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Guest Writer

Unpleasant in a way unimaginable with language
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 36:

t first Mel thought he was under water, like in his nightmare from a while back. Then he realized it was the air. An oppression of spirit had made the atmosphere thick and murky. It was dark, and apart from the stale air, he could smell two other things: ozone and blood.

Taking a step forward into the dark space, Mel discovered the reason for the latter smell. There was a body, in several pieces. Mel couldn't quite figure out who the fragments belonged to, but was sure that they had gotten in the way of his hirsute forerunner, Ur. Well, he had told the giant to kill anyone he found. Mel just hoped the Welcome Wagon had been as unfriendly as he guessed.

Leaving it behind, Mel stepped out of the doorway and into a hallway. He had the impression of being under water again. There was a current, cold and dense, pushing at his back. It wasn't water or wind – just pressure. He turned to see if he could find its source and received a shock.

The hallway had closed off behind him. There was no door and the corpse had disappeared. Not just that, but it was closing off like a sinus, even as he watched. Mel's hair stood on end. That was just plain freaky.

Not wanting to get squished, he made tracks. It kept coming behind him, slowly and inexorably. Mel shuffled forward, letting the current take him. It was almost light now, a greenish radiance that flickered. Maybe that was the source of the electrical smell.

The force behind him pushed even harder and suddenly Mel was in a round room. The force swirled, and though the strange currents weren't visible, tiny green electrical discharges flickered where they might have been. All the swirling centered around a tiny point in the center of the room. Stroking the point, as if encouraging its efforts to disturb the room, was Jeuss Rucker.

At Mel's entrance, Rucker straightened up and dusted off his hands. Still dressed in his archaic suit, Rucker grinned, teeth bright beneath his empty eye sockets.

"You made it. I had my doubts, but this will make the end ... poignant."

"The end," Mel replied. "I'll get back to you on that ..."

Rucker's grin drooped slightly. "Do you know what this has all been about? All the fussing and fighting? It's this," he said, pointing to the invisible spot where the swirling converged. "The end."

Mel scratched his chin. "I had a feeling that all of this was just a little complicated. Are you behind Didymus and Vlad and all of those?"

"Oh no, no, no ... they liked to think they were equal parts, but they haven't been equal since the birth of the world. This ... hole is eating everything. It's me, it's entropy ... it's the end of everything. I've been feeding it forever, and it never gets any bigger. Isn't that the damnedest thing?"

Mel blinked. "So what? Why are we here now?"

"I can only do it a piece at a time. Sure, there have been some big pieces, but ... "

Mel had a sudden vision. He could see Vlad the Impaler, Didymus and the others being fed into the hole. It was horrible and he realized why the room was as cold as the bottom of the ocean.

"Is it a black hole?" A curt shake of the head. "The Devil?"

"Funny you should mention that. He's never been part of the equation, at least as far as I can tell. C'est la vie."

"So what now? Do I get fed into the hole, too?"

Rucker seemed to consider it for a moment.

"Yes." And that was all. Mel was dragged into oblivion.

Strangely, though, it was not the end. He was free, floating in nothingness. He had no body, for sure. That thing had gobbled it up. Here on the ass-end, he felt that he understood the nature of it – the end of all things, but not so definite that it was his end. Not yet.

Nothing was clear, at least to the senses, but he could feel the insight. He floated alone for an indefinite time, and then there was someone with him.

Mel was in communion with the emptiness, and the essence of the being closest to him was as vivid as a red lantern. It was Vlad the Impaler.

"If he doesn't stop, Mel, then there will be nothing. At all. If this is oblivion, then we should not be conscious. That is how I know that there is still hope."

Mel felt love and strength flowing from the soul of the ancient vampire into his own. That must have been a first.

"The powers of eternity have brought the worlds to this cliff, but I think it is a mortal man – you – who will pull them back. So hurry!"

Mel could feel other souls pressing on him for attention, but he was fighting that blissful communion. There was only death and silence and stillness that way, and Mel wasn't ready yet.

It wasn't working, though. He could feel himself slipping away, and loving it. He didn't even care about his friends, or the innocents of the universe, or Anne. Though that last thought gave him a stab of moral pain, it didn't last. He was slipping away. Slipping ... until he felt a firm grasp pluck him from the void.

There was the sensation of having been spit onto the beach like a sandy bite of sandwich. And that was exactly where he was. It was the beach and Mel was sprawled naked on the sand – body aching but otherwise whole and healed. Looking at himself in shock, he could see that all the bumps and bruises of the past few weeks were gone; even some old scars were missing.

Mel stood up, then jumped when he saw that he wasn't alone. "And me with my dork hanging out."

His company shrugged. "Nothing I haven't seen before, but here."

The man produced jeans, which Mel slipped on, gratefully.

"If that makes you feel better," said the man, "then we can talk about a few things. I know you've gotten tired of questions and talking and bullshit explanations, but we can get a few things straight before you get to where you're going."

"Which is?"

"Here actually. Tahiti, to put a name on it. For a thousand years. Isn't that what you stated the Messiah's ultimate power was? Vacation?"

Mel was bothered by the fact that the man seemed to know things he thought and said in private. That, and he looked real familiar. In fact, he looked just like ...

"Claude Rains! In that one movie where he played the Devil, with Paul Muni, and ..."

The man raised an eyebrow in response.

"Oh crap," said Mel.

"Whatever you heard, it's not true. The last time someone figured out who I really was, they had a crusade called on them. Not nice. I was ever the spoiler, and my task is to see that balance is achieved. It's not easy, either, and it gives me and a lot of my servants what you might call a bad reputation."

"You know, sir, up until a few hours ago, I thought it was Jeuss Rucker. Sorry."

"Nix the 'sir.' Rucker's as bad as they come, but an extreme power such as his is strictly second-rate, compared to yours, or mine, or some others. If he were allowed to win it might not be the end of us, but it would be unpleasant in a way unimaginable with language. The balance, remember? It's important to do what is good for you, and maintain that, without hurting others. Right?"


Claude rubbed his hands together, and smiled at Mel.

"I think one thing is missing before I send you on your way." He handed Mel a red sweatshirt, battered but clean. As Mel accepted it, Claude raised his fist, with pinky and index fingers extended. Mel recognized it from a Judas Priest concert or two, and after slipping on the hoody, he returned the gesture. "Rock on."

"Rock on. One last thing. Don't worry if all this doesn't come off the way you expect. Don't worry about people being disappointed. Just remember what's important to you. Oh, and don't forget this. You dropped it."

He handed Mel the golden ring called Ma Yuan. Then he was gone.

Mel felt wonderful, like steak-and-eggs wonderful, or first hand-job wonderful, or Norman Rockwell wonderful. Or Anne wonderful ...

"Anne! Shit." That was all it took. He raised himself up tall and looked around at the beach, and the ocean, and the big beautiful moon. "I'll be back."

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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