M a r c h   2 0 0 2

Guest Writer

Part 13: It wasn't quite a dream
by Jess Gulbranson

In the grand scheme of the universe, Mel is little more than a speck. But in our universe, well, he's the only inter-dimensional hero we've got. So, although he’s a little rough around the edges, largely unpredictable, maybe even a trifle rude – after 12 previous out-of-this-world chapters, you just had to learn to love him. Didn’t you? Nevertheless, here’s Part 13 ...

el woke up when the water closed over his head. Sure enough, he was fully submerged in cold water. He panicked for a moment before realizing he could breathe.

"Okay," he said, bubbles coming from his mouth. Looking around, he saw that he was definitely on the bottom of the ocean. There was no surface above him, and though hardly any light filtered down from the sun, Mel found he could see just fine.

The landscape around him was a heterogenous mass of sand and rock and weird plant life, all moving very slowly with the motion of the water. Before him were footprints. They were normal prints from normal shoes, and even though the muck around them was shifting nebulously, the prints remained solid and unmarred.

This was very strange, though Mel felt the only thing to do was follow them, and this he did. He walked unimpeded by water, and as he walked Mel also noticed that he was not wet.

After passing a geothermal vent with tubular worms sticking out of it, and avoiding a school of enormous eyeless fish, the prints at last resolved themselves. They stepped onto a shelf of rock, flat and smooth, and ended at a desk.

Mel approached the desk, which was occupied. The man there was tall, with an angular head bearing a well-groomed fringe of hair. Closer now, Mel saw that the man held a book, and was erasing and rewriting with quick, sharp movements. Mel watched for a moment (or perhaps an hour) until the man finished his task. The man slammed the book closed.

The title on the cover was now visible: MEL. The man held up his pencil, and the eraser was almost gone. Mel had a pang of fear, thinking there might be enough eraser left to finish the job. In a few seconds he was proved right. The name MEL disappeared, and in its place the man wrote JEUSS RUCKER.

Mel gasped, and the man turned. He had sharp features and a high forehead, making him look almost aristocratic. His clothes were archaic, perhaps from the 18th century. At first a sudden swirling of the water made Mel think the man wore dark glasses, but upon closer inspection there were only empty eye sockets.

"That's me," the man said, pointing to the name on the book. Jeuss Rucker stood and advanced on Mel, brandishing the eraser in Mel's face. "You see, I saved enough to erase you!"

Mel woke on a couch, damp now with sweat. His previous awakening had actually been his descent into a dream. Sitting up, he looked around. This place was a tiny one-bedroom apartment, and he occupied the living room couch. It was Anne's apartment, spartan and clean. A world away from Frank Burley's huge cluttered loft, the last place he had slept. Mel stood and two steps took him across the living room to the porch.

Beyond the sliding glass door was a beautiful view. This building was up in the hills west of the city, overlooking the length of the river as Portland filled the valley. Plenty of lights this time of night, from industrial districts, and the shape was similar to Bridgeton, but not exact. Mel felt a momentary pang of homesickness, but brightened when he thought of his chance to return. Maybe soon.

"Shut the door or come in, Mel. It's freezing out there." Anne's voice called out behind him. It was cold, and Mel wore only boxers and an undershirt. Of all the people who had helped Mel on his strange journey, Anne was the only one to insist on taking the time to get clean clothes. So, he had new shirts and socks and jeans, but the irreplaceable red sweatshirt was just in the wash. He smiled, and turned.

Anne stood there in long johns, looking mighty fine in them. "I heard you gasp. Bad dream?" she asked. Mel nodded, and thought about his dream. He felt an ache in his chest when he recalled the eyeless gaze of Jeuss Rucker.

"I think I dreamed of something real, but it wasn't quite a dream."

"You mean a lucid dream?" She was biting her lower lip; it was extremely cute. "You could control what was happening."

"No, not like that. I think I had a vision …" Anne looked at him appraisingly. "I may be in more trouble than I thought."

Anne moved to the kitchenette without a word, boiling water for tea. Mel checked out her behind, unable to help himself. He shut the slider and followed her. "Look, I know I just got here, and we've hardly had time to hang out, but how soon can you fix the zapper?"

"Tomorrow, maybe the next day." She turned her head to look at him, still preparing tea. "You remember your promise?"

"Of course. You're coming with me."

Anne smiled. "That's right. So what is this trouble you're about to get into?"

Mel thought for a moment. "Jeuss Rucker. Do you know that name?" She shook her head.

"Neither do I, but I get the feeling I'm about to."

Find out more about Mel in our archives.

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