It was approaching Christmas time and business had been slow for Holmes and I. Many a morning I came down from my upstairs quarters to find him lolling by the fire in a morose and frequently depressed state, bemoaning the state of criminal affairs and longing for some exciting adventure to put an end to his perpetual boredom. I too was hoping for the same because despite being busy with my practice, since moving back to Baker Street with my old friend I had almost been driven to distraction by his excitable and anxious disposition. I knew only too well that a case and only a case would be an acceptable form of release for his remarkable talents.
“Morning, Watson,” grumbled Holmes, tucking his knees up to his chest and draping his dressing gown round them.
“Christmas Day tomorrow, Holmes,” I announced cheerfully, trying to rouse his spirits. He merely grunted in response and I began to make us both a strong cup of tea.
It was around the festive period that I often recalled the curious case of the Blue Carbuncle and the singular incidents that occupied our attentions so successfully in attempting to track down the mislaid gemstone. I was in the midst of wondering whether we would ever have such a fascinating Christmas case again when a strange unearthly sound interrupted my thought process and caused me to stare with astonishment over at Holmes to ascertain whether he had heard it too.
I could immediately tell my friend was on full alert, his ears pricked up like an eager bloodhound, sat bolt in his chair, spine stiff, lips pursed and eyes narrowed, straining to pick out and recognise the unusual noises.
“What in God’s name is it, Holmes?”
“Shush, Watson.” He put his finger to his lips and rose stealthily from his armchair, skulking towards the door that led to the hallway and the seventeen steps that separated our quarters from Mrs Hudson’s and the rest of the world.
“I think it’s coming from downstairs.”
He shook his head. “Too loud. Inside.”
I had to agree. It seemed to be increasing in volume too, occasionally fading in and out as though it was some kind of extremely heavy breather in the middle of a deep slumber.
“I’ll get my revolver,” I murmured, feeling a surge of energy coursing through my veins at the thrill of facing a new and unknown adventure.
“Good idea,” Holmes agreed, and I could tell by his slightly pale and pensive features that he was somewhat shaken up by the noise. And then, just as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. Silence descended once more on the house and I approached the door with revolver in hand, ready for action.
“We should…” I indicated the stairs with a slight wave of my hand.
“Yes, of course we should,” Holmes snapped impatiently, an action I instantly forgave due to the nervous states we were both in at that time. He cleared his throat and softened his tone, managing a half twitch of his lips. “Lead the way, good Watson.”
Being the armed member of our party, I was happy to do so, and took the first few tentative steps down the stairs towards Mrs Hudson’s landing, sensing Holmes following close behind me. I had only got about half way down when I saw it and really, it was quite unmissable.
“It’s…” I trailed off, unsure even how to describe the monstrosity that stood in the bottom landing.
Holmes brushed past my shoulder, eagerly running on ahead and jumping the last two steps like an agile tiger, landing softly on his feet and approaching the thing.
“Some kind of police box,” he muttered. “But how did it get through the door?”
“And what was that noise?” I asked, arriving by Holmes’ side.
The inquisitive detective reached out a bony finger towards the door of the box, which promptly swung open with a loud creak, causing us both to jump back in surprise, Holmes retreating his arm. I held my gun aloft, ready to fire if necessary.
“Ah, no need for guns, I’m quite harmless really,” came a man’s voice from the inside of the box. Initially, his tall figure was silhouetted by the yellow lighting behind him. It was only when he stepped out and onto the Mrs Hudson’s soft Venetian rug that I was able to get a proper look at him.
He was around the same height as Holmes, with a rather long crop of dark brown hair swept to one side and unusual angular features, accentuated cheekbones and chin. His clothes, though common place, seemed to be mismatched to some extent. The shirt, bow tie and tweed jacket might have been perfectly acceptable with dress pants and a pair of shiny black shoes, but not with the skin tight workman’s trousers and scruffy black boots he was sporting.
“Who are you and how did you get into our house?” I demanded.
