Report 27: Return of the Clown

Sir,

There’s been an incident. Not something involving Alexandra Melmoth– at least, not directly– but something I think is significant nonetheless. It happened out in the woods, at the cabin where Jase Peterson and Possum Reynolds held Alexandra back at the beginning of all this. I don’t know yet if that’s significant. It may have just been an isolated place to carry out an act they didn’t want interrupted. I’ll find out soon. But first, let me tell you what happened.

I was catching a few hours’ sleep at the Fat Beaver when I got a call from John Cheveyo. I hadn’t heard from him in a few days, but I knew that the Rangers had been keeping an eye out for Alexandra on the reservation. They’re also working on something with Heyoka involving the Mountain Door. I need to pay some attention to that, as soon as possible. Alexandra’s condition has taken precedence over my deal with the Sad Man, but if that Door opens again and I haven’t found him a solution to the problem of the Black Mirror Brute, another couple will die.

At any rate, their routine patrols for Alexandra are what clued them in to the incident: they’d been making periodic checks of the cabin. It’s a place she knows, and a good hiding place besides. So when Hototo pulled up to the place and saw a light in the window, he thought he’d found her. No such luck.

But this isn’t my story, it’s his. Turning report over to Somnambulist Recall, for a transcript of Hototo’s exact words as he told the story to me.

[SOMNAMBULIST TRANSCRIPTION BEGINS…SOMNAMBULIST TRANSCRIPTION BEGINS…SOMNAMBULIST TRANSCRIPTION BEGINS…]

Agent X-23 (groggy): So it wasn’t Alexandra?

Alo Xenotype Designate Mark Hototo: No. Almost wish it had been, though. Might not have smelled so bad.

Alo Xenotype Designate John Cheveyo: Might have left you a lot deader, though.

Hototo: Came pretty close as it was.

X-23 (sips coffee, sighs): Maybe you should just tell me what happened.

Hototo: Yanaba’s grumpy tonight.

X-23 (takes another sip, raises cup): This will help with that. Now, you were saying…?

Hototo: Right. I could see a light in the window from a distance. So I called it in and went to see what I could see. When I got a little closer, I heard a voice. Kind of sing-songy. The tune almost sounded familiar, but something about it set my teeth on edge. Like nails on a blackboard, you know? There was medicine in it. Black medicine.

So I pulled my gun and snuck right up to the window. Two figures inside, male. One of ’em was a big sucker, bald, kept to the shadows. But the other one, the one who was doing the singing, him I got a good look at. Tall, rangy fellah. Kinda fancy, but he’d maybe seen better days. Sharp dresser, but a little gaudy. Purple jacket, looked like the color had faded. Wavy brown hair, kinda mussed. The one thing about him that didn’t look disheveled was this big handlebar mustache. That, he had trimmed, waxed, and perfect. Sound familiar?

X-23 (nods): Sounds like Jackson Curry. Go on.

Hototo: So the fancy man… Let’s just call him Curry, okay? I think we’re all pretty sure that’s who we’re talking about here. So Curry was holding this big book in his hands. Looked like a scrap book, or an old-timey photo album. Pages were a mess. Filthy. Notes sticking out all over. But he had it open and I realized that whatever he was singing, he was getting it out of that book.

Then I noticed that he was standing over something laid out on that rickety old table Possum and Jase had in there. Something wrapped up in a sheet. Hard to see from the window, but it was sorta… wriggling. Not moving, understand. It laid there dead as a brick. All the movement was on the surface, like there were a million angry worms writhing around on it. But it wasn’t worms. It was the flesh knitting itself back together on the thing. Because it was getting bigger, starting to fill out in bits and pieces. And as it did, I realized that I was looking at a body.

Once I knew that, something clicked in my head, and I recognized that song Curry was singing. The tune of it, the basic rhythm, was the same as the song we use here on the Mountain to sing the dead off to the beyond. But it was twisted around. Discordant. The words sounded like the Old Alo, but… wrong. Not backwards, exactly. Sideways, maybe. It was wrong, whatever it was, and that’s what was messing with my head. But just as I was figuring that out, and I mean right at that split second… The body sat up.

I stumbled back. Might’ve let out a yelp.

Cheveyo: Understandable.

X-23: But I’m guessing unfortunate?

Hototo: Yeah. Yeah, they heard me. The big one started for the door, and I hauled ass back toward the truck. Sounded like he was behind me at first. But then a scream came up from inside the cabin. Anguished. Not Curry. Sounded like somebody waking up in Hell. I heard a crash, and chanced a look back over my shoulder. The big guy had evidently gone back in. I heard Curry yelling something. Couldn’t make out much of it. Definitely heard him shout the name “Billy” at one point. Also… And this doesn’t make sense. But also, I thought I heard him say “doodle.”

[SOMNAMBULIST TRANSCRIPT ENDS.]

And that’s that. Hototo got back in the truck and retreated until his backup arrived. But by the time they returned to the cabin, Curry and his entourage were gone. Speaking of whom…

I think it’s safe to assume that the big one was your Deep Joe, sir. “Billy,” I’m assuming, is that Level Twelve psychic malignancy Curry subdued when he infiltrated HQ. And if your story from Timothy Danforth is to be believed, I think Hototo heard right. Curry was performing some sort of necromantic rite in there, to revive his old henchman Doodle the Clown. It seems he really is “getting the band back together.”

Which brings me no closer to finding Alexandra, or to finding a way to deal with the Black Mirror Brute. But I thought you’d like to know.

– Agent X-23, signing off.

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Supplemental Report 3: The Experiment

Chief,

Agent Cordero reporting in from the shallow end of the gene pool at the Alvin C. Melmoth Memorial Hospital. Went up to the psych ward today, Chief. Wanted to check out the digging down in the basement first, but something about the set-up down there gives me the willies. I think that’s where the real action is around here, but I’ve got a feeling I’d better not just go barging in. Too many workmen. Too isolated. Too easy to make me disappear. So I’ll try it later tonight, when they’re not working.

