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In The Land Of The Living
About the Author: Gretchen Altabef is the MX Publishing Author of Sherlock Holmes: These Scattered Houses & The sequel, Sherlock Holmes: Remarkable Power of Stimulus. She is an editor and contributor of Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes data for Jeremy Brett - Playing A Part, the definitive performance biography by Maureen Whittaker. She is a member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, and the John H. Watson Society.

“By the blessing of God I landed, torn and bleeding, upon the path. I took to my heels, did ten miles over the mountains in the darkness, and a week later I found myself in Florence, with the certainty that no one in the world knew what had become of me.”—Dr. John Watson, “The Adventure of the Empty House.”

Saturated with the sensation of blessed escape, I directed this energy to my quadriceps, and sprinted higher into the protection of the Swiss Alps. My boots flew fuelled by the exquisite joy beneath the thought that it was over. Professor Moriarty had been conquered by Sherlock Holmes. It was the crowning moment of my singular career.

The cruel intrigue of his contemptible thrust-and-parry was done. What I had accomplished by uncovering the loose chinks in his armour, and the curse of exhuming one impenetrable lair after another. Again and again I rushed after his guilty coat tails, only to uncover his underlings offered as sacrifice, on his false trails the dead men’s bones crunched beneath my feet. Yet, he knew exactly where I lived. Every light I shined into his malevolence went up in smoke, an illusion created by an expert. At last I seized a single thread and followed it through a thousand cunning windings to him. Then I lured him here and offered myself as bait.

Face to face it had been comparatively simple to rid the world of his evil. And it was concluded. In the thin air my sharp laughter rang through the surrounding forest. Done! Complete! Finished! Ha! Watson and I will keep them busy securing half of London’s criminal force in the Yard’s stockade.

Regrettably, I was stalled in this endeavour as Colonel Sebastian Moran followed close upon me, Moriarty’s right hand and Britain’s foremost hunter. I pushed my muscles to their limit, leapt Alpine stones and twisted tree roots, and ascended the formidable elevation through the densely knit trees. My route led from the Reichenbach Fall to the Grosse Scheidegg Mountain Pass through the high Alps that shall ensure my freedom. I reached the forest above the now darkening ridge and climbed further knowing altitude was a weapon I could wield.

I extracted a map and compass from my pocket and confirmed my route. It showed a clear path due west from where I was standing, though I feared much of it was presently covered with snow. Before leaving Meiringen and the Englischer Hof, I had pocketed this map and my compass. If you had eyes to see, my dear Watson, you could have added that knowledge to the trifles found at the fall and reached a somewhat different conclusion as to my whereabouts. Ah, Watson, fear not, this disappearance will be quick and Doctor and Mrs. Watson shall remain safe.

Mountaineers know that what at first seemed enjoyable in sunlight can become life-threatening. Even on the 4th of May once the abundant brilliance from our glorious star sinks below the high peaks. My senses were acutely alert for that evildoer who can send boulders my way. I leapt up to a high pine bow, climbed higher and surveyed both before and behind. From the latter direction, I could trace the movement of a group of travellers on the valley path, too far for me to discern if Moran was among them. Here there were many with his colouring. I picked out three men with rifles. He was hunting his prey of that I was sure. My feet hit the path running. As the sun continued its descent, my anxiety increased. Each fleeing step led me away from a dangerous killer yet into the sudden death of cold exposure, altitude sickness, or the uncertainty of a plunge from unknown heights. There was no moon. An aurora borealis lit the sky that night. The green, gold and white auroras spread like fiery wings over the Mountains as the Grosse Scheidegg was illuminated by eerie phosphorescent light.

I raced through the cold deep night. Moran’s valley path was more hospitable with Swiss munificence all along the way. During the cold hours before daybreak, I stumbled half frozen into the chalet of Tobias Branger, in the small mid-mountain town of Rosenlaui. Peter Steiler had recommended his guidance to Watson and myself, over our final breakfast at the Englischer Hof. I acquired a sheep’s wool coat, meals, and two night’s sleep which greatly enabled my adjustment to mountaintop heights, a pipe and tobacco, and clear confirmation of my path over the towering mountains to Grindelwald.

This story appears in our OCT 2021 Issue
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