Trolling

Cover

Title: Trolling

Authors: Vickie Moseley (vmoseley@fgi.net) & Susan Proto

(STPteach@aol.com)

Completed: Dec. 2000

Category: Xfile, MSR, MT

Spoilers: None

Summary: The partners investigate a case of a missing child

and run into a couple of obstacles along the way.

Archive: IMTP for the first two weeks, then MTA, the

Garden, the Pyramid, Ephemeral, Gossamer, and any other

site that has received prior written permission. All

others, please contact the authors.

Disclaimer: Mulder & Scully as well as all other

recognizable character references belong to Chris Carter,

Ten Thirteen Productions, and Twentieth Century Fox

Television. They are used here without permission. No

copyright infringement is intended. Unrecognized characters

belong to the authors.

Author’s Notes: This was written for I Made This!

Productions as one of the episodes of Virtual Season 8.

IMTP can be found at http://www.i-made-this.com/.

Thanks to Sally B. for the fast beta (and to Dawn for

wanting to beta! Real life is something else, isn’t it?

*GRIN* ) and to our artist and trailer maker, Xscout and

Mairead, for making the story visually appealing too!

Feedback: YES!

Trolling

By Proto and Moseley

STPteach@aol.com

vmoseley@fgi.net

Prologue

Allegheny National Forest

May 25, 2001

8:35 p.m.

The wind howled through the near leafless trees, tangling

the branches into webs to catch the skittering clouds. A

moonless night, the stars shone cold above the spider’s

lair of tree branches. A pair of small tents huddled

against a stand of pines, seeking shelter from the wind and

the sounds of the autumn night.

A long figure, moving with exaggerated quiet, moved into

one of the tents. A single flashlight was craftily hidden

under a blanket so that only a small circle of light peered

out into the near pitch-black interior. Silently, the

figure pulled a small case from backpack and reverently

fingered the clasp that held it shut.

It was forbidden, but so alluring. The figure, now

leaning over the case and finally illuminated by the spill

of light, smiled a tender smile. A young girl, no more

than twelve, chewed on her lip and again ran a bitten-

nailed index finger over the glistening plastic surface of

the case. Her hesitation taking flight, she quickly opened

the clasp and started partaking of the illicit items held

within.

The wind blew a tree branch against the trunk of a nearby

oak and the resulting squeal of wood caused the young girl

to jump, snapping the case shut and hastily shoving it back

in its resting place. She sat silently, not moving, not

breathing, until she was sure that the sound was only that

of the wind in the trees.

A shadow, silhouetted in the flaming glow of the campfire

outside the tent, appeared before her, large and ominous.

She froze in her actions, her only movement a quiet

trembling. She’d seen the shadow the night before, when

everyone was sleeping and she’d awakened by the

unfamiliarity of sleeping in a tent. Now it was back and

she was certain it meant to do her harm.

She didn’t breathe, didn’t move except for her silent

quaking. The shadow loomed larger as it grew closer to the

tent and the girl’s trembling took on renewed energy. Her

thoughts were a tumble of trying to figure out a way to

run, but there was only one way out of the tent and that

was the way the shadow was coming.

Her eyes cast about for any weapon or means of escape. A

pile of books, forgotten in the corner of a sleeping bag,

attracted her attention. The first book was too thin to be

an adequate source of protection. As her eyes focused on

it, she bit her lip in dismay. The title seemed to

reinforce her fear. The large letters in the dim light of

the flashlight looked red like blood.

She stifled a scream, fear freezing it in her lungs till

it came out only a moan. The shadow moved away and she

felt a tear slip down her cheek.

Outside the tent, the stars twinkled above the wooded

campsite. Pine trees reflected the orange light of center

of the scene, a family huddled against the chill night air

around a burning pit. The fire crackled merrily as dried

oak and maple limbs gave up their existence to the flames.

The faces surrounding the fire glistened in shades of amber

and yellow.

“One more s’more, Mom, please?” begged a tow-headed boy of

about 7 years of age. The unmistakable remnants of

chocolate encircling his lips spoke to the amount of the

sugary confection already consumed. The boy rubbed his

hands in anticipation and to get some warmth.

“Sorry, Jeffrey, we’re out of graham crackers. Scotty

must have finished them off,” replied a weary looking woman

with her gray streaked hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her

tired expression and tone of voice spoke to the

difficulties of even just one night camping out with small

children. Almost as an afterthought, she looked around the

campfire. “Speaking of Scotty, where is he?”

When no answer was forthcoming from either the boy or the

man currently intent upon placing one more log on the fire,

threatening to topple the base, she kicked a large work

booted foot where it stuck out next to her. “Jim. Where’s

Scotty?” she repeated, her voice growing more urgent.

Without looking up, the man shrugged one shoulder.

“Chrissy was taking him to wash up. They should be back by

now. I bet they’re in the tent.”

Sighing, the woman stood up and looked toward the two-room

dome tent across the campsite. A small florescent lantern

cast eerie shadows on the nylon walls inside the tent. The

woman shook her head, tucked a strand of hair behind her

ear and walked over to the tent.

“Chrissy? Are you and Scotty in there?” she asked,

unzipping the outer flap of the tent door.

Inside, Chrissy sat wide-eyed among an assortment of

makeup, lipstick smeared over previously pale lips. She

wiped hurriedly at her face, smearing make-up with tears to

further add to her garish look. “Umm, Mom! Hi!” she

squeaked and attempted to stash the make up accessories

behind her.

Too late, the woman had already seen enough. “Young lady!

What have I told you about getting into my things? And

where is your baby brother?” the woman demanded, arms

crossed in front of her chest and a scowl on her face.

The girl blinked and looked confused. “Isn’t he out there

with you, Mom? When we came back from the bathrooms, he

said he wanted you. I came in here by myself.”

The woman’s anger turned to fire. Chrissy! He’s a baby!

You can’t just let him wander around the campfire! He

could fall or pick up something and try to eat it. How

many times have I told you, you have to watch him

constantly! Now get out here and help me look!”

The woman and the girl made a quick circle of the small

campsite. They looked in both tents, under, behind and

inside the family SUV, finally drawing the attention of the

other members of the party.

“Denise? What’s the matter? What are you looking for?”

asked the man, rising from his crouch near the fire to go

to his wife. She was looking inside the tents again.

The scowl that had been firmly in place during her search

quickly morphed into frightened anguish. “Jim? Jim!” the

woman cried, backing out of the tent and scouring the area

with narrowed eyes. “Jim! Scotty’s missing!”

As Jim grabbed for the nearest flashlight, Chrissy

remembered the shadow against the tent and started to cry.

The family immediately started searching the area,

frantically and in all directions at once, organization

fleeing as panic took over. No one took note of the

rustling of bushes off to the north end of the campsite

just on the edge of the deeper woods. No one saw the

bright-eyed 2 1/2-year-old, smiling, put his hand in the

enormous furred paw of an unseen creature, and gleefully

skip away.

clip_image002

Rip Van Winkle Campgrounds

Allegheny Forest, New York

Daybreak

May 26

The sheriff’s department cruisers were still flashing their

blue and red lights. Emergency Search and Rescue teams

stood near team leaders who were handing out copies of maps

of the surrounding woods. Sitting sideways in one of the

cruisers, Denise Lempke wiped her eyes again, and shook her

head at the offer of coffee.

“I know you’re scared right now, Mrs. Lempke, but we’re

used to having kids wander off around these parts. They

always turn up, usually not far from where they were to

start with. He probably just got turned around and cried

himself to sleep under a tree.”

That was obviously the wrong thing to say when Denise let

up another anguished wail and Jim shoved the well-meaning

deputy aside to comfort his wife.

“Uh, guess I’ll go see what’s up with the search,” the

deputy muttered sheepishly. He squared his shoulders and

marched over to a cluster of men just a few feet away.

“How’s it goin’, Tom?” he asked a tall man with an orange

deer hunting hat perched at a tilt on the back of his head.

“Damned fool city folk!” came the under the breath reply.

“Well, we picked up a couple of foot prints, but they ran

all over the place last night trying to find the kid in the

dark. Messed up most of the prints. There were some

animals prints in the area, too.”

“Bears don’t come down to the campsites this time of year,

Tom,” the deputy said warningly.

“Not unless they’re provoked,” Tom sneered.

The deputy swallowed and bit his lip. “Don’t be sayin’

that too loud. The mother is a might skittish.”

“I’m not gonna go tellin’ them that,” Tom said with a

scowl. “But we need to keep it in mind.”

The deputy looked up and around, at the Allegheny

Mountains surrounding him and prodding their tips into the

pink tinged clouds. Here they were, in one of the most

civilized countries in the world, and yet there were still

plenty of wild things that couldn’t be controlled.

He startled when there was a persistent tug on his sleeve.

Looking down, he found a young girl and a younger boy

staring up at him with forlorn expressions marring their

features. The young girl glanced over at her brother

hesitantly and then slowly handed a children’s storybook to

the deputy.

Billy Goat’s Gruff.

Act I

J. Edgar Hoover Building

7:35 a.m. Monday, May 28, 2001

Mulder tossed his key ring up in the air as he stepped off

the elevator and caught it just as it passed his eye level.

He was in a good mood, it was a beautiful day full of the

promise of spring and he was, for once, well rested and

ready to face the world.

Part of the reason his week was starting on such a high

note, he was certain, was the way he’d spent his weekend.

It had started on Friday night, and by most bachelors’

standards had been inordinately tame. Thai food and

watching a rental copy of Ghostbusters. He knew the movie

by heart, had been an avid Ivan Reitman fan for years, but

it wasn’t the movie that had made the night so special. As

had become the habit of the last several months, Friday

evening was spent with his partner and that made all the

difference.

They’d had plenty of time together in their seven plus

years of partnership. Unfortunately, most of that time was

spent on work — reading case files, searching through

libraries for leads, writing reports or even just jointly

digging through garbage bins in the hope of retrieving the

one receipt they needed for the most recent expense report.

That had changed not long ago, and now they had a standing

date. He smirked at that thought as he felt a chill run

through him.

A date. A standing date with Scully. Would wonders never

cease?

Sure, their “new” relationship wasn’t going to break any

land-speed records, but they weren’t lovesick teenagers

threatened by the end of the summer. They were adults,

they had been working together for over seven years. If it

took them a little longer to reach the next level, so much

the better. They weren’t in a race, for goodness sakes!

