Dark Reflections Part 1

 Cover1

By Sally Bahnsen and Dawn

INFO: Written for I Made This Productions Virtual Season 8

RATING: PG-13

CLASSIFICATION: XA

KEYWORDS: MSR

SPOILERS: Mild through Je Souhaite

DISCLAIMERS: The usual. They aren’t ours, never will be,

but we can pretend, can’t we?

AUTHOR’S NOTES: At the end

FEEDBACK: Treasured, adored, and practically worshiped

SUMMARY: The names and places have changed but the story is

the same — or is it? Mulder and Scully travel to West

Virginia to investigate a disturbingly familiar case.

Prologue

8:16 p.m.

Somewhere in the woods

Rural West Virginia

Twilight spreads across the forest, leeching color from

the trees and painting the vegetation in shadowy variations

of black and gray. No longer daylight, not yet night,

nature holds its collective breath as the last warm

tendrils of sunlight give way to the cool spill of

moonlight. Small animals wake and creep from burrow and

nest, soft rustling of undergrowth and snapping of twigs

betraying their furtive search for food and water.

Crickets’ reedy high-pitched songs meld with the lower

rumble of frogs and the whirring of cicadas, creating a

peaceful cacophony.

Until another sound, piercing, desperate, and completely

alien, shatters the tranquility. Now silent, the forest

watches. And waits.

“JACOB!”

*Shock. Bewilderment. All encompassing agony — red-hot

nails driven through bone. Can’t move, can’t run. Small,

delicate hands push back tangled yellow curls streaked with

dirt and tears. Blinding white light, blue eyes squinting,

watering. FEAR.*

“JACOB! HELP ME! HELP ME! JACOB! PLEEEEASE!”

Legs pumping, heart pounding, lungs straining for air.

Crashing through thickets and brush, slipping on mossy

stones and tripping over broken branches. Plunging to the

ground, knees skinned and bloody, palms scraped.

“jacob, help me! don’t leave me! jacob!”

Not as loud now. Not as scary now. Scrambling upright,

shaking twigs and leaves from dark, sweat soaked hair.

Stumbling onward, cloaked in a numbing fog. Dark eyes

searching, seeking. Finding the amber glow of safety. Of

home.

Small is good. Small is safe. Huddled in the corner

between the bed and the wall, arms wrapped around knees,

eyes huge. Rocking.

Time slipping. Flowing.

Voices.

“Rachel? Jacob? Where are you?”

Footsteps.

“Jacob? Jacob, what are you doing there? Where’s Rachel?”

Gentle hands tugging, voice high and trembling. Mom.

“Jacob. Jacob, answer your mother!” Deeper. Louder. Dad.

“Jacob, WHERE IS YOUR SISTER?”

A whimper at first, it grows — a wail, then a shriek.

Endless. Mindless. Drowning out comfort, obliterating

reason, it’s too late.

Once the screaming begins, it won’t stop.

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

ACT I

9:37 a.m.

FBI Headquarters

There was a tear in her stocking.

Scully leaned against the wall, out of the flow of

traffic, and wriggled the toes on her left foot while

carefully balancing a cup of coffee in each hand. After

perhaps twenty seconds of pointing and flexing like a

ballet dancer warming up at the barre, her big toe still

poked annoyingly through the fabric, and she’d garnered

more than her share of curious stares.

Scully pressed her lips together and straightened,

resigned to endure another in the long chain of irritants

that had dogged her footsteps like a pestering child since

she’d awakened that morning. As she was startled from a

deep sleep, her arm flailed, sending the alarm clock

crashing to the floor where it died an untimely and violent

death. They’d been flushing the hydrants in her

neighborhood without giving notice, evidenced by the rusty

orange water she had no choice but to shower and brush her

teeth with. She’d donned her favorite pantsuit before

discovering leftover mud stains from the last time Mulder

dragged her off to look at phantom crop circles in the

pouring rain. And to top it all off, she’d burned her very

last whole-wheat bagel and been reduced to wolfing down one

of the sugar laden S’mores Pop Tarts she’d purchased for

Mulder.

Scully grit her teeth and gave her toes one more

surreptitious wriggle. This day couldn’t possibly get worse.

“Agent Scully? A moment of your time, please.”

Then again…

Scully performed hasty cosmetic surgery on her expression

and favored Skinner with a polite nod. He ducked back out

of sight, and she reversed direction with a sigh. Entering

the outer office, she returned Kim’s smile with a

conviction she didn’t feel and deposited the two Styrofoam

cups onto the small table beside the couch. Skinner was

waiting just inside his office, one hand on the doorknob

and an inscrutable look on his face. Scully crossed to her

usual chair and sat, watching her boss shut the door and

settle himself gingerly behind the large oak desk. Freshly

back to work, one arm still swathed in a sling and flash

burns from the explosion still healing, Skinner moved with

an economy that suggested lingering discomfort.

Skinner extracted a manilla folder from a pile at his left

elbow and opened it on the blotter. “I’ve been contacted by

the local P.D. in…”

Scully’s brows drew together. “Excuse me, sir. Shouldn’t

we wait for Agent Mulder?”

Skinner glanced up sharply, his dark brown eyes stern and

assessing. “I didn’t invite Agent Mulder to this meeting,

Agent Scully. I wanted to speak with you privately about

this case.”

Scully’s eyes narrowed and her voice dropped 10 degrees.

“I see.”

Skinner sighed, shoving his glasses up so that he could

pinch the bridge of his nose. “No, Scully, you don’t see.

But you will. Please, hear me out.”

Scully’s brow remained furrowed but she inclined her head.

“Early this morning I spoke to a man named Jonas Sullivan.

He’s the sheriff in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia — a small

town about 40 miles outside Charleston. A little girl

disappeared from her home the night before last. Looked

like a straightforward kidnapping case until the only

witness to the crime started talking. An agent from the

local Bureau familiar with the X-Files division suggested

contacting Mulder. You and Mulder hadn’t arrived yet, so

the switchboard forwarded the call to this office.”

Scully fought the urge to let her eyes slip shut in

resignation, sensing where the conversation was headed.

Keeping her expression neutral was difficult, but not

impossible. “I assume the witness believes the child was

abducted by aliens?”

Skinner fingered the folder. “Sullivan faxed me the file.

From what I’ve read and my admittedly limited knowledge of

the subject, it looks like a textbook alien abduction

scenario.”

Scully studied her boss’s face, taking in the clenched jaw

and the twitch of a facial muscle high on his left cheek.

“What aren’t you telling me about this case, sir? Who

exactly is this witness?”

Amazingly, Skinner’s jaw tightened further. “The victim’s

11-year-old brother. The parents were at a church meeting.

He was babysitting.”

Scully dropped her eyes to where her hands lay neatly

folded in her lap. A string of highly unprofessional

responses remained sealed behind her pursed lips. “This

meeting isn’t really about the case, is it? You want to

know if I think Mulder can run the investigation and still

remain objective.”

“He’s had a difficult year, Scully. We both know this type

of case pushes some buttons for him.”

Scully’s head came up, her eyes blazing and her spine

ramrod straight. “Sir, Agent Mulder is first and foremost a

professional and…”

“Scully.” Skinner’s voice was quiet but authoritative. “He

took himself off the LaPierre case. I saw your face, you

were just as stunned as I was. Before I send him back into

the water I need to know he’s not going to drown. Like it

or not, as his partner you are the best judge of his

fitness for this type of assignment. Do you or do you not

feel Mulder is emotionally capable of handling this case?”

Images cascaded through Scully’s mind. Mulder’s initial,

eerie sense of peace after learning his sister’s fate had

been a transient balm for deep wounds not so easily healed.

When the dust settled and reality set in, she’d done her

best to help him pick up the pieces –occasionally

buffering the anger and bitterness over his mother’s

suicide; more frequently holding him as he wept over the

contents of his sister’s diary. He’d come a long way.

Genuine acceptance, not only of some agonizing truths but

of his inability to change them, had created within Mulder

a serenity she’d never before witnessed.

But could that fragile peace withstand the onslaught of

painful memories this case would provoke?

Scully licked her lips. “Sir, as I already stated, Mulder

is more than competent to…”

A sudden commotion in the outer office cut short her

reply. Behind the closed door they could hear indignant

treble interspersed with an equally insistent bass.

Frowning, Skinner rose to his feet just as the door swung

open to reveal Mulder, an irate Kim on his heels.

“Agent Mulder, what do you think you’re doing?”

“I tried to tell him you were in a closed meeting, sir,

but he just wouldn’t listen,” Kim said, her eyes

telegraphing clearly that if she had her way Mulder would

be a dead man.

Mulder’s bland expression couldn’t disguise his fury. “And

I tried to explain that there’s been a mistake. That

there’s no way you’d discuss a possible X-File with the

department head absent. Isn’t that right, *sir*?” The term

of respect left his lips like a curse.

Skinner locked eyes with his most troublesome agent for a

long moment before dismissing his assistant with a weary

wave of his hand. “I’ll handle this, Kim.”

Mulder’s face displayed no triumph as he crossed the room

and dropped into the empty chair, just a brief glance of

betrayal directed towards his clearly uncomfortable

partner. He leaned back, tightly folded arms and rigid

shoulders screaming defensiveness and mistrust.

Skinner opened his clenched fist and spread his hand flat

on the desktop. “Agent Mulder, I…”

“You might be surprised to learn I have a friend in the

Roanoke Bureau. Met him during one of those ridiculous team

building seminars I couldn’t talk my way out of back when I

was in Violent Crimes. We’ve managed to stay in touch.”

Mulder’s voice was frigid, his eyes the only expressive

feature in his face. “Matter of fact, I just got off the

phone with him. He wondered what my thoughts were on a

kidnapping case. He was pretty confused when I didn’t know

what the hell he was talking about, since the cop in charge

had already called to request my help on the investigation.”

“I just received the information within the last hour,

Mulder.” Skinner’s words were clipped, his tone warned

against insubordination. “I’ve barely had time to go over

the details.”

Mulder leaned forward, his hands grasping the chair in a

white-knuckled grip. “But you had time to call my *partner*

in and discuss them with her! Unless it wasn’t the *case*

that inspired this impromptu meeting of the minds. Worried

that Spooky’s going to hare out, sir?”

Scully shifted to face him, lips compressed in a straight

line. “Mulder…”

He rounded on her, the rage in his hazel eyes tempered by

hurt. His voice dropped to a level that excised Skinner

from the conversation as efficiently as a surgeon’s

scalpel. “So, what did you tell him, Scully?”

Scully met his gaze. The question in Mulder’s eyes, the

uncertainty, could be handled so simply in another time and

place. Her fingers twining with his, her lips brushing his

cheek… Mulder was an extremely tactile person. One

amazing discovery she’d made during their evolving

relationship was how easily she could reach him with a

simple touch. Her fingers ruffling a stray lock of hair,

her thumb stroking the soft skin on the back of his hand —

even fiddle with his tie, and Mulder turned to putty in her

hands. Ever mindful of Skinner’s scrutiny, she attempted to

convey the same emotions with her eyes and the barest tilt

of her lips.

“Before you burst in here, Mulder, I was about to tell the

A.D. that I feel you are perfectly capable of handling this

investigation. And that I believe you may just be that

little girl’s best hope.”

Mulder blinked. His eyes, formerly black with anger, turned

a mossy green. Message received.

Sucking in a deep, calming breath, he turned back to

Skinner. “Any further questions, sir?”

Skinner’s eyes darted between them, a look of intense

concentration on his face. He thrust his jaw forward,

closed the folder, and held it out to Mulder.

“You’d better get down there ASAP. I’ll have Kim make the

travel arrangements. Contact Sullivan from the Gauley

Bridge sheriff’s office first, he’ll see that you have

access to the crime scene and the family. And Agent

Mulder…”

Mulder paused, one hand on the doorknob, the other pressed

to the small of Scully’s back. Skinner stood, shoving his

good hand deep in his pocket.