The psych ward, on the other hand, is full of normal medical staff I can intimidate however I want. Speaking of whom… Have I said fuck this place? Well, fuck this place. I feel for the people here whose minds are being messed with. I really do. But what was going on in this psych ward… Somebody should have said something. I saw how scared a couple of these people got when I started asking questions. They knew something was up. Maybe they didn’t know how bad it was. But fuck them anyway.

Now, the info I got from Rosemary was kind of sketchy, but it sounded like some real mad scientist stuff was going on. People strapped to tables, she said, multiple IVs, wires running into their heads. I took some of that with a grain of salt. Rosemary’s just a cleaning lady, after all. Could have been somebody hooked up for shock treatment. But she was describing patients lying there like that overnight, which didn’t sound right. So when I arrived this morning, I asked about shock patients first.

That earned me some nervous glances, but they got me the info. Looked on the up and up. I checked in on a few of the patients, and they all seemed about as good as any crazy people do. So I started checking the treatment rooms. Nothing too suspicious there, either. Then I found a locked door. Room 532. Went up to the front desk and very sweetly asked for the key. They couldn’t find it. Memories were kind of fuzzy about what, exactly, that room was used for.

So I stopped being sweet. Flew off the handle. Told them to call maintenance and get somebody up there with either a master key or tools to take those doors off the hinges. About half an hour later, a guy showed up with both. Larry. I liked Larry. He was not remotely prepared for what we saw on the other side of that door. But he was a nice guy. Efficient. He tried the master key first, and was really shocked when it didn’t pop the lock. So he tried a couple of others. No luck. We were both pissed off at that, so we set in on those hinges with a vengeance. Got them out in record time and pulled the doors down.

As it turns out, Rosemary’s description was completely accurate. Room 532 was a nightmare. Tables lined up along both walls, eight of them, with people strapped to them. Or what was left of people, anyway. They were all in pretty bad shape. Emaciated. Not sure why they even needed to be strapped down, really. I doubt any of them could have stood up under their own power.

Anyway. They were all Native American. Alo, I’m assuming. Each of them had three IVs hooked into them. One with blood plasma, one with some kind of nutritional fluid, and the third filled with the Alo Black Drink. So we’ve got plenty of that for the lab to play with now. Pure, undiluted stuff. Can’t wait to see what they make of that. The Pocket Brain went nuts for it.

Sorry, Chief. I keep getting sidetracked. That other detail Rosemary gave me, about the wires in their heads. She was right about that, too. And we’re not talking about electrodes glued to their scalps, either. These people had straight-up electrical wires running down through holes drilled in their skulls. Looked like they’d been there a while, too. The skin had sort of knitted back together around the wires, kind of puckered up all red around the hole. No infections, amazingly enough. Whoever was in charge of the poor bastards was a lot more careful about that than he was about keeping them from looking like Auschwitz survivors.

One other weird thing about those patients: their skulls were malformed. Not so much that you’d immediately notice it. But once you got in close, you realized that their foreheads were too big. They protruded out from the middle, like there was something pressing against them from underneath with enough force to reshape the bone. Maybe a pineal engorgement of some kind, or maybe some kind of new structure growing off the front of the brain. We’ll never know, because–

Anyway. They each had two wires in their heads, one on each side just above and in front of the ears. The lines ran up the walls and connected to a master cable that ran along the ceiling and through the back wall of the room. Larry was looking a little queasy by the time we figured out that set-up. Something wasn’t right in that room, and it wasn’t just the condition of the victims. The air was wrong. Charged, somehow. It was making me a little dizzy, and Larry was already turning green before I suggested we try the door in the back wall.

That one was locked, too, and again none of the master keys worked on it. So it was back to the hinges, Larry getting greener and greener as we worked. I was feeling it, too, that charge in the air seeping in around the edges of my mental defenses. Took us a little longer to get that second door down.

On the other side was some kind of control room. Sorry to be so vague, Chief, but my memory gets a little fuzzy here. I mostly remember gauges and dials. Buttons. Switches. Levers. As I try to describe it now, I realize that what I’m seeing in my head is a cartoon. A drawing out of a comic book. I’m going to try some hypnotic recall here. See if I can’t dredge up something useful. Hang on.

*************

As soon as we opened the door, the pressure on our heads doubled. Larry puked. I wanted to. It was coming from the machines. Constant, pulsing waves of it. Like standing next to a generator. Ten, twenty, thirty seconds later, Larry was down for the count and I found myself standing in front of what I assumed to be the controls. I started throwing switches, slapping buttons, trying something, anything, to make it stop. Out in the ward, I could hear the patients moaning and thrashing around, but there was nothing I could do for them, nothing. I had to save myself, stop the machines, stop them, because no one else could. Who was going to come in there and turn the things off? Rosemary? She wouldn’t even have lasted as long as Larry. The nurses were already too scared of this room to even tell somebody they had a horror movie unfolding under their noses, so it was up to me, up to me and nobody else, and to hell with those poor people with the wires in their heads and their giant goddamn foreheads, they were already lost, already lost before I got there, already dead, and

I’m sorry, Chief. I’m so sorry. I let you down in there. I blindly slapped at the controls until the pain stopped. Because by that time, by the time I’d hit a few buttons and driven the things into overdrive, there was pain. Such horrible pain, so much more than I was ready for. So much more. When it stopped, when I came back to myself, the machines were on fire. I stumbled back. Grabbed Larry and hauled ass. As we stumbled through the ward, I saw a lot of blood. Blood and brains and fire. More fire. They were burning. Burning from the head down, burning because I’d made them burn. I tried not to look. I had to get Larry out of there and get back with fire extinguishers and put out the fire so maybe I could save some of them but I couldn’t save anyone I couldn’t I killed them I killed them I killed them myself.

So I tried not to look, but I did look. And the last patient, the guy in the last bed on the right, he had yanked the wires out of his own head and he was bleeding but not burning and his eyes were open and the light was going out of them and he looked at me. Looked at me with this awful expression of peace. Like he knew. Like he knew that I’d killed him, and he was saying thanks.

*************

Goddammit. Goddammit. Fuck this place. Fuck it. Fuck hypnotic recall and the whole goddamn dirty business. I’m going down to that basement now, Chief. I’m taking my gun. And god help whoever gets in my way.


