Primary information:

Story #12
Copyright date: 2004 C.E.
Wordcount: 12,177

Conundrum is the twelfth story I ever wrote and ranks as amongst my best written. Though, not everyone is a real fan of this story, its ideas push the reasonings of why we look up to certain people and the misconceptions we hold of them because of who or what they happen to be. It also challenges the preconceived ideals of heaven and hell...the very idea of why satan is who he is...Enjoy.

Thereís always an awakening. That zone between sleep and what we laughably refer to as the "real world". This awakening is no different. Save for the players involved and suffocated by the reality as it presents itself. Who he was, what he was . . . all of it insignificant in this moment in time and space. The fracturing of dreams splintered into the dark light of the awakening and he saw chaos. And, naturally, confusion set its course into the waking mind. What the hell!? Pretty much so. Welcome to the reality of Quam Vincent.

What exactly is a conundrum? The dictionary would have it to be a pun of an answer in response to a query or a problem. A surmisable answer to overwhelming rhetoric. Doubtful these considerations entered Quamís head as he regarded his very new surroundings and attempted haphazardly to get to his feet. Whatever pun was inherent here, he didnít know. Good humor is oft ever fleeting in the most bizarre of circumstances. As in, oh say, for instance, being upon a bullet train turned into a rocketing convertible blazing over a large body of rather rough looking water being further upset by a darkening sky, thunder, lightning . . . the works. And, did I neglect to mention, no tracks?

Nightmarish screams of anguish competed with the thunderous emanations of the looming storm. Quam Vincent looked around himself and up towards the train engine and behind him at the train caboose . . . or what passed for a caboose, which would culminate only to half a train car, tattered remnants of what used to be curtains, and flying debris. Of course, that was pretty much the scene along the entirety of the out of control vessel. Where am I? What answer could one give save for a one way ticket to hell?

A fierce, howling wind whipped through his short, dark Asian hair. . . . Well, heís Asian and generally Asianís have dark hair, pretty much black in his case, so give me a break weíre not talking advanced physics here. Thusly, our Asian hero began pressing against the wind, arm in front of his face with the vain attempt of warding off the onslaught of debris . . . and . . . uhm, wind. The immediate goal in mind, to get to the train engine. How to handle the situation of being out in what seemed to be the middle of an ocean far from god-knows-where, became a matter of concern best left until reaching the intended destination.

Of course, even such a simple course of action was riddled with complications. Most notably the many dozens of spectral anomalies in the form of any number of hideous, humanoid beasts suddenly materializing out of nothing and challenging our hero to dare attempt escape their grasp and get by them. Quam Vincent was understandably-to say "understandably" is a short falling but weíll say "understandably" anyway-taken by surprise and put into a state of sudden shock.
"Who are you!?" You know Quamís asking this . . . right?
"The end of all, mortal"
Quam responded to the forked tongued, two tailed, seven foot tall, red skinned, big, ugly-looking monstrosity in the way only he could in matters of self defense. He began kicking its ass much to the chagrin of the beastís cohorts. Who, as in any gang situation seeing the intended victim beating the snot out of a hapless victimizer, jumped in to prevent the utter humiliation of their comrade. All of whom Quam Vincent handedly dispatched with lethal efficiency. Quam was, after all, a martial arts superstar. A matter of which weíll get into a little bit later.

Quam moved on to the next car, yes this was only the first, and encountered another horde waiting to get their collective asses kicked. This way of anger management continued on for seventeen cars. Two hundred and thirty two butt ugly beasties later,-"Superstar" remember?- Quam reached the engine of the runaway nightmare train. And he promptly discovered the problem, minus the perplexity of missing tracks, of course. No controls. Not a one. No brake. No accelerator. No windows, seats, crew, radios, "help me" signs, or anything else of general use. Except for a floor. Without which he would be unable to be standing in the middle of what used to be a cabin with wind whipping through his already wild looking hair and a perplexed expression. Given the circumstances, Quam elected to sit down and brace his back against what was left of a wall and just stare outward into the dark skies.

This canít be. Last night, I went to bed . . . at home . . . . Whatís going on? Is this a dream? Or a nightmare? Quam Vincent sat and stared . . . and sat some more . . . and stared a little longer at nothing. He did so remembering the day before when his lifelong love had made the decision to return to Taiwan. Now he wished he was joining her. It had been a tough decision, he knew. Her family had been begging her to come home. She was needed to help care for her ailing father. Quam wanted to go, but his career didnít allow for it. He was still in the middle of making his newest movie "Blow: The Last Dragon". Quam was a martial artist. He got by on what he knew. Though, always he longed for more. Real adventure. Real excitement. In truth, he had grown bored by his life. A life "put on" for a camera and the entertainment of unseen millions. Which is why he had seriously considered moving to Taiwan with his love. But . . .

There was no changing that decision now. Quam had grown up in a small village much like the one to which his love was returning. And he had no desire to relinquish the life he had built or reminisce of times already past. Too far had Quam come to allow himself to take such a step backwards. Quam had established a life for himself in America. So too, had he honed a career as an International Martial Arts Superstar in the cinema renowned the world over for his legendary movies. Now, Los Angeles was Quamís new home. No regrets. Not now.

A sudden shift in the train pulled Quam Vincent out of his thoughts, and incidentally off his seated position. Getting up from a flat out sprawl, Quam took note that the train had collided into a mass of land. Standing up, he saw before him a burning city. Most of the city lay crumpled into massive heaps of stone, plaster, and wired steel. Quam got off the train and unto the solid ground. Despite the desperate sight, he breathed a sigh of relief. No more trains for him.

Quam traversed several blocks of city terrain. Cars laid before him in heaps of twisted metal, no longer much use even as scrap metal. Where once looming skyscrapers had stood, there remained only traces of their existence. Those buildings that still stood, did so by but a few walls and steel beams. Pavement at their bases was cast askewed, exposing the massive sewer systems at the subterranean levels. Peering down one massive crevice, Quam barely made out what was left of a subway system. He grimaced. Was there a war that I was not informed of? Steps away, Quam saw the skeletal remains of something or someone, and kept moving.

Finding himself completely alone, Quam walked the burning, smoldering streets, looking up at the dark, storm ridden sky. Not even a drop of rain despite the obviously saturated clouds. He continued on block by block, searching for some sign of life. Nothing. Glass shards, ripped concrete, decimated buildings galore, mangled vehicles and sometimes people, the remnants of what apparently was a dog attempting to make a cat his last meal who, coincidentally, was choking on a bird. . . .

"ENOUGH!!" Quam cried out, raising his arms to the heavens. "WHY!?" With no answer, he dropped his eyes to the ground and heard the crumbling of stone. Quam broke into a defensive posture, remembering his entanglement with the gory minions of hell upon the bullet train not long before. He saw soot rising into the air from the skittering of loosened pebbles, tumbling down a nearby heap of rubble.

"Show yourself. And letís be quick about it." Quam demanded.
"Are you . . . real?" Inquired a peepish voice from amidst the slaughtered stone and metal mesh.
"That is a question I would ask of you." He retorted, awaiting the voiceís owner to materialize. . . . one way or another.

Quam was rewarded for his patience a moment later when a young woman appeared and took him in with her eyes. She stood a moment, afraid to remove herself from the safety of what minute shelter she had found, staring at him as if he were some figment of her imagination.

