few friendly faces
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. Heres episode 21 ...
woke up with a splitting headache, his feet and noggin dangling
from their respective ends of a tiny sofa.
"Damn," he croaked. "No matter where
I crash, I always get the sofa."
He sat up a little too quickly and his feet knocked
over an end table. Several glass bottles shattered, and from their
wreckage came some oily smoke and the brief odor of a rotten-egg
fart. Mel's aching brain made the connection between the bottles
and his surroundings after a moment.
He counted himself lucky that Clay's potions hadn't
dissolved his foot or blown the house to smithereens.
Mel stood up and looked around the room, feeling faint
twinges in his legs as blood began circulating again. He was in
a sitting room; that was the best term he could find for it. There
was the sofa, a coffee table and a few chairs, all in an antiquated
style. On the far wall were a plastic-sheeted jukebox and a cigar-store
Indian. Then, of course, there were the omnipresent knickknack shelves
with potion bottles on them.
One of the bottles, in the corner by the wooden Indian,
caught Mel's eye. He ambled painfully over to it. The shelf contained
only one bottle, whose contents were like cloudy mercury. The fluid
swirled energetically and seethed at the stopper as if it were alive.
He stretched a finger out to touch the bottle, and as his hand got
closer, the goo seemed to shiver at the proximity. By the time his
fingertip was a hair's breadth away, the bottle was practically
jumping off the shelf.
Suddenly his inspection was cut short by the door
handle rattling. Mel started to call for Clay, but stopped when
the person on the other side did so before him.
"CLAY?" the deep voice asked. "CLAY?
Then the voice and rattling stopped. Mel let out a
breath and was waiting for a key to be inserted in the lock, when
the entire door crashed from its hinges in a wreckage of splinters.
Mel could hardly react when an impossibly enormous
figure squeezed through the doorway. It was a giant, about nine
feet tall, in a rough black coverall. Anger distorted an otherwise
bland face, and the giant stooped even under the room's high ceiling.
"Where's Clay?" the giant asked, and before
Mel could even shrug the newcomer had crossed the intervening space
and grabbed Mel.
A hand that could have palmed two basketballs was
throttling him by the neck and lifting his feet off the ground.
Mel, who had endured strangling attempts before, was already seeing
spots and would soon lose consciousness. He swam in darkness for
a long second, then a momentary reprieve gave him sight again. The
giant's face held a look of strange discomfort, and Mel took the
opportunity to send a boot toward the easy target of the giant-sized
The bigger they are... thought Mel as the huge
hand released him and they both crashed to the floor.
Mel lay panting, still dizzy, and made a startling
discovery when he looked over the bulk of the prone giant. The wooden
Indian now stood behind the giant.
"How the hell?" Mel began, then stopped.
The Indian was cracking its knuckles.
On closer inspection, Mel could see that the figure
only resembled the statuary he knew. There was no headdress or handful
of cigars, and no coat of varnish.
"The words you're looking for are 'thank you,'"
said the Indian, extending a hand to help.
"Yeah, thanks," Mel said as he stood. "What
"Ducumber, here? I gave him a haymaker to the
ol' kidney. That and your sissy kick will keep him out for a while."
"Who is he?"
The Indian laughed. "He's a friend of Clay's,
part of the same organization. He's also an assassin, so his first
thought was you were probably a burglar. His mistake."
"Wow. My name's ..."
" ... Mel. I know. I'm Daniel, and I'll be your
bodyguard tonight. I was watching you while you slept." His
dark face bore a curious expression. "Or did you think I was
"You do bear a curious resemblance to a cigar-store
"I get that a lot. I'm Xibalban, one of the indigenous
races from the Ordeal, what some people call the Wood Demons. Those
statues in your world are, well, mummies." He frowned. "It
creeps me out just thinking about it."
"Sorry. But look, where's Clay?" Mel massaged
his aching neck
"He's rounding everyone up for a big meeting,
to discuss you. You're the Great White Hope around here, you know.
Clay wouldn't admit it though. I'm sure he made it sound like you
were just another candidate."
"Well, I am."
"Whatever you say, Mel. Anyway, there's a big
pow-wow down at the Coliseum tonight. All the Custodians will be
there, as well as the assassins, a bunch of Tongs, the Mirror People,
Xibalbans, some dogmen, a few random aliens ..."
Mel started as one of the weird names jumped out at
him. "Did you say 'dogmen?'"
"Dogmen," agreed Daniel. "Some courier
family that got stranded here a while back."
Mel grinned at the thought of Ramon and Diego and
the rest of their pack being here in the Ordeal with him. A few
friendly faces were what he needed right about now.
"They're old friends of mine," offered Mel.
"Say, do you think Frank Burley will be there?"
Daniel smacked himself in the forehead, which clunked
like someone slamming a desk drawer. "The Franks are for the
DCB to worry about."
"Wait," Mel added, "both you and Clay
said Franks with an 's,' plural-like. What's the deal?"
"Man, I do not even know how to begin explaining
that. Let's go ... maybe you can find your answers at the big hoedown."
Daniel beckoned for Mel to follow, and headed toward
"Oh one more thing," Daniel added.
"If we meet a really pale guy with blond hair and a black skullcap
... let me do the talking. He's Eriksen, best friend of our unconscious
pal on the floor over there. They're inseparable, and he probably
felt that kick in his manhood, too."
Mel considered the huge man on the floor, wondering
whom he had just made an enemy of.
"Whatever you say, Daniel. Let's go."