HAVE A PULPY CHRISTMAS AND AN ACTIONY NEW YEAR FROM ALL PULP!
Each of the Spectacled Seven wish you and yours the best of holidays, regardless of what and how you celebrate! As a gift from us (as well as all the pulp writers, artists, and otherwise involved), ALL PULP will be posting sneak peeks, excerpts, and all sorts of goodies throughout the day as presents to you, teasers and such for the pulp to come!
Chuck Miller, author and creator of THE BLACK CENTIPEDE, DOCTOR UNKNOWN, and other various characters, provides a Christmas tale at his website-http://theblackcentipede.blogspot.com/2010/12/christmas-encounters-of-merry-yuletide.html- that ALL PULP now offers you a glance at here-
“Christmas Encounters of a Merry Yuletide Holiday Kind”
“CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF A KIND WE’D RATHER NOT THINK ABOUT”or “Maybe We Should Just Let the Truth STAY Out There”
BY CHUCK MILLER
COPYRIGHT 2010, CHUCK MILLER/BLACK CENTIPEDE PRESS
Download FREE non-Christmas version PDF file:
Merry Christmas! My name is probably Vionna Valis. I don’t know what nationality that is, so don’t ask. I don’t know, and I’ve never heard of anyone else that has it for a name. Either one of them– Vionna or Valis. They seem to have come from nowhere. Just like I myself sometimes seem.
I am, as my adopted brother Jack says, something of an enigma, even to myself. I believe I am approximately nineteen years old, but I can’t be sure of that, any more than I can be absolutely sure my name is really Vionna Valis. I have a birth certificate that proves both of those things, but that could have come from anywhere. I can’t vouch for anything because I have these huge holes in my memory. Also, I tend to get confused because I am not alone inside my head.
I don’t remember much of anything about my own life prior to a couple of years ago. Not even all the wonderful Christmases I’m sure I had. I don’t know why. That’s strange enough, but on top of that, I have some kind of something living inside my head that makes me know and remember things that never happened to me. I always find out later that the things I remember really did happen at some point in the past, but I was nowhere near them at the time. Often, I wasn’t even born yet. Whatever he or she or it is, this thing, I call it my “roommate.”
And that’s enough about all THAT for right now. I have a WHOLE lot of what they call “backstory,” and so does everybody else I hang out with. But most of it is not really necessary for you to know in order to read and follow this story.
Not too long ago, I and five of my friends opened up our own detective agency. My five friends have some fairly awesome psychic powers, which are very helpful, and I have whatever it is that I’ve got, which is sometimes helpful, so we figured we might as well do something with all that. Especially around Christmas time.
The name of our agency is the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. I better explain why that is. This is more backstory, but I’ll make it quick.
My five friends’ names are Mary Jane Kelly, Catherine Eddowes, Annie Chapman, Liz Stride and Polly Nichols. If those names sound familiar to you, it is because they were all murdered back in 1888 by Jack the Ripper. There have been tons of books about the Ripper, and their names have appeared in all of them.
To put it all in a nutshell, a while back me and some other friends of mine—My brother Jack, a man called the Black Centipede, and a young woman known as Doctor Unknown– were having trouble with something we thought was the ghost of the actual Jack the Ripper. We needed to find him and do something about him, and one of my friends got the idea that we ought to try to summon up the spirits of his victims in the hope that they might lend a hand. So we did this weird magic ritual, sort of like a séance, and it worked. And because of a strange set of circumstances, the girls returned, not as bodiless spirits, but as real flesh and blood human women. (Editor’s note: See The Optimist, Book One: You Don’t Know Jack, 2010 Black Centipede Press)
The girls don’t remember anything about being dead. They say they don’t think they blocked it out of their minds because it was unpleasant or scary or anything. They figure there are just some things that won’t fit inside a person’s head when they’re on this side of the line between life and death. The human brain is wired up for just so much and no more.
