D e c e m b e r   2 0 0 4

Guest Writer

The cells were all empty save one
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 part 42:

uncan woke long before dawn but spent his time in the cramped attic room doing his routines, stretching and straining until the morning light. Then it was silent contemplation and, when at last he heard old Capulet downstairs, he mortified himself briefly with a leather strap. At last he heard a tinny bell ring with the opening of the front door and he knew it was time to get dressed.

Once he put on his sturdy tunic and leggings he allowed himself to listen to the conversation downstairs. Duncan savored the words as he readied his boots and the straps of his cuir bouili.

"… and five for the bushel of Venus's herb. What more have ye for me?"

"Fernseed, goodman," said the voice of what had to be the tinker who loitered about lately. "Male and female." There was a rustling of paper bags and Duncan removed his red hood from the bindle stiff by his bed. He fastened it behind the gorget attached to his leather armor.

"For skullduggery then. Potions of love and stealth," replied Capulet, who sounded bored. "Have ye aught else?"

Duncan reached under his bed and removed a wooden box, setting it carefully on the homespun coverlet. He began to lift the lid and was about to remove the contents when he heard the tinker reply.

"Alectorius." Old Capulet responded with a sharp intake of breath. Duncan was interested now. Perhaps it was not his concern, but the Alectorius was illegal to own, much less sell.

After a moment's reflection Duncan thought that he would ignore it. He opened the lid of the box, revealing the Goggles. He continued to listen as he gently removed them and put them on.

"Twenty-five for the fernseed and, for the stone ... five hundred, if it be fresh and puissant."

"It is." There was a racket of clinking coins, then the door rang its bell again as it closed. Duncan could hear Capulet putting away the herbs and such. He waited until the old apothecary was done before rising to the door. He swept his long back hair behind him and secured the Goggles' wide leather band so that his hair stayed, the lenses resting on his forehead.

Duncan grabbed his rapier and main-gauche before leaving his room, and was downstairs in no time. Capulet had disappeared from the cluttered front room of his workshop, though a person could practically get lost among the stacks of books, sacks of trinkets and dangling sheaves of herbs.

There was no need to say anything to his host, even if he were there. Duncan went out the front door.

The fort bustled even at this early hour, and Duncan strode through the square on his way to the gaol. He received a number of terse nods from the goodmen he passed. That was about as much as he could expect.

Duncan had to endure only the occasional angry stare before he was at the imposing structure of the gaol. He leaped the stairs and threw open the immense black gate that put pause in the boldest of criminals when it was their turn to face it. The beginning of another day at work.

Down the dim hallway beyond the vestibule were the cells and they were all empty save one.

The mystery man was in there, and Duncan was going to question him once more. So far he had said nothing and seemed to be catatonic. There was one thing the sheriff had not yet tried, though.

He pulled the lenses of the Goggles down over his eyes as he walked into the front of the cell.

Look for Mel's 41 past adventures, check out an interview with our dimensionally challenged hero, and e-mail Jess at j_gulbranson@hotmail.com.

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