Sunday, March 24, 2013

MARY JANE KELLY RETURNS

Also waiting in the wings for their public debut in 2013 are Vionna Valis and Mary Jane Kelly, a pair of self-described "psychic detectives." They both have interesting personal histories. Unfortunately, Vionna cannot remember hers. Mary's is less mysterious, but more bizarre. To see what I mean, have a look at Mary Jane Kelly's first appearance, from my unpublished novel, The Optimist Book One: You Don't Know Jack. Which, I might add, is going to be undergoing renovations at some point in the not-too-near future, and may well see print after all, one of these days. The tale, set in the present day, is related by Vionna's adopted brother, Jack Christian, who narrated the Doctor Unknown Junior tale, "The Abominable Myra Linsky Rises Again," which appeared in Pro Se Presents #13 (still available on Amazon). Unwanted contact has been made with the malevolent spirit of Jack the Ripper (the main villain in the 2012 novel Blood of the Centipede). Dana Unknown has already fallen to the monster's dark power. She is in a coma, and Jack has enlisted the help of the 100-year-old Black Centipede-- who, as usual, knows more than he's telling. In this early take on the character, the Centipede has a lot more William Burroughs in him than in more recent tales.

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Copyright 2011 Chuck Miller



CHAPTER TEN: SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME

 Vionna and I made the acquaintance of a couple gallons of whiskey and communed with them until we had upgraded ourselves from blind panic to numb horror. One takes what one can get in this life.

We were sitting in the Centipede's lab. We had moved Dana from the cot to a hospital bed in a small inner room. We fussed over her every few minutes, trying to make her comfortable, though of course we had no idea if it worked. The Centipede tried to draw a blood sample, but the needle would not go into her arm.

"Good grief," he said. "I'd give my eye teeth to be blessed with veins like she's got, but I can't get a goddamn spike into them. Like trying to poke a needle through a steel plate. Can't even do a damn skin pop."

So we sat. We waited for something unimaginable that refused to come. At some point the Centipede absented himself from the room. Vionna and I exercised the better part of valor by drinking until we both passed out. No mean feat considering our superhuman capacities.

I awoke some hours later, on the floor. Vionna was gone, but she'd left a note telling me she had gone to bed, which I appreciated. I got myself up and into a chair next to the still-static Dana's bed. Soon, the Centipede came bustling into the room.

“Here we go,” he said, brandishing a good-sized leather-bound book. “Now, dear boy, we establish ourselves a beachhead. I have here a copy of the infamous Crowley Grimoire!”

“Really? The book Dana mentioned? Where did you get that?”

 He replied in that sickeningly coy way he has. “Now, if I told you that…”

“You’d have to kill me?”

“Not at all. Do you take me for some wanton brute? I might break your hands and rip out your tongue, just to be on the safe side, you understand, but kill you? Never!”

“Well thanks.”

“Think nothing of it. Now, to the business.” He sat down and placed the book on his lap. “This thing is, of course, the great ‘lost’ opus of the late Aleister Crowley.”

“Oh, an impeccable source,” I offered.

“Sarcasm does not become you, Jack. Crowley may not have been a font of unadulterated truth, but he knew a thing or two. In fact, he claimed he knew who Jack the Ripper really was.”

I rolled my eyes. “That’s a crowded field. Hell, every cop in London who worked on the case claimed later on that he “knew” who the Ripper was, but he couldn’t reveal the name because of this, that and the other."

“Well, those memoirs they all wrote decades after the fact were just last-ditch efforts to save face," the Centipede said. "The word of a cop is never to be trusted, especially not in his memoirs. A retired civil servant ain't got much to hang his glory on. I don’t imagine any of them had a genuine clue, so they resorted to veiled hints and sly allusions to nameless but ever so highly placed personages. No doubt this sort of chicanery spawned all the absurd rumors and theories about Sir William Gull and Prince Eddy."

He thumbed through the book as he continued. "Dear old Aleister claimed, as I say, that he knew the Ripper's identity. Further, he claimed that the killings were part of a blood ritual intended to do something or other that the Ripper found so desirable he didn't mind performing a blood ritual to get it. Probably immortality or something equally worthless. Anyhow, blood rituals like this are incredibly dangerous for the party performing them. One wrong move and your soul gets snatched up by some demonic skip tracer and next thing you know, you're ass deep in boiling oil, polishing Satan's hooves for all eternity."

