N o v e m b e r   2 0 0 1

Guest Writer

Part 10: Ready for answers
by Jess Gulbranson

In Part 1, Mel lost his motel in a poker game; 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; in Part 8 Frank ran headlong into some gunfire in the streets of Stumptown; and in Part 9 Mel and Frank ended up in the dark, and not without a few problems ...

Part 10: Ready for answers
The lights were still out.

Only a second had passed, but Mel already felt a week's worth of fear and confusion. In the darkness he could hear vampires all around – snickering, hissing and making typically fiendish noises.

A clicking sound next to him hinted that Frank Burley was up to his usual tricks. The blinding white-purple glare of a military flare revealed the scene. It was both scarier and more helpful than the brief match Mel's evil twin had lit just a moment before. Now Smith, the green-shirted doppelganger, was gone.

Mel and Frank were backed up against a wall and surrounded by vampires. A quick count of bared fangs divided by two told Mel there were maybe thirty – far too many to fight, even if they were only housewives or WWII veterans.

Then a flash of inspiration struck Mel in a way that had served him well before. He held up a fist and screamed as loud as he could: "VIVA EL MANO GRIS!"

He'd learned that El Mano Gris – the Gray Hand – was a universally feared and hated group of vampires. It was well worth a shot, and it worked. The vampires, looking skeptical, hesitated.

"Okay, Frank, start negotiating."

"I think it's a little late for that," said Frank, dropping the flare at his feet and assuming a martial arts stance, legs akimbo. "We'll just have to make do."

Mel noticed that Frank winked and shook his torso. Hanging from a leather strap on Frank's back was a machine gun, an Uzi. How had Mel missed that one? Mel grabbed the gun and swiveled it to face the vampires. The closest, a pale, rangy guy in biker leather, laughed at Mel. The rest of the vampires followed suit.

"I'll cover you, Frank."

The vamps really lost it with that statement, and Mel's reservations about firearms and shooting went right out the window. He flicked the fire selector to automatic and pulled the trigger.

Everything happened very quickly. The laughter died, as did the heckler. Four shots removed the vampire's head before the gun kicked up and to the right, sending a few bullets into the darkness.

That allowed another moment of group hesitation for Mel to act on. He remembered a similar moment in Khe Sanh, 1968 – not a freaky flashback like other veterans seemed to have, but one where all of a sudden he recalled how to shoot at a hostile crowd. Mel held down the trigger and waggled the end of the gun.

The vampires scattered, mostly, more in surprise than anything else. Though Mel put lead into a dozen-odd bodies, only three were knocked out of commission. Those were headshots. Switching the gun to single-shot, he turned his attention to Frank.

Frank Burley, the supernatural investigator, seemed to be dancing. It must have been judo, or yoga, or one of those pansy martial arts. The way Frank was doing it was far from pansy, though. Mel recalled Frank's story about how the Lord of Vampires had made him swear to never hurt a vampire; Frank was obeying the letter, if not the spirit, of that law.

Whenever a bloodsucker (or two, or three) would attempt to pounce, Frank would redirect them into each other or the wall. That way he wouldn't personally inflict harm.

Mel wasn't sure how long judo would hold up against the creatures, so he started picking off stunned vamps with the Uzi. By his count about half were dead.

Mel and Frank might have won the day, if not for what happened next. Mel had thought his back was clear, and hadn't checked in a few moments. Frank happened to glance his way, and started.

"Mel!" screamed Frank. "Behind you!"

He hesitated for a moment, which was too long. Mel spun to see a vampire right in his face. A clawed hand went for Mel's throat. Mel brought the Uzi up too slowly and felt a pain in his ear, like an insect bite, on the tip of the lobe. Then he saw the pale, inhuman face disappear in a cloud of red. The rest of the vampire fell to the ground.

Mel heard his friend curse as he turned back: "FUCK! I promised that old bastard …"

Frank was holding one of the Colt pistols in his left hand and a shotgun in the right. He put them to use. The remaining vampires all fell in a matter of moments, leaving Frank panting. Mel walked over to him.

"Thank you," Mel sighed. "What happens now?"

Frank looked around, plainly nervous – a look Mel had yet to see.

"I'm not sure," Frank said after a long pause. "Maybe you bandage your ear before you look like Van Gogh."

Frank reached into his black fatigues and produced a roll of bandages, which he lobbed at Mel before crumpling to the ground. "Geez, Mel," he said, "sorry I shot you."

Mel began rolling the gauze around his ear which, sure enough, was missing the dangly lobe.

"Well, Frank, I think we lost Smith," said Mel. "Did you see where he went?"

Frank shook his head.

"So we have to search for him," continued Mel, "in … Portland."

"You were right about something being wrong," Frank replied. "I think that green-shirted SOB stranded us on purpose. Not only that ..."

Frank stopped in midsentence, his eyes open wide and unfocused as if he'd been hit in the head by a 2x4. Mel opened his mouth to ask if Frank was alright, and then looked over Frank's shoulder.

Standing quietly over the poleaxed supernatural investigator was a rather ordinary looking man, notable only for being very short. Mel would have been hard-pressed to give any details about the man later, only that he seemed to radiate importance. There were vague hints of angular features, a mustache, cruel eyes and outdated garb. But overall, a feeling of menace, power and … satisfaction were overwhelming.

"I was waiting for him to slip up, you know." The voice, when it began, resonated strangely, like a lecturer in a great empty hall. "Of all the Frank Burleys, he was the most troublesome. Of course, he did try to stab me with a pick handle."

Again, Mel had only the vaguest impression of a sardonic facial expression. It was a challenge to speak. Mel wondered if he looked as moronic as Frank.

"Then," Mel began, "you're …"

"Shhh; don't say it. When I leave, it will perhaps all appear to have been a dream. Let us just say that you know who I am, and why, when I leave, I will take Frank with me."

The short man reached down and patted Frank slowly on the shoulder. There was no response. Suddenly, the man made a pass over Frank's face, like a stage magician. Frank Burley's throat was cut; his eyes staring in death, not trance. Again the man made a magician's pass in front of Frank's face, and the supernatural investigator was gone. The short man held a gold ring in his hand, and Mel could see his face clearly for a moment. It was hard and cruel, grinning cat-like with utmost satisfaction. Then things were blurry again.

"I ..."

The man cut Mel off again. "I want you to be quiet. Let us also say that I know who you are."

Mel felt like an insect pinned to a board.

"I understand more about your fate than you do. You are already being helped by certain entities, as well as our mutual friend here," he continued as he waggled the ring, "our friend who is now indisposed. I think that no one can offer the help I can provide. Here."

The man was suddenly standing less than a foot from Mel. He handed over a wooden box.

"Open it later. I will check to see how you are faring. Also, go north one block and west two blocks. You'll find what you need."

Mel looked up from the ornate box to catch another glimpse of Vlad the Impaler. But the lord of vampires had vanished.

Trying not to think of Frank's fate, Mel huddled in his red sweatshirt against a cold mist that had sprung up. He walked north one block, then west two.

He was at the courthouse square, a feature all versions of Bridgetown seemed to share. In the middle, standing under the orange light of a street lamp, was another feature shared by the many worlds: Didymus – Doubting Tom. He was waiting for Mel.

Box in hand, Mel approached the square, ready for answers.

Find out more about Mel in our archives.

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