Monday, November 18, 2013


Excerpt from "THE ABOMINABLE MYRA LINSKY RISES AGAIN," A DOCTOR UNKNOWN JUNIOR adventure by Chuck Miller, available NOW on Amazon:
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (August 31, 2012)


aka "Doctor Unknown Junior"
“What the hell kind of name is Myra Linsky?” I asked, shaking my head.

“I think it’s Irish, Jack,” said Dana. "I know it sounds Eastern European, but it has a 'y,' instead of an 'i' at the end.'"

We were in the ground-floor office of an old brownstone house in downtown Zenith. The house is owned by Doctor Dana Marie Laveau Unknown, and serves her-- and me-- as both residence and workplace. My name is Jack Christian. That's the one I was born into, but I've had several others at various times.

I was sitting behind my desk, and Dana was standing in front of hers.

“That’s not what I mean.” I refolded the newspaper I’d been reading and tossed it in her direction. “I mean, what kind of name is Myra Linsky for an arch-enemy? An evil sorceress called Myra? It doesn’t strike much fear into the heart, does it?”

Dana caught the newspaper and shrugged. “I’m sorry your aesthetic sense is outraged, Jack, but it is what it is. And I wouldn’t necessarily call her evil. I never thought of her as diabolical. Misguided, maybe. She certainly chose to abuse her gifts. But I would stop short of calling her evil, and I would also hesitate to use the term arch-enemy. She's just somebody I never got along with.”

“Were you ever friends?”

“No. We always hated each other. I always kind of wished we could have been friends, but there was something about her that put people off. It wasn't just me. I don't think she had any real friends at all.”

“Uh-huh. That’s really kind of a shame. It would be a lot more poignant if you had been best friends to start with, then something awful happened. But that’s as may be. You said you fought her almost to the death on three different occasions. That’s an arch-enemy, whether you like it or not.”

Doctor Dana Unknown is my partner in an agency whose mission cannot be summed up in two or three words. Just looking at her-- an unassuming young brunette, just a shade over five and a half feet tall, dark, slender and bespectacled-- you'd never guess she was so incredibly formidable, but Dana is probably the most powerful sorceress in the world. She's a Level Twelve Magus, whatever the hell that is.

Or she was, anyhow, until she lost a huge chunk of her power helping me to fight a monstrously evil ghost that was trying to make a major incursion into our world. The ectoplasmic fiend was screwing around with me, my sister Vionna, and my friend the Black Centipede. It’s a very interesting story, but we don’t have time for it here. The bottom line is, we saved the day—more or less—but it cost Dana dearly.

I kind of felt responsible for bringing her into the whole mess—mainly because I was responsible for bringing her into the whole mess. So, once the dust had settled, and Dana had come to terms with her diminished capacity, I—out of the goodness of my heart—had offered my services to her, at a very reasonable rate, as right-hand man, able assistant, bodyguard, and jack of all trades. Not that I ever got a proper acknowledgement of any of that from her!

I should mention here that Dana's father is Raoul Deveraux Unknown, the famed sorcerer/superhero/certified public accountant. The old man had retired several years earlier, after a traumatic incident in which a spell of his had gotten out of control and destroyed the planet Earth and a large portion of the solar system. He and Dana had successfully rebooted the time stream, more or less erasing the episode from history, but the experience left him a shattered man.

He currently resides in a retirement village in Florida, where his hobbies include drinking, wallowing in guilt, drinking, watching soap operas, and drinking. Dana took over his role as the mystical defender of the earth, or whatever the hell you call it. Which had been a cakewalk for her, up until her path crossed mine.

And now, six months into our partnership, things were so not rosy. I was thinking seriously about ending our arrangement. I hated to do it, but the fact was, Dana Unknown was driving me crazy.

Her attitude toward me, so it seemed, was supercilious and arrogant on a good day, and close to contempt on a bad one. And for the past month or so, the bad days had outnumbered the good ones. I supposed I was staying on with her because of the guilt I felt. Why Dana let it continue, I couldn't fathom.

Though I considered our arrangement a full partnership, Dana, for some reason-- no doubt psychological-- felt the need to maintain the fiction that she was actually my employer and that she hired me out of pity because I had no direction in life, was virtually unemployable, and would certainly drink myself to death within six months if I didn’t have something to occupy me. Which is absurd, because I could have gone another ten years at least.

And Dana, in the time-honored manner of everyone who spends a lot of time with a person who drinks to a degree that a layman would find excessive, nagged me about it incessantly. The universal bane of the dedicated drinker, these Carrie Nation types.

