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Guest Writer

The doorway seemed to beckon
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 25 ...

n situations like these, Mel did what he knew best: he held on for the ride.

He was following the Master down the foggy quay, and at a pretty good clip for a geezer in saffron robes. At the Master's heels, Mel noticed that they were uncovered by shoes, though he had no problem keeping traction on the slick pavement. Mel's boots slid occasionally, making him scramble to catch up.

"Where are we going?" Mel began breathing heavily, as they were now at the near-run that yuppies used to call "power-walking."

The Master slowed his pace momentarily and, without turning his head, answered Mel. "Where are you going? Didn't your janitor buddies give you a step-by-step Messiah roadmap?"

"You know they didn't. All Clay said was that I should put myself in harm's way, and he thought the most trouble I could get into would be with the DCB." The Master snorted in response.

"Dean and Cheldelin? Those clowns? They owe me five bucks." The Master's expression was inscrutable, but he finally stopped and turned to Mel. "Look, if you want, I can take you to them."


"How 'bout now?" The Master raised a yellow-clad arm and pointed back down the wharfside. Then he resumed his trot and Mel began following close behind.

The misty night removed the details and distance from Mel's vision, and all the buildings and boats he passed seemed featureless.

"Do you know Frank Burley?" Mel tried to start up a conversation with the Master.

"You'll have to be more specific, pal. I know a lot of Frank Burleys."

That was that for the conversation, it seemed. The Master was either concentrating on some occult sense of direction or was totally stoned. Mel was actually starting to become bored when the Master stopped. The soft glow of a lantern had become visible, hanging from the prow of a docked ship.

They approached the vessel, its dimensions unclear in the mist. What was clear was the presence of people after a lonely run down the quay.

Two figures seemed to be dressed in sailor's garb of yore, and both held nasty-looking dull swords with hooked ends. Mel raised a hand to hail them, and the response made him jump.

"Oi, Bert, it's 'im what wants a taste of his own medicine!"

These were the ineffectual guards of the Black Pope, back in Portland.

"Simmer down," replied the other sailor in a shaky voice. "We're on duty."

"Nix to that, Bert. The guv'nor haint in this world even." He raised his sword-thing and advanced on Mel. "I've the fighting iron this time, pegboy. C'mere!"

In the instant before the pirate struck, the Master appeared instantaneously next to him, and casually reached out and broke his free arm. The pirate screamed and dropped to the ground for the second time that Mel had seen.

The clanging of metal rang out, muffled somewhat by the fog. The ever-courageous Bert had dropped his fighting iron and was running down the docks. The Master gave Mel a sly wink and punched at the air.

Somehow and from a distance, the empty-handed blow connected. Bert went flying and an answering splash revealed his destination. Emphatically dusting his hands on his robe, the Master cleared his throat and spat.

"This is woman's work. Let's go." They began walking down the quay again, though it was a short distance before Mel saw the object of their stroll.

It was a huge cylindrical building, and the docks curved to their endpoint in the midst of the structure, leaving it half in and half out of the water. With the mist so thick, it was visible only as a silhouette, though gleamings at street level suggested vast banks of windows. A few more paces brought them to the windows, which comprised the whole of the frontage.

The Master leaned up to the glass and wiped a section of mist away with the hem of his robe. Through the smudge Mel could see some sort of waiting area done entirely in black marble, lit by dim chandeliers in the ceiling.

"Did you know that there is no door? This is the DCB HQ, and they don't have a door at all. Hell, even the quickie-marts have electronic-eye doors," he shrugged. "Oh, well."

"That presents a problem for us getting in, then," offered Mel.

"Not really." The Master put his fist through the glass, and the entire panel shattered. Once the glittering shards had fallen, they could see that the inhabitant of the chamber had come to answer their challenge. He was a mousy-looking man, in some sort of military uniform that didn't fit well, bunching and drooping in various places on his thin frame. His head was topped with an enormous billed hat like Russian officers wore.

"Do you have an appointment?" His politeness fairly bristled with threat.

"Nope," said Mel. As he replied, the Master did one of his faster-than-the-eye shuffles, and had the uniformed man in a full nelson. "Whoa, no arm-breaking, chief." Mel could hear some pops and creaks from the incapacitated man. If the Master stopped the man would get a thorough chiropractic therapy, but if he continued they would need a hefty bag.

"Suit yourself." The Master resumed his earlier attitude of indolence, now slouching as he retained the uniformed man in some sort of death grip.

Mel went up to the captive man in the ill-fitting uniform. Pawing through the brass tacked to the man's breast, Mel found a name placard: Rotzen, DCB VP.

I got my PhD in LSD, then caught VD in D.C., thought Mel with a snicker.

"Listen, Mr. Veep," he said. "I'm here to see Dean. Or Cheldelin if he's available." He was telling the truth, though it was a shot in the dark.

"Misters Dean and Cheldelin are not here, but if you'll release me …"

Mel nodded to the Master, who let loose of Rotzen and let him stand on his own power. The DCB's vice president dusted himself off with an air of hurt. From behind him, what had been a featureless wall of marble opened, pouring forth a brilliant radiance. The doorway seemed to beckon, and Rotzen grinned triumphantly.

"The Baraka will see you now."

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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