Monday, December 19, 2022

Just A Light Reading for the Holidays

Greetings Everyone,

I've found myself writing quite a few darker stories recently so I decided to do something a little lighter for this week's prompt. With the combination of my short story group using "Whodunit" as their weekly challenge theme and me having recently read "The Blue Carbunkle" to my son as a bedtime story, I felt inspired. Though I don't normally write fanfic, I thought this story would be fun and I can rarely resist the temptation of trying to mimic another author's writing style.

Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys it. I would love some feedback. And I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season!

James Meadows

"The Dirty Letter"
by James J Meadows III

It was a typical cool spring day in London, during the year of 1884, when the rounds of my practice drew me past Baker Street and the quarters I once shared with my illustrious colleague Sherlock Holmes. Finding myself with an hour or so before my next appointment, I decided to drop in upon my friend and catch up on recent events. My appearance found Holmes bent low above his desk, intent upon the study of a small parcel of folded parchment. He looked up as I entered, his face flushed with delight.

“Ah, Watson,” he cried. “Come in! Come in!”

“I perceive, I am interrupting,” I said. “Perhaps I should return at a later time. You are no doubt employed upon a case at present.”

Holmes gave a laugh then gestured toward my customary armchair beside the fireplace.

“Not at all,” he said. “Please stay. I always enjoy having my chronicler partake of my cases, though I doubt my current case will be much for your records.”

I took my seat beside the fire, basking in its glow. The long morning spent traversing through the crisp spring air, though refreshing, was far from ideal for a man of my constitution. I found myself quite grateful for a momentary escape from its icy chill. I turned back to Holmes and leaned my cane upon the table beside me.

“So, you are employed upon a case, then?” I asked.

“Not employed upon one at present,” he answered. “I have merely the prospect of one, promised by the words of this note, whose associated case may or may not prove to be of interest to me. In the meantime, however, I am dedicated to the much more instructive challenge of deducing what can be learned about the author of this note and solving those mysteries within our power to answer concerning the writer’s identity.”

He held up the parchment with his typical flourish before tossing it to me in a laissez-faire manner.

“Tell me, Watson,” he said. “What do you make of it?”

I caught the parcel in my hands. It turned out to be an envelope, composed of fairly inexpensive paper and labeled with a stamp showing a small white rose. A folded note lay stuffed inside the envelope, which I now extracted with appropriate care, lest an inadvertent slip cause me to damage or distort some trace of evidence otherwise useful in unraveling this mystery. The note was composed of similarly cheap paper, badly smeared with foul-smelling dirt, and written in a messy scrawl. Upon its surface, I read the words:

Dr. Mr. Holmes,

I need your help on an emportint problem. I will arrive at your house at 11 o clock.



I looked back at Holmes. He had now lit his pipe and sat smiling across from me with the familiar mischievous expression that often marked his more playful moods.

“Well, Watson, you know my methods,” he said. “What do you make of it?”

Lifting the note close to my eyes, I scrutinized the document, attempting to use the tactics I had more than once seen employed by my companion. For several minutes I stared at its messy surface looking for the slightest clue on its page. At length, I lowered it and handed the note back to him.

“I can make out very little, I’m afraid,” I answered. “The writing is untidy and unsteady, perhaps from the hand of someone intoxicated with too much drink. That might also explain the misspellings and the bizarre odor which seems to hang over the page.”

“Ah,” Holmes said smiling, “You have made some very interesting observations. I am afraid, however, that you have missed the items of particular importance and, in so doing, have drawn some erroneous conclusions.”

“What do you read then,” I asked reproachfully.

“I have only taken a precursory glance at it, so far,” Holmes answered. “Yet, from my abbreviated study, I suspect we shall find the author to be a rather careless, left-handed child,” Holmes answered. “One who is from the area of Yorkshire, lives on a farm, and spends a great deal of time outside tending animals.”

“Surely you jest, Holmes,” I exclaimed, “How can you come up with all that from just this simple letter.”

“Come, my dear, Watson,” Holmes replied, with the air of a man long-suffering. “Even after I have told you the conclusions can you still not see the simplicity of the inferences? Once I explain it to you, I am sure you will, no doubt, see them and say the entire supposition was plain as day. Then I will find myself relegated to the role of just another circus-style charlatan!”

My companion often went on such rants when forced to reveal the source of his conclusions. I waited patiently for him to finish, knowing his somewhat theatrical manner would be unable to resist the temptation of displaying his art.

