A Christmas Peril

cover

TITLE: A Christmas Peril

AUTHOR: Kestabrook

EMAIL: Kestabrook@yahoo.com

RATING: PG

CONTENT: MSR, A

SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully’s plans for a Christmas

getaway suffer a setback, and Mulder’s life hangs in

the balance.

COMMENTS: For Courtney, and my Crystal Ship sisters

who made a difficult year easier. Mega thanks to

Laura, Michelle, FabulousMonster, Judie, and Catbird

for great friendship and super beta work. Also,

thanks to Charles Dickens for voicing no objection to

my borrowing his idea.

SPECIAL THANKS: to Humbuggie for loaning me her

character, Jack, and to Kimpa for her magnificent

artwork.

FEEDBACK: If positive or helpful, I love it!

DISTRIBUTION: Archive, if desired, after 9-21-01.

DISCLAIMER: X-Files characters are 1013’s and Chris

Carter’s. All others are mine.

SPOILERS: VS 9 canon. Brief mentions of Jack Campbell

from Humbuggie’s fine “Matrix,” and Clarissa McKinnie

from my VS 8 story, “Shady Rest.”

WEBSITE: A new one! Please visit:

http://www.geocities.com/kestabrook/Kestories1.html

A Christmas Peril

by Kestabrook

TEASER

11:55 P.M., December 24, 2001

Outside Springville, NY

“Mulder? Where are you?”

He smiled, his lips grazing the cell phone. “Hey,

Scully, good to hear your voice. Merry Christmas, a

few minutes early.” Mulder’s elbow rested on the car

door as he pictured her on the motel bed, her face

near her own phone. “I’m on the way. It’s snowing.

Did you notice?”

“*Notice*? It’s done nothing but snow, Mulder.”

“We’re in ski country. You have to expect this.”

“I assume that means you’re somewhere in western New

York, then. Finally.”

“Yeah. Almost to you…I think.” He squinted into the

blinding blanket of snow slamming into the

windshield.

“Why do I not believe that? Could you perhaps have

called me before this? It’s been hours, Mulder. I

would have called you, but I was afraid I’d find you

were still in New York City. Anyway, the last time I

heard from you, you were still in DC.”

“I was busy all day, Scully. After the flight to New

York City this morning, I was either at the precinct

or at Jack’s apartment. I wanted to get finished as

quickly as possible. I told you I’d call when I was

on my way. I needed to close out things for Jack.”

Jack Campbell, his old buddy from VCS who had left

the FBI and become a New York City cop, had been shot

to death not two weeks previous–a fact which made

Mulder grip the steering wheel tighter as grief

threatened his composure. “You aren’t angry with me,

are you?”

“Maybe just a little. Here I am, only five minutes

from Christmas, sitting alone in a motel in the

middle of nowhere. I’ve driven in snow, and I’ve

looked out at nothing but snow. I’ve been here

waiting for you–over ten hours now–to show up for a

*ski* vacation–though neither of us skis. Why would

I be angry? Just because you and I could have been

warm and cozy at my mother’s house, waiting to

celebrate the holiday with my family? Next year, if

your email friend, Clarissa, suggests a vacation

spot, get my okay before you make plans.”

“Bah, humbug, Scully.” Mulder winced from her rant.

“Bah, humbuggie, Mulder.”

“I haven’t exactly had a great day,” he told her.

“Getting a flight out of New York wasn’t easy, and

once I did, we spent over three hours on the ground

in Rochester. Buffalo couldn’t clear the runways fast

enough in this blizzard. The flight attendants showed

‘A Christmas Carol’ twice–only movie they had

onboard. We finally took a bus to Buffalo, and by

that time, the only rental car left was a 1980 Ford

Fiesta at ‘Rent a Lemon’; I might as well be in a

shoebox, as tiny as this thing is. My head hits the

roof if I yawn.”

“Too bad *you* don’t have little legs,” she replied.

“You know, Mulder, the inn you sent me to was fully

booked. I spent the day finding a motel with a

vacancy.”

“But we had reservations–”

“My plane from DC to Buffalo was late, and it took me

hours to get a rental car, then find Glenwood after I

left the airport. Driving in this storm took hours.

By the time I got to the inn, our reservations had

been forfeited.”

“Scully, I–”

“And, Mulder, you’ve dumped me during cases in the

past; I’ve forgiven you for taking off with little or

no explanation. But this morning when you dumped

yourself from our flight and let me go on ahead, I

was really shocked. I guess I wonder at your

priorities. You know, you being able to get on

flights whenever you want has to be one of the

biggest Christmas miracles yet.”

“Scully, I’m sorry for the last-minute notice, but I

needed to go to New York and finish taking care of

Jack’s things.” He swallowed hard as he remembered

the emptiness of his dead friend’s apartment.

“I realize that, but it could have waited, couldn’t

it? I mean, this was supposed to be a getaway for the

two of us, Mulder.”

“I *am* sorry, Scully.” Mulder slowed the car’s

speed. He could no longer tell the difference between

road and snowbank. “The NYPD *did* call me last

night, asking if I’d help finalize Jack’s case

paperwork; some of them are going on vacation

starting tomorrow, and they wanted to get it done.