"Not very dignified," I remarked. "Sort of a dead-end job."

"It has little to recommend it."

He held the book out to me and I took it from him. Thumbing idly through the thing, I saw a bunch of crap I was sure I didn't want to know anything about.

"The Grimoire does not reveal the Ripper’s true name," said the Centipede. "While it purports to be an account of the murders and the ritual connected to them, it is in fact largely incoherent. But that's beside the point," continued the Centipede. "What matters to us is that the five victims were bound by the ritual. Bound to their killer, that is. If anybody could help us find him, it would be them."

"Well, then, that solves all our problems," I said. "They've only been dead for 120 years. They ought to be easy to get for a consultation."

"I've cautioned you once already about the sarcasm. And, just for your information, I think they WILL be very easy to consult with."

"Okey-dokey. I'm speechless because I can't think of anything to say that isn't sarcastic."

"You're making progress. Now just listen. I had a seance in mind, but that book describes something called a Summoning. This should produce a higher quality manifestation than anything you'd get from a Ouija board or an honest spirit medium. And there's no such animal as the latter. Be that as it may, a Summoning is relatively simple. The main requirement is that you have something that came from the dead person's body. Like in Voodoo, where they make use of hair, fingernail clippings and the like."

"And where will we find such relics?”

"Well, if what my friend tells me is the truth, that book you're holding is not bound in leather. That exquisite binding there is actually made of skin from each of the five victims. Hey! Pick that up, that's a rare volume. Can't be throwing it around like a tennis ball, dammit. I wouldn't have taken you for such a Philistine.”

The Centipede insisted on performing the Summoning in his giant orgone chamber. When I asked why, he said, “Couldn’t hurt.” And, in the event, it didn’t...


***

“Orgone energy is an idea which was proposed and promoted in the 1930s by psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, who originated the term to describe a universal life force. Beginning with a materialist concept of the Freudian libido, Reich ultimately came to see orgone as a massless, omnipresent substance, similar to luminiferous aether, but more closely associated with vital, living energy than inert matter. Orgone supposedly violated the second law of thermodynamics, coalescing and creating organization on all scales, from the smallest microscopic units - called bions in orgone theory - to macroscopic structures like organisms, clouds, or even galaxies. It was proposed it could be collected in specially designed "orgone accumulators" to be used as a form of therapy or in tools such as cloudbusters, devices intended to stimulate rainfall. Reich's follower Charles R. Kelley went so far as to claim that orgone was the creative substratum in all of nature, comparable to Mesmer's animal magnetism, the Odic force of Carl Reichenbach and Henri Bergson's √©lan vital.

”Reich created the Orgone Institute after immigrating to the US, and pursued research into orgone energy for more than a decade, publishing his own work through the institute and producing orgone accumulators and related devices for distribution. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) eventually obtained a federal injunction barring the interstate distribution of orgone-related materials, on the charge that Reich and his associates were making false and misleading claims. When Reich violated the injunction he was jailed, and all orgone-related equipment and literature owned by Reich and his associates were destroyed.”

”Orgone is regarded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a type of "putative energy", a model which some therapists use for clinical procedures but which is untestable or defies measurement. According to writer K. Isaacs, the idea of orgone is a useless and discredited fiction.”
(Wikipedia)

Regardless of any discreditation, the Centipede was a believer.  He had a number of small “orgone accumulators” scattered about his Lair. The windowless top story of the building was one massive “orgone superaccumulator chamber,” as he called it in his typically grandiose fashion.

We gathered in the chamber, the Centipede, Vionna and I. It was a cavernous room, utterly empty but for the three of us and our magical bric-a-brac. We performed a ceremony that I do not intend to describe here. I have a number of reasons for censoring it out of this account. One of them is the fact that it still makes my skin crawl to think about it. Another is that I don’t want anybody who might read this to try and do anything even remotely like it.

We did the Summoning. We sent our mystical call out into the Great Whatever. We called five names: Annie Chapman. Catherine Eddowes. Mary Jane Kelly. Elizabeth Stride. Polly Nichols. We did the whole ball of wax as laid out in that goddamn Grimoire. Then we sat there. And sat there. And sat there.