“The most important clue is the stamp,” Holmes said, at last, indicating the image of a white flower stamped upon the envelope. “These generally show a symbol important to the region where they are printed. The white rose is the emblem of the county of Yorkshire. There are few major cities in Yorkshire, as the country is relatively unspoiled, and the majority of its citizens live on farms. The possibility of our mysterious author living on such a stead is advanced by the regular smears of dirt. Further, the dirt possesses a strange smell, indicative of the mud and grime associated with animal pens and stables. This suggests our author raises animals, furthering the suggestion of a farm. Finally, someone who works outside with animals is most likely male.”

“Well, that is simple enough,” I agreed. “What about the left-handedness and carelessness?”

“The dirt,” he responded, gesturing toward the letter. “The dirt is on top of the ink. This means their hand hit the ink after it finished writing the words. Such smears are a clear sign of left-handedness since the side of a left-hander's palm passes over their writing while the right-hander’s palm moves across the page before the writing. Carelessness is indicated by the fact that he drags his hand across the page as he writes, leaving these dirty smears, rather than making the effort to lift his hand up to avoid contacting the ink. It is further emphasized by his forgetting to add the apostrophe in the word, ‘o’clock’.”

“But a man could make those same mistakes,” I responded. “Why must the author be a child?”

“Because the writing is not rushed and yet the scrawl is untidy,” Holmes answered. “You will notice how hard he presses on the paper. Pressing that hard on the paper requires a great deal of effort and involves writing very slowly. Someone writing in a hurry would not take so long and press so hard. Only a child, trying to steady his hand as he works on making the unfamiliar letters, would press so hard and still produce such shaky writing.”

“Could he not simply be a drunkard, making an effort to steady a shaky hand,” I asked.

“That would be a reasonable suggestion, except that even while intoxicated, a drunkard, who is stable enough to write a coherent letter, will know how to spell the word, ‘important’. The word is quite a common one used in correspondence. It is much more likely the author is a child, who, lacking more advanced education, simply guessed at the spelling of a word he hadn’t previously written.”

“You have an answer for everything,” I replied. “What do you suppose he wants?”

“That, I believe, we will find out shortly,” Holmes answered, “For, unless I am greatly mistaken, that is his ring upon the bell.”

As he spoke, the doorbell rang. I heard Ms. Hudson’s steps as she crossed the room to open the door. No sooner did the door below issue its opening creak than a cry of dismay arose from the lips of our landlady. The visitor’s footsteps raced past her without the slightest hesitation or invitation to enter. This sound was soon followed by the noise of light feet scurrying up the stairs. Upon the following instant, we found the door to the chamber flung open and a little boy rushing inside.

He wore the poor clothing of a farmer and carried a long crooked staff in his hands.

“Mister Holmes,” the boy cried desperately. “You must help me. My name is Bo Peep. I’ve lost my sheep and I don’t know where to find them!”

Monday, December 5, 2022

The Voice

Greetings Again!

This story is the first completely new story I have posted to this blog - I just finished just yesterday - so I would love to get some feedback on it. It was written in response to my writing group's prompt for this week: Fireworks. It is entitled The Voice and I hope everyone enjoys it!

The Voice
By James J Meadows III

Some people might have felt sorrow. I did not. Looking out from the cavern’s mouth, high up on the ancient mountainside, I felt only anger as I surveyed the distance houses sprawled along the bank of an ancient lake, whose depths held mysteries mankind had yet to penetrate. What secrets lay concealed within its gloomy waters; what treasures waited hidden beneath its murky waves; what dangers lurked just below the glassy surface of the seemingly placid exterior, few speculated.

Most people were content to merely throw their nets in after the fish or sail their boats across to distant towns. Or, on nights like tonight, they were content to float their boats lazily upon the waters shooting fireworks high into the air for the amusement of children, who, somewhere in the distance, raced to and fro through the city streets shouting in excitement. This was my home. Once I had been one of those children. But I was not a girl anymore. I was a woman. And I would be even more than that when I returned.

“They look happy don’t they,” hissed a dark voice beside my ear. “Look how they laugh and play, oblivious to all except the shallow pleasure of the flashing lights distracting their puny minds from the darkness lingering within themselves.”

A chill rose up my spine. Not so much because of the words. Rather because of the icy tone of the voice speaking them. Hairs rose upon my arms, silent monoliths perched atop hills of goose pimples, forming a checkered landscape from the tips of my wrists to the tops of my shoulders. I didn’t turn to look at the speaker. I knew there would be nothing there. The stories said so.