Report 26: In the Temple of the Snake

Sir,

Alexandra Melmoth has surfaced again, and this time I came close to stopping her. But I suppose close doesn’t count. Bottom line: she’s escaped, and disappeared without a trace. I suspect– Well, what I suspect can wait. First, I should make the report.

The whole thing started with a call from Josie’s. Josie’s is the local gentleman’s club. A strip joint, in other words. Josie used to be a dancer at the Fat Beaver. Stepped into the void left when Gladys got religion and changed the Fat Beaver’s business model. Josie stopped dancing ages ago, kind of let herself go. Now she tends bar and keeps the peace in her place. Her, and Mathilda. That’s Josie’s wife and bouncer, a six-foot-two Amazon with a buzz cut and shoulders broader than mine. Both of them are what Sheriff Patton has termed “great old broads.” Friendly, genuine, magnanimous, and tough as nails.

That’s why they were so surprised when the two of them together couldn’t stop Alexandra from barging in, mounting the stage, and putting on a show. But I should let them tell the story:

[SOMNAMBULIST TRANSCRIPTION COMMENCING…SOMNAMBULIST TRANSCRIPTION COMMENCING…SOMNAMBULIST TRANSCRIPTION COMMENCING…]

MATHILDA: I almost didn’t let her in the door. Wasn’t sure she was legal.

X-23: Did you know who she was?

JOSIE: Of course she knew who she was! Bitch was the damn prom queen! Nobody in town who wouldn’t have recognized her.

PATTON: She’s right on that one, Matthews. Alexandra’s a pretty well-known face around here. Makes me wonder how she’s hiding at all. Now, Matilda, last report we’ve got on this girl, she was covered in blood. I assume she’d cleaned up before she showed up here?

MATHILDA: Yeah. Yeah, she looked fresh as a daisy. Wasn’t wearing much, but you know… Kids these days… “Ass hangin’ out” might just be the new look.

JOSIE: You never were much on fashion, honey.

MATHILDA: *grunts* You got enough of that for the both of us. Anyway, Sheriff… She didn’t have ID on her – don’t know where she’d have put it – but she wanted in, so I tried to remember when she was prom queen, did some mental math, and figured she was probably at least 21. So…

PATTON: On a different night, I’d give you a hard time on that. But considering… Go on.

MATHILDA: Well… I let her in, and she went over to the bar.

JOSIE: And that’s where I took her up. “Ass hangin’ out” doesn’t begin to cover it. That girl was prancin’ around here in nothing but a tube top and some Daisy Dukes cut up so high they might as well have been a thong. Trashy, even for this joint.

MATHILDA: Looked good on her, though.

JOSIE: No denyin’ that. Might be why I didn’t kick her out right away. I knew she was gonna be trouble, but something made me want to talk to her.

MATHILDA: That ass.

JOSIE: You be quiet. It was her eyes, actually. Something in her eyes… Anyway. She asked for a cum shot, and–

X-23: Excuse me?

JOSIE (rolls eyes): Vodka and a raw oyster. One of our regulars came up with it. Said it helped him get it up. Old Joe McIntyre, you remember him, Sheriff? Joe wasn’t the classiest guy, but the other barflies worshiped at his altar. Got so we had to put it on the menu. Kind of an institution now.

Anyway. Like I was saying. The girl ordered a cum shot, and I made it for her. Made some kinda joke about how she was slumming it tonight. She just kinda smiled and said she was looking for a man. Figured this place would prime the pump for her. Then she started eyeballin’ Duke Reynolds.

PATTON (to X-23): That’s Possum’s brother.

JOSIE: Yeah. Possum’s a sweetheart compared to Duke, though. Duke likes it rough. The girls– I run a clean establishment here, of course, but the girls do sometimes work out arrangements on the side.

PATTON: Josie…

JOSIE: What? I’ve got no control over what they do outside working hours. Anyway. Girls who’ve made the mistake of accepting Duke Reynolds’ company for the evening tell me that it’s not a mistake they’ll make again. Sometimes they can’t dance for a few days afterward. He’s a belligerent drunk, too. Mathilda’s had to strong-arm him out of here a few times.

MATHILDA: *grunts* Think he liked it, too.

JOSIE: That tent he had in his pants says he did. Anyway, the girl was eyeballin’ Duke, and I tried to warn her off. She just said he sounded perfect, and took her shot over to his table. Watched her knock it back, wipe a little off the corner of her mouth, and proceed to plant herself in the man’s lap.

MATHILDA: Duke wasn’t havin’ any of it, though. Shoved her off. Said he knew what she did to his brother, and wondered if maybe he hadn’t oughtta teach her a lesson right here. Bad scene. Loud. That’s when I got involved. I ran over and got Duke in an arm bar, then the girl rared back and punched him right in the mouth. Broke his damn jaw. Duke went limp, so I dropped him. Then the girl laughed and went to hop up on the stage. I grabbed her, and she turned on me.

JOSIE: Bitch broke Mattie’s arm, Sheriff! Hundred pounds soakin’ wet, and she broke that tree trunk like it was nothin’!

MATHILDA: S’okay, baby. Chicks dig casts.

[SOMNAMBULIST TRANSCRIPTION ENDS.]

That’s when Josie called the police. In the meantime, Alexandra mounted the stage and started to dance. Which is where I found her when we arrived fifteen minutes later. I asked Sheriff Patton to let me go in alone. Not knowing how far things had gone inside, I didn’t want to expose him and his men to something they don’t have the training for. He gave me five minutes. So in I went. I hit the door expecting chaos. I found anything but.

The room was silent, the air thick. Humid and hot, but somehow electrified. Like a brothel. Or a church. The crowd hadn’t scattered, in spite of the violence. Quite the opposite, in fact. I found them rooted to their chairs, motionless, their faces masks of lust, their eyes locked on Alexandra. She was on the stage, clothes long since peeled off, her skin shimmering under the spotlight, fluid seeping steadily, prodigiously, from between her legs. The stage was slick with it, and so was she, sliding sinuous and slow as she danced, weaving her spell over the crowd. The stench was overwhelming, a deep tidal flow of musk and sweat. The smell of sex.

