The Fall

The Fall
by Petri Salin

Body bruised, mind shattered, he drifted along the shooting waters of death. All was silent: he'd gone deaf. The sharp rocks had cut him badly and shredded his flesh like they had torn the clothes off his back. Stone had met bone; stone had crushed bone. The rocks had taken no notice of him, to the water he was merely a fleeting inconvenience soon to sink out of sight and disappear forever. Dismembered, disjointed, but not disquieted he floated on. His ribs had caved in, punctured a lung and other hidden organs, made breathing both impossible and unnecessary. The angry blows to his head ensured that he felt not a thing, or didn't care if he did. The water wasn't cold like the slow blood in his veins, not cold at all but just right for him to close his eyes and slip into sweet sweet oblivion. He could feel the spirit leave his mauled carcass and reach up, up to that distant point where the waters began and beyond. The water cradled him softly, tenderly washed his cuts, wrapped him in its invisible funereal shroud, ready to be delivered. Then everything was black: the water, the sky, the bottom of the river. The blackness glowed, beckoned to him. It was a soft, comforting blackness and he wanted to become part of it.

The farmers found him unconscious far downstream among the sundry debris from the Falls and fished him out. At first they believed him quite dead. He looked hardly human any more, just a sack of loose skin and bone fragments unlikely held together by the merest chance; a fit meal for the fish. By any rights he ought to have been dead. They already dug a hole in the ground for him and sent for the priest from the village. Only then did someone discover, by accident, that there was still life in that sorry corpse of his. The priest gave him last rites anyway, just in case. It seemed the prudent thing to do. Everybody knew he never would survive. They tended to his wounds as best they could and set his broken bones and tried to feed him. He had no face any more, just grimly ravaged tissue, blotched and bloated, and tiny lifeless eyes staring out from deep narrow slits. His hair had gone all white. They bandaged him and prayed. No one thought to send for a doctor. Waste of money. He was as good as dead and they all knew it. He especially.

Somehow he didn't die. That confused them, frightened them even. They were simple peasants and superstitious, so they decided to call it a miracle and accepted it on faith. He didn't know how long he'd been in their attic. Time lost its meaning, day and night became one. Recovery came in painful fits. But it came. Each night he was back at the Falls, once again fighting his enemy to the death. Some nights he defeated the enemy, other nights his enemy defeated him. It was all the same, somehow. It took him the longest time to learn to speak anew. His jaw never seemed to heal properly. He didn't mind, there was very little to say. One day he got on his feet and took his first shaky steps. The season had changed, it was sombre autumn now and nature was preparing for its long sleep just as he was waking up from his own one.

When he was strong enough he started helping out on the farm. What else was there for him to do? Where could he go? Home? Did he have one? If so, where was it? He didn't know. The life was simple, rigorous and regular. That pleased him for some reason. It didn't matter who he was, what he was, it only mattered what he did on the land. The land was everything, the people working it nothing. The land gave life. To him. Water killed him, land rebirthed him.

The dreams kept haunting him. It was the same dream all the time, over and over again, every night, but it kept getting more vivid and detailed with the passing of time. Finally he could see the faces of the men in the struggle. His own. His enemy's. The faces frightened him and he kept waking up in the middle of the night screaming. One night he didn't go back to sleep. He couldn't. He dressed, took his few belongings and the odd coins the farmer had given him in pay and left, never to return. It was time. First he returned to the Falls, to that ominous place where it all had happened. To the point of origin. He stood there a good long while, staring down into the abyss that had swallowed him and chewed him up but refused to digest him. The fight. He saw every blow exchanged, he saw it all as if it were happening again right in front of his eyes: the savage fight between him and his enemy, the fight primaeval and eternal. The fight final.

He traced his steps back to the gasthof and saw the owner who did not recognise him. The owner took him for a tramp and ordered him off. He started walking. When it was dark he slept in a barn or any abandoned shed, or outdoors if he found nothing. When it was light he walked. Slowly he made my way to France, drifted from village to village, town to town, worked for his living doing whatever odd jobs he could find. To his surprise he found that his French was excellent, often too good for the menial positions he had. So he roughened it and played his humble part to a perfection. He saved money and in Calais he had plenty for a ferry. He'd also gotten some decent clothes and shaved off his beard. He looked like a gentleman, and behaved like one as well. He could have fooled anyone.

The nocturnal London with its ghosts greeted him in total silence, its sharp silhouette piercing the sky as ominously as ever. He made his way through the preternaturally swelling fog to Baker Street. The street slept, dreamed, waited – for what? The front door was locked, naturally. He picked the lock without quite knowing how. Inside everything seemed unfamiliar, he saw everything as if through a glass, darkly. He picked up objects in the conscientiously dusted study and held them in his hand, desperately seeking a connection; he found none. The study seemed never to have been abandoned at all, only temporarily vacated and its owner lurking about somewhere in the deep shadows just around the corner. Next morning he saw the Doctor. He didn't go to him, something stopped him. He spied on the Doctor for a week before making himself known to him.

He chose his moment carefully. The Doctor was alone, his practise done for the day, all the patients gone. The Doctor was washing up and preparing to go home when he entered. Surgery hours are over, come back tomorrow, the Doctor said without properly looking at him, or is it something quite urgent? It is urgent, he said, in a way. Well, let's have a look at it then, the Doctor said. Don't you know me? he said. The Doctor stopped drying his hands and looked at him. Don't you know who I am? he said, his tone even, almost flat. The Doctor's face betrayed puzzlement, then alarm, finally fear. It cannot be! the Doctor cried out. It is, he said. But you are dead, the Doctor stammered, you died at the Falls. Clearly I did not, he said, then he embraced the Doctor. Let me have a proper look at you, the Doctor said with tears in his eyes, come over to the light. He did so. You've changed, the Doctor said after a good long while, you're different, I almost didn't recognise you. Maybe I did die a little, he said, but now I'm back. The Doctor accompanied him back to Baker Street where they dined and spent the evening, chatting away long into the night. He didn't tell the Doctor the truth about his time away, of course he didn't, but instead made up a fantastic yarn about the Far East and hinted strongly that there were things he never could go into, never could reveal, not even to a close friend like the Doctor.

In the coming months he picked up the old life, saw clients, solved problems; just like before the Falls. His memory started coming back to him in fits and starts. Yet every night the dream still haunted him, every night he was back at the Falls grappling with his enemy. He had thought that his return would dispel the dreaming. He had been wrong. He went on with his life; yet every morning whilst shaving, whilst looking in the mirror, the same question haunted him: which of them was he? Was he Holmes or Moriarty?

That was the one thing he could not remember.

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