When she'd first escaped into the desert, when she'd gotten out of that house, she'd felt… relief. She'd been relieved because she was moving forward, because it was something new – and while change wasn't always a good thing, it couldn't be any worse than being stuck forever in the same place. It hadn't taken her very long to realise that she might have been better off staying where she'd been.
In the dog park, at least, there'd been the Man in the Tan Jacket to talk to, and even though she doesn't really remember him anymore – what he said, how he looked, even his name – she still feels like it was nice to talk to someone. Its not always about the things that are said.
Inside the house, well, there'd been John Peters – you know, the farmer – and while it didn't seem like he'd been able to see or hear her, at least she hadn't been alone. There'd been human company – of a sort – and for some reason, that seems important to her now.
She's not a quitter, though, she never was, and she's not about to give up just because of one endless-seeming desert (and a blinking light on top of something she prefers not to think about). So, she steels her resolve and keeps on walking; just because she can't see an end, doesn't mean there isn't one.
She'd asked about her mom once, when she was six years old. Her dad had been washing the dishes, and his hands froze in the suds, the crack of something breaking sounding in the quiet. For a moment she'd thought she'd done something wrong, before her dad had turned his head to look at her, his hands still hidden in the water.
He'd smiled at her, his teeth glistening brightly in the kitchen's fluorescent light. "You don't have a mom," he'd said. "You know that, silly."
He'd pulled his hands out of the water, grabbing the dish towel from the counter. "Why would you ask something like that?"
He'd kept drying his hands as the dishtowel turned red.
Dana shakes her head. That didn't happen. She never had a father, she'd asked her mother about it once, when stupid Jeremy in school had insisted that everyone had a dad. Like they all didn't know better! But she'd been as curious by nature then as she was now – she would have said it had served her well as an intern, but then, that was before. When her mom had gotten home that night, she'd asked, even though, like all the children of Night Vale, she knew perfectly well that asking was always dangerous.
Curiosity killed the cat, she remembers one of the scientist telling her that, back when they'd all been new to town. She'd been asking about their work – out of professional interest mostly, because Cecil had wanted to know about them – and she thinks that the scientist had been trying to make a joke. Dana had smiled at her and nodded, it was such a strange thing to say, she'd seen curiosity kill a lot of things, but never a cat. Cats knew better.
She closes her eyes and concentrates very hard on believing that she's always been herself. It's harder than it should be, but she's very good at believing – or not believing – in the right things. Slowly the memories of that other person, who isn't her – who never was, and never will be her – fade away.
She keeps on walking. She feels like stopping would be a bad idea.
The desert is endless. This she knows. The desert reaches out into forever, and she can keep walking for the rest of her life without ever finding her way out. This is one of the few things she knows anymore. The one thing she can be absolutely certain off. If there is a way to get out of this desert, it's not by walking.
She turns her eyes toward the blinking red light and the thing that shouldn't exist. She used to know a lot of things, and now she can't even say for sure that mountains aren't real. Of course mountains are real, a small voice whispers inside her, but the voice isn't hers and she refuses to listen to it. It only tells her lies.
There's not much choice though, and she will not just accept her fate quietly. She'll just have to see about the Mountain when she gets there.
She looked into the light and felt herself blinking with it. For a moment she was elsewhere, for a moment she was not in the desert. She saw Cecil, she tried to talk to him, but… she doesn't think he could hear her.
Maybe it wasn't real at all.
She tries not to look at the light anymore, it makes her progress so much harder. It makes her lose her way, forget where she is. She is here, there and elsewhere and she can't tell which is real.
Maybe it all is.
If she imagined someone, why was it Cecil? She doesn't remember another radio host, whose teeth glisten in something Dana would not call a smile. He doesn't call her by another name entirely.
Cecil, she thinks resolutely as she walks towards the Mountain she isn't sure about. Cecil, who helped her learn how to shoot her first gun, when her mom was too busy working to support two children on her own, because going to school without knowing how to use your weapon was just barely a step above going unarmed.
She doesn't remember a time when Cecil had not been her friend, or technically, baby sitter.
The Mountain feels real. She climbs up the side of it, her nails break and her fingers are scraped bloody and if she doesn't believe she'll fall.
She'll fall and fall and fall and the desert will catch her.
The Mountain exists.
Poor Cecil she thinks, but she isn't sure why. She spoke with him at some point she thinks, but the dessert is endless and the lighthouse is not reliable. Dana believes as hard as she can, but doubts keep creeping back no matter how hard she tries.
Her mother cried when she saw her.
When Dana had come home that day a long time ago, and found her application for an internship at the Community Radio had been accepted her mother had cried with pride.
It had been pride, hadn't it?
She used to know. Now there's so much she isn't certain of.
It's so very nice to talk to people again. She tells them her name is Dana, and they believe her, the men and women of this nationless army. They offer her food and she realises she's forgotten to be hungry. When was the last time she ate?
When did she sleep?
They seem to admire her and she isn't quite sure why, but it is so nice to talk to someone and know you are there. She didn't even mind talking to Maureen, and they'd never really liked each other.
She's standing in the desert. She's standing on a mountain, and there's no one to tell her it isn't real.
There's nothing she can't do.