Wednesday, March 13, 2013

30th Year Reflections/38: Three-Minute Fiction

In early February I did something I've never done before: I entered a writing contest. My ears perked up while listening to National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" when the contest--"Three-Minute Fiction"--was announced. This was "Round 10" of the contest. The challenge for this round was to write a story in the form of a voice-mail message. Each story had to be less than 600 words and capable of being read in three minutes. I decided to enter.

I played around with an idea or two before settling on something to do with Sherlock Holmes. An opening and ending came quickly to mind, but I struggled with the middle. A few days before submissions were due I came up with the missing piece. Obviously, since I didn't make it into the finals, the judges thought my piece less than stellar. But I was happy with it all the same, and so share it with you here. Sherlockian purists may have some difficulty with my story as "The Napoleon of Crime" appears, post-Reichenbach. But I needed him for the story to work and so bent Canonical understanding. (I also put Holmes and other characters in the present, à la "Sherlock" or "Elementary," things a purist will also object to.) Purist or not, I hope you enjoy the piece:

"The Adventure of the Pall Mall Flat Answering Machine."

“Good evening, Mr. Holmes.” (The speaker’s tone is slightly menacing.)

“I expect that you are still at the office—or the club—working out some detail on the latest round of European debt financing or NATO expansion. I know that this message comes as no surprise to you; indeed, you anticipated its arrival.”

(The menacing tone increases.) “In the same way, I know that there is little—if any—surprise to you in my having obtained this number—this most private of numbers—although I would imagine you find this little tidbit faintly troubling.”

(The voice becomes sarcastic.) “You haven’t quite worked out the ‘how’ in that ponderous mind of yours. But you know who I am and what I am capable of; you know my voice and my methods. The only remaining question in your mind is—why. Why call? Why leave this message? Why create a trail you can trace?”

(The voice becomes spiteful.) “The answer is quite simple. I no longer care. You and your meddlesome brother have managed to destroy my reputation, but now I have something in my possession that will turn the tables, if ever so slightly, in my favor.”

(The voice suddenly shifts to a velvet smoothness.) “I’ve come across a bit of information—gathered from your doctor, in fact—that proves beyond any doubt that you and your brother are both losing your minds. There’s a particularly nasty beast in the Holmes genetic pool that has suddenly raised its fearsome head. Art is not the only thing in the blood. Your brother already presents some of the symptoms: forgetfulness, absentmindedness, senseless blabbering. Before long, you too—so your doctor tells me—will show signs of the illness. Over time the embarrassed whispers of your compatriots will grow to shrill cries of confusion, discontent, and yes, even compassion. In the end—most likely with regal consent—you’ll both be packed off quietly to some asylum, to end your days hand-fed by royal retainers, oblivious to all around you.”

(The voice becomes conspiratorial.) “But I have a cure, one that will save you from such a piteous end. It comes, however, with a price, one I’m sure you—and your brother—will be more than willing to pay. You need to drop whatever you’re doing and meet me at….”

(A scuffle ensues; the phone is dropped. The answering machine picks up raised and muffled voices during the continuing scrum, and the sound of a police whistle. Half a minute passes before the phone is roughly snatched from the ground. A new voice, somewhat winded, comes on the line.)

“You’ll have to forgive the Professor. He’s not quite himself after taking that tumble over the falls. Now, for the love of all that you hold dear, will you please take your keys, come to my flat, and open the front door? Watson’s away on a fishing trip, Mrs. Hudson’s off visiting a niece, and I left my set of picklock tools on the desk, right next to my keys—I’ve locked myself out! Mycroft, come at once if convenient – if inconvenient come all the same!”

The sound of a receiver being slammed into the cradle ends the call.

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