"Real enough . . . " The woman began, coming slowly from behind the mound. "Oh my god . . . " Tears began to flood her eyes as she darted forward to wrap Quam in a gripping embrace. He attempted to keep his defense posture up, but let it drop as the woman nearly swept Quam from his feet. " . . . Itís you." Quam just stared down at the woman embracing him, unsure of what he should be doing.

" . . . So thatís when the acid rain began and the buildings started falling over. I mean it was just like the prophecies said, with Hell reigning and all that rhetoric. The Earth shook, the stars fell, then the creatures appeared and started killing . . . everyone. It was a real nightmare . . . " The young woman offered up her telling of the story that brought the city to its knees. And not just the city, but the whole planet was in crisis. " . . . judgement day." She concluded while Quam listened to the young womanís recollection. They had been walking the several blocks that would take them towards a heap of stone rubble the woman had started to call "home".

"I . . . I donít know what to say . . . " Quam stuttered, staring down at the woman. ĖI never did declare his height, now did I? Letís say . . . oh, five nine and sheís five foot five. Sound good?- Anyway, Mr. Vincent wasnít too sure how to take this story to say the least. She was a blonde, and heíd heard stories about American blonde girls.

" . . . Youíre telling me that Hell . . . Hell just came up and took over the world. In a night. Is that right?" The woman nodded in an affirmation. "Fine" Quam began to walk off towards an undisclosed location. He didnít know where. Just anywhere but there in the middle of . . . Hell.

"Wait. Where are you going?" The woman ran after him and thread her right arm around his left elbow.

"To Taiwan. There must be some sanity left there. Undoubtedly, what happened here is that some asshole in the White House or the Pentagon pissed off some terrorist or dictator or what have you . . . This isnít real! Iím going home!" He untangled her arm from his and marched off.

"But . . . but . . . arenít you going to save us? Youíre him! Quam Vincent!! Right?" At this urgent pleading and properly timed use of his name, Quam stopped. He turned and looked at her.

"Yes. I am Quam Vincent. Just a martial arts superstar. Not hero to the free world!" This outburst left the woman running back to her sanctuary while our "hero" walked off in a huff.

Five needle nosed spires reached for the heavens with deadly intent. They were akin to five lances piercing the night sky with four of the lesser lances inclined ever so slightly into the massive center spire. This formed a sort of "Qui-dent"-to coin a term-signifying that the Dark Lord was home and ready to tackle any god that dared show his or her face.

Within the bowels of this over-compensated structure was the throne room. And upon that throne sat a Dark Lord immersed in shadows so evil that, were they to touch the gentlest of men, he would instantly submit to bestial desires, and rape his dog. Thatís how evil this permeating shadow was. Only one cold thing could penetrate this darkness and that was the Dark Lordís eyes as he spoke menacingly to his minioned soldiers.
"Say that again?"
"Dark Lord, please! We know not from whence he came! Yet, he fights with the sanctified passion of ancient gods!"

Rising in fury and still cloaked by that menacing shadow clinging to his personage like gnats in a summer heat, the Dark Lord bellowed his irritation.

"Enough! How can this be!?" In his anger, the Dark Lord grabbed an axe handily resting against the throne and hurtled it mightily at the groveling minion before him, cleaving the hapless creature in two. This drew the exchanged perking of eyebrows between two other minions who couldíve sworn that axe wasnít there before.
"The rest of you ingrates, get out of my sight! Find this man! Kill him!" In a similar fashion of cockroaches fleeing before the first sign of light, the minions hurriedly departed the Dark Lordís presence.
Aggravated, the Dark Lord began to resume his seat upon the throne again. However, he was forced to shift his weight under a certain discomfort which in turn forced him to grope through the eternal darkness surrounding him in an effort to adjust the certain discomfort that had managed to get entangled in his undergarments during his outburst. Glowing eyes almost seemed to smile as the Dark Lord returned to staring menacingly from within the evil shadows again.

David Shade emerged defiantly from the shelter in which he had sought refuge. He was a short man, roughly five foot five and had blonde hair and light grey eyes. David couldnít have weighed more than a hundred and twenty five pounds, however, he knew he was all attitude. An attitude with a gripping fear of highly charged particles of water vapor culminating in sudden discharges of bright light and ponderous booms informing all upon the Earth that the "Angelís had just gotten a strike." How convenient that such a cacophony of thunder and lightning should choose Davidís moment of swaggering tall to remind him of the tiny precipice of life in which he stood. Equally convenient was the hole in the ground exposed in the nearby debris.

David was as quick a coward as he was a braggart. Which, had anyone witnessed Davidís panicked expression, would have been noted. Lightning flash. Davidís face. Second flash a split second later. Davidís feet sticking out of convenient hole in ground. Only to be followed seconds later by a pale face popping back out of said hole and peeping around like a rabbit having got a wind of the hunterís scent.

Unsteadily, David re-emerged from his rabbit-hole and brushed himself off. He looked around to see if anyone had borne witness and then realized it wasnít like there was anyone left who gave a damn. And in solemn recognition of this genuine fact, David began his trek to what was left of the local grocery mart.

Acts of jackassism aside, David Shade had once been a prominent actor. Everywhere he had traveled, there was a legion of fans looking up to him. At least, figuratively that is. Of course, "had" was the key word. Then, that fateful day so many months ago came when the skies darkened and, for a time, it had rained . . . pigs. David had heard of it raining cats and dogs . . . and sometimes frogs. But the pig thing was new to him. So much for the flying theory. Apparently, what one had to really look out for was the falling variety. And to top that off, that nightmare citadel in the middle of the city had appeared. Thatís when the demons showed up, and those lucky enough to not have been porked to death, were slaughtered wholesale.

There had been survivors. And, for reasons eluding David, people looked to him for answers. When he had had none to give, expressions of hopeless forfeiture of life were burned permanently into his memory. Even though he had played one in the movies and on television, David wasnít a fighter. In fact, he wasnít even that good an actor. Which was a moot point now considering humanityís blight and his having been completely out of his element. Most people would call that element, "fictional".

David hadnít seen a soul in weeks and it unnerved him to be the only person in the center of such devastation. He hadnít even seen the demons that had wrought so much havoc. It was as if they had been pulled back in preparation for something even bigger. David didnít know where they were. He didnít know if anyone else was still alive. He didnít even know if there was still a government functioning. ĎCourse, he didnít know if it had functioned much better before either.

The only thing David knew was that he was hungry. Therefore, the only thing he could do was stumble down the lightning lit pathways. Once, these had been roads. This scene seemed vaguely familiar to him. Like something out of the movies following a nuclear holocaust. Yet, this felt worse to David. Much worse.

Several blocks of wanton malevolence later, David rounded a corner towards where he knew the leftovers had been. He slowed his harried pace upon approach as he caught glimpse of something auspicious. Certainty wasnít in Davidís favor, but for some reason it was paying him a visit. On the side of what once was a busy intersection, he barely made out a shape that looked human. In fact, upon closer inspection, he realized it was human. And hauntingly so. It meant someone had been alive and now laid strewn about like so much of the rest of the city remnants.

David stood a respectful distance from the figure. It was disheartening. He hadnít seen a body in nearly a month, and wasnít pleased to have seen the one laying there, on the ground. What heíd been praying for was a live human being. Sadly, life seemed to be into sick jokes and twisted humor. Well, thatís what David was thinking, anyway, until the body groaned, emitted some extraneous and gaseous sound and rolled over on his other side. David stood with his mouth agape. A fully functional human being was sleeping soundly on the side of the road.

