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Guest Writer

A trick of the distance
by Jess Gulbranson

Our scruffy yellow-haired space-traveling hero has been stringing us along through different dimensions and wearing the same red sweatshirt since early last year. Here’s episode 19 ...

el had made it here safely, but where exactly was here? The sea far below sent up huge spumes, the spray of which lightly misted him, making Mel glad of the red hoody yet again. He peered over the edge, then recoiled with vertigo. It was a long way down.

Why did this stupid door have to open right on the edge? Mel wondered. He took a step back and raised his eyes to the horizon.

Now that was strange. As he looked up over the ocean, his gaze kept going until he realized he was looking at clouds. It must have been a trick of the distance, but it seemed both sea and sky bent together into a whole. There was no separation.

Mel turned around in confusion. The ledge behind wrapped around both sides of the cliff, or mountain, or whatever it was. About 10 feet back, the ledge rose sharply and became the cliff. Mel looked up again and was rewarded by the sight of rock beetling upwards until it was lost in mist. At least it didn't turn into the ocean.

So what now?

Mel hadn't brought anything with him through the glowing door other than his clothes. With nothing left to do, he decided to walk. The ledge to his right seemed to slope downwards, and down was good. He headed that way.

A hike of about 10 minutes found the path leveling out, then sloping upwards once more. Uh-oh, he thought. Another 10 minutes and he was on the level again, staring down at faint bootprints, his own. The ledge was a circle.

What now? he wondered again.

Taking a cue from the Black Pope, Mel did the first crazy thing that popped into his head. He kicked the side of the mountain.

Fucking-A, you guys, what's the deal?

This seemed to be the right tack, as he heard a creak. A concealed door opened up in the rock about 20 feet from him. A man emerged, youngish, with long hair and a nondescript sort of lab coat or smock.

Mel took a brisk step in his direction, dander up. "Boy, have I got a bone to pick wi ..."

The man from the door nonchalantly removed a long vial from his smock and uncorked it. Mel didn't resume his challenge, because once he got within spitting range, the man tossed the contents at Mel. There was a brief glimpse of bluish fluid, and then Mel stopped.

He felt strangely fresh, floating in minty cold like somebody in a breathmint commercial. He felt so wintry fresh, in fact, that he couldn't move a muscle. When the man approached, Mel didn't even worry that his mouth was frozen open. Mel felt sure that his breath was the best that it had ever been.

Then, almost as abruptly as it started, the feeling began to fade. His muscles began warming and relaxing. The man started and jumped back a pace. When Mel felt comfortable that he could move again, he closed his mouth and waited for the other to speak.

"Greetings. Welcome to the vestibule."

"Thanks, I think. Vestibule to what?"

"You don't know? Which way did you get here?" The welcome-wagon guy put his hands in his smock and stood there fidgeting.

"A door. The Pope sent me."

"Hmmm. You don't know why you're here then?"

"It's part of my 12-step program. Any other smart questions?"

The man extended his hand, and Mel shook it. "The name's Clay. Normally we let candidates figure the circle path out by themselves, but I'm tired of watching people fall off the cliff."

"I'm Mel. How did you know I was a candidate?"

"There are a hundred different ways to get here, and only one to leave," Clay shrugged. "You arrived at the spot where the candidates show up. The last Messiah hopeful to make it inside was Bruce Lee. He's still wandering around in there somewhere. You shrugged off my frigid balm even faster than he did."

Clay reached into the smock again and removed a letter, which he handed to Mel. "Almost forgot. If you're Mel, then this is for you. From someone named Didymus."

Good ol' Doubting Tom. Mel decided to open it when he had some peace and quiet. "Thanks."

Clay started back toward the door. "Are you ready to see the mystery of all mysteries? This is the basement of the universe."

Clay entered the doorway and Mel was one step behind when the smocked greeter stopped in his tracks.

"One warning before you go in," Clay said. "If you see somebody in a space suit, steer clear. The Frank Burleys tend to do a lot of damage when they arrive."

Mel didn't know how to respond. Over Clay's shoulder he had a glimpse of a red-lit street littered with chaotic shapes of twisted metal and weird architecture.

"Ready, Mel? Good, then it's official. Welcome to Ordeal."

Mel followed him inside.

Look for Mel's past adventures, or check out an interview with our dimensionally challenged hero. You can e-mail the author at j_gulbranson@hotmail.com.

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