A very short comic play, or rather a parody or burlesque of a comic play, by the young Jane Austen, in the juvenilia she preserved in her Volume the First. This means she wrote it somewhere between the ages of 12 and 18.

It mocks the conventions of plays by having speakers confide secrets, and break off from confiding secrets, in such a short space that nothing at all is conveyed. There is a cast of stock comic actors, old and young, noble and simple, that don't have time to even begin to live their part. Jane Austen could do this and make it funny in a couple of pages.

The Mystery: An Unfinished Comedy

To the Revd George Austen

I humbly solicit your Patronage to the following Comedy, which tho' an unfinished one, is I flatter myself as complete a Mystery as any of its kind.
I am Sir your most Humle Servant
The Author

Dramatis Personae
Colonel Elliott
Sir Edward Spangle
Old Humbug
Young Humbug
and Corydon
Fanny Elliott
Mrs Humbug
and Daphne

Act the First

Scene the lst
A Garden.

Enter Corydon.
Cory. But Hush! I am interrupted.
(Exit Corydon)
Enter Old Humbug and his Son, talking.
Old Hum. It is for that reason I wish you to follow my advice. Are you convinced of its propriety?
Young Hum. I am, Sir, and will certainly manner you have pointed out to me.
Old Hum. Then let us return to the House.

Scene the 2d
A Parlour in Humbug's House.
Mrs Humbug and Fanny, discovered at work.
Mrs Hum. You understand me, my Love?
Fanny. Perfectly ma'm. Pray continue your narration.
Mrs Hum. Alas! it is nearly concluded, for I have nothing more to say on the Subject.
Fanny. Ah! here's Daphne.
Enter Daphne.
Daphne. My dear Mrs Humbug, how d'ye do? Oh! Fanny, t'is all over.
Fanny. It is indeed!
Mrs Hum. I'm very sorry to hear it.
Fanny. Then t'was to no purpose that I ....
Daphne. None upon Earth.
Mrs Hum. And what is to become of? .....
Daphne. Oh! that's all settled.
(whispers Mrs Humbug)
Fanny. And how is it determined?
Daphne. I'Il tell you.
(whispers Fanny)
Mrs Hum. And is he to? ...
Daphne. I'll tell you all I know of the matter.
(whispers Mrs Humbug and Fanny)
Fanny. Well! now I know everything about it, I'll go away.
Mrs Hum. and Daphne. And so will I.

Scene the 3d The Curtain rises and discovers Sir Edward Spangle reclined in an elegant Attitude on a Sofa, fast asleep. Enter Colonel Elliott.
Colonel. My Daughter is not here I see ... there lies Sir Edward ... Shall I tell him the secret? ... No, he'll certainly blab it. ... But he is asleep and won't hear me.... So I'll e'en venture.
(Goes up to Sir Edward, whispers him, and Exit)

End of the 1st Act.

<- (back) The agency man | Paris' Story (next) ->

No one ever figured out the semen.

The three bodies they'd found had been drenched in it. Tests later showed it was animal semen but exactly what kind of animal no one would even speculate.

Of all the evidence, that was the one piece Cletus could never make fit into his theories.

He decided not to mention it as he entered McGuire's office. He started to sit behind the sheriff's desk, remembered who and what he was now, and took a chair on the other side. McGuire took off his hat, sat down, and pulled a small bottle of Scotch from the bottom drawer.

"Care for a snort?"

"Yeah," said Cletus. "And that's exactly why I'm not gonna have one. I left too much of me in bottles like that. Got any coffee?"

"Machine's right over there."

As Cletus was dumping the fifth spoonful of sugar into the cup, McGuire asked: "So what's all this about the Furies?"

"Follow me on this," said Cletus, sipping his coffee, deciding it wasn't sweet enough. "According to Greek mythology, when Father Heaven and Mother Earth were married at the beginning of time, They had children. Monsters. Horribly deformed and dangerous things. Mother Earth couldn't stand the sight of them so She asked Father Heaven to kill them but He didn't have the heart so instead He hid them away in the bowels of Mother Earth in places She wouldn't be able to find them. Great plan, huh?

