This year I'm playing around with 221Bs, where you write 221 words and the last one begins with the letter B. I have seen people experiment with them, and particularly with writing one a day, but I thought I'd experiment with writing a longer, continuous piece in daily 221Bs. It can be found on AO3 and so far I've managed to update it practically every day, but after 14 episodes it's starting to look a bit unweildy to read as separate chapters. I'm therefore also posting it here as complete chapters, and - since I've now moved on to Chapter 2 - today seems a reasonable day to post Chapter One of the complete work. Enjoy - and all feedback is welcome, either here or on AO3.
What about a Cowboy?
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,
What about a Cowboy?
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,
Or what about a cowboy, policeman, jailer, engine driver, or a pirate chief?
Sherlock was eight years old the first time he was kidnapped.
He didn't realise he'd been kidnapped at first, of course, or he'd have followed The Plan and kicked and screamed and bitten, just like Mycroft had showed him
Gerard was taking him to school that day, just as usual, and then when they'd turned the corner by the church he'd glanced round at Sherlock, said "Got your seatbelt fastened tight? Good. We're going to have a race" and...
... And it had been fun: honest. Glorious fun, with Gerard driving like a mad thing and both of them screaming in delighted terror and laughing dementedly as Stephen in the follow car and then Adam and Sylvette in mummy's car and then some policemen in police cars and then a silver Mercedes that fired oil out of its engine - no, really, he'd SEEN it - had joined in. But then they'd hidden in a barn and Gerard had given him a milkshake which he didn't particularly want or like but Gerard said he had to and then when he woke up there wasn't anyone to kick or bite anyway. It was dark and a bit scary and he couldn't seem to move much. There was something over his head, and by his side and - he understood at last - he was in a box.
Most eight year olds, on finding themselves trapped inside a box, would have panicked and cried. Sherlock, however, began by calculating the approximate cubic volume of the box and how long his air would last, and then - on realising that, unless his calculations were incorrect or there were other variables he hadn't yet incorporated into his calculations, that he had less than four hours to live - carefully searching all of the surfaces he could reach in case there were air holes, and then recalculating his likely survival window to take account of the trickle of air coming in through the slit in the base of the box. It was frustrating. The tiny slit gave him a trickle of air, but no light. It was underneath him, and he couldn't feel anything through it except carpet, and apart from the tiny trickle of air it didn't seem to give him any advantage at all.
He tried kicking at each of the box's sides, and banging against the lid, but he was too small, or else the box was too strong, and he couldn't make any headway. He may - he would never admit to it, of course, but we can imagine - have cried a little at that point. But mainly, as the hours dragged on, he found he was just so, so... bored.
He knew people would be looking for him. Mummy had sent Adam and Sylvette, hadn't she, and the silver car probably belonged to her, too.
But it was Daddy's voice he heard when the light blinded him.
"Close your eyes, poppet. Up you come," and for once he didn't fight being held, didn't object to being called poppet. He screwed his eyes tight shut and let Daddy lift him up.
There was a funny noise, and Daddy said "Froggy now, chop chop" and swung Sherlock around so he was playing the froggy game, clinging to his Daddy's back like a rucksack, holding on with long legs and toes and fingers, just like a marsh-wiggle. "Eyes tight shut, Froggy," Daddy said, and then there was the funny noise again and Sherlock held on tight when they swung round.
Then Daddy stepped back and Sherlock was squished between Daddy's back and the wall and he wanted to wiggle and tell Daddy he was getting squished but there was that funny noise again and he wanted to laugh but there was that NOISE again and he couldn't work out what it was but it was LOUD and it was wet and
...and it was hours later, when Sylvette was washing it off him, that he opened his eyes and realised it was blood.
"Why?" he asked. Sylvette didn't answer and just carried on bundling up all his clothes and his books into a trunk and throwing out all his experiments. He tried lying on the floor and screaming himself into hysterics, but Sylvette just put on her headphones again and stepped round him and after a while he was bored enough to dry his eyes, kick her shin, and then run off.
"WHY?" he demanded, but Stephen just said "because that's what you have to do, squirt. Chop chop now." And Adam wouldn't look him in the eye at all.
