At last he found what he wanted
Weve 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. Hes
been bouncing around through several different dimensions ever
since. Here's episode 34:
barely dodged the huge fist as it whizzed toward his head. In fact,
his evasion was so drastic that he fell over and landed on his kiester.
That was a bad thing, because the Frank Burley to end all Frank
Burleys was trying to knock his block off.
Oddly enough, Frank wasn't taking advantage of Mel's blunders,
even ones that left him as vulnerable as this one. What should have
been an opening for a fatal blow instead became a chance for Mel
to frantically leave ass-whupping range for a few moments. But no
matter how fast he ran, Frank kept catching up with him.
Mel hopped up and got out of the way of Frank's next punch, but
he didn't avoid the backhand that followed. Mel's head exploded
with pain and his vision had a rolling blackout. This particular
Frank was hitting him harder than anything he'd ever felt. Just
not enough to kill him outright.
"Why are you doing this, Frank?"
Burley had so far failed to respond, at least verbally, and this
latest round of battery was no exception. Before the last syllable
was out of Mel's mouth, Frank had grabbed him by the belt loops
and tossed him in the air. A flurry of punches connected before
Mel landed miraculously on his feet.
This is it, Mel thought, the end of the journey.
Mel was a bent nail about to be pounded down by a hammer named
Frank Burley. Frank pulled back, and Mel could see his next move
as clearly as if there were Arthur Murray dance steps laid out on
the floor. Burley was going to quickstep forward and send the tip
of his moon boot into next Tuesday, with a layover in Mel's face.
There was a finality here that Mel could sense, and he doubted his
ability to resurrect himself here in this other world.
The boot started rocketing toward him, and he resigned himself.
There was a lurch in his stomach and Mel saw that time had stopped.
The Machine Mind, in its silvery humanoid form, had interposed itself
between Mel and Frank.
The silvery being showed something akin to embarrassment on its
reflective face. "I cannot intervene directly, but I have already
helped dislodge you from space and time, and I can give you a moment
of respite. Please solve your problem here so we can continue to
"Hmmph. Well, alright." Mel stepped around the figure
and contemplated Frank, still frozen in mid-kick. Feeling the pain
from his prolonged beating, as well as the fatigue of his three-hour
tour, Mel began searching the debris on the floor of the hangar.
At last he found what he wanted.
Hefting the I-beam, Mel took a strong stance and nodded at the
Machine Mind. Time slipped back into track and Frank completed his
kick into empty space. Frank paused in confusion, until Mel spoke
up. "Hey Burley, think fast!" As the bewildered Frank
spun to face him, Mel let loose and beaned him in the nose.
"Sorry, chief." There was a satisfying crunch as blood
spurted from Frank's nostrils. Surprisingly, he didn't go down.
He just stood there, swaying uncertainly.
"Finish him," hissed the Machine Mind. Mel shook his
Instead, he grasped at the one thing that had been bugging him
about this whole affair, which was the nature of the Ma Yuan ring
and the "Frank Project" that Dean had mentioned. He reached
out and snatched the ring off Frank's finger.
"Frank, get in the ring!"
Suddenly, Burley was gone. The ring seemed heavier, and that was
He turned to the Machine Mind. "I think that went well, don't
you?" The silvery figure blinked inscrutably, and suddenly
they were elsewhere. It was a hallway, dark and hot and stifling.
Mel got a quick glimpse of some other people in the room, but his
attention was drawn to the Machine Mind, which was glittering and
shifting its shape.
It changed into Anne, who winked devilishly. "Wrong. That
never was the Machine Mind. And your fulfillment of destiny, aided
by Didymus and the Impaler? Guess what?" She laughed and then
wheezed like a hippie releasing a bong hit. Her voice became that
of a man's, and familiar. "I played you like a drum!"
Anne's eyes sunk back into her head, leaving only dark sockets,
and her forehead shot skyward, taking the red hair with it. Her
cute black T-shirt and skirt became an antiquated suit. Jeuss Rucker.
Mel was speechless.
"This is Hell's vestibule. You'd probably like to end this
affair before I make things really unbearable for you, and that's
fine. But first I'd like you to sit and ferment with the other failures
here. And just since I'm so nice, you can bring one of them with
you for a chance at redemption. If you ever find your way in!"
With that, Rucker stepped into the wall, leaving a residue of smoke
and reeking oil and black fire that spelled evil.
Mel grabbed the bridge of his nose and held on tight, because that
feeling of finality was so strong he wanted to cry. When it passed,
he turned to face the "other Failures."