J u n e   2 0 0 3

Guest Writer

'Oh, this is not good ...'
by Jess Gulbranson

We’ve been following our rumpled yellow-haired hero ever since early 2001, when he lost his motel – along with everything else but the red hooded sweatshirt on his back – in a poker game. He’s been bouncing around through several different dimensions ever since. Here’s episode 27 ...

s Mel stared quizzically at the Master, Baraka at his back, he had a strange feeling. It was just a taste, really, an astringent tickle at the base of the tongue.

Spider-sense tingling, Mel thought. He blinked at the Master, who shrugged. Something made Mel look at the VP Rotzen, who should have been quietly unconscious on the floor. Mel's suspicions were rewarded. The prone Rotzen was twitching, tendrils of smoke rising from his too-large uniform.

"Look out," cried Mel, "he's gonna blow!"

The Master, who was standing right next to Rotzen, answered Mel's warning with a graceful sideways leap.

Moments later Rotzen did indeed blow. He didn't exactly explode but, rather, seemed to bloom into a light, much like that streaming from the Baraka. It flared for a moment, blinding Mel, but when the light receded someone else was there.

The newcomer was standing where Rotzen had been. He was a handsome 40-ish man with salt-and-pepper hair and capped teeth. He had his hands in the pockets of a well-tailored black suit, and, to Mel, something about him looked wrong.

"I'm Dean," he said in a soft voice with a hint of New Yawk. "Anderson Demetrius Dean. And you must be Mel."

Mel realized what it was that seemed strange. Every color in the room was washed out by the brilliance of the Baraka, making the Master look like he was covered in flour. Dean appeared to be untouched by the light, which might indeed have been true. He wasn't casting a shadow.

"I'm here to stop you, Dean. A lot of people don't like how you and your longtime companion are running this place." Mel felt it was an aggressive sort of declaration.

"Save it. The DCB runs itself. I only play the God Game when it's interesting. Lately I've been napping inside of Rotzen because, frankly, you people bore me."

"Speaking of which, what are you doing to Frank Burley?" Dean and the Master both snorted at the same time.

Dean replied with a predatory smile. "You mean they haven't explained the God Game to you? Typical. The short answer to your Frank question is that there's more than one way to skin a cat, something your new friends don't want to accept.

"All their Messiah candidates, that carpenter included, just wander around meditating and making the average Joe's life miserable. You're the only one trying to bust my balls about this, and the chickenshit Custodians probably put you up to that, too."

He nodded as the look on Mel's face confirmed it. "That's no matter. I'll remove you from the Game like I did all the rest."

Dean took a step forward. Before his foot had reached the ground he was instantly standing right next to Mel, intent plain on his face.

The Master finally piped up. "Don't worry, Mel. I'll take care of this ass-clown for you."

He leaped and spun with a mighty kick that went right through Dean's head and had no effect. Before the Master could recover, Dean reached out with one finger and touched the undefended bald head. His victim slammed flat on the floor in a cloud of dust, as if a great weight had been dropped on him. Mel had gotten the same painful treatment before, from Vlad Tepes.

"The Master and I go way back. For a mystic being with god-like powers, he sure is a pushover." Dean rubbed his hands together. "Okay." Then he reached forward, and Mel batted at the intangible arm in vain. The hand disappeared beneath Mel's red sweatshirt and gripped his heart.

Mel could immediately feel the life leave him. Being beaten, shot, strangled ... nothing compared to this. It had a bleak feeling of certainty, and for a moment Mel was sure he would die. Seeing that Dean was not enjoying it was only small comfort.

Then he remembered something, and some tiny hopeful part of him screamed that it was important. He had talked with the Black Pope about Messiahs being able to hem the edges of a hole in reality.

Hem a hole, he thought with a sort of drunken giddiness. Mel had never been much of a seamstress, but anybody could crimp.

With his last reserves of strength, Mel reached behind him and grabbed the edges of the glowing doorway. Then, with all of his might, he bent.

As pulsing shafts of light replaced the even radiance, Dean released his grip and staggered backwards. "Oh, this is not good."

Both Mel and the Master were free, and they both noticed a crucial detail: Dean was casting a shadow. His reaction time much quicker, the Master lashed out with a punch so swift that it whistled. This time it connected, and Anderson Demetrius Dean shattered into glittering fragments.

"Thanks," Mel said, and he and the Master slapped hands and gave each other the soul handshake. "But what do you think he meant by 'not good'?"

"Mel, look!"

Mel turned around to look at the Baraka. He had crushed the glowing portal like a beer can. He opened his mouth to say something, but in that instant the Baraka gave a teakettle scream and exploded.

In the undescribable blast of light and power and noise, Mel's brain could only hold on to one thought. He was picturing old stock footage of the atomic bomb and hoping he wasn't headed for the great Bikini Atoll in the sky. A moment (or perhaps an eternity) later, it was over.

With the blast gone, Mel looked around. Where there had been the DCB headquarters and surrounding wharfs was now a huge smoking crater. The lip of the crater ended a few feet out in a gray haze, which Mel figured was the weird boundary between sections of the Ordeal.

Mel looked down, then quickly wished he hadn't. He was suspended in midair a la Wile E. Coyote and, just like the cartoon character, he began to fall once his thought process was complete. The 30 feet of air between him and the bottom of the crater disappeared with a crash.

As he stood up groggily, Mel remembered the old construction-site maxim: any fall over 12 feet, call the priest.

He quickly took a survey at his new altitude. He was at the bottom of a deep earthen bowl, its gently sloping sides still smoking from the explosion. There were sparkles everywhere, no doubt remnants of the building's marble and glass.

Mel hoped they weren't fragments of Dean, as they were all over his clothes and hair.

Look for Mel's past adventures, check out an interview with our dimensionally challenged hero, and e-mail Jess at j_gulbranson@hotmail.com.

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