This is the very first Black Centipede tale I ever wrote, and it proved to be somewhat controversial. It was inspired by a book I read about Ed Gein, who was not at all your typical serial killer. Technically, he probably wasn't an actual serial killer at all, by the definition accepted by the FBI. But I came to believe that, unlike most noteworthy murderers, Ed was so profoundly mentally ill that he could almost be considered innocent, in a sense. Then I asked myself the question, What if Ed Gein's bizarre view of reality, as he expressed it to doctors and investigators, was actually the literal truth? I don't for a moment believe that it was, but, having posed the question, I felt compelled to answer it with a piece of fiction.
The Black Centipede in
“Wisconsin Death Trip.”
By Chuck Miller
Copyright 2010 by Chuck Miller/Black Centipede Press
I hereby affirm that the following is a true and accurate account of events.-- the Black Centipede
Ninteen fifty-seven was a memorable year for many reasons. The launching of Sputniks I and II; public school integration in Little Rock; François "Papa Doc" Duvalier's assumption of dictatorial power in Haiti. The list is a long one.
But I will always remember 1957 primarily as the year I met one of nature’s true noblemen. His name has been indelibly stained in the public mind with the details of the terrible crimes attributed to him. He has become both a nightmarish figure of evil and a punch line for countless distasteful jokes. He is seen as both demon and clown.
I tell you now, he was neither.
His story has become a part of Americana, and provided inspiration for novels and motion pictures. Though I do not expect to be able to shout down the chorus of his condemnation, I must at least record the true facts. I cannot go to my grave without ever having done my part to refute the countless attacks upon him whom I shall ever regard as the best and the wisest man I have ever known.
One day, perhaps, the world at large will be ready to accept the truth about Edward Gein, a man I am proud to call my friend.
Back in the 30s and 40s, there was a pulp magazine with my name on it. It featured highly fictionalized accounts of some of my cases. In some instances, tales were fabricated out of whole cloth by writers on the staff of the publishing company that put it out. I never minded that. It was an extra source of income, for one thing. For another, good PR does wonders for one’s reputation, and it can also maximize one’s efficiency. I did not actually have to go out and be a wholesome, generous, highly moral do-gooder in order to enjoy the benefits accorded to such paragons by the public.
I used to get a lot of letters sent to me in care of the publisher. Fan mail. This tapered off during the 40s, as did a lot of things, and the magazine was cancelled in 1948. However, I still received the odd missive now and then, from someone who had turned up an old copy of the rag and wanted an autograph, or to practice idolatry, or to make a sexual proposition, or to solicit my help with some insoluble problem.
In the summer of 1957, I received one that caught my attention. I reproduce it here in its entirety:
“Dear Mister Black Centipede Sir:
“My name is Edward Theodore Gein, and I reside in the town of Plainfield Wisconsin. I write to you as I am a great fan of yours. I have read all your magazine adventures as well as newspaper clippings about some of your big cases that are even talked about so far away from civilization as Plainfield ha ha.
“How come I am writing to you is, I have got a problem that I cannot seek advice about from the police or pastors or anyone I can think of here. But I remembered some of the fantastic crimes you have investigated and solved and how you got the better of criminals like Doctor Almanac and Bloody Mary Jane. I says to myself if anyone can get to the bottom of this, it is the Black Centipede. I got the mail address out of one of your old magazines that I have a collection of, and I hope this letter finds you and that you take an interest.
“The problem I have Sir is with my mother. She died some years ago. But she came back. This may sound crazy, I know, but it is God’s truth. I give you my word as a Junior Secret Centipede – which I was and I reckon I still am, as the certificate I sent off for some years ago has no expiration date on it. She came back to me here at my house that used to belong to her and Daddy. At first she was just a voice that called to me late at night. Then I begun to see her face looking in through the windows when the sun come up every morning, and also late in the evening just before dark. After a while of this, I begun to see her on the inside of the house, walking around. At first you could barely see her at all, you had to be looking just right in just the right direction. Then she got darker and more solid looking. Pretty soon you could tell just who it was standing there, even though she had no color to her, like a black and white photograph.