"Holy shit. The son of a bitch is still alive." Rushing to the individualís side, David began trying to coerce the man to wake up. However, the man was out like the lights in town. So, David turned him over and leapt back in shock. There was an Asian face staring back at him. He knew that face. But it was impossible that that face could be there. After all, David should know, he was the one who made that face up with his very own imagination and slightly elevated and paradoxical sense of humor. Which meant he had only one logical response, "What the flying f . . . !?"

Into endless forever, the nothingness stretched. An impassively black field devoid of all life, thought, light, sound, emotion, physical pleasures and rampant carnage. Down the long, foreboding halls of that void, ran a small child. Little feet blazed in a fevered pace never proceeding nor falling behind. He only ran as if he didnít even notice the dark carpet suffocating freedomís roaming bliss. Only towards the unforeseen distance did the child look, perceiving nothing more than his imagined destination.

Shifting and bending, reality warped around the child, fading into the featured depths of a thick forested environment. This was his home. Not the thick jungles of some Amazonian forest, but the collective elegance of a Chinese landscape deep in the mountains.

It was a village rarely seen amongst the rest of the varied populace of the world. And it was into this peaceful place, hidden from the world at large, that the large man had come. Here it was he had met his future wife. Here it was that they had bore Quam Vincent, the innocent, wild eyed child rushing towards his fatherís welcoming embrace.

Quamís mother was full Chinese and his father a Chinese American whose own father was a white man from Chicago. However, Quamís father had had enough of the big city lifestyle and, therefore, moved to the small village where his mother had been born.

The elder Vincent put Quam down from his embrace and knelt at eye level before his son. There was great love in his eyes and he beheld the boy and smiled. Mr. Vincent put his hand on Quamís shoulder just as a sudden blaze ripped through the village. Quam was horrified and all the while, his father merely smiled.

"Father! This isnít right! Whatís happening!? This isnít what happened when I left! I know you disapproved! That I was only eighteen and knew nothing of the world! But the village was in one piece then! It didnít burn to ashes! This is some sick nightmare! I just wanted to pursue the American dream, father! I just wanted to be an actor! ThisÖThis is too much!!" To this impassioned outburst, Quamís father continued to smile and spoke benevolently,

"Remember, son, the Whiteman is evil." And then promptly smacked Quam across his cheek.
"Wh, what . . . ?" Quam started, only to be slapped again. Wide eyes stared in astonishment at this act. And Quam bore witness to his fatherís face dissolving into the impending nothingness giving way to white light. That white light revealed another face taking the place of Quamís father in a reality unwanted. And that face was white. The person who owned that face, proceeded to slap Quam yet again in the hope that, this time, heíd come fully awake.

"Hey, man. What the hell gives?" The Whiteman spoke. Quam, startled by current events and his fatherís damnable warning, immediately skittered backwards awkwardly from the man leaning over him.

"Huh? Wha . . . I remember now," Quam spoke, putting his left hand to his brow, " . . . I was tired. So I laid down to rest. I guess I mustíve fallen asleep."

"In the middle of the road? . . . or, what passes for a road these days!? Look, man, whatever . . . you canít have that face."

"I donít . . . What!?" An expression of utter perplexity crossed Quamís visage. "I donít know whatís wrong with you." Rising unevenly with staggered motions to his full height, Quam looked down on the still daring man. " Evidently, you must be, understandably of course, deranged from the ensuing chaos brung about by savage demons from hell . . . but my face . . . is mine. I inherited it from my parents as a keepsake . . . so to speak. Strangely, though, I was just dreaming about them from my past . . . But the village . . . "

"Burned down. Yeah, I know. I got enough crap from the critics for rewriting that history! I wrote that shit because just moving to Hong Kong and then pursuing the "AMERICAN DREAM"," The strange man made quotation marks with his fingers in the air while Quam just stared with his mouth slightly open, " was retarded! I needed another motivation for my characterization! Not just dumb luck!"

"It is MY past!" Quam shouted slapping his chest in irritation.

"You donít have a past!" The Whiteman got closer to Quamís face and stuck his finger within slapping distance of him, " Youíre a fucking figment of my imagination!"

"Are you smoking crack!?" Agitation over this heated conversation started to pierce Quamís mind and he was in no mood for twisted jokes. To his credit, the strange little man, with arms still spread, calmly spoke,

"Here. Iíll prove it to you." The strange man actually swaggered half a block over to the remains of some store, a video store by Quamís reckoning. Therefore, Quam decided to humor the man and follow him through the wreckage.

They walked over to a display that somehow still had a working television with a working VCR which made Quam come to the only conclusion that he could, which was demons apparently liked to watch TV too. Having sifted through a pile of mangled tapes, the man pulled out a selection, amazingly enough, still useable and plugged it into the VCR. The title of the movie appeared, "Flaming Ninja Man", and Quam witnessed himself strut across the screen. He looked over at the smaller man, who was smiling victoriously. But perplexion was all Quam could muster.

"That canít be me. I was never there. I never made this movie. Who is this?" Quam pointed his finger at the man on the screen.

"Itís me. Canít you tell? Iím an actor, so I act. You still donít get it yet, do you? I AM Quam Vincent." "Impossible! You cannot be me! I am me! I AM Quam Vincent! International Martial Arts Superstar! . . . Why is that not-me kissing that man?"

"Look, itís part of the script . . . And that whole "International Martial Arts Superstar" mumble jumble coming out of your mouth sounds stupid. Iím going to have to change the wording to that. But, as far as you go, trust me, you donít exist."

"It cannot be. I am standing right here. Are you blind? Besides, Iím Asian! Youíre not! And soís that . . . " Both men stopped and stared at the two figures Quamís pointing finger was indicating and bore witness to the characters engaging in highly involved fraternization. " . . . man."

"Yeah, it wasnít the best of my movies. But, it you look closely you can see the masque lines right . . . there. At the chin . . . " Quam looked closely at where the manís finger was pointing.

Pulling something out of his jacket pocket, the man donned a mask over his head. Suddenly, Quam was staring at an eeringly accurate likeness of himself . . . only smaller. David staged a short, martial performance making himself look more inept than anyone could have guessed.

"What is this!?"

"I told you. Youíre not real. Iím Quam Vincent. Well, my real nameís David, anyway. Look, I canít explain it. Somehow, youíve left the world of the movies, my movies, yíknow as in the ones that I "make", and came here."

"You mean, like "Last Action Zero" or something . . . ?"

"Something like that, I guess." David shook his head sympathetically while Quam simply laughed his amusement.

"This is ludicrous! Do you know how insane that sounds? There is no way that could happen . . . let alone this nightmare!" Quam motions to the buildings crumpled around them. And Iím flattered that youíre such a big fan of mine, but, the face, is going too far . . . "

"Címon, donít you find it a little strange that you have such a perfect, American accent?"

"Nice try, fanboy. But my father was a Chinese American!"

