Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Few Excerpts


The next few days were a cornucopia of pointless annoyances. The Phantom received a total of 18 unsolicited pizza deliveries, 26 unwanted taxi cabs, four unordered magazine subscriptions, and an endless string of stupid prank phone calls.

I had my suspicions about who was doing it. The best candidate, I thought, was that loony singer I had so thoroughly rebuffed the night all this began. I decided to look him up and give him what for.

I was trying to track down his address and phone number online when I heard somebody at the front door, fiddling with the knob. The Phantom was in his bedroom, deep in the arms of Morpheus by way of Jim Beam. I was in a waiting-for-the-last-straw mood, and here it was. I was gonna send this goddamn taxi driver or pizza boy or call girl away with a whole bunch of fleas in his or her ear. I flung the door open without looking through the peephole.

It was the only time I had ever done that, and wouldn’t you just know it, this time it actually was some jerk with a gun. It was a guy about my age, neither handsome nor ugly, and he had one of those goddamn Justin Bieber haircuts. And the gun, of course.

He pointed it at me and said, “You’re that girl, right?”

“You astonish me, Holmes,” I said. “However did you deduce it?”


“Nothing. What the hell do you want?”

“Um, I’m supposed to kill you. Nothing personal, but my... Uh, that is to say, Doctor Piranha has sent me to... ah... extract revenge on the Bay Phantom.”

“Doctor Piranha,” I said. “Well, this is actually something of a relief. We’ve just been sitting here waiting. I think you mean EXACT revenge, don’t you?”


I rolled my eyes. “Then you ought to shoot the Bay Phantom, genius.”

“Naw, the Doc said to kill you, not him. I’m especially not supposed to kill him, or even hurt him. Honestly, I never heard of the dude. But my great... uh, my great criminal boss is making a major deal out of it.”

The guy was a total idiot. On top of that, he was wearing a pair of those dumb earrings that look like washers that you jam into your earlobe and stretch it all out of shape. For some reason, that pissed me off more than the gun, and I did something I've always wanted to do to someone with that kind of earring. I jabbed my index finger through the hole, got a grip on the earring, and jerked down as hard as I could. The result was exactly what you would imagine, and then some.

He clapped one hand to what was left of the ear, and I plucked the pistol from the fingers of his other hand, which had gone all rubbery. He was cursing as though I had torn off something way more important than an ear, but he stayed on his feet. I applied the toe of my shoe to a very sensitive area hard enough to put him on his knees. A kick in the ribs sent him all the way down, and I felt pretty good about that. I pushed the door shut.

“You little bitch,” he snarled.

“Shut up, Van Gogh,” I snapped back. I jiggled the pistol to emphasize my position of power. “You’re on the wrong side of this gun to be calling anybody a bitch.”

He saw the sense in what I was saying. I stepped on his neck, just in case, and snatched his wallet out of his back pocket. I made a vague remark about putting a bullet in his head if he didn’t start behaving, and he stopped thrashing and squawking and lay there breathing heavily and bleeding gently.

I thumbed through his wallet until I found his driver’s license with his name and address. I got a chuckle out of his first name, --which was an ironic one under the circumstances—and a big WTF out of his surname. I wasn’t sure what it meant, but I knew it meant something. I had planned on interrogating him, but didn’t think it would be necessary now. I memorized the address.

“Stay put,” I told him.

I grabbed a dish towel and wet it with hot water. Then I buzzed into the bathroom for a bottle of rubbing alcohol. Next, I ministered to my battered miscreant. Handing him the towel, I opened the bottle of alcohol and poured about half of it over the ear I had so cruelly used. He yelled. I clapped a hand over his mouth, and the dishtowel to his ear.

“Be quiet,” I said. “These walls are thin as paper. You don’t want the cops in here any more than I do, I’m sure.”

He thrashed around again for a couple seconds—during which time I unobtrusively slipped his wallet back where it came from—but gamely bit back any further caterwauling, and pressed the towel to the side of his head. There was blood all over, but his life was not in danger.

I went back to the bathroom for some gauze and antibiotic ointment. Van Gogh had become very meek by this point, and offered no resistance as I dressed his tattered ear. I hadn’t actually torn it off. But his earlobe was shredded. I got it squared away, more or less. When I finished, he sat up and eyed me sullenly.

“Now what?” he said. There was fear in his voice.

“Now get out of here.”

“Huh? You’re not gonna hold me for the cops?”

“I’m not gonna call the cops.”

“Why not?”

“None of your business.”

“Um. Can I have my gun back?”

I said nothing, because the look I was giving him spoke volumes.


 The Keel house was sort of out in the country east of Zenith. The house stood by itself in the middle of a good-sized bit of land, surrounded by woods on all sides. A narrow dirt driveway went from the main road, through the woods, and curved around to the front of the house. Mary and I drove out there the evening after we were hired.

We decided we could keep an eye on the place from a distance. If she came out and got into a car, we could follow. We had all kinds of high-powered binoculars and spy cameras and various things like that. There were woods all around the house, so we could hide in those and observe from different vantage points. Mary took up a position to the north of the house, and I took the south.