He hid in the library and rang Mycroft at school. He had to pretend to be Sylvette, which was stupid, and if the people at the school were stupid enough to believe he really was Sylvette then he doubly didn't want to go. "Myc!" he said desperately, "I can't get Mummy or Daddy and they say - Sylvette and Adam and Stephen and all of them, not Mummy or Daddy - that I have to pack up and go to school. I don't, do I, Myc?"
But Mycroft had turned into one of Them, and the last hope he had of being told he was right, he should follow the Anti-Kidnapping Plan and refuse to go, vanished. Mycroft said. He had to be a Boarder.
Mycroft was exactly ten years older than his brother and so found himself just at the point of leaving school as his small sibling was dragged unwilling through its doors. Mycroft had a position to keep up; prefect, fencing champion, math olympian - enough attributes for his superiority to be clearly but not offensively demonstrated, but not enough to eat into the time he spent on his real studies, into the workings of his classmates minds.
He supposed he should be pleased Sherlock had consented to allow himself to be dragged into school, that he wasn't currently kicking, biting and screaming. They had both had the best self-defence training money could buy, but in deference to his size Mycroft had also taught Sherlock enough rudimentary attention-seeking noise-making moves to assure himself his brother would be safe from any non-professional molestation or abduction
There were two reasons Mycroft could do very little to help his little brother settle into the school. First, Sherlock had arrived at the correct conclusion that the Holmes Boys were no longer united against the world. Sherlock was safe at the school (safer, at least, than he would have been at home, with only staff).
But, second, Mycroft couldn't help Sherlock when the little boy was, in the universe of school, just a new bug.
Sherlock hated Mycroft. Sherlock hated everyone. Daddy hadn't been there when he woke up after the box and the blood and everything. Mummy had been away working, of course, and nobody else would talk to him about it. But it was INTERESTING, honest. The blood was all over his face and his clothes, and where had it come from? Daddy had stopped him looking and Daddy said sometimes there were Reasons and in the Heat you had to take orders and find out about the Reasons afterwards. And it had been in the Heat, of course it had, he'd been kidnapped, not stupefied!
Only stupefied didn't mean "made stupid" of course, only stupid people thought that; it was a joke. But the Heat was over now, so where were the Reasons?
Myc would have understood, only somehow the horrible school had taken Myc and turned him into Mycroft, playing at being a grown up and keeping all the Reasons to himself which wasn't fair and wasn't sharing and wasn't FAIR.
If you cried they hit you, so he didn't cry after the first night, and he broke one boy's arm on the second night and bit two others on the third and he hated it all, hated them all. But most of all he hated Mycroft. Because Mycroft was the Betrayer.
He left it a whole fortnight before he ran away, partly because he thought he ought to collect some supplies first. They would only let him have his own money - his OWN money! - once a week, to spend at the stupid "tuck shop" which was just a room with chocolate bars and stupid things like that, but he filled his satchel with peanuts, crisps and chocolate biscuits.
He realised he probably didn't have enough money to get very far if he only used his actual cash, but he thought it was reasonable to get access to his own money some other way, so he pinched the credit cards off of two of the masters and left them IOUs and instructions to Mycroft to reimburse them from his trust fund.
He knew the cards would be tracked, of course - it was quite an interesting puzzle. He managed to find a map in the stupid school's stupid library and worked out where there were likely to be cash machines, and he worked out which ones were within walking distance. He made it off the grounds and to the first one at around 1am and took out as much as the card would let him, and then hit another around 2. Then he posted the cards back to the school and caught a bus.
The problem was, if you were eight, people thought you ought to be with an adult. He had planned to board a busy bus and pull the old trick of making different groups of adults think you were with another group, but there weren't enough people around to work that one. And especially at two in the morning, people thought you ought to be at home in bed. Fortunately the woman who tried to interrogate him about where he was from and where he was going was easily put off when he pretended to be afraid of her and yelled in a high voice "get off of me! Help!"