But it wasn’t the smell. Or at least, not the smell alone. There was something more. She was something more. Engorged. Larger than life. Too big for the stage, the room, her own body. There were depths within her, space, an endless wet pulsating void, at once alluring and utterly terrifying. I could sense it, feel it, pushing against the walls, her flesh, my flesh, the pressure building as it tried to uncoil itself, her every step, every motion, part of an equation, a formula, a key. Or not a key. A rod. A bar. A lever. Something to insert into the void, pry it open, widen the gap, let it out. But it had nowhere to go. The walls were sweating along with her, along with the crowd, along with me, and their sweat stank of smoke and beer and semen. They rippled in time with the dance, the formula, the bar, in time with my pulse and hers, my blood flowing like the wet between her legs and the long slow orgasmic trickle staining the jeans of every redneck and over-sexed frat boy in the place, locked in a single desperate spasm, straining against stillness, slaves to their sex, slaves to her, slaves to the thing within her.

But it was me she wanted, me, I could see it in her lips, her tongue, her black black eyes. I could see it in the angle of her hips as she went into slow gyrations, sticky and slick, the void gaping wider and wider with each new rotation, open, inviting, swirling, drawing me in with a pull as inexorable, as inescapable, as gravity itself. The pressure redoubled, inside and out, the pulse coming strong now, in my chest, my groin, my head.

My head. Something pulsed and spasmed in my head. There was a sharpness, a pinch, and then it was over. I found myself standing almost at the stage, over the still-unconscious form of Duke Reynolds, lying where he had fallen, not a finger raised to help him. Mathilda was there too, kneeling, cradling her broken arm and staring intently at Alexandra.

Alexandra. She’d stopped dancing now, and was staring a hole in me. “Here,” she said. “Now.” Her voice was strained, her every muscle tensed. I didn’t move. I couldn’t. I felt weak, drained. Barely able to keep myself upright.

“HERE,” she said again. “NOW.” I shook my head, not quite daring to do much else.

“HERE! NOW!” Screaming this time.

“No,” I said, my own voice a croak. “Why don’t you come down here instead? Down where I can see you? I have something for you. A gift.”

She screamed again, an ear-splitting howl that shook the walls. The men in the crowd behind me started to convulse. I nearly collapsed myself, but grit my teeth and held on. With effort, I reached into my jacket to pull forth the Wanageeska hot dog.

But she never saw it, because that was when the shot rang out. Sheriff Patton. That scream had been the last straw. He kicked the door open and took his shot, putting a bullet cleanly through Alexandra’s chest. She recoiled, hissed, her mouth a sudden ring of fangs, blood staining her breast. Then she retreated, legs elongating with each stride, scales sprouting down her naked spine as she went.

I finally fell to the floor, feeling a trickle of blood oozing out my nose. I was vaguely aware of the Sheriff rushing past, in pursuit, firing more shots. Even more vaguely, I heard the screams of his men as they confronted Alexandra coming out the back of the club. We don’t think all of them are going to make it.

The Sheriff himself just got a nasty blow to the head. He saw stars for a few seconds, and when his vision cleared, Alexandra was gone. Disappeared once again into the night. We’re canvassing the area now, asking questions. But no one’s seen a seven-foot-tall snake woman. Or Alexandra Melmoth, for that matter.

One detail from a homeless man I questioned concerns me, however, even though he was inebriated, and undoubtedly a bit mad. He reported seeing a large truck nearby around the time of our confrontation. “Looked like some kinda circus wagon,” he said.

Which brings me back to my suspicions. I fear that Alexandra may have fallen into the clutches of Jackson Curry. In which case, the situation has become very dire, indeed.

– Agent X-23, signing off.


Supplemental Report 2: The Network

Chief,

Fuck this town, and fuck its rinky-dink medical services.

Sorry, sir. Unprofessional of me. But, really. Fuck this place.

Agent Cordero here. Obviously, I guess. Spent the day down at the Alvin C. Melmoth Memorial Hospital, a black hole of responsible patient care. Seldom have I seen a medical facility so rife with abuse, and a staff so blind to what’s happening under its own nose.

To be fair, I’m pretty sure there’s no one in the place whose mind hasn’t been tampered with in some way. They all have these weird gaps in their memories, incidents they signed off on that they have no memory of. Lots of that centered around the care of Mr. Possum Reynolds. And the Melmoth girl, of course. Her stay takes things to whole other levels of incompetence. Her grandfather’s puppet doctor with no proper credentials coming in and taking over, that Black Drink crap somebody slipped into her IV drip…

I’d suspect corruption except for what the Pocket Brain told me. I was using it to test for psychoactive substances in the hospital pharmacy – there were a ton, by the way – but it kept giving me these funny readings, psychoactive blips when I wasn’t actually pointing it at anything. I thought maybe it had grown a tumor or something. I’ve had this one a long time, and you know how they get diseased after a while. I was just before popping the skull-plate off it when I realized what was happening:

It was warning me about my damn coffee.

I’d picked up a cup in the nurse’s lounge before coming in. Good stuff, I thought. A little bitter, but you know… Rich. Full-bodied. Whatever that crap is they say in the ads. It finally hit me that the Brain was letting out those funny little yelps every time I took a sip. So I finally just pointed it at the cup. Strongest reading I got all day.

So now I was pissed. They dosed me! They fucking dosed me! I barreled off back down to that lounge, ready to tear somebody a new one, but there was nobody there. I scanned the coffee maker, and bam! Readings off the scale! So I confiscated the son of a bitch. Unplugged it, poured the coffee and the grounds into specimen jars, and hauled the whole damn thing down the hall under my arm and out to the trunk locker in the car.

Raised a few eyebrows there, let me tell you. Raised a few more when I cleared out the cafeteria and started scanning the kitchen. Not as many hits there as I expected, but enough. Highest dosages were in the coffee. Guess it masks the flavor better. But it’s also the ideal food to dose. I mean, do you know how much coffee is consumed by medical personnel on a daily basis? Hospitals practically run on the stuff. You couldn’t find a better vector for psychic assault.

