35: Come the Dawn

***BEGIN TRANSMISSION***

I start at the beginning. Or at least, the beginning I’m willing to share with an outsider such as myself.

“You’ve seen the Mountain Door,” I say. “Or I assume you have. Can’t see how you could have missed it, considering your capabilities. Surprised it didn’t drive you mad the first night you spent in the Lodge.”

“It almost did,” I say back to myself. I’m getting used to this being in two minds at once. Looking at him and looking back at myself, who is me. We’re both me. And him. Tahki. The Sad Man.

“You killed our finest hunter that night,” I say. “Without even leaving your bed. I was furious.” Burst of anger at that. Anger, and something else.

“You were impressed, too.” A twitch. A slight raise of the eyebrow. I didn’t expect myself to be able to read that deep.

“Yes,” I say. “Impressed. You killed a Nukpana warrior in a dream. Quite a feat. But we were talking about the Door in the Mountain.”

“Right. What about it?”

“The Door is not new, Agent. It was there before the killings started. Before the snakes. Before the white man.”

“Before the Alo?”

“No. No, not before the Alo. But it is ancient, and I have dealt with the problems of the thing many times.”

“Problems you caused?”

“Not me alone. Me, and Heyoka, and the rest. So many lifetimes ago. We were young and cocky. Thought we could rule this world, open doors, come and go as we pleased. We were wrong, and we’ve been paying ever since.” I shake my head and

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

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34: Harsh Truths

***BEGIN TRANSMISSION***

The Sad Man is talking.

I am talking.

So hard to stay focused and

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

Hank sighs as he gets out of bed. “Time to make the doughnuts,” he mutters. The joke isn’t funny anymore, but it’s all he’s got left. He kisses his fingers and presses them to Allison’s picture. She looks strange this morning. Harsh. Cold. Dead. Must be the light. Awfully bright. Awfully clean. Awful. It’s making everything in the house more… stark. Real. Hank blinks once, twice. Then he makes up his mind. Takes a shower. Shaves. Gets dressed. Then he picks up the pistol and

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

The Sad Man keeps talking. “I’m sure you’re feeling disoriented, Agent Matthews. It’s the Osceola. If you’re not used to its effects, it can be overwhelming. For a man of your capacities, especially. Different minds, different places. Even time distorts. Sometimes I think that riding is harder than being ridden. Depending on which of the Ahtunowhiho is doing the riding, of course.”

I look at myself dumbly, and look back with sympathy in my ancient eyes.

“I’m speaking in riddles. My apologies. It’s just so refreshing to speak with someone who shares the gift. Someone who’s not a snake, at least. Poor Oscar. It’s unfortunate what we’re going to have to do to him. But again, I’m speaking in riddles. We should start at the beginning.”

I blink, look around. Pause politely as I get my bearings. “Liar’s Path,” I hear myself say. My voice sounds strange, thick. Clumsy. “Can’t believe you.”

I smile sympathetically at myself. Already, I’m annoying myself. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to believe me. I know the urge to lie here is strong. But I’ve long since learned to fight it. Besides, it’s…” I trail off, give myself a measuring look and

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

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Somnambulist Transmission 4: Death and Sorrow

–EMERGENCY PROTOCOLS ENACTED–

–EXTREME DANGER TO AGENT, MISSION, AND SOMNAMBULIST OPERATIVES–

I/We found dead on surveillance of Yig-Spawn Designate Alexandra Melmoth. Spinal damage. Multiple internal injuries. Death of bodymind estimated at 00:00 hours, with violation of Uni-Mind occurring approximately two minutes prior. Violator appears to have been Agent X-23, though possibly not in control of increased mental faculties. More reason for increased Somnambulist monitoring of situation.

Agent currently not available to mindscan. Much interference. Static on brainline. Sorrow at death of I/We. Performance not at maximum.

I/We seem to have been hit by automobile. Memories of event chaotic, but driver may have been Yig-Spawn Designate Alexandra Melmoth. Difficult to remember. Painful. Death. Painful. Memory.

Agent Codname: Denise available to mindscan, but unconscious. Pocket Brain issued to her indicates attack. Blunt force trauma to head. Agent Codename: Denise located somewhere on Mount Pannawau. Exact location difficult to determine. Interference.

Blue Flower.

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32: Heads Full of Light

***CONNECTING…CONNECTING…BEGIN TRANSMISSION***

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

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

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EMERGENCY REPORT: On Patrol

***SECURITYBREACH*** Unauthorized Intra-Blog Access ***SECURITYBREACH***

[burst of static]

Testing…

[static]

Test–

[crackle]

[hum]

Testing… There. That’s got it. Here ya go, Pappy.

[rustling]

Hello. This is John Cheveyo. I don’t know who’s on the other end of this thing, but we found your transmitter here on the ground outside the Opa Lodge. Little beat up, but we got it working again. Figure it belongs to either Matthews or Denise. Definitely not commercial-grade kit. And not something we built on the rez, either. Not enough owls on it.

Ah, hell. Let’s stop pretending here, alright? I don’t know exactly what agency Matthews works for, but I know the kinds of things you investigate. You investigate things like us. And that’s fine. We’ve got our secrets, you’ve got yours. Neither of us likes it too much. But right now, I’ve got more important things to worry about, and I need your help with it.