“This is a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s

business. Tread lightly.”

Mulder’s lips twisted as if to spout a patented smartass

response, but Scully’s covert touch on his arm stalled it.

Mulder shot her a brief look of amusement before nodding.

“Yes, sir.”

Scully followed in Mulder’s wake as he took up a brisk

pace through the outer office. She mouthed a quick apology

in Kim’s direction, scooping up the two cups from the side

table where she’d deposited them earlier.

“Mu…Mulder!” The only acknowledgement that he’d even

heard her was a cursory glance over his shoulder, his long

legs striding in the direction of the elevator, file

tapping aggressively against the top of his thigh.

Scully had received enough attention from onlookers today.

She bit back the next “Mulder” forming on her lips and

waited until she caught up with her partner at the elevator.

“Mulder.” It was low, non-threatening, not quite pleading.

“I know what you’re going to say, Scully.” He gave the

call button two more hard shoves with the heel of his hand,

as if the elevator would respond to the extra force.

“Really?” Scully, took a step back and would have folded

her arms across her chest if she hadn’t still been holding

what probably amounted to lukewarm coffee.

Mulder clasped the file under his right arm and brought

both hands to his face. He scrubbed at his eyes, his voice

weary and resigned.

“It’s the same old story, Scully. Anything involving

missing children prompts psych evaluations on “Spooky”

Mulder. Will he hare out? Can he hold it together? Is it

too close to what happened to his sister? What the hell

was Skinner thinking? Have I lost so much credibility that

he finds it necessary to check my state of mind with you

before assigning me a case?”

Though his eyes reflected both hurt and anger, only the

latter colored his words.

Before Scully had a chance to answer, the elevator car

dinged its arrival, the doors opening to reveal a handful

of people. Without a second thought, Mulder stepped inside

and planted himself at the back of the crowded car. The

absence of his guiding hand left a sinking feeling in the

pit of Scully’s stomach. She knew he wasn’t angry with her,

and hoped when he really thought about it he would realize

that Skinner was only looking out for him.

The doors opened on the ground floor and the last of the

passengers stepped out. There wasn’t a lot to attract FBI

employees or visitors to the basement. And while in the

early months of their partnership Scully resented it, now

she viewed it as a blessing. The basement was their haven,

an escape from prying eyes and whispering tongues. They

did good work and she was proud of their accomplishments,

both professionally and personally. Over time the tag of

“Mrs. Spooky” had lost its sting, no longer feeling like an

insult.

Mulder unlocked the office and shouldered the door open.

Scully followed him in, ditching the cold coffee in the

nearest trashcan as she entered. Mulder retreated to the

corner of the office and dropped into his chair. He

propped his feet up on the desk and laid the unopened file

across his lap. His eyes took up an intense study of the

wall just above Scully’s head as his right hand absently

stroked his chin.

All the classic signs of Mulder in a sulk.

“Skinner was only trying to help. You’ve had… it’s been

a tough year for you, Mulder. There’s been a lot going on.

This isn’t a straight forward kidnapping case, it appears

to indicate… The witness is claiming alien abduction.”

Scully’s shoulders bunched as she anticipated Mulder’s

reaction. He dropped his feet to the floor, heedless of the

file that slipped from his lap, contents spilling from the

manila covering. Mulder leaned forward, hands splayed

across the desktop, his body language reminiscent of

Skinner’s as he’d confronted the wayward agent storming

into his office.

“I am the head of this division. If the assistant

director feels I am unfit to handle that responsibility…”

“Mulder! Enough. The A.D. was acting out of concern for

you. The little I heard before you joined us gave every

indication that Skinner’s intention was to assign this case

to you. He was just making sure… ”

Scully leaned over, gathering one of Mulder’s hands in her

own. She watched as the rigid set to his shoulders relaxed

and his head dropped until his chin rested on his chest.

“To be perfectly honest with you, I agree with Skinner.”

Mulder’s head shot up and he captured her gaze with

narrowed, suspicious eyes, his hand twitching in hers.

“*Not* because I don’t think you can do this, but because

I think you do this too well. Your ability to empathize

with the victims, to feel their pain …it’s what gives you

the edge over other agents. But…”

“But?”

How could she say it without sounding as if she *did*

doubt his ability?

“Are you sure you’re ready for this? To go…”

“Scully. I was too late to save Samantha. I know I can’t

change that. But this little girl… she still has a

chance. *I’m* that chance. Aliens kidnapping a child?

They’ll just investigate right over the top of that, or

bury the file so deep it will never surface. I’m ‘IT,’

Scully. I’m the only one that will take those claims

seriously enough to either prove or disprove them. I have

to do this. For that little girl. For her family. For me.”

Determination, compassion, assurance. They were etched

into Mulder’s features so deeply that Scully wondered how

she had ever doubted he’d cope. She squeezed the fingers

still nestled in hers and briefly pulled them to her lips,

lightly kissing the rough skin across his knuckles.

“Well then, G-Man, I suggest you gather that file up off

the floor. I’ll make us a cup of coffee, and we can go over

the police report before we leave.” Scully smiled up at

him and released his hand.

“Thanks, Scully.”

She threw him a questioning look.

“For backing me up with Skinner and trusting my judgement

on this.”

“Hey, what are partners for?” Scully moved off to make

the coffee, feeling strangely at odds with the flush she

could feel spreading across her cheeks.

“And Scully?”

“Mmmhmm?”

“I take two sugars, not one. I know you’ve been cutting

them back,” he chided lightly.

“Too much sugar is not good for you, Mulder.”

“I like my coffee sweet, Scully.” He let his voice drop

an octave. “Just like my women.”

He ducked behind his desk to retrieve the file and to

avoid a well-aimed projectile hurled at him from the

general direction of his partner, hiding a wide grin as he

gathered up the strewn papers.

Scully added creamer to her coffee and one sugar to

Mulder’s, pausing before tearing open a second packet.

“You should be getting over the sugar craving by now.

Have you given any more consideration to using the nicotine

patches suggested by Dr McManus?” She added the second

sugar and stirred the hot black liquid before handing it to

her partner.

“I’m not suffering from nicotine withdrawal, Scully. I

don’t need patches and I’m not craving sugar. I just got

used to drinking it sweet.”

“But…” Scully’s train of thought was interrupted by the

insistent trill of Mulder’s phone.

“Mulder.”

Scully sipped her coffee while Mulder pulled a pen from

his breast pocket and started jotting notes on a scrap of

paper.

“Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yep. Okay, thanks, Kim.” He replaced

the receiver back in its cradle and scooped up the file

from the top of his desk.

“Drink up, Scully. Skinner’s signed off on the 302, and

Kim got us a noon flight to Charleston. We can swing by

our apartments on the way to the airport.”

He was already unlocking his briefcase and stowing the

folder safely inside. He flipped the catches and rolled

the combination before swinging it off his desk, grimacing

as the movement wrenched sore ribs.

Scully observed the pain flicker across his face. Was he

really up to this? In her heart she knew he was right,

that he was that little girl’s best hope. No one else

would investigate this case with the same drive and

determination. Yet she couldn’t help worrying that this

case, like so many others involving children, would take

its toll.

Mulder paused in the doorway, tapping his foot impatiently

when he realized she wasn’t at his side.

“Are you coming? Time’s a-wasting, Scully. Let’s go.”

He was practically bouncing on the spot.

“Okay, okay. I’m coming.” Scully whisked her own

briefcase off the floor from behind her chair and preceded

Mulder out the door, comforted by a light pressure at the

small of her back.

3:06 p.m.

Gauley Bridge Sheriff’s Office

“I’ll be honest with you, Agent Mulder. I’m not one for

believin’ in little green men.”

Sheriff Sullivan tipped his considerable bulk backward,

eliciting a groan of protest from the rickety wooden chair.

His index finger tapped his lips as his dark eyes shifted

between Mulder and Scully.

Scully leaned forward, giving her partner a warning glare

on the way. “Sir, you called us in on this case. Now there

must be some reason…”

“I called you in, Agent Scully, because I couldn’t come up

with anything better. Before this, my biggest problem was

getting Julia Sterns to press charges against her husband

for knocking her around when he drinks too much. Now I’ve

got a little girl missin’ and the local feds telling me

that they don’t have enough to go on, just spinnin’ their

wheels. When Agent Mulder’s friend mentioned that y’all

specialize in this type of case, I jumped on the

suggestion.”

“We’ve read the information you faxed Assistant Director

Skinner.” Mulder’s voice was calm, unruffled, his body

sprawled elegantly in the chair. “Is there anything you’d

like to add before we interview the Marcussens? Are they a

close family? I take it from the police report that you are

a personal friend.”

“This isn’t Washington, D.C., Agent Mulder; I’m a personal

friend of just about everyone in town.” Sullivan sighed and

kneaded the back of his neck. “But I guess you could say I

know the Marcussens better than most. I drove Sam and Beth to

the hospital when she saw fit to have Jacob in the middle

of a snowstorm. And I helped them find Rachel the time she

wandered off and got herself lost in the woods. They’re

good, God fearin’ folks, and those children mean the world

to them.”

“No one is questioning their devotion to the children,

Sheriff Sullivan,” Scully said, her voice firm but soothing.

“Not out loud anyway.” When Scully opened her mouth to

protest further, he held up a callused hand. “Look, I may

be a babe in the woods compared to you big city fibbies,

but I’m smart enough to see that, little green men aside,

there aren’t many suspects in this case. I don’t intend to

see Rachel Marcussen turned into another Jon Benet Ramsey.

You get my meaning?”

Mulder sat up, both feet coming to rest on the floor, his

hands resting lightly on his knees. “And I can’t promise to

respect boundaries that interfere with my ability to do my

job.” His eyes flicked to Scully’s, and his tone warmed.

“What I *can* promise is that I will do everything in my

power to find out what happened to that little girl, and to

bring her home safely.”

Sullivan’s lips compressed to a bloodless line, and his

eyes bored into Mulder’s. Mulder met the scrutiny without

flinching, shoulders dropping imperceptibly when the

sheriff finally nodded and stood with a grunt.

“Let’s go, then. Sam and Beth are expecting us, and I

wouldn’t want to keep them waiting.”

3:45 p.m.

Marcussen residence

“Coffee, Agent Mulder?”

Beth Marcussen was a whip thin woman with dark blonde hair

and blue eyes so large they swallowed the rest of her heart-

shaped face. She’d been a bundle of perpetual motion since

they’d arrived, seating them on an overstuffed couch in the

living room, bustling off to the kitchen to make a pot of

coffee, and now serving them with restless, fluttering

hands. She reminded Scully of a lovely but fragile

butterfly, unable to settle for long in one spot.

“Thank you, Mrs. Marcussen.” Mulder smiled as he accepted

the cup, pointedly ignoring Scully’s disapproving stare as

he spooned in a generous ration of sugar.

“Please, call me Beth. Seems silly to be so formal with

the folks who we’re countin’ on to…” She pressed her

knuckles tightly to her lips to stop the flow of words.”

“Mrs. Marcussen — Beth, please sit down.” Mulder’s voice

was soft and gentle. The one reserved for victims and

suffering family members. “We need to ask you and your

husband a few questions about the night Rachel disappeared.”

Beth’s shadowed gaze darted to her husband. The antithesis

to her nervous energy, Sam Marcussen had remained still and

mostly silent in a large recliner near the fireplace. With

a tilt of her head, Beth crossed the room to perch on the

arm of the chair.

“We’ve read the police report and we’ve talked to Sheriff

Sullivan,” Mulder said, acknowledging the man with a slight

nod. “What we’d really like, is to hear the events of that

night in your own words.”

Beth sucked in a long breath of air and tucked a strand of

hair behind one ear in a gesture that reminded Mulder

eerily of his partner. “There’s so little to tell. Sam and

I had a meetin’ over at the church right after supper.