They both seemed to have an unspoken agreement that they

were “in it for the long haul.”

Mulder was jiggling his keys as he reached the door to his

office, searching in the blinking light of the almost

deceased fluorescent bulb for the right key, when he

noticed the door was partially open. He froze in his

tracks. He remembered distinctly locking the door on

Friday as he left. Seldom did an open door to his office

on Monday morning bode well for the rest of the day.

Cautiously, he shoved the door the rest of the way open

with the toe of his foot, all the while pocketing his keys

and reaching for his weapon. As the door moved out of his

line of vision, he stopped again, this time in surprise.

Scully stood in the middle of the back room, squinting in

the light of the projector and sliding small little squares

in the projector’s wheel.

“Am I in the wrong alternate universe?” he asked, shucking

off his jacket and hanging it on his coat tree as he moved

into the room.

Scully looked up at him and smiled. “Hey! Have a good

weekend?” she asked playfully as she continued to line up

the slides in the projector.

“Who taught you to use that thing?” Mulder asked, ignoring

her question for one of his own.

“Chuck Burks,” she answered without looking up. “We’re

meeting clandestinely every Saturday afternoon. Next week

he’s going to teach me how to split sunflower seeds with my

tongue. Jealous?” she smirked.

Mulder stared at her for a full moment, then reached out

and poked her in the shoulder. “OK, who are you and what

have you done with Scully?” he demanded.

“What? Can’t I be in a good mood?” she asked, stopping

her actions to look up at him and put a fist on her hip.

“I heard you whistling as you came off the elevator,” she

accused.

“I was not whistling!” he objected. “I couldn’t find a

clean handkerchief this morning. Now, c’mon, Scully.

You’re never this chipper on a Monday. And what are you

doing with the slide show?”

“New case. Sit down, take a load off,” she offered him

the corner of the computer table and moved to the right of

the lighted rectangle on the wall that served as a

makeshift projector screen. She smiled at him and clicked

the first slide into place with the tiny remote.

“Allegheny National Park, upstate New York,” she said as

the wall was filled with a panoramic view of miles of pine

and other trees, limbs naked from the winter.

“Pretty,” he commented but she’d already clicked the

remote and a new slide rattled into place. Two brightly

colored tents stood on opposite sides of a firepit,

recently used.

“This is the campsite of Jim and Denise Lempke, of Albany.

They and their three children were camping at the park on

Friday of this weekend.”

“Kinda cold to be camping up in upstate New York, wasn’t

it?” Mulder asked, relaxing into his new role of ‘observer’

and reaching into the top desk drawer of the computer table

for one of his many stashes of sunflower seeds.

“Not really,” Scully said with a shake of her head. “As a

matter of fact, the temperatures didn’t go below 40 at

night and it was 63 on Saturday.” She clicked the next

slide, showing a cherub-faced toddler no more than two to

three years old with blond curls and a toothy grin.

“Scotty Lempke, age two years, 8 months, the Lempke’s

youngest child. He wandered off from the campsite sometime

between 7:30 and 8 on Friday evening.”

Mulder closed his eyes for a second. Not another

abduction case. But if that were the case, why was Scully

the one with the slide show? She hated abduction cases as

much as he did, more so, if that were possible. He only

did them out of his own neurotic need to keep looking for

clues to her own abduction, and his sister’s. He shook his

head and looked back at the wall.

The slide had changed again. This time it was a wooded

area, the tents and campsite far off in the distance.

Mulder stared at the image. He looked at the treetops,

searched the ground for scorch marks.

“Scully. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of alien

abduction,” he said, slowly moving closer to the wall so he

could squint at the blurry images.

“No, there isn’t,” she agreed.

“So what am I looking for? For that matter, if this is

just a missing child, why are we even bothering with this?

Doesn’t the New York State Police handle missing children?”

“They do, but Mulder, there is ample reason for us to take

this case. Look closely at the lower right hand of the

screen. That muddy area there. See any impressions?” she

prodded.

Mulder moved so he could squint in the region she

directed. He pulled back when he thought he’d found what

she was referencing. “Footprints,” he said, still not sure

of himself.

Smiling in approval, Scully clicked the next slide into

place. “Here’s a closer look,” she told him.

Now there was a close up of the footprints. One set were

obviously the prints of a small child’s shoes complete with

a fairly good imprint of Tigger tossing a ball to Piglet.

The other set were deeper but not that much larger. The

unusual aspect of the second set, however, was that the

person, or “being” as the case may be, was barefoot and had

only three toes.

Mulder stared at the footprints, chewing first on one side

of his cheek and then the other. It was several seconds

before he opened his mouth.

“Scully, those woods are pretty secluded. I mean, sure,

there can be a lot of wild animals–”

“A local zoologist from SUNY in Albany claims those

footprints could not have been made by any animal species

currently known to live in those woods,” Scully rattled off

with a tilt of her head that usually indicated she was

ready to beat off any challenges he might launch at her.

The only problem was, she still hadn’t presented a theory

for him to challenge.

“A deformed homeless person?” Mulder offered, feeling

rather meek at how lame it sounded even to his own ears.

Scully snorted and shook her head.

Mulder was getting perturbed. “OK, what’s your big

theory, Agent Scully?” he demanded, crossing his arms over

his chest defensively.

The smile Scully had been presenting all morning faded

just a touch. She drew in a deep breath and walked back to

the projector, flipping it off and plunging them both in to

relative darkness. She had walked all the way back into

the front part of the office before she turned to him to

answer.

“Mulder, what do you know about trolls?”

He tossed his head toward the ceiling and stroked his

chin. “Well, they’re a bitch to deal with on Internet

newsgroups,” he retorted.

“Not quite the kind I had in mind,” she replied. “Try

again,” she challenged.

“OK. Scandinavian legend speaks of people, woodsfolk, who

roamed the hills doing various nasty deeds. Trolls are

credited with causing mischief, wrecking outbuildings, even

with stealing children.” He looked at her as the

realization hit him. “Scully, you aren’t seriously

suggesting . . .”

He let the accusation hang in the air as he hooted with

laughter. “God, Scully! That’s a good one! You really

had me going. I mean, I’m used to some of your tricks by

now, but I never expected this one. You got me. You got

me good, G-woman!”

She wasn’t smiling.

He swallowed the last chuckle and stared at her. “You’re

serious?” he asked. Without giving her a chance to answer,

he walked over to stand next to her, invading what little

space was available in the cramped office.

“Scully, look at me and tell me you’re proposing that

trolls have stolen that little boy,” he said roughly.

She looked up at him, square in the eyes. “Mulder, I’m

proposing that trolls have stolen that little boy and I

think we’re the only ones in the whole Eastern Seaboard who

are going to take the possibility seriously.”

He bit his lip. “You have more to go on than just

footprints,” he said hesitantly.

She nodded and handed him the case file. “Statements,

from both Chrissy Lempke and her brother Jeffrey. Both

children testify that they saw a ‘squat looking man, all

hairy, with big hands and big head’ lurking around the

campsite Thursday night. Chrissy even goes so far as to

say she could ‘smell’ the man and that he smelled ‘bad’.”

“Scully,” Mulder interrupted, placing a hand on her upper

arm. “That would support my suggestion of a physically

deformed homeless person,” he added gently.

“Mulder, this isn’t the first time there have been

sightings of trolls in those woods,” Scully exclaimed in a

tone that gave voice to her obvious exasperation at her

partner’s disbelief. She shoved a tidy pile of case files

into his arms. “Some go back decades. One of those

sightings has been as recent as four years ago.”

He glanced through the files, nodding. “These are from

our files?” he asked. She nodded curtly. “You were

digging for these this morning? Good grief, Scully, when

did you get up?”

“I was here by 6:30, but Mulder, you’re avoiding my point.

I know there are trolls in those woods!”

Mulder licked his lips and moved around her to sit in his

chair and lean back. “There’s a big something you aren’t

telling me,” he stated and then sat there, waiting for her

to start her story.

“When I was 7, Mom got the chance to fly to Hawaii and

spend a week R&R with Ahab. Of course, she didn’t want to

take us and she couldn’t leave us alone in Newport News —

that’s where we were living. So she packed the four of us

up and sent us by train to stay with her elderly aunt who

lived in upstate New York.”

“Anywhere near Allegheny National Park?” Mulder offered.

Scully shot him a wicked look and he determined his best

course was to remain silent during her tale.

She paced as she talked. “Charlie was 4, Bill was

11 and just as obnoxious as he is now and Missy had

just turned 9. We were stair steps and very excited to

be on ‘our own.’ Aunt Mildred lived . . .”

“Mildred?” he gasped out and quickly realized his error

when her glare cut him short. “Sorry. I just never knew

anyone who actually had an Aunt Mildred,” he apologized.

“She wasn’t my aunt, Mulder. She was my great-aunt, and a

very lovely woman. In her own way, she probably would have

liked you, and you know that’s a rare trait among most of

my family members,” she added pointedly.

“I get along great with your mom,” Mulder mumbled. “It’s

just the men . . .”

“May I finish this, please?” she asked sternly.

“Sorry,” he muttered dejectedly. “Please, continue.”

“Anyway, Aunt Mildred lived on the edge of the woods. It

was a really pretty house and a very pretty little plot of

land, with a stream that ran through the back yard, which

was about two acres big. We used to play in the yard, but

Aunt Millie always warned us not to wander into the woods.”

“I’m beginning to see where this is headed,” Mulder said,

hoping he’d spoken quietly, so as not to earn her wrath

again.

“Probably. Billy decided it was too great an opportunity

to pass up, there were these really great woods and trails

all through them. Deer trails, Aunt Millie called them.

So, on a regular basis, he would leave the three of us

behind and take off down the paths through the woods,

circling around and coming back into the yard another way.

Missy wanted to go with him.”

“But he said she couldn’t because she was a girl?” Mulder

offered. “Scully, why didn’t you just smother him in his

sleep when you had the chance?”

“I’ve asked myself that question more times than you can

count, Mulder,” Scully replied with a shake of her head.

“And yes, you guessed it. So of course, Missy went into

the woods after him one of the times he ran off. And she

didn’t come back out. We waited and waited and waited.

“Bill came back and when he realized that Missy was in the

woods and probably lost, he went back in to find her. That

left me and Charlie standing in the back yard, hoping that

both of them would come back soon.”

“But they didn’t,” Mulder continued.