“Oh. Sorry,” the man said. “Introductions. Bad at those, generally. I’m the Doctor.” He offered out his hand for a shake. I ignored it as did Holmes who was staring with an unreadable, stony expression at our visitor. The man slowly retreated the hand, wiping his palm on his trousers nervously.
“What kind of Doctor?” asked I.
“Well, I’m not actually A Doctor, I’m THE Doctor, that’s my name, you see. Funny one I know but, you’ll get used to it. You’re a Doctor too aren’t you? Dr John H Watson MD, formerly of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers.” He saluted comically but I was too much in shock to take in his jovial manner.
“How do you know my name?”
“Through the accounts of your adventures with the great, Sherlock Holmes.” He indicated my friend with a wave of his hand, grinning broadly and seeming quite excitable.
“Oh dear Lord,” sighed Holmes and turned his face away. “Those damn accounts of yours Watson.”
“Let me explain. In the future, you see, they’re very famous. Probably even more so than they are now. There’s books about you both, theatre plays, radio plays, films, television shows with Benedict Cumberbatch, everything.”
“Benedict who?” said I.
“What do you mean the future?” asked Holmes, his eyes suddenly alight with intrigue.
“Oh. Did I not say?,” the Doctor replied. “I’m from the future. And the past and the present, actually. Ooh, that sounds a bit like those ghosts from Scrooge, doesn’t it? Have you read it? Dickens? Has it come out yet?” He scratched his head. “Timelines. Get a bit confused. Tends to happen with so much travelling.”
Holmes and I could barely get a word in edgeways with the amount of babbling the fellow was doing and I was beginning to think he was some kind of madman with his fanciful claims and ramblings.
“You are some kind of…time traveller?” Holmes asked in a deadly serious tone. I could hardly believe that a man with the intense logical faculty of my dear friend would go as far as to even entertain the possibility that this so called Doctor’s tall tale could be true, but Holmes didn’t appear to be joking as he posed the question.
“Yeah, that about sums it up,” the man shrugged, pointing with his thumb backwards over his shoulder. “Want to see inside the TARDIS?”
“The what?” said I.
“TARDIS. Time and relative dimensions in space. She’s my ship.” He grinned, then added, “oh, I must warn you she’s – ”
“- Bigger on the inside,” Holmes interrupted. Now it was the Doctor’s turn to look surprised.
“How did you know that?”
“Elementary, my dear Doctor. I can see over your shoulder,” answered my friend.
“Oh. Oh, you’re good.” The Doctor waggled his finger at Holmes then abruptly clapped his hands. “Now then, let’s crack on, shall we? I normally have a rule about not interfering with any events that are a fixed point along my or indeed anyone else’s timeline BUT, this is a special circumstance, a very special circumstance WHICH, left unchallenged, threatens the very existence of time itself. It may seem like a small, insignificant incident to you but I’ve seen what the consequences are and well…let’s just say they’re…not very good. We’ll leave it at that. Spoilers.”
“What incident?” I asked. “What are you talking about?”
“Do you remember a case involving a goose and a blue carbuncle?”
“Yes, of course, the Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” I cried. “Why, I was only thinking about that before you arrived. Was that a coincidence?”
“Yes, of course it was,” the Doctor looked at me strangely. “I can’t…plant thoughts in your mind. I’m not that good.”
“What about the Blue Carbuncle?” Holmes pushed, eager to hear the details.
“Right. Well uh…where to begin…” The Doctor began pacing up and down the small space in front of the still open door of the TARDIS. I couldn’t help but peer through into the yellowy light and the seemingly vast room inside, my mouth ajar and my mind boggling trying to find some kind of explanation. The Doctor noticed my staring and immediately closed the door.
“Concentrate, please,” he demanded. “This is important. Now, quick recap of the future. The United States government has developed a network of spying technology. It started off as just listening in on phone calls, reading e-mails, that sort of thing – ”
“Nevermind. Anyway, they kept on advancing and developing until it wasn’t just listening or reading, it was watching too. Cameras everywhere, installed on peoples’ computers and phones, watching their every move and collating the data in massive warehouses filled with hard drives, processed by a team of analysts sworn to secrecy. And they’d been working on time travel experiments for years.
