O c t o b e r   2 0 0 2

Guest Writer

Hot things on various burners
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 20 ...

his was Ordeal, and already Mel didn't like it. Just the sheer physicality of it, how the streets dipped and intersected, then rose and dipped again.

Everywhere things seemed to shine with an indirect crimson lighting, but Mel could see no source. Top it all off with a litter of strange metal shapes, and you got San Fran as done by Salvador Dali. Clay seemed to take it all in stride, though, tugging Mel along beside him toward some destination.

"Hey, chief, don't I get the grand tour?"

"Just a couple of blocks, Mel." Clay turned his head just enough for Mel to catch a smirk.

Mel had seen what the Ordeal had by way of blocks, man-sized to about a quarter mile long, and he wasn't reassured. Sure enough, though, almost as soon as he thought it, Clay made a sharp right and stopped. He let go of Mel's red hoody and gestured. "Bienvenido a casa Escobar!"

Does every alien speak Spanish? wondered Mel. His first glance at the house confirmed that it was just that, a fairly plain-looking brownstone that would have been moderately expensive and nondescript in Bridgeton. There was no such consistency here.

Clay's house (or Escobar's, or whomever's) was on top of a tall hill. The hill was covered in a sea of grass, literally. Not just grass waving in the wind either; Mel watched and the lawn crested and rolled over the walkway, leaving behind greenish bubbles on the concrete.

"I take it I'm staying here while I get cavity-searched, or whatever your Ordeal is?"

"Whoa … no. Anything like that is going to be extracurricular for you. Come on inside. I'll explain it to you over some coffee."

"Jesus, more talking," groused Mel. "I'd almost welcome a vampire attack or some relentless beating."

Clay, still seeming amused, blinked and started up the stairs to the house. "Sorry, I think I have a case of the grouses coming on," Mel added. With no response, he followed.

At one point about halfway up, the lawn lapped over Mel's foot. He looked down and saw an ant crawling along a blade of grass that was dripping off his boot. Weird.

Mel made it to the top landing and followed Clay into the house. It was well lit, the furnishings looking old and faded in the way reused movie sets do. Hundreds of shelves filled corners and lurked over furnishings. They held knickknacks and such, but were predominately covered in all manner of stoppered bottles.

Around the corner was a kitchen, clean and with lots of tile and chrome. It looked unused. Somehow, Clay had already started the water and brewed the coffee. He was waiting at a bare table with two steaming mugs. Mel sat and took a mug. "Are you a chemist, Clay?"

Clay shrugged. "An alchemist. You know, lead to gold, people to stone, that sort of thing."

He sipped and set his mug down again.

"Let's talk about why you're here. I'm not going to give you the grand tour, because frankly, there's too much to assimilate. So, the basics: You are a candidate for godhood, or at least someone thinks so. The Ordeal is the basement of the world, where you're expected to test your mettle against whatever it is you need to face.

"Now, I should tell you that this place is owned by the DCB, the Dean-Cheldelin Baraka. My former employers. They have some hot things on various burners, and you would be best to stay away from them, if possible. A few of my colleagues and a collection of others run the testing portion of the Ordeal. Candidates get shipped in from all over the place and wander around until they get killed or become a god. I can't tell you what to do, but I can tell you what no candidate has done yet."

"Stayed awake through the speeches?" Mel was actually close to nodding off, but felt joking about it was more polite than actually doing it.

"Very funny. No, what no one has done yet is infiltrated the DCB and found the secret of their power. Just a thought. Now, before you take a little nappy nap, let me ask you something."

"Shoot," Mel said. He was feeling more drowsy than he ought to, and could only roll his eyes at the coffee he had half-finished.

"That's right, Mel. A little bit of sleeping potion in the ole Java, to make things easier before you get on track. Now answer me this; where is she?"

Clay reached over and above his head, removing an object from the shelf there without even looking. He pushed the object into Mel's blurry field of vision. It was a picture frame, and when Mel was able to focus, he saw it was a picture of Anne. She was lying on a blanket, hair down, body bare to the cleavage and probably just as naked beyond the crop of the photo.

"Anne …"

"Is that her name, Mel? Anne? She always told me to call her Queen, though my friends thought she should be called Saboteuse. You know, like a female saboteur? Fuck them," said Clay, with the strongest emotion Mel had heard from him yet. "I thought she had chosen you when I heard, but it looks like you and I are in the same lurch. Let's help each other out, Mel. After you sleep. So sleep well."

And sleep Mel did, though by that time he was already on the floor.

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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