A u g u s t   2 0 0 2

Guest Writer

The next part of the journey
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 18 ...

he room before Mel was shadowy, with light supplied by a flickering fireplace on the far wall. Broken furniture was burning. The only furnishings that could still be called such were two chairs, one of which was occupied.

The man in it was facing Mel, but it was hard to look at him, because his face wouldn't sit still. First, it was that of a pasty bald man, then an old black woman, then a child, then ... Mel got dizzy.

He was hesitating in the doorway, but he felt the man's gaze fall on him. A force impelled him forward – not walking, just a headlong slide across the floor and into the chair opposite the strange man. Mel suppressed the urge to get bent out of shape, and shoved his hands into the pocket of his red sweatshirt. That way they wouldn't do anything untoward.

"Hello, Mel, you may have heard of me." The voice was changing just as its owner's face was, from squeak to growl to James Earl Jones. "I am the Superior General of the Jesuit Order, also known as the Black Pope. I'm sure that one of my confederates must have mentioned me."

Mel nodded.

"So how are you in the basement of a bar?" Mel knew the drill, and he was tired of it, but asking obvious questions seemed to be the only way to get these people to explain anything. "Shouldn't you be in Rome?"

The Black Pope leaned back in his chair, face in constant flux. "Out that door is Via Appia in Rome. Also out that door is the hallway you came from. It's unimportant. Bert!" His bellow was answered by the remaining conscious pirate, who looked sheepishly at Mel. "Please fetch us some water, Bert." Bert closed the door behind him.

"Are you and Didymus and Vlad related or something? You sure act like siblings ... fight all the time but thick as thieves."

"You've cut very well to the heart of the matter, Mel. Each of us represents a certain Aspect of humanity ... I doubt that this was explained to you, but I prefer to be direct in my dealings. Many years ago a philosopher determined a universal taxonomy of the human spirit, after discovering us. We use his terms now, because they make as much sense as any. Do you follow?"

"So far." Mel lied. He was rewarded with a cryptic smile that lasted over three different faces.

"Good. I will make this concise, as we do not have all the time in the world. We are still in Portland, you know. It's Portland 1880 A.D., though. If you wonder why, it's because it was the easiest way I could get to you ... I met you halfway, in a sense. The man who brought you here ... he was a ghost."

Mel raised an eyebrow as the Black Pope continued. "He was a ghost here at the White Eagle, until your counterpart summoned him into slavery with black magic. Really. He is awfully confused, and bears you some animosity. His ... boss, however, is one of us."

"What, the King of Ghosts?"

"King ... yes, that is it precisely. As I was saying, many strings have been pulled to get you where you are. We number five, and our sixth is, for now, our enemy. His power is ascendant in this age, and we strive to restore the balance."

"How does that happen?" Mel felt the conversation had wandered into crackpot territory, and wondered if perhaps Enya shouldn't be playing.

"A complex question with a seemingly simple answer. We require a Messiah." The Black Pope leaned forward as he spoke, right in Mel's face. "Each Aspect has an affinity for a certain human quality, and the one we seek has them all in spades. Mine, for example, is dynamic inspiration. Think back ..."

Mel did, and he could remember a million times where hunches and what seemed to be dumb luck had pulled him out of jams. What the Black Pope was hinting at was a much stranger feeling even than his brief time with Anne.

"I'm not your Messiah." He planted his feet in the ground firmly and pushed. He went nowhere, and the shifting face remained close to Mel's.

"No, not yet. You have met with Didymus' approval, and with it you have the Essence. Vlad Tepes approves as well, and you have the Progression. The King of Ghosts has known of you since the dawn of time, but will not approve you until all else have. The Machine Mind, the Systemic Aspect, has not encountered you yet. I will approve as soon as we are finished talking and you make the correct decision."

"That's only five." Mel was stringing it along until he could escape. "You said there were six Aspects."

"The sixth is Jeuss Rucker. His Aspect has been a detriment to humanity for so long that you could call him devil, Shaitan, evil itself, and you would not be far off. Yet, the Messiah will have his approval as well, and then possess all the mystery and power that humanity has access to and, with them, right the balance."

"Or destroy the world, or remake it in his own image, or take a vacation in Bermuda that lasts a thousand years, or tear open a hole in existence and hem the edges so it would never close." Mel wasn't sure why all that garbage came out of his mouth, but he meant it. He understood the possibility of power within.

"You are closer than we could ever have thought. But you're still a Messiah candidate. The path open to you is one that has been retold in all the legends of the world, but they remain legends because we have not had a candidate complete what was required. All the Nazarene lacked was the approval of Jeuss Rucker's Aspect, and he would have been it. But ..." The Black Pope made an ambiguous shrug.

"Fine. Fine, I'll do it. But I don't understand half as much as you think."

"We have turned time and space upside down to funnel you where you are, and you have passed all with amazing fortitude. We shall continue immediately. You have my approval."

Behind Mel a glow rose. He turned and it was a door, shining so brightly that it hurt his head. He turned back, and next to the Black Pope was the old man from the bar, Sam.

The Pope spoke. "Return to Graceland and inform your master that the candidate has but two approvals to seek before his own."

Sam nodded, and faded from existence with a glare at Mel.

"Go ahead, Mel," the Pope continued. "Enter the door. That's the next part of the journey."

As Mel turned and stepped, the light froze him in place. He saw images flash through his mind ... Didymus walking, walking, forever ... Vlad Tepes alone in a dark room, not moving ... The Black Pope in caveman garb, etching a drawing of deer on a cave wall ... a library of scrolls unrolling and reading each other ... Elvis in black leather a la Vegas '69, with a necklace of skulls ...

At last he saw Anne, beautiful Anne. Her black T-shirted back was to him, and when she turned she had no eyes – only black sockets that spoke to Mel of oblivion and despair ...

Then he was no longer frozen in the light. He was on top of a mountain, looking out into an expanse of blue sky and ocean. Behind him was the light of the door. As he turned it was fading, but he heard the Black Pope shout through as it disappeared.

"Good luck!"

Look for Mel's past adventures and e-mail the author at j_gulbranson@hotmail.com.

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