“Well,” I said. “I guess old Crowley was full of crap after all.” I stood up. “Now I’m going to do something productive. Liquor cabinet, here I…”

I didn’t finish that happy thought because something knocked me flat on my ass.

At first I thought the Centipede had struck me in an inexplicable paroxysm of spite. But he hadn’t moved. The room got cold. I gritted my teeth. Rooms suddenly getting cold had never, in my experience, heralded anything pleasant. Then came a mysterious odor. It was roses mixed with lilacs, or so it seemed to me. Not unpleasant at all. I struggled to a sitting position as all the light in the room went someplace else, leaving us in total darkness.

Then came the female voices. First one, then another, then another, then two more. They were muttering, laughing, singing, crying, shouting, screaming. They got louder and louder until I started wishing for earplugs. They became almost deafening, but still somehow gave the impression that they came from a VERY long way away.

And then there was light. Brilliant, pure white light, coming from every direction. Very intense, but not painful to look at. I turned around. There was the Centipede, and there was Vionna, jaws hanging wide open. I could not see walls, floor or ceiling. Nothing but my two friends. Then I turned to look at what I knew to be the center of the chamber.

Something was happening there. Five somethings. Silhouettes. Five of them, coalescing there in the light. Sort of human-shaped, but, to use Dana’s words, sort of NOT.

I screwed my eyes shut. I’m not a coward, but there’s some stuff I just don’t want to see, and I had a feeling that was the kind that was about to go down. All of a sudden a great clattering din arose, replacing the female voices. It was a popping, spattering noise, like someone was sprinkling water into hot grease. A LOT of water into a LOT of grease.

“Oh my sweet Jesus,” shouted the Centipede. I could barely hear him over the popping. “If this is what it looks like, we have ourselves a chain energy-matter conversion reaction going on. Dear old Dr. Reich would pass a gold brick if he could see this!”

“What the hell’s happening?”

“It’s the spell from the Grimoire. It’s getting a massive boost from the concentrated orgone radiation. I don’t know exactly what’s happening. But I don’t think it’s anything that’s ever happened before, so…”

“Dana says you’re not supposed to mix magic and science.”

“Dana is lying comatose in my lab with a phantom scalpel stuck in her neck.”

“That’s not fair, or even relevant, but I won’t argue about it right now.”

 ”Good boy. You know how to prioritize. It’s a rare skill.”

“What is happening?”

“Look and see.”

“I better not. Just tell me.”

“Well, in a classic spirit manifestation, the ghost will fashion for itself a temporary body of ectoplasm. Depending on how much energy the medium can provide, the ghost might have just a face, or it might have a whole body. It might look human, or it might looked like a wad of used Kleenex.”

“You have the soul of a poet.”

“I’ve never been able to write poetry,” he said, irony whizzing along a hundred feet above his head. “What we have here, though… If my guess is correct, the awesome power of the orgone is providing this multiple manifestation with almost infinite energy.”

“There’s no such thing as ‘almost infinite,’” I felt obliged to point out. “Infinity is…”

“Thank you, professor,” he snapped. “Now shut up and listen.” Recognizing the better part of valor, I complied.

“These spirits,” he continued, “seem to be bypassing ectoplasm altogether and are fashioning bodies out of genuine flesh, blood and bone. Presumably, the energy— I’ll call it ‘incalculable’ in deference to your highness-- is being converted wholesale into matter. The correct elements are being combined in the correct arrangements, and they’re knitting themselves together into five things that are looking more human every second. You really ought to see this.”

“That’s okay, I’m cool. Let me know when they actually look human. I can wait.”

“Tsk-tsk. No spirit of discovery. Appalling attitude in one so young.

“Okay, we have five very nice skeletons… Now they’re laying in a few organs… Jesus, look at that colon go! Ah, here come some muscles and tendons. This is a work of art. Wish I’d thought to bring a video camera. Well… Here comes the skin. Rolling out like five little parachutes, draping themselves over each body. It’s cinching up… beautiful fit! Them girls look like they were poured into that flesh, heh-heh!