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30: Hearts Full of Fire

***CLEARING STATIC…OPENING CHANNEL***

***BEGIN TRANSMISSION***

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

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

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EMERGENCY REPORT: Night Journey

Chief, this is Denise.

Something’s… dammit… something’s gone wrong. I’m–

[unintelligible]

[burst of static]

DAMMIT!

Sorry for the mess, sir. I’m using the live feed from the auto-transcription mic, so this is gonna come out a little stream of consciousness. But I’m in a hurry, so I wanted to dictate this to you from the– gah!

Sorry. Deer in the road. How these people live with rodents running out in front of them all the damn time is– Shit. Deer aren’t rodents. I know that. They’re… What the hell are they? Anyway. You know what I mean.

So I’m in the car, heading up-mountain to the Opa Lodge. Something’s– I had a dream. Something’s wrong with X-23. One of those things – the owl-headed things – has dosed him with something. The Black Drink, I think. He fought it, but– Something’s not right. He was in my head, Chief. He was in my head, and he needs help.

I’m not making sense.

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28: Night on Mount Pannawau

***BEGIN TRANSMISSION***

There is a man standing over my bed. A man with beautiful breasts, and the head of an owl. I can see him through my eyelids. He’s just standing there. Staring with unblinking owl eyes, his face illuminated by the light of the Door. The Door in the Mountain.

That light shines out bright as ever, cascading down the Mountain in an endless torrent. Abundant. Obscene. Inviting. Yes, inviting. It calls out to something in my blood, in my gut, something thick and black and hot, enticing me to…

My forehead throbs, painfully, and the owl-headed man snaps back into focus. He has something in his hand. A bottle. A bottle of something black. Something alive. It twists and writhes in its glass prison, trying to get out. To join with the blackness in me. I feel rather than see the owl-headed man’s intention to let it do just that. Slowly, so slowly, he raises the bottle, pulls loose the stopper, bends over my head, tips the bottle, grabs my chin, forces open my mouth…

The thing in the bottle, so anxious to be loose, now seems in no great hurry. It’s taken the form of a thick black liquid, pouring slowly from the mouth of the bottle. A single quivering drop forms on the bottle’s lip, a dollop of hanging black. Anticipation.

One hand shoots up, grabs the owl’s wrist. The drop shakes, lengthens, swings. Heavy. Black. Pendulous. The strand breaks. The drop falls, and

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

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Report 21: Many Voices

Sir,

I returned today to my room at the Opa Lodge. This decision may be rash. Denise certainly thinks so.

I certainly do. He informed me of this idea by phone, if that tells you anything about how hare-brained even he thinks it is. Talk some sense into the man, Chief. Get him out of there before it’s too late.

But after my conversation yesterday with Heyoka, I believe this to be the best means possible of smoking out the Sad Man. This is the portion of that interrogation I’ve kept hidden from the Somnambulists, for reasons that I believe Denise has already made clear: some of the subjects broached there were things I am sworn not to reveal, even to you. If I thought these things posed some kind of threat, I would break my word in a heartbeat. But in our zeal to know everything, we sometimes delve too deep. Secrets and lies, sir. Secrets and lies. It’s the currency we deal in. But sometimes we must allow ourselves to trust. And unless you intend to bring me up on charges, that’s all I have to say on the matter. Though I’m sure the Somnambulists will have their say, as well.

[Review Complaint #23594-Q, pertaining to violation of Field Code 821: Mental Hygiene and Security Maintenance Code 51: In the Event of Somnambulist Intervention. The Agent has committed an unprecedented breach of protocol, and must be corrected for proper functioning of Agency operations.]

At any rate. One thing struck me particularly in Heyoka’s story about the snakes coming to Pannawau: there was a missing date. He said that they came 40, 60, 200 years ago. Well, 40 years ago was the Yig Incident. And 200 years ago was The Year Without a Summer. But what about 60 years ago? What happened then?

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Report 20: Oscar and Cecil

Hi, Chief. Or Simmons. Whoever. This is Denise again. X-23’s out on more business this morning, and the Somnambulists are refusing to provide transcription after that business with Heyoka. Which is ridiculous. The Alo are a notoriously secretive people, and X-23 has entered into certain confidences with them. His personal notes are already longer than their entry in the Blue Book, and he plans to turn them over as soon as the case is done. But there are things he just can’t share, and the Somnambulists have got to understand that.

Sorry. I’m just pissed off that I’m stuck here transcribing our dinner conversation with Cecil Murden, when I should be out tracking down the doctors who performed the Melmoth’s girl’s MRIs. Oh, the life of the Good Girl Friday!

Anyway. This Murden. As I said last night, I don’t like him. He’s fake. Superficially charming, but under that? I don’t know. Something nasty. X-23 says he’s just seen too much, but we both know he’s too easily charmed by crusty old bastards. And they don’t come much crustier than Murden. His eye patch has this… wet spot on it. And he taps that wooden foot of his constantly, like he won’t know where it is if it’s not raising a racket. Made transcribing the tape a joy, let me tell you.

Alright. That’s enough editorializing. Here we go.

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

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