My guess is that anyone who’s ingested food, drink, or medicine at Melmoth Memorial has been compromised. Part of Melmoth’s network or primed to become part of the network when the need arises. I’d suggest that we just Burn the place, except for one thing: Rosemary.

Rosemary’s a cleaning lady down there, and… Remember how I told you that I saw some relieved expressions when I announced myself yesterday? Well, Rosemary was one of those, and today she came forward for a chat. She’s seen all kinds of odd goings-on. People walking around like they’re in a trance, acting funny, acting like they’re not themselves. The psych ward’s the worst. But that’s not all, Chief. Somebody’s digging in one of the basements. Official story is that they’re doing “repairs.” But nobody’s been allowed down there since work began, and she’s seen men carrying out wheelbarrows full of concrete and dirt.

So something more than just mind control’s going on here, Chief. And if we Burn the place, we might never find out what. So I’m going to play dumb, and keep digging. Maybe find an excuse to examine that basement.

See? I don’t always lead with the gun.

– Agent Valerie Cordero, signing off.


Report 25: Red

Sir,

If I’d known that Pannawau had a truck stop, I’d have made it out there before now. First rule of rural travel: figure out where the truckers eat. Nothing but good food and better stories in a place like that. Today, I got both.

Pancakes, sir. The pancakes are the thing here. Fluffy. Crisp at the edges. And big as a dinner plate. When Red only ordered two, I knew I’d gone too far asking for a full stack. Red, by the way, is the source of that story I mentioned. Journeyman trucker. Got into the business because he likes to be alone. Lots of time alone, on the road. Lots of time to think. Lots of time to learn, if you’re into books on tape. Red’s gotten into science lately. He’s got some really interesting ideas on Brane theory. Only partially correct, of course, but he doesn’t have access to some of the technologies we do. Still. Get him a Dee Necronomicon, and he might really hit on something.

One interesting thing: Red tells me the truckers don’t like driving through Pannawau at night. During the day, no problem. It’s a great route if you’re heading into or out of Boulder. But at night… Lots of drivers die on the Mountain road. Or that’s the belief, anyway. I’d have to ask Sheriff Patton how accurate it is. But the drivers will tell you that more accidents happen out there than is entirely normal. And the reason? Ghost lights. Marvelous. Red’s seen them himself, up high on the Mountain. Floating, shimmering lights with no apparent source. Couldn’t take his eyes off them, and very nearly ran off the road because of it.

That’s why he was at Maggie’s last night. Maggie’s is the truck stop. Maggie’s Last Gas. Because it’s the last place for big rigs to gas up before…

This isn’t important. Sorry, sir. Haven’t slept much the last couple of days.

Red had stopped for the night at Maggie’s because he wasn’t willing to risk the Mountain road. So he pulled in, grabbed a quick ham sandwich in the restaurant, and headed back to to catch forty winks in his sleeper cab. That’s when he ran into Alexandra Melmoth.

Which is why I’m telling you about Red at all: he’s the sole witness to Alexandra’s latest appearance. It’s the only glimpse we’ve gotten of her since she left Alo Ranger HQ. Red was a bit shaken up by the experience. It’s why I suggested we get some food. Nothing like pancakes to calm a man down.

Anyway. Red was making his way across the parking lot when she suddenly appeared. Stepped out from between two trucks and propositioned him on the spot. Now, Red’s been around the block a few times. He knows a truck-whore when he sees one, and Alexandra wasn’t it. Even after a night on the Mountain and two days on the run, she was obviously too high-tone. So he figured it was a prank. Maybe some kind of sorority initiation thing. That, or she was a run-away desperate for a ride out of town. Either way, he didn’t have time for it. Told her to go home to daddy.

And that’s when things turned strange. But a transcript might tell that story better, so let me turn this over to the Somnambulists for a bit.

Transcript of Agent X-23’s conversation with Civilian Designate Red Futrell

Italicized commentary represents Agent’s impressions

RED: She sidled up to me when I turned her down, rubbed her tits up against my arm. And I gotta admit, I was pretty damn tempted. Even grabbed me a handful of ass for my troubles. But then I thought about old Bobby Lane, got up with some sorority girl down in Mississippi, wound up lookin’ like a fool with his picture on the internet, leanin’ up against his truck blindfolded with his dick hangin’ out, and the girl nowhere to be seen. So I brushed her off again. But she just pressed in closer, run her hand down between us and into my pocket.

Well, I thought I knew where that was goin’, and I was of a mind to let it go there. But instead she pulled out my knife. Flicked that sumbitch open one-handed and started rubbin’ the blade against herself. I backed off right quick then, I can tell you that. Didn’t wanna get robbed, neither. But that won’t what she had in mind.

(Recognition. Familiar Theme. Yig-Spawn Designate Alexandra Melmoth reliving childhood abuse?)

She held the flat of that knife against her chest and started cooin’ about how cold it was, and didn’t I wanna make it hot? Now, I know there’s ladies out there into some freaky shit, Mr. Matthews, but that took the damn cake. She offered the knife to me, and I snatched it back, told her to find another cowboy if she wanted rough stuff.

X-23: What did she do then?

RED: She got nasty. Started grabbin’ her crotch, and askin’ me didn’t I wanna get inside her? All the way inside her, all over? Told me a real man would cut her up good and fuck the corpse. Most disgustin’ shit I ever heard. I’d’a just written her off as a loon and walked off, except for what happened next.

(Spike of fear. Concern.)

X-23 (level tone): And what was that?

RED: Well… You’re gonna think I’m the loon if I tell you that.

X-23: Let me guess. She bared fangs at you, didn’t she?

RED: Well, I’ll be goddamned. You know who that crazy bitch is, don’t you?

X-23: I’m not at liberty to say, but yes. Yes, I think I do.

RED: Well, alright then. Yeah, she bared fangs and hissed. Then she run off. And, I dunno… If she was into all that other, I suppose she might of had some dental work done, too…

X-23: But you don’t think so.

RED: Nossir. Nossir, I don’t. Those teeth… I’d’ve noticed ’em before that. She couldn’ta talked right. She… She changed. That cain’t be right, but it’s what I saw.