“Well, it wasn’t long before she started talking to me, and pretty soon it was just like old times, her telling me what to do and me doing it. I thought it was queer, but like they say, the Lord works in mysterious ways. I had been missing Mama something awful and praying every night that she could come back, and now here she was, so I counted myself lucky.
“One day she said something that didn’t sit right with me. She told me she needed her a new body to live in, she was tired of just being a ghost. Which I could sure see her point, as it never looked to me like she was having much fun. Of course, she never looked that way when she was alive either. So I ask her how she’s going to get this body she wants.
“She says to me that I’m going to get it for her. I says to her I have no idea how to go about getting a brand new unused human body. She says don’t be so stupid, Eddie, you can’t get a new one. Just get me one that’s already been used and I’ll make do with that.
“That seemed to make sense. Mama always did make all of our clothes by herself, for me and her and Daddy and my brother Henry that also died years back. I figured she could do sort of the same thing with a body, which when you think about it some, is just a suit of clothes for your spirit. I figured she must have known what she was talking about, since she had already come back from the dead, which was in itself a miracle. I figured if that miracle could take place, the miracle of me doing something that would make Mama happy might happen too.
“Well, like I say, I didn’t like the idea. But I went out to the graveyard the next night and dug up a woman that had just been buried there. She was about Mama’s age and the same size, so I thought it would be a good fit.
“Well, Sir, if I had any doubt that she was really my Mama, she cleared it up by the way she carried on and called me everything but my right name when I come back home with that body. Eddie, she says, you stupid idiot, I don’t want no body that’s been all cut up and embalmed and buried in the ground. I want something fresher than that, she says. I says to her, Mama, why don’t you at least try it, I went to a lot of trouble to get it, and I could have got into serious trouble if someone had caught me. Come on and just try it, I says to her.
“So, she did. She didn’t like it one bit, she cursed me and carried on fussing the whole time, but she turned all wavy like and oozed into that body like smoke.
“And of course I knew she wouldn’t like it and she didn’t. She made it stand up and walked back and forth in the kitchen a few times, complaining every step of the way. I don’t like these feet, she says, they’re all pigeon-toed. This hair is ratty, I wouldn’t never be able to get it looking half-decent, she says. She found nothing but fault from head to toe. Well, that’s Mama for you ha ha!
“I saw that it just wasn’t going to do, so I asked her, well, Mama, what do you want me to do then?
“She says she needs a body that has just died and not had anything done to it. How am I supposed to get one like that, I says. She says, what’s wrong with you, boy, you go out and get one that’s still alive and kill it and bring it here to me. When the spirit leaves it, I can jump right in and then patch up any holes you might make when you kill it. She always did like to fuss about how she had to tell me how to do everything because I was just helpless in this world.
“Well, Sir, I’m not proud of it, not proud of it at all. But I done what she said. Mama always did have a way with me. She could get me to do anything she wanted. And now that she’s come back from the dead, it’s a whole lot worse. I CAN’T not do what she tells me to. I HAVE to obey her. So I did, I went out and got her a body just like she said to.
“This was in 1954. I went and got this Mary Hogan that run a tavern in Plainfield back then, and I shot her, and brought her right back here to the house. She didn’t die when I first shot her, but she passed away soon after I got her home, and Mama seemed very pleased about that. She oozed right on in there, and somehow she sealed up the bullet holes I made when I shot Mary. I didn’t like shooting her like that, but I didn’t have any choice.
“So, Mama got into that body and she strutted up and down through the whole house like she was modeling some fancy dress she got in Paris France. I felt relieved and I thought we might get some peace and quiet after that and let things go back the way they was before Mama died the first time. In some ways they did. She was critical of everything I did, and blessed me out something fierce at least twice a day. She even took to popping me on the head with a big wooden spoon like she used to. It was just like the old days and I felt content and kind of safe like in the bosom of my family, and God was in heaven and everything was right with the world.