They’re lookin’ for a new pastor, and we’re on the

search committee. There weren’t going to be any kids there,

so Jacob offered to stay home with Rachel. He watches her

all the time when I go to the grocery store or shoppin’. We

were only gone an *hour*.”

Beth’s voice, which had become progressively more wispy,

broke. Sam placed a large, steady hand over her trembling

one and squeezed. He turned his haunted eyes on the agents.

“It was full dark by the time we came home, but there were

no lights on in the house. I thought maybe the kids were

playing some fool game of hide ‘n seek, so I started

callin’ for them. It wasn’t ’til they didn’t answer that I

got scared.”

“You found Jacob in his room?” Scully prodded.

Sam snorted, but there was no humor in it. “Not at first.

He was kinda folded up in a little ball, wedged between his

bed and the wall. Beth saw his foot stickin’ out and called

me. We tried to get him to tell us where Rachel was but it

was like he couldn’t hear us. Just kept rockin’ back and

forth. I was so scared, I guess I got a little rough with

him. I grabbed holda his arm and shook him, yellin’ at him to

tell us where his sister was.” Sam dry washed his face and

ran trembling fingers through his hair. “He just started…

screaming. Wouldn’t stop until the doc came and gave him

somethin’ to make him sleep.”

Scully sipped her coffee to disguise a surreptitious

glance at her partner. Mulder’s face, though a bit pale,

was composed. “You weren’t able to talk to Jacob until

yesterday morning?”

“No way he was makin’ any sense,” Sullivan spoke up. “We

tried to search the woods surrounding the house, but it was

near impossible in the dark. I had a team of volunteers

cover about a three mile radius yesterday. No one turned up

a thing.”

Mulder gazed out the picture window at the thick forest

that encircled the small house. He gently placed his cup on

the coffee table and braced his elbows on his knees. “We’d

like to speak to Jacob, if you think he’s up to it.”

Sam and Beth held a silent consultation before she nodded.

“We knew you would. He hasn’t said too much since he talked

to Jonas and those other agents, hasn’t even left his room

except to eat. But he hasn’t started screamin’ again

either.” She tried to smile but her lips quivered. “Jacob’s

always been the brave one. Rachel was…” She caught

herself, “IS more like me, afraid of everything.”

“We don’t want to upset him, Beth,” Scully said, mimicking

Mulder’s actions with her own cup. “We’d just like to hear

the whole story in his own words. There’s always the

possibility he’ll remember something new.”

“His room is the last door on your left.” Sam stood and

led them to a hallway that ran along the back of the house.

“Just… He’s a little boy who lost his sister. Please,

don’t forget that.”

To Marcussen, an almost curt bob of the head and a

carefully neutral expression communicated professional

courtesy. To Scully, a reflexive swallow, a tightening of

jaw muscles, and a few additional lines around the eyes

betrayed a more emotional response. She moved past Mulder,

discretely allowing her hand to brush his before continuing

to Jacob’s door. When Mulder reached her side, his

expression slightly less pinched, she rapped firmly.

“Come in.”

Scully wasn’t sure exactly what she’d expected — posters

of rock bands, perhaps, or famous sports figures? Certainly

not the schematic of a space station and a periodic table

of elements. She let her eyes roam the walls and surfaces

while Mulder strode directly over to where Jacob sat at a

small wooden table, his head bent over some type of model

whose pieces were scattered across the polished surface.

“Hi, Jacob. I’m Agent Mulder and this is Agent Scully.

We’re trying to help Sheriff Sullivan find your sister.”

Jacob carefully set aside what Scully now recognized as a

partially assembled space shuttle, and methodically wiped

glue from his fingers before shaking Mulder’s outstretched

hand. He looked each of them up and down coolly.

“Agent?”

“We’re from the FBI,” Scully explained, making her way to

Mulder’s side.

Jacob shoved unruly brown hair off his forehead. “Local?

Or D.C.?”

Mulder’s lips quirked. “D.C. Why?”

Jacob shrugged and fingered one of the tiny pieces. “No

reason. I just thought that the other agents were givin’

up.”

Something passed across Mulder’s face before he circled

around the table and lifted the half-completed model.

“Looks like you’re really into space exploration,” he

mused, gesturing at various models of rockets and planets

scattered throughout the room. “Been following the Mars

launches?”

Jacob made a face. “Yeah, even though they keep losin’

them. Four spacecraft in one year’s pretty sorry, dontcha

think?”

“They do seem to need a new approach,” Mulder agreed,

crossing over to sit on the bed.

Jacob swiveled to face him. “Look at the Polar Lander — it

smashed to bits! Breakin’ thrusters shut down at an

altitude of 130 feet, and it impacted the surface at about

50 miles an hour. All ’cause one missin’ line of computer

code told the on board systems that she was safely on the

surface when she was still in the air. But then, what can

you expect when they’ve gone so cheap they’ve got people

workin’ 80 hour weeks?”

Scully arched an eyebrow in Mulder’s direction. Nobody had

mentioned Jacob Marcussen was 11 going on 30.

Mulder’s lips curved as he gently steered the conversation

back on track. “We’re here because of your testimony,

Jacob. Will you answer some questions for us?”

Jacob shrugged. “Already talked to the other agents.

Didn’t seem like they believed me.”

“Well, we’re from a division of the Bureau that

specializes in paranormal phenomena — exactly the kind of

thing you say happened to Rachel. Would you mind going

over what happened the night she disappeared, one more

time?”

Jacob studied them with intense, dark eyes. “Mom and Dad

were at a church meetin’. Rache and I aren’t allowed to

play outside when they’re not home, so I was foolin’ around

on the computer, and she was watchin’ TV. Then all of a

sudden, the electricity cut out, so we went out front to

see if anybody else’s lights were on. That’s when we saw

the spaceship.”

“Spaceship?” Mulder’s face reflected only polite interest,

but Scully watched his hands slowly curl into fists.

Jacob nodded matter-of-factly. “Yep. Had to be. It looked

kinda like an airplane but it was movin’ up, down, and all

around like a helicopter. And fast! It swooped real low

over the house, and we ran around to the backyard to follow

it. Looked like it dropped down into the trees, and we

could see the light reflectin’ up. Before I knew it, Rache

took off into the woods sayin’ she was gonna see a real

live flyin’ saucer. I tried to stop her…”

He looked down, blinking. Scully crouched beside him and

laid one hand on his knee. “It’s all right, Jacob. Take

your time.”

Jacob gave her a tremulous smile before continuing. “I

would’ve caught up with her; I’m a much better runner. But

then there was this really bright light. It swallowed Rache

up and I couldn’t see her anymore. I tried to yell her

name, but I couldn’t talk — I couldn’t even move!” He

lifted dry eyes to Mulder. “I could hear her scream for me,

but I couldn’t move.”

“Did you see the spaceship?” Mulder asked.

Jacob shook his head. “I couldn’t see anything, just the

light. It was so white — you’d a thought it would be hot,

but it wasn’t. It was cold.” He shivered. “Next thing I

knew it was gone, and I could move again. I could still

hear Rachel screamin’ but it sounded far away. I…I ran,

I guess. I don’t really remember much after that ’til my mom

and dad came in and found me here.”

Mulder pressed one fist to his lips, trading a long look

with Scully. Jerking his gaze from the concern in her blue

eyes, he stood up.

“Is there anything else you can tell us, Jacob? Anything

you want to add that you might have forgotten?”

Jacob slowly shook his head. He scooted his chair back to

the table and calmly picked up the model, though his eyes

skittered back and forth between Mulder and Scully.

“Thank you for answering our questions, Jacob,” Scully

murmured, straightening up and moving to the door. “We know

it isn’t easy for you to talk about that night.”

Mulder pulled open the door and guided Scully through with

his hand pressed to the small of her back. He turned back

to Jacob, who was opening a small tube of glue.

“Try not to worry, Jacob. We’ll do everything we can to

find Rachel.”

Jacob never lifted his head, and his voice remained

steady. “You can try all you want, Agent Mulder. But I

don’t think they’re gonna bring her back.”

Mulder backed into the hallway, unable to tear his eyes

from the crown of Jacob’s shaggy head and the smooth,

deliberate movements of his small hands until he carefully

shut the door. He sagged against the wall with eyes closed,

trembling fingers leaving a trail of unruly spikes in his

hair. Scully’s solid warmth at his elbow encouraged him to

crack open one eye.

“Well, that was a little too close to home.” He molded his

features into a cookie cutter smile, not sure if it was for

Scully’s benefit or his own.

“Mulder, if this case…”

Mulder swallowed the shock like an exceptionally bitter

pill and peeled himself off the wall. “I’m fine. And the

Marcussens are waiting.”

A brush of his fingers down her arm and he strode up the

hallway toward the living room. Scully pressed her lips

tightly together and followed.

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

ACT II

4:03 p.m.

Outside the Marcussen Residence

“Agent Mulder, I gotta tell you, when I asked you to come

out here and take a look at this case I thought you’d help

put to rest these wild claims of young Jacob.” Sheriff

Sullivan leaned against his car with arms folded across his

chest and a frown darkening his rugged features.

“Wild claims? You think he’s making it up?” Mulder asked

with mild curiosity. His eyes actively scanned the

treetops behind the Marcussen’s house.

“He’s an 11-year-old boy who’s lost his sister. I don’t

think he knows up from down right now. I was hopin’ you’d

set him straight, help him remember. Don’t get me wrong,

he’s a good kid, but after what happened… well you can’t

blame him for bein’ a tad confused.”

“Really? He didn’t strike me as the type of kid that

would be easily confused.”

Sheriff Sullivan’s eyes narrowed, and he pinned Mulder with

a steely glare.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means, Sheriff, that despite the recent trauma, Jacob

appears to be an exceptionally intelligent and self-assured

kid.”

“Excuse us.” Scully sidled up to Mulder, took his arm,

and turned him to face away from the other man.

“Mulder…” The use of his name a quiet warning, letting

him know he was close to stepping on fragile, law

enforcement toes. “Remember what Skinner said before we

left…”

“Yeah, yeah, Scully. I *am* treading lightly. Do you see

him hopping up and down?” A hint of mischief danced in

Mulder’s eyes.

Scully smiled in relief. The knot that had been growing

in her stomach since the interview with Jacob was slowly

untangling as Mulder shed the tight, troubled expression

that had haunted his face. But she still needed to know,

to be sure.

“Are you okay with this, Mulder?” She tilted her head to

the side, searching his face for the truth.

“I’m fine. Really. Look, Scully, why don’t you head back

into town with the good sheriff? Check in with the Roanoke

office and make nice. Ask for Tim Spencer, he’ll give you

the straight story without any attitude. You could also

look up the doctor who treated Jacob the night Rachel

disappeared. Maybe Jacob said something… anything before

he was sedated.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’ll take a walk around the Marcussens’ property and

check out the woods, try to come up with some evidence to

support the boy’s story. I also want to interview the

neighbors, find out if they have anything useful to add.”

Sheriff Sullivan sidled closer. “I already talked to them.

No one saw or heard a damn thing worth repeatin’.”

“You have to ask the right questions to get the right

answers, Sheriff.” Mulder spun on his heel and strode

toward the trees. The thick woods swallowed him within

minutes.

“Is he always like that?” Sullivan stood with his hands on

his hips, watching Mulder’s retreating form.

“Like what?” Scully asked, deadpan.

“Forget it. I’ll give you that ride back to town.”

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

Mulder picked his way through low hanging branches,

swatting at the odd mosquito as it buzzed past his ear or

settled on his cheek.

The rich scent of rotting vegetation hung heavily in the

humid air, and the soft, spongy ground squished under

Mulder’s feet. The shrill chirp of cicadas competed with

the warbling cry of birds as they called to one another

above his head. And every now and then a rustle of leaves

would alert him to some woodland creature scurrying on its

way in search of food or shelter. But the forest showed no

intention of confiding the secret of what had happened to a

little girl on a warm September evening.