Actually, I had, by this time, cut back considerably, but I still indulged when the mood struck me-- which it had been doing more and more of late. It seemed that Dana and I were constantly at one another's throats.

"Why do I even have to have an arch-enemy?" she asked. "Did you have one back when you were running around in a cape and tights?"

"They were leggings, and yes, as a matter of fact, I did. Do you remember Mackie Messer and the Threepenny Gang? They had this so-called 'mascot' named Pirate Jenny. She was about my age, and I scrapped with her on several occasions. The Gang treated her like a baby, but I knew there was something in her that she kept hidden. And, sure enough, when she turned 14, she murdered the whole Threepenny Gang and took off with their accumulated loot. Hasn't been seen since. I often wonder where she ended up."

“Yes, well, I may have exaggerated a little about our battles. The first time Myra and I fought ‘almost to the death,’ we were both seven years old. It was a playground spat that got out of hand.”

“Whatever, she’s the only person I know of who has enough of a history with you to qualify for arch-enemy status. And it doesn’t reflect well on you to have a mortal foe with such a pedestrian name. ‘The Diabolical Myra Linsky.’ It just doesn’t track.”

“I can’t help that. Actually, she called herself ‘Lady Diabolique’ for a while. This was one summer when we were teenagers. She was going through a goth phase. She had this truly horrible costume, with a sort of...”

“So,” I continued, overriding her fashion commentary, “you two grew up together and attended Hogwarts, or wherever you people go.”

"Something like that, yeah. Her father and my father were friends. They had hoped their daughters would carry on that tradition, but things didn't work out that way. Myra always had a rebellious streak, and she never took her education very seriously. She started hanging around with a bad crowd. Got into some seriously forbidden practices. I found out much later that she had secretly apprenticed herself to Sikorski, the Dark Necromancer.”

“Are there any light necromancers?”

“Shut up, Jack. She ended up going down a very dark path.”

"But you did fight almost to the death the other two times?"

"Yes, yes," she replied sharply. "As I say, she went down some very dark paths, and on two occasions, I felt the need to step in. I imagine she hated me even more after that."

“And now she’s dead.”

"Yeah. Maybe."

This conversation had begun when I mentioned to Dana that I had just read an obituary in the Zenith Orator early edition for one Myra Linsky, and wondered aloud if she was the same one I had heard mentioned once or twice or a hundred times when Dana had been in a nostalgic and/or maudlin mood. I warmed quickly to the subject because it took the focus off of me and her. We had not actually discussed our problems as such, and I was eager to avoid doing so until I could come up with a good escape plan.

"Are you going to the funeral?" I asked.

"I hardly think I'd be welcome. But I do want to see the body."

"The funeral's tomorrow," I told her.

"Then I want to see the body tonight."


Which meant doing something stupid. That's the only way to describe breaking into a funeral home at 3 in the morning, which is what we did. But She Who Must Be Obeyed had spoken...

The Melchoir Memorial Chapel and Crematorium was located on the outskirts of Zenith, in one of those neighborhoods I never have any legitimate business visiting. Dana had to defer to me on the details, since stealth is my business, or was at one time.

For a few years I had been known as Kid Mercury, boy sidekick of Captain Mercury, noted American superhero, currently deceased. That gig had its ups and downs, and had ended badly twelve years before the events that brought Dana Unknown into my life, or vice-versa. Captain Mercury died a nasty death, and I was pretty well ground up by the vicious gears of an uncaring world. After a very brief stint as a ward of the state-- and a few criminal misadventures-- I broke out of the juvenile detention home and fled into the wide world beyond the city of Zenith. The less said about that, the better.

That night at the funeral home, my old skills-- both as a superhero and a juvenile delinquent-- answered my call, still well-oiled and ready for anything. We parked a block away, crept around to the back of the establishment, and found the rear entrance. It was made of light metal painted a somber brown. Next to it was a large garage-type door.

I bypassed the burglar alarm with ease, something I had learned to do at the age of eleven, then went to work on the smaller door.

"Rumor has it," I told Dana as I deftly prodded the tumblers inside the lock with a thin, rigid wire, "that this place was once owned by the Stiff. Don't know how true that is. Nobody's seen him since 1963. Four witnesses swear they saw him on a certain grassy knoll in Dallas on November 22... Ah, here we go!"

I popped the door and we entered. My sense of pride and accomplishment was tempered by the fact that I hate funeral homes, even in the daytime, and at three in the morning, there is nowhere I'd rather not be. It was cold and dark, and had that sad smell of chemicals and flowers, vying with one another for control of the atmosphere. The flowers never win the battle, and the resulting amalgam of odors always makes my skin crawl.

