Carried I’m being carried through the dark the night the dark and the Mountain and the door and the light and
Edna sits, sobbing, in the beer cooler. Cecil is gone now, gone off into the night, nimble and crazy and cruel. She shouldn’t have done it, he said. Shouldn’t have loved him. Shouldn’t have let him love her. Nothing good can come of love, he said, and as the light shines in and floods the cooler, she knows that he was right. He spoke the truth. The ugly truth. Ugly like her old woman’s body, exposed and cold and shriveled. Bulging in all the wrong places, sagging in the right ones. She feels his old man’s seed leaking out of her, cold and spent and useless, and she knows the truth.
She’d known it before Cecil, of course. Known it for years, on those dark lonely nights when she couldn’t sleep. She ignored it when the sun was out, ignored it and threw herself into her work, keeping this damn store running and running and running and running. Threw her everything into it, and what did it give her back? Never what she needed. And so she’d starved, shrunken down into a nosy old biddy. A busy-body. A character, to be laughed at and never understood.
Oh, how she longed to be understood.
But she’d killed a man with her love, and put it away, and waited too long to find it again. So many years wasted, cold and alone, and now… She despairs that anyone will ever understand her again. And without that, what’s the point?
She sobs again, blinks away the tears, and her eyes fall on a shard of green glass, glinting in that horrible searing light. Piece of a bottle, she thinks. Big piece. Big enough to…
She unwraps one of her arms from around her breasts, reaches out, and
Cecil jumps inta the Light, free. Free from that old man’s body an that old man’s infirmities. He don’t like this horrible thing he’s become. This black-hearted creature that crawled up outta him an took over. But it does have its advantages. Hard ta believe just one piece of ass let it loose.
Well. More than that. No lies now. Tha Light don’t allow fer lies. Tha sex just made him let his guard down, tha’s all. Tha thing’s been in him all along, waitin ta claw its way free since back in ’72. He came near ta lettin it out one time before. When he cut his own foot off. It weren’t hard enough, it seemed, so gettin rid of it seemed like tha only sensible thing ta do. Tha wooden one always seemed more natural.
Well, now he’s got a matchin set.
It weren’t just tha sex, though. He’d had his share of whores since Ecuador, and it never got loose. So, nah. Nah, if he’s gotta admit it (an tha Light demands that he does), Edna made him feel safe. She’s a good one, that Edna. A keeper. But she don’t need him if he’s gonna be like this. He’d be tha end of her, an if he does one good thing in his miserable life, it’ll be sparin that good woman his evil.
Besides, he feels somethin else callin him now. Somethin alien, but familiar. Somethin that changed his life, long ago an far away, in tha South American jungle. Somethin that weren’t there, but were. Somethin…
Bah! He ain’t makin sense! He ain’t makin sense, and tha Light demands Sense! Yearns for it! He’s gotta give tha Light Sense! But how? What could possibly–
Say, now! Who’s that? That marvelous creature, runnin ahead of him down tha Mountain, away from tha Light? That spellbindin figure, naked to tha air, with them shiny flanks an luscious, ripe, full, scaly breasts? It’s her! Tha Truth of tha evenin! Tha alien familiar, both there an not there! An it’s a damn sight better-lookin than Oscar ever was!
He speeds up, hard feet clickin over Mountain rock. He’s gotta overtake her, love her, have her. He finds a ledge, leaps from it. And collides in mid-air with somethin else. A shriek, a hoot, a rufflin a feathers an they hit the ground hard, rollin, fightin, bitin, scratchin, rollin faster, gainin ground. Strength, monstrous strength, where’s all that strength comin from, floodin his withered old limbs? He’s not sure, but still they roll and then… inta tha air again. Still bitin, still scratchin, fallin, fallin, fallin… Toward her!
Her great scaly head turns toward em just before they hit. Recognition! She knows im! Knows her own! Then they hit, an tumble, an fall, an
Alexandra hits the ground, hard. One of those owls, those wretched things that interrupted her time with the woman, has fallen on her. One of the owls, and something else. Something bonded to her, already hers and always, before she was even born.
She twists her sinuous body around, rolling, catching, stopping the fall. The owl and her little servant have stopped, too, crashing into a boulder and breaking. She pokes them. The owl seems to have taken the worst of it, limbs twitching but useless, light already fading from its black eyes. She pokes her servant, too, and he winces, shuddering and sighing at her touch. Broken, but not too broken. She gathers him up in one arm
(how did her arm get so big?)
and continues down the mountain. The owls are still in pursuit, and she can’t dawdle long. She’s nearing the bottom of the difficult slope, near to where her car waits. And her car means escape. She makes one more mighty leap off a ledge, and she’s down. Down, and suddenly tired. Her shoulder hurts. Bleeds. She sways, woozy. The road. The road’s right here. Just follow it. Follow it to that make-out spot over the lake. The lake…
She hears its waters lapping the shore below her, and her burden suddenly seems heavy. So very very heavy. She drops the leathery little man she was carrying over her shoulder and continues down the road. Off it. Onto the dirt of the side road, through to the path, and out onto the clearing over the lake. So quiet. So peaceful. She sinks behind the wheel of the Jaguar, closes her eyes, listens to the water and
Deep Joe sniff air. He smell good from top of wagon. Snake girl gone, Boss. Snake girl gone. Joe tap on Boss’ window. Wave hand. No go. No go.
Boss stop wagon. Get out.
“She gone, Joe?”
“Well, hell. How the deuce does a big ol’ Yig-Spawn just disappear like that? I mean, it ain’t like she can just crawl in a hole, or–”
Boss look up at mountain.
“Well, I guess she could slip off into a cave or some such.”