“No, and it was starting to get dark.” Her lips started

to tremble at the memory, but she swallowed visibly and

took a breath before starting off again. “So I went in and

told Aunt Millie, who was just about ready to call us all

for supper.”

Mulder could see how the memory was difficult for her and

it squeezed his heart. He stood up and walked to the front

of his desk, where he could be closer as she paced.

Finally, she stopped just in front of him.

“Aunt Millie called the neighbors and they searched and

searched. They found Bill, he was cold and scared and had

gotten turned around in the woods. But they didn’t find

Missy. Finally, about midnight, Aunt Millie made the three

of us go to bed.”

She stopped a moment and Mulder was sure he saw tears

glistening in her eyes. “When I woke up, I was so sure I

would look over and see her in the bed next to me, but I

was alone in the room and I just cried and cried.”

Mulder put his arms around her for a second, but she

pulled away and stood in the middle of the room. “Scully,”

he said tenderly. “I’m really sorry. But how does this

prove the existence of trolls?”

She wiped at her eye and looked at him. “Because Missy

told me she saw them. She hid from them. That’s why the

neighbors didn’t find her. She was hiding. She came back

the next morning.”

“Scully,” Mulder said, biding his time to find the right

words. “Isn’t it possible that Missy saw the neighbors

looking for her and thought they were trolls?”

Scully nodded, pursing her lips. It was an expression

Mulder had seen a thousand times, and every time he wished

he had a flak jacket or a sturdy wooden structure to hide

behind.

“Mulder, my sister described the trolls perfectly. And

for your information, she saw these beings not after it got

dark, but in bright daylight! They were foraging or

something, not five feet from where she was crouched behind

a bush.

“She told me they were about five feet tall, the tallest,

and the shortest were about three and a half feet tall.

They walked upright on two legs, they were covered with

brown fur, and they had big noses that hung down over their

mouths.

“They had long arms that hung down by their knees. And

they had tails, Mulder. Now, do you think that describes

any neighbors of my aunt? For that matter, does it

describe any creature you’ve heard of in the woods of

upstate New York?”

Mulder nodded, realizing it was foolish to continue his

arguments. She was not to be dissuaded. “Well, Scully,

when do we leave? And are you going to requisition the

really big Billy Goat, or am I?”

Rip Van Winkle Campgrounds

Allegheny Forest, New York

Late Afternoon

“Scully!” he called after her as he climbed out of the

rental. “C’mon, Scully, you can’t give me the silent

treatment forever!”

She turned around and sent a piercing glare that

immediately shot that theory down.

As she resumed walking toward the throng of people that

had gathered at the campsite, Mulder tried his best to

prove his innocence.

“Look, you can’t blame me for this one. You just can’t.

I kept my mouth shut the entire time you presented the case

to Skinner, didn’t I?”

“And that, Agent Mulder,” began Scully in a tone that was

dripping with venom, “was the problem.”

“See?” he responded with a smile, “I knew you couldn’t

ignore me forever.”

“Mulder!” came out Scully’s exasperated reply. “You could

have backed me up!”

“Scully, I did,” he responded, but with a great deal less

confidence than he would have liked.

“How, Mulder? How did standing in Skinner’s office with

what appeared to have been a sudden case of elective

muteness ‘back me up’?”

“Look, he asked you questions about your theory, and I

allowed you to answer them.”

“But you didn’t support me, Mulder,” came a frustrated

retort.

“Of course I supported you, Scully. I agreed that

everything you proposed was within the realm of extreme

possibilities.”

“And then you promptly started laughing. Hysterically,”

Scully reminded in a monotone.

“I did not!” retorted Mulder, “Skinner started laughing

first, and _then_ I got hysterical.”

Scully stopped so suddenly Mulder practically ran right

into her back. She said in a low, hurt voice, “Mulder, in

the years I’ve worked with you, I’ve never laughed at your

theories.”

“What?” replied her incredulous partner. “Scully, you

have to know how much I respect you, don’t you? But you

are apparently beginning to suffer from what my Uncle

Benjamin called ‘senior moments.’ I’ve lost count over

the number of times you’ve practically keeled over laughing

at one of my leaps.”

“Yeah, well, maybe, but…”

“But, what?” he replied softly.

“But did you have to do it in front of Skinner?”

“I’m sorry about that, Scully. Really, I am. It was a

knee-jerk reaction, and once I started, I just couldn’t

stop. You’re right,” he soothed, “that was pretty shitty

of me. I’m sorry, partner.”

He placed his index finger under her chin and gently

lifted her face up till her eyes met his. “I really am

sorry, Scully.”

She looked at him and realized that as much as she had a

right to stay angry, she couldn’t. She managed to contain

her smile; she wasn’t about to let him off the hook

completely, at least not yet.

She nodded slightly and the two of them headed over to the

campsite.

They were immediately inundated with questions from a loud

and pushy group of television, radio, and newspaper

reporters. The barrage of questions ranged from asking the

duo to identify themselves to what new information could

they provide.

Both agents repeated over and over again ‘no comment’ and

continued walking until they arrived at the small conclave

of sheriffs’ cars that formed a barrier against the media

blitz that stood within yards of them.

“Can I help you?” asked the officer in charge.

Both agents quickly and efficiently pulled out their

identification. Mulder purposely remained quiet. This was

his partner’s case; she was going to take the lead in this

one. Scully picked up on Mulder’s intent immediately and

introduced herself and her partner.

“FBI?” remarked the sheriff. “What the hell is the FBI

doing out here in the Allegheny Mountains?”

“We received word, Sheriff, that there might me some

unexplained phenomena that led to this little boy’s

disappearance.”

“Unexplained phenomena? What kind of unexplained

phenomena are you talking about? I’m sorry, Ma’am, but the

only thing we’re looking at is the probability that little

Scotty Lempke was nabbed by a renegade bear that smelled

the food at the campsite and decided to go for the full,

five course buffet, ya know?”

“Can you explain the footprints, Sheriff…?” Scully

began.

“Brennan. Sorry about that. The name is Tom Brennan.

This is my deputy, Jerry Springer.”

At that the agents did a double take, to which the deputy

replied, “Please. Get it out of your system now so we can

get on with our work.”

“Look, I’m one to talk,” responded Mulder. “My first name

is Fox.”

“You’re kidding?” Deputy Springer commented.

Mulder shook his head, and there seemed to be an

instantaneous camaraderie between the two men. Meanwhile,

Scully cleared her throat.

“Oh, sorry, um you were saying Agent Scully? Something

about footprints? What footprints?” asked Sheriff Brennan.

“The ones in these photos,” Scully replied as she opened

her briefcase and pulled out the images she’d shown Mulder

back in the basement.

“Oh, well, they must be bear prints, Agent Scully,”

offered Deputy Springer.

Scully shook her head and offered the testimony of her

SUNY at Albany expert. “No, they’re definitely not bear

prints, Deputy.”

“Well, if they’re not bear prints, then what are they?”

asked an exasperated sheriff. “Those pain in the ass media

people aren’t going to leave until they’ve gotten some

answers, and they’re not above making it up if they have

to!”

“Well,” began Scully tentatively, “there’s quite a few

legends about these mountains.”

“Sure there are; I mean we’ve got local lore that can

compete with the best of them,” agreed Brennan.

“Has there ever been any substantiation of the lore? Any

eyewitness testimony?” asked Scully.

“You mean proof?” Scully nodded. “Agent Scully, proof of

what?”

“Of the legends, the folk tales, the local lore,” answered

Scully with as much professionalism as she could muster.

Even she knew she was in, as much as she hated to say it,

“alien territory.”

“Oh, Christ Almighty! You are not thinking this was some

kind of ‘troll kidnapping,’ are you?” guffawed the deputy.

“Sheriff, she thinks it was some kind of troll that stole

away that kid!” He then turned to the FBI agent and asked,

“Lady, where the hell do you get your theories from?”

Mulder placed his hand on the small of Scully’s back and

as he led her away from the laughter that soon erupted,

said, “If you don’t mind, we’re going to take a look around

at the physical evidence. We would also like the

opportunity to meet with the parents as soon as possible.”

“Sure, sure,” laughed the sheriff, who was now wiping

tears from his eyes. “Whatever.”

Mulder could feel the tension in Scully’s body as he led

her away, and as he leaned down he whispered gently into

her ear, “Well, Scully, welcome to my world.”

The two agents walked across the campsite area towards a

cordoned off area. Mulder pointed to the left and the pair

soon found themselves peering down on the footprints that

had engaged Scully’s attention in the first place.

“Damn, Scully, this sucker is big.” Mulder bent down to

get a closer look, while Scully held onto Mulder’s

shoulder for leverage and leaned down for a better view.

“He’s not very tall,” she observed, “he is heavy. Very

heavy.”

“What makes you say that?” asked a new voice.

Not missing a beat, Scully went on to explain, “Well, look

at the distance between the footprints. There’s very

little; the strides are rather short, but the imprint in

the ground is extremely deep. That suggests the UNSUB is a

rather short, stout figure.”

“UNSUB?” echoed the as yet to be identified voice.

“Unknown Subject,” explained Mulder, who then asked, “And

you are?”

“Oh, Carla Pulowski,” she replied extending her hand to

the two, now upright agents. “The sheriff’s department

seems to believe it’s a bear. Damnedest bear tracks I’ve

ever seen if it is.”

“You don’t work for the sheriff’s department, Ms.

Pulowski?” asked Scully with a tinge of suspiciousness.

“I work out of a county office,” was her quick reply.

“County?” echoed both agents in a murmur.

“I assume you guys aren’t locals, or I would have

recognized you,” deflected Pulowski.

“We’re out of D.C.,” confirmed Mulder. He introduced both

himself and his partner.

“The Bureau?” Upon seeing their affirming nod, Pulowski

quickly asked, “Why the hell is the Bureau involving itself

in a case of a lost child? Seems to be a little out of

your jurisdiction, doesn’t it?” she countered.

Suddenly the trio heard a loud muttering of expletives and

Carla Pulowski immediately reacted by turning her head

toward the noisemaker.

“God damn it, Pulowski! Why the hell aren’t you behind

the tape along with all of your other hyperactive pain in

the ass media assholes?”

“Media?” asked Scully with some exasperation.

“Tom,” began Carla, “I want to get the facts on this case,

so I came right to a reliable source. Who could be more

reliable than agents from the FBI?”