“Now we’ve got hair sprouting. Reminds me of one of those time-lapse films of a flower blooming. Your aesthetic sense will be gratified to know that, in every instance, the drapes match the carpet. And that’s done. That seems to be the works. They aren’t moving. Very pale, very still. They look like wax dummies. Oh, wow, something’s about to happen. Feel that? Like static electricity in the air. God damn! They’re trembling… One of them just opened her eyes! Oh, did you hear that? They just started breathing! They’re turning pink! Holy  cow! They’re looking around. Okay, Little Bo Peep, you can open your virgin eyes now.”

So I did. There was the Centipede, jumping up and down and carrying on like Colin Clive. I looked to the center of the chamber, and there they were, the five of them. Naked, shining and beautiful. I knew their names, of course. Annie Chapman. Polly Nichols. Catherine Eddowes. Elizabeth Stride. Mary Jane Kelly. All of them standing there in the middle of that crazy orgone chamber.

I recognized Polly, Annie and Long Liz, because they resembled their mortuary photos. The Ripper hadn’t touched their faces. Poor Catherine Eddowes, however, had been savagely disfigured in her post-mortem snapshots, so I was seeing her face for the first time. Likewise Mary Jane Kelly. Her only surviving “portrait,” taken at her murder scene, shows her supine on a sagging bed, looking like she’d been run over by a threshing machine. Her face is turned toward the camera, but there is nothing there to recognize. The Ripper had brutally redacted her features, leaving a mess that makes you thank God the photo wasn’t in color.  You’re thankful to Him, that is, until you get pissed off that He went to the trouble of sparing your feelings, but could not be bothered to prevent this poor girl being gutted and shredded by a maniac.

But here she was, whole. I was gazing at a face that had not been seen on this earth for more than 120 years. I found her quite good-looking, in a blunt, almost defiant sort of way. Mindful of the gravity of the situation, I made a token effort not to think of her in sexual terms. But, shit, she was cute and she was stark naked. You try it some time.

Anyhow, just like in the Garden of Eden, they realized first that they were alive, then that they were naked. They may have been “unfortunates,” a genteel term for prostitutes, but they were still Victorian women, and were paradoxically prudish in any situation that wasn't a commercial transaction.

They set up a bit of a disturbance. Mary Kelly threw a fierce glare at me and said, “Well, what the hell are you gawking at? Get us something to wear, for the love of Christ!”

Not “Where am I?” Not “How did I get here?” First and foremost, cover up the goods.

Vionna dashed out of the room, returning in a matter of seconds with five terry-cloth bathrobes draped over her arm. Why she had five bathrobes that could be deployed at a moment’s notice, I do not know, but I was once again grateful to our schizoid Father in Heaven.

Once the merchandise was safely under wraps, I moved in on them with questions. I confess I was in awe of them. They were like twisted celebrities.

"Do you know what has just happened to you?"

"We were dead. I think we had been dead for quite some time. There was an... afterlife, and we were there. Now it feels like we're alive." She looked at her hands, turning them this way and that. "These bodies, pardon the indelicacy, are made of flesh and bone and blood and so forth. We are not phantasms.”

“No,” I said helpfully, “you are fan-f***ing-tastic.”

Mary arched a sharp brow at me. “I beg your pardon?”

At this point, Vionna seemed to think she had no other choice than to physically propel me out of the way, clapping a hand over my mouth as she did so. This is why I need a sister, to spoil my fun with girls.


CHAPTER ELEVEN: THE MAD TEA PARTY

I don’t know what Emily Post would say about entertaining five resurrected victims of the world’s most notorious serial killer—nor do I know exactly who or what Emily Post is or was—but Vionna Valis could write the book on it. Rescuing the five from my crude and awkward antics, she  herded them all in a body to her room. The Centipede and I stood in the hallway for what seemed like days, watching Vionna’s door as though it were a bank vault on a time lock, or the entrance to an execution chamber.

Presently there emerged six women you wouldn’t look twice at if you saw them on the street. What I mean by that is, you could see them and it would probably not cross your mind that they had been butchered more than a century ago, and just recently returned to life with brand-new bodies. I wasn’t implying that they weren’t worth looking at. Mary Kelly, I already mentioned, was something of a looker, depending on what you liked to look at, and the others also cleaned up nicely.