(Silence. Civilian Designate Red Futrell looks pensive. Not done talking.)

RED: Well? Am I crazy?

X-23: …no. No, you’re not crazy. That fits the MO of the woman I’m looking for.

RED: Jesus. What the hell is she?

X-23: I’m not at liberty to say. But…

(Pauses. Sighs. Weighs options.)

X-23: She’s a very troubled young woman, caught in the grip of something beyond her ability to control. Something beyond human ken. She might be a monster. She’s definitely a victim. I’m trying to help her, if I can.

RED (doubtful): After what she did here?

X-23: That makes it harder.

Transcription ended

“What she did here” is kill a man. Another trucker with less control over his urges than Red. Name of Earl Jackson. Got him in the back of his rig and… Well, we’re still waiting for the forensics report to say exactly what might have happened. But I feel rather confident that she bit off his penis and left him to bleed out.

The member itself is missing. Whether she ate it or took it with her is an open question. The body was in bad shape, as well. More of that venom rash we saw on the Alo doctor she got to. Spread out from the crotch and all the way up into the soft tissues of the throat. That black fluid the rash leaks had pooled under the body a bit. There was a lot of blood in the back of that truck, too. A lot of blood and an open pocket knife. I’m betting we’ll find that the blood on the blade isn’t the trucker’s.

We do know that she left Maggie’s on foot, and in human form. A waitress coming in for an early morning shift reports seeing a young woman leaving the parking lot, heading back into town. The light was dim, so she wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw blood. She reported it to her boss, which lead to the search of the lot and the discovery of the victim. At any rate. Alexandra’s mode of departure means that she’s still in transition. Whatever she needs to make the change, she didn’t find it here.

I’m heading back to the Fat Beaver now, sir, to get some sleep. I’ve drunk far too much of Maggie’s coffee typing up this report, and I’m afraid my effectiveness will be compromised if I stay awake any longer. Sheriff Patton tells me that Agent Cordero’s arrived. I look forward to seeing her again. In spite of everything.

– Agent X-23, signing off.


Supplemental Report 1: A New Arrival

Sir,

Agent Cordero reporting here. I’ve arrived in Pannawau as ordered, and set up shop at the Fat Beaver Inn. Nice place. Nothing fancy, but homey. Good food. X-23 was right about that, at least.

Denise sends her regards, and will be back at HQ in the morning. Expected some friction there, but she seemed fine with it. Guess she’s a pro at heart. Haven’t seen X-23 yet. Denise says he’s out assisting with the manhunt for the Melmoth girl.

I’ll be curious to see that one, if I get the chance. Be interesting to gauge my resistance to pulling the trigger against that charm effect she gives off. Not that I’ll kill her without authorization. But, considering her current status, I’m getting my mind ready.

Stopped at the Alvin C. Melmoth Memorial Hospital on the way in, to establish my cover as a government medical examiner. The intel we dug up on this doctor that oversaw the Melmoth girl’s post-kidnapping care pans out with what I could get out of the staff down there. Not a staff physician, comes and goes on special retainer, usually only when one of the Melmoths or a close associate needs medical care. Just like everywhere else he’s turned up.

Pretty sure he’s part of the network. A puppet of Oscar Melmoth’s, only brought out when needed. No telling how many people he’s gotten into in this town alone. Can’t look at any of them without wondering if there’s snakes in their heads. Giving me the creeps.

Like this Sheriff Patton X-23’s so fond of. Denise introduced me to him when he stopped in for food between shifts on the manhunt. Solid, unimaginative military type. Cares about his town. Obviously a nice man. But was that him checking out my boobs when we shook hands, or a drooling old lunatic leering out through his eyes?

Sorry, sir. This town’s just giving me the willies.

Might have something to do with what happened on my way in. I took a wrong turn. Careless of me, I know. Won’t happen again. Anyway, I wound up on this… cow path that took me out to the lake. Beautiful country, I suppose, if you’re into that sort of thing. My GPS didn’t know where the hell I was, though, so I stopped to check an actual map. Always keep a map. First thing you taught me, sir.

So I was sitting there, trying to figure out how to get back to the main road, when I looked up and saw a bird sitting on the hood of the car. It was looking right at me. And it had human eyes.

It looked at my map.

It looked back at me.

I leaned out the window and shot it.

I didn’t kill it, don’t worry. I’ve read X-23’s elegiac poesies about the Wanageeska around here, and I don’t want to piss off the spirits. But I also don’t want one of them in my head. Somebody’s got to keep a clean mind on this thing. So I shot over its head, and it took off fast.

Still. It creeped me out.

I’ll be heading back to the hospital tomorrow, sir, to see if I can’t get a little deeper into the mystery of who’s been feeding the Osceola to the patients. I saw a couple of relieved expressions when I introduced myself today, so I’m hoping somebody down there will crack. Time will tell.

— Agent Valerie Cordero, signing off.


Report 24: Not Nearly Enough

Sir,

The report from the doctor who examined Alexandra Melmoth doesn’t sound good.

By the time I got to him, Luke Pallaton was already tending to the doctor’s injuries. Cleaning the blood from the man’s genitalia revealed two puncture wounds at the base of his penis, and a rash forming on his testicles. Pallaton administered anti-venom, but it didn’t do any good. The rash worsened rapidly, the doctor’s sac swiftly puckering up in a mass of sores that wept in watery black. And where the black spread, so did the rash, down into the soft tissues of the anus and spreading across the thighs.

All of this in under five minutes, at which point Pallaton rushed the doctor out in search of what he called “more expert spiritual care.” The venom of gods was beyond him.

The search for Alexandra didn’t go well, either. We didn’t find her anywhere on the grounds of Ranger HQ, or anywhere nearby. So we returned to the building to organize a broader search, and while Cheveyo made the necessary phone calls, I went to the examination room to figure out what happened. The doctor, an Alo tribal practitioner by the name of Kachina, had thankfully recorded the session, a transcript of which follows.

*************

Kachina: Commencing examination of prisoner Alexandra Melmoth, at request of Captain Cheveyo. This will be a general examination of the patient, with particular attention paid to a possible shoulder injury, and… it says here… the teeth. Huh. Now I’m a dentist.

