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.

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About Mark Brett

Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at https://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at http://dorkforty.wordpress.com/. View all posts by Mark Brett

One response to “Report 23: Hot Dog Heart

  • Mark Brett

    I’ll follow your lead on this magic hot dog thing, Clint, but you be careful. Even the Wanageeska have agendas, and they’re not always very practical for us mere mortals. The good die young, as Simmons is fond of saying. Big Billy Joel fan, that guy. Takes all kinds.

    Now, as for the girl… I know I don’t have to tell you to find her, but… Find her! Things are sounding bad for that kid, Clint. I haven’t declared her a person of mass destruction yet, but I will if I have to. Cordero pushed for it when I briefed her on the case, just so you know. Asked for extreme sanction. I told her you were the lead, and that she was not to take action without direct orders. Didn’t sit too well. But she’s a team player, Clint. She’ll follow orders.

    Still. It’s not looking good.

    Alright. I’ve got to meet with Simmons about something in a few, but there’s just enough time to set down a little more of Danforth’s story about Jackson Curry. Again, I’ll just tell it in his words…

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

    “I suppose I first heard about Curry as much as a decade before I actually met him. That would have been after the Great War, when I was traveling the world. Ostensibly, I was studying medical techniques, increasing my healing knowledge in foreign lands. In reality, however, my studies were of a far more esoteric nature.

    “I’d discovered the Hidden World, the world behind the world, and I had to learn more. That’s how I came to know Curry. Or know of him, at least. He had a reputation as a Great White Hunter type in those days, a flamboyant figure who was the subject of much controversy among the people I was studying with. To the holy men, the exorcists and crusaders, he was a hero, a warrior come to aid them in their imagined battles with evil. To the diabolists and the cultists, he was a monster, out to conquer and kill their gods. To my fellow men of science, he was a rival and a nuisance, stealing specimens out from under their noses, for purposes unknown.

    “One thing they all agreed on was his efficiency. He was smart, strong, and fast, and he chose his targets well. If Curry set his sights on a beast, it seldom eluded him for long, and never got the better of him. There were rumblings that he was learning forgotten sorcery as well, but few put much stock in that. Curry was not of sufficient intellectual rigor, they all thought, to master such things.

    “They were, of course, fools to think so. They let his charm and Southern mannerisms blind them to his grander ambitions. Jackson Curry may be a mercenary and a vagabond. He may even be a bit of a buffoon. But those more prosaic aspects of his personality serve him well. Things that might drive a more sensitive soul mad just seem to roll off his back. That, combined with enormous twin appetites for money and adventure, have driven him to heights few in our line of work ever reach.

    “It was Curry who uncovered the Alhazred Al Azif, did you know that? An intact original copy, written in blood by the Mad Arab himself. He couldn’t read it, of course. It was in Arabic, and written in code besides. So he traded down for a Dee translation. The Latin was a bit easier for him to manage. But he only kept that for a year before selling it to a private collector. Said he’d copied down whatever he needed out of it, and had no use for the rest. He did that with any number of books, evidently. The man kept a notebook, for god’s sake. I saw it once. A fat artist’s sketchbook, filled with scribblings and crib notes, festooned with index tabs he’d attached with cellophane tape. A sort of Working Man’s Grimoire. Incredible.

    “But I get ahead of the story again. That was later, after… No. Must stay focused. We’ll get there. Now, where was I…? Ah! My education in the ways of the Hidden World.

    “Once I’d learned all I could in my travels, I returned to New England to take up medical practice, and began my own researches. The traveling freak shows of the day were an invaluable resource, though I came to that realization quite by accident. I’d been called in to tend to a performer who’d been caught out in the streets by some drunken louts and beaten pretty badly. The local police were holding the victim rather than his attackers. All too typical in that era, when dealing with those outside social norms. And my patient in this case was far, far outside those norms. He was tall and rangy, foul-smelling, and covered in hair from head to toe. He was being billed as some sort of dog-faced boy, but I recognized him for what he was immediately: an adolescent skunk ape.

    “I won him over slowly, and got his story out of him. He’d been captured in the wild, and sold into service to this traveling carnival as a freak attraction. Initially, they’d kept him in a cage, slowly taming him through beatings and bribery. He’d just recently earned the right to leave his cage during off hours, under threat of death if he tried to run. Not a threat that would have worked on an adult, of course. But for a lad barely out of puberty, it was enough. When the drunks found him, he’d been foraging in town, digging through trash for extra food to supplement the meager rations given him by his owners.

    “Deplorable. And he was far from the only extraordinary creature living in such circumstances. It was a story I would hear over and over again in the years that followed. And the one name I heard in association with those stories more than any other was, of course, Jackson Curry. He’d turned that Great White Hunter cache of his into a cottage industry, capturing exotic creatures and selling them to be put on display. Some of them were animals, of course, and he may have been doing those a favor. Those years weren’t kind to things lurking in the American wilderness.

    “But for intelligent peoples, creatures with cultures of their own and power enough to remain hidden if they desired… even beings of limited intelligence like my young skunk ape friend… he was nothing less than a slaver. I made it my business to help these people, and to oppose Curry in his machinations whenever I could. I took nearly a decade, and his circumstances had changed substantially by then, but I got my chance.

    “Ah, but I see that your glass is empty again. If you’re not in danger of inebriation, may I pour you another?”

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

    I was heading on toward drunk, to tell you the truth, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. So I let him pour me another one, and kept going. But that’s all I’ve got time for right now, Clint, so we’ll pick it up there next time.

    – Chief Bill Roberts, signing off.

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