In life, the other four had been considerably older than Mary, and much the worse for wear. In the only photographs ever taken of them, in the mortuary, they looked even worse than that, which is to be expected after an encounter with Jack the Ripper.

I noticed now that the new bodies they had constructed for themselves out of whatever it was were all in mint condition, and none of them appeared to be more than 25 years old. Each of them was modeling an ensemble from Le Closet De Valis—basically uniform outfits consisting of khaki pants and roomy dark-colored t-shirts, of the kind Vionna favored. They were all about the same size, and each on had her hair pulled back into a pony tail, and for a second I had the disconcerting impression that I was seeing half a dozen Vionnas tromping out of the room. And one of my suspicions was confirmed; Vionna did indeed have at least six identical pairs of black sneakers.

The five that didn’t know me eyed me warily. Mary Kelly subjected me to particularly intense scrutiny. After a moment, she took a breath and walked up to me.

“Miss Vionna tells us that you are frequently in your cups, and so are not completely responsible for everything you do or say. I understand these things. In my former life I had become an inveterate tippler, and often behaved like an ass when I was the worse for drink. Therefore, I am prepared to overlook your earlier crude remark.”

Somehow, the scowl I aimed at Vionna failed to burn a hole in her head. She at least had the decency to cast her eyes downward, as though in shame, but I’m pretty sure she was grinning.

“Um,” I said. Since that exhausted my stock of conversational gambits, I smiled and put my hand out.

Mary looked  at it, then at my face, her expression puzzled.

“Nowadays, Mary,” Vionna said, “it is acceptable for men and women to shake hands.”

Mary’s eyebrows went up and she had a look on her face like somebody had told her it was now commonplace for human beings to marry anteaters. Even so, she reached out and took my hand in an awkward grip, pumping it crisply up and down two times, as though her arm were a machine constructed for just that purpose.

“It is a… (long pause)…pleasure to meet you, Mister Christian.” She spoke with what I imagine you’d call an Irish brogue, though it was considerably more subtle than that of the Lucky Charms leprechaun.

“Oh, you sound like Captain Bligh. Just call me Jack.”

Her face paled. “Jack… There’s something about that name…”

The Centipede reappeared at that moment, without my having known he’d disappeared in the first place. He came bustling in from the direction of the dining room. Smiling the plastic smile of an unctuous headwaiter, he said, “Ladies and… Jack. If you’d care to follow me, we will have tea.” He actually made a little bow and led us in to where he had  set the large dining room table with doilies, cups and saucers and a large pot of tea smack in the middle. The girls made approving noises, and we seated ourselves.

One we had all served ourselves, the Centipede proceeded to hold court.

“I imagine you ladies have a great many questions,” he said. “And we have a few of our own. First, let me ask you something. Just how aware are you of what has happened?”

“Well,” said Mary Kelly, the natural leader and spokesperson, “we know that we are dead. Or were dead. We know that we have returned to the  living world, and we give every indication of being living, flesh and blood creatures.

“Miss Vionna has told us that we were all murdered more than a hundred years ago, and that we are now in the 21st century.”

“Do you  recall,” I asked, “what it was like to be dead?”

“Yes and no,” said Liz Stride. “When first we appeared in your chamber it was quite a shock. We were drawn here from… somewhere. Some place or state of being. We were conscious, I believe, but coming back into this world was like awakening from a dream.”

“Yes,” said Catherine Eddowes. “For the first few moments, I think I remembered everything about it. But those memories began to fade quickly. They are now all but gone. I have only a few vague recollections that are too insubstantial to put into words.” The others all nodded.

“Do you know why we brought you here now?” Vionna asked.

“Not really,” said Mary. “I sense that we are bound to one another, and this is probably because of the circumstances of our deaths. Although I never really knew any of the others in life—in the past—however one should refer to it—I know them now. They are familiar to me, I love them. This cannot be a sudden development. I have the sense that we became close in the afterlife, if that’s what it was. I do wish I could remember more about it.”

“Let’s just get to it,” I said with he-man bluntness. “Do you know how you died?”

“Murdered,” said all five at once. They looked at one another, then looked to the rest of us.

