Wednesday, March 28, 2012


In the novel Creeping Dawn: The Rise of the Black Centipede, our hero finds himself saddled with a young reporter named Percival Doiley. Doiley has been hired by a wealthy patron to act as the Centipede's official press liaison, and to write highly-fictionalized-- or completely fabricated-- adventure stories for the "Tales of the Black Centipede" pulp magazine. Percy is a good reporter, but an exceedingly inept purveyor of fiction. The needle that measures his prose is stuck on purple. He has a very high opinion of his own ability, mainly because he knows a lot of big words. The fact that he doesn't always know exactly what they mean never deters him from deploying them. I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of Percy's work. So, from August, 1936, here is an excerpt from the classic Black Centipede tale of the...

"Death Cult of the Russian Octopus"
by Randolph Praetorius (Percival Doiley) (Tales of the Black Centipede #36, August, 1936, Lane and Jones Publishing, Zenith and New York, a division of the Hearst Corporation)


A forbidding air of foreboding hung over the dark city street like a blood-drenched funeral shroud. Inhuman eyes seemed to peer out from every nook and cranny. It was a perfect night for the Devil to be at work.

And so it was that he was.

It was a street lined glumly with old warehouses on one side, cheap apartment buildings and grimy, dangerous taverns on the other. The street reeked of poverty and madness, illegal gambling and unwashed diapers. Up and down the street on this dark night moved some of the ghost-like denizens of this section of Zenith. In and out of the miserable saloons they shuffled on their never-ending quest to numb for a time, with cheap hooch, the harshness and depression rampant in their lives.
Somewhere in this black night, on this Godforsaken street of want and desperation, the lapdogs of evil, servants of the Dark Power, plot their monstrous schemes.

Here, they raise their weapons and position America itself squarely in their diabolical crosshairs. They are supremely confident that no man can stop or stay their hand. Perhaps they would be correct-- If they were anyplace but here. For this great metropolis is home to a man like no other. Those who would befoul these streets and shops and homes little realize that their impunity is but an illusion.

Moving silently among the alcohol-sodden wraiths was a man dressed entirely in black. His face was covered by an ominous black mask.

On the front of the mask was emblazoned a silver depiction of a centipede, curled into a shape somewhat like the letter “S.” On his head was a hat the color of warm tar, the brim pulled down low in front. This mysterious figure seemed to have a purpose, because he walked purposefully along, dodging those folks whose inebriated condition made them into minor obstacles for the determined walker.

The man projected an air of complete self-confidence, a thing not usually seen on this street of broken men and women poisoned by the toxins of their shattered dreams.
For this awesome figure, this shadowy specter stalking the night like some gothic scarecrow of retribution, is the city of Zenith’s own dark angel—The BLACK CENTIPEDE. His mission: Justice, pure and simple.

Suddenly, a shot rang out, shattering the dull mumbling calm of the evening. Glancing around, the Black Centipede pinpointed the source of the explosive report, a dingy, odious gin mill identified by name by the rickety sign hung lopsidedly above the entrance:


How fitting, the Centipede mused, that a place thusly named should play host to such violent acts, such cacophonous breaches of the nocturnal peace. As he stood motionless, a woman’s shrill scream protruded out from behind the battered entrance.
Someone was in danger! A woman was being threatened with death or worse there inside the dissipated establishment. Wasting not a moment, the masked man sprang toward that door, drawing a gleaming .45 automatic from within his ebon overcoat. He dynamically kicked the door down with one foot, and dashed into the putrid, smoke-filled atmosphere of the dive. A horrific tableau greeted the eyes hidden behind the black mask.

Three menacing figures loomed menacingly over a small woman, whose clothing was in a shocking state of disarray. Averting his eyes from her, as any true gentleman would, the Centipede turned his attention to the three assailants. They were rough-hewn individuals. Their exotic features and gaudy, flamboyant raiment hinted at strange, foreign climes where chivalry and the rule of law held no sway, and where corruption and sodomy were as common as Sunday newspapers.