“Until Mary Hogan’s body started rotting, that is.
“It lasted a lot longer than it ought to have. There weren’t any real problems for the first couple years. Then she started getting short of breath and she said she felt like she was having a heart attack. She was constipated and she couldn’t see out of the left eye any more, and I don’t know what all. She almost quit talking to me altogether, which made me sad and aggravated since I had gone to so much trouble to keep her here and do like she wanted me to.
“Well, after a while, I found out that Mama had been sneaking out of the house of a night and digging up dead women at the cemetery and hauling them back here. She was trying to patch up Mary Hogan’s body with bits and pieces from these others. She hardly said a word to me during that entire time, which I thought was unusual. I didn’t know at the time what she was doing, and now I think it was just pride on her part. She wanted to fix everything by herself instead of having to depend on me to do it.
“Well, it didn’t work, not at all. Mama ended up using them bodies she dug up to make kitchen utensils and patch up the furniture and make little curiosities and bric-a-brac like she used to do. When she was really alive, she was always thrifty and prided herself on not letting anything go to waste, and she is still that way now.
“Mary Hogan’s body has really gone bad. Mama says she doesn’t think she can keep it going much longer and I bet you can guess what she wants me to do. She finally started talking to me again, and the first thing out of her mouth was, Eddie, you need to go out and get me a new body like you got this one, she says. I don’t want to do that, Mama, I says to her. And she says back, I know you don’t, you wouldn’t turn a hand to help me at all, you are an ingrate like your father and brother.
“We have been going back and forth like that for days now, and I know it’s just a matter of time before she makes me do it. I guess she’s using up too much energy just keeping that old body running to spare any of it to charm me, or whatever she does. But one day pretty soon, I know I won’t be able to stop myself. So that’s why I decided I would write to you. I have your old magazine number 95, October 1938, where you solved the mystery of the Murdering Ghost of Seacliff Manor, and I knew you were the man to bring this thing to.
“I sure hope you can help me, Mister Centipede Sir. I know you must be busy, but you have to admit it’s an extraordinary case, and I know you are famous for rising to any challenge. I don’t have a phone here but I am enclosing with this letter a map to my house, it’s real easy to find. Come as soon as you can!
“Your Great Fan and Friend (hopefully),
“Edward T. Gein
Well, I have been called many unkind things, not all of them without justification. But it has never been said that I am unsympathetic to the plight of the mentally ill.
I figured this poor boob could use a hand with his problems. If he’d been committing murders and digging up graves and blaming it on his dead mother, better he should be confronted by someone dispassionate who could remain even-handed. I could just imagine him being set upon by irate villagers brandishing torches and pitchforks if his crimes were discovered by the local law. Surely any fan of mine deserved a better fate than that.
I did a bit of checking and found out that Mary Hogan had in fact existed and had in fact disappeared, just as Edward Gein had said.
I saw myself going in there, cleaning up the evidence and spiriting Mr. Gein away to a nice, quiet asylum up in Canada. The citizens of Plainfield would be none the wiser. I should have known that life is never that uncomplicated. I suppose I did know it, but hope springs eternal…
… and never fails to go down in flames.
Following Ed Gein’s homemade map, I arrived at what could loosely be described as a farmhouse. Plainfield itself was the middle of nowhere. The Gein house was something else again. On entering the property, one had the strong impression that one might no longer have the option of returning to the real world. There was a horribly fey quality to the place, something in the air itself that permeated the matter of the house and the land. “Bad vibes” is not just an expression coined by hippies. All matter vibrates, attuned to that which surrounds it.
There was something very rotten in this little corner of the state of Wisconsin. Something wicked had this way come, and stayed, and tried to put down roots.
It was still there, still trying. I began to have my doubts that Edward Gein’s psychosis, no matter how severe, could account for what I was feeling. I remained open-minded, however, because one should not underestimate the potential for mischief of the profoundly insane.