"And youíve spent most of your young life in China! A small village at that, for Crissakes!" David countered, making jerking motions in the air with his right hand, emulating the stroking of a cylindrical object. "You know what, just go back to where you came from and let me handle things, Ďcause, frankly..." All sadistic stroking motions ceased as the talking masque attached to Davidís face went still in horror as its gaze was locked beyond Quam. David saw the gory minions of hell advancing towards them. He did an about face in the time it took to blink, and before Quam could even inhale to speak, David darted off in the opposite direction, letting loose high pitched screams of terror. Quam watched the dust trail disappear around the corner in the distance.

Turning around deliberately slow, Quam readied himself for a battle. Demons splintered off into groups of four and surrounded Quam. He looked around steadily, gauging the numbers against him. Thoughts of being some lunaticís hallucination quickly stashed themselves away for further pondering at a later time. Demonic forces advance as Quam sprang into definitive action.

Lunges, thrusts, kicks, punches, dives, rolls, parries, fierce manglings, crotch shots, eye gouges, jump kicks, leg sweeps, claw marks, head smashes, bone breakings, and varied flailing limbs represented just a few of the dayís more enjoyable activities. Screaming minions flung themselves away from Quamís onslaught only too late. Many plead for mercy. And of course found none considering they had started the fight. Others fled in terror once the first opportunity of escape was achievable. This wasnít many.

Then it was down to one. Bleeding from various orifices and screaming like a lunatic Banshee on steroids after an all nighter at Shenanigans, this particular demon decided that prayer was suddenly in order.

"Oh, My Lord!! Help us! Help us all!! Heís unstoppable!! Why, Dark Lord, Why!? Have I failed you so miserably!? Come! Come save us from this invincible tyrant of pain!! . . . AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!" The demon screamed one final scream as Quamís fist silenced his impious tirade.

Quam stood silently for a moment, deep in contemplation and gathered his breath. As he did so, massive tremors shook him from his revelry. Earth sunk. Remnants of structures submerged into quickly widening gulfs of empty space.

From one of these voids, came a throne-like structure, upon which sat a dark figure mired in a strange fog of darkness. Evil oozed forth readily from this being as his gaze fixated on Quam. Quam stared back at the featureless monstrosity born of shadows.

"You . . . youíre the one who did this! Why!?" Quam inquired of the four story behemoth, clenching his fist and standing his ground while the creature just across the street glared at him with intense, crimson eyes.

"Why?" The creature calmly repeated as if the question were rhetorical nonsense uttered by one of his many minions. "You, an insignificant mortal, a man, dare inquire this of me? Who do you think you are?" The Dark Lord stared at Quam in what would seem like an eternity for the average man.

"Iím the best thereís ever been. Now answer the question." Standing his ground firmly, Quam stared right back at the devil.

"My. Arenít you a ballsy little man. I think itís time for a neuteriní." The temple throne seemed to fling away back into the pits of hell as the Dark Lord stood and placed his right hand out into the air before him. A staff of mystic proportions materialized out of thin air. And the Dark Lord charged.

Fear started to ebb, but faded away as Quam found a hidden strength within him to face this champion from the deep. He bolted out of the searing staffís way as air gushed by in the wake of the Lordís first thrust at everyoneís favorite hero. A spinning jump kick connected with the Dark Lord as his back remained to Quam. The Dark Lord recovered from his strike, did a quarter turn, and then made another attack on Quam. The Dark Lordís staff connected with Quamís body, sending him hurtling backwards into rubble half a block away.

Dust skittered out from under Quam as he rose up and took note of the rampaging Dark Lord with his sights set on painting the town red with blood. Most notably, Quamís blood.

So much for invincibility. Took for granted those weak ass demons. With time not on his side, Quam scrambled out of the way of another wicked blow from the Dark Lordís staff. He could still stand and fight, but Quam had been seriously winded by that last blow. He had a feeling that the next one wouldnít be the love tap the one before had been. Therefore, Quam did the one thing that came naturally, he ran like hell. Of course, the Dark Lord wasnít about to let Quam abdicate his unspoken claim to the "demon ass kicker throne" so easily, and pursued him through the remnants of fallen alleys.

Several tiring blocks later, Quam exited an alleyway. He had somehow managed to dodge the foreboding attacks of the Satan being. However, Quam knew he couldnít keep it up forever. Now, he found himself upon a massive pile of rubble strewn about from the collapse of a massive skyscraper. There were a lot of directions to run . . . however, there was that time issue that kept getting in the way.

Building walls that still stood, bounced away from the aggravated assault of one burly Dark Lord as he pushed his way out of the alleyway. Quam stood there breathing heavily not sure what to do but knowing that this may very well be the end. The Dark Lord, Prince of Darkness, Lucifer, Demon-spawn, Shithead and/or Satan approached with staff extended and maddingly widened eyes gleefully depicting their joy in Quamís impending Doom.

Then, something strange happened. A jingling sound emitted. And the Dark Lord stopped short, dropping his staff and peered around him with an expression reminiscent of a moron who just realized that the fence heíd been pissing on was electrified and currently in the "on" position. More jingling sounds emitted. Quam looked around but couldnít find the source of the ringing bells. When he looked back at the Dark Lord, the satanic being had excused himself from the fight and disappeared without a trace.

"Huh?" Quam looked down as a cat started rubbing against his leg. Quietly and magically, dozens of felines emerged from the rubble and purred contently, licking whatever happened to be in the vicinity of their mouths. "Cats." Quam looked with surprise at the many cats that he guessed were responsible for driving away the Dark Lord of the underworld.

A beam of light, from the heavens above, almost seemed to spotlight Quam. The clouds parted, just enough for a stream of sunshine, and then, he saw them. The people who had survived. They stared at Quam in renewed hope. The Dark Lord had fled in terror before him. They were saved. Quam looked at them, a dozen or more and felt sorrow. He hadnít done anything more than get lucky.

Half an hour later, Quam found himself back at the video store. He seated himself on some concrete and slowly turned a video tape in his hands. It turned out to be another movie that featured him or some cretin pretending to be him."

""Master Quam and the Shadow Cue Gang" . . . These titles suck." Dropping the tape, he placed his hands to his face and felt for the first time a great burden cross his soul.

Amidst the rubble strewn streets walked a woman so beautiful that many afore had mistaken her for one of the biblical angels of yore. In fact, so angelic was her physique, that the confusion over her origins could easily be understood as she almost seemed to emanate a perpetual glow and any who beheld this woman were instantly entranced by her purity. And those who knew her best, knew she commanded the greatest amount of respect and admiration.

Around this woman, strolled with her a multitude of animals of the feline persuasion. And upon each of these cats, hung a bell from their neck. All seemed to obey her every command and several were happy just rubbing against her ankles with varied meows and purrs. The woman looked down at these few and smiled knowing that what she sought was soon to be found. To that direction, the woman carried on in determination.

Journeying down to this world had been no simple matter. And the descent had been murder on the senses. The chaos had cast the skies in a evil hue of red and cast the cloudline in a deep sea of maddening crimson. Yet, it was that she must obey the wishes of the Great Lord and come down unto this world. For she was the greatest amongst the "Angels" and knew the Dark Lordís weakness. Hence, the pussies.

