opened the knife and pointed the tip of blade to a space in between other cuts. He breathed out slowly as the blood spilled and slowly travelled downward his arm and forearm before landing in the water.


‘Oh John, I envy you so much.”


John closed his eyes and let his bleeding arm fall onto his lap. Let his knife-wielding hand do what it wished as it slid lower and deeper into his arm.


‘Your mind, it's so placid, straight-forward, barely used. Mine's like an engine, racing out of control, a rocket, tearing itself to pieces, trapped on the launch pad.’


John could hear the silk-wrapped baritone clearly now. Would he see the man to whom it belonged if he opened his eyes? He didn’t dare risk that in case Sherlock wasn’t truly there. Besides that, his eyelids were heavy, too heavy to open and his breathing was slow.


‘Oh, breathing. Breathing's boring.’


The water in the tub became cool, almost cold. He was floating. And Sherlock would be waiting for him.


‘This phone call, it's, um... It's my note. It's what people do, don't they? Leave a note?’


John imagined Sherlock backing away from the ledge, running down the stairs and meeting him in front of St. Bart’s entrance.


“You scared me Sherlock!” he would yell at him then.


“I know, I had to. It was all a hoax but I had to make sure everyone was safe,” Sherlock would look at him then and without breaking eye contact, take John’s hand in his own and squeeze it. “You know, I’d never leave you, John. You know that.”  


Brightness appeared behind Sherlock. Unlike the sun, it wasn’t warm, it was cold but comforting. John squeezed Sherlock’s hand back and smiled at him, a feeling of peace, purpose and a promise of adventure washed over him.


“Let’s go, Doctor Watson.” John frowned. Sherlock had rarely called him that. Something was amiss but it didn’t steer him away from the road he was about to embark upon.  


“Doctor Watson!” Sherlock yelled at him now.


“John!” Sherlock’s voice became softer, unlike his usual one.


“John!” It was a female voice now. He was being shaken. His body was being shaken. Sherlock let go of his hand and was disappearing into the bright light.


“No! Sherlock!”


“John, open your eyes!” the female voice screamed again. He was being slapped now.


“Sherlock!” John kept yelling but Sherlock was already gone. John’s voice was weak now, a sob stuck in his throat aching to be let out.  


John opened his eyes, the blinding light of the small ceiling fixtures hurting his retinas. He let go of his leashed emotions and started sobbing. His upper body sliding deeper into the tub. But he was pulled up again by hands under his armpits.  


“Leave me,” he said.


“I won’t,” the voice was stern. What a stubborn woman. “Help me get you out. I need to bandage your arm, your forearm too,” she said in a determined tone. “What a mess.”


She was pulling him out and resigned, he helped her. On the wet floor of the tiny bathroom, the blond nurse covered him with towels and patched him up after he insisted she not call an ambulance. She promised the ordeal would stay between them. No one else in the clinic needed to know about it. Good. He refused to be stared at again.  


“Why are you here?” he asked once he was in a sitting position against the wall of the bathroom.


“You left your phone on your desk. I thought you might need it so I checked your address in your folder.”


Right. She had access to the paperwork. She sat there all day sending the patients his way. She was still wearing her clinic uniform with her name tag on it. He squeezed his eyes to clear his vision and looked at it again.