Thirty minutes later, Mulder was sweaty, mud-spattered,

and frustrated. Nothing was consistent with an alleged UFO

landing site. The treeline bore no evidence of damage, no

burnt or singed leaves. The foliage remained lush, green,

and intact.

The sheriff’s men had searched a three-mile radius without

noting anything unusual in their report. How far could a 6-

year-old girl run in a matter of minutes? The abduction

had to have taken place close to the family home.

Mulder had begun his exploration in the hope of finding

something that would corroborate Jacob’s story, lend

credence to his claims. Instead, he’d come up empty. He

gave the ground a halfhearted kick and craned his neck

skyward as if the answer would fall from the heavens.

Dropping his eyes, he scanned the trees one last time

before hiking back toward the house.

Maybe the neighbors would be of more help.

4:58 p.m.

Millers’ Residence

“It’s a cryin’ shame, I swear, Agent Mulder. Dear little

thing just up an’ disappearin’ like that. I don’t know

what the world’s comin’ to when folks ain’t even safe in

their own homes. The Marcussens are real good community-

minded folks. They deserve better. Beth’s on the PTA over

to the school, and her Sam’s always up there fixin’ this,

mendin’ that — real handy. And little Rachel…” Louise

Miller swiped at her eyes with a tissue. “I can’t believe

this has happened; it’s a cryin’ shame. A cryin’ shame.

Can I get you another glass of lemonade?”

“No, thanks. Still working on this one.” Mulder smiled

and held up his glass, half full. “I really appreciate

you helping us out with our inquiries. Can you tell me

what you remember from the night Rachel disappeared? Did

you notice anything… unusual?”

“Well, that’s the thing, Agent Mulder, I didn’t. I know

what that poor boy is sayin’. Crazy talk about aliens

landin’ and takin’ little Rachel. ‘Course he ain’t thinkin’

straight right now. How could he, losin’ his sister an’

all?”

“So you didn’t see any strange lights, hear any odd sounds?”

“No sir. The night passed just like any other ’round here,

nice an’ quiet.”

“What about the power? Was there any interruption of your

electricity?”

Louise’s face twisted with confusion. “Why, heck no. We was

all watchin’ the TV ’bout the time little Rachel was

s’posed to’ve gone missin’, and we’d sure have known if the

power went out.”

Mulder glanced around the modest living room. The

television was the centerpiece of the room. A sofa and two

armchairs, including the one in which he was seated, faced

it. Photos adorned the top of the TV, pictures of Louise, a

man Mulder assumed to be her husband, and two children — a

boy with cropped blond hair and smiling brown eyes, and a

little girl with pigtails and missing teeth.

“Are those your children, Mrs. Miller?” Mulder tilted his

head toward the photos.

She nodded, eyes brightening and lips curving. “Luke an’

Jessica. They’re the same age as Jacob an’ Rachel. Oh my,

how Beth and Sam must be sufferin’ right now.” The smile

wavered, then crumbled as she dabbed at her eyes and nose

again with the tissue.

Mulder discreetly averted his gaze, waiting for her to

compose herself before resuming his line of questioning.

“I’m sorry, Agent Mulder. This is just so hard to

understand. So hard to believe. My kids are real friendly

with Jacob an’ Rachel, in the same class at school an’ all.”

The sound of a door slamming shut and the high pitched

squeal of children’s laughter rang through the house.

“I’m telling Mama!”

“No! Luke, stop it!”

“Ha, ha. Betcha can’t catch me!”

More laughter was followed by the sound of running feet.

“Kids! Hey, cut that out! How many times have I warned you

about runnin’ through the house?”

At the sound of their mother’s voice, two young faces,

sweaty and rosy cheeked, pulled up short just inside the

living room door, chests heaving and laughter still

bubbling.

“Mama, tell Luke to stop ticklin’ me,” the little girl

whined, but there was no malice in her words.

“Luke, leave your sister alone. Now quiet down you two;

we got company.”

Two sets of eyes strayed from their mother to take up a

steady examination of the stranger sitting in their living

room.

“This here’s Agent Mulder. He’s from the FBI in

Washington DC. He’s come all the way to help find Rachel.

Agent Mulder, these are my children, Luke and Jess.”

The little girl took two tentative steps towards Mulder.

“You gonna bring Rachel back home, mister?”

“I’m going to try my hardest. Were you and Rachel friends?”

“Uh-huh. She’s my best friend.”

Mulder turned his attention to the older boy. “What about

you, Luke? Do you and Jacob hang out together?”

A nearly imperceptible shadow passed across both faces. Jess

looked at her brother with wide-eyed anticipation, lips

pressed in a tight line. The boy’s startled gaze held

Mulder’s for only a second before he lifted one shoulder in

a half-hearted shrug and turned to his mom.

“Can I be excused, please? Jimmy’s waitin’ for me at the

lot; he’s expectin’ me back any minute. I only come home

to get my mitt and ball.” He tugged on his sister’s arm.

“C’mon Jess, we gotta get goin’.”

Mrs. Miller shot Mulder a look that said, “What can you

do?” and bobbed her head. “Go ahead. You know the rules,

though, be back before dark!”

Jessica puffed a quiet sigh and her face relaxed.

Something niggled at Mulder’s brain. What had just passed

between Jess and her brother?

“Kids, huh? Just one big bundle of energy.” Louise shook

her head, smiling indulgently as the back door slammed shut

again. “Agent Mulder? I sure hope you can find Rachel.

Jacob’ll be lost without his sister. Those two are like

peas in a pod, always together. Jacob doted…” She paused at

her choice of words, the tissue working convulsively in her

hands. “I mean, he *does* dote on her. We gotta think

positive, right? No wonder that poor boy’s seein’ aliens

and such — probably the only way he can cope.”

“I’ll do everything within my power to bring Rachel back

safely, Mrs. Miller.” Mulder placed his empty glass on the

table and reached inside his coat pocket. He offered a

card to the woman in front of him. “If you think of

anything else, you can reach me on my cell phone or contact

the sheriff’s department. Thank you again for your help.”

“My pleasure, sir. Like I said, I hope you find that

sweet little girl.”

For just a moment time slipped backward, and Louise Miller

wore Billie LaPierre’s face. Mulder blinked and mustered a

nod. “I hope so too.”

6:47 p.m.

New River Lodge

Scully tossed her keys onto the cheap pressboard table,

kicked off her shoes, and sagged against the wall with a

gusty sigh. The connecting door to Mulder’s room hung ajar,

and the hiss of water on tile drifted through the opening.

Tucking back a strand of auburn hair turned mutinous by the

humidity, she padded into her partner’s room.

“Mulder, I’m back.” She pitched her voice to be heard over

the shower while rescuing a pair of Armani pants from a

heap on the floor.

“Hey, Scully. How’d it go with the doctor?”

She eyed the dried mud splattered around the hem of each

leg before folding them neatly. “He was very helpful. I’ll

tell you all about it later. I’m starving, Mulder.”

His low chuckle, dark and smooth as molasses, chased away

a little of her weariness. “Pizza’s on the way. I’ll be out

in a minute.”

Pizza. Mulder considered it one of the five basic food

groups. Scully assessed the gnawing in her belly coupled

with the desire to don an old pair of shorts and a tee

shirt and decided pizza didn’t sound so bad after all.

By the time the pizza arrived she’d shed her suit, and

Mulder was sprawled on her bed, his wet hair making an

annoying damp spot on one of the pillows. Scully set the

carton and a nondescript white paper bag on the table,

pausing with her hand on the lid.

“Why am I suddenly afraid to open this, Mulder?”

He sat up, palm pressed to his heart and a wounded

expression plastered on his face. “Trust, Scully. I thought

it was the cornerstone of our partnership.”

Scully arched an eyebrow to demonstrate how unimpressed

she was with his theatrics. “I trust you with my life,

Mulder. Just not my stomach.”

She flipped back the lid, mouth curving in a smile. Mulder

peered over her shoulder, the scent of his shampoo in her

nose and the warmth of his breath on her neck intoxicating.

“Pepperoni, bacon, and onion for me, veggies and extra

cheese for you.” She could sense the smile without using

her eyes.

Tilting her head back until it rested on his shoulder, she

grinned up at him. “If there’s a Diet Coke in that bag…”

Mulder reached around her to produce a white and red can.

“Never doubt it, Scully.”

She nibbled her way through two slices while Mulder

recounted his walk in the woods and the interview with

Louise Miller. Under the guise of slurping strings of

cheese and sipping soda, she observed him carefully. Though

he’d obviously regained his equilibrium, she sensed

something still bothered him. His voice softened when he

described the absence of heat damage to the trees; and when

he related his brief encounter with Luke and Jess Miller,

his gaze turned distant, his manner preoccupied.

“Mulder?”

Her verbal nudge brought him back from wherever he’d gone,

and he smiled. “What about you? Did you speak with Tim?”

Scully’s eyes crinkled and she pursed her lips. “Oh, I had

a very productive chat with your friend, Mulder. None of it

will help solve this case, but it was still very…

enlightening.”

Mulder dropped his head back to stare at the ceiling with

a loud groan. “Oh God, what was I thinking?”

Scully gave him a long, deliberately speculative look.

“You know, I always have pictured you as the type to sow

his wild oats.”

Mulder literally squirmed in his chair before getting up

and pacing to the window. “Have they turned up anything

new?”

She shook her head, watching in amusement as he fiddled

with the cord that controlled the drapes. “Not a thing. The

prevailing opinion is that Rachel’s either lost out in

those woods or in the hands of someone who has no interest

in money.”

“Spencer always was a little more open minded than most.”

He snorted, turning around. “Obviously — he befriended

Spooky Mulder.”

Scully didn’t bother to conceal her smirk. “Come clean,

Mulder. Did you really get so drunk that you…”

“So, what did Jacob’s doctor have to say?”

Letting him off the hook, Scully made a mental note to

revisit the conversation in the future. “His name is Warren

Blake and he’s a GP — takes care of the whole family. He

describes both Jacob and Rachel as average, healthy kids.”

Mulder dropped back into his chair. “Surely he’s aware

that Jacob’s intelligence is far from average.”

“Not just above average — well within range for MENSA.

Blake said he’s been tested at 162.”

His teeth worried his lower lip. “Kids with exceptionally

high IQs often have difficulty relating to their peers,” he

murmured, more to himself than to Scully.

Scully’s brow furrowed but she continued. “According to

Blake, Jacob is a model child. Very polite, very helpful.”

“And the night of Rachel’s abduction?”

Scully contemplated mentioning that very little about this

case pointed to abduction, but prudently held her tongue.

“When Baker got to the Marcussens’ they’d managed to coax

Jacob out from the corner, but he was still pretty

incoherent. He said the boy kept repeating something about

a bright light and not being able to move. He finally had

to administer a mild sedative to calm Jacob down. Said he

hadn’t seen him that upset since the time Rachel got lost

in the woods.”

Mulder looked up sharply. “Sheriff Sullivan mentioned that

incident. Blake was involved?”

“Initially he participated on one of the search teams,”

Scully replied, puzzled by Mulder’s abrupt and intense

focus. “He wound up staying back at the house when Beth

became hysterical. Mulder, I can’t help wondering if what

we have here isn’t a simple repetition of that incident.

Jacob admits Rachel went running off into the woods…”

“How did Rachel become lost?”

Scully frowned. “I didn’t ask. Blake did say she was no

more than two or three at the time. The way he tells it,

Rachel has always been a rather accident-prone child.” She

held up a hand. “And before you ask, Blake vehemently

denied any signs of child abuse. He depicts Sam and Beth

Marcussen as model parents, and assured me that although

Rachel has suffered more than the average number of

childhood traumas, Jacob is disgustingly healthy.”

She watched him absently picking pepperoni off a slice of

pizza without consuming it, noticing for the first time

that he’d eaten very little. Placing both elbows on the

table she leaned into his personal space — a little trick

she’d learned from the master.

“Mulder, are you going to eat that pizza, or autopsy it?”

