***CLEARING STATIC…OPENING CHANNEL***
My eyes are open now. They’re open, and flooded with light. They’re open, and lost in the dark. I’m lying in bed. Denise is beside me. Asleep. Or…
No, she’s asleep. She has to be. She’s just so still. I thought– No. She’s asleep. We must be– Are we in our room at the Fat Beaver? Is that bacon I hear frying? Or…
This isn’t the Fat Beaver Inn. This is the Opa Lodge. Except… Why is it so dark? What’s this pressure I feel? On my chest, my arms, in my ears. My forehead. Why can’t I move? Am I dreaming? Or…
The Door. The Door is open in the Mountain. It’s open, and the light’s pouring out. So bright and so wrong. So exposed. That’s why it’s so dark. All the light’s pouring out, and there’s none left here. Wait. No. That’s not right. I’m outside the Door and I hear bacon and
Edna shivers, and sighs contentedly. It’s been too long. She’d almost forgotten what it was like, to be with a man. Cecil snores beneath her on the floor of the cooler, but that’s alright. Her husband had snored, too. And at least when Cecil snores, he isn’t tapping that foot anymore. Such an odd habit. But we’re none of us perfect. She’d killed a man, after all. Killed him with love.
She’d heard the stories, of course. The stories that said Cecil might have done worse. Dark stories, of a dark time when he was all tied up with a dark man. But that was a long time ago, and the man that put him up to all that is a harmless old nut now, cooped up in his mansion and never leaving. And Cecil is… Well, he’s an artist, isn’t he? A sensitive craft for a sensitive man, a man who’s learned his lesson, turned over a new leaf. Thank goodness he’s been able to keep his sense of humor through it all. He–
Cecil snorts, jerks, slips out of her. His eyes snap open, one red-rimmed and frightened, the other a shocking black void in his face.
He roars, and shoves her off him with a strength she wouldn’t have thought possible. She falls hard against a stack of beer crates, sending bottles crashing to the floor. Dazed, cold beer starting to pool beneath her, she watches in amazement as he leaps to his feet with the grace and power of a jungle cat. This man, this decrepit old man, who had needed her help to lower himself to the floor before they made love. The tenderness of that act now forgotten, he advances on her, eye gleaming in the dim light of the cooler, wooden foot clicking against the metal floor.
“What have you done?!” he demands.
Edna cowers before him, lays a protective arm across her chest, feeling suddenly, profoundly, naked. “Cecil? Cecil, I– I don’t–”
“TALK, you bitch! TALK! What the hell have you done?!”
“N-nothing! Nothing! I– I just wanted–” His penis swings, grotesquely swollen and limp, between his legs. “I wanted… love?”
“LOVE?!” He screams the word, cords standing out on his neck, as if it hurt him. He leaps, clicking, to the cooler door. “HOW CAN YOU WANT LOVE IN THE FACE OF THIS?!”
He flings open the door, and the cooler floods with light. Edna screams, and
The Brute advances. Why he’d been drawn to the man, he wasn’t sure. But this was the third one he’d found out on the mountain, so he figured it must be a tribute of some kind. Worship. Like in the old times. The first one had been tainted, of course, but they learned. The second was better, even if he couldn’t touch the girl. But this one… This one smells right. Ripe. And not tainted with…
Nonono. Don’t think of that. Don’t think of the thing that pretended to womanhood, that drew him in with her warm wetness that hid the fangs inside. No, don’t think of that. Think of anything but that. Think of the woman before him now, waiting on the ledge like the others, wanton and open and ready to receive him. She’s going to be good. She fills him with the hard hurting, the raging desire only she can slake. Not far now, not far. His legs pump, his claws catch on the rock, faster faster, never fast enough, his long hardness slapping his thighs, his knees, as he leaps across the face of the mountain. The smell of her fills him now, the musky salty wet of her, and drives him mad. He throws back his head to howl, and
Alexandra stops dead in her tracks. She’d been tracking her prey up the mountain mostly through blind instinct, but now she hears the howling. The howling that fills her with desire, with excitement, with the delicious fear of the new. She smiles and licks her lips, her tongue become a tiny thing, darting out between sharp teeth. Every inch of her comes alive at the sound of that howl, flesh prickling, fire shooting up and down her spine, the hole at the middle of her yearning to be filled. Filled with the howl.
Unable to contain herself any longer, she lets out a response, a sibilant ululation that surprises her. Is this her making this noise, feeling these things? Her flesh, exposed to the cold mountain air? Exposed in that stark, unyielding light pouring down the slope? It occurs to her that she should feel shame at her nakedness, and she wonders where it is, where she left it. Because shame is the last thing she feels now. She revels in her flesh, in her magnificent scaly breasts and her long long legs, moving faster now, sending her sinuously up the mountain. Toward the howl.