I cautiously mounted the porch and knocked on the front door. It rattled in its frame. I heard footsteps inside, then the knob turned and the door swung inward, squealing loudly on un-oiled hinges. He held up an oil lamp and I got my first look at Ed Gein.
He could be described as “ordinary,” but so can anyone who doesn’t go out of his way to draw attention to himself. The expression on his face was as open and unconcealing as that of a child, or of a lunatic who is innocent by virtue of his innate amorality.
“Mister Centipede?” he said. “Oh my gosh, it’s really you! Please come in! The place is a mess, I’m sorry. I’ve been… distracted.”
The interior of the house was indeed a mess, in the same way Pompeii or Hiroshima could be called messes. It was an absolute riot of undifferentiated junk that grabbed the eye and defied the brain to make sense out of the chaos. Books, newspapers, furniture, fragments of furniture, tools, tin cans, clothing, dead flowers, parts of old caskets, human bones, and other such detritus vied wildly for my attention, seeming to throb and roil in the flickering light of Eddie’s lamp.
And yes, I did say “human bones.” This at least confirmed the reality of the “handiwork” Gein had attributed to his mother. I was cautious and I was, of course, heavily armed. I kept Gein five feet away from me and in my line of sight, and I kept my hand on the butt of the automatic in my coat pocket.
“I know how this looks,” he said, and I wondered if that could possibly be true.
I studied him for a few moments in silence. He seemed nervous, which was understandable. He did not give the impression that he was someone with something to hide. I have become very good at detecting deliberate deception on the part of people I deal with. I saw nothing here to indicate it. Of course, if he was insane, he’d think he was telling the truth about everything.
I decided there was one way to find out.
“Your mother, Edward. Let’s go see your mother.”
He led me upstairs. As we ascended, he told me his mother's name was Augusta Gein, and that he had always regarded her as a "Godly" woman, but here lately, he wasn't so sure. We entered a dark, claustrophobic bedroom. It was furnished in a style that had gone out of fashion at least a hundred years ago. He gestured to the big four-poster bed, and the figure that lay upon it, on top of the counterpane.
At first I thought I was looking at an ordinary cadaver, perhaps a bit the worse for wear and tear. A white female in her mid-50s perhaps, showing some initial signs of decomposition, but still in pretty good shape as corpses go. Still, it wasn't anything you’d want to take home to mother. Not unless you were Eddie Gein.
As I moved into the room, I noticed how cold it was. My first thought was the he had the room refrigerated somehow, then I remembered that there was no electricity at all. Eddie was living off the grid. No electric lights. No electric refrigeration units of any kind. Eliminating that possibility, there was only one other thing I could think of that would make a room that cold.
Ghosts do that.
I moved closer to the body and studied it for a moment. I detected very shallow and slow breathing.
“Okay, lady,” I said. “Wake up. You got company.”
At first, nothing happened. Eddie Gein stood behind me, wringing his hands. I moved closer to the bed, shining my flashlight on the remains of Mary Hogan. Mary was long gone, but the premises were occupied by someone else. The body stirred and sat up. I stopped in my tracks. Wouldn’t you? I cleared my throat and spoke as calmly and clearly as I could.
“Do I have the honor of addressing Augusta Gein?”
“Do you have the honor?” croaked the stiff in a mocking tone. “What fancy talk! What are you, some kind of nancy boy?”
“What I am is neither here nor there, as far as you’re concerned. You don’t belong here.”
She rolled her eyes. Or, I should say, eye, since the left one appeared to be completely out of action. It was a filmy gray color and did not move at all. “Eddie,” she squawked, “what you think you’re doing, taking up with this fairy? I break you of lusting after loose women, and you just turn around and find something worse.”
“Now listen, Mama,” Eddie began. But Mama wasn’t listening. She flopped back onto the bed and started a coughing fit that lasted for almost two minutes. Something that looked a lot like oatmeal mixed with transmission fluid, and smelled considerably worse, sprayed from between her lips. Finally, she spoke.
