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.
“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.