And I wanted to pack up Jack’s apartment and get that

off my mind before our time together. I figured doing

both Jack-related things the same day would be

preferable.” He smiled. “I promise that when I get

there, I’ll make it all up to you.” He hoped that the

passionate scenes he imagined might fill her mind,

too. “Where are you?”

She heaved a sigh. “I ended up in a town which is

somewhat southwest of Glenwood and your Kissing

Bridge–what a romantic title, by the way, for

nothing but a ski slope. Springville is the town, and

I’m in Room 8 of a motel called ‘The Palace’ which is

about as grungy as cheap motels come.”

“Springville? The Palace?” Mulder scowled. “I was

there ten minutes ago! I took 219 ’cause 400 was

closed. I’m on the other side of Springville–”

“Better turn around then. If you’d called before you

left Buffalo, you could be in this room right now,”

she murmured. “By the way, Mulder, you do realize

that it’s illegal in this state to talk on your cell

phone while driving, don’t you?”

“I’ll hide it if I see any cops.” His smile dwindled

to a frown. “Can’t believe I just passed you. I got

lost, and a guy at a gas station gave me directions.

That gas station was across from your motel.” He got

no response. “I’m looking for a place to turn around.

I should be there in fifteen minutes. There’s a good

two feet of snow out here; it’s not easy finding a

driveway that’s been shoveled. The plows must have

been out all day, trying to keep up.”

“Tell me about it. Those directions you gave me were

worthless–at least in this storm. Too many roads

were closed.”

“Scully?” With the difficult drive and long hours of

travel, he felt too fatigued to discuss much more in

the car. “I’m sorry. I thought it would be better if

you went ahead. And I should have called you sooner.

I know I’ve screwed up.”

“And it was all so avoidable. We could have waited

until after Christmas to come here.”

Mulder scowled. “You could have stayed at your

mother’s if you’d really preferred that.”

“*You* were invited, too.”

“It wouldn’t have been the same as this. Besides,

your brother’s animosity doesn’t fill me with the

Christmas spirit.”

“Yeah, as if you know Christmas spirit.” Scully’s

tone was matter-of-fact. “You know, Mulder, if we’re

going to go ahead in this relationship, you’re going

to have to face my family one of these days.”

“I’d be glad to if your brother was ready to face

me.” He quickly swerved to miss a car whose

headlights he’d hardly seen in the blinding deluge.

“I would have gone–”

“Right. And looked edgy and unhappy the entire day.

Mulder, you’d rather have been with the Gunmen,

talking conspiracy theories, than with my family.

You’d rather have been sitting alone at home watching

a movie for the thousandth time.”

“I would have gone if you’d insisted.”

“Why should I have to insist? You were asked. It’s

only polite to accept. I would have liked to have–to

have had you there…with me.” She paused, then

continued. “Too late anyway. Here we are, stranded in

snow country. Yee-ha. Merry Christmas to you, too.”

Mulder pulled the car back onto what he assumed was

the road and slowed its speed to a mere crawl. “Look,

we’ll talk when I get there.” When she said nothing,

he added, “I’m looking for a turn-around. I’ll see

you in a few minutes.” He ended the conversation and

muttered in the car’s stillness, “Unless you’d rather

I just keep going.” He then tossed his cell phone

into the passenger’s seat.

He now gripped the steering wheel as tightly as he

could–partly because it was *that* hard to drive in

the present conditions, and partly because he was

frustrated with Scully. His fatigue and the day’s

earlier emotional upheaval didn’t help matters

either. The getaway had been Mulder’s idea to curb

his grief over his friend’s death by sharing “secret”

time with the person he most loved. But the past few

hours may have spoiled that holiday getaway already–

for both of them.

“Damn it, Scully,” he muttered, “this could have been

so good.”

Suddenly, headlights sprang from the darkness and

headed straight toward him. They belonged to a

tractor-trailer moving much faster than prudent on

such a night. And they were too close.

Mulder gasped as he pulled the steering wheel to the

right and his foot slammed onto the accelerator. But

he felt no relief as the car skidded and narrowly

missed impact with the truck. Instead, he was

conscious of a scream escaping his lips as his car

plunged into a snowbank and cartwheeled. He passed

into silence as the vehicle became airborne, flipping

once before hitting the deep snow and sliding like a

toboggan down a steep bank. Rightside up, it came to

rest in a snowbank near the underside of a bridge.

But Mulder was oblivious. His head had collided with

the badly dented roof of the tiny car. A blinding

pain raced through it, and he lapsed into

unconsciousness. A blanket of white snow soon covered

the car, obscuring it from the roadway above.

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

ACT I

12:20 A.M., December 25, 2001

Scully, her hands on her hips and jaw set in a fierce

scowl, continued to pace the narrow path between the

motel room’s bed and door. “Damn it!” she muttered

between clenched teeth. “Damn him!” She no longer

needed the blanket she’d tossed around her shoulders;

her emotions warmed her enough.

The day had gotten the best of her. She was tired,

worried, frustrated, annoyed, and relieved all at

once, and she’d allowed those feelings to inject

themselves into her conversation with Mulder. That

wasn’t like her at all. Where was her calm, steady

exterior? Hearing his voice had been so welcome to

her, and yet, she’d basically told him just the

opposite. But then, why not? He certainly hadn’t

minded leaving her alone for the day, putting NYPD

cops’ happy Christmas before hers. Maybe he *should*

know she didn’t like being low on his list of

priorities.