"By this time, She and Father Heaven had had Themselves a bunch more children. This batch turned out a lot better than the first. The Titans and Cyclops and such. They ruled over all life on the planet. Anyway, Mother Earth found out that Father Heaven didn't kill the frst batch and got real pissed off. She persuaded Cronus, Her youngest son, to attack his father."

Cletus sat down across from McGuire and, without thinking, put his feet up on the desk.

"Here's where it gets interesting. Cronus took a sickle and -- the legend is real specific about this -- with an upward swing, castrated Father Heaven. The blood from His genitals fell on the Earth and soaked into the ground and gave birth to the Furies. Howling, gargoylelike barking bitches, hellbent on shedding blood. The legend says -- depending on whether you follow the Greek or Roman version -- that the Furies will one day lead the first batch of children up to take possession of the world once again. It's said that the sound of thunder is the Furies cracking their whips against the sky and that lightning is the flash of the whip's metal spikes."

McGuire gave a long, low whistle. "That's pretty wild."

"I thought you might say something like that."

"So what's this guy trying to do?"

"According to the Greeks, the Furies could be summoned by the scent of blood from a virgin boy's testicles. Don't you get it? This guy you got in there has a buddy, and the two of them are trying to summon the Furies."

"So what happened with them?"

"How the hell am I supposed to know? Maybe him and his buddy had a lover's spat. One of 'em sure ratted on the other."

"You're forgetting one thing."

"What's that?"

"The animal semen."

Cletus looked at McGuire and nodded his head. "I was hoping you wouldn't bring that up."

"And why now? They've managed to hide for over four years. Christ! We had almost a hundred guys working on this and we still couldn't track 'em down..

"And?" said Cletus, prompting.

"And what?"

"C'mon, Joe! You go duck hunting! Think about it."

" ... a decoy ..."

"I knew you were the man for the job."

McGuire's face suddenly drained of color. "Do you think this whole thing was set up? That his buddy turned him in just to keep us busy while he--?"

"It's quite possible."

McGuire jumped up, spilled his drink, and sprinted toward the door. "Jesus! I gotta call everyone in, get some extra men, organize--"

Cletus grabbed his arm. "Take it easy. They've already killed three boys, one for each Fury. They don't need any more. Besides, if any kids were missing, someone would have called by now, don't you think?"

"Maybe, but I'd still--"

"When you were my deputy, Joe, the one bad habit you always had was acting just a little too fast. Not that quick relfexes aren't good, nosir, it's just you were always prone to jump before you looked. Now sit your ass down and get yourself calm, okay?"

"Don't order me around. I have this problem with authority figures." He took his seat behind the desk. "Would you mind telling me how Paris fits into all this?.

"Paris was mortal, a Greek soldier who was asked by Zeus to pick the most beautiful of the goddesses. It was said that no one had Paris's eye for beauty. He later fell in love with Helen of Troy. A war was started over her, you might recall."

"The Trojan War. I remember that much from high school." McGuire lit a cigarette and smiled at Cletus. "That's some reading you've done."

"I couldn't stop thinking about it, Joe. I had no idea how far apart Esther and me had grown. I just assumed that whatever interested me would interest her. I thought about them two boys so much, what they'd been put through, how they musta ..." He shivered. "I thought about it so much I just stopped talking. Then I stopped sleeping because of the dreams. Then I couldn't stop draining bottles. Poor Esther. Worked all her life to give me a good home. She loved me, was true to me, put up with my moods and cheered me when I was down, and I deserted her. We should've gone on to a nice time, the two of us, but somewhere in there I just lost whatever it was about me that she fell in love with. Couldn't much expect her to stick around and watch me commit suicide on the installment plan, now could I? So she left and I dived into my reading, my thinking. Every time I looked in the mirror I saw the faces of those little boys. Lost myself." His eyes met the sheriff's. "No more, Joe, hear me? We're gonna nail both these bastards, tonight! He's gonna tell us where his buddy is if I have to beat it out of him."

