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Guest Writer

Sorry about the alien ass-kicking ...
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 29:

ou've made her very angry."

Mel heard the words before he was able to focus, and when he finally did, he found he was in a white room. With black curtains, oddly enough.

"Tired starlings," he moaned, rekindling his head into a burst of pain. Mel was stranded in an enormous white bed, and he craned his neck left and right to see who had spoken. He couldn't see anyone, so assumed the speaker was behind him.

Nothing to do but wait. Mel felt like he'd been run over by a truck.

For a while he let himself fall into a stupor. His brain didn't feel like making the connection between his condition now and how it had happened. Mel swam in a fuzz of pain and exhaustion and probably dope for what seemed like hours. Then the speaker revealed herself.

Wearing a simple white dress and apron, a homely girl of about 12 came around the head of Mel's bed. She smiled, then sat on a stool and took Mel's hand. "You've made her very angry," the girl repeated.

"Who's that?" The girl seemed surprised that he didn't know, but her smile never wavered. She began to stroke Mel's hand, which seem less than comforting.

"Why, the Beata, of course. Technically, you have to be dead before you get the great honor, but they have taken to calling her 'Saint Anne.' "

That was what it took – just a mention of a name. Mel would have exploded out of the bed if it weren't for the girl's anchoring grip on his hand. It was all coming back.

He had brought himself to this place, though how and where exactly, he still didn't know. He had found Anne again, though a much older Anne, as in the picture Clay had shown him. The first thing she had done was to knock him on his ass. Then – and this is where it got weird – shot him in the head.

It was all of a sudden like a special-effect-laden summer blockbuster. Time slowed and Mel could feel the slug traveling down the barrel of the Desert Eagle.

Don't Messiah wannabes dodge bullets? he thought, then gave a mental shrug. He'd let the bullet hit him. Mel had thought that it might have just stopped, or bounced, but instead it blew his head clean off. That was a new experience. The impact slammed his ruined head into the pavement even as hydrostatic shock blew his spinal cord down to his toes. It smarted to say the least, and then it was nappy-time for Mel.

His reverie was broken by his hand being crushed. The hospital girl was grimacing, and let up on the grip when she noticed that he was staring at her.

"I'm sorry," she said. "But I could feel the pain."

"Me, too." He took back his throbbing hand. "Who are you?"

"I'm an angel." As she said this, a radiance sprung up over her, as if someone had turned on a bare 40-watt bulb behind her head. Maybe that meant she really was an angel, but Mel was unimpressed.

"Oh, Mel, you have no idea. God is a numinous being, of course, but the manifestation I serve is alive and real. Faith in him has dropped off almost totally, so the Kingdom of Heaven is like a gold rush town with the lode running out. Most of the angels have starved or faded away, but the strongest have ... fallen." She was crying now. "That's why people like you and Saint Anne are being served so poorly. You got Didymus, not even an angel, and Saint Anne got me. I've needed help every step of the way ..."

"That's why she should be glad I'm here." The new voice was hearty and familiar. Mel swivelled his head, and there was a portly man in monk's robes next to his bed.

"Dimpe!" He was thinner somewhat, but otherwise the same alien racketeer Mel had tangled with in Bridgeton.

"Brother Faben, now. Mel – it's swell! If I had any clue who you were back then, I would have offered you triple to work for me! Ha!"

"Now, about that ..."

"No hard feelings. None at all. Things have only been up, up, up!" Dimpe stroked his walrus moustache with vigor. "Working for Saint Anne and Azrael here has been quite the shindig. Now that I know all our work has been to help you out, it's even better."

"Hmm. Where are we?" Mel sat up, or tried to, but was forced back down by the burly monk.

"Whoa. You won't get out of bed just yet. Didn't you know, you had your head shot off? I saw the whole thing. One minute your brains were all over the pavement, the next you were half-conscious moaning for an aspirin. Damnedest thing. But to answer your question, we're on the island of Hy-brasil, which is part of an archipelago. It's like the spiritual opposite of that Ordeal. Saint Anne came here to do the good work and forget about you, as I recall." He paused, then frowned. "I'm sorry. You probably don't want to hear about that right now." He looked uncomfortable and Azrael stepped in.

"This is a delicate time. All signs point to the end being near, and Saint Anne's efforts to find the Messiah have been fanatical. It almost broke her when you showed up. We'd heard terrible things out of the Ordeal, and then your miracle at the cafe. I don't think she's ready to accept that you're the Messiah."

"Neither am I." Mel got up, a little dizzy, but still strong enough to push off Dimpe's hand. He leaned into the fat man's face. "Where is she?"

Dimpe backpedalled, the color draining from his fat face. Before Mel could ask again, he fled through the curtained doorway.

Mel turned to Azrael, and stared into her eyes. "Where is she?" he repeated in the same tone.

Azrael looked indignant. "Do not try to coerce an angel, 'man.'" A shadow fell over the room, and the angel seemed to loom over Mel as if she were a giant. The chill of death touched Mel's heart, but he had already beaten that once. He pulled together all the gumption that had gotten him this far, and channeled it through that strange feeling of whatever it was he was supposed to be. He was roaring it now, "WHERE IS SHE? WHERE IS SHE?"

Azrael shrank, the room was bright again, and her little head light winked out.

The angel gasped. Without realizing it, Mel had picked her up by the apron. Mel set her down, and she exhaled loudly before responding in a quiet voice.

"The next island in the archipelago is called Perng Lai. The Immortals live there, and they are wiser in the ways of the cosmos than most, though they rarely take action. When you arrived, she was determined to reach Perng Lai and enlist their Master in service to the Messiah. There will be bloodshed, because the Immortals dislike her, and she is in a rage."

Mel reached out and touched Azrael on the cheek. "Take it easy." He hadn't intended for it to be a blessing, but it shot through her like lightning, and she dropped to the floor in blissful sleep.

Now, to find Anne. He had to get to the island of the Immortals, and to do that he needed to find someone who knew the turf. That meant Dimpe.

Mel pulled aside the black curtain in search of the man who had made the whole journey possible. He was there in the corridor, ill concealed in the shadow of a pillar. He ceased his terrified mumbling when he saw Mel silhouetted in the doorway.

"Sorry about the alien ass-kicking, Dimpe. Now – how do we get to Perng Lai?"

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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