Yellow liquid streaked down the side of brick rubble and drained into the debris particles scattered around where a building had once stood. With a quick shake and a hip shuttering motion, David zipped up his tattered jeans and gloomily turned to continue his trek through the city streets to his secret shelter. He gripped loosely his Quam Vincent masque in his right hand as he walked and cast his stare to the ground. A sigh escaped his lips. Memories flooded Davidís mind as he considered everything going on around him in this new age of chaos. He had once again left someone to their fate at the hands of hellís minions. Before, when the chaos had first arisen, he could only stand upon the cornerstones of fallen monuments to mankind screaming to the four winds and anyone who would even remotely listen through their pleas for salvation from this one, lone man,

"I am NOT Quam VINCENT!!" Yet none would heed his warnings and his fears so he had fled, not looking back to those insane bastards who at that moment more than any had reminded David of human sheep.

"David!" The woman had screamed from the windows where she had been trapped, "Where are you going!? Help!!" David had cast turned towards that office complex as it rumbled and shook under the tumultuous quakes of hellís fury. Fear clouded his judgment as he stared at the woman pleading for him to come to her salvation on the third floor. He couldnít do it. He ran.

"Iím going to burn in hell." David said to no one in particular, falling to his knees, knowing the terrible consequence of having left. That gnawing regret one would feel having left his wife to face the unknown. He hadnít even had the courage to watch the building collapse. Tears streamed down his face as calloused hands did their best to wipe away the ever colder liquid.

Jingling sounds brought David back to his feet and into his ever fearful ways of survival. The notable hiding behind rubble, spying what demon had come for his soul next. To Davidís surprise, he saw a woman walking down the street and in the company of a legion of cats.

"What the . . . ?" Without another thought, David found himself following from a good distance this strange yet beautiful woman. He secretly wondered if an angel had not come to save him from his sins.

Quam solemnly laid on his side and stared out at the scattered debris, depressed and unsure of himself or of what to do. And knowing only too well that heíd certainly never go home again. The world was too cruel a place. The darkest hour had come for Quam. That was, until the piercing bright light that nearly blinded him. Hands up in a feeble gesture of blocking out the source of the illumination, Quam looked up. The light dimmed and there stood the most beautiful woman heíd ever seen. . . . And sheíd brought her cats.

"Sorry about that. Sometimes I get a little carried away with my entrances." The angelic lady spoke melodically. Quam took not of her appearance. She was five foot seven with the most hypnotic eyes heíd ever seen. They were jet black and ovaloid. No whites that Quam could tell but strangely this did not disturb him on this day. In fact, she seemed to fit right in. Minus the hellish features, of course.

"So Iím guessing the cats are yours . . ." Quam watched the womanís thin lips purse into a smile. She tilted her head slightly to the side, shifting a man of long white hair that extended past the back of her thighs. He felt that, had he touched that hair, it would have been smoother that silk. Quam shook himself out of his stupor. Get a hold of yourself, jackass! Youíve been in this damn city too long! Then, Quam filled the sudden and awkward silence with, "Iím also guessing youíre no demon."

"No, Quam, I am not."
"Oh. Well, thatís good . . . Hey! How the hell do you know my name!?"
"And, yes, these are my cats. Your name? Iíve . . . watched you . . . for a long time, Quam." The woman spoke, still smiling hypnotically.
"You have? Whatís going on? Why am I here!? How can I get home!?" Quam was up on his knees, almost pleading for the answers still evading logic.

"Settle down," The angel woman soothed, "You see, itís complicated. Everything that is occurring, that is. You . . . were summoned here."

"Summoned? By who?" Quam asked, as a quizzical expression dominated his visage.

"By the collective will of a dying people. It was your name those who passed on prayed for. You were their miracle. "If only Quam were here." Even the disbelievers prayed for this hero in your name . . . And here you are."

"Iím flattered . . . but, uhm . . . shouldnít they have been praying to, uhm, Jesus, or someone of that caliber?" To Quamís query, the woman only smiled.

"Many prayers were heard and still are being heard. And you are the answer to those prayers. You are the only one who can defeat the Dark Lord."

"Yeah, right. If not for your cats, this Dark Lord of yours would have made me a permanent fixture of this god-forsaken-place! I canít believe the size of that beast! Four stories, at least!" Quam snorted derisively and gestured with arms flailed wide open.

"You can change that."
"Huh? And how, pray-tell, is that?"
"You see, there is no magic spell or holy scripture that can shrink this . . . "beast". However, Quam, there is a machine he uses to maintain his satanic proportions. Destroy it. And bring him down to size!" Having spoken this last part, the womanís eyes almost seemed to glow gleefully at the thought proposed. She clenched her fists and waved them in the air in front of her in emphatic gestures of go-get-em pride.

"How can I . . . ?"
"You must enter his citadel and find it within the lower levels. Quam, you must do this! It is the reason for your existence! The people believe in you." Smiling warmly, the white lady looked down upon the kneeling Quam.

"I . . . canít. Iím nothing. I donít even exist." Quam lowered his eyes to the crumpled concrete.

"Stop it!! You WILL do this! The Lord commands it!!" Quam looked up at this fiery outburst. The woman seemed almost on the brink of screaming. A vein in her temple was bulging under the pulsation of unbridled fury.

"Uhhh . . ."
"Iím sorry." The woman recanted and placed her right hand to her temple to gently rub away the anger brewing. "I shouldnít have lost my temper. You wouldnít believe how stressful my day has been." Quam just looked at her with a stagnant expression.

Nearby, a collapsed heap of stone hid the personage of one David Shade. When heíd seen the vibrant lady walking down the wrecked street, he had gotten . . . excited. Which is why he did what any god fearing member of the male persuasion would do. Follow her. And now, here David was, watching the interaction between Quam and Ms. Hotness herself. All thoughts of his losses and stupidities were momentarily postponed for a quick glance at a healthy shake. Naturally heíd been shocked to see Quam still alive. What with the legion of doom and four stories of black bearing down on his ass. Quam was an amazing man and David could only thank himself for bringing him into existence.

"But I donít know the way . . . " Quam was telling the woman. Of course, David really wasnít trying to hear what Quam was saying, he was still mesmerized by the finer things in life.

"David does." David froze in place as he heard those words muttered from the womanís mouth.

She couldnít mean him. Then he stopped breathing once her finger pointed in his direction. Quam stared in the direction of where the corner of the room had been. Which compelled David to stand up from behind a massive chunk of cornered concrete.

"Ex . . . excuse me?" David spoke squeakingly. He had a bad feeling about this.

An angelic face peered after David and she motioned for him to join them. She had known he was following her and knew he was watching them. Knew about his fixation on her posterior and had added a extra bit of hip motion to keep him enticed. It was all according to plan.

"The citadel David. You will lead Quam to it. Point the way. It is your destiny." She smiled at him. David wasnít going for it.

"The hell it is. My destiny lies in a crevice about a quarter mile in that direction. Note that would be in the opposite direction of certain and verifiable doom." David stood stoically, getting mentally ready to run like hell. The smile on the womanís face dissipated and then David knew, his ass was grass.

"Thereís a car right there. Get in it." There was no room for argument as the woman spoke these hauntingly irreversible words.

"Ah, shit." David uttered and walked towards the car. "You drive." Quam stood up and looked for a second at the vehicle parked on the curbside harboring no damage to it whatsoever.

"That was not there before."
"Donít knock it. Now, Quam, go kick his ass! Remember, destroy the mechanism that regulates his size. Then destroy the machine that lies beneath his throne. Go. Obliterate the Dark Lord!" The woman said waving to the two and smiling that broad smile of hers as they got in the car. Quam started the car and glanced over at the woman who was still waving at them.