She’d tried to call him back, but he’d shut his phone

off completely. And that was typical of him: dumping

her one way or another.

She almost wished she *was* at her mother’s right

now, basking in the warmth from the fireplace,

singing carols, drinking eggnog, and watching her

nephew gaze at the lights on the gaily decorated

tree. Mulder could have been home, alone, doing

whatever he did on Christmas. Why make her prisoner

to his lonely excuse for a celebration?

And why *had* she agreed to this getaway? What had

intrigued her about spending a few days with Mulder

at a wilderness resort? Just because they would be

anonymous and could wander together amongst

strangers, holding hands or wrapping their arms

around each other, enjoying the public intimacy that

other couples experienced? Scully shivered. Just the

thought of being able to enjoy such public intimacy

made her tingle.

Why did his work always come first?

With frustrated movements, her hands tugged at the

tie of her white terry-cloth robe and then tore the

garment from her shoulders. With even less caution,

she removed the red, lacy negligee she’d bought

specially for this night. She wadded it into a lumpy

ball, and flung it into her suitcase. “Sexy” was not

how she felt at the moment, and she refused to let

Mulder see that negligee until she did. After re-

dressing in the business suit she’d worn for travel,

she sat on the bed. She’d wait for him to arrive.

She’d let him apologize again. She’d let him explain

why a case took preference to her. Then she’d try to

sleep. And in the morning, if his reasons weren’t

good enough, she’d leave him to enjoy his

lonely Christmas.

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

12:30 A.M.

Mulder decided that opening his eyes was a bad idea.

The pain surging through his head was like a boulder

impacting cardboard. He could feel the seatbelt still

strapping him to the seat, and his head rested on the

icy window. His knees ached, and he knew without

looking that the dashboard was lodged against them.

He felt lethargic, and moving his head from the

window to the headrest seemed a gargantuan effort.

He wanted nothing but to sleep. In the thermal

underwear, boots, and parka he’d donned before

leaving New York City, he was insulated against the

cold. He was upright, and suffering most from the sad

realization that it might be some time before Scully

cooled down enough to miss him. Getting out of the

car wouldn’t be prudent since he had no idea where he

was, and night was far from over. He also doubted

whether he possessed adequate alertness, balance, and

energy to walk. Sleep sounded good.

In his muddled mind, he slowly became aware of the

steady clinking of metal hitting metal. It wasn’t due

to anything within the car; the motor had died when

the vehicle hit the snowbank. He realized the sound

was coming from beside him.

Mulder forced his eyes open, and he waited a moment

for the resulting nausea to subside. As his vision

focused, he found the car strangely illuminated, and

he could see a spider’s web of cracked windshield

before him. But the clinking metal continued to

attract his attention, and he let his head slowly

pivot to the right.

And then he gasped and stared in disbelief. “Jack?”

Beside him, basked in a faint, white light, sat his

deceased friend.

“Nice driving back there, Mulder. Were you trying to

jump the creek?”

“Jack?” The pain in Mulder’s head throbbed, and he

squinted against it. Still hearing the clinking, he

noticed that Jack held a pair of handcuffs and

repeatedly closed and then opened them. Mulder

swallowed. “Jack, you’re dead.”

The apparition chuckled. “Yeah, I was the first to

find out.” He smiled. “Heck of a way to go. Bang! And

dead Jack.”

Mulder stared closely at his old friend, seeing his

blond hair and blue eyes shining in the light. “You

were killed. I saw your body, Jack.”

“Relax, buddy.” He lightly punched Mulder’s arm.

“How many times a day do you get to see a ghost?” He

laughed at Mulder’s anguish. “I heard what you told

your partner back there at the cemetery, by the way,

and you were right. Where I am *is* a very happy

place. You’ll like it when you arrive.”

“I can’t believe it, Jack. This can’t be happening.

You’re here, but you’re dead.”

“Believe it. And hey, you *could* be, you know.

Dead.”

“Now?” Mulder winced.

Jack shrugged and pulled the metal cuffs apart once

more. “Maybe. Or maybe not. It depends.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve been in an accident, Mulder. And not a

‘slight’ one. Your car left the road, flipped, and

slid down an embankment. Yeah, you landed rightside

up, but you could still be badly injured. Or not. You

could have massive head trauma or a mild concussion.

You could freeze to death or maybe not. That’s the

beauty of an accident like this–so many things can

change one way or another before you’re found.”

“I don’t get it. Do you mean my injuries haven’t been

decided yet? That someone is going to choose whether

I live or die based on some criteria?”

“Yep. That’s what I mean.”

“Who? And based on what?”

Jack snapped the handcuffs back together. “I don’t

want to get into that.”

“Why don’t you just take me now?”

“Aw c’mon. Give it a little fight. Surely you’d like

to stay a while longer. Scully is waiting, after

all.”

Mulder grunted. “I’m not sure she wants to see me.”

“That’s crap, and you know it.”

“Not necessarily. Every good person I’ve ever had in

my life has left or been taken from me. Or I’ve

screwed up relationships until they’re beyond repair.