“Eddie, now damn it, boy, this body is just about wore out. You need to get off your backside and go get me another one like I told you a hundred times already to do. I don’t like floating around as a ghost. I want a body to live in, and I think you owe it to me to get me one.”
“Listen,” I said, crouching down to look her in the eye, “He isn’t going to follow your orders any more.”
Augusta laughed. “Well, of course he is. He’s my boy. Ain’t that right, Eddie?”
He didn’t answer her verbally, but in the act of clubbing me over the head, he affirmed her claim.
When I finally came to, my wrists and ankles were tied up with heavy twine. I was stuck in a corner of the room, in a sitting position. Mama Gein was still operating Mary Hogan’s body, but it was plain that a full system malfunction was imminent.
“Listen, Augusta,” I said. “It’s not too late for you to do the right thing. Just give it up.”
The head lolled over on a shoulder, aiming itself vaguely in my direction. “You awake, homo-man? Eddie’ll be back any time now, then you’ll see something. I’m gonna get me a new, strong body, and I’m gonna take it out of your hide for what you come here and tried to do to me and my boy. Try to turn my own son against me!”
“I haven’t had to turn anybody anything. He knows what you’re doing is wrong, and he wants it to stop. But he can’t because YOU have some kind of control over him. He wants you to go back to your grave. That’s why HE wrote to ME and asked me to come help.”
“Ha! You’re not just a sodomite, you’re a bald-faced liar too! Eddie is MY SON. I MADE him. I OWN him. You understand that?” Her tirade was mercifully (well, relatively mercifully) interrupted by another coughing fit and more nauseating ichor gysering into the air from her open mouth. She finally stopped, caught what remained of her breath, and started in again. I saw what Eddie meant about her constant bellyaching, and my heart went out to him. “That boy is too dumb to live. That’s why I had to come back. I got plans for me and him, you see. I learned all kind of things while I was dead. I made friends and I formed partnerships. You know, the Devil was once one of God’s perfect angels. Do you know that, or are you one of them types that don’t believe in the Word of God?”
“Yes to both, actually.”
“Queer as a three dollar bill, and a heathen to boot. That Eddie sure can pick ‘em. Well, it don’t matter. As I was saying, Lucifer was created perfect in God’s own image, and that which God creates in perfection can never really be corrupted. The way Lucifer explained it to me, him and God had a misunderstanding, that’s all. “
“Wait. You’re telling me you SPOKE with Lucifer?”
“Am I not talking English? All that buggering must have addled your brain. That’s right, I talked to Lucifer. Me and him got to be pretty good friends, I’ll have you know. He ain’t so bad. He’s got bad publicity is all. He’s still one of God’s creatures, just like all the rest of us.”
“Mary Hogan was one of God’s creatures.”
“I know. But she wasn’t one that made much difference to anybody. And He give her to me, and I done what needed to be done to her. Now quit interrupting and sassing me, boy. Me and Lucifer made us a deal. In the Bible, it says that Satan has been given authority over this earth. Satan and Lucifer and the Devil all being just different names for the same party, you know. After the Fall of Man, Lucifer took dominion over this earth. Second Corinthians tells us he is ‘the god of this world.’ This world is a sinful place.”
“I think that’s why your pal Lucifer is in charge.”
“Hush that blasphemy. As I told you, I KNOW him personally. Lucifer. You ain’t talked to him, I have. I know what I’m saying. I said, did I not, that Lucifer was created perfect? And that which God creates perfect, remains perfect. He’s sorry for what he done, Mister. Lucifer is sorry for how he acted toward God, and he wants to change his ways. And guess what! It was me that talked him into it!”
It was my turn to roll my eyes. Both of them. “Now I have heard everything.”
“Not quite,” she said. “I talked him into it, like I said, and he sent me back here to pave the way for him. I’m gonna get everything ready and then send for him to come on ahead. Me and him’s gonna rule this world together, and we’re gonna do it according to God’s perfect holy principles. Think about that, Mister. Think about what I done! Me, Augusta Gein! I have brought the salvation of Jesus Christ to the Devil himself, and now we are gonna bring it to the whole world!”