“Media?” repeated Scully. “We were talking with you under

false pretenses. You have no right to print anything we

told you.”

“Agent Scully, I never gave you any false information. I

told you I worked out of a county office. That is no lie.

My newspaper’s office is right smack dab in the middle of

Allegheny County. I never said I was a law enforcement

officer.”

“But that’s what you implied,” Scully argued.

“No, Ma’am, that’s what you assumed,” retorted Pulowski.

“Carla,” interrupted Tom, “the pissing contest can stop

right now. You lost, understand? You know you had no

business crossing over the rope, so anything that was said

is not open for publication at this time.”

“But the public has a right–”

“Ms. Pulowski,” Mulder cut her off quickly, “before you

even hint that the public has a right to be privy to

information about this case, I hope you’ll keep in mind

that this is a 2-year-old boy that’s gone missing.

“Now, we may not know exactly who,” and then looking at

Scully, he added, “or what, took him, but the fact of the

matter is, there’s a child’s life at stake. I strongly

urge you to reconsider printing any information that might

give the advantage to the UNSUB and lessen the chances of

us finding that small child alive.”

Pulowski appeared to think Mulder’s words over and, after

a few moments, replied that she would hold off for now.

“I’ll keep a lid on the information for forty-eight hours,

Agent Mulder. But after that, unless you can provide me

with solid proof that it would be detrimental to the boy’s

safety for us to go public, I will write and publish the

story.”

Mulder made eye contact with both Scully and Brennan, and

noted that they were all willing to agree to Pulowski’s

proposal. “Very well, Ms. Pulowski.”

“Pulowski, no Ms., just Pulowski.”

Mulder and Scully couldn’t help but smile slightly at the

little bit of familiarity they just heard.

May 29, 2001 1:44 a.m.

She was already in bed, undressed, when she heard the key

in the lock. God, she hated these late nights. But she

hated the hiding even more. She hoped no one saw him when

he was standing outside the motel room door. She glanced

at the clock on the bedside table. It changed to 1:45 a.m.

as she watched. Small chance they would be discovered at

this hour.

He didn’t even speak as he came into the room. She

blinked when he turned on the light in the bathroom. At

least he wasn’t so inconsiderate as to turn on the bedside

lamp. Obviously the last time, when she’d yelled at him,

had taught him some manners. She’d have to remember that,

for future reference. Like when she got up to go to the

bathroom after him in the middle of the night.

But right at that moment, she couldn’t be mad at him. She

watched in rapt amusement as he struggled with his holster,

placed it with the gun still encased in the top drawer of

the nightstand. Then her arousal increased exponentially

as he slowly did a strip tease in front of her. He wasn’t

looking at her directly, but she knew, she just knew it was

all for her benefit. And she was benefiting greatly.

When he was completely undressed, she pulled back the

covers as an invitation to join her. She almost laughed at

his boyishly charming blush as he crawled happily across

the sheets to wrestle her into his arms. Her giggles soon

turned to amorous moans as he started kissing her head to

toe.

Some time later, he was lying on his back as she was

snuggled in the crook of his arm. His left hand was

stroking her hair and she could tell he wouldn’t be awake

for very long. Still, as tired as she knew he had to be,

she had an equal need for information about the case.

She’d let him sleep a little later in the morning, but now,

she had him right where she wanted him.

“What took you so long?” she asked, idly drawing circles

on his bare chest.

“Hmm,” he moaned sleepily.

“You said you’d be here by midnight. It’s after 2. What

took so long?”

“The mother is an idiot,” he said and punctuated the

sentence with a huge yawn that threatened to dislodge her

from her comfortable embrace.

“She’s a mother. She’s worried.”

“The kid’s back. What’s to worry?” he asked, turning so

that they were lying face to face.

She was quiet for a moment. “Was anything wrong with

him?” she asked, fearful for the first time since she’d

heard about this case.

He shook his head and kissed her on the nose. “Not a damn

thing. We had him checked out over at the hospital. The

head of Peds says there is absolutely nothing wrong with

that kid. Nothing that a good bath wouldn’t cure, that is.”

She bit her lip. “But he was missing for three days.

Could they get anything out of him?”

He chuckled. “Yeah. He wants to watch Thomas the Tank

Engine when he gets home. Face it, he’s a baby. He

doesn’t know what happened, and it obvious it wasn’t bad.

So it’s best to close this case and go on to the next one.”

“But the mother doesn’t think so?” she asked, worrying her

lip.

He shook his head in mild disgust. “She’s spouting all

this stupid stuff about him not acting right. Hell, the

kid just spent three days in the woods. I wouldn’t act

right after that. I don’t act right after I spend one

night in the woods,” he added and kissed her on the crown

of her head. She punched him lightly on the shoulder.

“But she says there’s something strange going on?”

He flipped onto his back. “Yup.”

“What do the others think?” she asked, moving his arm to

snuggle up into her former position. It was warmer, with

her bare shoulders outside of the covers.

“Those damn fools for brains? What do you think! They

believe the mother! Think they want to go crawling in the

woods! Damn if I’m spending another night in the goddamn

woods!”

“They believe her? Why?”

“How the hell should I know? Now, if you don’t mind, I do

have to get up early. Unless you can think of something

more productive to do, I’m going to sleep!”

2:55 a.m.

She pulled her ever-present laptop onto the bed with her

while her partner slept fitfully. It amazed her how he

could go for weeks on but a few hours sleep when he was on

a case and still manage to function.

She moved as quietly as she could so as not to awaken him

as she hooked up her computer and got down to business.

She couldn’t help but wonder what was with the crackpots

they called law enforcement nowadays. A child had been

missing and everyone seemed to simply be wringing their

hands but not doing a whole helluva a lot about it.

Well, she was going to do something about it and if it

meant running over a few cops in the interim, then so be

it. She was damned if she was going to let some egos get

in the way of finding out what happened to that child.

And if she were to get a little credit for doing her part,

well so be that, too. It wasn’t very often, but sometimes

it did get to her that she appeared as nothing more than a

shadow to his work. Sure, she always signed her name to

her reports, but it seemed no one ever knew just how much

of the legwork she accomplished to help crack these cases.

Hell, she wasn’t even allowed to let anyone know they were

sharing the same bed. She thought that was perhaps the

most difficult part of their relationship to deal with; its

clandestine nature took a lot of energy.

“Mmm, you okay?” he mumbled sleepily to her.

“I’m fine. Go back to sleep,” she replied. She gently

moved an unruly lock of his hair that had a habit of

falling into his eyes, smiled momentarily, and then

refocused her energies onto her screen.

She went to her favorite search engine and typed in a

name. She had no idea if anything whatsoever would show

up, but she figured she had nothing to lose. She only had

to wait but a few seconds before several hits came up.

As she scanned the proposed sites, she was amazed at the

number of stories this guy was involved in. He didn’t seem

like the type; he was quiet and somewhat unassuming.

Granted, he wasn’t bad looking, but he was certainly no GQ

man.

The eyes were too small and the nose was too damn big.

She clicked on one of the twenty plus sites that popped up

and watched it download immediately. She thanked her lucky

stars for cable modems; in her job she needed access to

information fast, and this sucker did the deed for her

quite nicely.

As she scanned the first article, and then a second, and a

third, until she’d read almost all of the stories that were

posted on that guy, she realized this guy was no ordinary

cop.

He wasn’t any ordinary fibbie either; Spooky Mulder had a

reputation to fit his unusual nickname, and Carla Pulowski

was going to get to the reason he and his partner were

involving themselves in a simple case of a lost child in

the wild woods of the Allegheny Forest. And why were they

sticking around when the lost boy had been found more than

seven hours ago?

She reached over to her jacket pocket and pulled out her

cell phone. She then brought up her address book on her

laptop and found the name that she’d relied upon so often

in the past. She dialed the Maryland number. She then

brought the cellular into the bathroom and closed the door,

while she waited for someone to pick up on the other end.

“This better be one helluva tip, or your ass is grass,”

mumbled the sleepy voice.

“Oh, c’mon J.J., don’t even tell me you were asleep

already,” teased Carla.

“Shit, Carla, what the hell time is it?” responded a now

more awake J.J. Jackson, reporter for the Maryland Sun

Times.

“It’s nighttime,” she replied quickly, “Now listen to me!

I need to know the scoop on some DC fibbies.”

“Carla, that’s not my beat,” she whined, “I’ve got to get

some sleep.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, but listen, I gotta feeling you’ll

know the one I’m talking about,” she pleaded.

“Carla,” she warned in a pseudo-annoyed tone. She never

could stay angry with Carla Pulowski, her best friend since

the sixth grade and co-captain of the cheerleading squad at

Allegheny High. When Carla decided to stay in Allegheny

and Janie Jackson left for college at American University,

they both thought their friendship would have ended.

Instead, it thrived.

Jackson worked for a small paper in Arlington, which was

close enough to the D.C. area to get all the political

scoops

she ever needed. At least that’s the way Carla perceived

it. Whenever something big in Washington was going down,

J.J. knew to expect a phone call from her very own personal

upstate New York leach.

Of course, she didn’t really see her that way, except

perhaps at three o’clock in the morning.

“Who?” she asked succinctly.

“Mulder, Special Agent Fox Mulder, otherwise known as–.”

“–Spooky,” Jackson completed for her.

“So you do know who he is!” Carla practically squealed.

“Yeah, I know him. In fact, I got to interview him and

Mrs. Spooky after a Maryland serial murderer was caught

because of his profiling and her forensics skills.”

“You’re kidding?” Carla asked amazed.

“No, really, I interviewed them.”

“She’s known as Mrs. Spooky?” Carla countered.

“Oh. Yeah. That’s because they usually investigate this

paranormal shit. The amazing thing is that their solve

rate is supposedly one of the highest in the Bureau. Look,

I just work for a dinky little local paper, but even I know

where Mulder and Scully go, something weird is going on.

Okay,” J.J. continued, “I’ll bite. Why’d ya wanna know?”

“We’ve got a little boy, a 3-year-old, missing in the

forest, and guess who showed up this afternoon to add their

two cents?”

“You’re kidding,” she replied with a hint of awe. “Must

be one helluva weird case for Mr. and Mrs. Spooky to be on

the job.”

“That’s just it, J.J.,” she answered, “it seems to be a

run of the mill child wanders off and gets lost scenario.