"There is something not right about that woman." He said.
"Yeah, yeah. Women suck. Letís get this over with." David bluntly stated. Quam gunned the accelerator and they were off in the direction of the citadel.

She stood waving at the car darting off into the distance. A smile still plastered in faux regard to her face. Her ovaloid eyes felt like they were going to bulge from their sockets. She was going to talk to upper management about a raise. ""In the opposite direction!" Indeed! And here I went and shook my tushy at him! Spineless son-of-a- . . ."

"Bitch! That Bitch!" A holographic viewscreen displayed the image of a waving woman. Anger brewed deep contempt in the Dark Lordís amphitheater. "How dare she interfere with MY designs!!" He motioned towards his commander-at-arms, who hastily approached the throne, ever wary for invisible, archaic weaponry. "Set out the minions! Destroy Quam Vincent! Donít let him reach this citadel! Iíve had enough of these people standing in my way!" The commander knelt in a bow and acknowledgment.

Minions of every design and fabrication poured from the orifices of the massive citadel like locusts to the feast. Dark clouds roiled furiously above, blocking out the heavens and casting the leveled landscape in a dark, blood red light.

Dodging and weaving through the myriad fields of debris, Quam navigated the car with professional ease. All the while, David instructed him on what turns to make. A short time, too soon to David, passed and the hulking citadel appeared. David leaned forward taking note of the cloud of dots exiting the citadel.

"Whelp, those mosquitos are coming for your blood and this is my stop! Let me out!" David exclaimed, his panic barely contained. He clamored at the handle with the car still in a blurred motion. Quam reached to stop Davidís maddened exit.

"Wait! How do I get into the citadel!?"
"How in the hell should I know!? Iíve never been in it!" Rumbling shook the car from all sides stopping Davidís quickened exit.

Quam stopped the car and looked around. David felt as if his eyes would pop out of their sockets. For it was that hordes of beasts flew down from the skies, and took stabbing jabs at the car. This occurring as a mob of creatures of every distorted size and shape blocked their retreat to the rear.

"Oh great! What are you doing!? Donít stop! Go!" David yelled hysterically.

"I thought you wanted out?" Quam calmly retorted as the menacing legion advanced on them.

"I changed my mind!!" David shouted as Quam gunned the accelerator. However, they didnít get far before another entourage of maladjusted cretins burst through the ground directly in their path. Quam was forced to bring the car to another, screeching halt while flying hosts of the maggotdom buzzed them maliciously. "Thatís it, man! Weíre all going to die!!" David jostled around in his seat staring in utter horror as they found themselves completely surrounded.

"Will you knock that off!" Quam bellowed, trying to figure out what they could do to get themselves out of one frighteningly intense scenario. He didnít have to think long, as the forces of hate decided to rent a hole in the Earth large enough to swallow Texas. The car fell downward towards a boiling pit of magma and then wedged between two large pillars of earthen crust.

Wasting no time, Quam crawled out the window, daring not to open the door, and found footing on a pillar ledge. He reached his hand out towards the passenger side of the car and issued a command to David,

"Give me your hand! Climb out the window and give me your damn hand!" A demon swooshed past Quam as he barely ducked and found himself on his stomach, still holding out his arm to David.

"Oh, shit! To hell with that!" Came Davidís response. The pillar holding up the rear of the car collapsed and Quam could only watch helplessly as the car carrying David careened towards the magmatic layer of Earth many miles below. To his credit, David only managed to scream for half the journey down. Of course, he could have still been screaming and just been out of Quamís earshot.

"Idiot!" Quam muttered angrily after David, as a demon swooped down and grabbed Quam taking him upwards towards the darkened skies.

Quam struggled with the beast, trying to maintain purchase on its leathery skin. At the same time, the hellspawn was doing its best to make Quam let go and fall into the chasm below. However, Quam proved too agile and managed to crawl around its shoulders and unto its back. Somehow, Quam managed to use the demonís wings to navigate towards the citadel. Other demons, seeing this, did their best to slaughter their cohort. A glancing blow cut Quam across his cheek and fatally slashed through his demonís neck. Fortunately for Quam, another demon was handily available for molestation.

Minutes seemed like an eternity for Quam as he worked his way demon by flaming demon t get to the citadel. Flying through an opening, Quam viciously twisted his current demonís neck and tried to figure his way down into the citadelís innards.

Hurriedly, the lead commander of the demonic forces of hell approached the Dark Lord. He didnít want to deliver the news he had, but heíd already gone to hell once, so, as the humans tended to say, "What the hell".

"Master. Quam Vincent has entered the citadel." He bowed and knelt, fully expecting the "corporate axe". The Dark Lord stared menacingly, as he was so fond of doing, down upon his cowering soldier and happily obliged his soldierís expectations of an early retirement. A shame hell didnít offer insurance.

The Dark Lord stood up and addressed the assembly of cowering incompetents gathered before him.

"What is the point in having a legion, if that legion canít even stop one insignificant little human being!? Can anyone else tell me whatís wrong with that picture!? I suppose I neednít even bother asking you to stop him from coming down here? Well, can I at the least expect you to slow the bastard down!? Get moving!?" The Dark Lord walked around his throne and pressed a switch.

A hum emanated throughout the hall as the roof to the citadel opened wide and a large syringe looking instrument rose up towards where the roof had been and began charging its energy core. Looks like my plans have been stepped up. Hereís to hoping itís at enough of a capacity to do some damage. He stare at the stairwell in anticipation of the coming confrontation. "Come and get me, you little gnat." His bellowed voice echoed.

Why didnít I think to grab some of those damn cats? Quam thought to himself as he plowed through an inexhaustible supply of voracious hellhounds and the fantastically dull witted. He knew he must be close after having descended a nightmareís worth of stairs. What a sigh of relief it was once the stairwell opened out into a massive room and, best yet, no more demons. Where are the rest of them? Quam looked around for anything resembling a machine of disproportion or whatever else may have been available for the vertically challenged.

Seeing some strange, blinking lights on the far wall, Quam decided to check there first. However, his progress was hindered by a massive axe cleaving the air three feet in front of him. It didnít help his confidence any seeing that the axe itself was more than a story tall. Quam took a step back from the massive Dark Lord who stared down with a hard gaze at Quam. Deep, crimson eyes pierced the darkness still engulfing the prince of hell.

"Youíve come a long way, maggot. I underestimated your skill and prowess in battle. Never would I have thought something as insignificant as a man would arrive in these halls! However, now you stand no chance." The Dark Lord lifted his axe. "Nothing can protect you now."

"Are you sure? I have a pretty good Angel watching over me." Quam retorted.

This gave the Dark Lord a momentary pause as he stared down at Quam. His axe touched the floor gently as the heft of the handle remained loosely gripped in the beastís right hand. Then he bursted out in a laughter as evil as hell itself. And that laughís boom rattled the very foundation of the citadel.

Quam used this moment of distraction to run past the goliath and towards the mechanism on the far wall. Amused, the Dark Lord let him get half way across the sprawling room. Then he stomped his foot causing Quam to trip. Another belly laugh reverberated triumphantly throughout the room. And the Dark Lord raised his axe to attack. In one giant stride he was on top of Quam who had just managed to get back to his feet. The axe came down, but Quam leapt out of the way and tumbled himself into a forward roll. Coming flawlessly out of the roll, Quam rebounded gracefully back to his feet, and wasting none of his momentum, continued forward.