“He told you this? Lucifer did?”
“He did. You see, I can get inside of bodies and live in them. Think about it. I can be almost anybody I want to, if I can fix it so I can get hold of them and have Eddie kill them. Anybody. Think about that.”
I thought about that. I tried to think of something that would be worse, and could not.
We were both silent for a long moment. Then I said, “Can you get up?”
“No. But you can’t either.”
“I know. I’m tied up and helpless. Dammit, I need for you to see something I have in my coat pocket. “
“What is it?”
“The deed to the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s obvious that you’ll buy anything, so I want to see if I can get you to make me an offer on it. Listen, toots. I don’t know who you talked to or what they told you, but I think you let yourself get suckered. You are being played, Augusta. Surely you know that the Devil is the Prince of Lies? He played on your pride, and now you're going to pave the way for hell on earth.
"That's the worst case scenario. There's a saving grace here, though. Augusta, you almost certainly did NOT talk to the real Lucifer. Minor demons are accomplished liars, too. Why would the Lord of Hell bother YOUR raggedy little soul? The best outcome you can hope for is that you make a complete ass of yourself, waste a lot of people's time and lives, and win yourself an eternity's worth of free accomodations in the Lake of Fire. Stupid cow!”
Whatever invective she was prepared to unleash on me-- and I imagine it would have been the verbal equivalent of a hydrogen bomb-- was forestalled when the bedroom door banged open. Eddie Gein walked into the room, and he was not alone, not exactly. In his arms he carried a middle-aged woman who was obviously a corpse and, equally obviously, had not been one for very long. Blood dripped slowly and softly onto the floor from somewhere under her dress.
“All right, Mama,” he said. “I done it. Here’s another one for you. This here is Mrs. Bernice Worden that runs the hardware store. Used to run it, I mean. I killed her and she’s dead and here she is. I didn’t want to do it, but you made me, and here is what you wanted, and I hope you’re real happy about it.”
He sighed and looked at me. “I’m sorry, Mister Centipede. I’m sorry I drug you into this and hit you on the head and tied you up. I didn’t want to do none of them things, but Mama got into my head and made me do it and I couldn’t stop.”
“Nobody’s blaming you, Eddie,” I said gently. "She used you again, just like she’s always done.” He stared at me for a moment. Then he turned to his mother and placed the fresh corpse on the bed, right next to the one Augusta had just about worn out.
“Here,” he said coldly. “Do it.”
She did it. A thick rope of oily-looking smoke bubbled up out of Mary Hogan’s mouth. When all of it was out, the body ceased the spasmodic twitching it had been doing. That poor, abused body was finally free of the appalling Augusta Gein. The dark glob of gas roiled around for a few seconds, then dived right into the flesh that had until very lately belonged to Bernice Worden.
Augusta opened Bernice’s eyes and looked around her. Smiling with stolen lips, she swung her feet off the bed and stood up.
“Now that is a distinct improvement,” she crowed in her new voice. “Eddie, for once you did good.” She clapped her son on the shoulder. Eddie just stared at her dully, saying nothing. Augusta shrugged and turned her attention to me.
“Now, Mister Whatever-You-Are! I aim to take real good care of you.”
“I imagine you do,” I said. “Listen, though. I have to tell you something.”
“You know how, a minute ago, I told you I was tied up and helpless?”
“I lied.” Getting free of that twine was child’s play. I didn’t even need any of the secrets I had learned years ago from a Hindu fakir. I jumped quickly to my feet, and before Augusta could even react, I punched her right in Bernice Worden’s face.
She almost went down, but steadied herself by clutching the bedpost. She looked at Eddie in abject appeal, eyes full of shock, nose and mouth bleeding profusely.
“Boy!” she shrieked. “Are you gonna stand there after what just happened?” She jabbed an index finger in my direction. “Or are you gonna do what you need to do?”
Eddie smiled, just a little. He looked at Augusta and said, “I’m gonna do what’s right, Mama.”
