J u l y   2 0 0 1

Guest Writer

Part Six: The man in the mirror
by Jess Gulbranson

Mel lost his motel in a poker game in Part 1; he met a man who claimed to be an alien in Part 2; in Part 3, he found himself in alien surroundings; in Part 4, Mel befriended some strange beings looking for barroom trouble; and in Part 5, Mel, seemingly back on earth, found himself in a face-to-face confrontation with a man who -- except for the color of his sweatshirt -- looked exactly like Mel ...

Part Six: The man in the mirror
Mel's moment of existential hesitation was enough to give his mirror image an opening. The green-sweatshirted man brought his leg up and snapped it back down on Mel's hand, which poked out the sleeve of his red sweatshirt and held a ray-gun zapper. It was the same kick tae kwon do showoffs used to break boards, but it was plenty effective here. The zapper skittered across the room, into an inaccessible corner.

"Where'd you get one of those?" the man snarled. Without taking his eyes from Mel, who stood holding a smarting hand, the counterpart reached backward into a filing cabinet.

The gun that emerged was normal, though a sawed-off shotgun was hardly standard office supplies. Both barrels were now leveled at Mel, who obliged his counterpart by standing stock still.

"Maybe you'd better start with the answers, pal. If you're the first of three spirits, then you better warn your spook buddies that you'll be getting the first of some triple-ought buck!"

What the dickens does that mean? thought Mel, who judiciously refrained from saying it out loud. His counterpart was obviously whacko, and looking into his own face, he realized the truth.

Mel considered himself a tough customer, but his menacing demeanor was always tempered with an odd sense of humor. He rarely gave anyone a ration of shit who didn't deserve it. The man before him had the same grizzled face and gray eyes -- but what was behind them was completely different.

There was no humor, or mercy, or decency. Maybe even no common sense. And definitely no sanity.

Mel had never had such a clear flash of insight like that -- almost like seeing a list of truths written in the back of his counterpart's head. His surprise must have shown, because the twin barrels of the shotgun rose to almost touch the tip of Mel's nose.

"Tell you what," said Mel's mirror image. "Fuck answers. If you disappear right now, and never show up again, I'll chalk this up to that sandwich that's still squirming in my gut from an hour ago, and pretend it was all just a figment. Fair enough?"

Mel nodded.

"Good. Because I'd consider two shotgun shells wasted on a hallucination a fair price for making sure. Now get the hell out of here!"

He pushed forward with the shotgun, moving Mel's head backward with an embarrassing twinge of pain in the nose. Mel backed up, turned and ran -- leaping out of the train car with all speed.

As he made it out of sight, he could have sworn he heard his counterpart cuss, "Shit -- I never looked good in red anyway."

Mel walked briskly back toward downtown to see if he could get the answers his counterpart had rejected. His first thought was to visit his friend Richard again, maybe catch him at home this time. When he arrived at the door to the apartment building, there was a different name where Richard's used to be.

"No dice," Mel muttered. The next place to stop: the coffee shop where the red-haired girl worked.

Six blocks east, Mel passed a large statue of Alexander Hamilton. Several clean-cut college students wished him a good day. He nodded to them brusquely.

Now in the square, he advanced to the coffee shop. Taking a peek inside, he didn't see any girl baristas at all. Mel scanned the clientele briefly, and his eyes came to rest on a corner table and its occupant. It was the old man from the trainyard, a cup of coffee in front of him and another, untouched, sitting at the space opposite him. The old man beckoned Mel.

"I was expecting you. Have a seat, please."

Mel did so, his temper rising like the knot on his skull had earlier. The guilty can leaned up against the old man's chair.

"And before your ire crests, let me explain my actions," he said. "Are you aware of 'zendo'? No? It is a place where Buddhists go for silent meditation. Their meditation is monitored by a senior Buddhist, who carries a staff or cane such as this one, called 'kyosaku.' If a meditator falters in his concentration, the monitor will deliver two blows to shoulders or head, with said kyosaku. Enlightenment often follows. Am I being clear?"

"Yes, yes you are," Mel said, thinking back to the clarity he felt facing his green-sweatshirted counterpart.

"At any rate," the old man began, "I would like to pass on some information that is of dire importance. Please listen, and do not interrupt. I do not have time for a conversation, but you must understand what I shall say.

"There are more to legends and heroes than you might think. There are infinite worlds in this universe … most are simply variations of each other, others are quantum leaps in what we think of as reality. Each world has its heroes -- people of extreme importance to the creator and his divine plan. Some are general in type: the dragon slayer, the man with no name, the holy fool. Others are more specific; they are individuals whose personal essence is of value to fate. On your world, you are one such."

"Me? A lot's happened to me that I could never explain, but this takes the cake. I ... "

"No more interruptions, please. You must listen, for there is little time left. Though a petty blackmailer may seem like nothing in his own world, if the creator has plans for him, then his world will suffer the longer he is away from it. Besides, there is no place in this world for you … a version already exists."

Mel could certainly attest to that. "That is why I must relate to you that you must return, as fast as possible. To do this you must seek out your nemesis."

"No, if you mean what I think you mean… I have to go ask that green-shirted carbon copy for help in getting back to my world? I barely made it out of there with my head still on and my underpants dry!"

"The Mel of this world is capable of such extremes of violence and evil it would make you sick to hear. Nevertheless, he is your best chance of returning quickly. I will point you in the direction of assistance, of course."

The old man leaned across the table and produced a photograph. Mel took it in his hands and stared.

The photo depicted a handcuffed man, restrained from behind by police. He was pivoting back on one leg and kicking a cop in front of him straight in the crotch. He was grinning. Someone had written in green pen at the bottom: FRANK BURLEY.

Frank was a stocky man with long, brown hair who looked vaguely familiar. Mel pocketed the photograph.

"So … Frank Burley can help me, whoever he is?"

"Find him. It should not be hard. Frank is a special servant of fate. There is a Frank Burley in every world, and he is an unlikely hero in all of them."

"Wait a second. I saw your double back in my own world. Are you a hero here?"

The old man sighed.

"I am a custodian of sorts, for heroes such as yourself. That was no double in your world. I exist in all of them."

"So you work for God? What does he pay? Spiritual coin? Can I borrow some for a taxi?"

"I am working off a debt, Mel. I doubted the Almighty once a long time ago. This is my penance."

"What's your name? So I can thank you, I guess."

"The Greeks named me Didymus. You may call me Thomas. Go now."

Mel went, though he wasn't quite sure where to go. But he was comforted by a glimpse of his red sweatshirt as it reflected back from the storefront windows.

As he passed the square, he had a hunch. Across the street was the courthouse, and Mel stopped to look up at the façade. Sure enough, chiseled in stone was:


Not Bridgeton Courthouse.

"Stumptown it is then," Mel said to himself. "Frank Burley, here I come!"

Find out more about Mel in our archives.

site design / management / host: ae
© 2001-2005 nwdrizzle.com / all rights reserved.