O c t o b e r   2 0 0 4

Guest Writer

Stones indeed you must have
To Mel and back
by Jess Gulbranson

Our rumpled yellow-haired hero has been through plenty since he lost his motel – along with everything else but his red hooded sweatshirt – in a poker game. Then, following a harrowing series of misadventures, Mel recently finished up a relatively tranquil thousand-year sabbatical in a tropical paradise. Now he finds himself living in a murky future with a whole new set of otherworldy adventures about to unfold. Here's episode 41:

he sentry had neither the rank nor the duty to merit a pair of goggles. If he had, then his encounter would have played out much differently. As it was, he had to rely on his own vision. The man was dressed in a fine tunic and hose, topped with a sable cloak.

It was as if he were a hole in the night, save for his head and hands. The latter were raised in a gesture displaying his lack of ordnance, and the former was most impressive. He had a fine beard of gray and a thin moustache over his strong mouth. The man was solidly built and he seemed to loom, though he was a finger's breadth shorter than the sentry.

Behind his gleaming swords, the sentry called out his well-rehearsed challenge. The man responded by throwing thick arms out to sweep back his cloak. On one sleeve was a white rose, on the other a bright yellow T.

"Zwounds," uttered the sentry. "Stones indeed you must have, to foist such liveries as the Gloucester's."

It didn't faze the man at all. He merely stepped forward, somehow rushing up to the sentry without running or charging at all. The swords came up to the man's throat in a smooth motion. "Heed my warning, ill-met stranger. There is no more ignoble place to be run through than this strand."

The man grabbed the swords by their blades and pulled them from the sentry's grasp, then threw them into the fire. There was no official challenge for this situation. The sentry kept silent.

"They will cool in time," said the man in black. "You would be safer without them, I think."

He seemed to consider this, then looked the sentry right in the eyes. "He comes tonight. I needed someone here to greet him and give him a proper welcome. You will attend to this, I hope?" The man's accent was strange and oddly familiar. Apparently, that was all. He turned away from the sentry and walked around to the other side of the fire. The sentry followed him, but when he ran around the blaze, there was no one there.

Sorcery, perhaps, or a trick of a fevered brain. But his swords were in the fire, and the sentry looked at the filthy sand to see that there were indeed footprints other than his.

So no dream, then. The man must have been an enchanter to appear and disappear so. There was no other explanation. There was nothing to do now but return to the fortress and report, at least until the fire died down and he could retrieve his swords. The sentry put hands to hips and looked around again at the beach. He thought he had heard something strange, then decided perhaps not.

He turned and walked from the beach, then gave one last look over his shoulder.

Something was rising from the delta's grotesque surface, beyond the wall. It was a man, stark naked and covered in unnameable ooze. The sentry could see through the slime that the man was tall, blonde, muscular and half dead.

"Zbodkin!" He could not imagine how a man ended up beyond the wards and his strongest curse seemed appropriate.

This was past all his experience and he could only stare as the figure shambled up to the wall and walked right through. A cascade of red sparks showered all around him and a shrill scream filled the air as the wall strained to keep him out. But the man kept going and, after a few long seconds, he was onto the sand.

He fell to his hands and knees, steam or perhaps smoke billowing from him as he tried to crawl. For a long moment he vomited forth a huge quantity of disgusting stringy stuff. He stretched his arm forward in a desperate grasp and uttered one word before collapsing.

"Anne …"

The sentry pulled down his red hood and could only watch for a moment more before he fled into the night.

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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