“I remember,” said Annie Chapman, “a man. A very dark man. Not like a Negro, I mean, but dark. Dark and cold and evil. Very queer he was. His eyes were… awful.”

“I too recall such a man,” said Polly Nichols. “He seemed otherworldly. He strangled me, and then… I’m not sure about what followed. I believe there was a knife…”

“And how,” I said, earning more scowls.

“You were killed, each of you,” Vionna put in, “by the same madman. He was called Jack the Ripper.”

Mary gasped. The others just stared dumbly. “Who?” asked Liz.

“Oh, yeah, that’s right,” I said. “The name did not become public knowledge until the day after Liz and Catherine were killed. You wouldn’t have heard of him by that name. I believe the press carried some reports about a mysterious character called Leather Apron, though.”

There were gasps and they all looked at one another, jaws hanging open. The only one that still looked totally puzzled was Polly Nichols.

“You, Polly,” I said, “were the first to die, so  you wouldn’t have heard of ‘Leather Apron’ either.”

Annie slumped back in her chair. “Good Lord,” she said. “It was Leather Apron that killed me. People had been talking about him. There was a story in the newspaper a day or two before I…” She just left that hanging, and I didn’t blame her.

“No,” I said. “It wasn’t ‘Leather Apron.’ He turned out to be a guy named John Pizer. They arrested him, but he turned out to be guilty of nothing more than advanced asshole-ism. They let him go once they ascertained that he couldn’t have done the murders.”

“What of the real killer, then?” Catherine asked with a cold fierceness in her voice. “Who was this devil? What was his true name?”

“Nobody knows,” I told her. “He was never caught. Never even identified.”

Catherine shook her head slowly. “It ain’t right,” she said, her voice now low and far away. “He shouldn’t have got away with what he did.”

“Too true,” said Mary. “I should like to lay my hands upon him. He’d pay for it then. Oh, he needs to be brought to justice. But it is a century too late for that.”

“Well now,” said the Centipede, shifting gears from headwaiter to used snake-oil salesman, “that’s kind of why we brought you ladies here. What if I told you that you CAN lay your hands on him and mete out some long-overdue justice? Would that interest you at all?” Alas, the Centipede is a born con-artist who is much more comfortable with a sneaky, manipulative approach than a simple request for help. Even when the “mark” would probably agree without hesitation.

“I should say so!” Mary exclaimed. “Where is he? Did you bring him here too, as you did with us?” She glanced quickly and nervously around the room, as though she might spot the Ripper lurking somewhere.

“No, no, he isn’t here, girls,” said the Centipede in a voice I imagine he imagines is soothing. Like most of his attempts at avuncular charm, it came across as artificial bordering on smarmy. “You mustn’t think we’d subject you to that without any warning. No, the Ripper is not here right now. And we did not bring him here—to this place, or to this world. But he’s been in this building uninvited. He harmed a friend of ours and we think he attempted to kill another—Miss Vionna, in fact.”

The girls made indignant noises and cast sympathetic glances at my little sister.

“What did he imagine gave him the right? Liz asked. “What was he trying to prove? Do we know that?”

“Sort of,” I said. “We found a book called the Crowley Grimoire. It purports to be an account of the murders, but it’s mostly just plain  incomprehensible. We did use it to bring you five back, though.

“Anyhow, according to the book, your murders were part of a blood ritual. An offering to… we don’t know. Nor do we know what it was that he wanted badly enough to slaughter you and endanger his own soul. Not that I give a **** about the consequences to HIM. The Ripper can get ****ed for my part.”

“Tell me,” said Mary, “does everyone in this century feel the need to use profanity in every sentence  they utter?”

“Yes they do,” I said.

Mary rolled her eyes.

Vionna said, “I don’t.”

“She doesn’t,” I conceded. “It is one of her endearing mysteries. But absolutely everyone else does, without exception. Back to the topic at hand, though-- we don’t know what the Ripper wanted when he killed you.”

“I still say it was immortality,” offered the Centipede. “They were always after immortality.”

“Brilliant hypothesis,” I said. “The fact that he’s dead is really neither here nor there.”

The Centipede shrugged. “Maybe it didn’t work. Or maybe his status as the most powerful, potentially destructive ghost in the world is as good as immortality, if not better. There has never been a ghost with that kind of power. Maybe that’s what it was.”