His fingers froze in the act of extracting a scrap of

bacon, and he adopted a smartass grin. “Aw c’mon, Scully,

be a sport. Mom never let me play with my food.”

*Deflecting*, Scully thought as he wiped the greasy digits

on a napkin and picked up his soda. Mulder used humor like

a shield whenever real life hit a little too close to home.

“Mulder, something is obviously bothering you. What is it?”

Both eyebrows soared and his eyes flew wide open. “I don’t

know what you’re talking about, Scully.”

“I think you do. You haven’t been yourself ever since we

talked to Jacob Marcussen.”

The feigned innocence gave way to anger. “I already told

you, Scully, I’m fine.”

“That’s bullshit, Mulder, and you know it! You were barely

holding it together outside Jacob’s room, and you’ve been

distant and distracted all through dinner.” She sighed,

sliding her hand across the table and tangling her fingers

with his. “Mulder, that boy could be you. You’d have to be

made of stone not to be affected by this case.”

He refused to meet her eyes, but his fingers curled to

stroke her palm. “I… It’s not what you think, Scully.”

She waited, the restless shifting of his body testifying

that more was coming. His voice was very soft, and very

calm.

“Scully, did you know that when Samantha disappeared, I was

a suspect?”

She could feel her jaw drop, her brows squeeze together.

Mulder ignored her discomfiture, never lifting his eyes or

breaking the slow, steady stroking of his thumb.

“True, I was hysterical — catatonic, even. But my

father’s gun was lying on the living room floor. It

wouldn’t be the first time one sibling killed another, due

to anger or a game gone tragically awry. Samantha and I

were typical kids, we had more than our share of brawls.

And I was precocious, too smart for my own good, according

to some. I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t those who

still believe I killed her and hid the body somewhere.”

Scully finally located her voice. “Mulder. What exactly

are you trying to say? Surely you don’t suspect Jacob

Marcussen of murdering his sister?”

She wanted him to laugh. To flash her that maddening smirk

and declare, “I got you, Scully. Big time.” But when Mulder

raised his head his eyes were deadly serious.

“All I’m saying right now, Scully, is that I don’t think

aliens abducted Rachel Marcussen. And I really want to know

why Jacob says they did.”

Scully gaped at him a moment before shaking her head.

“Mulder, there are many more plausible explanations than…”

He stood, gently drawing his hand from hers. “I want to

talk to the Marcussens first thing in the morning, Scully.

Jacob should be in school, so it will be the perfect

opportunity to ask questions without worrying about him

overhearing.”

Scully grit her teeth. “What kind of questions? Excuse me,

Mrs. Marcussen, but has Jacob ever tried to kill his

sister?”

Mulder turned away, but not before she saw the hurt on his

face. “I need to hear exactly what happened when Rachel was

lost in the woods. And her other ‘accidents.'”

The mule-ish tone of his voice erased her momentary

regret. “I can’t believe you’re considering this, Mulder.

He’s just a little boy.”

Mulder crossed to the connecting door, pausing with one

hand on the jamb. “So were Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ted Bundy.

Monsters aren’t conjured from thin air, Scully. They have

parents and a childhood just like you and me.”

She stared at the open doorway long after he’d vanished

through it.

9:14 a.m.

Marcussen Residence

“We appreciate you speaking with us again, Mrs. Marcussen.

Particularly on such short notice.”

Mulder reclaimed the seat he’d occupied the previous

afternoon, casting an uneasy glance at his partner as she

silently joined him. They’d exchanged less than two dozen

words, all couched in excruciatingly polite terms, since

he’d retreated to his room after dinner. He knew she felt

repulsed by his suspicions regarding Jacob, and frustrated

with his inability to provide concrete evidence to back

them.

Unable, or unwilling? Scully had a very limited

acquaintance with Fox Mulder the profiler. Other than his

unavoidable slide during the Mostow case, he’d carefully

shielded her from that side of himself — though he

couldn’t combat the “Spooky” Mulder legends that still

circulated through the Bureau. Truth was, a great deal of

his profiling ability rested in pure instinct. Yes, his

eidetic memory allowed him to assimilate and piece together

an incredible amount of seemingly unrelated data. But when

push came to shove, it was his gut *feeling* about a case —

and the killer — that earned him his nickname.

And he had a feeling about Jacob Marcussen that wouldn’t

go away.

“It’s Beth, Agent Mulder. And I’ll be happy to do whatever

I can to help bring Rachel home.” Exhaustion ringed Beth

Marcussen’s eyes, and her hands trembled until she clasped

them tightly together. “Sam isn’t home. He and a few of our

neighbors are off takin’ another look in the woods, just in

case…” She pressed her folded hands tightly against her

lips. “What did you want to ask me?”

“You mentioned another time Rachel was missing, when she

was just a toddler. Did she…”

Mulder’s question cut off abruptly when Jacob wandered

into the living room. His brown eyes lingered on first

Scully and then Mulder before coming to rest on his mother.

“Mama, I wanna go down to Mrs. Hayes’ house to see the

puppies.”

Beth slipped an arm around his waist and gave him a small

frown of disapproval, though her tone remained mild.

“Where’s your manners, Jacob? Say hello to Agent Mulder and

Agent Scully.”

Jacob ducked his head and flashed them half a smile.

“Hello.”

“Hello, Jacob. It’s nice to see you again.”

Mulder struggled not to feel rebuked by the warmth in

Scully’s voice. “Hi Jacob.”

Jacob looked at him. Time slowed, and Scully and Beth

faded to the background as Mulder’s gaze locked with the

boy’s. For just a moment, he was certain he saw something

cold and calculating in those eyes, a touch of scorn in the

smile. Then Jacob blinked and turned back to Beth.

“Please, Mama? Mrs. Hayes says I can come over whenever I

want.”

Beth smiled and pulled him close, her eyes shiny. “Go

ahead then. But mind your manners, and be back before

lunch!”

Jacob wormed his way out of her grasp, but paused in the

doorway. “Mrs. Hayes says I can take one home if you say

yes. Can I, Mama? Please?”

Beth’s smile vanished and her pale brow furrowed. “Jacob,

we’ve been over this a hundred times. You can’t bring home

one of those puppies; your sister’s allergic! Havin’ a dog

in the house would make Rachel sick, you know that.”

Jacob looked away, his mouth drawn in a thin line. “How

about if Rachel doesn’t come back? Can I have a puppy then?”

His mother jerked as if struck, face twisting. “Jacob! How

can you even…” She sucked in a long, slow breath. “Rachel

*will* be back. Now go play.”

Jacob’s eyes narrowed, and he stole a quick look at Mulder

before disappearing through the doorway. Beth forced a

shaky laugh and scrubbed at her eyes with the back of one

hand.

“Kids! Hard to figure sometimes. I’m not sure why I kept him

home from school today. Guess it was more for me, than the

boy.” She looked back and forth between the agents.

“Coffee? It’s no trouble, really.”

Five minutes and a pot of coffee later, Beth had visibly

calmed. Mulder set his cup down and leaned back, one arm

stretched along the back of the couch behind Scully.

“Mrs. M… I mean, Beth. Could you tell us about the time

Rachel wandered off and became lost in the woods?”

Beth frowned. “I don’t see what use it could be, Agent

Mulder, but I will. Rachel was only two at the time, and

Jacob seven. Jacob was playin’ in his room and Rachel was

watchin’ TV — Barney, I think — so I went to take a quick

shower. When I came out to check on them — couldn’t have been

more than ten minutes — Jacob was still in his room but

Rachel was gone. I didn’t worry at first. Rachel loved to

play hide ‘n seek, and the house was childproofed. Then I saw

the back door was open and I panicked. A grown man can get

lost in those woods, and she was just a baby.” Her voice,

which had become progressively rougher, broke, and she

sipped some coffee. “It took a search party nearly three hours

to find her. Thank Jesus it wasn’t a very cold day or she

might have froze.”

“Guess things weren’t as childproofed as you thought,”

Mulder remarked very gently.

Beth shook her head vehemently, eyes bright. “That’s the

strangest part, Agent Mulder. I had one of those plastic

rings on the doorknob that’s supposed to keep little ones

from openin’ the door. Somehow she did it anyway.”

Mulder nodded, glancing over at his partner, but Scully

kept her eyes studiously fixed on Mrs. Marcussen.

“My nephew is like that,” she told Beth. “Into absolutely

everything! My brother and sister-in-law can hardly keep up

with him.”

A feeble smile tugged at the corners of Beth’s mouth.

“That’s the odd thing. Rachel had never been that kind of

child; she was always good as gold. Jacob, now, he was

always tryin’ to open cupboards and takin’ things apart.

Sam used to call him Taz, ’cause he said Jacob reminded him

of the Tasmanian Devil.”

A flicker of movement just over Beth’s shoulder caught

Mulder’s eye, and he stared at the open doorway while Beth

continued to expound on the challenges involved in raising

an exceptionally bright child. Convinced he’d been

mistaken, Mulder returned his attention to the interview.

“Dr. Blake mentioned that Rachel has quite an extensive

medical file,” Scully was saying.

Beth winced. “Poor child is terribly clumsy. ‘Course, I

can’t say I’m particularly coordinated myself, always

seemed to have two left feet. Rachel’s always takin’ a

tumble down the stairs or fallin’ off the jungle gym. Sam

says she ought to own stock in the Band-Aid company.”

“Jacob and Rachel are pretty close?” Mulder watched Beth’s

face intently, one thumb rubbing the back of his hand.

Beth shrugged. “Close as any, I guess. They fight, of

course, and Rachel complains that Jacob’s bossy. I don’t

leave them alone often, mostly ’cause Rachel doesn’t like

it. She says she’s afraid there’ll be a fire or a robber’ll

come and Jacob won’t be able to protect her.” Her lips

curved, but her eyes showed only sorrow. “Like I said,

Rachel scares easy.”

She stood and gathered their cups onto the tray. Mulder

reached out to help, but succeeded in spilling the dregs

from his cup onto his tie.

“Here.” Beth handed him a paper napkin to blot the dark

liquid, and gestured down the hallway. “There’s a bathroom

right across from Jacob’s room if you’d like to rinse that

out.”

“Thanks, I’ll do that.”

The shadowed hallway contrasted sharply with the

brilliance of the sunny living room. Mulder made a

perfunctory stop in the bathroom to splash water on his

tie, then paused outside Jacob’s room, head cocked. Scully

and Beth’s voices, reduced by distance to abstract

murmuring, gave him the reassurance he sought. He carefully

turned the brass knob and pushed, freezing in place with a

grimace when the wood creaked a protest. When the

conversation in the other room proceeded without a break,

he cautiously stepped inside.

An odd conglomeration, he mused, fingering a carefully

constructed replica of Apollo 8 perched beside a deck of

Pokemon cards. Books explaining the physics behind

launching the space shuttle occupied the same shelf as an

impressive collection of comics. A chart of the solar

system stretched across the ceiling above Jacob’s bed, but

a poster of Michael Jordan covered one wall. From the looks

of things, the boy had already gone through a dinosaur

phase — a model tyrannosaurus stood atop textbooks about

paleontology, and a plastic bin of assorted Jurassic Park

figures lay nearby.

More than a child, not an adult — Mulder gnawed on his

lip and tried not to remember. He wondered if Jacob had

learned to stop asking questions, to keep silent during

class discussions. Egghead. Brainiac. Know it all. Kids

don’t like a classmate who has all the answers, and

teachers quickly become uncomfortable when asked questions

they can’t answer. Only discovering how to blend in with

the crowd, and later his athletic prowess, had spared him

from winding up an outcast.

But not before a few hard lessons.

Mulder sighed and ran his fingers through his hair,

turning slowly. What had he expected to find? A list of

ways to get rid of your sister? A written confession? He

fiddled with Jacob’s computer, clicking on several files

that turned out to be saved games of Myst and Doom. A stack

of pencil drawings on the corner of the desk captured his

interest, and he flipped through them.