Excitement wells up inside her again, filling her, roiling up out her mouth as she lets loose another ululating scream, and
The Brute skids to a halt, sniffs the air. The quim’s still ahead of him, close close so close, but… But that sound! That cry! The wind shifts. He sniffs again. NONONONONONONONONONONONONO! NODAMMITNO! She’s back! That woman-thing with the toothy quim and the sweet, sweet musk that calls to him, draws him in, makes him want to– NO! Outer thing unclean deadly deadly dead death too much too much swallow him swallow him whole and keep swallowing swallowing swallowing…
Away! He has to get away! Away from her, out of the Gray World, home home home home home!
He spins and heads back up the mountain in great leaps, his hardness deflating, his yearning forgotten. The wind stings his raw flesh as he goes, faster faster ever faster, and
Jackson Curry looks up at the mountain above him, eyes narrowed. What the deuce is going on up there tonight? Some wicked thing’s coming through a hedge door around here, he knows that. You’d have to be a fool not to recognize that howl as something from beyond. But what’s that second sound? That high-pitched scream? That noise like a cross between the Outer Piping and a cat in heat? What could–
“Aw, hell. Joe! Joe, get your ass in the wagon and load the elephant gun! We got us a snake to hunt!”
He climbs into the cab of the truck and starts the engine. Where the hell is that boy? If he’s gotta– There. Joe lumbers up out of the woods, zipping his ragged old hobo pants. Hell of a time to take a piss. Curry spares the Opa Lodge one last look as Joe climbs into the wagon. He catches a flicker of light in a third-floor window. Good. Looks like the fire’s catching. Shame to burn down a perfectly good hotel, but some spells call for a sacrifice and
I’m walking in the dark, my heart filled with fire, my head throbbing and full. I’m lying in bed, hearing the crackle of bacon, Denise seeping out of herself beside me. The Door is open and the light is spilling out and I can’t see. It’s so dark here so dark all the light is spilling out and it’s dark and it’s happening again. It’s happening again.
I stop walking. Take stock of myself. Let my head guide me where it will. Instinct, and something else. Something that’s been building inside me, building to this moment, this moment when I get to do the thing I’ve wanted to do since my first night here. The Door is ahead. The Door is ahead, I just know it. I know it, and walk toward it, and see it I see it, a gray outline in the gloom. The closer I get, the heavier my feet become, the heavier my body my head and the distance gets longer longer longer how can it get longer when I’m moving forward? I’m tired so very tired of walking and my head hurts and my feet are heavy and I can’t move my arms anymore and it’s dark so dark so very very dark and then I’m there.
I peer out the door at the Gray World beyond. The door is up high, on a Mountain perch, and the light spills out of it down the mountainside, cleansing it, burning it with truth. Far below is the door’s Dark Twin, drinking in the light, calling out to some part of me that’s not here. In between are the monsters and the liars and everyone else exposed and revealed in that burning shameless light of truth that flaunts itself so boldly in the night.
I’m down there somewhere, and Denise beside me, and Edna and Cecil and the Sad Man. John Cheveyo races toward us, a noble soul with little to hide, everything to hide. Nukpana lie in wait down there, too, for something that’s not coming. They may get a surprise at what does show up, but the raw-skinned brute they’re expecting has called off the hunt. He’s coming toward me, even now, with great leaps and greater fear. I can see him, coming home with his tail between his legs like a whipped dog. Well, he hasn’t gotten a whipping yet, but he will when Alexandra gets done with him.
Because she’s down there, too, and she wants him. She wants him more than she wants me, and she wants me pretty badly. Well, she can’t have me, but he’s all hers as far as I’m concerned. And why not? She can solve the problem for me. Let her have the Brute, and then I can take Denise and go home, put these people and their troubles and secrets and history behind me. And all I have to do is shut the door. Shut it before the Brute gets here. Trap him on the other side. Then she’ll have her way with him, and I’ll be done.
There’s a problem with that plan, but I can’t quite grasp it, blinded perhaps by the simple, brutal majesty of the thing. So I shrug and reach out to the Door, ancient and hoary and white. It burns me, the white, burns me with a cold so deep I feel it in my bones. Frost it’s frost the door is coated with frost, and beneath it the blood of millions, shed over centuries in the name of the White and the Black. I recoil, pull back my hand, touched as it’s been by forces beyond me, and
I wake to the smell of smoke and the crackling of flame, my left hand throbbing with pain. The Lodge is on fire! Denise is beside me, a nasty cut on her head, her pillow soaked with blood. I reach for her, and the door to my room explodes in a hundred flaming shards as three owl-headed men burst through. I go for my gun, and