“Maybe ****ing so,” I said, glancing at Mary and laughing inwardly at her brief grimace of irritation. “But he first manifested himself fifteen years ago. What took him so long?”

“Jack, my omniscience is on the blink today, so I can’t answer that. Fifteen years ago he first manifested himself in Zenith. He may have done it any number of times in any number of other places before that.”

“I guess. Well, in any event, girls, whatever the **** he did bound you to him, and vice-versa. We brought you five back in the hope that you could somehow exploit this connection and help us find him.”

“How did HE get back?” asked Annie.

“That we don’t know. He had to have had some help, but that is totally unknown to us. Someone or something brought him back for some reason. He has got to be stopped, and you may be the only people in the world who can help do it.”

“Well then,” Mary said, folding her hands primly in her lap and looking me in the eye, “I propose that you ****ing well tell us the whole ******* story.” The bland expression on her face didn’t even flicker.

I was starting to like that girl.

Since I was the expert, I gave the girls a rundown on the Ripper past and present. Actually, it turned into a lengthy dissertation. During and after Johnny’s and my encounters with him, I had become quite a Ripperologist. It was a disturbing and dangerous pursuit, but one I’d never been able to turn my back on, much as I would have liked to wipe away the entire thing.

But, of course, I couldn’t. not once I had seen and felt that creature’s black malevolence. Truly, my experiences with the Ripper had jarred me to my core, and had knocked loose a few things I’d never been able to repair. For me, the Ripper was not an individual, he was an avatar. He represented the horror that I had begun to believe permeated everything. He was chaos, he was hopelessness, he was the random and meaningless death that we all court every single day of our lives. My awareness of all this horror really blossomed in the days and weeks after Johnny’s death. I pursued my studies with a will during that time, terribly frightened, but needing to face facts. Because it seemed to me that I was living in a world where my own attitudes were irrelevant, and where creatures like Jack the Ripper made sense. I became deeply depressed and I was fearful that I might one day “see the light,” as it were, and embrace the horror that was starting to look like the only game in town.

I didn’t go into all that with the girls, of course. But it was bouncing around in my head again as I spoke. But I did right by my rapt audience. I gave them a concise account of the Ripper’s historical atrocities and their aftermath, filled them in on his first three incursions into our plane, and concluded with the most recent events.

 **

Question: How do we go about finding the ghost of Jack the Ripper?

Answer: It’s impossible.

We couldn’t. Even if we did, what would we do with him? The girls might be able to handle him. Everyone had faith that they could. Or at least they had a desperate hope that they called faith.

I was not at all sanguine. I knew better than most what the Ripper was and what he was capable of doing. The sense of dread and gloom and inevitability gripped me just as it had fifteen years ago, and many more times since.

And there was more than just that bugging me. What was I going to do with these people I had let into my life? They just seemed to pile up like cordwood, one right after another. Or in bunches, like the girls. Vionna was now my sister. I had a weird father-son sort of thing going on with the Centipede. Dana meant something to me. I was very fond of our five resurrectees. This was more genuine human contact-- more like actual bonding-- than anything I had experienced in a very long time. It was, frankly, terrifying. There are things in this world that scare me, and there are things that don’t. Right now, my plate was piled high with the former.

And I had to admit, if only to myself, that the whole Prine thing was causing me discomfort. The thing that really bothered me was the fact that it really didn’t bother me. Here was a death that may have resulted from something I did, and I honestly didn’t care. What was I? Who could be like that?

I knew what I had to do. I could see no other way. I was resigned to it. The Ripper had haunted me for years. It was time to sent aside fear. It was time to accept. I had to make a resolution of the thing, no matter what I had to do to get there.

I made my preparations. Late that night I got the copy of the Grimoire and took it with me to a small room on the 60th floor of the Benway Building. I found the appropriate spell and laid out my objects of power.  I lit candles. I made weird markings on the floor with chalk.

I will not describe the ritual here, nor will I write down the words I spoke.  After I had droned on for what seemed a week, I felt the familiar drop in temperature and saw every light source in the room turn red. Okay. S**t, Jack, you’ve done it. Can’t back out now. And then, once the stage was set, I heard a voice.



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