“Okay, boys,” the masked man said in a resonant, commanding tone, “playtime is over. Back off.”
The deviants turned to gaze at the source of this imperious instruction. They laughed, like hyenas sensing blood in the water. As the first man stalked toward him, the Centipede fatally shot him to death. Spurts of red blood ejaculated out of the grim holes that had been made by the masked man’s trusty firearm. The Centipede broadcast a further array of hot lead at the fallen man’s degenerate companions, ending their misbegotten lives in a manner that was ironically fitting for such violent criminal misanthropes. Casting his eerie, penetrating gaze at the three newly-created dead cadavers on the barroom floor, he demanded in a strident voice composed of ice and steel, “Which of these villains fired the shot I heard?”

“None of them,” came a lilting feminine voice from the shapely mouth of the young woman who had so recently been the target of deadly menace.
The Black Centipede turned to survey the petite, voluptuous girl. She was female, and appeared to be approximately between 19 and 37 years of age. The hero took in details of her pleasing aspect, her lustrous dark hair, creamy dimpled cheeks, Cupid’s-bow lips. Lips that could drip enough sweet promises, he surmised, to ensnare any red-blooded man around her little finger, like a moth to a gorgeous, blue-eyed flame. But her pastoral serenity, the Centipede instinctively realized, was the misleading tip of an iceberg of depravity. Her garb and her painted features were, unfortunately, clear evidence of harlotry. As the masked man examined her further, his powerful brain churning rapidly, he saw that she was no hothouse flower. There was a fierceness in her face, matched by a no-nonsense gleam in her bedazzling eyes.

Through clenched teeth, she held up her hand and spoke.
“I shot at them,” she proclaimed.

The Centipede now saw, in the hand she was holding aloft, a gunmetal gray gun-- a .22 pistol, he surmised.

“They made advances to me,” said the vision of tainted loveliness. “I asked them to let me be, but they refused. So I pulled from my handbag this pistol, which I always carry for protection. Still they advanced, so I fired a shot over their heads and screamed as the loud report startled me. I’m… I’m sorry I caused a scene.”

The Centipede surmised that the woman spoke the truth. But was he really convinced of this, he mused, or had he been enchanted by her soulful brown eyes, her shapely form, her symmetrical facial structure?
Nuts, he thought to himself, don’t tell me I’m going soft over a dame! Ixnay on that! Forcing from his consciousness the seductive image in his mind’s eye of this fair lass reclining on a distant beach, far from the haunts of the crime and violence that comprised his rigid life, he spoke gruffly, like a man running for governor who doesn’t really want the job.

“Okay, sister,” he said with nonchalance, deliberately refraining from gazing into the inviting depths of her fabulous orbs. “I guess your story checks out. None of these mugs seem to have been packing roscoes. So, what’s a not-so-nice dame like you doing in a place that’s even worse?”

She sighed wearily. “I guess you surmised my profession. My ma is very sick. She came down with TB and polio three months ago. She needs an operation real bad, but it will cost thousands of dollars. We’re poor, mister. This is the only way I can make lots of money fast.”

Suddenly, without warning, as though a dam had burst inside her head, hot bitter tears streamed forth from her emerald blue eyes, washing over her cheeks like water from a mop bucket that’s been tipped over, or from a dam that has burst. Her supple frame wracked with pent-up grief, the girl cast her eyes to the heavens.

"I may be a scarlet woman," she cried in feminine anguish, "but I don't give it away!"

A woman’s tears,
mused the Centipede, are the most volatile solvent known to science. He moved warily but promptly closer to the heaving girl. Her pulchritudinous bosom hurled sob after sob into the foul air of the Rusty Bucket of Blood, like so much agonized confetti. The masked man stepped boldly in front of the girl and smacked her across the face.
At first the ravishing girl’s beautiful face, with its sea-green Irish eyes, filled with candor and defiance, registered shock and anger. Then a calmness descended over her like the top slice of bread on a baloney sandwich. She sniffled, wiping feminine mucus from her shapely nostrils, then smiled as though the weight of the world had been extracted from off of her ample bosom.

“Thanks,” she said. “I needed that. But if you try it again, I’ll blow your #@!$ off.”
The Black Centipede chortled, placing his hands on the girl’s enticing shoulders and peering into her statuesque blue eyes.

“Say,” he remarked, “You got spunk. I admire that. I could use a dame like you.”

“You got twenty bucks?”

