Six: The man in the mirror
Mel lost his motel in a poker game in
Part 1; he met a man who claimed to be an alien in Part
2; in Part 3,
he found himself in alien surroundings; in Part
4, Mel befriended some strange beings looking for barroom
trouble; and in Part 5,
Mel, seemingly back on earth, found himself in a face-to-face
confrontation with a man who -- except for the color of his sweatshirt
-- looked exactly like Mel ...
Part Six: The man in the mirror
Mel's moment of existential hesitation was enough to give his
mirror image an opening. The green-sweatshirted man brought his
leg up and snapped it back down on Mel's hand, which poked out
the sleeve of his red sweatshirt and held a ray-gun zapper. It
was the same kick tae kwon do showoffs used to break boards, but
it was plenty effective here. The zapper skittered across the
room, into an inaccessible corner.
"Where'd you get one of those?" the man
snarled. Without taking his eyes from Mel, who stood holding a
smarting hand, the counterpart reached backward into a filing
The gun that emerged was normal, though a sawed-off
shotgun was hardly standard office supplies. Both barrels were
now leveled at Mel, who obliged his counterpart by standing stock
"Maybe you'd better start with the answers,
pal. If you're the first of three spirits, then you better warn
your spook buddies that you'll be getting the first of some triple-ought
What the dickens does that mean? thought
Mel, who judiciously refrained from saying it out loud. His counterpart
was obviously whacko, and looking into his own face, he realized
Mel considered himself a tough customer, but his
menacing demeanor was always tempered with an odd sense of humor.
He rarely gave anyone a ration of shit who didn't deserve it.
The man before him had the same grizzled face and gray eyes --
but what was behind them was completely different.
There was no humor, or mercy, or decency. Maybe
even no common sense. And definitely no sanity.
Mel had never had such a clear flash of insight
like that -- almost like seeing a list of truths written in the
back of his counterpart's head. His surprise must have shown,
because the twin barrels of the shotgun rose to almost touch the
tip of Mel's nose.
"Tell you what," said Mel's mirror image.
"Fuck answers. If you disappear right now, and never show
up again, I'll chalk this up to that sandwich that's still squirming
in my gut from an hour ago, and pretend it was all just a figment.
"Good. Because I'd consider two shotgun shells
wasted on a hallucination a fair price for making sure. Now get
the hell out of here!"
He pushed forward with the shotgun, moving Mel's
head backward with an embarrassing twinge of pain in the nose.
Mel backed up, turned and ran -- leaping out of the train car
with all speed.
As he made it out of sight, he could have sworn
he heard his counterpart cuss, "Shit -- I never looked good
in red anyway."
Mel walked briskly back toward downtown to see if
he could get the answers his counterpart had rejected. His first
thought was to visit his friend Richard again, maybe catch him
at home this time. When he arrived at the door to the apartment
building, there was a different name where Richard's used to be.
"No dice," Mel muttered. The next place
to stop: the coffee shop where the red-haired girl worked.
Six blocks east, Mel passed a large statue of Alexander
Hamilton. Several clean-cut college students wished him a good
day. He nodded to them brusquely.
Now in the square, he advanced to the coffee shop.
Taking a peek inside, he didn't see any girl baristas at all.
Mel scanned the clientele briefly, and his eyes came to rest on
a corner table and its occupant. It was the old man from the trainyard,
a cup of coffee in front of him and another, untouched, sitting
at the space opposite him. The old man beckoned Mel.
"I was expecting you. Have a seat, please."
Mel did so, his temper rising like the knot on his
skull had earlier. The guilty can leaned up against the old man's
"And before your ire crests, let me explain
my actions," he said. "Are you aware of 'zendo'? No?
It is a place where Buddhists go for silent meditation. Their
meditation is monitored by a senior Buddhist, who carries a staff
or cane such as this one, called 'kyosaku.' If a meditator falters
in his concentration, the monitor will deliver two blows to shoulders
or head, with said kyosaku. Enlightenment often follows. Am I
"Yes, yes you are," Mel said, thinking
back to the clarity he felt facing his green-sweatshirted counterpart.
"At any rate," the old man began, "I
would like to pass on some information that is of dire importance.
Please listen, and do not interrupt. I do not have time for a
conversation, but you must understand what I shall say.
"There are more to legends and heroes than
you might think. There are infinite worlds in this universe
most are simply variations of each other, others are quantum leaps
in what we think of as reality. Each world has its heroes -- people
of extreme importance to the creator and his divine plan. Some
are general in type: the dragon slayer, the man with no name,
the holy fool. Others are more specific; they are individuals
whose personal essence is of value to fate. On your world, you
are one such."
"Me? A lot's happened to me that I could never
explain, but this takes the cake. I ... "
"No more interruptions, please. You must listen,
for there is little time left. Though a petty blackmailer may
seem like nothing in his own world, if the creator has plans for
him, then his world will suffer the longer he is away from it.
Besides, there is no place in this world for you
Mel could certainly attest to that. "That is
why I must relate to you that you must return, as fast as possible.
To do this you must seek out your nemesis."
"No, if you mean what I think you mean
I have to go ask that green-shirted carbon copy for help in getting
back to my world? I barely made it out of there with my head still
on and my underpants dry!"
"The Mel of this world is capable of such extremes
of violence and evil it would make you sick to hear. Nevertheless,
he is your best chance of returning quickly. I will point you
in the direction of assistance, of course."
The old man leaned across the table and produced
a photograph. Mel took it in his hands and stared.
The photo depicted a handcuffed man, restrained
from behind by police. He was pivoting back on one leg and kicking
a cop in front of him straight in the crotch. He was grinning.
Someone had written in green pen at the bottom: FRANK BURLEY.
Frank was a stocky man with long, brown hair who
looked vaguely familiar. Mel pocketed the photograph.
Frank Burley can help me, whoever
"Find him. It should not be hard. Frank is
a special servant of fate. There is a Frank Burley in every world,
and he is an unlikely hero in all of them."
"Wait a second. I saw your double back
in my own world. Are you a hero here?"
The old man sighed.
"I am a custodian of sorts, for heroes such
as yourself. That was no double in your world. I exist in all
"So you work for God? What does he pay? Spiritual
coin? Can I borrow some for a taxi?"
"I am working off a debt, Mel. I doubted the
Almighty once a long time ago. This is my penance."
"What's your name? So I can thank you, I guess."
"The Greeks named me Didymus. You may call
me Thomas. Go now."
Mel went, though he wasn't quite sure where to go.
But he was comforted by a glimpse of his red sweatshirt
as it reflected back from the storefront windows.
As he passed the square, he had a hunch. Across
the street was the courthouse, and Mel stopped to look up at the
façade. Sure enough, chiseled in stone was:
STUMPTOWN MUNICIPAL COURTHOUSE
Not Bridgeton Courthouse.
"Stumptown it is then," Mel said to himself.
"Frank Burley, here I come!"