Alexandra: It’s fine. I’m sure the Captain has his reasons.

Kachina: Alright, then. Let’s take care of the teeth first. Smile real big for me, okay?
(clattering of instruments)
(light tapping)
Look fine to me. Any idea why he wanted your teeth looked at, Miss?

Alexandra: Not… exactly.

Kachina: Well, I’m satisfied if you are. Now, if you’ll step behind the curtain there and disrobe, we’ll get on with the examination.

Alexandra (a pause): …Alright.

Kachina: Examination of teeth complete. They show no signs of damage or irregularity. Clean pearly whites. Wonders of modern dentistry. Commencing physical as soon as patient has… disrobed… Oh, my.

Alexandra: Doctor?

Kachina: Yes. Yes, well. Just sit up here, Miss.
(clattering of instruments)
Ahem. Now. Stick out your tongue…

Alexandra: Aaaaahhh…

Kachina: No need to say aah, just… Well. Well, that’s odd.

Alexandra (muffled): Wha?

Kachina: Patient’s canines appear enlarged, and the back of her throat… Say aah again, please, til I tell you to stop.

Alexandra: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh…

Kachina: Stop. Patient’s throat shows unusual degree of muscular flexibility, enlarging to… Well, I’d have to measure it. But larger than normal human capacity.

Alexandra (small chuckle): I should have mentioned my lack of gag reflex.

Kachina: I see. That’s… Well, that’s a very unique throat you have.

Alexandra (teasing): All the boys say so.

Kachina: Ahem. Well. Let’s have a look at… at that shoulder.

Alexandra: That’s not my shoulder you’re looking at, Doctor.

Kachina: Just trying to ascertain… any damage to… connective tissues.
Ahem.
Now, which shoulder was it you injured, Miss?

Alexandra: I don’t remember, exactly. Let me see…

Kachina: Stop that.

Alexandra: Stop what?

Kachina: Stop stretching. It’s… distracting.

Alexandra: Sorry, Doctor. I’m just trying to see if my shoulder hurts.

Kachina: Well… Well, does it?

Alexandra: Not really. But… Something doesn’t feel right, on the left side. Here. Feel here.

Kachina: Here?

Alexandra (sharp intake of breath): Yes. Yes, right there. Now, let me rotate it, and…

Kachina: Miss Melmoth, please take your hand off my shoulder.

Alexandra (low): Does it bother you?

Kachina: Yes.

Alexandra: Liar. But, fine. If you don’t like it there, maybe a little lower…

Kachina (voice strained): Miss Melmoth, that’s… That’s enough.

Alexandra: Oh, it’s not nearly enough. Not nearly…

(wet kissing sounds)
(sharp intake of breath)

Kachina: Please… stop…

Alexandra (voice thick, deeper): No…

(shuffling, bumping, sliding zipper)
(more wet noises, moaning, hissing)

Kachina (weakly): Wait…

Alexandra (angry, voice transformed, barely recognizable): You know you want it! Now sit down and let me give it to you!

(more bumping, moaning, hissing, wetness)

Kachina: Ah… ah… ah… AAGH!

(wet sucking and a deep, muffled chuckle)
(spitting noise, shuffling)

Alexandra (distracted tone): …god, I need a man…

*************

Some noises follow that we assume are the sound of Alexandra getting dressed, jimmying the lock on the window, and crawling out.

Her behavior here is distressing, to say the least. I saw something similar when I visited her in the hospital, of course, this sexual predation without full Yig manifestation. But this happened without influence of the Osceola, with no more inspiration than a bit of nudity and a hint of attraction from her victim.

Cheveyo says that he saw no inkling of this behavior when he brought her in. She seemed compliant and scared. Almost relieved, in fact, to be in custody. It’s the only reason he left her alone with the doctor, though I do wonder how much her strange magnetism may have affected that decision. She can’t seem to turn it off.

Obviously, her condition is extremely volatile. Whatever happened to her at the lake… whatever she left behind… has changed her. Will it still take the trauma of death to release Yig inside her at this point? Or will finding whatever satisfaction she craves have the same effect? Either way, she’s on the loose, and presumably looking for more victims. We’ve alerted Sheriff Patton, and issued an APB. I just hope we can find her, and that I can get her to eat the Wanageeska hot dog, before she takes another victim.

– Agent X-23, signing off.


Report 23: Hot Dog Heart

Sir,

I am currently sitting in a back office of the Alo Ranger headquarters, awaiting my chance to speak with Alexandra Melmoth following her transformation into a marauding snake monster.

It helps, I think, to state the facts of the situation bluntly. Alexandra’s magnetism can be quite over-powering, as our past encounters have shown. And considering what I’m going to attempt when I go into that room… I think it’s best to be clear-headed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. On my way here, I experienced another Wanageeska manifestation. This time, I had stopped for an early lunch at a local establishment known as Dick’s Dogs. They do hot dogs at Dick’s. Hot dogs, and chips, and nothing else. They’re on one side of what I’m given to understand is a bit of a Hot Dog War here in Pannawau. Something to do with a stolen chili recipe. But I’ll delve into that another time.

What’s important right now is that, once I’d gotten my lunch, I pulled the car over to eat it, and— Dick’s is a drive-in, you understand— so I pulled the car into a parking place and proceeded to eat, eager to try this chili over which there’s been so much strife. I can’t recommend the stuff, by the way. How to describe it? It’s… clear. Or white-ish, perhaps. Not sure there’s actually any chili powder in it. It’s spicy, though. Absolutely sinus-clearing. Tastes like horseradish and black pepper. I don’t know. I’m told it’s an acquired taste.

At any rate. I had just unwrapped my first hot dog when I looked up and saw the Tiny Bird-Faced Man, perched on my side mirror. I reached for the crank to roll the window down, and when I looked up again, he was sitting on the steering wheel.

He looked at me.

He looked at my hot dog.

Then back at me again.

Same old song and dance.

