[ASH] Coherent Super Stories #17 - Dear Diary (High Concept entry)
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at eyrie.org
Sat Jun 13 18:59:58 PDT 2009
The cover shows a woman's diary open to a page on which the writing is
fading rapidly, while the shadow of a gun starts to cross it.
.|, COHERENT An ASHistory Series
'|` SUPER STORIES #17 - Dear Diary
Featuring the Forgotten Man copyright 2009 by Dave Van Domelen
[The following is a text-only reprint of a piece from Incoherent Mystery
Tales, September 1935 issue. The original title is "The Most Mysterious
Gentle readers, the story you are about to read is true, taken from the
diary of a woman whose identity we are shielding for her protection. We
found it to be a memorable story...but will you? CAN you? - The Editors
* * * *
June 12, 1927
I met a rather odd fellow today at Jake's. I was eating dinner at the
diner after work, and he just sat down at the counter next to me, acting like
we were old acquaintances. He asked if I worked the jewelry counter at Foxx
and Sons on Fiftieth, which I do, and I asked why he wanted to know.
"Name's Colin Surrey, I'm a private detective," he said, as if that
explained everything, which it DIDN'T and I told him so.
He laughed, a sort of sad, "I get that a lot" kind of laugh.
"I'm working for Foxx's insurance company," he added. "They think this
guy might be casing the store...ah, trying to figure out how to best steal
from you." He had this photo of a rough looking customer, but I didn't know
the guy, and I said so.
I also wondered why anyone'd go to the trouble. We had nice stuff at
the jewelry counter, but it was a department store, not a real jewelry
store. It was all pretty low-end stuff, the kind of thing a guy buys his
wife when he realizes it's their anniversary. Not what you plan a robbery
"I can't say a lot more, client privilege and all that," he said. He
sure did sound like a cop, though, not a private dick. "Try to keep an eye
out for this man, though."
I asked how I'd get ahold of him, but he said he'd be in touch.
* * * *
June 15, 1927
I met the oddest guy today at work. He made a show of checking out a
few rings and a necklace, but I've seen enough husbands and boyfriends pass
by the jewelry counter to know he wasn't either. I guess he figured I had
his number, since he smiled and pulled a photo out of his jacket.
He wanted to know if I'd seen the guy in the photo, but I couldn't
recall having done. Said he was working for the probation office, trying to
check up on one of his "clients" all quiet-like. Guess the guy in the
picture was a jewel thief or something, and the parole officer, this Colin
Surrey, wanted to make sure he wasn't "window shopping".
He gave me the photo and wrote a note on the back to remind me to keep
an eye out. Strange...I could swear I've seen the photo before, just not the
guy in it.
Surrey said he was in from out of town and the fleabag he was staying at
didn't have a phone, so he'd come by later to check.
* * * *
The entries for June 16 through June 19 have been omitted, as they have
nothing to do with the mysterious Mr. Surrey, and would serve only to
potentially identify and embarrass the young lady whose diary this is. - The
* * * *
June 20, 1927
There's this photo in my purse, and I kinda remember being given it by
some guy who was with the police, but it slipped my mind for a few days. I
guess it was a busy day when he gave it to me. I think I have seen the man
in the picture at work, though. If the officer or whoever comes by later, I
should tell him. I know, I'll write on the photo that I saw him on the 18th,
so I won't forget.
* * * *
June 21, 1927
Someone else came by to ask about the photo today. Said his name was
Colin Surrey, but I've never seen him before. He explained one of his
colleagues had talked to me the other day, a rather forgettable guy who's
useful because he has the sort of face people forget.
Mr. Surrey, though, has a pretty memorable face. All tan, almost like
he's part Mexican or something. And these really sad eyes.
He seemed worried that I'd seen the guy in the photo. Told me I should
try to avoid staying after hours at work for a few days, in case the crook
made his move. Insisted I write it down, like I'd FORGET something like
that! I asked Mr. Foxx Jr. (he HATES being called that!) about it later in
the day, and he said he hadn't heard anything about a criminal checking out
the store, but that he'd look into it and consider putting me on an earlier
shift if I was really worried.