“Good,” said Augusta, “Then we can…”
She was interrupted when her son hit her in the face so hard it broke her nose and most of her front teeth. She made a noise that sounded more like a very sick cat than a human being, and slumped to the floor.
I moved up beside him and we stood looking down at the erstwhile home of Bernice Worden, currently tenanted by the mother of all bad mothers. She was breathing, and with every breath she took, blood bubbled from her nose and mouth.
“Well,” I said.
“Yeah,” said Eddie. “Well. Shoot, I didn’t want to do that. I wish I hadn’t had to.”
“Hadn’t had to? You mean, she MADE you do that?”
He shook his head. “Naw. She didn’t make me.” He looked me in the eye and said, “I made me. She ain’t controlling me at all right now. I am. I’m telling my own self what to do for a change.”
I just nodded and put an arm around his shoulders. After a while, he said, “What should we do? She’s still in there. She won’t go away. She’ll fix that body like she done with Mary Hogan’s back in the beginning. I don’t think Mama has no business walking around in Mrs. Worden’s body.”
“I’ll tell you what we do,” I said. "Evidently, she’s unconscious in there. She’s stuck and doesn’t know what’s going on. I think there’s a way we can get her to vacate.”
“What’s the best way to get someone to abandon a house? You damage it to the point where it is no longer livable. Wreck it so bad that it can never be fixed.”
Eddie nodded. “Yeah. And if there's no other body close by for her to go into, she'll just be a ghost again. She don't like that because she has no real power over anything except me. Well. I think I know what to do.”
So we hauled the deceased Bernice Worden and the slumbering Augusta Gein down the stairs, through the dank hallway to the cellar door. Eddie unlocked it and we carried her down the stairs.
He lit a larger kerosene lamp and I looked around me. The place, like the rest of the Gein house, was in a state of almost hysterical disarray. But there was one feature that dominated the scene. Eddie took the lamp and set it on a table close by the thing.
The thing was a block and tackle-style contraption, hanging from the ceiling. It had ropes and pulleys and a couple crossbeams. Underneath it, on the floor, was a large tin washtub, the inside stained with something ancient, crusty and brown.
“We used to use this,” Eddie told me, “to kill hogs, back when we had hogs to kill. I reckon it’ll do just as well for this.”
We laid out the body, and Eddie attached ropes to the wrists and ankles. Then we hauled the grisly thing up into the air and tied off the ropes. Bernice/Augusta was hanging upside down above the tub.
“Make it so she can’t stay there, and can’t never come back to it,” Eddie said. He turned to me. “Mister Centipede, you might not want to watch this.”
I admitted that I did not. I am not particularly squeamish, but there was just so much one man could take in a single day. I went back upstairs.
I waited for a very long time. Presently Eddie came back up the stairs. He walked past me without so much as a nod and flopped down heavily into a ratty armchair.
“There’s been a sort of complication, Mister Centipede,” he said at length. He did not look at me. “Things went kinda funny down there.”
“What do you mean? Did you… fix Mrs. Worden’s body?”
“Yep,” he said, nodding. “I fixed it to where Mama couldn’t live in it even if she still wanted to. So she left. But she didn’t go away and she didn’t remain here as a ghost, either.”
He finally turned to look at me, and I saw that the left side of his face looked mashed-up and distorted. And familiar. It was the same expression—well, half of it—that had been on the faces of both Mary Hogan and Bernice Worden, when Augusta had possession of the real estate.
“Oh my,” I said. I actually said something a great deal stronger, but I am trying to curb my use of vulgarisms in these memoirs.
“That’s right,’ came the voice of Augusta Gein, her malicious, mocking tone strained through her son’s vocal chords. “I’m in here now. You’ll never get rid of me. I’m in Eddie’s head right now, so it ain’t empty any more, like it’s been for the past fifty years.”
“But, “ came a different voice from the other side of Eddie’s mouth, “I’m still here, too. And it’s still my body. You can’t move it, Mama. You can’t do any of that.”