She let go his arm at once and he ran up the bus stairs, as if he belonged to one of the people up there. And he was lucky again upstairs, because no-one there had seen what all the fuss was about and ignored him when he sat down quietly just behind the stairs - not at the back, where there were some drunken people making a lot of noise, but not at the front either, where there were some people who wanted a fight. There were two quiet ladies sitting across the aisle from him but he sat very still and they didn't notice him. He had escaped. Next stop: Brighton.
The railway station was easy: he slipped off the bus between the loud drunk people although he almost had to leave his blazer behind when one of them tried to grab him. He slid between them, jogged the elbow of a big man with his back to them so that he spilled his drink onto one of the loud drunk people, and then faded quietly backwards while they were fighting each other. He thought about hiding in the lavs till his train was due but he managed the "waving at one group so people thought he was with" them trick a couple of times and then paired up with a homeless man who didn't look too disreputable to pass as a parent or guardian and was willing to trade conversation but no questions for a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich from the buffet. He was careful only to use pocket change, of course - most of his money was securely pinned to his underwear or hidden in his socks.
The train was the last one of the night, or should he call it the morning, and he had been careful to buy two tickets and to take the homeless man's empty cup with him so he could play "my dad's in the loo" if anyone asked. But no-one bothered.
He managed three days before he was caught. He'd pulled the same trick on two different hotels, yelling "wait for me!" at people getting into the lift and then slipping out on the next floor before they started asking questions. After that, it was just a matter of finding a maid and then quietly following her till he had the chance to pinch her keys and letting himself into half a dozen rooms till he found one that was unoccupied. He managed to get breakfast delivered to the the first room while he pretended to be in the shower and then spent the rest of the day selecting his next target. Emboldened, he managed a comfortable night's sleep in the second hotel, with a room service breakfast AND lunch, and even contrived to have his shirt and underwear laundered. Although he'd had to hide in the wardrobe, sniggering, when the porter returned them, neatly pressed, at around four o'clock.
But the third day he'd barely walked into the hotel lobby before a heavy hand landed on his shoulder and, when he looked up, he realised at once it was no good screaming or trying any of the techniques Myc had taught him in The Plan. Because Mummy and Daddy must be working together, if they'd sent Mr Westerby AND Mr Bond.
They were pretty decent, actually. Mr Westerby went to the pay phones at the other side of the hotel lobby and made three calls but Mr Bond kept his eyes on Sherlock the whole time and he didn't get any kind of a chance to run. Mr Bond's eyes crinkled up while he watched and he didn't look cross with Sherlock but sort of amused. Not that horrible grown up laughter but amused as if there was a good joke going on and they were, all three of them, sharing in it.
When Mr Westerby came back he nodded to Mr Bond and took Sherlock's hand and they all went to the hotel dining room for breakfast. It was like that all the time; one of them would relax or look around or eat his breakfast, but the other one had his eyes on Sherlock every single second. There wasn't even an instant when he could have got away. They were, he realised, really good.
He ate his breakfast and braced himself for all the questions; where had he been, why had he done it. But they never asked him anything.
After breakfast, they put him in a car and drove back.
"It's like this," Mr Westerby said. "Stay at school or there's a good chance you'll be killed. So - behave."
"Why?" he asked.
"Because your mum and dad both work at fighting bad guys and the bad guys think if they grab you they can make your mum or your dad do what they want."
He huffed at that. Daddy had come and fetched him out of the box when he was kidnapped, that was true, but he hadn't been there afterwards.
"What bad guys?"
"Just... bad guys." Mr Westerby said.
"Very bad guys," Mr Bond said. "You can help, though."
"Who sits behind you in History?"
"Who sits behind him and two places to the right?"
"You see? Your school is probably the safest place in the country just now. But if you don't have your wits about you, how can you help keep yourself safe? Which boys would be on your side if bad guys broke into the school in the middle of the night?"
"Not that they will-" Mr Westerby said.
"Or who could you rely on if they did break in and you needed a runner, to go and get help. Where would you send someone TO get help?"
"Mr Doyle would help... and there's a phone in the office and another in the hall..."
"See? Now you're thinking."
"All right," he said sadly. There was no help for it. He'd go back.