It was hard to tell which of the two was worse; the smell, or the sight.
The smell was particularly putrid for having been trapped in the room for an unthinkable number of days.
But then there was the utter deluge that greeted them, the unreserved catastrophe that lay before their eyes – surely only the most calamitous of events could render a place so wholly unlivable.
“My dear Homes!” exclaimed Watson.
But “dear Holmes” had held up his hand, demanding quiet. His eyes were closed, a look on his face that resembled bliss – a look that quite stupefied his companion.
“Do you smell that Watson?” Holmes murmured.
“Yes, I daresay I do.” Watson’s tone was almost as bitter as the repulsive odour that had collected in the corner of the room closest to them.
“Look at this place,” Holmes rhapsodized.
“I don’t see how one could fail to do so. Holmes, this – this is preposterous. It is most –”
“Most engaging!” Holmes announced with an enthusiasm that made his Boswell groan. “My dear Watson, we have stumbled upon a crime scene!” he exclaimed with a flourish.
“It will soon be the death scene of us, I tell you.”
But Watson’s grumbling was to no effect.
“Watson, you must now exert that part of your mind which you usually apply to aggravate me.”
Watson cast the detective a suspicious glance.
“Your imagination,” Holmes smiled, before something caught his eye. “You see this?” He pounced, picking up what looked to be a small, furry rag. “And this?” He picked up another equally furry object, discoloured, and rounded – though it was losing most of its shape.
Watson recoiled. “They’re-”
“Yes, food!” Holmes laughed, tossing the offensive items over his shoulder as he caught sight of a hunched figure. He picked up a discarded ruler and approached the figure.
“Holmes, what are you-”
“Never fear, Watson,” he said, giving the figure an experimental prod. The figure remained still. He poked at it again, using the ruler to pull away a strip of cloth.
“Do you see what this is?”
“A scarf?” Watson grimaced.
“It’s laundry,” Holmes whispered excitedly. “And going by the texture – and the smell, of course – it is exactly two weeks and three days old.”
Watson’s grimace turned fierce. He glared at the general dissipation with vitriolic disapproval. “This is absolutely appalling, Holmes. Who could live in such – such filth?”
“I have my suspicions, Watson, but let us not jump to conclusions. You know my methods.”
He turned his back on Watson’s eye-roll, his attention straying to a dilapidated pile of papers. He poked at the pile before dropping to his hands and knees to sniff at the ground around it.
“Holmes! Do you really think that is wise?”
Holmes ignored him, running his fingers over the carpet, before licking one.
This was too much for Watson. He gave the detective a vicious tug, pulling him to his feet.
“Do you wish to die?”
“Yes,” Holmes muttered, licking his lips, “it’s raspberry juice.” His eyes focused on Watson with a manic gleam. “They did not bother to clean it up.” He turned, bending over the tattered papers and began rifling through them.
Watson gave a beleaguered sigh. “Holmes, will you not tell me what is –”
“Look, Watson!” Holmes twirled back to face his friend, his fingers clutching a book. “Just as I thought!”
“What is that?” Watson peered at the title.
“This, my dear Watson,” said Holmes, rifling happily through the pages, “is the MLA Handbook. A torture device designed to burden the lives of students.”
“You’re saying –”
“Yes, a student lived here.”
“Lived?” Watson gasped. “You don’t mean to –”
“Yes, Watson.” Holmes looked grave. “I cannot see how survival could have been possible. The signs are not good. There are no fresh food scraps. The grease on the laundry suggests that none of the pieces have been recently worn. And most all this –” He bent to pick up a stray bit of paper, crumpled and torn. “You see how it has been wrenched with particular viciousness from the spine? This was a student at the end of their tether.”
Watson was silent.
Holmes frowned at the paper, and peered closely. “Treatise on the Smoulders of Idris Elba,” he muttered. “How to Survive Study Week.” Holmes paused, frown clearing. “Ah. This student was also a blogger, Watson.”
Watson looked up.
“A memoir writer, of sorts.” Holmes smiled. “One of your ilk, I believe.”
Watson sputtered. “How could you – don’t – don’t presume to place me and this – this creature together.”
Holmes laughed, but stopped suddenly when the pile of papers shifted.
Watson gasped. “Did you see that?”
“Of course, I saw it, Watson,” Holmes snapped.
The pile shifted again, papers sliding over each other. A hand slid through, its fingers cramped and ink-stained.
Watson tugged Holmes back.
More papers slid off in a hiss, and then there was a head. Greasy hair plastered to dry cheeks, eyes barely open, lips cracked and dry.
The two men stumbled back.
The figure let out a croak.
“Holmes! It’s alive!”
Yes, I’m alive. And I have returned. Just a little silliness to mark the occasion. Don’t worry, I didn’t sink to such depressing lows as the story implies – much. The suffering is over, and I am back to haunt this bit of cyberspace. The game, dear readers, is (back) on.