Thursday, May 30, 2013


As told to Chuck Miller



"Do you say things just to be saying them?" I asked the faceless woman at my side.

"Of course," she replied. "Why does anybody say anything? Why did you just say what you just said? That is the function of language, or so I have always been led to believe."

"That isn't what I meant," I said.

We were on the sidewalk in front of City Hall, waiting for a break in the traffic so we could cross over to the Benway Building. 

"I cannot read your mind," said Anonymoushka, "and would not bother to even if I could. I imagine it's the sort of thing one would thumb through while seated on the commode."

I ignored that. "What I'm talking about," I said, "is that stuff you just told Percy back there, about you and I getting married. Where the hell did that come from?"

She shrugged. "Where the hell does anything come from? A man sits in a room somewhere tap-tap-tapping away on a keyboard. Sort of like a typewriter, but without type bars or carriage return or ribbon or platen or any of the things we take for granted-- nothing but the keyboard connected to a mysterious black box that whirs and clicks and beeps, and is, in its turn, connected to a very small motion picture screen. He is as confused as you are, but he sits and describes what you and I look like and what we are doing and so forth. He worries and fusses and changes the same insignificant line of dialogue a dozen times before he can be comfortable enough with it to go to sleep without having nightmares."

I shook my head. "I have no idea what you're talking about. And what is with this traffic? It's never this heavy in the middle of the day."

"The traffic," she said, "will let up as soon as we finish this discussion. It is much easier to write a conversation when the participants are not prancing about doing all manner of other things at the same time. Your problem, Centipede, is that your view of reality is too limited. You want to see beneath the surface of the world, but there is nothing there. I habitually see above the surface, and what I behold there is no better. I know everything-- including the all-important fact that I know nothing. There is a God, but he is not one that inspires anything like confidence. The fewer of us who know of his existence, the better. He is given to whims and strange fancies, and is much too lazy to be entrusted with the governance of a world-- but here we are,  just the same. The thing is, he is now aware that I am aware of him. Whether this confers upon me some advantage, or whether it proves to be my undoing, we shall just have to wait and see. The real question is, are we doing what he writes or is he writing what we do? And the answer is yes!"

"Are you feeling okay?" I asked. "Do you need any medication or anything?"

"I do not doubt it," she said, "but that is hardly relevant to what I am telling you. I cannot answer your questions,because the answers have not yet been written. You will certainly have to wait for one of the novels to find out anything truly significant about me. What we are engaged in now is just a giveaway. All you'll get here is some bullshit designed to keep the readers interested until the next opportunity arises to separate them from a bit of money. 

"And that is all I have to say on the subject-- we may now cross the street."

She was right. The traffic seemed to have vanished completely. There was nothing on the street now but a mangy little Scottish terrier, relieving himself against the curb. I envied him deeply. As we crossed the street, I kept a close eye on Anonymoushka. She seemed less stable than usual, and I wanted to be as ready as I could in case there was an eruption.

Instead of entering by way of the lobby, we ducked into an alley. Soon, we had made use of one of my hidden entrances and were on our way up in my private elevator. As we stepped out into the lobby of the Unlimited Advantage Worldwide Corporation, J. Alfred Prufrock rose from his chair at the reception desk.

Gregor Samsa scampered out of the conference room and headed straight for Anonymoushka, stopping at her feet and bouncing up and down like a huge, insect-like puppy dog.

"Ah, my favorite perversion of nature!" the faceless woman exclaimed with delight, squatting to stroke Gregor's grotesque little head. "We shall get along infamously when I am the lady of this ghastly household!"

"Sir," said Prufrock, "Doctor Unknown has arrived. I gave him permission to cast some sort of spell on the creature at the bottom of the elevator shaft. I hope that was the right thing to do."

"Absolutely," I said. "You can trust him as much as you trust me, Proofy, old son. Quite a bit more, as a matter of fact, since he is morally superior to me."

Proofy gave me a look. "Perhaps," he said wryly, "I should inquire as to whether he has any openings on his staff."

"Absolutely not," I declared. "I am a jealous master, Proofy, and I deal harshly with any subordinates who attempt to jump ship. You know too much about me, old sport."

"I can never tell when you're joshing me," he said. "Just out of curiosity, sir, what would you do? Kill me?"

"Good heavens, no! Am I a barbarian? There is a way to excise sensitive information from your brain, should the need arise."

"Well, that's a relief, sir."

I nodded. "Yes, and it is my understanding that you would have an 80 percent chance of surviving the procedure. Those aren't bad odds."

He just shook his head at that. He didn't think I was being serious, and neither did I, but who the hell really knew?