Anyhow, I was explaining the name of our agency. Whitechapel is an area in the city of London, England, in which the girls were all murdered by Jack the Ripper in 1888. All before Christmas. The Whitechapel Vigilance Committee was a committee that was formed at that time in order to be vigilant over Whitechapel. Obviously they didn’t do all that great a job. But the girls say the people who did it meant well, and one of them, George Lusk, had a pretty traumatic experience on account of it—the Ripper mailed him half of the kidney he cut out of Cathy Eddowes—so they thought the name should be given a second chance to redeem itself or something, which is fine with me, I didn’t have any better ideas.
Mary Kelly, the last victim that got killed, is the most outgoing of the girls and the smartest one, too. She is a natural leader, and that is the role she has in the agency. I am a natural person who does a lot more than she gets credit for but doesn’t complain about it because she doesn’t really care, just so she gets the job done, so I am like a combination of secretary and second-in-command, even though I do more actual work than Mary. But I don’t mean that in a bad way, because, like I said, I’m a natural.
Well, I guess that’s pretty much all you need. So let’s get going.
It was 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, very close to Christmas, when the peculiar Mister Keel left our office. Our brand new office, to which he had been the first genuine paying client visitor. I got up from my desk and went to the wall safe to put away the cash retainer he’d given us. Two thousand dollars in twenty-dollar bills! I would be able to buy a lot of wonderful Christmas presents with that!
Mary Kelly, sitting at her desk, messing with her computer, turned to me and said, “What a queer fellow.”
“What makes you say that?” I asked, closing the safe and going back to my own desk. “He’s married. To a woman and everything.” I held up the eight by ten glossy portrait Mr. Keel had given me of his wife Janet.
“I don’t… Oh, I see. “ Mary sighed. “Vionna, I shall never get accustomed to the way certain innocuous words from my era have been hijacked into conveying more… controversial meanings. The other day when I told Jack he was looking exceptionally happy—using a word I had every reason to believe meant that and nothing more—he looked at me as though he might like to take my head off.”
“Oh, I knew what you meant, I was just joking.” (I don’t like to tell lies, but since I knew Mary didn’t believe me, it didn’t really count.)
And she was right about our visitor. Client, I should say. Mister Keel had been a real oddball. He’d shown up out of the blue at 3:45, knocking on our door and asking if this was the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee Detective Agency. I told him it was, because it is, though we have not yet put up our little sign on the door. I thought he might be someone collecting donations for poor people for Christmas.
“I have a rather embarrassing problem, and I hope you might be able to render some discreet assistance,” he said, after I had answered the door and he had introduced himself and wished me a Merry Christmas. I said I bet we could, that’s what we’re here for, and why don’t you come into the office?
I should mention that our headquarters is in an old brownstone house downtown on West 35th Street. It actually belongs to Dr. Dana Unknown, a great friend of ours, who rents it to us for practically nothing compared to what people charge for apartments and things these days. It’s a great house, and it is very close to an important place that is so secret, I can’t even tell you what it is, much less where it’s located.
Anyhow, Mr. Keel followed me a short way down the hall and into our business office. I’m not very tall, and Mister Keel was shorter than me. In fact, he seemed kind of delicate all over. Very skinny, not much color in his face. I was really surprised when I shook hands with him and found out that he had a good, solid grip, even though his hands were small and looked about as rugged as bone china. Not only did he have a grip, but I got the idea he wasn’t using much of it, and if he chose to apply the whole thing, I might end up being the one with a hand that looked like some fine china that had been dropped onto a hard floor. I handed him a nice candy cane and a cup of eggnog.
I introduced him to Mary Kelly, who was the only other member of the agency present at the time, other than myself. The rest of the girls were busy that day getting enrolled at a community college. Having assimilated the fact that they are now in the 21st century to stay, they decided they wanted to get the most out of it. One way in which we are better than 1888 is that women are allowed to do more things. Mary Kelly, who got more education than most girls did back when she was alive in the 19th century, decided to work with the detective agency full-time and further her education later on.