I pinched a piece off one end of the dog, and held it out to him. He took it in his tiny hands and pecked at it once with his beak before stopping in what I presume was shock. That chili will take your breath away if you’re not ready for it. At first, I thought he would refuse the offering. But tentatively, he pecked again, decided he liked it, and continued to eat with that mechanical bird-like swiftness I’d come to know. When he was done, he turned his deep black eyes back to me, and I sank, soared, once again into the birdy void.

We flew up over the treetops, drawn to the Mountain, always the Mountain. Only now it wasn’t a mountain. Or it was. Or it had been. But the rocks were cracked and broken, revealed as nothing more than a shell, or a shroud perhaps, and beneath… Beneath, it was shining and golden and alive, alive the way the Alo writing was alive, writhing under our gaze, exposed and ashamed, beautiful and proud.

We dove in close, following a crack in the stone, down the mountain, down and on, the crack running all the way to the base and into the forest, where it split, spidery, in several directions we followed all at once. To the hunting cabin where Jase Peterson tried to claim his birthright, to a clearing with a small puddle of jet black mud in its center, to a rock jutting up at a suggestive angle from the surrounding earth. An unmarked spot overlooking Lake Mammedaty. A field of violently green grass. A cave in a hillside. And finally, all the way out to Melmoth House itself, where the golden glow tarnished to green and radiated out in tendrils too numerous to count, down the hill and on into town.

And we were there all at once, too, in offices and houses and sheds, garages and restaurants, the hospital. The hospital, where green and gold flowed and pulsed against each other in an obscene dance, clinging wetly where they touched, bellies slick with liquid black. We rose above it all on a hot, foetid breath of wind, the tangles and loops and cracks taking on some dreadful, incomprehensible meaning with distance, cohering into a pattern that refused to register in full, writhing, always changing, eluding my grasp, and dotted here and there across the landscape with great splotches of blood.

And then we turned and went back again, back to the Mountain, always the Mountain, and now the Door at its peak gaped open, light pouring out bright as ever, threatening to overshadow the Mountain’s own glow, and we dove down again, into the beam, burning and cleansing and glorious. And down we went, down, caught in the flow of the light, the light, the terrible light, the hideous light, the wonderful welcoming light, faster and faster, lower and lower, the Lake Door looming ahead. The Lake Door. Something was caught in the Lake Door. Something red and wet and flapping in the light. Something beautiful. If I’d had hands, I could have reached out and grabbed it as we passed. But alas, I had only wings.

And so we shot past, into the door and through it, faster than light, heavier, for an eternity. Muscle and tendon strained and stretched, nearly torn asunder by the pressure. And still the light, so much light, filling my eyes and spilling over, burning, into my nostrils, my ears, my mouth.

It tasted like chili. And then…

And then I awoke in the car. The Tiny Bird-Faced Man was gone, and I found my mouth stuffed full of hot dog. And chili. That awful clear-white burning chili. In front of me on the dash sat a second hot dog. Not the one I’d bought. Or, if it was, it was a hot dog transformed. Transfigured into something… Other. It glowed slightly, and radiated a warmth I can still feel now, as it sits in my pocket. There’s something beautiful about it, a beauty similar to that of the red flapping thing in the Lake Door, that thing Alexandra left behind.

And that’s how I know what I need to do when I speak to her. I’m going to offer her that hot dog. Share it, if she wants. And we’ll see where it takes us. I know the ingestion of foodstuffs from beyond is strictly prohibited by regulations. But I’ve already eaten Osceola and Spirit Sausage on this trip. What’s one more magic hot dog, more or less?

At any rate. Alexandra’s in with an Alo doctor right now, getting a general physical. Cheveyo wants to see if she’s got any marks left on her from the battle on the Mountain last night. I’m kind of curious, myself. She took a Nukpana spear to the shoulder, he says, and doesn’t seem to be showing any ill effects. But as soon as they’re done with her, I’ll be able to

Sorry, Chief. Cheveyo just stuck his head in the door. He went to see what was taking the doctor so long with Alexandra, and found the man unconscious in a chair, pants down around his ankles, and his genitals covered in blood. Of Alexandra, there was no sign. More as I know it.

–Agent X-23, signing off.


A Note From the Author

I don’t often step out from behind the curtain here on the Intra-Blog. Kinda breaks the illusion of the secret transmissions and such. In fact, if pressed about this incident in the future, I will follow the time-honored strategy of such breaks with protocol: deny, deny, deny.

But just this once…

I wanted to point out a new feature in our header: a Table of Contents! We’re a full year into this thing now, and as we head into what I believe will be the final act of the on-going story, it just seemed like the thing to do. New readers would have to find this thing impenetrable at this point, so I figured I should make it as easy as possible for them to read the story in order.

Time permitting, I also hope to add brief chapter descriptions to the Contents, so that regular readers can jump back to a previous chapter quickly, and without having to guess which one had that thing they were wondering about. We shall see. Considering how long it took me to get around to doing the Contents page at all… I wouldn’t hold my breath.

But, hey! Speaking of time restrictions on Your Beloved Author… I suppose I should apologize for the long time between the last two Reports. Just one of those things. I took a vacation, then I got sick, then I got lazy, and before I really knew what was happening, a month had passed without an update. Guh. Sorry. I’ll try not to let it happen again.

Alright. That’s all the curtain-parting I’ve got in me. Hope you’re enjoying the story, and thank you all for your support.

– Mark Brett


Report 22: The Morning After

Sir,

As you could no doubt tell, it was a bad time in Pannawau last night. A lot happened, and I’m not sure my Osceola-fueled mind-hopping exploits entirely captured the scope of it. So I thought I’d codify things with a slightly more formal report than is my norm.

SECTION A: The Events of the Evening

  • First, and most obviously, the Black Mirror Brute came out. I discovered that the Sad Man was not, in fact, summoning the Brute, but trying to distract it from leaving the Mountain and wreaking worse havoc. See Section B below for more details on the Sad Man’s plan.
  • Alexandra Melmoth was on the loose, as well, in a Yig-Form transfiguration seemingly triggered by the presence of the Brute in the Gray World. She changed back in the early morning hours, and is currently in custody on the Alo Reservation. Her family is demanding her release, but the Alo are thus far holding firm. I’ll be heading out to speak with her again later.

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