“No, I don’t. But that ain’t what I’m talking about. I could use a spunky no-nonsense dame who can handle herself in a tough situation. How would you like to join me in my war on crime?” 

"But… What about my ma? I have to have money so she can get her brain tumor removed.”

“I’ll see to all of that,” averred the masked vigilante. “It happens that I am… good friends with a multi-millionaire named William Lee Williams. I will get him to pay for your mother’s operation. I am not him, but I am friends with him, even though we are never seen together.”

The girl spewed tears of pure elation. Her lips seeped upward over her cheeks in a beatific smile, and she threw her sylphlike arms around the Centipede’s neck, exclaiming, “Oh, you are wonderful!”
The masked man pushed her gently back. Was there a hint of regret in his dark aspect?

“Okay, sister,” he said, “lay off the mushy stuff. This ain’t one of those rides they have at the carnival where you go through a dark tunnel full of water in a little boat with a dame and try to hold her hand or something while you’re there in the dark. This is serious business.”

“I… I’m sorry. I just got carried away, mister. Nobody has ever been nice to me before. Except my ma, but I wouldn’t go on one of those rides with her, even if she didn’t have leukemia. It won’t happen again.”

The Centipede nodded. Then he asked her sharply, “What’s your moniker, kid? What do they call ya at home?”

The girl beamed a radiant smile right into the masked man’s masked face. “My name is Mary Jane,” she said exquisitely. “Mary Jane Gallows.”

A very shapely name, mused the Centipede, for one very swell-looking tomato. Being a red-blooded American male, the masked man did not fail to be affected by the sultry charms on display there before him.
But, he ruminated wistfully, love and romance are not a part of my lot in life. These amenities are for other men, men whose parents were not killed by pirates, and who were not washed ashore on an island where there lived a fantastic race of people, who were descended, some said, from visitors who came from a distant star, and who did not learn from these people all the secrets of the human mind and body, as well as every fighting style known to man, and super-scientific knowledge of medicine, physics, arts and humanities.  

Are such men, he asked himself, to be pitied for their lack of perfection and purpose and spiritual and intellectual advancement? All of these marvels that I take for granted? Or… are they the lucky ones?

 The Centipede shook his masked head vigorously, as if to evict from his brain these tormenting thoughts of what might have been. He gave them the bum’s rush, as though they were a tenant in a boarding house who hadn't paid his rent in six weeks, and who was suspected of cooking in his room, and reaffirmed his commitment to a celibate life of service to the cause of law and justice.

“Come on,” he said to the winsome Mary Jane, “you can start right now. Keep that heater handy, and follow me. We got an appointment.”

“With whom?” Mary Jane asked coquettishly.

He looked at her and said, “Destiny, toots.”
On the way out of the bar, the masked man tossed a silver dollar to the nonplussed bartender. “How ‘bout you take out that garbage I left on the floor, mac?” the masked Centipede quipped. “Here’s a buck for your trouble.”

The bartender, whose name was Gerald Cousins, and who had a black moustache, thanked the man in the black mask, bit the coin, stuck it in his waistcoat pocket, produced a huge pair of ice tongs from a tin bucket, and sauntered out from behind the bar to do as the mysterious masked man had bidden of him to. He knew that it was healthier to do as the Centipede said than it was to ignore it or find something different to do instead, or to put it off for a long time. Cousins was not a criminal himself, but he had tendencies. His instincts demanded that he keep his nose clean.

Out on the street, the Centipede spoke to his newly-christened distaff helpmate. By this point, he was certain that he was hopelessly in love with the dame. But he didn’t say anything about that. In the interest of decorum, he thought it proper to save any proposals or propositions at least until they had known one another for more than 15 minutes. Besides, they were on the clock right now. Office romances, he pondered silently, never worked out.
Thus, when he spoke to the alluring vixen, whose tumultuous grey eyes bespoke of her ability to launch a thousand ships and then some, it was not of love, but of duty.

“I came to this section of town tonight,” he declared, “in search of a madman. There is an evildoer at work in this city, and he threatens to bring chaos and destruction upon Zenith.”

TO BE CONTINUED? probably not

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff... pulp within pulp. (The opening sentence had me chuckling... if I'm not careful, I dip into alliteration here and there in my own writing)