Well, other than the fact there’re the mother of all mother

animal tracks next to the campsite where the kid was

staying with his family. Tom thinks they’re bear tracks,

but they’re the wrong shape.”

“Well, something’s got the fibbies’ attention, Carla. If

they’re involved, then it’s definitely not a run of the

mill little boy lost in the woods case,” informed J.J.

“That’s what I wanted to hear. I guess I’ll have my work

cut out for me then,” Carla said.

“Carla, listen to me. Think before you get yourself mixed

up in this. When these two are involved in a case, it

usually means some really weird shit is going down.”

“Jane Marie Jackson, you know damn well I can take care of

myself,” she retorted haughtily.

“Yeah, I know you can,” J.J. appeased, but then added

softly, “under normal circumstances. I’m telling you

Carla, Mulder and Scully never involve themselves in the

mundane.” When she heard her friend sigh in response, she

knew she wasn’t going to convince Carla otherwise. So,

with a heavy sigh of her own, she said, “Just be careful,

kiddo, okay?”

When the alarm rang, Tom tried his best to muffle the

noise with a pillow over his head and a plea to his lover

to ‘hit the damn snooze.’ Unfortunately, his pleas were

being ignored, and he finally had to come up for air to do

it himself.

As he reached over across the bed, he realized he was

lying in bed alone, and apparently it was for quite some

time, as the sheets were cold. He turned the alarm off and

sat up in bed. Tom scanned the room to look for signs

Carla was nearby, but any and all proof of her presence

last night had vanished.

He noted her clothes were gone as well as her own personal

security blanket, the laptop. Tom checked the time once

more and realized since it was only 6 a.m. now, Carla must

have left a whole lot earlier. The only things he couldn’t

figure out were where and why.

He got out of bed, went into the bathroom to take a leak,

and found his first clue as to what the hell was going on

with his girlfriend. There were some notes scribbled on

toilet paper. “The woman doesn’t know when the hell to

quit,” he muttered aloud.

“Spooky. Mr. and Mrs. Spooky.” He shook his head and

tried to figure out what the hell it meant, but he didn’t

have a clue. The only thing he did know was that it left

him with a bad feeling.

A real bad feeling.

Act II

Allegheny National Forest 6:15 a.m.

Scully pulled the backpack out of the trunk of the car and

tossed it to her partner.

“Hey, how come I get the one with the tent?” he asked,

with a devilish twinkle in his eye. “I thought this was

the new millennium, where men were to be cherished and put

on pedestals.”

She tried to hold back the smirk that threatened to break

out on her face. “I do put you on a pedestal, Mulder. But

I want you to feel ‘manly.'”

He grinned at that. “Oh, if this is for my ego’s benefit,

then I guess I can’t complain.” He checked his own holster

and ankle holster.

“You still think this might be a bear?” Scully asked as

she tightened the straps on her own backpack, which hung

heavy with provisions.

“I don’t know what it was, Scully, but I’m not going into

any forest without a couple of extra clips and a box of

waterproof matches,” he said then grinned at her with an

added wink.

She sighed and dug a small map out of her back pocket. He

watched her turning it around, trying to orient it to their

location of the parking lot when he finally couldn’t stand

it any longer.

He reached into one of the pockets of his jacket and

pulled out a small electronic device with a gray green

screen. He handed it to her with both hands as if it were

of great importance.

“What’s this?” she asked, looking at the device

suspiciously.

“A pocket GPS. The guys got it for me for my birthday.”

“I don’t remember you mentioning that they bought you a

GPS device, Mulder,” Scully replied with a raised eyebrow.

“They don’t know they gave it to me, yet. You know how

bad Frohike is about taking inventory,” he answered with

another grin.

“You seem to be in a good mood today, Mulder.”

“Why not? The missing child was returned to his family

yesterday, the worse thing wrong with him was a tear in his

Blue’s Clues overalls. We’re just trying to figure out

what happened. Why shouldn’t I be in a good mood?”

“The fact that the mother called us not two hours after

her son was returned and claimed that the boy was not her

son doesn’t bother you at all?” she asked sullenly as she

booted up the GPS and used it with the map to determine

their location.

“Scully, the woman has been through hell the last couple

of days. The kid is a toddler, sure he’s probably acting

out now that he’s back home. This was a traumatic

experience. I’m not discounting that. But it’s nothing a

couple of counseling sessions won’t overcome. And besides,

Scully, she was a bit of an interview hog,” he added.

His partner turned on him, outrage on her face. “Are you

implying that she’s doing this because of the publicity?

Fox Mulder, of all the inconsiderate, insensitive,

absolutely unimaginable . . .”

Mulder realized immediately that he’d said the wrong

thing. “Scully, calm down. I mean, I don’t think she’s

the type to make a guest shot on Springer, but face it.

The press was all over her when she stood outside the

hospital and announced that the baby in her husband’s arms

was not her child.”

“She was hysterical! She had to be sedated, Mulder!”

“You believe her,” he said, hands on his hips.

Scully stared off to the treetops, squaring her jaw.

Finally, when she thought she was calm enough to speak

without ripping her partner’s head off, she looked at him.

“She is the boy’s mother. A mother would know her own

child.”

Mulder closed his eyes when he figured out exactly what

she was saying, and what he had done. Of course a mother

would know her own child. Hadn’t Scully known Emily was

hers, even before she had any proof, any evidence to

support that knowledge? And he was as much as questioning

how that could happen. He knew he had major fences to mend

and fast.

“Scully,” he said gently. “I’m not really doubting her.

I’m just saying that the suggestion that her son was

‘exchanged’ with a ‘changeling’ is a little far fetched.

She could be experiencing some serious psychological

effects of the disappearance. It’s not unheard of. She

could be feeling guilty that the boy wandered off to begin

with. And the kid seems perfectly healthy. I mean, the

father suspects nothing.”

“So you’re saying we just pack up, go home, ignore the

mother’s charges and close the case?” she asked, now

putting her hands on her hips. She had that tilt to her

head. She was thinking about where she could put the

bullet so that blood didn’t splatter on her white parka

with the fake fur trim, he could tell by just looking at

her.

He was trying to mend the fence and the tear just kept

getting wider. What was he doing wrong? Oh, he

remembered. He was still talking. That had to be it!

“I’m not saying any such thing. We’re in the woods,

Scully. Let’s take a walk. Lead on, MacDuff!”

They searched the camping area for a few minutes before

heading out into the meadow where the prints were found.

Scully knelt down and poked at the footprint with one

gloved finger. Slowly, she rose and shielded her eyes with

her hand as she stared into the woods.

“The prints end here, but would indicate they headed into

that stand of oak over there.”

“That’s an oak tree?” Mulder asked, then shrugged and

grinned boyishly at her raised eyebrow. “Well, let’s head

that way.”

Scully stood still even though her partner was already

making his way toward the bare oak trees. When he finally

noticed she hadn’t moved he turned and then came back

toward her.

“Scully? What did I do now? I’m walking, I’m not

talking, what?”

Scully was shaking her head, her lips pursed.

“Scully, cut me some slack, huh? I know I can be an

insensitive slob . . .”

“All true, but not what’s the problem,” Scully said, her

forehead crinkling in concentration. “Aunt Millie said

trolls were masters of mischief. I doubt sincerely they

would leave a trail to follow.”

Mulder bit his lower lip. “Trolls again,” he muttered,

but glanced up quickly, afraid his partner would have

overheard. He was in enough trouble already. “OK, then

what do we do? Go the opposite direction?”

She took that under consideration for a moment, then shook

her head. “No, they’d think of that.”

Mulder rolled his eyes in exasperation, but kept quiet.

Suddenly, her expression brightened. “We go this way,”

she said firmly and started off in a direction

perpendicular to the trees and to the left.

Mulder sighed, shifted the pack on his back until the tent

pole no longer dug into his right kidney, and started off

after her.

5:45 p.m.

The sun had decided it had spent enough time out in the

open and was currently hiding behind very dark and heavy

clouds. The wind had picked up and now was blowing the

fake fur trim of Scully’s coat into her eyes with annoying

regularity.

“Scully, I think the temperature is dropping,” Mulder

commented, the first words he’d spoken since they’d stopped

for lunch. In complete innocence, he’d made a casual

reference to ‘goat’s milk cheese’ on his sandwich and she

had refused to speak to him for the ensuing three hours.

“I suppose you want to go back,” she growled, stopping

long enough to glare back at him where he stood near a

towering pine.

He sighed again, something he’d been doing all day long.

“I’m not saying that, Scully. And would you please try to

be less argumentative? I’m just saying, maybe we should

look for some shelter. It’s getting dark, there’s a storm

coming up and we’re too far back in the woods to get all

the way to the car. I’m just saying let’s hole up here

somewhere.”

She blinked and sighed herself. Why was she so short-

tempered? Surely not because they were on opposite sides.

That was the norm, not the exception. Was it because this

time she wanted him to believe her outlandish theory

instead of the other way around? She couldn’t be positive

of anything. Even the old stories that Aunt Millie had

spun by the dinner table during their stay with her had

seemed unbelievable at the time.

It was only months later, when Missy woke her up with a

nightmare and the two girls lay on their beds, shivering in

the cold winter night that the whole story had been

revealed. In the cold and the dark, with the branches of

the maple tree scratching a rhythm against the roof, trolls

and all they entailed had seemed more real than her cotton

sheets and wool blankets that she huddled under for

protection. Even now, standing in the middle of a forest

with an impending storm, she couldn’t help feeling like

they were being watched.

“OK, we set up camp,” she said, struggling to keep any

trace of animosity out of her voice. She wasn’t mad at

Mulder. He wasn’t doing anything that he didn’t usually

do. As a matter of fact, she’d noticed his silence during

the long afternoon. She knew he was trying to keep from

getting on her last raw nerve and she smiled inwardly.

An attentive and considerate Mulder. Would wonders never

cease? But she berated herself for such thinking. Mulder

was frequently surprising her with his tenderness and his

devotion to her. She needed to focus on those moments more

often, instead of all the times she was ready to fill him

full of lead.

“There’s a group of smaller pines over there. We could

use them as a windbreak. I’ll get the tent out if you’ll

sweep the area. I hate waking up with branches in my back.”

Scully nodded and set about her task. In a little under a

half an hour, the tent was up. Just as the first raindrops

started to fall. They quickly moved into the tent, a three-

man dome and started setting up their sleeping bags.

