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Guest Writer

Just decide where you want to go, and go
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 30:

urry up, hurry up!" Dimpe was dragging Mel around. "If she finds a way to the next island before we're ready, then the game is really over."

They hustled into the next hallway, which opened on a huge square room with great doors on each wall, open to other passageways. There were no curtains, or windows either. Mel could easily hear a banging sound resounding from the opening to his right.

"What's that?" Mel asked.

"Nothing, nothing." Dimpe was moving them toward another corridor, but Mel stopped him.

"Let's check it out." He held one hand up in the air as he listened to the sound. "Trust me on this one." Dimpe looked vexed but consented to following Mel as they moved toward the source of the banging. A brass plate greeted them, reading "SPIRITUS."

"No ..." muttered Dimpe.

"What's that?" Dimpe refused to answer and Mel shrugged. Farther down the hallway, Mel figured out the fat monk's reticence. The banging was joined by moaning and babbling.

"This is the holy nuthouse! Who do you have locked up in here," Mel asked, "more candidates?"

"Messiah candidates may not be restrained here. These are the honored souls who find no rest."

Mel looked at the profusion of heavy brass doors that dotted the hallway. Small burnished plaques were placed above each one, and each held a name.

"Anselm, Gautama, Tomaso d'Aquino, Chuangtzu, Peter ... hey, you've got saints up here! What say we take a peek?"

"No! We must not!" Dimpe was definitely alarmed now, and turning red.

"You're no fun. Not even a quick peek at Buddha? Fine, but I'm sure there's a reason we came down here." Mel glanced about, then wandered to the door at the end of the hallway. It was the largest, and its plaque read "PAUL." Mel rested a hand on the door and it swung easily inward, revealing an unconscious or comatose figured tucked into a bed much like the one Mel had woken up in earlier. He peered into the gloom, trying to make out details, when a familiar voice startled him.

"You really keep things hopping around here, don't you?" It was Anderson Demetrius Dean, just as smug as ever in a dark suit cut only slightly different from his previous one.

"Dean, I don't know what you're up to right now, but I don't have time."

"I'm shocked. Isn't your curiosity getting the better of you? Take a good look." He gestured at the bed with his chin. Mel stepped over to the bed and got a good look at the occupant.

"Oh, shit." It was Dean in the bed, but pale and drawn, with long hair and a beard. Mel looked back and forth between the two Deans, then pointed to the name plaque. "So you're ..."

"No, no. Iscariot was running the whole show back then, and I was his silent partner who made things happen. The blinding thing was my idea. Most of that Bible stuff is phony. Don't get me wrong ... JC was the real deal. He just didn't see much real messiah action, like you have, until Karnak, then Lhasa, then the Ordeal, of course." Dean took one of his vague steps, going from the door to the bed without crossing the intervening space. He pinched the body's cheek and chuckled.

"You know, I didn't think this old hunk of junk was still around. It was here for safekeeping, but I guess I don't need it anymore, come to think of it." Dean waggled his fingers at the bed, and Mel shielded his eyes from the brilliant flash that followed. When he looked back, the body was gone and Dean looked positively perky. "Damn, I do feel better. Closure!"

Dimpe was quivering in the doorway, and Mel wanted to be done talking. Squaring off face to face, he let loose on Dean. "Maybe you have time to threaten and gloat, but I have somewhere important I need to be."

"Hey, now ... you've got it all wrong. Or rather, we were both wrong. We're not enemies, you know. Just a couple of movers and shakers with misaligned goals." He paused. "When you tore the Baraka open, more happened than just wrecking my marble foyer. The crater you made – it's spreading."


"Yes, indeed. With no sign of stopping. The whole Ordeal is in chaos. They'll be washing up on these shores any time now, those who can escape. Don't worry, your friends are safe. It's in my best interest to keep you happy."

Mel sighed. He wouldn't be able to get out of this conversation so easily. "You realize that the first time we met, you tried to tear my giblets out?"

Dean shrugged. "A misunderstanding. There's more than one way to win the God Game. So, I'm giving up all my extracurricular activities and concentrating on Project Frank. Let Cheldelin figure out how to reharness the Baraka – he was always the tech geek, anyway."

"I just find it hard to believe that you're not against me anymore."

"You must think I'm just the bogeyman of the Ordeal. Not so, and here's the score. The three biggest 'islands' in this archipelago are The Ordeal, which was home to monsters before we took over, Hy-Brasil, run by archangels, and Perng Lai, ruled by the Celestial Bureaucracy. I was their operations chief for a long time, and even did some pro bono for the angels. Can you imagine me with a halo?"

"Nope," replied Mel. He really couldn't.

"So take some advice from a guy who's been around. If your girlfriend makes it to Perng Lai and starts a ruckus, then a lot of people will die, your refugee friends and Anne among them."

"Wait – I thought that she was the danger to Perng Lai, and not vice-versa."

"Sorry, you were misinformed. Not too long ago, the Celestial Bureaucracy – gods, mind you – were wiped out by something nasty, called the Ma Yuan. The only bigwigs left are the Immortals, and though most of them went native or crashed to one of the smaller islands, some are left. In particular, there's a mean motherfucker named Iron Stick Li. He's running the show, and he has a hard-on for your St. Anne." Dean stuck a warning finger in Mel's face. "Not the good kind, either. You'd better get to him before she does. So, if you want to save her, don't fart around boats and fatty over there. Just decide where you want to go, and go."

"Just like that?"

"Just like that. I'll check you later. Oh – I almost forgot. This is the Ma Yuan, if you think it might come in handy." He fished in the pocket of his dark suit and removed a glittering something which he tossed to Mel. When Mel caught it, Dean winked out of existence. Mel opened his hand to examine the small, hard object. It was a gold ring. With a shock he remembered the last time he saw it ...

... the man made a pass over Frank's face, like a stage magician. Frank Burley's throat was cut; his eyes staring in death, not trance. Again the man made a magician's pass in front of Frank's face, and the supernatural investigator was gone. The short man held a gold ring in his hand, and Mel could see his face clearly for a moment. It was hard and cruel, grinning cat-like with utmost satisfaction ...

"Dimpe, are you still there?"

"The things he said, Mel ..."

"Never mind." Mel wasn't sure what Project Frank had to do with the slaughter of Perng Lai's gods, but he knew he had to get there and find out – and stop Anne from her deadly mission. If this Ma Yuan could help him, well ... he'd take anyone's help if he could get it.

Especially Frank Burley's.

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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