A creature that looked like a yellow and brown striped

squirrel. Obi Wan and Darth Maul dueling with light sabers.

Six puppies chasing a ball. Mulder flipped to the final

picture and stilled, eyes narrowed.

A spaceship, hovering over the ground. A little girl

surrounded by a beam of light and suspended in midair,

screaming. A boy hiding behind a tree, watching. Smiling.

Mulder stared at the drawing for a long moment, then

replaced it. He turned toward the door, mindful that Scully

and Beth would soon miss him, when something under Jacob’s

mattress caught his eye. He crossed the room and dropped to

his knees, leaning in for a closer look.

Paper, glossy and colorful. He slid one hand between

mattress and box spring and lifted, pulling out a small

stack of magazines. And gaped.

“Alien Encounter.” “Sightings.” “UFOs — The Untold Story.”

clip_image001

Pulp magazines filled with lurid tales of flying saucers

and alleged irrefutable proof of extraterrestrial life. Mulder,

noticing certain pages had been dog-eared, turned to the

marked spot. A chill raced up and down his spine, and he

quickly checked the next marked page. And the next.

He examined each magazine, his throat tightening and a

headache hammering just behind his eyes.

Abduction experiences.

Jacob Marcussen had his own little reference library

hidden beneath his mattress.

A soft rasp, like the whisper of sneakers on carpet,

snapped Mulder’s head up from the magazines. He scrambled

to his feet and strode to the door, cautiously poking his

head out. The hallway was vacant, and he could still hear

Scully and Beth in the living room. He rested his head

against the doorjamb and blew out a long breath of air

before realizing he still held the magazines in his hands.

After only a slight hesitation, Mulder lifted the back of

his jacket and stuffed them under his belt at the small of

his back. He smoothed the wrinkles from his jacket and the

frown from his face before rejoining the two women.

“There you are.” Beth squinted at his soiled tie. “Doesn’t

look like the water helped much, Agent Mulder.”

Mulder put on a smile. “That’s why I have a good dry

cleaners.” He looked at Scully and tipped his head almost

imperceptibly toward the door. Interpreting the gesture

correctly, she rose and offered Beth her hand.

“Thank you for your time, Beth.”

“No trouble, Agent Scully. Talkin’ to y’all makes me feel

like I’m doin’ *somethin’* to help find my little girl.”

Her voice quivered but her shoulders remained squared, her

gaze determined.

Mulder ushered Scully through the door but paused before

following. “Beth, would you mind giving me the names of the

children’s teachers?”

A thin line appeared between her eyebrows. “Agent Mulder,

you sure do ask some of the strangest questions. Rachel is

in Irene Pollard’s class and Jacob has Kathy Fergus.”

Mulder smiled. “Thank you. We’ll stay in touch.”

Scully turned to him when they reached the car. “What was

that all about?”

Mulder unlocked Scully’s door before circling around to

the driver’s side. “What?”

“The children’s teachers? Mulder, please don’t tell me you

plan on driving over to the school to talk to…” She

trailed off, lips quirking in amusement as Mulder slid

behind the wheel and began gyrating around on the seat as

he attempted to reach his hand down the back of his pants.

“Mulder, what in the hell are you doing? You’re acting like

you’ve got ants in your pants.”

“I’d ask you to do this for me, Scully, but we’re on

duty,” he replied, managing a respectable leer that turned

to a look of triumph when he produced the magazines.

Scully stared at them, lips parted. “Mulder! Did you take

those from the Marcussens?”

“Look at them, Scully. They were in Jacob’s room.”

Her incredulity twisted into a scowl. “You spilled that

coffee on purpose, didn’t you? You did it so you could

snoop through that little boy’s room.”

Mulder clenched his teeth. “*Look* at them, Scully.”

She pressed her lips tightly together and snatched them

from his hands. After studying each cover and flipping

quickly through the pages, she lifted her eyes and pinned

him with an icy glare.

“All right, I looked. And I can’t say I see anything to

justify removing private property.”

“Scully, those magazines outline countless abduction

experiences in vivid detail. And he’s got them marked

like… like research material!”

She rolled her eyes. “Mulder, are you suggesting that

Jacob is deliberately lying about what happened to Rachel?”

“He clearly has an extensive knowledge of abduction

scenarios, Scully, and his testimony combines all the

classic elements.”

“Mulder, Jacob is obsessed with space, something you

should certainly be able to understand. He experienced a

severe trauma and his 11-year-old mind couldn’t cope. So he

subconsciously created a fantasy. It’s hardly surprising

that fantasy would include aliens and spaceships.”

“They were hidden under his mattress, Scully,” Mulder said

tightly. “It was pure luck that I found them.”

Scully snorted, opening one of the magazines to a garish

illustration of a man pinned to a table by a laser beam

while bug-eyed aliens looked on. “Probably for the same

reason I used to hide my MAD magazines, Mulder. My mom

would’ve tossed them in the garbage if she’d ever found

them.” She thrust the magazines back into his lap.

Mulder slammed his fist against the steering wheel. “Damn

it, Scully, why can’t you see it? Rachel’s injuries,

getting lost in the woods… She got out a childproofed

door because *she* didn’t open it — Jacob did! Yesterday

he as much as tells me she won’t be coming back, and today

he’s asking for a puppy! And to top it all off, he’s gotten

all the details of his story from these magazines. Can’t

you at least admit the possibility that he’s responsible

for Rachel’s disappearance?”

Scully shook her head, her expression bewildered rather

than angry. “Mulder, you were once exactly where Jacob is

now. How can you accuse another child of something so

brutal, so…so calculating?”

Mulder dropped his head onto the seatback and closed his

eyes. “Scully, when I was with Violent Crimes we

investigated the murder of a 4-year-old boy. He disappeared

while at the mall with his mother; she turned her back for

only a moment, and he was gone. We found his body the next

day in a dumpster near some railroad tracks, barely

recognizable. He’d been beaten with a baseball bat, burned

with cigarettes — his skull had been smashed with a large

rock.”

He let his head loll toward her and opened bleak eyes. “We

eventually caught the murderers, thanks to an eyewitness

who saw them leading the child away from the mall. It was

two 12-year-old boys, Scully. They had this idea, see, of

how to spice up their summer. Strangling puppies and

setting cats on fire gets boring after a while.” He

swallowed thickly. “I was in the room when they confessed.

Neither one ever shed a tear.”

Scully’s hand crept across the seat, her fingers soft and

warm on the back of his hand. “I’m sorry, Mulder. Sorry you

had to experience that kind of horror, and sorry it will

always be a part of you. I just don’t…”

“Just trust me on this, okay, Scully? Let’s talk to

Jacob’s teacher, find out what kind of kid he is when he’s

not with Mom and Dad.”

She looked into his eyes for a long moment before nodding.

“All right, Mulder. But I still think you’re on the wrong

track.”

Mulder gave her hand a brief squeeze before reaching up to

turn the ignition. “I never thought I’d say this, Scully.

But this time, I hope you’re right.”

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

ACT III

10:56 a.m. Gauley Bridge Elementary school

The monotonous drone of children’s voices sing-songing the

well-known chant of a jumping rope rhyme drifted through

the air. Mid morning sun combined with black asphalt to

create an eerie shimmer as the heat rose from its dark

surface. The peculiar yet familiar stench of stale orange

peel, old sandwich crusts, and dried up apple cores filled

the air, reminding Scully of her own days spent in

schoolyard playgrounds.

“Can you smell that, Mulder? There’s something about the

smell of a schoolyard that remains constant throughout time

and space.” Scully closed her eyes and sniffed the air.

“Yeah, makes me think that someone forgot to take out the

trash.” Mulder broke his stride only long enough to answer

her before continuing towards the large glass doors of the

school building.

Various forms of climbing equipment — some new and

brightly colored, others worn, shabby, and giving the

impression they had seen better days — dotted a grassy

play area to the left of the concrete path. Scully’s steps

faltered as she slowed to watch a gaggle of rosy-cheeked

children swinging, sliding, and playing tag while their

teacher looked on with a tolerant smile. A little girl with

a cap of strawberry blonde hair raced past, squealing in

delight as she evaded the outstretched hand of a little boy

hot on her heels.

*Emily would be that age now.*

Scully forced her feet to move and the soft voice to the

corner of her mind where she relegated thoughts too painful

to explore.

A small hill, covered in green, leafy trees stood out as a

picturesque backdrop to the modern red brick building.

This school bore a close resemblance to one that she had

attended. Despite the regular moves imposed on her family

by the Navy, she had enjoyed her education. She achieved

academic success and made friends easily, some of whom she

still managed to keep in contact with these days — albeit

only a quick phone call or email to wish them a happy

birthday or to congratulate them on the arrival of a new

baby.

She wondered about Mulder. It was no secret that his life

after Samantha’s disappearance had been a turbulent time

full of sadness. On those rare occasions when he opened up

to her, his comments about his childhood were usually vague

and filled with bitterness. She knew it hadn’t been easy

for him.

Is that what the future held for Jacob? Was his fate to

be the same as her partner’s, isolated and under constant

suspicion of murdering his own sister? Scully shuddered,

the anger she had managed to suppress surging to the

forefront once again. How could Mulder suspect a little boy

of something so evil? He of all people should understand

what Jacob was going through.

“You coming, Scully?” Mulder propped open the heavy glass

door with his hip, gesturing for Scully to precede him.

Scully marched past with a perfunctory “thank you” as she

slid into the cool foyer. Although her head told her it

was unreasonable, she couldn’t help feeling a little

annoyed that Mulder persisted with the theory that Jacob

was to blame for what happened to Rachel. She sensed Mulder

sending her questioning looks as they presented badges to

the secretary and introduced themselves to the principal,

but ignored him.

“I don’t know that there’s too much more to tell; we

already spoke with Sheriff Sullivan a day or so back,”

Principal Jackson said, fiddling with first a pencil holder

and then a paperweight. Short and slight of build, he

looked lost behind the huge pine desk. “And I have to say,

I’m not real keen about disrupting Irene’s class again. The

students have been upset enough about this whole business.” He

leaned forward, the chair creaking its irritation as he

repositioned himself.

“I’m sorry, sir. I think you’ve got the wrong idea. We’d

like to speak with *Jacob’s* teacher…” Mulder flicked

through his notebook, stabbing his finger at a page. “That

would be… Kathy Fergus?” He raised his brow.

“Jacob’s teacher? Has something happened to the boy?” A

flicker of panic crossed Jackson’s features.

Mulder shifted in his chair, feeling Scully’s look of

disapproval but choosing to ignore it.

“No, no, this is just routine. We’re talking to everyone

who had contact with the family in the days prior to

Rachel’s disappearance. We’re just piecing together the

events leading up to that night.”

“Well, as I told you, I don’t know that I want to

disrupt the children. It doesn’t matter to them that Rachel

wasn’t in their class. This is a small town, sir, and we’re

all feeling her loss.” Stubbornness ironed out the man’s

earlier expression of alarm.

Mulder opened his mouth to reply, hesitating when he felt

the warmth of Scully’s hand brush his.

“Mr. Jackson, I understand that this is hard on everybody.

When a child goes missing, it affects the whole community.

We’ll be as quick as we can, but it is important that we

speak with Jacob’s teacher. We want to do everything in our

power to bring Rachel home.” Scully pulled her mouth into

a reassuring smile, widening it when the principal nodded

his agreement.

“You can wait in the staff lounge; it’s just along the

corridor a ways. We have a coffee machine in there; feel

free to help yourselves. I’ll go get Miss Fergus and bring

her to you.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Mulder unfolded himself from the chair and stood, pausing.

“Mr. Jackson, how would you describe Jacob Marcussen?”

“Young Jacob? I wish I had a whole school of him. You

know, he’s never been sent to me for disciplinary

reasons. He’s an extremely bright boy.” Jackson paused,

swiping his hand along his jawline. He shook his head and

snorted. “It’s the strangest thing, him coming up with this

fanciful tale of spaceships stealin’ his sister. Jacob’s

not one to be taken with flights of fancy. He likes to stick

to the facts, always quotin’ statistics on this or that.

