Nine: You don't know how bad it can get
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;
Part 5 seemingly found
Mel back on earth, face to face with a green-sweatshirted man who
otherwise looked exactly like Mel; in Part
6, Mel discovered the parallel world of Stumptown; in Part
7, he happened upon Frank Burley, the man he needed to find;
and in Part 8, Frank
ran headlong into some gunfire in the streets of Stumptown ...
Part Nine: You don't know how bad it can get
Mel woke to music, blaring, from somewhere beyond his head. He stretched
to find that he had been curled up in the fetal position, though
he found the couch he was on much more comfortable than the heating
duct from way back when. Mel blinked and looked around. He was surrounded
by junk: books, gadgets, objects d' art.
" he said. "Frank's place."
From somewhere in the depths of the loft, the sound of junk cascading
to the floor joined that of the wild punk rock. Mild cursing chimed
in, and, as it came closer, Mel caught sight of the flat's owner.
Frank Burley was dressed in what appeared to be some sort of paramilitary
uniform. Black boots and gear accented black fatigues. A number
of weapons dotted his stocky frame: the Colt six-shooters, a shotgun,
grenades and countless knives. A spiked German helmet topped off
the whole mess.
"I take it we're going out today, Frank," Mel understated.
"That's right. Up for breakfast?"
Mel thought it over. "Sure thing. Why the get-up?"
"Dress for the occasion. Guess what, Mel?"
"Uh, World War I isn't over yet?" Mel snorted.
"We're going to have a little discussion with your better
half. Maybe I can persuade him to assist you in getting home. Or
wherever it is you want to go."
"Frank Burley, diplomat. Has a nice ring to it."
"Whatever you say, Mel."
Mel stretched and rose from the couch. An afghan fell off as he
stood. "Let's go, then. I don't suppose you have Denny's in
"You mean Donny's? That we have, but they aren't ever open,
and you can't smoke. I was thinking Chinese for breakfast. Dim sum
Mel followed Frank out of the loft. Once on the street, Mel was
struck by how unnaturally calm it seemed. The danger of the previous
day seemed somehow to have subsided, so that this early morning
was quiet in a way it should never be in the city. Frank hailed
"Are you sure this is safe? I mean, you hardly stepped out
the door yesterday when it turned into The Wild Bunch out here."
Frank shrugged. "I called in a few favors while you were sawing
logs. Between the boys in blue, the Russian mafia and the Yaks,
the streets got swept pretty clean last night."
Mel recalled the previous evening. Over freezer-burned tater tots,
he and Frank had talked about all manner of things. For about five
minutes, that is. The stresses of traveling between worlds and being
kicked around overall had brought him low. Mel slipped backwards
into the couch and was asleep within moments. His head was resting
comfortably on an ancient Smith-Corona typewriter.
At some point in the night, someone had thrown the afghan over
Inside the cab, Mel set to figuring out what was in store.
"Well, after some grub I think we ought to get moving,"
Frank said. "It's been pleasant company, but I'm sure you're
eager to get home. So, my plan is this: We walk right in. Guns blazing,
if necessary. This wouldn't work ordinarily, but your evil twin
is going to be plenty curious. The full-frontal approach is just
to get his attention."
"With your arsenal," said Mel, "we shouldn't have
"That's right. Once in, I don't think we should have any problem
getting what we want. I'll make sure of that."
The cab dropped them off in Chinatown, just down the street from
the porno shop where Mel had done his first searching in the world
of Stumptown. Frank led them into a shabby-looking building. After
a smoky elevator took them upstairs, the two stepped out into a
gleaming, gaudy restaurant. A steaming buffet table dominated the
main length of the room.
"Dim sum," mumbled Mel, "breakfast of champions."
He grabbed a plate and made a blitz into the exotic buffet. The
bite-sized combinations of pastry, noodle, meat and vegetable seemed
fairly palatable. Then Mel found a chafing dish of what appeared
to be chicken feet. Deep fried.
He collared a waiter. "What the hell are these?"
"Part of neck
very tasty, sir."
Mel had never seen a chicken with a foot for a head; tasty or no,
he avoided the fried claws.
At a table, Mel spread out his finds alongside Frank's enormous
"So, tell me what the plan is once we get inside."
"Let's just eat," said Frank through a mouthful. "Never
talk business while you're eating."