My sister. My parents. You. Others.” Images of loved

ones’ faces floated before his eyes. He smiled sadly

as he saw Samantha. “Maybe I *am* willing to go with

you now.”

“Not so fast, buddy. I think you’re forgetting a few

things. And not appreciating a few others.”

“I think you’re wrong.”

“Look.” Jack sighed and held up the handcuffs. “See

these? They’re what I wore during my life, but I

never realized it until I didn’t have life anymore. I

was a guy who knew what he wanted. A cop who loved

the job and devoted himself to it. And you know what?

I missed out on a whole bunch of ‘could have beens’.

Just like you, Mulder. Now I admit, this idea of

yours–this vacation with Scully–was good. You might

have found some happiness. But what happened? You

were willing to delay it for a dead friend? You’re

willing to give it up now after a few opposing words?

You never give up on a case when faced with

obstacles. In fact, they intrigue you.”

“Yeah, well, this was different.”

“Bullshit,” Jack countered. “You wimped out.”

“Did not.” Mulder rubbed his aching forehead.

“Scully made some good points in that argument, and

you’re ready to walk away from your vacation. That’s

wimping out.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“Then what is it? What do *you* call it?”

“I call it ‘letting Scully do what she wants’.”

Mulder closed his eyes and grimaced. “Maybe she was

right. I should have let her go to her mother’s. Her

plans were set, and she changed them for me. She

doesn’t need me interfering. She doesn’t even need

me.”

Jack laughed. “You don’t have time for self-pity. Or

for throwing away your personal life. You and Scully

have both been doing that for years.” His ghostly

hand rested on Mulder’s sleeve. As his old friend

opened his eyes, Jack calmly warned, “You have to

take the handcuffs off, buddy. You have to stop

having ‘could have beens’; stop sacrificing and

ignoring what *you* want. You *can* do that; it’s not

too late for you.”

“Life’s not all about me, Jack. I find cases; Scully

goes with me. I say ‘Ready?’, and Scully lines up.

She always sacrifices for me, and this vacation is

just another example. I’m selfish already; I don’t

think I ‘sacrifice’ much at all.”

“Yeah, you do. You’re constantly sacrificing personal

happiness. So is Scully. And maybe you’re both hungry

for change. Do you think she only came here for

*your* sake? Maybe she’s looking for some personal

happiness, too.”

“You’re wrong.”

“Am I?” Jack scoffed. “I’ll show you I’m not. And

I’ve got some helpers who’ll be along soon to offer

you proof.” He tossed the handcuffs onto the Fiesta’s

cracked dashboard. He followed those with several

pieces of Mulder’s cell phone and smiled at his

friend’s scowl. “I gotta go. Take care of yourself,

man. And pay attention to what you’ll see; you may

find that you want to stay on this planet a while

longer.”

As Mulder watched, Jack seemed to fade through the

passenger’s door. The faint white light followed him.

In its illumination, Mulder glimpsed images of his

parents and Samantha holding pairs of handcuffs out

to him, and then they, too, faded away.

Mulder let his head sag against the headrest. As his

eyes adapted to the darkness, he found he could see

little; snow covered the windows and windshield. His

body cramped and his mind foggy, he allowed the pain

behind his eyes to take over, enveloping him in

comforting depths of sleep.

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

1:00 A.M.

Scully had begun pacing again, adding to her route

between the door and bed an occasional stop at the

window to ascertain headlights in the parking lot.

Mulder wouldn’t have taken an hour to find a place to

turn around. She wondered if he’d been so angry

with her that he’d decided not to arrive at all?

She’d repeatedly tried to reach him on the cell

phone, but he had obviously turned it off. And

perhaps he was reluctant to call her.

She wanted to kick herself, to take back her words.

So what if she’d had a bad day? His couldn’t have

been any better. She’d made it safely and had

actually looked forward to being here with Mulder, to

being alone with him for a few days.

The whole getaway was a complete secret. Almost.

Until she’d driven to her mother’s to make apologies

for their absence during the holidays.

“A case, Dana? At Christmas?” Maggie had sat on the

couch, her eyes showing concern.

“No, Mom,” Scully had replied, blushing.

“But you’re going to New York? Why?”

“Mulder and I…Mom…we just want to…”

Slowly Maggie had smiled, then nodded. “Going away

together? Well, it’s about time.”

“What?” Certainly her mother could not know what she

and Mulder felt for each other. Scully had kept it

very well hidden–or so she’d thought.

“You and Fox owe it to yourselves to have some fun.

Put down the badges; get to know each other.”

“But Mom–” Scully quit trying to argue. Her mother

merely repeated the thoughts she herself had had in

the car. “You’re not angry about me–us–not coming

here for Christmas?”

Maggie had risen from the couch and straightened an

ornament on the Christmas tree. “I’d love to have

you–both–with us. But honey, you have to do what’s

best for you. You’re always here for me. You can see

Bill and Tara when you get back. In fact, we’ll have

another celebration then. How’s that?”

Scully, smiling, had embraced Maggie warmly.

Scully checked her watch again. She checked the

window. She went to the door, unlocked and opened it,

and again felt the rush of frigid air and blowing

snow in her face. The streetlights were faint in the

white deluge, and judging from the snow piled atop

the roofs of the cars in the parking lot, none of

them were new arrivals.