"You are safe, Mister Prufrock," Anonymoushka said. "God is quite pleased with you. How many Public Domain characters ever get rescued from poetry, after all? Of course, if he ever gets into one of his sour moods, the whole supporting cast would do well to tread lightly."

Proofy looked puzzled and started to speak, but I cut him off. "Never mind her. Where is Doc Unknown now?"

"He is in the infirmary with Miss Patience. He isn't really a physician, he said, but he gave me to understand that he could spare a bit of white magic to help the poor girl recuperate. Her injuries are serious, he said, but nothing that cannot be overcome by Miss Patience's extraordinarily robust constitution, aided by his own modest contribution."

"Capital!" I said. "Come, let us pay our respects to the darling invalid."

We found Patience propped up in bed, eating soup from a cup. The blank expression on her face was encouraging. Prudence stood at her right side, Stymie Beard at her left. Doctor Unknown was at the foot of the bed, making notations on a clipboard.

He looked up when we entered. "Centipede!" he said. "Good to see you." He put down the clipboard and we shook hands.

In person, Raoul Deveraux Unknown was a rather unassuming character. He looked like he'd be only slightly less timid than J. Alfred Prufrock. His face was round, smooth, and apparently without guile. His hair, worn a bit longer than was fashionable, was reddish-blonde and he was clean-shaven. His wide blue eyes peered out from behind a pair of tortoise-shell glasses. 

"It's mutual, Doc," I said. "I guess I'd like you to meet Anonymoushka. She's... difficult to explain."

"It is nice to meet you, sir," she said, taking his proffered hand. "I have heard a great deal about you. You're the one who has had his name filched, I believe? Copyright law is a stone cold bastard, eh? No more fairness in it than gravity or motion or any of those other intractables. You had best start putting forth some effort if you do not wish to find yourself eclipsed."

Doc looked confused. "I'm sorry, Miss, I..."

"Nothing to apologize for! Just try to be a bit more active in the future, yes? Your daughter cannot be expected to defend the name all on her lonesome, you know."

"Daughter? I don't have..."

"Oh! Not yet, of course! My apologies. It becomes rather throny when one tries to tell tales from two or more different eras at once. Don't worry about a thing. God loves you, Doc Unknown! Of course, he did just cut and paste-- as the process is known in the Land of the Gods-- your description from an unpublished work, but that is hardly tantamount to a condemnation. Just mind your punts and quarks from here on in."

Unknown had the same look on his face that anyone would after hearing all that. There was no point in my trying to explain it to the poor man, so I did the only thing I could think of. I very forcefully changed the subject.

"Anonymoushka," I said in as commanding a tone as I could summon up, "please go and display some affection toward Patience. Doctor Unknown and I have matters to discuss, and they do not require your unique input."

I pulled Unknown out into the hall.

"First," I said, "pay no attention to anything she might say. I think she's borderline schizophrenic."


I shrugged. "It isn't a very well-secured border. Now, what's up with that thing in the elevator shaft? Is it Doctor Almanac?"

He nodded. "Oh, yeah. No doubt about it. I can't tell exactly what he's done to himself. I've never seen anything like it. Some kind of biological mutation seems to have taken place. I had a look at that blood sample of yours, and it is downright frightening. Not only are traces of the Jekyll formula present, there's also a cocktail of at least three other very volatile compounds. I agree with your preliminary conclusions there-- the Griffin formula, Crusher Cranium's serum, and Herbert West's abominable reagent." He shook his head. "All that stuff mixed together would be instantly lethal to any living organism-- the other three should have damaged his system beyond the ability of the West compound to re-animate it. But he isn't dead."

"How did he manage it?" I asked.

"His system is infused with a Dark Energy I've never encountered before. It goes beyond any form of conventional Black Magic I'm familiar with. I doubt that it originates in this universe. And my spell is not going to hold him down there much longer. I can boost it some, but he is going to be free within the next 48 hours, no matter what I do."

I frowned. "So we have a deadline, then. We need to find out what's he has done and how we can undo it-- in less than two days."

"That pretty much sums it up," Doc agreed.

Anonymoushka's voice drifted out from the sickroom into the hallway.

"You sound in need of a deus ex machina," she chirped, "but your friend the cop lieutenant will have to do."

The phone on Proofy's desk rang and he answered it. "Yes," he said into the receiver, "he's right here, sir." He handed it over to me.

It was Stanley.

"You ready to go see that lunatic Crusher Cranium?" he asked, sounding like a man inviting a treasured chum to his own execution.

"As ready as I'll ever be," I said. "See you in five minutes."

Stepping to the infirmary door, I got Anonymoushka's attention and said, "I want you with me."

"Of course you do," she said delightedly, clapping her hands together. "Here's where it gets really good!"


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