"Can't let you do that."

Cletus smiled. "If you do it, it's excessive force, police brutality, all that good bullshit that a lawyer can use to get the case thrown out of court. If I do it, well, then, that makes things a little different."

"I never thought of it that way."

Their eyes met.

"I want 'em, Joe. Goddamnit, I want 'em." He felt one hot tear slip from his eye and course down his cheek.

"So do I," replied McGuire.

When they returned from the conference room, McGuire told the two deputies to leave. They looked at Cletus, smiled, and did as they were told. McGuire stood at the door, staring at QuietGuy but speaking to Cletus.

"Rain's stopped. It's a nice, cool night and it's getting a bit stuffy in here. Think I'll take all the guys outside for some fresh air. You mind keeping an eye on our pal here for, say, ten minutes?"

"Not at all," said Cletus, closing the door behind McGuire. Then he reached under the back of his jacket, pulled out a Colt Commander 9mm Parabellum, and turned to QuietGuy.

"Tell me about Paris," he said.


Helen sat on the bed and stared at the window, then looked at the substance on her arm.

For some odd reason she thought of all the nights she'd lain alone with dreams of having a body that matched the beauty of her face. They were laughable fantasies, always with a handsome hero. She smiled bitterly to herself, wondering if she'd ever find a man to play Perseus to her Andromeda, Pygmalion to her Galatea, Pyramus to her Thisbe--

--or Paris to her Helen.

She turned and looked toward the kitchen.

Paris to her Helen.

Why hadn't that registered with her before?

She went into the kitchen and looked at the young man standing near the stove.

"What's your name?"

"I told you once," he replied.

"Yeah, I know. Paris, right?"

"Right. Sit down, this is almost ready."

She took her seat at the table, wincing from the pain in her back. She could tell already it was going to be a lousy weekend; first the wall, now this smartass kid trying to keep a straight face while inside -- she knew as surely as she was sitting there -- he was laughing at her.

"So," she said, deciding to beat him at his own game, "do you like your work?"

"I love it. Do you like yours?"

"I have fine students."

"And I'll bet they find this stuff as fascinating as you do, huh?"

She stared at his back, made no reply.

"It must be something, exposing all those bright, young minds to this ancient knowledge. I mean, I know that mythology is only one of the courses you teach, but it must be the most interesting." He laughed. "Tell me, do your fantasies about Perseus and Pygmalion keep your bed warm at night?"

"How dare you--"

He whirled around and set her plate down. "Here we go. For The Face That Bounced A Thousand Hips." He laughed again.

Helen didn't stop to think and didn't want to. She pushed up from her chair as quickly as she could and slapped him across the face so hard that he reeled back against the sink, dropping his own plate and falling to the floor just as the plate shattered, spitting sharp slivers over his exposed chest. The fury which had propelled Helen to strike out ebbed away immediately, leaving a dull aching blush on her face. Even though he'd infuriated her, even though he'd deserved to be slapped, Helen was at once sorry she'd done it.

And then she realized that she'd slapped him with her left hand. A powerful, dizzying sensation sent her back down into her chair. She blinked her eyes several times and looked at her left hand. Watched as one finger--

--then all of its fingers--

--fingers that hadn't moved since the day she was born, fingers that were supposed to be useless, started moving for chrissakes. She opened her mouth and gasped, gulping down air as she realized her arm, her useless, mangled arm, had become long and slender and beautiful, with a perfect, delicate hand at its end. She blinked again, tried to clear away the image because it wasn't true, it couldn't be, dead limbs didn't just come to life and now, now her fingers were flexing and she shrieked, feeling her arm tingle into full life, fingers wiggling as if saying to the world, hello, yes we've been asleep but now we're back and it's kind of nice here, don't you think, and didn't we have a grand time slapping that little shit's face?