“They are fools,” I said, trying to maintain my wits. “They revel in ignorance, abandoning curiosity, meaning, and the greater mysteries of life to seek safety within delusion’s shallow folds. I seek more.”

“You seek me,” the voice stated.

I said nothing. My heart was beating so hard and fast, I thought my chest would burst. I didn’t trust my voice to remain strong.

“Silence?” it hissed. “Do you give me no answer?”

“I seek that which you can give me,” I said finding my voice at last.

“Is that why you climbed the mountain?” The voice asked. “Is that why you risked your life to ascend the steep slopes? Is that why you ran away?”

“I didn’t run away,” I snapped, turning to face the open air beside me. Upon seeing nothing there, I turned to face the darkness of the cave behind me. “I’m not running away from anything! I’m running toward everything!”

“Oh, are you?” the words now came from behind me, drifting lazily to my ears from the open air beyond the cliff face. “Why must it be so? Money, family, homes, spouses, and security all lay below you. Don’t you want any of those? What more does a young woman desire than the town can give you?”

“Answers,” I said, whirling around as quickly as I could to face the direction from which the voice echoed.

I glanced all around me, desperate to see something. The voice’s every word, slithering through the gloom, sent shivers through my body, forcing my knees to buckle and quiver until I could hardly stand on my already weary feet. If I could just see the source of the mysterious voice, I was sure I could find my courage. No source appeared, however. Only darkness greeted my gaze wherever I turned.

“Why should you want answers?” the voice asked. “Are there really questions so enchanting that they are worth giving up all to know? Should you really be asking such questions at all?”

“People tell me I shouldn’t,” I answered, somewhat sheepishly.  “They say some questions shouldn’t be answered. They tell me I should remain content to be who and what I am, content to know who and what I know, to be like a child who refuses to open their closet door for fear of the monster which may lurk within.”

My voice grew strong as I finished the last sentence. Years of anger and frustration, of repression and revulsion burst from me as I yelled my words in defiance from the mountaintop. Fireworks added strength to my words as they detonated in a chorus of explosions, emphasizing each furious outburst erupting from the volcano of my lips, scorching the open air with my wrath.

“But I won’t do it! I’m not going to sit and bury my head in the sand! I refuse to spend my years slaving away like a simpleton, surrounded by ignorant buffoons lacking the courage to open their eyes and see the reality waiting on the other side of their shut-up lids! Too long have I lived in a greedy world that hordes her cryptic secrets like an insatiable miser clinging to his coins lest the least of them touch the starving masses banging upon his door? I want to know those secrets! I want to see the sparkling jewels of truth displayed before me! I want to feel them, to soak in their glory, to bathe in their riches! I don’t want to be the world’s slave! I want to be…”

Here I paused as I realized the words I was about to utter.

“You want to be its master!” The voice finished the words for me.

There was a twinge of delight in the voice which made me even more uncomfortable. I could only nod my head in affirmation, wishing more than anything else in the world at that moment, that I had kept my mouth shut; wishing that I had listened to all the people who told me to be content; wishing I were anywhere right now, other than here.

“Of course you do!” The voice’s hiss turned into a sort of coo. The gently spoken words only made the voice creepier and the chills sharper. “Why shouldn’t you? Why would anyone want to stay enslaved to the lies and laws of a cruel master like ignorance when they can weld the truth like a scepter over the head of that ancient slave driver? I can help!”

My growing apprehension told me I should shut up and say no more. Yet the pride and selfish desire, which had driven me with tattered skirt and battered tresses through the dark forests and up the steep slopes of this mountain; which had compelled me to trek for days without food or water and pushed me onward through cuts, tears, and bloody knees to ascend to the mysterious cave where no sane villager would go; refused to let me stay quiet. My eyes narrowed and my brow furled with unwavering determination as I uttered one word.


            The sound of the distant fireworks faded as an eerie silence engulfed me. A blaze of light, clear and bright as the noonday sun, pierced the night air. It was coming from the cave behind me. I spun around to see a sight beyond comprehension.

            Row upon row of books stretched before me in an endless line reaching toward infinity. Like silvery monoliths glistening beneath the glow of a moonless sky, they basked in the illumination of a light lacking any visible source. Each tome seemed to call to me, whispering of secrets and powers long forgotten over the ancient eons of man. I found myself drifting toward them almost unconsciously as their magnetic allure drew me into their folds.

            “Go on,” the voice cooed. “Take them!”