“Mulder, where the hell are you?” she whispered.

Was it too early to call the police? And if Mulder

was on his way back to the airport, how would she

explain that to them or to emergency crews?

No, she’d wait. Or look for him herself. Sure, she

could spot a little Ford Fiesta in a big snowstorm.

He hadn’t even told her what color it was. With her

luck, it was probably white.

She sat on the bed, shivering from chills of fear.

Something wasn’t right for Mulder. She felt it in her

bones.

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

1:05 A.M.

Mulder felt the presence before he turned his head.

Again, a ghostly illumination filled the car, but he

wasn’t prepared what he saw.

“Byers?” He blinked to be sure of his vision.

“In a manner of speaking.”

“You aren’t a ghost–yet–are you?”

clip_image002

“I prefer the term ‘apparition’,” Byers told him.

“‘Ghost’ implies the spirit of someone who’s

deceased. And you’re right: deceased, I’m not. But

I’ve been called on to give you a glimpse of your

past–for a purpose.”

Mulder heard himself chuckle. “Oh my God, you’re the

Ghost of Christmas Past?”

“I prefer ‘The Apparition of the Grassy Knoll’ if you

don’t mind.”

Mulder shook his head in disbelief. “Whatever.”

“Now, if you’ll just give me a few seconds…”

Mulder’s gaze traced the cord Byers plugged into the

car’s cigarette lighter to a small movie projector

that was lodged between the front seats. An old movie

reel’s film was threaded into the projector and

connected to an empty reel below.

“I haven’t seen one of these in ages,” Mulder

muttered. “Did you steal it from your high school’s

audio-visual club?”

“Shhh. We’re about to journey into your past. You

don’t want to miss a minute.”

“I’m sure I don’t,” Mulder replied, doubtfully. He

turned his eyes straight ahead as Byers indicated.

The windshield had become a white screen.

The film began, and was yellowed and streaked by its

age. He was about to tell Byers that so far his movie

stunk, when suddenly, the living room of his

childhood came into view.

Mulder swallowed quickly, instantly engrossed. He

looked in nostalgia at the long-remembered chairs and

couch. How often had he sat on that couch and stared

at the

walls, matching the patterns on the wallpaper or

trying to discern seams of the individual strips? How

often had he ridden his tricycle or, later, his big

kid’s bike through that room when his father wasn’t

looking? How often had he and Samantha sat on the

floor, playing board games or watching television?

His heart suddenly seemed to be lodged in his throat,

and he bit his lower lip against the pain of

remembrance.

Byers’s hand on his arm returned him to the film.

In the corner of the room stood the Christmas tree,

its bright red, green, amber, and blue lights

alternately blinking, its pine scent filling the air.

A silver garland twisted lazily around the spruce,

highlighting ornaments of Santas, stars, and candy

canes. Below the tree, many brightly wrapped gifts

invited anyone to open them. Without his feet moving,

Mulder felt himself moving toward the tree.

It was early morning. The sun’s winter rays filtered

into the room through the blinds and curtains, and

fell softly on the stockings hung by himself and

Samantha the night before. Each was filled to the top

with gum, candy, and tiny, wrapped gifts, and he felt

the slight tug of anticipation as he had when young.

The room was nicely decorated with silver and red

garlands, paper bells, and mistletoe in the open

doorframe.

He wanted to sit on the couch again, to simply take

in the moment and let the good memories from this

room permeate his mind. But suddenly, voices came

from upstairs. Hushed voices, whispering and barely

containing their excitement. He watched as two pairs

of slippered feet–one pair much larger than the

other–appeared on the stairs, tiptoeing as quietly

as they could. Mulder felt his eyes brim with tears

as he saw seven-year-old Samantha descend, her dark

eyes growing huge at the sight of the tree and

packages. She was a beautiful girl whose innocence

and sweetness beamed from her face, and Mulder wanted

simply to hold and to protect his sister from the

brutal future that would claim her.

He noticed that Samantha was followed by her older

brother who looked like a gangly geek. He watched as

the younger version of himself alternately scowled at

his sister then looked back upstairs.

“Samantha!!” the young Fox whispered. “We shouldn’t

be down here yet. Remember what Mom and Dad told us?

No looking at the presents until they get up.”

The little girl reached the bottom of the stairs

before he did. “We won’t tell them, will we, Fox?

Let’s just look,” she pleaded. “I just wanna look.”

Her brother frowned; then his face softened. He put

his hand on her shoulder. “Okay. But they’ll be

getting up soon.”

Samantha gave him a big smile and jumped for joy,

soundless because of her small frame and light

weight. She scampered forward, her eyes twinkling as

she got a closer glimpse of the tree and gifts.

“Oh, Fox,” she marveled. “They’re beautiful.” She

sank to her knees before the tree. Her tiny fingers

reached out gingerly to touch the ribbons and then to

feel the packages. “This one’s mine!” she exclaimed,

reading the tag on a large, shoebox-sized package. “I

wonder what it is?”

Young Fox joined her, his lanky frame hovering above.

“So’s that one–and that one,” he observed, pointing

out various packages.

“That one’s for you!” Samantha exclaimed.

The older Mulder glanced where the young girl

indicated, and he grinned in spite of the wetness in

his eyes. He remembered that the box held his Spock

Star Trek uniform, complete with pointy ears.