We were in some sort of receiving bay. We picked our way through the dark, not daring to use flashlights until we were further into the building, away from any windows. We found another locked door which I made short work of. Once we were through and it was closed behind us, we turned on the flashlights.

This was evidently the crematorium.

"Goddamn," I said, "that's a big oven. Hey, you remember those Easy Bake toy ovens they used to sell? You could make a cupcake in them. They used an ordinary light bulb to generate the heat."

"I don't think that's what this is."

"I know that, I was just making conversation."

"I wonder if you could refrain from voicing every inane trifle that crosses your mind."

"I don't believe so, Dana."

We went past the oven and found locked door number three, upon which I worked my magic. Beyond it was a small, dark room with heavy drapes on all the walls. In there, we found four caskets, each one sitting on a metal table with wheels. I hung back while Dana lifted one of the lids. The occupant was a middle-aged man. She went to another, which contained the corpse of an elderly woman.

The third one was the charm.

"Well, it's her, alright," Dana said, gazing at the remains of a young woman. "Poor thing."

Myra Linsky's mortal clay had been dressed up in a high-necked black dress with some white lace at the neck and wrists. She had a magnificent head of red hair and a nicely-arranged face. She was actually quite attractive, but I pushed that thought out of my mind, her being a cadaver and all. Corpses are like your parents; you aren't at all comfortable imagining them in sexual situations, but once the idea gets into your head, it's difficult to dismiss.

"I wonder what she died of," I said. "The paper didn't say."

"I doubt it was anything mundane. Probably something the paper wouldn't dare print even if they knew what it was."

"Like magic cancer or something?"

Dana looked at me as though I were something she had just stepped in, then turned back to the corpse of her old acquaintance. Her back to me, I took the opportunity to covertly give her the finger.

I can't say I was surprised by what happened next, but it did catch me off guard. Myra Linsky sat up in the coffin, grabbed Dana by the throat and started throttling her.

Though I could sympathize with the corpse, I sprang to Dana's rescue. I grabbed Myra's cold wrist and applied pressure, but that didn't loosen her grip. So I started beating her on the head with my heavy flashlight. The glass shattered, the bulb popped, the flashlight got dented up, and that was the net result of that maneuver. Myra's grip remained firm.

I was wondering what I might do next when the cadaver abruptly let go, went limp, and fell back into a supine position in the casket. Dana put some distance between herself and the casket, rubbing her neck and coughing. I put myself between her and Myra, holding my mortally injured flashlight out in front of me as though it might offer some protection.

"Are you okay, and what the hell was that?" I asked, eyeing the apparently inert body.

"Yes and I'm not sure. It felt like some kind of post-mortem spell release. Whatever it was, it's over. There's nothing in there. Something jumped out. I couldn't get a fix on it because my senses are still badly scrambled. Something was in that body and it left. It took a moment to screw with me, but that wasn't its ultimate aim. It has gone from here."

"To where?" I asked quite reasonably.

"Somewhere," Dana replied, sounding petulant and juvenile.

"How come?"

"To do something," she snapped.

"Well." I clammed up then and started thinking for the umpteenth time about my possible exit strategies. Irritation was rapidly beating the hell out of guilt.

Dana gave me one of her looks. "If I could be more specific, I would, Jack."

"I don't doubt that. You'd run your mouth for hours. Was it Myra herself? Her spirit or whatever?"

"I don't think so. Not as such." She shook her head. "I just don't know. Whatever it was, it left an empty shell behind. She's dead, really dead, that much I can tell."

She put her hand on the corpse's forehead. "Myra," she said in a low, sad voice. "What the hell have you been up to?"

I shuddered. "Do you have to touch that thing?" Though I am of course fearless, I'm a  little superstitious about dead bodies. I don't like handling them, and would never do so voluntarily for no compelling reason. Dana paid me no mind.

"So, basically, this is not over," I piped up after a while. "Something bad is going to happen. Right?"

Dana continued ignoring me and I decided to keep my trap shut until she got tired of this grim tableau. I was thoroughly sick of it, but I do have a certain capacity for self-discipline. I stood idly by while she contemplated her old adversary's remains.

Finally, Dana sighed and said, "I wonder why we couldn't have been friends." She stepped back from the casket and closed the lid.

We were silent on the drive back to Dana's brownstone. She was thinking whatever she was thinking, and I was thinking that once this Myra Linsky business was settled, I would start looking for someplace else to go. 