Mr. Keel’s eyes darted around the office in a strange way. He reminded me of a rabbit, or possibly a small dog. I had the idea that he’d like to go around sniffing everything if he could get away with it. In fact, he gave our Christmas tree such a look, I ran out and got an armful of newspapers, just in case.
I told him to sit down, and he sat. Sort of like a dog.
“I don’t really know how to say this, so I’ll just say it,” he said, making it sound like he was apologizing for something. “I’ve never had… Well, It’s my wife, you see. Here, I have a picture of her.”
He opened a large manila envelope he was carrying and handed me the photo I described earlier.
He cleared his throat and said, “To be quite blunt, miss, I suspect that she is being unfaithful.
“For almost a year now, there have been peculiar occurrences. Since last Christmas, in fact. They seem to happen about once a month. I will awaken in the morning feeling peculiarly groggy, as though I had a hangover. However, I do not drink and never have.
“On these same mornings, my wife will invariably be in a state of some disarray. More than once, her feet have been muddy, as though she were walking around barefoot out of doors. She denies any knowledge and does not even bother to offer a plausible explanation.”
“Have you any other grounds for suspicion?” Mary asked.
“My dear,” he said, “if what I have told you so far is insufficient, I don’t know what else I should be expected to produce.”
“But why do you suspect adultery, specifically? Surely these things could admit of other explanations.” Mary is really good at this stuff.
“Perhaps. But, whatever is at the root of it, I think one would be hard pressed to find a benign explanation for these events. Whatever is happening, I’d like to know about it.”
He had a point.
“You have a point,” I said. I turned to Mary, who was multi-tasking by putting tinsel on our tree while listening to our client. “He has a point, Mary. What you sound like you’re suggesting, Mr. Keel, is that your wife drugs you in your sleep and then sneaks out for whatever, knowing you won’t wake up and notice she’s gone.”
“That crossed my mind, yes.”
“Have you asked her?” Mary wanted to know.
“I have. She admits nothing and denies nothing. Nor, as I say, does she even bother to fabricate some innocent explanation. When I speak of it, she says nothing at all.”
“Hm,” I said. “Curiouser and curiouser. It sounds like the game’s afoot.” (I picked up those phrases from a couple of Jack’s books that I read. I like the way they sound, and I think it impresses people when you talk like that.)
“Well,” Mr. Keel said, “if things run true to form, we are due for another incident within the next week at most. Are you interested in taking the case?”
“Yes,” I said. “Even though it is so close to Christmas and all.”
“I don’t…” Mary said.
“YES,” I said louder, giving Mary a look. “We’d be glad to.”
“Splendid,” he said, rubbing his hands together. He reached into his pocket and produced the wad of bills I told you about earlier. Along with them, he gave me the photo of Janet Keel, which is what his wife’s name was, and a card with directions to his house.
After he left, wishing Mary and me a Merry Christmas before he stepped out into the snow, and also after the little scene that started this chapter, Mary presented me with her misgivings.
“I don’t know that I approve of this, Vionna,” she said. “A divorce action? Adultery? Isn’t that rather tawdry?”
“I can’t say, since I don’t know what that word means. But I do know the meaning of the word lucrative, and that is what we have in our safe right now. “
“You have a mercenary streak that surprises me.”
“Heck, Mary, we’re just starting out. We can’t afford to turn anybody away who comes to us suggesting anything that isn’t illegal. He isn’t asking us to kill her. Plus which, it’s almost Christmas!”
She said nothing to that. I could see she was working on swallowing the whole idea, like a hard, sticky chunk of Christmas candy. Once she got it down past her windpipe, she asked, “How do we go about this?”
“We put her under surveillance,” I said.
“How does that work?”
“Well, we go where they live and we just sit and watch.”
“That seems simple enough. Have you done this often?”
“Never. But how difficult can it be? We go and keep an eye on the house. If she sneaks out, we follow her. We have cameras, and if we catch her doing, you know, whatever, we take a picture of it.”
Mary shook her head. “That seems awfully sordid.”
I had to agree.