She felt something slip from her eye and course down her cheek. She opened the fingers of her left hand, closed them, made a fist, opened them again, snapped with her thumb and middle fnger, a wide and radiant smile crossing her face as the sound reverberated within the small confines of her kitchen. She felt the blood rushing to her temples, took a deep breath, and -- for the first time in her life, for the first time in thirty-nine years -- wiped the tears from her eyes with both hands, forgetting about Paris, forgetting about the wall, the window, and the awful substance that dripped--

"What's the matter with your arm?" asked Paris.

"Uh ...I don't really ... the window, there was some stuff and I wiped it ..."

Paris looked in the bedroom, saw the window, the wall. "They know," he whispered. "They know."

"Who knows? What are you talking about?" She was suddenly very frightened.

"Tell me," said Paris, "do you and your students really know what you're dealing with?"


He knelt and took her face in his hands. "All these precious, gifted children that you teach. Do they have any idea of the true nature of these myths?"

Helen shook her head; not so much in answer to his question as to clear her mind and calm herself. She didn't know what was happening but she knew her head needed to be clear. Needed. Feeling needed.

Paris gripped her face harder. "Answer me."

She looked into his face. Her heart skipped a beat.

His eyes were wide and solid black. Dark, pupilless marbles.

He quickly stood, seeming larger now, so much taller, angrier--

--so much more dangerous.

"Poor, pathetic people," he whispered, stomping back and forth across the kitchen like a caged animal. He seemed to be getting bigger by the second. His chest heaved with fury and fear.

"You've always been fascinated by these myths, haven't you? But none so much as the ones about monsters. And why do you spend your nights reading about them? Because even with all the books, all this glorious human knowledge, you can't find one reason for any of it, can you? You can't find one reason why people like you are born deformed, why there are freaks and retards. Oh sure, you can find theories about extra chromosomes and why cells mutate, but in all the words you can't find one explanation as to why they exist in the first place!" His face was red and swollen with the heat of his anger.

Helen looked quickly at her arm -- her lovely, rejuvenated arm -- and saw that it was shaking.

Paris whirled around, yanked open the utensil drawer, and snatched up the silverware tray. He quickly rummaged through the pieces until he found what he was looking for.

A long, sharp, gleaming carving knife.

Helen shifted in her chair and eyed the back door a few feet away. Even with the leg brace she thought she might be able to make it. Just get there before him, yank open the door, and scream bloody murder. This wasn't a rough neighborhood, people around here called the police at the slightest sign of--

--then she saw the small chain lock, ever in its place. That would take precious time away but she had two arms now, two hands -- she couldn't deny that any more, the feeling was too real -- and she might pull it off in time but--

--the bathroom!

She could heave a chair between them, run into the bathroom, lock the door, and scream out the window.

For the first time she was glad that her bathroom window faced the street.

Paris stood looking at her, twisting the knife around, admiring the glistening metal of the blade the same way he'd admired her body. "Well, Helen," he said, " I can tell you why those things exist. I can tell you where they came from."

He took a few steps away from her, half-turning toward the window over the sink. "I told Danny Wilson and the other boy all about it. I can show you what I showed them, things you never imagined,"--

--his grip tightened around the knife's handle--

-- "things no human being has ever seen before. And lived."

Helen swallowed hard. Danny Wilson. She remembered him. Well-behaved boy, very bright, always had tape holding his glasses together. Butchered along with Jim Simpson four years ago. He'd only been her student for a month when he was killed. Oh, God! And now the killings had started again.

Paris stood over her, his eyes still wide black marbles.

She craned back to see him.

She hadn't been imagining things. He was getting larger. She didn't know why and didn't care; all she wanted was to please God get away from this madman alive.


<- (back) The agency man | Paris' Story (next) ->

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.