Once they finally cracked it, they came up with this plan, you see, this…amazing and very crafty little plan to send their spying devices into the past and listen in and watch just like they were doing in the present. Right now, it’s just an experiment, a test, but once they realise it works they’ll repeat it again and again, going back and forth through time, developing stronger and better technology that can not only observe and report back but actively relate to its environment, eventually evolving to armed devices that can kill or maim, using them to alter little bits here and there, then bigger bits, then really humongous important bits that completely rewrite the course of history in their favour, because everyone wants to win, don’t they? What they don’t even realise although believe me I’ve tried to tell them, is that every time they send something back it creates a tiny little hole in the fabric of time, a hole that keeps eroding away and getting larger and more….holey…until everything just disappears into this giant vortex sucky thingy, which, as you can imagine…isn’t particularly all that great. Right now, they’re sending back a goose. A sort of…goose…spy, if you will. They know about the case of the blue carbuncle because well, they’ve read it. They know full well that you will find the goose and release the spying device into the world enabling them to snoop to their heart’s content.”
“You mean to say…the blue carbuncle is no longer a blue carbuncle?” Holmes asked.
“Correct! It’s a secret hidden camera controlled by the American government.”
“Not to mention morally questionable,” I inputted.
“We’ll worry about the ethics of the matter some other time, Watson,” tutted Holmes impatiently. “For now, get my coat. The game is afoot!”
I tucked my revolver in the waistband of my trousers and fetched Holmes his coat. He removed his dressing gown and put it on as the Doctor reopened the doors to his TARDIS. Moments later, the three of us were stepping inside. Holmes and I gawped and gazed in astonishment but we hardly had time to ask questions or take it all in before the doors were closing and that strange noise was starting up again, the Doctor pressing buttons and pulling levers at a huge circular console in the centre of the room, lights flashing on and off.
“What on earth is going on?” I cried.
“Oh, it’s just the engines, don’t mind them!” The Doctor shouted over the noise. “Almost there!”
Just as he had said that, there was a sudden bump that shook the foundations of the place and threatened to knock us all off our feet. I staggered about a little and grabbed Holmes by the arm.
“It’s alright, Watson,” he assured me calmly, taking it all in his stride.
“See, what did I tell you,” the Doctor laughed. “Sorry about the landing.”
“Don’t tell me you expect me to believe we’ve travelled through time,” I scoffed somewhat derisively.
“Now, now, Watson,” warned Holmes with a little smile and a hand on my back. “Put your scepticism aside for one moment, my good friend.”
“But surely, Holmes, you’re not telling me you believe all this nonsense?” I whispered, intending to be out of earshot of the Doctor although I could see out the corner of my eye that he was watching this interaction most intently.
“I believe the evidence of my own eyes, Watson, and as an excellent judge of character I can safely assure you this man is telling the truth,” he murmured back in hushed, urgent tones. “Until I am presented with evidence to the contrary I must accept his story at face value. We cannot twist the facts to suit us simply because we do not like or understand what we are seeing. This could be the greatest moment of my career!”
“Absolutely,” agreed the Doctor whole heartedly, obviously having listened in to the whole conversation. “Although no one will ever know about it except the three of us. No one CAN know.” He looked at us seriously.
“Fine by me,” nodded Holmes, then glanced across at me to be assured of my agreement.
We had worked on many cases together where the details were so sensitive as to cause me to halt publication of the narrative, often for many years. There are some cases still locked away in my old dispatch box which I fear shall never get to see the light of day and it is only in the face of the recent and most terrible events that I have been forced to recount the truth of the Adventure of the Blue Box Carbuncle.
Having been initially secured of our secrecy, the Doctor ran towards the doors and flung them open dramatically, revealing that we were no longer in the downstairs landing of 221B Baker Street, but in a small back alley somewhere in London. I dashed onto the street, my hands shaking with shock.
“Ha!” Holmes gave a haughty cry and stepped out with his hands in his pockets. “Fantastic.”
“Isn’t it?” The Doctor agreed with a little grin. “I never get bored.”
“Where are we?” I asked.