“Hey, Scully. It’s raining. We have sleeping bags,”

Mulder said with a suggestive leer and she couldn’t help

but laugh.

“No, Mulder. It doesn’t count,” she replied, digging into

her pack and coming up with some plastic-wrapped sandwiches

and a thermos of coffee. “Coffee’s still warm. Want some?”

“I’m freezing. Sure, hit me,” Mulder said, holding out

his collapsible cup from his own pack. “I didn’t mean that

literally,” he added.

She could tell he was still treading lightly around her.

“Mulder, I’m not mad at you,” she told him firmly.

“But I’ve said some pretty stupid things today, Scully. I

mean doubting Mrs. Lempke and . . . well, bringing up stuff

that should be left alone . . .”

“Mulder,” she said, glaring at him.

“Yeah, Scully?” he answered hesitantly.

“I’m forgiving you. Don’t blow it.”

“Sorry. Right. Forgiveness accepted.” He smiled that

smile which never failed to melt her heart and dug in his

pack a little farther. “Hey, the flashlights don’t get hot

enough to roast marshmallows, but we can still eat the

Hershey bars,” he said as he produced two large brown and

silver wrapped bars with a flourish.

“Mulder, I just remembered why I always manage to forgive

you,” Scully said with a smile as she gratefully accepted

one of the bars.

The storm raged around them, but the trees did their job

and kept the wind from taking the tent away. After a while,

the early morning and the long walk started to take their

toll on both agents. By mutual agreement, the flashlights

were extinguished and they snuggled into their respective

sleeping bags to fall almost immediately asleep.

Only to be awoken hours later by an ear-shattering scream.

Scully immediately grabbed for her light and shone it

toward her partner, who was mimicking her actions.

“That wasn’t you?” they both asked in unison when another

piercing howl tore through the night.

“Mulder, how could it be me?” she demanded, but he shut

her up with a hand in the air. “It was outside the tent,”

she whispered, but he wasn’t listening to her. He was

pulling on his boots and coat.

“Mulder, what are you doing?” she hissed in lowered tones.

“I’m going to find out who’s out there,” he replied,

clipping his holster to his hip and checking his ankle

holster.

“I’m coming with you,” she said evenly, pulling on her

boots.

“Good. I couldn’t figure out a ‘manly’ way to ask,” he

replied with a grin as he unzipped the tent and made his

way out the opening.

The rain had stopped but it was a moonless night. Their

flashlights barely made a dent in the gloom of the

overhanging trees, still dripping with water. With a nod

of his head, he directed them just outside and to the right

of the tent. She followed, shining the light to the sides

while he shone his directly in front. After a few feet,

his flashlight went out.

“Goddamnit!” he muttered. She reached over and started

to hand him her light when her pant leg got caught on a

branch and she had to stop to tug it free.

Mulder kept walking in the same direction he’d been

headed. “Mulder, wait up. Wait till I can get some light-

-”

The splash surprised both of them, Mulder more so than

Scully. One minute he’d been walking on solid ground, the

next minute he was over the side of a bank and into a

stream running rapidly with freshly melted ice and cold

rain.

“Mulder!” Scully yelled and finally got her pants leg free.

She shone the light in front of her and had no trouble

seeing that they had strayed right next to a small stream,

now flooded with the rains. Mulder had slipped off the

bank in the darkness and was now floundering to pull

himself up out of the water, using a tree root for

purchase.

She dropped the flashlight to the ground, illuminating the

air directly above where Mulder was splashing and casting

him in shadows.

“Mulder, grab my arm,” she called to him.

“No way, Scully. I’ll pull you in,” he warned.

“Mulder, just take my damned arm,” she ordered and this

time he grabbed on and she was able to leverage them both

up and Mulder onto the bank where he lay on his back,

gasping and sputtering from the cold and the wet.

“You’re soaked,” she observed.

Even in the dim light of the flashlight she could make out

his look of total derision. “Come on, we have to get you

back to the tent.”

“Sc-sc-scully, one word about hy-hy-hyp-pothermia and I’m

st-st-stuff-ing you in my sl-sl-sleeping bag!” he

stuttered. “In p-p-pieces!”

Scully ignored him and wrapped her arm around him as they

walked both to steady him because of his now constant

shivering, and to try and provide some warmth. After a few

minutes, she knew something was wrong.

“Mulder, where’s the tent?” she asked, when they made

their way back to the little stand of trees that has served

as their windbreak.

“Mayb-b-be we g-g-ot turned ar-r-round,” he suggested, his

voice shaking so badly she could barely make out what he

was saying.

“No, I remember those trees. And that big maple over

there,” she assured him, shining her light up toward the

trees. “And look, there’s the indentation on the ground.”

Sure enough, the grass, though winter weary, was flattened

in the shape of the bottom of their tent.

“So where . . .”

“Sc-sc-scully. Shine th-th-that light up-” a spasm of

shivers stopped him from speaking but he was able to wave

his hand in the general direction of above their heads.

Their tent fluttered in the light breeze, caught in the

branches of a tall oak, about fifty feet off the ground.

“Then where are our packs and sleeping bags?” Scully

demanded and let go of Mulder, who dropped to the ground

like a frozen sack of peas.

“Ohmigod,” she exclaimed as she found items of their

belongings scattered among the undergrowth and hanging from

the tree limbs. Most of Mulder’s clothing appeared to be

hanging higher than either of them could reach. One pair

of gray boxers teased her about thirty feet from the ground.

About fifteen minutes later, she managed to retrieve one

sleeping bag and her own sweat suit. She quickly spread

out the sleeping bag and pointed to it. Mulder stared at

it forlornly.

“Strip and get in there. Now!”

“Honey, I have a headache,” he whispered hoarsely.

“Mulder, so help me God, if you don’t get out of those wet

clothes and get in that sleeping bag, I will take your own

gun and shoot you where you sit!”

“They’re both wet. Probably won’t fire,” he whispered

back. Now, she was getting seriously worried. He’d

stopped shivering and appeared lethargic and sleepy. Even

in her own warm coat she could tell the temperature hovered

near the freezing mark, maybe below.

“Mulder, c’mon, I’ll help you,” she told him, changing her

tone to one of calm reassurance. If he were slipping into

shock, screaming at him would do no good. She struggled

with him, noting with concern that he was attempting to

help, but weak as a kitten and really no help at all.

Finally, she had him tucked in the sleeping bag.

“You’ve been waiting three years to get back at me,” he

whispered in her ear after she’d donned her extra clothing

and pulled him into her lap with her parka covering them

both.

It took her a minute to understand what he was saying.

She had vague recollections of mere seconds of

consciousness on the ice flow in Antarctica. One of the

nurses at McMurdo Station had confided in her that it was

quite a shock to the hospital staff when she was found nude

under the oversized ski pants and coat she was sporting

when she’d been rescued.

Equally puzzling was her partner’s condition of no coat or

protective outerwear and no socks, just boots on his feet.

Scully had refused to give an explanation that the nurse

would accept.

“Just don’t quit breathing on me, Mulder, and we’ll be

fine,” she told him as she hugged him close. Another nice

night, camping out in the forest, she told herself with

sarcastic disgust. “And don’t expect me to sing, this

time.”

“I learned my lesson on that one,” he whispered just

before his breathing evened out and he let out a soft snore.

Scully woke up with a sore butt and an armful of partner.

It might have been a pleasant experience, if the sounds

that greeted her had been the birds chirping or even the

traffic outside her bedroom window. Instead, it was the

very labored breathing of her partner, who had grown much

warmer during the night.

Tentatively, she put her hand against his forehead. No,

warm was the wrong word. Hot. His forehead was definitely

hot. Scully cursed their luck under her breath and tried

to figure out how she was going to get him back to

civilization. And that’s when she heard the other noise.

It sounded like someone snoring.

She looked down at her partner. No, his breathing was

labored, but this snore was not from him. It was farther

away and seemed to be coming from another stand of trees

not far from where they were sitting.

Scully looked around at the tattered remains of their

campsite and suddenly saw red. Someone had been following

them, that same someone had very likely trashed their

belongings and that someone was unlucky enough to still be

in the vicinity. Gently laying Mulder on the ground, she

checked her weapon and got up to do a little reconnaissance.

Act III

6:15 a.m.

“Sonofabitch! What the hell have you done?”

Carla Pulowski awoke with a violent start and found

herself looking down the barrel of a Smith and Wesson 9-mm.

“Jesus H. Christ, Agent Scully, put that damn gun down!

You wanna kill somebody?”

Scully hesitated just long enough to give Carla pause to

think that perhaps the federal agent was angry enough to do

just that.

“C’mon, Agent, put that thing away. I’m not going

anywhere,” the reporter pleaded mildly.

Scully lowered the weapon, but she did not put it away.

“Talk.”

“Talk?”

“Talk. What the hell kind of shit did you pull on us last

night? Do you realize because of your stupid antics to

*make* a story, Mulder’s probably developed pneumonia?”

informed Scully.

“Look,” Pulowski began, “I didn’t do anything to give

Agent Mulder pneumonia. I didn’t do anything more than

follow you guys around. I wanna know what happened to that

little boy, too, you know.”

“Bullshit,” Scully retorted. “That’s bullshit and you

know it! You were the cause for our belongings finding

their way up in the damn trees. Our tent was destroyed by

you, all because you wanted to break the big story! Damn

you, Pulowski, you really screwed us over!”

“For crying out loud, I didn’t do anything! I told you; I

just followed you. I followed and saw you get your pants

caught in the damn tree limbs. I heard the splash the same

time you did when Agent Mulder fell into that melting

spring. I heard him say that he didn’t want to pull you

in, and I heard you basically tell him to cut the crap and

you pulled him out.

“I followed you back to the site, and I watched you

practically carry your partner back there. ”

Scully relaxed her shooting arm totally and then put the

gun back in her holster. “Damn it, Pulowski, if you were

right behind us during the entire walk back, why the hell

didn’t you offer to help. My partner was really hurting.”

“Because I didn’t want to become part of the story. Look

I really didn’t have anything to do with it. I saw the

disarray the same time you did. I didn’t have anything to

do with it, Agent Scully. Not a damn thing, but I want to

know as much as you do who the hell did that to your site,”

Pulowski concluded.

“Not who, what,” Scully muttered under her breath.

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing,” Scully replied quickly.

“Agent Scully, assuming you believe that I did not wreck

your campsite last night, just who do you think did?”