Friday, November 8, 2013


(To go back to Square One, CLICK HERE!)


Nineteen minutes later, Stanley and I stood in the gravel parking lot outside the prison. There was a gaping hole in the wall of the place. A bit of smoke was wafting from it, but the fire had already been extinguished.

"My God, Centipede," Stanley said, "I thought were were goners for sure."

"So did I," was my response. "I have never in my life been in a stickier situation. Never. When the tunnel collapsed and buried us under all that rubble, I sent up a heartfelt yet oddly insincere prayer for our souls. There may not be any atheists in foxholes, but a healthy skepticism can be preserved. I believe I'll write a little monograph on the subject. Perhaps the Christian Science Monitor would be interested."

I watched a swarm of masked, black-clad guards racing back and forth in front of the building. They were yelling at one another, but I couldn't understand anything they were saying.

"If you hadn't done what you did," Stanley said, grinning and shaking his head, "we would have been dead. How the hell did you manage that, anyhow?"

"Practice, my boy. Years and years of strict training and practice. I'll admit I never expected to be tested in quite that way, but I was ready for it just the same. Even so, It was the performance of a lifetime. I doubt I could repeat it. Split-second timing and good luck converged beautifully."

"Centipede, it was the single most thrilling, exciting experience I ever had," said my friend. "Even though it scared the hell out of me, there was something kinda beautiful about it. I mean, the way you handled it. I'm glad I witnessed it, that's all I can say."

"Stanley, you're minimizing your own role. You took my cues brilliantly. We acted in concert as a precision instrument. When I made that slight miscalculation, your improvisation was nothing short of genius."

"Aw, it was all in a day's work," he said modestly, shaking his head. "I just can't get over it, Centipede."

"It was absolutely extraordinary, all the way around," I said. "But, Stanley... You know nobody else will ever believe it, right?"

"They sure won't," he agreed sadly. "I'm certainly not putting any of it into a report."

I thought for a moment, then said, "I think we should agree, here and now, never to speak of it again. We'd only be asking for trouble."

"You're right," he said. "Okay, you got my word. My lips are sealed."

"Mine, too," I vowed. "It goes into my deepest vault, forevermore."

We shook on it.

I'd love to share the details with you, but, as you see, Stanley and I made a solemn pact. I know you wouldn't want me to dishonor it. Fear not, your touching hero-worship is not misplaced. The Black Centipede always keeps his word-- except, of course, for the not-infrequent occasions when he does not. But this isn't one of those. Thank you for understanding.

"Too bad Duranceville bought it," Stanley said, "even though I didn't like him much. He took a bullet from one of those commandos, eh?"

"Ah... Yes, yes, Stanley," I said-- somewhat convincingly, I thought. "I saw the whole thing. Just terrible. He was being menaced by one of the invaders. I thought I had a clear shot at his assailant, but I missed, curse the luck. The coward then gunned Duranceville down from behind. Of course, the impact from the shot turned poor Duranceville completely around, which is why the back of his head was actually turned toward me. I then returned fire and brought down the craven murderer. Now, one or two of my shots may have passed through Duranceville's already-dead body on the way to their target. It took the unfortunate man a while to fall down, you see. Probably one of those rare cases of instant rigor mortis-- there was a very interesting article about that in the New England Journal of Medicine, I think it was, or it may have been some European rag. Nothing you'd have seen. So, if any kind of ballistics report ever surfaces that makes it look like he was killed by a bullet from the gun I was using...Oh, poor Duranceville! I think he was really turning his life around, Stanley. Only to be cut down, right before my eyes! So senseless... So unfair." I shook my fists in impotent rage.

Stanley clapped me on the shoulder. "Nobody's blaming you," he said. "You worked miracles in there. You can't save them all, you know. Anyhow, I don't think we're gonna have to worry about any ballistics reports on this one."

I hung my head in apparent sorrow. It was all I could to not to burst out laughing. That moment completely justified my decision to wear a mask.

"Oh, my darling," cooed Anonymoushka, "you pizdeet kak Trotsky! A master prevaricator! You make me proud."

My faceless "fiancee," along with Prudence and Stymie, had gotten out of Stanley's car after the danger had passed. I was thankful they hadn't been anywhere near the line of fire. But they had witnessed the entire incident from the outside.

"Let's get in the car and get the hell out of here," I suggested. "You three can tell us what you saw."

We piled into the vehicle. Stanley started the engine, put the car in gear, and we were on our way.

Our three companions gave us their eyewitness report of the events they had observed. What had happened had happened very quickly. It had been another invisible dirigible attack, they said. They heard the thing pass over the car, then saw it become visible momentarily as it hovered over the building.