“Round the corner from Mrs Oakshott’s house,” Holmes and the Doctor both spoke in unison, then looked at each other and smiled.
“I have an exact knowledge of London,” my friend offered by way of an explanation.
“And I’ve read the story,” the Doctor shrugged. “Now, we’ve arrived just after James Ryder, who will have already secreted the blue carbuncle inside the crop of his chosen goose. As you’re aware, there are two geese that look very similar to one another and this is how the mix up occurs and he loses track of the carbuncle. Thanks to the American government, any minute now there’s about to be three identical geese, two of which contain…things, up their…things. We need to catch the future goose as soon as it arrives, remove the spy device and destroy it.”
“How are we going to do that?” I asked.
“Well um…I didn’t actually get that far in the…plan, but well, you’re a doctor, surely you can…remove it?”
“I thought you were the Doctor!”
“No, I’m THE Doctor, there’s a difference, I thought we’d already been through this?”
Holmes was struggling to hold back laughter at the thunderous expression on my face.
“You don’t expect me to…put my hand up there?!”
“Come Watson,” chuckled Holmes. “Don’t tell me you’ve never stuffed a goose before?”
“Not a live one!”
“Well I’m not killing it,” said the Doctor. “It won’t take long,” he insisted. “But come on, we have to hurry.”
“I’m not sticking my hand up a goose’s backside!” I ejaculated.
But the Doctor had already set off running and raced round the corner into Mrs Oakshott’s yard, the two of us following close behind. There was a sudden flash like lightning and we turned away to shield our eyes. When we looked again, there was an extra goose wandering around with the others, pecking at the seeds on the floor.
“That one!” Holmes cried, pointing at it.
“How can you tell?” I asked, the three of them looking identical to my eyes.
“Look at them, Watson, really look at them!”
“I am damn well looking at them, Holmes!”
“The others have dusty, dirty feet,” he explained. “This one doesn’t. Its feet are clean, therefore it’s only just arrived.”
“Excellent deduction!” The Doctor looked impressed as he vaulted the small gate and promptly grabbed the goose by the neck. It skwarked and struggled to get free, making quite a noise. “Quick! Do it now!” He looked at me expectantly.
“Hurry, Watson!” Holmes urged. “Before Mrs Oakshott hears and catches us.”
I took a breath to steady my nerves and apprehension, then plunged my right hand into the backside of the animal. The goose let out a loud squeak then immediately fell silent and stopped struggling, stilled and quietened by the shock of the sudden intrusion into its body. I waggled my hand around, probing and searching, my two companions staring and waiting for some kind of result.
“Well?” Holmes asked impatiently.
I reached in further, the goose beginning to wriggle out of the Doctor’s grasp. Finally, I managed to touch something hard with the tips of my fingers and curl them carefully around it.
“I think I’ve…got it…” I muttered, deep in concentration. I retracted my arm slowly and triumphantly produced the small, round device to a round of applause and a clap on the back from my companions. The goose was duly set free and the curious piece of future technology crushed under the Doctor’s boot.
Ten minutes later we were all back in the living room at Baker Street and the whole incident seemed as though it might have been a dream were it not for the Doctor and Holmes stood chatting amiably whilst I thoroughly washed my hands.
“Won’t you stay for Christmas dinner, Doctor?” I offered. “Mrs Hudson makes an excellent roast.”
“It sounds wonderful,” he replied. “But I made a promise to an old friend I have to keep. Perhaps some other time.”
He lingered by the doorway for a moment, preparing to leave.
“It really has been quite the honour, actually,” he added with a grin, then saluted at me again, bidded farewell and was gone, darting off down the stairs.
We knew he had left for good when we heard the now more familiar sound of the TARDIS engines.
Holmes and I both looked at each other with a little smirk, enjoying sharing in the secrecy and excitement of the adventure that had befell us and the rest of Christmas passed delightfully and without incident.
We were unaware at the time of the great danger that was approaching, the wheels that had been set in motion and the events that would lead Holmes to come face to face again with his old arch enemy, Professor Moriarty.
(c) Becky Simpson 2013