The blood curdling screams cut off any attempt on Scully’s

attempt to answer. Without hesitation, both women ran

quickly back to the agents’ campsite. Scully looked over

to where their sleeping bag was, and discovered it to be

missing. There was no sight of Mulder, anywhere.

“I have to go find my partner.”

“Okay, let me gather my gear, and we’ll get going,”

responded Pulowski.

“No.”

“No? Whadda ya mean, no?” asked the incredulous reporter.

“Agent Scully, this is a big story and I’m not about to

lose it.”

“Ms. Pulowski, please. I have no idea who,” and after a

moment’s hesitation she added, “or what, has taken my

partner. All I know is the man was on the verge of

developing full-blown pneumonia. He was in no condition to

travel, and if I hadn’t discovered you here, I would have

gone off on my own to find help. He couldn’t breathe while

at full rest, much less walk and breathe at the same time.

“I’ve got to go find him as soon as possible. But I need

backup. Ms. Pulowski, Carla, please. I need you to go

find the sheriff as quickly as possible so they can notify

the EMS. Please, Carla. My partner needs your help. I

need your help,” repeated Scully in a small, but forceful

voice.

Carla Pulowski knew she was probably walking away from the

biggest story of her career, and it was all because Mrs.

Spooky pleaded for her help. The reporter nodded her head

slightly and gathered back up her supplies. She marveled

as she started back to the original campsite where all the

media and spectators were still keeping vigil.

Pulowski wondered just when the hell had she’d become an

adult and learned how to behave maturely. It was certainly

a new feeling; and one that she prayed didn’t turn around

and bite her in the ass later on.

7:15 a.m.

Mulder woke up and immediately decided it was the wrong

thing to do. His chest hurt, his head hurt and he felt

like at any minute, he was going to start tossing his

cookies. But he hadn’t had any cookies, not since the

night before when he’d had the sandwich and coffee with

Scully. The memory of the food was enough to turn his

stomach all the way over and he rolled to his hands and

knees as the retching took control of his body.

It took a long time for it to be over, or so it seemed.

When he could finally look around, Mulder realized a very

vital piece of information. He was alone. Scully was no

where to be found.

He looked up at the trees, seeing his clothing flapping in

the light morning breeze. Then he saw the shredded remains

of their tent, also making an interesting flag imitation in

the nearest oak tree. Without a second thought, he grabbed

his still damp clothing and pulled them on, shucking the

sleeping bag that had been his only protection against the

chill morning air. A wave of dizziness washed over him as

he stood, but one thought steadied him. He had to find

Scully.

He heard a scream and headed in that direction.

The scream had faded and he had no way to know where it

had come from. He was just wandering, not really knowing

where he was going. He looked at the path ahead of him for

some sign that Scully had taken that route, but all he

could see was a blurry vision of dancing dried leaves and

dead stalks of weeds. He wiped the sweat off his forehead

as it threatened to drip into his eyes.

He hadn’t gone far when he saw the entrance to a cave. It

was in the side of a hill, hidden almost by dead bushes and

a fallen pine tree. For some reason known only to his

fevered mind, Mulder was convinced he would find his

partner somewhere in that cave. Without a second thought,

he scrambled over the dried foliage and entered its

darkness.

7:35 a.m.

The cave was dark, but not as cold as the wind outside.

Mulder’s fever had been kept at bay with the strong morning

breeze, but in the still air of the cave, it seemed to

smother him. He pulled at his damp coat, drawing it off

his arms and dropping it to the floor of the cave.

There was a light toward the back of the cave and Mulder

headed in that direction, stumbling on stalagmite and

banging his head on stalactites from the low ceiling.

Moisture from the ceiling of the cave dripped on his head

and mingled with the sweat on his face and ran down to

sting his eyes. The light wavered, but he kept moving

closer. Now he could hear noises, grunts and growls and

animal sounds from beyond a narrow opening in the room of

the cave. Suddenly, a distinctly human voice echoed off

the rock walls.

“I wanna ‘nana!”

Mulder may not have understood the significance of that

statement, but he definitely recognized the voice as that

of a small child, more than likely a small missing boy by

the name of Scotty Lempke. He crouched down on his hands

and knees to get a better look into the opening and almost

fell forward in astonishment at the sight before him.

It looked like a small, one room house. A table set

against the far wall, crude dishes and eating utensils in

place around it. A small cooking fire was in an

indentation in the stone wall, almost like a fireplace or

hearth. No smoke filled the room, it disappeared up a

crack in the wall.

Other pieces of furniture, fashioned from split logs and

rough-hewn tree stumps were arranged around the room and

mats of straw were situated along another wall. Four mats,

from what Mulder could see in the dim light of the

fireplace.

That was incredible enough, but what caught Mulder’s eye

and caused his breath to still in his lungs was the

creatures in the room. Two of them, about five feet in

height, covered in long fur. Their faces were turned away

from the opening he was looking through, but in profile,

Mulder could see noses that would give his own a run for

its money. Upon closer inspection, the paws, or hands of

the creatures were graced with three fingers and an

opposable thumb. The feet had three toes.

“Trolls!” Mulder hissed and it was just enough to disturb

the phlegm in his throat and lungs. He immediately started

to cough. The taller of the two creatures spun on its heel

and stormed toward the opening, grabbing Mulder by his

shirt collar and dragging him in the room.

“Graahhhhh!” growled the creature. Mulder couldn’t stop

coughing long enough to protect himself and the creature

took full advantage of the situation. It tossed the agent

like so much laundry on to one of the straw mats and then

towered over him. “Grahhhh!” it reiterated.

“He wants to know who you are,” came a soft voice and

Mulder searched the room for the source. A girl, probably

no more than eight or nine, stood next to the smaller of

the two creatures and held a young boy by the hand. The

little boy was wide-eyed and trembling, but the little girl

showed no fear, whatsoever.

“I’m Special Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI,” came the

reply, and not quite as confident as Mulder would have

liked. “I’m seeking the whereabouts of Scotty Lempke.”

At the sound of his name, the little boy grinned. “Scott-

ie, Scott-ie,” he sang and clapped. “Me Scott-ie!” he

added gleefully. The little girl hushed him.

The smaller creature placed a protective hand on the

Scotty’s shoulder and growled something to the girl. She

nodded and turned to Mulder.

“Why do you want him? He’s safe here.”

“His parents are worried about him,” Mulder stated,

looking first at the child and then at the two creatures.

“His mother wants him home.”

There was grumbling and growling from both creatures at

once and the little girl looked anxiously from one to

another. At first, Mulder assumed she was frightened of

their anger, but then she growled in reply to some noise

they made and they almost seemed to be conferring. Finally

she smiled at them and turned to Mulder again.

“They weren’t very good parents. They left him wandering

in the woods. He could have been eaten by the bears. We

are taking good care of him. He likes it here. We’ll keep

him.”

Mulder dropped his jaw in utter astonishment. “It doesn’t

work that way! You can’t just ‘take’ a child away from his

parents!”

“Humans do it every day,” the little girl answered with

narrowed eyes. “Even when the children don’t want to go.”

Mulder wasn’t real sure what she was talking about, but

was wise enough to realize he was setting his foot on a

landmine. “He’s only 2. How can he know where he wants

to go?”

The little girl looked down at Scotty and smiled. She

grumbled a few noises and the tiny boy grinned at here.

Still smiling, he looked directly at Mulder. “Wanna stay!

Scotty stay here!”

Mulder knew when he was fighting a losing battle. He

looked at the smaller of the two creatures, the one he now

assumed to be female, if this was indeed a family unit.

“What would you do if a human came and took your child?” he

asked her/it.

The little girl frowned, but translated Mulder’s words

into growls. The creature shied back, clutching Scotty to

her. She growled loudly toward Mulder and shook her fist.

“Well, that’s exactly how his mother feels,” Mulder

assured her, not giving the little girl a chance to

translate. “And what about your child? The one you left

in this one’s place?”

The small creature looked over at the larger one and then

lifted her head and howled. The larger creature seemed to

be shaking his head and grumbling toward the floor.

“You can’t keep both of them,” the little girl explained.

“I think this is a pretty bad system, if you ask me,”

Mulder said to the smaller creature. “Do you really want

your child raised by a species who can’t be trusted to

watch their children?”

As the little girl translated, obviously with some

reluctance, the small creature’s howling grew louder and

more plaintive. The larger creature covered his ears. The

little girl just stood there and glared at Mulder.

“I think we should exchange them back. Everyone gets what

they started with,” Mulder suggested. The little girl said

nothing. Mulder looked at her and restated his comment.

“We put things back the way they are. Tell them. Tell

them what I just said.”

“I like Scotty,” she said defiantly.

Mulder felt that foot on the landmine getting heavier and

heavier. “But he doesn’t belong here,” he reasoned.

“Neither did I, at first,” she told him, crossing her arms

over her small body. “And I won’t go back!”

Now it was starting to come to Mulder, the understanding

that had been eluding him since he first set foot in the

cave. The little girl was human, he was sure of that.

She’d had a home, a family. But for some reason he didn’t

know, other humans had taken her from that home, not

trolls. And somehow, she ended up here, with these

creatures. It was obvious that she’d found a home here.

But that wasn’t the case with Scotty. Scotty had to go

back to his real family.

“Look, I really think the best thing for everyone is to

just put the boy back with his family and for you to take

your, uh, child back with you. I know they let him wander

off, but it was an accident,” Mulder assured them.

At the little girl’s translation, the larger creature let

out a loud roar that told Mulder exactly what they thought

of such “accidents.” But Mulder could sense the smaller

creature was softening up to the idea.

Grumblings and growlings went back and forth for several

minutes. The little girl made no attempt to translate, it

was not for Mulder’s ears apparently. Scotty gave up any

pretense of following the ranting of the adults, including

Mulder, and went off to forage around the cooking fire,

coming back with an apple in his chubby little fist.

Finally, the smaller creature wiped at its eye with one

furry hand and nodded to the other creature.

Mulder was hauled up by his collar and dragged through the

cave, knocked and bumped countless times before he was

thrown several feet through the air to land in a heap away

from the mouth of the cave.

7:30 a.m.

Scully stopped and worked on controlling her breathing.

If she were to be of any help to Mulder, she had to get

herself calmed down and make a plan. That’s what Scully

did best. Make a plan.