They began to dig in, the only customers in the restaurant so far.
The Chinese chatter of busy waiters was soothing; very normal despite
the weird appearance of the food. Mel was able to keep his mind
off the events to come, at least for a little while. When the dim
sum no longer disappeared down their gullets, Frank cracked his
knuckles and stood.
"It's time," he said, peeling bills off a bankroll and
throwing them onto the table.
sighed. He was not looking forward to another run-in with his green-shirted
Outside, Frank hailed another cab. This one took them to the trainyard.
"Well, Frank, I think I'm ready if you are."
"You sure you don't want a piece?" asked Frank, gesturing
to his portable arsenal.
a zapper is one thing, but guns and bullets just
seem to take me back to a time I'd like to forget."
"I forgot you were a vet. Well, once more into the breach,
as they say."
They walked between lines of train cars. Mel noticed that many
were rusty, with moss between the wheels and rails. The Stumptown
trainyard was heading into disuse. Mel navigated back to where he
remembered Dimpe's train to be. As they rounded the corner, Mel's
first sight was a flash of green against the stationary car. Smith.
"There's your boy, Mel. It looks almost too easy. Let's go
get you home."
Frank led Mel to where the counterpart waited, leaning indolently
against the train car's stairs. A perverted grin twisted the face
above the green sweatshirt.
"Something's wrong," whispered Mel.
"Just cold feet, Mel, we're almost home free."
They were closer, and Smith rose as if to greet them. He waved
slowly, the grin never faltering. Frank was looking this way and
that, on edge.
"Frank, something is very wrong."
"We've come this far
we can't stop."
But Frank did stop. He turned to face Mel. "Look," he
said, "for an out-of-this-world SOB, I like you, Mel. I'd like
to think we're friends."
"Then trust me on this. We have one shot at your evil twin
there. Let's take it. And if what Doubting Tom tells me is true,
there's a Frank on every possible world, and a me who's just as
cantankerous. So wherever you end up, look for me if you need help."
Frank clapped Mel on the shoulder. "C'mon, let's do it."
Mel nodded, and Frank drew his six-shooters as they began walking
"Looky, looky, a spook and a spook-hunter." Smith's voice
was eerily similar to Mel's, but high and cracked, almost hysterical.
"Strange bedfellows, eh boys? Looks like serious business."
"Don't fuck around, Smith," replied Frank. "We're
here to send Mel home, and I think you know how." As he spoke,
Frank cocked the hammers on both pistols.
"Funny you should mention that," said Smith, whipping
out the zapper. "I modified this here device."
Frank didn't even have time to raise his weapons.
"Don't try anything funny," continued Smith, "I
want to gloat before I off you."
"Something is wrong," offered Mel.
"Shut up, spook!" Smith was screeching now. "Where's
your sheet? I guess you don't like it here in sunny Stumptown. Well,
you don't know how bad it can get."
"What does he mean by that?" Frank asked.
"You're about to find out, boy-o." Smith pointed the
zapper near his own feet and fired. A patch of ground twisted and
distorted looking like a piece of movie film projected while
melting. Smith's grin never faded; he jumped in the hole and was
Mel looked at Frank, recognition passing between them. They ran
forward and jumped in.
The change was sudden. It was stiflingly hot, even in the shade
of skyscrapers. A number of people in rags were tearing each other
to shreds in the middle of the sidewalk. Blood ran into the gutters.
Looking around, Mel noticed Smith maybe 20 feet away. He stood underneath
a window with a sign that read: SALLY'S PUB BEST IN RIP CITY!
"Get him!" Frank was growling like an animal. Smith was
aiming the zapper near his feet again. Mel started toward him when
some of the bloody vagrants got between them. Mel put his shoulder
down, but before he could charge, the people fell with a thunderclap.
Frank was putting his Colt pistols to good use.
"It's just going to get worse, boys. Catch me now!" Smith
zapped, jumped and was gone. Mel and Frank were right behind him.
This time, darkness. Mel could still hear growling next to him
that belonged to Frank. Where was Smith?
A match flared in front of them, illuminating Smith's hand. The
light revealed a throng of man-shaped, thirsty devils surrounding
them. Fangs gleamed in pale faces.
"Shit," said Frank. "Vampires."
"I told you it would get a lot worse," said Smith. "Welcome
He blew out the match and was gone.