Something had dropped from the gondola. It had looked like a bomb, both Stymie and Anonymoushka said, but it hadn't acted like one. There was a bright flash of light when it struck the roof, but it didn't make a sound. There was no explosion. Instead, something that looked like a tidal wave of frothy, purple liquid rose up and spilled over the edge of the roof, running down the side of the building. At this point, my witnesses heard a loud crackling noise and saw smoke or steam rising from the liquid. It soon became apparent that the glop was a very powerful acid of some sort, because every bit of concrete it touched rapidly melted away. By the time the stuff reached the ground, there was a gaping breach in the wall-- some twenty feet wide, from the top to the bottom. A few small fires had evidently been started inside, possibly by the unknown chemical.

Quite a few of the black-clad guards seemed to have been caught by the purple substance during its descent, because they scattered out onto the grounds, screaming as their uniforms-- and the flesh inside them-- dissolved.

That was when the commandos hit. They dropped down from the dirigible on elastic cords that stretched just enough to stop their plunges two or three feet above the ground. Then they cut the cords, dropped to the ground, brandished all manner of weaponry, and charged into the building, gunning down what was left of the guards as they ran.

According to my witnesses, there had been somewhere between six and a hundred and fifty of these shock troopers, more or less. Approximately. They wore gas masks and dark green fatigues without any patches, badges, or other identifying marks on them.

Exactly what they did once they were inside, nobody knew. Or if they did, they weren't talking. Not to us. By the time Stanley and I had made our miraculous escape from the collapsed tunnel, the whole thing was all but over. We emerged into a world of noise and chaos. Relieving a dead guard of his sidearm, I had opened fire on the marauders, who were now making haste to exit the building they had so rudely entered. Whatever they had come here to do had been done. Ever one to find the silver lining, I had taken the opportunity to finish a little bit of old business, and then it was over.

After that, the surviving guards couldn't get rid of Stanley and me fast enough. They refused to tell us what had happened. We were informed that if we told anyone about these events, we wouldn't be believed, because in a few hours, this building would be gone. Not only that, but it would never have been here. No such building had ever existed on this spot, we were very pointedly told, and anybody who said different would be nuts-- and would be treated accordingly.

I almost challenged them, but, for Stanley's sake, I let it go. We took our leave and joined our companions, and none of the guards paid us any further attention. We found Anonymoushka, Stymie and Prudence, who seemed relieved to see us.

And now, as we zoomed along the dirt road, headed for home, the witnesses wrapped up their tale, giving us the lowdown on what had happened while Stanley and I were indisposed underground.

Stymie, acting as spokesman for the group, said, "After the main bunch of guys stormed the place, three or four more came down from the dirigible. They didn't use the cords, they were lowered on some kind of a platform, and they had a big piece of equipment with them. I don't know what it was, but they carried it inside. It took four of them to do it. Then nothing happened for five or ten minutes. Finally, the four men came back out, carrying that thing with them. It had steam coming out of it. They put it on the platform and then they waited. Pretty soon, the rest of the men came back out, and they had somebody with them. I guess it was a man, but he was about fifty feet tall and he was purple."

"Were they carrying him?" I asked.

"No, he was walking with them. He got onto the platform, and so did a few of the other men. The platform was pulled back up, right into the gondola. The dirigible dipped down a little bit, and the rest of the men got hold of those cords and climbed back up. Then the thing turned invisible again, and that was that. A couple minutes later, you and Lieutenant Bartowski came back out and now here we are."

We were all silent for a few moments, then I asked, "Did you notice anything out of the ordinary? Aside from the obvious, I mean. Anything at all?"

"Well," Stymie said diffidently, "I did see something... I think I did, anyhow. I can't be sure about it, but... It looked to me like there was a picture of somebody painted on the side of the dirigible."

"Doctor Almanac?" I said.

Stymie shook his head. "No, not him. I didn't get too good of a look, but the shape of the head was a lot different. To me, it looked like... It looked like the guy from your movie. You know, Doctor Reverso. Mag DeMilby, Junior. But I could be wrong."

"Yes," I said. "Perhaps you were mistaken. I don't believe for one second that you were, of course, but we can take a sort of vain and fragile comfort in the possibility. It might last five or ten minutes. Because if you saw what you saw, this thing just got even more confusing than it already was."

Stanley used some language that he normally refrained from in the presence of women and children.

I heartily agreed. And I made up my mind to have a very frank chat with Percival Doiley as soon as I could get my hands on him...