“What is this?” Bill Mulder’s voice suddenly bellowed

from base of the stairs. Mulder and both of the

children whirled at its sound. “You’re not supposed

to be down here. Fox, we said that you both were to

stay upstairs this morning.”

Young Mulder’s face dropped. “Yes, Dad. I’m sorry.”

“It’s m-my fault, Daddy,” Samantha stammered, her

eyes still shining with excitement. “I asked him–”

“No, it’s mine. I shouldn’t have let her come down,”

Fox replied. He stood in front of his sister,

shielding her from their father’s reaction.

“No, you shouldn’t have. I left the responsibility in

your hands, and you didn’t carry through.” Bill

Mulder suddenly turned to his wife who was now at his

side and gripping his arm.

“Bill, never mind. It’s Christmas.”

Their father scowled briefly and then sighed. “Fine.

But do as you’re told next time, boy.”

Fox nodded and moved to sit on the couch.

“Mommy, can I open this one? Can I please?” Samantha

held the large shoebox.

Glances from the parents ensued, and then Teena

Mulder smiled. “Of course, sweetheart. But only this

one before breakfast.” She turned toward her son.

“You, too, honey. Choose one and open it.”

Young Fox went to the tree. He chose a small package

that he instantly and disappointedly realized was

“clothes.” He undid the wrappings and thanked his

parents for three new pairs of underwear.

The older Fox shook his head, nearly laughing at the

despair on the young boy’s face. Underwear was not

the greatest Christmas gift, but there would be worse

problems in this boy’s life.

He then turned his attention to Samantha who was

slowly tearing paper away from the box she held. She

had already neatly removed the ribbon and bow and

placed them beside her in a separate pile, and now

she was ready to lift the top from the shoebox.

Her eyes again widened as she peeled back tissue

paper and let her tiny fingers fall on the silky

white garment folded inside the box. She lifted it

out carefully, as if handling would cause it harm,

and revealed a child-sized wedding dress. Her lips

formed a constant “Oh!” as her gaze wandered over the

beaded patterns on the lace bodice, and over the long

train that descended the back of the gown. “Mommy,

it’s beautiful.”

“There’s more in there,” her mother urged.

Samantha gingerly clasped the dress in one hand and

lifted a veil from the box with the other. She

squealed in delight. “Mommy!! Can I put them on?

Right now? Can I wear them forever?”

“Certainly, darling. Here, let me help.”

Together, mother and daughter walked toward the

bathroom, Samantha still ogling the gown held softly

in her hands.

Bill Mulder sat in an overstuffed chair and turned to

his son. “Are you going to model your gift?”

Young Mulder snorted. “No!”

“I’m glad,” the man laughed. “A bride and a boy

modeling underwear are just too much in one day.”

Young Fox smiled but then grew serious. “I’m sorry,

Dad. I knew we were supposed to stay upstairs.”

Bill Mulder waved his hand. “Worse things happen in

this world, son. Don’t worry about it.”

“I should have done what you asked.”

“It’s all right, Fox. Everything turned out fine.”

Bill smiled at his son but turned his attention

toward the bathroom when the door opened.

Samantha stood in the hallway, cautiously running one

hand over the smooth fabric. Teena had arranged the

girl’s long, dark hair and then fixed the veil on the

crown of her daughter’s head.

“Here she is!” Teena said proudly. “A lovely bride!”

Samantha gleamed up at her mother who hugged her. She

then joined her hands in front of her and around a

big wad of toilet paper bunched up and looped as in a

bouquet. She took one step, then paused before taking

another, humming the Wedding March as she made her

way into the living room.

Older Mulder suddenly felt as if he’d been punched in

the stomach. Samantha had played “wedding” since

their parents had taken her, at age four, to a

cousin’s nuptials. The radiant bride’s image had been

engraved into his sister’s mind, and it hurt now to

be reminded that Samantha had never lived to see her

own wedding. He nearly doubled over with the torment,

but instead, he turned from the sight of the little

girl’s dreams and happiness.

“Byers?”

“Seen enough of that one?” The apparition softly

touched Mulder’s shoulder. “A happy Christmas.”

“Our last one,” Mulder whispered.

Suddenly the film stopped. Mulder felt his headache

return, and when he reached up to hold his head

between his hands, he noticed tears on his cheeks. He

wiped at them quickly.

Byers was loading another reel onto the projector.

“There’s more?” Mulder closed his eyes in despair.

“Oh yes. We wouldn’t want to stop there.”

“We wouldn’t?”

“You’ve more to see. More to learn. Now, shhhh.”

Against his better wishes, Mulder saw the second film

start. He instantly knew what it would show.

He found himself in the same room, but it had

changed. Early morning sun again filtered through the

blinds and curtains, but the rays did not fall on any

tree or ornaments. There were no stockings or gifts.

No garlands. No lights.

The room looked disheveled. Newspapers, magazines,

letters, and envelopes had fallen onto the floor from

the stands or racks onto which they’d originally been

tossed. A film of dust coated the furniture, and a

small footstool was overturned.

Young Mulder, a year older, sat alone on the couch.

His older counterpart noticed that the boy had traded

gawky gangliness for budding coordination and muscle

tone. The boy’s eyes, now sad and haunted, stared at

the floor where the tree had stood the previous year.