* * * *
June 22, 1927
I think I'm cracking up!
Mr. Foxx Jr. asked me more about the reason I asked to not be on late
shift, and I couldn't remember the details! I still had a note, in
handwriting I didn't recognize, warning me about the danger, but I couldn't
put a face to it. Mr. Foxx Jr. said it was probably a prank, and not to
worry about it.
It seemed like the kind of thing I'd have written down in you, Diary, so
I checked the last couple of weeks.
I've met Colin Surrey three times, and can't remember it! And every
time I met him before, I didn't remember the previous meetings!
Am I going totally around the bend? I'm going to leave my diary out on
the dressing table, open to this page, and see if I still remember this in
the morning. I hope I can get to sleep, wondering about if you're nuts tends
to keep a gal up at night!
* * * *
June 24, 1927
I have to write this down now, before I forget it. And then I'm going
to put you away in my trunk and start a fresh diary, since I know I will
forget all of this...or most of it, anyway...in the morning. And I don't
want to torture myself with it.
I overslept yesterday and had to rush to make it to work, so I ignored
the diary left open on my dressing table. And since I was late, I was told I
had to work late to make it up. There was stuff in the storeroom that
needed sorting, and I could do that for an hour or so to make up the missed
Anyway, when I was in the storeroom, the man from the photo was
surprised when I came out from behind some boxes. He had a gun! He tied me
to a chair, but he didn't bother to gag me, the storeroom is pretty
soundproof. Thick old walls, and all that, it's up against the bank next
door. Some other guy, who must've been working for the guy in the photo,
dragged someone into the room, then dumped him next to me and seemed to
forget about him, not even tying him to a chair. The guy's hands were tied,
Here's the thing. At the time, I didn't recognize the guy they dumped
next to me, but it was Colin Surrey! Yeah, the fella from all the days this
month that I couldn't remember meeting!
When he woke up, he apologized to me, and while I didn't realize how
badly he needed to apologize at the time, I think I get the idea now that I
re-read the last entry. He made me think I was cracking up!
Anyway, he said he used to be a cop out in Hawaii, a pretty dirty cop at
that. Paid off by the plantation owners, and when the workers went on strike
he was the one who gave the order to fire on the strikers. Pretty low, if
you ask me. He thought so too, not that it stopped him at the time.
For days after, he could hardly sleep, and wished he'd never been born.
Finally, he had this dream, and here's how he described it, as good as I can
"The faces of the men I'd ordered shot, and the ones I'd shot myself,
were all around me, shouting, accusing, saying I needed to face justice.
Finally, a new face came out of the mist, someone I didn't recognize. He
said he was an old god of the Hawaiians, and he'd come to visit justice on me
for what I did. He said that he'd grant my wish to never be born, but not
the mercy of ceasing to be. Instead, every morning I'd wake to find that no
one remembered me. Records would get lost over time, pictures fade. I'd be
a man who never was, who no one could remember. And until I found a way to
redeem myself in the eyes of the gods, I'd be cursed. If I died, I'd die
unmourned. If I lived, I'd live without friends or family."
I think I may have cried a little, it was so sad. When he woke from
that dream, his landlord threw him out as a squatter, and he ended up
drifting for a while. He finally got off Hawaii, but it wasn't easy, since
any boat he got on would think he was a stowaway once he went to sleep. At
least he'd get let out of jail on land the next day since no one could
remember why he was there. In fact, he spends a lotta time in jail because
it gives him two hots and a cot and they check him out in the morning with an
apology. Or at worst, an assumption that he was in for being a drunk.
He wasn't a parole officer or an insurance investigator, but you could
say he was a private detective. A very private one. He was trying to do
enough good to break his curse, but it was hard, since no one could remember
him or that they promised to help. He talked to me three times and I still
couldn't remember why I was looking for the guy who'd tied me up! In fact, I
think he talked to me before the first one I wrote down, I just hadn't
written in my diary that day before going to bed.
