Text and Photos by Al Baker
From ULTRA-Monthly #6
My name is Al Baker. I'm a publisher. I am a powerful man. The images I publish can make heroes out of cowards, or turn Presidents into bums. I command a media empire that includes a nation-wide monthly photo magazine and continuing features on cable and broadcast television.
Before I founded ULTRA-Monthly I published comic books, and before THAT I was a journalist myself, working on my father's newspaper in Minneapolis. I interviewed criminals, murderers, political radicals, and lunatics while doing my job, and although my life was often in danger, and although my mailbox overflowed with death threats, I never backed down from a story, and I can honestly say I was never afraid. It never occurred to me to be afraid. It was the STORY that mattered, after all. In truth, I've never been afraid of anyone. Until now.
Her name is Mantra. You know her because I introduced you to her in these pages last issue. Without me she'd be a nobody; because of me, she's a star. And because of me, too, Mantra is on the loose, and she's dangerous--more dangerous than any of the sinister characters I've run across in all my years as a newspaper man. Mantra is dangerous because I've scorned her, refusing her amorous advances--for the kid's own good--and now there's no telling what she'll do.
I was answering fan mail with my private secretary, Gracie, when Mantra crashed through the wall of my Los Angeles bureau. Her entrance scattered masonry and wood across my office. It was a miracle neither Gracie nor I was injured. Mantra acted like she didn't know who I was, even though we'd enjoyed a whirlwind romance for the last two weeks, even though my photographs of her in the latest ULTRA-Monthly had made her headline news around the world.
"You!" she said, pointing at me. "Are you Al Baker?" At first I didn't know what was happening. It was all so odd, a woman I knew so well treating me like a total stranger. I fell back on the native charm that's always served me well in a tight spot. "Call me Al, sweetie. I'm glad you looked me up." That's when Mantra attacked.
Some of the mail I've received from last issue openly doubts Mantra's sorcerous skills. Several readers say there's just no such thing as magic. Well, that may be, but whatever Mantra's got up her sleeve, it's real enough. She nailed me with a blast of fire from her index finger. I honestly think she might have killed me if I hadn't been fast enough to roll with her attack, and avoid the worst of it. I would have gotten entirely out of the way, but that would have exposed Gracie to danger, and I couldn't permit that to happen. You can wreck my office and destroy my equipment, but I can't replace the people who work for me. They're too precious.
Mantra is for REAL, folks. She let us poke some fun at her last issue, but this is one serious lady, with some serious powers. She could fold me like an old lawn chair if she had a mind to, and right then folding of ol' Al Baker seemed to be her number one priority. Yes, I wanted to run, but somehow I fought down my fear and looked deep into Mantra's eyes, searching for that simple girl I used to know, the girl who was as terrified as I at the awesome powers emerging from her body...
"Relax, Mantra," I said, wrapping my arms around her, trying to keep my voice from quivering. "It's me--Al. You know me. I photographed you for our centerfold last issue. We're planning a special edition all about you!"
"Never touch me, Baker!" she said, shrugging out of my embrace. If there had been a forgiving light in her eyes before, it was obliterated by a fresh fury welling up from her soul. "I came to tell you you're in DANGER," she said, pointing at me. "No man may ignore what Mantra commands!"
Hell hath no fury...Mantra ravages the offices of ULTRA-Monthly.
And now I must reveal something I'd hoped to keep quiet. I'll be the first to admit that ULTRA-Monthly prints its share of gossip, but I think you'll agree we've always kept our speculations within tasteful limits. As a public figure myself I know all too well the sting of unfair accusations. I value privacy, both my own and that of others...in fact, in my heart I hold privacy second only to the public's right to know.
While the tabloids have reported the romance between Mantra and I, I've avoided offering details, because I respected Mantra's privacy, but these latest events leave me little choice but to divulge the FULL truth: Mantra faked a pregnancy in a vain attempt to blackmail me into marrying her. Fortunately, I saw through her childish subterfuge, and broke off our romance before things got further out of hand. I took her to dinner at Spagos, urged her to seek counseling, and told her that while our personal relationship was at an end, I wanted in every way to see her succeed professionally, and that my magazine remained committed to her. She cried, then said she understood, and left the restaurant. I thought of following, then let her go. It was over. I ordered a drink and didn't taste my meal. And I didn't see Mantra again, until she crashed through my wall.
"Mantra has spoken, and you, foolish worm, think you can disobey!" Mantra said, pointing at me with one gloved hand, her body framed in a nimbus of light. I could smell ozone burning. I sensed she was about to finish me off. "Mantra has said...that she does not love you, and that you must leave her alone. If you don't stop writing about me--I'll exile you to hell!"
And then it all fell into place. Mantra had gone mad when I'd rejected her proposal of marriage. In her insane attempt to repair the damage I'd done to her ego, she'd convinced herself that our roles were reversed, that it was she, and not I, that had broken off the relationship. No doubt her mania included imagining that I was trying to win her back...and she was here to make sure I "hounded" her no longer.
I thought fast. "Sure thing, Mantra sweetie! You'll never hear from me again!" "See that you don't!" she said, before flying out the hole she had made. I got Gracie into a taxi and did my best to head off the police, fire, and press people who swarmed into my office when word broke Mantra had attacked my office.
I gave away as little as I could while I wrestled with a mighty question: do I save Mantra and myself from further embarrassment by covering-up this incident, or do I go public with the FULL details? I had to weigh my feelings for Mantra against the interests of my loyal readers. It didn't take me long to reach my decision. The public has a RIGHT TO KNOW, especially when they may be in danger, and only by disclosing every detail of my relationship with Mantra will you understand how deeply disturbed the woman really is.
Mantra is supremely powerful, and she's capable of deluding herself into believing almost anything. In her present state of mind she cannot tell friend from foe, or good from evil. I know the wonderful woman that lives at the heart of this tormented soul, but until that good person escapes from her cage of madness there's no telling what Mantra may do.
So lock your doors, draw your blinds, and hold your children tight. Mantra is on a rampage, and things will get worse before they get better. In the meantime, I pledge to do everything in my power to help Mantra through this dark time of her life. She may attack my offices again, she may rant against me in public, call me a liar, or threaten to sue, but she and I both know the TRUTH...just like you know to trust ULTRA-Monthly to bring you all the details of this story as it develops. Watch this space...!