In Which Watson is Saved by Sound and an Impostor
We’re out in the real world, Thorne and I. It took some bribery, but I’ve been given leave to take Mr. Thorne outside the Nursing Home on occasion. When I asked him where he wanted to go, he said:
“I’d like to see some animals.”
Well, we can ride up into Dallas and go to the zoo.
“Those animals are caged. I want to get in the middle – risk my life.”
If we drive about an hour or two more, there’s a wildlife —
“Is there still that mall off 75 and 12?”
“That’s the one. I’ve never been there, but one of my old war buddies told me it the best place to observe the human animal in the wild.”
That’s a new one.
“What is?” he asks. The rolling Texas countryside is blurring past us outside the car.
You never mentioned the war before.
“Life is a war between two options, and only the third option is correct.”
Did you take your pills this morning?
He turns and bores into me with accusing eyes, “What are you suggesting?”
I’m suggesting that stop making sense when you’re off your meds.
“If what I said doesn’t make sense to you, then you’re the one with the problem.”
I reach over to turn on the radio, but Thorne slaps my hand away. “I’ve been out of society for decades, the last thing I want to hear is how we’ve taken a good foundation of musical genius and destroyed it with subcultural garbage.”
Really? I could turn on the classical station.
“That’s exactly what I was talking about – garbage.”
Fine, we’ll sit here in silence.
Thorne pulls out a stack of napkins bound by a rubber band.
“Actually, I thought I read the next two parts of the Holmes story to you.”
Adventure of the Prime Machine
It was not difficult for Tristan and I to secure a means of travel back to London. With speed a necessity, we settled upon a pair of horses from a livery not far from the campus. I looked back over my shoulder as we rode away from Holmes, and I was disappointed, though not surprised, that my colleague was already beyond concern for either Tristan or myself. His eyes were ponderous, and his gait as he stalked towards the office of a coach service revealed the return of his singular dedication to the case at hand.
“Do I detect a wee bit of weeping, Watson?” Tristan japed from beside me.
I ignored his comment and spurred my horse down the backcountry trail we would take back to London. I led the way for a good long while before Tristan pulled even with me so he could speak.
“Sorry, old chap,” he said to me, raising his voice above the wind and beat of hooves against the dirt road. “I’m only winding you up.”
I pretended not to hear him and attempted to focus on the road.
“There’s something I should tell you, Watson,” he continued. “Things are not what they seem.”
“Don’t you think I know that, you fool,” I yelled back at him. “I heard what he said just as well as you did.”
The man was truly tearing down every defense I had against the rise of my own ire – a fury which I had kept control of for years since my adolescence when it was allowed to run rampant. Everything the man said smacked of ruse and jest at my expense. Something did not sit well with me about his appearance. The similarity to Holmes was too perfect.
“That’s not exactly what I mean, Watson,” he said as he steered his steed through a patch of deep puddles. “We should be extremely cautious from this point on. I’ve been trying to get you alone for a while now, but Holmes keeps you hidden away.”
I noticed then that his accent had changed a bit. In fact, it didn’t really seem like the same person I had heard speaking earlier – as if it were another man altogether in the saddle parallel to me.
He saw this dawning realization on my face and smiled slyly to me.
“You’ve figured it out then? Good boy, I knew you weren’t just a sidekick. No, never a doubt, Watson. I knew –”
I launched myself from my horse as soon as I had come within range of him. Our collision caused his horse to halt and rear up causing both of us hit the ground with force. Both horses galloped away into the woods on either side of the trail. By luck alone, Tristan was able to extricate himself from our tangle and stood over me, still smiling.
“Perhaps not,” he said to me, finishing his thoughts.
Slowly I stood and prepared to take the imposter on in hand-to-hand combat.
“Now look, Watson. I’ve no quarrel with you. In fact, I need to convince you that I’m here to help you, but you’re going to have to trust me.”
“Keep your poisoned words to yourself, imposter,” I shouted back at him. “You’re the villain here. I’m just surprised at your ability to have duped my friend for so long.”
Quickly, Tristan raised his hands and backed away from me.
“Me? A villain? Hardly,” he chuckled. “Just calm down and we’ll have a little sit-down and discuss this.”
Tension hung in the air like a fog. I felt myself overcome with emotion at the audacity of this man.
I heard a rustle in the bushes to my right and assumed it was one of our horses come back. Tristan, however, was distracted by the sound. I used this moment to launch myself at him.
I hit the man with force and once again we hit the ground in a tangle. I immediately maneuvered to pin him and then punched him with a quick right hook to the jaw.
“Who are you?” I demanded of him.
He rolled his eyes and moved his jaw back and forth. “Good right hand there. Good lord, yes.”
Again I hit him and I could tell my second punch hurt him.
“Alright, alright! I’ll tell you! Just stop hitting me, you violent man. Earthlings … such violence.” He closed his eyes and shook his head as if admonishing my entire race. “But first we should probably take care of the firebear behind you.”
“That’s it,” I growled and reared my fist back to hit him again.
Just then a deafening roar thundered through the woods from just behind me. With came a sudden blast of heat that stole the air from the vicinity. I suddenly found myself out of breath and I fell away from Tristan to face the nightmare behind me.
Tristan was quickly on his feet facing the monstrosity as I took in the ghastly sight from my vantage point on the ground.