By the time he finished his story, he'd worked out of his ropes. He
left me tied up, promising to call the police to come get me. But he said
that when I forgot him in the morning, the less of my adventure needed him
around, the easier it'd be for my brain to fit the pieces together.
Sometimes people did go crackers if he spent too much time around them and
they lost too much of their memories.
The cops did come, and I decided to keep quiet about Colin. I hadn't
seen who beat up the crooks, officer, it wasn't the boys in blue? As my
momma would say, butter couldn't have melted in my mouth, I should of been an
I'm writing "Do not open unless you remember Colin, I mean it!" on the
cover and I'm going to lock it up and stuff it in a trunk. Maybe someday
Colin will make those heathen gods happy enough that they'll let people
remember him again, and then maybe I can read my own diary without thinking
I'm going nuts.
* * * *
June 27, 1927
Ah, a fresh new diary and a fresh new day. Sorry I didn't write the
last few days, but I've been busy talking to police and reporters about the
whole robbery attempt at Foxx and Sons where I work. Someone was actually
trying to break through the wall of our storeroom into the bank next door,
like in that one Sherlock Holmes story! I was lucky they didn't want any
dead bodies to get the cops angry, I just spent the whole time tied to a
chair in the corner. But some mysteryman beat them all up and left them for
the police! I think the mysteryman might've been asking around about the
criminals beforehand, in disguise. I can remember someone asking me about a
guy who looked a lot like the man who tied me up, but, well, it's been
Some hero, he didn't even untie me! But the police officer who did
untie me was pretty cute, and I think he's even single. His name is Carl
O'Brien. Yes, he's Irish, and I'm sure pappa wouldn't approve, but pappa's
up in Heaven now and I'm sure he's got plenty of things to be happy about so
I won't make him feel bad.
Cross your fingers, diary. Pages, I guess. I'll let you know if I have
any luck with Officer O'Brien!
And there you have it, the first "Forgotten Man" pulp story! Seven more
installments would be published before Incoherent Mystery Stories ceased
publication in 1937, all of which claimed to be either true stories or based
on eyewitness accounts of events that took place in the late 1920s. In the
last of them, "The Man Who Remembered," it was claimed by Horatio the
Hexbreaker that there was no Hawaiian curse. Rather, Colin's own latent
mystic powers had latched onto his overwhelming guilt over the massacre and
cast a spell of forgetfulness over the world, a spell renewed when Colin
Since the publisher took the magazine off the schedule in favor of the
new comicbooks, we never got to see if Colin ever managed to come to terms
with his guilt and let the spell fade, but it's interesting to note that a
few years after the events of "The Man Who Remembered," the enigmatic mystic
known as John Doe went to work for the government in the tales of Beacon.
The same man, or just an eerie coincidence? Only time, and requests from you
readers, will tell....
This was written for Tom Russell's "High Concept" contest in June 2009.
The high concept in question being the Forgotten Man, a pulp-era hero whose
existence is forgotten by the world every 24 hours. I wrapped it in an extra
layer of meta with the final scene, casting it as a 1970s reprint piece as
the fictional Coherent Comics Group exercised some rights bought up in a
bankrupcy sale, much as Marvel and DC were snapping up defunct companies in
The incident in Colin Surrey's past was the Hanapepe Massacre
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanapepe_Massacre). I just went looking
through the date function on Wikipedia for years in the 1920s until something
caught my eye, an incident with a horrible outcome caused by someone who
might regret it so keenly his Magene would erupt and "wish" himself out of
the memories of all around him.
When I was toying with ideas for how he'd have found out he was the
cause of his own problems (the Hexbreaker reference), I briefly considered
having him meet the Wanderer, then thought about having him meet John
Doe...and then realized he probably WAS John Doe. And therefore, it ties
into the existing First Age chronology quite nicely. This does contradict
the First Age Sourcebook (which says John Doe is his real name), but I prefer
the new explanation at least as a possibility, if not confirmed.
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