J u n e   2 0 0 2

Guest Writer

A whiff of unpleasantness
by Jess Gulbranson

Just for the record, our yellow-haired, red-sweatshirted, space-traveling and somewhat scruffy hero has been bouncing between dimensions since early last year. Here’s episode 16 ...

evil take the hindmost!" screamed some redneck on the TV screen. Mel had turned the set on, then back off so he could think.

He pondered his situation but was unable to make heads or tails. So there was an Anne/Smith connection, but why? Was Smith originally Vic Hausmann before some egghead science experiment blew up in his face? And why was Frank Burley eliminated when he figured out that Mel had been set up?

Hell, Mel thought, I'm starting to sound like a Tolliver Sloan conspiracy movie.

At the bottom of all this was a strange, dark-brown feeling of … hurt. For the first time since a vacation in sunny Southeast Asia 33 years ago, Mel had dropped all thoughts of dishonest living.

He had considering returning home, with Anne in tow, to start a new life. He entertained a mental flash of Anne sitting in a porch swing, and smiled. Maybe he'd go to school, let himself fall in love…

No, he thought, fuck that!

All daydreaming shattered when he looked down at the photo album in his hands. There was Anne huddled over a lab bench with Mel's own nut-job evil twin.

Yes, that same doppelganger had told Mel something critical: "You have no idea how bad it's going to get. Welcome to Portland!"

Well, now Mel understood. He'd been set up and hardcore betrayed in this sleepy little burg. On the surface Portland was a watered-down copy of Bridgeton – much the same as how cities in real life seem less real than in movies. Mel sensed that underneath all this were more traps for him than he could imagine.

So, if he were placed into a game where the rules were unknown, there was one thing for him to do: make up rules of his own, then cheat for good measure. But what he needed most of all was some freedom to move, and ready cash was necessary for that.

The new game was blackmail – no matter how objectionable that might be. Mel's encyclopedic knowledge of Bridgeton's collective indiscretions was essentially useless here. His first encounter with Smith in Stumptown had proved that. Next came the cheating part.

Mel reached for the phone, then hesitated. This was going to be humiliating and possibly dangerous, but he knew there was usually an advantage to be had in performing unexpected actions. He grabbed the receiver from its cradle.

There was no dial tone. Instead, a woman greeted him. Unsure of what to say, he simply stated, "This is Mel."

In the background he heard a familiar voice bark a Slavic-sounding something. He imagined the woman, her hand muffling the business end of the phone.

"Is Mel!" she shrieked. A momentary pause followed some shuffling, then Mel's work began.

"Hello, Mel, this is Vlad," the familiar voice said. "I was waiting for your call."

Mel couldn't help but blurt "I … need some help. You offered."

"Mel," the Impaler intoned, "I understand that this seems humiliating and possibly dangerous to you. Don't worry. I have you well in hand."

"If you can read my mind, then why do you use the phone? And why weren't you on the line right away if you knew it was me?"

Mel caught a whiff of unpleasantness from Vlad Dracula's tone. "Your questions are irritating, but I feel compelled to satisfy. I may be the most powerful being in the worlds as we know them, but I will tell you what I have come to rely on for preserving my immortality: a good secretary."

"Look, I just need ..."

"Besides, if all I do is read your mind, then when do I get a chance to do this?"

And with that, the phone in Mel's hand seemed to jump. Suddenly he was on the floor, crushed by an amazing weight. The phone must have weighed three or four hundred pounds, and it was all Mel could do to keep it from caving his chest.

"We'll make a man of you yet, Mel. Now listen. Downstairs in apartment 362 is a man named O'Neill …"

The Impaler gave Mel a wealth of precise, nasty detail necessary for the operation. The bland voice was very thorough, and it seemed to take forever while Mel's breath disappeared. At last he was left with only a dial tone and aching muscles. Sore or not, Mel grabbed his duffel and remaining possessions, then split.

Fifteen minutes later he left the building with two grand in the front pocket of his freshly-washed red sweatshirt.

All he had had to do to get the cash was promise O'Neill that his review of certain pseudonymous gay pornos (co-starring O'Neill) would never make it into the apartment building's monthly newsletter. Simple and quick.

So now Mel was left with a quandary: where to go?

Before the morning's revelations, he had still planned to visit Doctor Maniacal and the Shanghai Tunnels. Maybe he still would. As dangerous a person to cross as Vlad the Impaler was, Mel was full of piss and vinegar. Resolved to be contrary and ignore the vampire's warnings, Mel walked a half block to the bus stop, where he pondered his destination.

Anne's description of Chez Maniacal and the surroundings matched somewhat with Mel's memory of Bridgeton. Maniacal's warehouse was an abandoned hulk near a dive called the Blackhawk Inn; not too far from the train yards, in fact.

Mel could hop the trolley and be there in no time. He lost himself in rehearsing his next few blackmails. Strangely, all he could remember of his conversation with Vlad were sordid details the vampire lord had provided. He shrugged it off as the trolley rolled up. Mel boarded.

A matter of minutes, filled with the usual mass-transit nonsense, brought the trolley to Mel's destination.

He hopped to the curb and was greeted not by the run-down dive of his memory, but the rather cozy-looking White Eagle Tavern. Across the street was the warehouse that must belong to the crazy old Doctor in this world.

A bit confusing.

As Mel debated the merits of thwarting Vlad versus a cold beer, he thought back on the bizarre turnaround of this morning. One last glimpse of Anne brushed his mind in an unexplainable way, then was gone.

"Hell with this," uttered Mel. "Devil take the hindmost." He took a step.

Find out more about Mel in our archives.

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