Can’t imagine what’s gotten into him.”

Scully resisted the urge to remind the man that Jacob had

experienced a severe trauma — obviously this tragedy was

clouding more than just Mulder’s judgement.

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

“Miss Fergus, thank you for agreeing to speak with us. I’m

sorry to pull you away from your class, but I’m sure you

understand how important this is.” Mulder kept his voice

low and soothing.

“I’m happy to talk to you, Agent Mulder, but I’m not sure

exactly how I can be of help.” Kathy Fergus, gray hair and

wire-rimmed glasses enhancing her grandmotherly appearance,

seated herself comfortably in the chair opposite the agents.

“I’d like to ask you a few questions about Jacob. I’m

sure you’ve heard about his rather unusual testimony

regarding Rachel’s disappearance. Our main concern now is

to get Jacob to remember *exactly* what happened. It would

help us a lot if you could give us some insight into the

type of kid he is.”

Scully sat back in her chair, content to let Mulder set the

tone of the interview. Whether due to his talent at

profiling or his innate sense of empathy, her partner

possessed a knack for setting people at ease — a crucial

component in gleaning information. As she watched him

question the teacher, probing carefully for some clue that

would point to the little girl’s whereabouts, Scully felt

her anger recede. If anyone could find Rachel, it was

Mulder.

“Oh, Jacob is a wonderful kid; don’t let anybody tell you

any different. He’s one of the best students I’ve ever had

the pleasure of teaching. Sometimes he frightens me…”

“Frightens you? How?” Mulder interrupted, leaning

forward in his chair, arms folded casually in front of him

on the smooth formica tabletop, posture relaxed and non-

threatening. A tiny gleam in his eye was the only hint

Miss Fergus’ statement piqued his interest.

“Oh… maybe ‘frighten’ is the wrong word. The things the

boy comes out with! I guess you’d say he amazes me. I worry

sometimes that he’ll get bored with what I’m teaching. It

would be a terrible shame to see his intelligence wasted

because he’s not being stimulated enough in the classroom.

But you know, he’s never shown any sign of boredom. He’s

always been able to amuse himself, reading books or drawing

pictures. Like I said, he’s no trouble at all.” She shook

her head, a wry smile brightening her face.

“Some of those books he reads… If it were me, I’d need a

scientist to decipher what’s written in them! Not Jacob,

though, he understands everything he’s reading, and what he

doesn’t, he finds out by researchin’ on the Internet.”

Scully watched in mild amusement as her partner slumped

back in his chair, the scent lost.

“What type of books does he read?” Mulder asked casually.

“It varies. Right now they’re all about space; he’s

fascinated by it. I’m sure he could recall every detail and

statistic on the shuttle launches, dating back to the very

first one, if someone were to ask him. Told me once he

wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. It wouldn’t

surprise me a bit if we see him commandin’ his own mission

to Mars one day.” She gave a soft chuckle but her

expression told Scully she believed her own words.

“How does he get along with his peers?” Mulder played

with his bottom lip, stroking his index finger from side to

side as he formulated his questions and processed Miss

Fergus’ responses.

“Well now, that’s got me a tad confused. He doesn’t mix

so well with the other kids. I can’t quite put my finger on

it, but if I had to pin it down to any one particular

reason I’d say it’s because half the time what comes out of

the boy’s mouth is more like what you’d expect from an

adult. The other kids tend to keep their distance, almost

as if they’re scared of him.”

Kathy shook her head as if bringing herself to her senses,

looking first at Mulder, then at Scully before continuing

with a half smile. “Of course that’s ridiculous. He’s about

as gentle as they come. I’ve never seen him hurt anyone…

well…” Her voice trailed off, and she squinted her eyes

as if she couldn’t quite believe her own memories.

“What is it, Miss Fergus?” Mulder prompted as he shifted

his body forward again.

“Well, there was this one time — I wasn’t his teacher

then so this is more hearsay than anything else…” She

drifted off, chewing her bottom lip.

“What happened, Kathy?” Mulder’s body language caught

Scully’s attention. His voice adopted a silky cadence,

gently prompting without pushing. He’d brought his arms

back to rest on the table, leaning in slightly but staying

out of the teacher’s personal space. Scully knew that look

— he was onto something.

Kathy squared her shoulders and released her lip. “Every

year, just before the end of school we put on a play. This

isn’t a big school so we try and involve most of the

children. There’s always plenty to do — making costumes,

collecting props, singing in the chorus. It’s a pretty big

deal. We perform at the local community hall so that we can

fit everyone in; practically the whole town turns out to

see it. There’s some fine little actors in the school so we

hold auditions for the main characters. Last year, Jacob

and another boy tried out for the lead role. They were

both very good. Luke…”

Mulder stole a quick glance in Scully’s direction. She

met his gaze for a few brief seconds, her face studiously

neutral.

“Luke? Would that be Luke Miller?”

“Yes, yes, it would. Luke doesn’t do so well in school,

struggles with his work, not so good at sports — though he

tries real hard at both. Jacob, on the other hand, excels

at just about everything he attempts. We thought it would

be good for Luke if he got the lead role, so that’s what

decided us in the end. Jacob got the role of understudy.”

“How did Jacob react to that?”

Scully shifted quietly in her chair, the soft fabric of

her skirt rustling gently against the vinyl covering. She

anticipated where Mulder was going with this, her unease

with the line of questioning growing with each passing

minute.

“He was disappointed, of course, but he seemed fine with

it. Or so we thought. Two or three days before the play,

Luke fell off his bike — suffered a bad concussion and

broke his leg. He spent the next week in the hospital.

Rumors started circulatin’ that Jacob was somehow

responsible. Of course, there was no truth to those

accusations, nothing to indicate that Luke’s mishap was

anything more than an unfortunate accident. You know how

people can be sometimes, and kids are no different than

adults when it comes to success. It was easy for them to

blame Jacob — a little jealousy can go a long way in

fueling cruel rumors. He’s a good boy, Agent Mulder, Agent

Scully, and I hope I won’t regret tellin’ you that story.”

A look of guarded wariness passed across her face.

“We only want to help Jacob, Miss Fergus; he’s going through

a very difficult time. Our priority is to find his

sister, and at this point we haven’t a lot to go on. Jacob

may hold the key to what really happened that night.”

Mulder gathered the notes he’d been collecting, folded them

into a neat rectangle, and slipped the small bundle inside

his coat pocket.

Scully caught the quick flick of his eyes in her

direction, signaling the interview was over.

“We’ve taken up enough of your time. Thank you for

answering our questions so candidly; you’ve been very

helpful.” Pulling a business card from her pocket, she

handed it to the teacher. “Please, if you think of anything

else, you can reach Agent Mulder or myself at those

numbers.”

“Thank you. I’d better be getting back to my class. I wish

you luck in finding Rachel. It’s a hard thing to see a

tragedy like this happen to decent folk like the

Marcussens.” Kathy Fergus offered a sad smile before

heading back to her classroom.

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

“Mulder! Slow down.” There were times in her life when

Scully rued the day fate had decided that her height would

never exceed five foot, one. Now was definitely one of

those times. She fought to match her partner’s long stride

while he strode single-mindedly toward their rented Taurus.

“I want to get back to the Marcussens, Scully.” His pace

increased.

“Mulder, stop!”

Something in the tone of her voice managed to penetrate

Mulder’s hyperactive thought processes. He stopped walking

and turned around to face Scully, annoyance and confusion

battling for supremacy.

“We’ve just come from the Marcussens, Mulder. Why do you

want to go back there?”

“I’m more convinced than ever that Jacob is responsible

for Rachel’s disappearance. You heard his teacher! The

other kids are scared of him; he had no compunction about

making sure Luke Miller didn’t star in the school play…

Scully, he…he exhibits all the classic signs of…”

“Don’t even go there, Mulder! Jacob Marcussen is just as

much a victim in this whole tragedy as Rachel. His teacher

qualified everything she said. At no time did she give me

the impression that Jacob was this… this *evil* child

that you are making him out to be. I really don’t

understand what has gotten into you, Mulder. This is an 11-

year-old boy.” She felt like screaming. What was wrong

with him?

Mulder dragged his hand through his hair, massaging his

forehead in a vain attempt to push back the headache that

had been steadily building since his illicit search and

seizure in Jacob’s room. He drew a long, weary breath

before answering.

“Scully, I need you to trust me on this. I know the

evidence so far is circumstantial, but I can *feel* it.

Something is not right. Something about Jacob. I want to

speak with the Marcussens about allowing an independent

psychologist to assess him. If the doctor says there is

nothing wrong, then what have we lost? There’s a little

girl missing, Scully. Do you *really* believe she was

abducted by aliens?”

A silent stand-off, hazel eyes pleading with stubborn blue.

*Did* she believe Rachel was taken by aliens? If she’d

been asked that question two years ago she might have been

able to answer a decisive “no”. Now? She wasn’t so sure.

A year ago she’d witnessed something that had threatened to

destroy her belief in God, to crumble the very foundation of

her faith. Now she could no longer deny the possibility of

extraterrestrial life.

But beyond that, she refused to see evil in this child.

To acknowledge that possibility threatened her basic belief

in the good of humanity more than the Consortium or a

secret government conspiracy. Rachel might be lost,

kidnapped — Scully’s mind could comfortably accept such

conclusions. But murdered by her own brother? That was a

path she couldn’t tread. Not even with Mulder at her side.

“I don’t know what I believe, Mulder. But I do know that

I don’t see what you see in that child. What are you going

to say to the Marcussens, ‘Excuse me, Beth, Sam, but I

believe your son murdered your daughter. Mind if I have him

evaluated by a psychologist?’ Do you seriously think

they’ll agree to that?” Her fists curled into tight balls

as her voice rose.

“Scully, I would hope you’d credit me with a little more

sensitivity than that.” Mulder’s voice broke from his lips

in a soft whisper. The sadness and regret she heard sent

her heart plummeting until it landed like an icy lump in

the pit of her stomach.

Scully drew in a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Mulder, that

was uncalled for.” She gathered up his hand in both of

hers, caressing her thumb in smooth circles along the back

of his knuckles.

“I don’t want this family to suffer any more than you do,

Scully. I just want to find Rachel. If a psychological

evaluation of Jacob will help achieve that, then that’s

what I’ve got to do. I’m going to broach this with the

Marcussens under the guise of Jacob needing help to cope

with what’s happened. As you say, Scully, he is a little

boy. Maybe speaking with someone will be enough to help him

remember or confess what really did happen.”

Scully’s eyebrows knitted together as she struggled to

come up with a compromise. “Okay, Mulder, but I’m willing

to support you only so far. The Marcussens may not agree

with your suggestion, regardless of how you dress it up.”

“I know that, but for Rachel’s sake I’ve got to try.”

She sighed, feeling unaccountably weary. “Could we at

least get some lunch first? That bagel was a long time ago.”

Mulder shuffled his feet fretfully, then offered a weak

smile. Truce.

“You’ve got it, partner. But it’s my turn to choose.”

He ignored her soft groan.

1:22 p.m.

Marcussen Residence

“You know, I don’t see my own mama nearly as often as I see

the two of you these days.” A wry twist of the lips

tempered the note of exasperation in Beth Marcussen’s voice

as she pushed open the screen door.

Mulder hesitated. “If this is a bad time we could come

back…”

“Don’t be silly!” Beth huffed, motioning them forward. “Go

on in and make yourself at home — you know the way by now.”

Mulder cast a quick look around him before taking a seat

on the couch. “Where’s Jacob?”

Beth shrugged, brushing back a wisp of blonde hair that

escaped her ponytail. “Out back somewhere, I expect,

playin’. Did you need to talk to him?”