I spent an hour or so setting up little remote cameras and recorders in the trees. I doubted we'd need them, but since we had spent some of Mister Keel's retainer money on the stuff-- honestly, we went a little bit nuts in the electronics store-- I would have felt bad about not using it on his case.

Mary still didn't like the whole situation. She kept coming up with weird complaints and making smart remarks and things.

"It's just a routine stakeout," I told her. "Detectives do this stuff all the time. All we do is watch the house, and if it turns out Mrs. Keel is cheating on her husband, we take some pictures and we tell on her, and Mr. Keel pays us some more money."

"I still think it's a sordid way to make a living," she grumped. Since we had been over that whole thing about a million times, I didn't say anything. She went to her position on the north side of the house, and we settled down to wait.

The first night, nothing happened. Mary amused herself with a little hand-held video game, which she found fascinating, having lived the biggest part of her life over a hundred years ago. I was trying to learn how to knit, for some reason, so I brought that junk with me. Our first night out, Mary scored a million points on Space Invaders and I ruined most of a whole ball of yarn. As dismal a failure as the time I tried to learn to juggle.

The same nothing happened on the second night. But the third night was the charm.

It was way after midnight. It was very dark out there, and very quiet. I was in a condition closer to falling asleep than a professional detective ought to get while she’s on a job.

“Vionna,” came Mary’s voice over the walkie-talkie. “I’m seeing something I do not understand. Can you help me?”

“I’ll try. What is it?”

“I have no idea.”

“What does it look like?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay… You’re making this kind of difficult.”

“Tell me, is there any such thing as an airplane that has no wings and makes no noise?”

“There might be.”

“Are they very common?”

“I wouldn’t think so.”

“Nor would I. I don’t suppose you know of any kind of aircraft that is perfectly round and glows all over with a sort of bluish-green color?”

“Can’t say that I do. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

“Well, if you’d care to, you’re in luck. It just passed almost directly over my head and is moving toward the house. If you stand up and train your binoculars in this direction, you should catch sight of it. It’s only about twenty feet off the ground.”

So I did that. It took me a second to find the thing, you know how when you’re looking through binoculars everything is fuzzy and jerky and hard to focus on. I saw it. I got it in my field of view and held my hands and head as still as I could.

It looked like a smaller, greenish-blue moon. I looked quickly back over my shoulder at the actual moon, which was right where it was supposed to be, and hadn’t strayed away and changed color.

I looked back at the thing and saw that it was more of a disk shape than a sphere, and was totally smooth, which the moon is not. I couldn’t tell what the thing was made of. From where I was standing, it appeared to be right over the Keels’ house.

“This is weird,” I said into my walkie-talkie.

“That’s the word I would use,” Mary replied. “I believe it has stopped moving now. It looks to be right over the house. Yes, the green light is shining down on the roof, I can see it.”


“Yes. What do we do?”

I had no idea what to do.

“I have no idea what to do,” I said.

“So this is not some object that is common—or even uncommon, but known—in the 21st century?”

“Nope. What it looks like is a flying saucer.”

“So you ARE familiar with it?”

“Nope. A flying saucer is a thing that some people think exists and other people think doesn’t exist. A lot of people that do think they exist believe they come from other planets. I don’t know one way or the other. I’ve never thought about it much. I’m just saying that thing there is what one is supposed to look like.”

While we talked about it, the flying saucer hovered over the top of the house, drifting very slightly back and forth, like a toy balloon in a slight breeze. It was certainly strange-looking. I closed my eyes and asked if my “roommate” knew anything about this, but all I got was nothing.

I was about to say something else to Mary, but something started happening that made me forget what it was, and that I cared about it. Three little figures came drifting out of the flying saucer. They were shaped more or less like human beings, except that their heads were too big and their arms and legs too thin.

“I’ll be darned,” I said out loud. Mary’s voice came through the walkie-talkie, saying something I’d prefer not to write down. She said it again. Then she said something different which I am also not going to write down. Finally, she said something I don’t mind writing down:

“Are those creatures from other planets, Vionna?”

“They don’t look like they’re from around here,” I replied, jinking the binoculars around to try and get a better look at them. They were bathed in green light, so I couldn’t tell what their actual color was. They were small, and they had big, dark eyes, and they were drifting down toward the house. They drifted down toward the window of the Keels’ bedroom, then drifted right on in, passing right through the glass without breaking it, as though either they or the glass weren’t really there. But I was pretty sure both they and the glass really were.

“Gosh,” I said, “that isn’t supposed to happen.”

“Those creatures appear to have passed through solid matter, Vionna.”

“Yes, and I don’t think you can… Oh, wow! Look, Mary! They’re doing it again!”

The three little creatures emerged through the window, the same way they’d gone in. Not only that, but they had added a fourth member to their group.

Mrs. Keel.


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:

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, son, 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. Boy, 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 lady 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 the 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 that old 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.

The 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, 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
Plainfield Wisconsin

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