A warning somewhere within the distant recesses of my mind tried to still my footsteps.

            “What are they?” I managed to ask, fighting to free myself from whatever hypnotic pull the vision had over me.

            “Knowledge,” came the quiet whisper. “All the knowledge of all the ages; secrets of this world and every world; answers to every question ever asked and even those not asked, since the dawn of this time and every time; all await you within. You need merely to touch them.”

            I drifted forward. Cries from the depth of my mind pleaded caution, telling me to go back, begging me with every footfall not to take another step. Their silent call touched my dazed mind. I took my eyes off the books and turned away from the cave gazing into the open air, trying to clear my thoughts. The fireworks were still going off above the faraway village. Their explosions came in quick pairs, the faint cracks taking the shape of harsh words echoing their gentle entreaty, the first pop saying “come” and the second “back”.

            “Take them,” the voice hissed again.

            Images swam before my eyes, ripples of light and color forming visions of glory and grandeur. I saw myself towering over the children on the school grounds who once spat upon me and mocked my bookish nature. Like a colossus, I rose over the teachers who once cursed me for questioning them and berated my arrogance. No more would I be the foolish girl who didn’t know her place in the world, no longer would I be the silly woman cursed with the plague of too much questioning and not enough obeying! I would have freedom! I would have power! I would have everything!

            As though responding to these images, a distant part of my brain fought to recall memories of playing with friends, the warmth of kind strangers, and the feeling of my parents’ love. These visions sought to take shape in my mind, yet they paled before the nightmarish memories of the insults, jeers, scorn, and abuse suffered at the hands of numerous hateful antagonists.

            “They should be punished,” the voice cooed, as though sensing my thoughts. “I know the pain they caused you. I know what it’s like to suffer slander and debasement from the spiteful masses who lack your curiosity; who want to keep you dumb and powerless. You don’t have to endure them any longer. Vengeance is within your grasp. All the secrets, all the knowledge, all the power they are too weak to seek is right before you. All you have to do is grab it!”

            I found my head turning back toward the cave and my body drifting through the opening. Again the warnings sounded but I silenced them. There would be no turning back, there would be no more stalling! I wanted this knowledge! I needed this knowledge! I needed it now!

            As though in answer to these thoughts, a book lifted on its own from the shelf and floated toward me. I drifted toward it, sinking deeply into the light until I stood just inches from its gleaming cover. It opened before my gaze, revealing words and letters written in some foreign alphabet whose bizarre markings assumed unfamiliar crooked shapes like stick figures penned in golden ink against the silver leaflets. Somehow I seemed to know their meanings. The words shaped themselves into letters, which seemed to float off the page and into my mind.

            Soon other books on other shelves were drifting off their cases and spiraling around me. The pages flipped and their words lifted, flowing like water through me. All the secrets of the universe; the secrets of the universes before the universe; all the mysteries of space and time and mysteries beyond space and time; all the wisdom and knowledge of ancient races, current races, and races yet to come; all coalesced inside me, melding with me, assimilating into my consciousness in a whirl of knowledge, insights, and revelations. The words soaked into my body.

            Or so I thought. A sudden and horrifying realization occurred to me. I didn’t have a body.
            A shout of surprise arose from me, echoing down the long hallway, though I no longer possessed a body to give such a shout. I had no feeling, no touch, and yet I could see all around me and hear all around me. Little more than a disembodied floating voice, I could speak, think, and observe my surroundings. What I couldn’t do, however, was move. I seemed to have melded into the light, a captive imprisoned within its glow.

            As I processed this revelation, I saw my body standing outside the cave staring at me. Or, at least, what had once been my body. It wasn’t my body anymore. A small, cruel smile spread across the lips and a wicked gleam glittered in the eyes, which had once both been my own.

            “You cannot imagine how many centuries I have waited for someone to take my place and release me to travel the world once more,” a cruel icy voice hissed from my lips. “And I cannot tell you how many centuries you shall have to wait before someone is foolish enough to take your place and release you back into the world. If it is any consolation, there is one thing I can tell you. The vengeance you dreamed of in your images and retributions you longed to inflict upon those who wronged you, shall come to pass. It won’t exactly be you who inflicts them. But they shall come to pass nonetheless. May you enjoy your newfound knowledge.”

            With these words, I watched my body turn and start back toward the town, resting on the shore of a lake whose dark secrets, I now knew only too well. From within my prison, I watched helplessly as the creature possessing my body advanced toward the unsuspecting village. And the fireworks greeted its return.