Joe shake head.
Joe pause. Sniff. Then shake head.
“She just gone?”
“Well, hell.” Boss put hands on hips. Look around. “Wonder what happened? Ain’t no way she folded back up inta god-space. Yig don’t work like that. Unless…”
Boss trail off. Joe shrug. Joe not understand all Boss’ fancy talk. He double not understand when he just stand there and think. Joe man of action.
Joe hear lake water. It call to something inside Joe. Joe want swim. Joe hop off wagon to go. But Boss stop think and snap fingers.
“She ain’t made the change! She ain’t made the change into a full-blown Yig-Spawn! But you smelled snake-girl?”
Joe sigh and nod. No swim tonight.
“Then there’s somethin’ else goin’ on here. Somethin’ that’s triggerin’ the change.” Boss look back up at mountain. “Pannawau Pannawau Pannawau. Oh, why do I know that name?”
Boss trail off again. Joe take step toward lake. But Boss snap fingers again. Why Boss snap fingers? Snap fingers mean no swim. More work for Joe.
“Big Chief Flies-With-Eagle! Miserable drunk, but a great novelty act. The Chief was from ’round here somewhere. Said Mount Pannawau was a ghost place. Haunted. Lights, monsters, folks disappearin’… That hedge door up there could explain most of that, but… Gotta be somethin’ wrong with it. Somethin’ leakin’ out. Higher dimensional radiation, gettin’ into the soil, the water, the people. You put a Yig-Spawn into that kinda environment, and…”
Boss trail off again. Quiet. Joe feel water close. Water call to Joe. Joe go. Find side road. Dirt. Dirt feel good under Joe’s feet. Dirt, and water, and–
“Naw. Naw, it’d take more than that. Somebody’s been messin’ with that girl. Interferin’. Well, I got a mind to interfere a might more. JOE!”
Joe stop on side road. Dig feet into dirt. Sigh. Joe head back.
“Why you wanderin’ off like that, boy? Couldn’t you see I was figurin’? I–”
Joe hear moan. Look up road. Something there. Little man. Smell bad. Like tanned meat.
“Now, what the dickens was that? Hold up a sec there, Joe. Lemme hit the lights.”
Boss climb back into wagon. Turn on headlights. Yep. Little man. Skin pulled tight and hard over body. Wooden feet. Joe know what Boss want before Boss say.
“Well, hot damn. Looks like we got us a head-shrinker. Toss him in the back, Joe. And let that he-she go. I figger we’re high enough on the mountain for his people to find him now. I had a mind to talk to him, but I ain’t got time to learn that jibber-jabber he speaks right now. So we might as well release him back into the wild.
“Heh. This reminds me of that time I caught me a vulture girl up Denver way. I was lookin’ for a new attraction, and…”
Joe tune Boss out now. Boss forget Joe was there. Boss forget more since come back. Get lost in memory. Still Boss, though. Still Boss. Joe throw Little Man over shoulder. He moan again. Something broken inside. Joe fix him up good, though. Joe fix him up good, and
The Sad Man peers out from behind the veil. That young Ranger’s out on the ledge, seeing to the wounded. He tended to the Nukpana before the woman. Good man. He understands the Holy Burden better than most. Still. Can’t bring him in on the plan. It’s not his role. But what the Sad Man does has to be done, and if the woman talks, his ability to do that might be compromised. He has time on her, though. The Osceola should keep her quiet for some time yet. They’ll take her to the hospital, and once she’s there, he’ll be able to control the situation better.
The young Ranger sets a Nukpana’s broken arm, and his patient shrieks. He places a calming hand on its chest, soothing it, giving a soft purring hoot. A very good man. The Sad Man sighs. He would have been a good apprentice. But he’s a Ranger already, and he’d try to stop the plan. So thankfully, the Rangers aren’t his only option for the help he’s going to need.
A click sounds behind him, and the door to the Liar’s Path opens. He turns. It’s a young Nukpana, beckoning to him in silence. Smart one. With all the disturbance on the Mountain tonight, it’s best not to talk, even in the Dream. He spares the young Ranger another glance before letting the veil drop. That one might be able to hear, if he tuned his ears right.
Turning back to the child, he gestures for it to step back, and follows through the door. “Now, my little friend. What is the matter?”
The child turns and points down the Path, and the Sad Man sees: two adult Nukpana, assigned to the Opa Lodge tonight, if the Sad Man is not mistaken, covered in soot. Each carries a person over its shoulder, one male, one female. They sit them down on his command, and
I’m looking at the Sad Man, and I’m looking at myself. I look terrible. Pale. Dark circles under half-closed lids. Denise is beside me, hair matted with blood. But she’s breathing. The Sad Man thinks she’ll be okay. I look at her, too. Her eyelids flutter, and a wave of nausea overtakes me. I lean over and vomit on the floor of the tunnel. The Path. The Liar’s Path.
The Sad Man stares down at me (how do I know it’s him?), and offers a sympathetic noise. “Disorienting, isn’t it, being in someone else’s head and your own at the same time?” I say the words and hear them, and my brain rebels. Lights flash in my vision, and I wretch, nearly vomiting again.
“Oh, let it out, Yanaba, let it out. It’s best to purge, believe me. Even for someone with your capacities.”
Speaking. Hearing. I feel a pulse behind my forehead as my brain grows new structures to cope. Deep breaths. Deep. Deep.
“Better?” I say/hear.
I nod, and see myself nod, and continue.
“Good, good.” I extend a hand to myself, take it, help myself to my feet. “I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is David Tahki, owner of the Opa Lodge and head of the Alo Tribal Council. I believe we have some business to discuss.”