Where his sister had once been overwhelmed with a

play wedding dress.

“Christmas, 1973,” Byers observed.

“I know.”

“I thought you might.”

Slowly, slippered feet descended the stairway, a blue

robe gently sweeping their tops. Teena Mulder stopped

when she saw her son in the morning light.

“Fox? Why are you up so early?”

The boy started at his mother’s voice. He stared at

her vacantly, trying to remember what she’d just

asked. “Couldn’t sleep,” he finally replied quietly.

She afforded him a small, melancholy smile. “Nor

could I.” She moved into the room and sat in a chair

opposite him.

Mulder noticed that she carried a large shoebox in

her hands. It wasn’t wrapped, and he could easily see

it was Samantha’s box from the previous year. Young

Fox had noticed, too. Yet the child had other things

on his mind.

“Is Dad coming home?”

“No.” She lowered her head. “He’s in Washington.”

“But it’s Christmas.”

“Not to him,” Teena muttered. “Not to any of us.”

Fox’s face darkened, and he nodded. “Maybe he’ll find

Samantha today. Or this week.”

Teena shook her head. “We’ll never find her. Never.”

“Mom? Dad’s looking. And the police. And the people

Dad works with. They’ll find her.”

Teena didn’t respond. In the silence, her fingers

unconsciously smoothed over the box on her lap.

“What is that, Mom?” The young boy’s face showed a

spark of curiosity through its despair. He seemed to

choose to put his mother’s pessimism from his mind.

“It’s nothing,” Teena croaked.

“Was it for Samantha?”

His mother absently nodded. “I-I don’t want to put

it–away. I wanted her to have it. I wanted her…”

“Did you make it?”

Teena’s hands went to her eyes. “Yes.” She sniffed

and wiped at her tears. “I finished it in early

November. Just before…” She trailed off, but both

knew what she had planned to say.

“Can I see it?” The boy’s voice was quiet, patient.

As he saw his mother nudge the box toward him, he

stood and drew a wadded Kleenex from his pocket.

Unfolding it, he slowly approached his mother. He

handed her the tissue, and she gratefully clutched

it, turning her head and wiping at her tears.

Young Fox quietly lifted the lid from the box. His

eyes went from what was inside to his mother and then

back. “It’s great, Mom. She would love it.”

“Byers,” the older Mulder suddenly exclaimed, his

voice cracking, “I don’t want to see this.” He tried

to shift position and stop watching. “I know what it

is.”

“What?” the apparition asked. His hand on Mulder’s

shoulders prevented the sullen man from turning away.

“What is it?”

Teena’s voice continued in the background, “I made it

for her–after she saw that show on TV…”

“The beauty pageant gown,” Mulder replied softly.

“She even made a sash. My mom. She crocheted the

words ‘Miss Massachusetts’ on it. And there was a

crown made of aluminum foil.” Mulder again tried to

look away from the movie’s images.

“Why don’t you want to see this?” Byers wondered.

“Mom, it really is great,” young Fox was saying.

“When she comes back–”

“She won’t come back!” Teena suddenly screeched. She

stood and hustled toward the stairs. “She will never

be back, Fox! Your sister is gone forever!” Her sobs

echoed loudly behind her as she slammed the door of

her upstairs bedroom.

Young Fox’s expression clouded with unreachable

desolation. He slowly put the lid on the shoebox and

then lifted the package. He plodded to the bathroom,

opened the towel closet, and put the box in the back

corner of the lower shelf. Closing the cupboard, he

stood with his back to it. His face wrenched in a

battle to hold his emotions in check, but finally he

succumbed, and he clutched his head. Tears fell. His

mouth opened in a desperate silent scream. Slowly, he

slid down the wooden doorway until he sat on the

cold, tile floor. Alone in his grief. Alone in his

fear. Alone on Christmas.

The older Mulder’s shoulders sagged as he watched the

scene. His hands clasped each other behind his neck,

his forearms embracing his head. His eyes were

squeezed closed in anguish; his jaw set as if to

fight back any outward emotion. He sighed heavily.

“C’mon, you still haven’t answered my question,”

Byers called. “Why not see the rest of this film?”

Mulder turned toward him, anger and despair evident.

“Because she never got to wear that dress either.

Don’t you understand? That was the end of Christmas

for us. For me. I never celebrated it after Samantha-

-was gone. After my mother said those things, there

was nothing in that holiday for me anymore. There was

nothing *between* any of us. My mother. My father.

Me. Nothing. It was the end of–” He closed his eyes

again; his head pounding.

Mulder shivered. He hoped Byers would leave. He

wanted to relax and get on with dying.

“Ready for the next one?”

Mulder groaned at the Gunman’s voice. “No more. I

don’t know what you’re trying to teach me; it’s not

working. Just let me sleep, will you?”

“After 1973, what was your best Christmas?”

“I haven’t celebrated Christmas since then.”

“Yes, you have. At least once. Think.”

Despite his lethargy, Mulder’s mind focused on Byers’

words. A faint smile graced his lips. “1999.”

“Right. There you go.”

“In a stupid, haunted house.” The smile vanished. “I

nearly got us killed.”

“But you didn’t.” The projector started again.