She walked back to the site where she and Mulder had

slept. She took an extra moment or two and surveyed the

area. There had to be a clue somewhere. She bent down

next to the sleeping bag she had wrapped Mulder up in last

night.

Footprints. Mulder’s? No, there were others. Strange

footprints, similar to the ones that were by the Lempke’s

campsite, but smaller. Scully imagined that just as Scotty

was led away from his campsite, somehow, so was Mulder.

“Oh, Mulder, what have you gotten yourself into now?” she

whispered to the wind.

7:55 a.m.

Carla’s legs ached as she pushed herself through the

forest brush that tried to impede her progress. She knew

she had to find Tom, though in truth she felt some

trepidation at seeing him. He was not going to be happy

that she’d ditched him, but Carla figured that if they were

going to have a future together he was going to have to get

used to it. She was a reporter and the story always came

first.

Except this time.

Why except this time?

Carla tried to figure out what it was about Agents Scully

and Mulder that caused her to throw away possibly the

biggest story of her career. She couldn’t put her finger

on it, only that Mulder was most likely in some kind of

trouble and it was up to her and his partner to help him.

As she moved on Carla thought she heard something, given

the nature of the story she’d been following, it made her

just a bit nervous. However, when she heard shouts of

“Springer, where the hell does the damn trail lead?” the

reporter let out a sigh of relief.

“Tom! Tom, over here!” Carla called out. Suddenly she

felt herself surrounded by a multitude of people, including

the entire Lempke family.

“Where the hell have you been, Pulowski?” demanded Tom.

“I’m fine, Tom,” she responded, knowing full well that was

the intent of the tirade. That was confirmed when she saw

him let out a sigh and his face relaxed somewhat. “But I

think Agent Mulder is in trouble,” she added.

“Agent Mulder? Damn fool! And what about his partner,

damn fool number two? Where the hell are they, Carla?” he

asked more annoyed than ever, having been reminded of the

reason he was stuck out in the damp, cold, raw forest at

the crack of dawn.

“They’d set up camp about two, maybe three miles from

here. Then he fell in a stream, but their campsite was

wrecked–” she started to explain.

“–Wrecked? By who?” asked Deputy Springer.

“More like, by what, Jerry,” she answered. “I can only

imagine what caused the havoc back there. Everything was

strewn about and mostly hanging from tree limb. High up in

the trees, I might add. I don’t think an ordinary ‘who’

could have done that kind of damage.”

“Yeah, right,” interjected Tom, “so why aren’t they with

you?”

“Agent Mulder is missing.”

“Oh, shit!” shouted Tom. “Damn it! I want this case to be

over, do you hear me?” Tom Brennan was a picture of

frustration. He looked quickly over at the Lempke family

who had insisted upon following the sheriff and his men

into the forest to search for the missing people, as well

hopefully find the child they claim was truly their own.

As much as Brennan tried to talk them out of it, the

entire family decided it was their right to traipse into

the woods right along the law enforcement officers.

“Carla, where have you been? And what the hell are you

running from?” he asked angrily.

“I’m sorry, Tom. I woke up this morning to find Agent

Scully’s gun pointed directly between my eyes–”

“What?” Tom practically squeaked. He may have been

ticked off with Carla for ditching him, but he certainly

didn’t want to hear she was in harm’s way at the hands of a

damn fool fibbie.

“Tom, forget it. She thought I was the reason behind

their site being messed up, and she was worried about Agent

Mulder being sick and all.”

“Sick?”

“Tom, c’mon,” Carla responded exasperated, “I’ll explain

on the way. Scully and Mulder need our help. Let’s just

go already.”

Tom tried to get more of an explanation out of his secret

love, but she would have none of it and took him by the

hand to lead him and the rest of the search party to where

Carla had last seen both agents.

It pissed Tom Brennan off to no end. But not half as much

as when Mr. Lempke poked him in the shoulder and admitted

sheepishly, that little Scotty had already gone running off

down the path in the same direction Carla had just come.

7:40 a.m.

Scully followed the footprints all the way down a beaten

path into rocky area. She found herself staring at a

cavern opening. She stooped down and walked inside all the

while listening intently for any signs of life. Backing

away from the cavern, she looked to the surrounding

hillside. All appeared silent, but she tentatively called

out her partner’s name. When she heard no answer, she

stepped outside again and tried calling to him again.

“Mulder? Mulder, answer me!” she called a little more

desperately.

“Boo-boo,” called out a young voice that seemed to be

coming from behind a battered yew bush.

“Scotty?” responded Scully hopefully.

“Me Scotty!” the child shouted back happily.

“Where are you, sweetheart?”

“Scotty here. Him gots boo-boo,” said the rather forlorn

little voice.

“Keep talking to me, Scotty, so I can find you,” Scully

encouraged.

The child complied and the anxious agent was able to find

the toddler and her partner in a matter of seconds. When

she came upon them, her heart did a flip at the picture

before her.

Little Scotty Lempke sat by her partner’s prone body, and

patted the injured man’s hand in an attempt to offer some

comfort. Scully moved in a quick, but fluid motion to her

partner, as she didn’t want to startle the child.

“Hi, Scotty,” she said with a smile. “Thank you for

watching my friend.”

“Boo-boos,” the toddler announced, pointing to various

bruises already forming on Mulder’s cheek.

“Yes, I see,” she replied, and she really did see.

Mulder’s forehead had a nice little gash that was bleeding

profusely. It didn’t cause her all that much concern, as

Scully knew head wounds tended to bleed more than others.

What did cause her to worry was his glistening skin, moist

from fever, as well as the barking cough that he emitted

every few seconds.

Not to mention the slightly odd angle his shoulder

appeared to be in.

“Mulder, talk to me partner,” she urged.

He opened his eyes briefly, saw it was his partner, and

managed something akin to a grin. “Hey Scully, you were

right,” he rasped out.

“What was I right about, Mulder?”

“The trolls. There be trolls in these here woods, Scully.

You were right,” he rasped out between the hacking coughs.

“Oh, Mulder,” she sighed as she wiped his perspiring face,

“you’ve got a case of bronchitis if ever I’ve seen one.

It’s the fever, Mulder. Scotty is here, safe and sound.”

“I’m tellin’ you, Scully, I saw trolls! I talked to ’em.

Well, not exactly talked, they growled and I listened, but

the little girl, she understood what they said. They were

just taking care of him Scully, but I convinced ’em to

bring him back.” He would have continued but wracking

coughs were making it difficult to speak.

“Mulder, we’ll deal with all this later. Right now, we

have to get you somewhere warm. Carla was going off to get

help.”

On cue, the entire posse, including the Lempke family,

surrounded the three. Denise Lempke took one look at the

small child still crouched beside the fallen agent and

immediately scooped him up into her arms.

“Scotty! Oh, Scotty, don’t ever scare Mama like that

again!” she cried as tears streamed down her face.

Tom Brennan looked around him at the scene. Silently, he

counted heads. Yup, he had the same number he started

with, plus two more. He didn’t care if the fibbie himself

was a changeling, as far as Brennan was concerned, the case

was now closed!

Epilogue

Mulder’s Apartment

Hegel Street Alexandria, VA

“I don’ wanna,” he complained.

“Mulder, you have to eat something, and the warmth will

make your chest feel better. Try some, please?”

“Scully, it hurts.”

“I know, you have a big boo-boo, Mulder,” she teased,

borrowing a phrase from little Scotty Lempke, “but you

need some nourishment to get better. Now, stop giving me

an argument about this, Fox Mulder, and open your damn

mouth!”

“Gee, Florence Nightingale, your bedside manner leaves a

lot left to be desired.”

“Oh shut up, Mulder, and open wide,” she said with a smile.

She knew how uncomfortable he was, but Scully also knew

that with a little time and TLC, this too would pass. The

shoulder separation was a mild one for a change, and though

bronchitis was a pain, it wasn’t life threatening if he

took care of himself. He was home now, and that’s exactly

what he was going to do, even if she had to kill him to

make him do it.

They’d finished their report in Allegheny in record time,

mostly because Sheriff Tom Brennan wanted all paperwork

finished as soon as possible. The lack of hard evidence of

the so-called “troll perpetrators” left the agents little

choice but to close the case with the return of the

supposedly

“real” Scotty Lempke.

Brennan hadn’t argued with the parents’ assertions that

the toddler found with Mulder was indeed the real Scotty.

The fact that Denise Lempke insisted the child was wearing

a different shirt from the one that she’d put on the

changeling that morning didn’t hold that much water for the

sheriff. The purported changeling had disappeared, so

there was no hard proof that there’d ever been more than

one Scotty Lempke.

Brennan had demanded that the agents sign off on the

report his deputy wrote up and then bid them a not so fond

adieu. He was obviously eager to get his piece of the

world back on an even keel, and Brennan felt that the

sooner he could get the fibbies on their way back to DC,

the sooner his life could get back to normal.

And that meant he could finally take the time to give a

certain wayward reporter a piece of his mind, as well as

other parts of his body. He’d made an important decision

that day.

Life was too short, and it was time to bring their

relationship out into the open. He didn’t like not knowing

where Carla was, or whether or not she was safe. Life

sometimes has a way of biting you in the ass if you’re not

careful, and sometimes it does even when you’re too

careful.

Tom Brennan had decided he was ready for the world to know

about him and Carla Pulowski. Whether the world would

survive no longer mattered; the risk was well worth it.

The agents had received a warmer farewell from Carla, who

had the most lopsided smile as she said goodbye. Scully

wasn’t sure what that was all about, but for some reason

Mulder seemed to understand, though he was hard pressed to

put that understanding into words. All he could say was

she reminded him of someone, but he wasn’t sure of whom.

Of course, she’d no sooner said goodbye than she’d taken

off again, much to the alarm of Sheriff Brennan. Both

Scully and Mulder wondered if there were other reasons that

Brennan went ballistic when he’d learned that Pulowski had

ditched them all, especially when he’d lamented, “Not

again, damn it!”

So now, as Scully fed her bedridden partner his chicken

soup and endeavored to make him all better, another partner

was traipsing about the woods looking for a clue to a

mystery unsolved.

And just as she was about to call it a day, Carla Pulowski

looked toward the small beaten path to find two small

figures holding hands and skipping along in their slightly

awkward, plodding manner. One fur-covered hand clutched

tightly to a smooth skinned hand of about the same size,

just a touch smaller.

“Oh, my,” whispered an awestruck Pulowski, “oh, my.”

The end

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