The beast was vaguely reminiscent of a bear, but patches of its fur were interrupted with large patches of reptilian skin like that of a crocodile. Fin-like protrusions were set on either side of its head and the majority of its face was reptilian, especially the eyes, though the bulk of its head was definitely more akin to that of a bear. The beast’s back, while the creature was down on all fours, was almost eye level with me. Dragons sprung to mind, and suddenly I hoped against hope that the “fire” portion of the beast’s name was not derived from a similarity to those mythical beasts of legend.
“Don’t make any sudden movements, Watson. Get up slowly and do as I say.”
I did as he said, my heart pounding in my chest, my brain reeling at this impossibility of nature.
“It won’t attack us if we are still?” I ventured.
Tristan guffawed, “Ha! That would be convenient but no, dear Watson. It definitely knows we’re here and it definitely intends to eat us – well done, in fact.”
I reached my hand into my pocket carefully and fingered my knife, once again cursing myself for leaving my revolver on the train.
“Won’t do you any good, that knife,” Tristan said to me.
“What do you we do then? Wait for him to devour us like lobsters in a pot?”
“Just wait,” he replied. “Firebears can’t blow fire on call. They have to wait for a chemical to inflate a sack in their throats. They then expel the chemical while at the same time grinding flint like teeth in their jaws to ignite the chemicals. So I’d say we’ve got –“
The beast’s throat suddenly started to expand rapidly.
“Five seconds. Run!”
Tristan was already headed for the woods and I belatedly scrambled after him.
A sound like a steam engine expelling exhaust sounded from where we had just been standing and the woods lit up with flames. My coat caught fire and I could feel the intense heat licking my back as I ran in pursuit of Tristan. From behind me I heard the beast trundling after us – the sound of air inflating his throat like a child blowing up a balloon.
Tristan suddenly disappeared over a ridge and just as I heard the sound of the firebear’s second burst, I dove. There was a cliff over the ridge and I plummeted in complete panic for a few seconds before plunging into icy water. From underwater I saw the woods turn bright orange with the burst of fire that had followed me over the ridge. As soon as I surfaced, a hand covered my mouth and I was pulled back into a small cove at the point where the small cliff met the water.
Tristan whispered desperately in my ear. “Stay quiet and still. It doesn’t like water, but if its hungry, it will chance losing its fire.”
I yanked his hand away from my mouth and replied, “If it can’t blow fire, then it’s not so bad.”
“Have you fought a grizzly bear with a fork before, Watson? No? Well, scrumming with that chap up there would be like fighting ten grizzly bears with a feather. Now please be quiet and maybe it will abandon us.”
I pulled myself away from him and took up a position further into the little cove. It was then that I noticed that Tristan had changed. In fact, Tristan was in the process of changing as I watched. His appearance flashed from the Holmesish Tristan I had met to that of a wiry man in a tweed suit and bowtie. Finally, the Tristan appearance vanished completely.
Tristan, if that was his name, turned back to me and saw my face.
“Oh,” he whispered reaching down under the water to his belt. “Not exactly waterproof, this.”
He pulled a device from beneath the water that I had never seen the like of before. Apparently he had been wearing the device on his person.
“Perception filter,” he explained, letting the object fall out of his hand and into the water. “Not exactly useful anymore either.”
There was a roar that echoed through the woods, but it sounded further away.
Tristan nodded to himself and rose up further out of the water.
“That’s that then. We’ll just go the other way.”
“Now wait just a minute,” I said, half-swimming over to him and grabbing his lapels. “You’re going to tell me who you are or I’m going to drown you right here.”
The man sighed and nodded. “Let’s get out of this water and I’ll tell you everything.”
I shoved him roughly toward the bank opposite us and he obliged.
Once we were out of the water, he shook like a dog, ran a hand through his wet, floppy hair, and extended a hand.
“Hello, I’m –“
Fire erupted around us with no warning. I dove back into the water, but the man I knew as Tristan stood his ground. Once the initial burst had dissipated, I spied the firebear that had snuck up on us. Tristan faced it down and removed a slender tool from his pocket.
“Stay in the water, Watson,” he said to me. “I didn’t want to do this, but we have no choice. Sorry, old chap.”
As he said these last words, the device in his hand began to emit a high-pitched squeal like I’ve never heard before. I clasped my hands over my ears, but the pain the sound caused in my head did not abate. The firebear was obviously affected by it as well. The beast shook its head side to side desperately in pain as the throat sac began to inflate. The sound increased in intensity and just as it reached an unbearable peak, Tristan shouted “Down!” and dove into the water beside me. I quickly dove under with him.
As soon as our heads retreated beneath the surface, the woods exploded with flame. The water soon became unbearably hot and as I looked up from underwater, I saw the surface ripple as chunks of steaming refuse hit it. I soon realized this was flesh of the firebear.
After I couldn’t hold my breath any longer I surfaced. Tristan was already out of the water and shaking his device to next to his ear, smiling.
“Sonic Screwdriver,” he said holding the device out to show me, beaming. “Now THIS is waterproof. Ha ha!”
“Tristan , how did you -“ I sputtered.
“Elementary my dear Watson,” he said. “Ha! Did you hear that? I said ‘Elementary, my dear Watson’, ha!”
I only stared at him blankly.
“Sorry, yes. Nine hertz tone,” he explained, waving his Sonic Screwdriver at me. “Created a static resonance in the firesacs. Can’t stop that from causing a big BOOM, eh?
“Who –“ I began to ask.
“Oh yes, as we were,” he said extending his hand out to me again.
“Hello,” he said to me, his eyes twinkling with mischief, yet deep with an unfathomable wisdom. “I’m the Doctor.”