“I don’t need to, boy. You know I can make you do anything. Just give it time. Let me get settled, then we’ll get back to work.”
“No,” said Eddie. “That ain’t gonna happen. I want you out. I don’t have to do what you want. I control this.” He gave a demonstration by standing up and walking back and forth. He flapped his arms up and down and twirled around in circles.
“I control it,” he asserted. “I do.”
“But you won’t always, boy. You won’t always.”
He sat back down and said to me, “She’s right. It’s just a matter of time. I don’t know what to do. If I kill myself, she’ll go free and eventually find someone else to take over. If I stay alive, it’s just a matter of time, like she says, before she makes me do something awful.” He slumped back deeper into the chair, sighing forlornly.
“We could exorcise her, Eddie. We could find somebody who could do that and we could get her out of you. We could destroy her.”
He shook his head. “I can’t just destroy her. She’s my Mama.”
“You tell him, boy,” piped up the other half.
“You hush now, Mama. I’m not going to listen to you any more. I said before, I’m in control here. I ain’t letting you out and I ain’t gonna destroy you.”
“Why not, Eddie?” I asked. “She’s evil.”
“I know she is. I know that. I heard everything she told you up in her room, about dealing with the Devil and all that. There can’t be any good in that.”
“Then come with me. We’ll find somebody who can do it. We’ll wipe her out forever. She’ll never be able to control you again.”
“I can’t do that, sir. What I can do, though, is control her. I have a responsibility to her and to everyone else, too. I have to take care of her as best I can. I can keep her from leaving my head and finding another body. I can make sure she stays in here and doesn’t get into mischief and doesn’t do anything worse to herself than she’s already done. Maybe I can help her. Change her mind about a couple things.”
“She will eventually control you,’ I said. “You know she will.”
“Yeah, I know that too.”
“And they’re going to find out what happened to Mrs. Worden, if they haven’t already, and they’re going to come looking for you. You can’t possibly convince them of the truth. You can’t tell them what really happened.”
“Oh, that’s exactly what I aim to tell them. The truth. All of it. I’ll leave you out, of course. I appreciate what you done for me, and I won’t drag you into it. But I’m gonna tell them everything else, just like it happened.”
“They’ll think you’re insane! They’ll lock you up for the rest of your life!”
He looked at me with the most bittersweet expression on his face. Augusta was hammering at the left side of it, but she couldn’t wipe it away. It was an expression of contentment, of epiphany, of rightness. Of triumph and resignation. Of a man who, at long last, knew his mind.
“They certainly will,” he said, nodding, “and that pretty much solves everything, don’t it?”
I had to admit that he was right.
In the event, Edward Theodore Gein was declared incompetent to stand trial for the crimes committed by his mother. He told everyone the truth about the crimes, and the result was predictable.
The police showed up at his farmhouse shortly after I – at Eddie’s insistence, and with his profound thanks – left. When the contents of his house were discovered and revealed to the public, Eddie became a worldwide media sensation. From that day until now, the legend has grown. Edward Gein is now more of a twisted folk hero than a real man who once lived and suffered and died. The real Eddie Gein remains unknown. Nobody ever has or ever will discover the truth behind the storied monster, the Mad Butcher of Plainfield. No one but me knows the man who saved the world from his wicked, foolish mother, then tried to save her too.
After ten years in a mental institution, Eddie was declared competent to stand trial for the murder of Bernice Worden. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity—whatever he was now, the court found that he had been insane at the time the crimes were committed, and he was sent back to Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. There he remained until his death on July 26, 1984.
Where the spirit of the abominable Augusta Gein went when Eddie died cannot, of course, be known. Who can say? Not I. Maybe she's still out there, roaming the Western Lands, trying to hatch another scheme. Maybe Eddie finally got through to her and convinced her of the error of her ways. Maybe she has been redeemed, or maybe she has been consigned to the Pit, never again to move about in this world. We may never know.
Well, hope springs eternal.
But I said that once already, didn’t I?