A sideways smack by the huge axe sent Quam careening towards the wall perpendicular to his destination. Of course, due to the size of the hall, he didnít quite reach the wall, but rather slid part way across the floor. Undeterred, and in some pain, Quam stood and locked eyes with the mega-sapien. Both were in battle ready position. Both charged each other. Plainly, the Dark Lord had the size advantage. And plainly Quam had the agility advantage. Yet, it was the age old school book play that saved Quam in this moment of undelusional death. He evaded the axe and let the Dark Lordís momentum carry massive weight past one tiny target. Said target rushed between said attackerís legs.

Unfortunately for the Dark Lord, this meant heíd be eating a little bit of floor and doing a little bit of stomach surfing himself.

"You little . . . ! Ow!!" Came a pained exclamation as the Dark Lord hit the wall full force. It took him all of a few moments to come to his senses and rise back to his massive feet. The Dark Lord looked upwards towards his charging weapon. Still it gathered energy. Knowledge sank in that if he didnít fire it soon, he may not get the chance. Then he saw Quam at the mechanism flipping switches randomly. Ah, hell. The Dark Lord hadnít anticipated the audacity and cleverness of the small being but knew how to compensate. He raised his hands upward then summoned an invisible force which hurtled Quam away from the device and several meters across the room. Quam rested uneasily on his back and began to sit back up in excruciating pain.

"Ugh, sometimes I wish there were more of me." He winced in pain and when he looked around him, Quam saw fourteen other Quamís wincing in pain and sitting up. They all looked at one another in bewilderment.

"What the . . . !?" They all began in unison. A bellow of hatred drew the groupís attention to an enraged Dark Lord charging them. "Get him!!" They shouted and joined in battle against the monstrosity.

Several Quamís got slung to the four corners, figuratively of course since the room was round, of the massive chamber. Then the original Quam got an idea. While the others were busy occupying the Dark Lord, heíd take care of the mechanism.

"Keep him busy!" He commanded and went towards the device and frantically struggled to figure out how to shut the damn thing down.

"Easier said than done!" One Quam Responded as a massive Dark fist grounded him permanently. A pitched battle ensued as the Quams held their own against the massive tyrant who himself was having trouble keeping up with the Quamipulets. Roundhouses met thick flesh and a gargutuan foot met little resistance with three panicking Quams. One Quam wished for a bow and arrow finally figuring out how this materialization thing was working. A swift, steel bolt pierced the Dark Lord in his side in a scene vaguely reminiscent of a Tolkien storyline. Infuriated, the Dark Lord responded with a wide sweeping axe cleaving two Quams in half. Several minutes passed and the Dark Lord lifted his arms victoriously, holding his axe above his head.

"I am a GOD!!" He screamed and then saw the real Quam shut down the reality warping mechanism. "GODDAMNIT!!" Was what he shouted as the darkness surrounding him faded into oblivion leaving him no longer a Dark Lord, but a strangely dressed demon with a checkered pattern across his clothing and three horns sticking out the top of his head. Then he was forced to dodge the massive axe heíd been holding drop down onto its head and remain perched precariously in that position. Quam looked towards the Dark Lord and saw that he must have pushed the right combination or something to that effect.

"Alright, letís finish him . . ." He looked around and saw no more Quams. Not even the corpses of those thrown haplessly to the ground by the Dark Lordís assaults. "Thatís strange." In addition to that puzzler, which must have had something to do with the device he imagined, he took note that the Dark Lordís attire had changed into something a little less . . . intimidating. Quam pondered this development as the ex-Dark Lord busied himself evading the massive axe falling to the ground with a ponderous thud. Then it dissipated into nothing. The room continued to rattle under the reverberations of the axeís wake and shook the foundation of the room in which the two stood. Strange lightning streaks pulsated all across the newly exposed mechanisms working the citadel.

"You idiot! Now you did it!" The Dark Lord, sorry, EX-Dark Lord rushed across the floor towards Quam, intent on beating the hell out of him. However, now, being just six foot nothing, he and Quam were evenly matched fighters. So, Quam obliged the beast and rushed towards him too.

Racing in one anotherís direction, the two had plenty of time to contemplate the matters at hand. Quam took his time up to realize that the facial features of this particular ex-Dark Lord were very similar to those of the Angel that had set Quam on his destined confrontation with the Dark One. And he took note that the three horns actually seemed to be some sort of hat.

Meanwhile, the ex-Dark Lord had some thoughts of his own. You cock-sucking, malady ridden, petulant beast of burden! And other thoughts of that nature until the two collided into a whirlwind of crazed fists, jaw jarring elbows, wicked knee thrusts intent on doing paternal harm, insulting jests, mama jokes, and twisting leg thrusts that no sane human should ever attempt. Not to mention a few head butts here and there and you have a serious melee of epic proportions. A true battle of good vs evil. At least until the floor gave way under the tremendous rumbling that had been brewing over the many minutes this battle had been fought. Caught by surprise, the ex-Dark Lord found his feet giving out underneath him and his body slipping into a opening chasm. He managed to catch a formed ledge of various metal materials and stared up helplessly into the eyes of Quam Vincent who walked over to the edge and made it his turn to stare menacingly down onto the ex-Dark Lord.

"This . . . this canít be. How?" The ex-Dark Lord practically pled for an answer. Quam waited a dramatic moment and put on a pair of sunglasses that had suddenly materialized in his hands. "I told you once, you son of a bitch, Iím the best thereís ever been." And at that, the ex-Dark Lord plummeted to his demise.

Quam looked around the room as it began to fall apart. Whatever he had done, wasnít to his complete benefit. He looked up to see a massive weapon of some sort falling near the throne, throwing it onto its side. He remembered what the angel had told him and headed over to the throne laying cast aside. Where the throne had set he saw a device. Quam wrestled with a metal cover until it gave way and displayed the secrets it had held. A strange box with golden inlay and various wires running from it, lay within the opened cavity. Two golden Angel figurines in the likeness of his angel stood atop the unusual box and along the base of the figurines were written unintelligible characters.

"God, what does this say!?" As he inquired the wording dissolved into English, "Press little red button on control panel to initiate Self Destruct . . . Have a nice day." "Uh-huh. Convenient." Quam spoke outloud and opened up a depression on the front of the box revealing the aforementioned "little red button". Triggering the button, Quam beat a hasty retreat. Seeing a door leading out away from the stairwell, Quam tried his luck. Within the next room, he found a long hall with a train like device waiting for him. Not questioning his fortune and guessing it must have been the Dark Lordís personal mode of transportation, Quam entered. Automatically the device lurched forward and took flight.

"What the!?" Flying securely away from the compound, Quam watched on a display as the citadel sank back into the hell pit from whence it was spawned. Strangely, all the hell beasts had vanished as well. A short time later, the craft landed upon landscape not sunken into the pits of Earth. Quam exited the flying device and took a good look at it. No wings. Yet it flew. He didnít want to know. Turning around, Quam was greeted by thousands of people hailing his name as if he were some saint handed down from the heavens above. Many patted him on the back and praised God for having brought him there.

Quam was speechless. Then the clouds dissipated to reveal magenta hued skies. The world would never be the same, he knew. Yet, there he was, and heíd have to make the best of it. A bright light caught Quamís eye and something came from the skies. It could have been a plane, or a shuttle of some sort, but there were, like the device he escaped with, no wings. The craft landed in a area cleared of people. Not sure what was going on, many fled behind fallen structures wondering if the devil hadnít returned.