“No. In fact, it would be for the best if he wasn’t a part

of this conversation.” Mulder observed her brow furrow and

rushed on to explain. “Beth, how would you say Jacob has

been dealing with Rachel’s disappearance?”

“What do you mean?”

“Has his behavior changed? Any nightmares, bouts of

crying, angry outbursts?”

Beth’s frown deepened. “Well, he’s been quieter than usual,

I suppose. When he does talk, he doesn’t want to discuss

Rachel, or even hear us speak her name. At times it feels

as if he’d like to forget he ever had a sister, though I

tell myself it’s just his way of grievin’. I wouldn’t say

he’s been angry, though he did put up quite a sulk at

lunchtime when I told him I don’t want to hear any more

about a puppy.”

Mulder nodded, his bottom lip tucked between his teeth.

“He’s been sleeping all right?”

“Like a baby.” She glanced away, blinking rapidly. “I

should know, since I haven’t been sleepin’ too well

myself.” Her eyes darted back to scrutinize first Scully’s

face, and then Mulder’s. “Why? Is something wrong?”

“Jacob’s been through an extremely traumatic experience,

Beth,” Scully said gently. “We’re just concerned that he

may need help processing it.”

“Help? We’ve been doing the very best we can, Agent Scully,

but if the boy doesn’t want to talk…”

“We mean professional help, Beth.” Mulder took a deep

breath. “I think it would be a good thing for Jacob to talk

to someone about Rachel’s disappearance. The local Bureau

has a doctor on staff who specializes in helping kids cope

with trauma.”

Beth’s mouth sagged open, her already large sapphire eyes

becoming impossibly wider as she pressed fingers to her

trembling lips. “A psychiatrist? What exactly are you

trying to say, Agent Mulder? Are you telling me you think

Jacob is crazy, that all this talk of aliens is…”

“NO! That’s not what we’re saying at all.” Scully’s voice,

pitched low and smooth as honey, contrasted sharply with

the dagger gaze she tossed Mulder. “We just feel that Jacob

might benefit from the opportunity to talk with someone who

can help him understand the conflicting feelings and

emotions evoked by Rachel’s disappearance.”

“Jacob’s a good boy, a smart boy. Fact is he’s head and

shoulders above the rest of the kids around here.” Beth’s

voice was high, pleading, and her hands fluttered over the

hem of her denim shirt, plucking at loose threads. “We’ve

had enough sufferin’ in this family, can’t you see that?

Jacob’s gonna be just fine, there’s no cause to think

history would repeat itself. None at all.”

Mulder squinted and leaned forward, his mind trying to

make sense of her rambling as he attempted to reassure her.

“Beth, believe me, we…”

“Where are my manners? I haven’t even offered y’all some

coffee,” Beth interrupted, springing to her feet.

“That’s not necessary, really; we just had lunch and…”

“Please, Agent Mulder!”

The edge of panic in his name silenced Mulder, and he bit

back further protest. Beth pulled in a long, quivering

breath and marshaled a weak smile.

“I need to get us all some coffee. Just sit tight and give

me a minute.”

Scully waited until the sound of cupboard doors and

running water drifted from the kitchen before rounding on

him.

“This is wrong, Mulder. I know I agreed to back you up,

but you’re pushing too hard. The poor woman is grief-

stricken, nearly out of her mind with worry over her

daughter, and you’re adding to that burden.”

“Scully, no one empathizes with what she’s going through

more than I. But I meant it when I told Sheriff Sullivan I

wouldn’t allow any barriers to prevent me from learning the

truth about what happened to Rachel. That includes her

parents’ personal feelings — and my own.”

Mulder paused and cocked his head. From the kitchen,

Jacob’s voice now ran in counterpoint to his mother’s,

barely audible above the chink of fine china. When he

resumed speaking, he barely broke a whisper.

“Rachel Marcussen was not abducted by aliens, Scully. And

I believe Jacob knows the truth of what really happened.”

“And if you’re wrong?” Scully hissed. “How many years did

you spend blaming yourself for your sister’s disappearance,

Mulder, thanks to misplaced guilt and blame? Is that what

you want for Jacob should your unsubstantiated suspicions

prove false? You’ve as much as admitted this case hits too

close to home. Can you be sure this ‘instinct’ of yours

isn’t simply a means of distancing yourself?”

The anger passed across his face like a swiftly moving

thundercloud, replaced almost immediately by an expression

she couldn’t name. “I’m not the only one who brings baggage

to this case, Scully.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Mulder’s eyes cut to the television set, and he stared at

the blank screen. “I saw you at the school today. I know

being around children reminds you of what They’ve taken

from you. I can read the pain in your eyes.”

Scully’s body turned rigid, even the milky skin on her

face stretched too tightly across her cheekbones. “My

inability to have children has no bearing on this case,

Mulder. I can retain my objectivity. I can do my job.”

Anger, seasoned with resentment, pounded a drumbeat behind

his eyes but he adopted a nearly blank expression. “But I

can’t, is that it? The cool and enigmatic Dr. Scully would

never allow emotion to dictate her actions, but Spooky, the

FBI’s resident basket case falls all to pieces anytime a

case hits a little too close to home?”

“Mulder, that’s not what I meant. I…”

“Here we are.” Beth glided back into the room with the

familiar tray holding the coffee pot, cream, and sugar.

She placed it on the table and motioned to Jacob,

who was hovering in the doorway. “I thought maybe you

should explain to Jacob about this doctor, Agent Mulder,

since it concerns him.”

Mulder’s smile was forced, and never reached his eyes.

“I’d be happy to,” he replied, his voice telling Scully he

was anything but. “Have a seat, Jacob.”

Mulder sweetened his coffee as Jacob wandered over to

sit at his mother’s feet. The boy’s dark, intent gaze

followed his every move, making him feel inexplicably

measured and found wanting. Scully’s encouraging smile

and soft greeting only exacerbated the sensation.

“How’s that model you were working on, Jacob? Did you

finish it yet?”

Jacob turned to her, the appraising look gone and a shy

grin in its place. “Not just yet. Almost, though. Would you

like to see it?”

“I’d like that very much, but not right now. Maybe later,

after we talk, okay?”

“Sure.”

A dull ache radiated through Mulder’s jaw, and he abruptly

realized he was clamping his teeth tightly together. Jacob

favored Scully with one more winning smile before turning

his attention back to Mulder with a lingering curve to his

lips.

“What did you want to talk to me about, Agent Mulder?”

Mulder paused to take a long draught of his coffee,

struggling against irritation and the feeling he was deftly

being had by an 11-year-old boy.

“Jacob, we’d like you to talk to someone — a special

doctor who helps kids like you who have been through a

rough time.”

Jacob’s face was wide open, guileless. “I already saw Dr.

Blake and he said I’m fine.”

Mulder caught himself gritting his teeth, forced them

apart. “I’m sure Dr. Blake is a good doctor. But we’re

talking about a different kind of doctor who you can talk

to about what you’re feeling. I’m sure you must be pretty

sad about Rachel, must be missing her quite a bit.”

Jacob ducked his head and his reply was very quiet. “I

don’t want to talk about that now, Agent Mulder. But when I

do, I’d rather talk to mama or daddy about it, and not some

stranger.” He tilted his head up toward Beth. “Can I go

now, Mama? Please?”

Beth stroked her fingers through his hair and nodded. When

he was safely out of earshot she squared her shoulders, her

face composed and resolute.

“I’ll speak to Sam about what you said, Agent Mulder,

Agent Scully. But if Jacob doesn’t see the need for talkin’

to this doctor, I’m not keen on the idea.”

Before Mulder could open his mouth to argue, Scully stood.

“We understand, Beth. You know where to reach us if you

change your mind.”

Out-manipulated and out-maneuvered, Mulder had little

choice but to follow his partner to the door. He lingered

on the threshold, loath to admit defeat.

“Beth, I really think…”

“I’ll be sure to let you know, Agent Mulder.” A firm voice

and an even firmer door ended the discussion.

3:32 p.m.

New River Lodge

The drone of daytime TV seeped through the connecting door

as Scully’s fingers tapped out an update to her field

report. Mulder had sulked the entire drive back from the

Marcussens’, rebuffing all attempts at conversation with

single syllable grunts. He’d stomped into his room to watch

Jerry Springer or whatever the heck was playing during the

middle of the afternoon in a one-horse town. The fact that

he’d left the connecting door ajar was small consolation.

She shut her laptop with a sigh, chin propped on a fist,

and wished that her ears didn’t automatically seek and

evaluate every subtle creak and scuffle from her partner’s

room. The initial screech indicating that Mulder had flung

himself onto the queensize bed had given way to a nearly

continuous whisper of stocking feet. She pictured him

stalking about the tiny room, muttering balefully under his

breath and running his fingers through his hair. Well,

maybe he’d get it out of his system and they could talk

honestly, without poking sticks at each other’s tender

spots.

Scully shook her head, chuckling softly as she recalled

all the times she’d resisted a romantic relationship with

Mulder, worried that such a change would adversely affect

the dynamics of their working partnership. She’d feared

such intimacy would soften the edge, mellow his cocky

assurance of all things paranormal, and loosen her

steadfast grip on science.

Fat chance.

A different sound captured her attention, pulling Scully

forcefully from her reverie. Several quick strides, a tug,

and she was in Mulder’s room, never bothering to knock.

Oprah looked earnestly into the camera and warned against

the dangers of teenage alcohol poisoning, but Mulder was

nowhere in sight.

“Mulder?”

The sounds again, unmistakable now, and her head snapped

around to the bathroom. Scully skirted the bed and pushed

the wooden door all the way open.

Mulder sat slumped with legs splayed on the chipped tile,

forehead pressed to the cool porcelain of the toilet bowl

and hands clutching the rim in a white-knuckled grip. The

sour odor of vomit and his ashen face stole the breath from

her lungs.

“Mulder, what’s going on?”

She tugged a thin, scratchy wash cloth from a towel bar,

doused it in cold water, and knelt to wipe his face. Mulder

shivered helplessly, his eyes glassy and unfocused.

“Don’t know…sick…stomach cramps…”

“You going to be sick again?” Scully touched the back of

her hand to his forehead, frowning at the cool, clammy skin.

One corner of Mulder’s mouth turned up, though the tremors

didn’t abate. “Nothing left.”

“Okay, come on. Let’s get you into bed.”

“Know how long… waited to hear that?” Mulder tried to

leer but a particularly painful abdominal cramp twisted it

out of shape and spoiled the effect.

Scully draped one of his arms around her neck and hauled

him to his feet, lending support as he shuffled to the bed

like an old man. He stood with both arms wrapped tightly

around his belly, shivering violently, while she yanked the

bedspread and blanket back with a quick flip of the wrist.

Scully eased him onto the sheets and piled the covers on

him, stroking damp hair back from his brow. “Told you that

chili dog looked toxic, Mulder. Looks like food poisoning.”

“Arms feel like… asleep,” he mumbled, teeth chattering.

Scully’s hand stalled. “Asleep? You’re experiencing

numbness?”

Mulder nodded, eyes sliding shut. “Tingly. Pins ‘n needles.”

She frowned, tendrils of apprehension creeping up and down

her spine. “That doesn’t sound like botulism. Is it just

your arms?” When Mulder didn’t respond, she dropped onto

the mattress beside him and gave his shoulder a brisk

shake. “Mulder! Mulder, answer me!”

Mulder batted wildly with one hand, never opening his eyes.

“Stop it… making th’ waterbed shake,” he slurred.

“Mulder, wake up!” Alarmed now, Scully seized his earlobe

between thumb and forefinger, delivering a vicious pinch.

A soft moan was her only response.

Something was desperately wrong, and it wasn’t a bad chili

dog.

Heart hammering in her chest, Scully fumbled the phone from

the bedside table, frantically pressing 911, her voice

trembling as badly as her fingers.

“This is Special Agent Dana Scully. I have an emergency, I

have an agent down.”

To be concluded in Dark Reflections Part 2

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