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.