From within the craft, came several beings. Amongst the beings, was the Angel who had helped him . . . he guessed. Quam wasnít sure if you could have called that help and she had seemed a little . . . bitchy.

"Quam . . ." The woman began, smiling. "You have just done us all so much a favor! . . . I mean . . . you saved the Earth!"

"So they say. I destroyed the mechanisms as you instructed. What was he?" Quam inquired, inhaling deeply the stale air flowing across the tattered landscape. Another of the Angel beings walked forward. A male with those same, strange eyes.

"Well, my friend," The being came forward and took Quam's hand in his and gripped it tightly. "That was being we'd been struggling with for quite some time. You see, he was, if you'll pardon the phrase, hell bent on destroying our world. That's what the mechanisms were for. Your people suffered for his revenge." Quam just looked at the strange man, not sure what to say.

"You've had dealings with the devil before?" Hands continued to be clutched as the being fought, within his mind, to come up with the right thing to say.

"Well, yes. You see, once upon a time, our two peoples were united as one. Our worlds cooperated in a joint venture to establish peace and prosperity in this solar system. I see your puzzlement. We come from Lahmu. What you know as Mars."

"Mars? You're Martians? . . . How can anyone live there. Isn't it pretty much one big dust ball? I mean, really!" Quam smiled faintly, digesting this new tidbit of information.

"Yes and no. Mars is actually a garden world. It hails back to when out two peoples were one." He tried to explain, kind of motioning his head like a crack fiend needing another dose. "There was this dispute between leaders and one thing led to another and your leaders decided it was best if they went their own way and there was this silly misunderstanding that made those leaders think we were still trying, I mean . . . they thought we were trying to subjugate them and there was this nuclear war . . . "

"Nuclear war!?"

"Bear with me, kid, I'm explaining here. Anyway, as I was saying, since there was this misunderstanding we decided it was in everyone's best interest to just sever out ties and create a massive cloaking field to make it look like we were just a desert planet. I didn't matter anyway because your people settled back into the middle ages, threw caution to the wind, said "screw it" and didn't get back into the technological side of things until just about a century ago. Into the space faring age, that is."

"I see. But weren't there satellites sent to Mars . . . ?"

"We tricked the systems on those. Pretty easy really. The real tricky elements were those damn rovers that kept running into the middle of our buildings and parks and such. Convincing THOSE things we weren't real was a pain but doable."

"Oh . . . I see. Fine. What's the deal with this Dark Lord and why the unnatural fear of felines?"

"Uhm, he doesn't actually have a fear of cats . . . just bells. I guess the bells just reminded him that . . . uh . . . well, we're still a, you know, Monarchial type society sort of like your England. And . . . heh, you see it's like this . . . he was the court jester." At this, Quam just froze and stared at the man, or whatever he was considered, before him. "Unfortunately, the Dark Lord, or Bongo as we liked to call him, got the tech from us. He was a little pissed that we fired him for taking advantage of the royal daughter. This whole "Dark Lord" thing is just something he made up millennia ago to get the people to cooperate with him, so to speak."

" . . . . . . Interesting. Then, if he's just some deranged jester from the cosmos, how is it he was capable of making things just materialize out of thin air? Come to think of it, how did those glasses pop up?" Quam looked at the pair of glasses he had taken off upon debarking the flying train and stuck in his jacket pocket.

"Glasses?" The male inquired as Quam held it out for him to view. "Ah. Matter Displacer."

"It's a device that can create anything from nothing. With just a thought, you had your glasses in your hand. The same ones you wore in "Missing and in Traction" if I remember correctly. It's quite an amazing machine, actually."

"That would explain my duplicates. . . . So, I'm guessing she's no Angel."

"Not by a long shot. God no." The woman shot a glare at the male alien and responded to Quam.

"In a manner of speaking, no . . . I'm one of the En Gil. The servitude to the throne. Messengers of the Lord. You know, his highness upon Lahmu. Heh . . . heh." She rubbed the back of her head absently.

"Then how was it you have been watching me?"
"Oh, well, I just love your movies!"
"Then . . . it is true. I really did come out of some movie . . . David created me . . . But, how did it happen?"
"The Matter Displacer made it possible. When the people prayed, you were their answer." The male spoke in response to Quam and motioned for one of his associates to join him. The associate handed the male a small box. "The machine employed by Bongo brought you here. It was his own undoing. What a shame." He started to open the box and stopped short. "Now, you did eliminate the Dark Lord, right?"

"Unless he suddenly materializes out of thin air, I'd say he's gone." Quam spoke as the woman started looking around like she suddenly realized something.

"Say, where's David? Is he alright?"
"Well . . . " Quam began when a sudden rumbling split a whole in the Earth and the ex-Dark Lord shot forth close to the woman alien and made to attack her. She screamed and leapt backwards. Quam was about to spring into action when a loud scream emanated from above. Everyone looked up, including the ex-Dark Lord Bongo, and saw a brand new car careening down unto the goofy looking beast. Bongo didn't have time to move and was crushed by the vehicle's weight. Miraculously, the sole occupant of that vehicle who had been screaming his head off, emerged safely and looked around.

"Wh . . . what the hell happened!?" David inquired as the woman slung her arms around him, planting a sincere kiss upon his lips.

Quam looked at the box in the male's hand, grabbed it, threw it to the ground, and began stomping on it fiercely, breaking it into little pieces. He looked at the male who was staring at Quam in horror.

"Now, how the hell do I get home!?"

"There . . . is only one device that can do that. The Emancipator. It acts just like the Matter Displacer only it can reverse the effects."

"Where is it!?" Quam was nearly into the alien's face. The male stared at the ground where the box lie in pieces.

"You just destroyed it." A moment of silence passed then Quam shouted out,

"Damn it!!"
"We were keeping that one safe! It allowed us to clear the skies of those horrible clouds! The one under Bongo's throne could have torn the fabric of reality asunder!" He pled. "Once, amusingly enough, though, it had been a handy communications device. Before a bunch of religious zealots got a hold of it and started to parade it around and calling it the "Holy Ark of the Covenant" or something to that effect." Quam growled and began to walk off. The woman alien still holding David in a strangle hold witnessed this and asked,

"Are you all right?"
"All right!? Today, I've battled the minions of hell, or what I thought was hell, found out I'm not real, met an Angel who's no angel but the servant of the reigning government of mars, and to top it all off, the devil is actually just an evil jester. Oh yeah, I'm fine." He noted the people gathering around the alien presence. "What about the people?"

"We'll reestablish our alliance with this world and forge a better, democratic tomorrow, free of evil jesters." The male said.

"Good enough." Quam replied and walked off, pushing his way through the masses. He shook his head in disdain, unable to believe the events of his long day. A sombering feeling permeated his soul as he ignored the crowd. He wouldn't be going home. So deep in contemplation was he, that Quam didn't see the woman before smacking right into her. He was about to apologize when he looked into the woman's face and saw it was the same woman he had run into when this whole nightmare had began.

"Hey. I knew you were a hero! I knew you would save us! Quam Vincent, I want to have your baby!" Looking at the deranged woman with ever widening eyes of adoration, he could only respond one way,

"What the hell."