“It was nightmarish, Byers.”

“Not all of it. Who visited your place afterward?”

Mulder’s eyes opened. “You have *that*? On film?”

“Yes, you and Scully. You had a good Christmas.”

“The best–in a long time.” Mulder stared at the

windshield, imploring images to come and cheer him.

“Why was it the best?”

“That’s sort of a no-brainer, isn’t it? We had a good

time together.”

“Yes, ‘together’.” Byers sat back in the seat,

satisfied. “You and Scully. Did you ask her to visit

you that night–at your apartment?”

“No,” Mulder laughed. “That visit shocked me. I

thought she’d never want to see me again.”

“Sort of like tonight?”

Mulder scowled. “You gonna show the film, or not?”

“You said–a while back–that Scully wouldn’t want to

see you again after today’s fiasco.”

“That’s different. I took her from her family–”

“Just like you did in 1999?”

“Yes…no… At least we were nearer to DC then.”

“But she came when you asked her to. Both times.”

“Start the film, would you?”

“Maybe she likes being with you–as you like being

with her.”

“Byers! The film?”

“Fine, Mulder. But I ran this one forward a bit.”

Mulder had hoped the film would start when he’d first

opened his door to Scully that night. But he saw the

two of them already on his couch, instead, their

gifts to each other opened and lying on the coffee

table. The television flickered another viewing of

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’,” and he decided that this

was a good enough place to start.

He gazed at the older version of himself first,

noticing how much he’d changed over the years. Of

course, he’d viewed childhood to adulthood in just

minutes, but the change was remarkable. He was much

taller. Still slender. Much more experienced; he

could see it in the face, eyes, and demeanor.

And Scully. Just seeing her on the screen before him

made his body tingle and want. Made him sorry for the

words they’d exchanged earlier. Made him sorry he’d

“dumped” her the previous morning instead of flying

to Buffalo and driving to the countryside with her.

Made him regret not being in the motel room with her

right now, continuing to make up for eight years of

denial. Gazing at her in this film, he could almost

taste her lips; smell her skin’s lovely, fresh scent;

see her body arching passionately under him as he

made love to her. Suddenly the cold he’d felt in the

car vanished, and he was almost ready to shed his

coat.

“Scully, are you sure you shouldn’t be at your

mom’s?” Movie Mulder was asking.

“I’ll be there tomorrow. Tonight I–I don’t know. I

just wanted to be–with you, Mulder.” She was seated

very closely to him on the couch. Her arm rested

against his.

“I’m glad you’re here.”

“I’m glad I am, too.”

“More?” Movie Mulder passed the microwave popcorn.

Scully reached in and grabbed a handful of the salty

white morsels. “Is this still our third bag?”

“Yeah. You want another?”

“No. I’d better quit with this one.” She munched a

few pieces. “I have to be able to eat tomorrow. Mom

always fixes such huge meals. Turkey, mashed

potatoes, gravy, stuffing, sweet potato pie, dinner

rolls, and at least five different desserts.”

Movie Mulder nodded. “Sounds nice.”

“It is. Well, it used to be.” She crunched another

piece of popcorn. “With my dad and Melissa gone, it’s

just not–not the same.”

Movie Mulder looked at his partner, watching her eyes

moisten as they stared at the TV screen. “Yeah, I

know how that goes.”

Both his and Scully’s feet were propped on the coffee

table, and his hands rested on his drawn up thighs.

From the corner of his eye, he noticed her putting

the popcorn bag beside her. She placed her right hand

atop his left. He turned his palm and took hold of

her hand.

“We both know loss, Mulder. Christmas isn’t Christmas

unless you’re with the ones you love most.”

“Yeah.” Movie Mulder squeezed her hand and noticed a

crumb of popcorn stuck just beneath her lower lip. He

reached over and gently brushed it away. His thumb

gently brushed her lip as well, and her mouth opened

slightly in response. He wanted badly to kiss her

then, but he settled for his hand slowly, softly

gliding over her cheek, resting there, and then

returning to his thigh.

Scully turned toward him, her eyes searching his. She

lay her head on his chest as he lifted his arm and

rested it across her shoulders. She nestled snugly

against him; his lips touched her hair.

Suddenly, Byers turned off the projector. Noting

Mulder’s disappointment, he tore the newest reel from

the machine and put it in a camera bag. “Sorry. My

time’s up. Can’t show you the rest of this one. Your

own memories will have to suffice.”

“Wait!” Mulder winced as his head shot him a warning

jolt of pain. “Byers! I want to see it!”

Byers hovered above the seat. “Gotta go, Mulder. But

another apparition will be along in a minute.” He

began to drift through the car’s passenger door and

meld with the snow, his mustache and beard standing

out against the white substance.

“But I want to see the rest of that movie–” Mulder

stopped. Byers had disappeared completely, as had the

illumination that had filled the car.

Mulder’s head sank to his chest. His mind allowed him

to see Scully held tightly to him, to hear her

laughter as they watched movies until nearly dawn, to

feel her closeness to him on the couch.

Suddenly, images of young Fox crying alone on the

floor of the bathroom and of Samantha wearing a

wedding dress replaced thoughts of Scully.

Overwhelmed by conflicting emotions, Mulder clutched

the steering wheel and sobbed in the cold darkness.

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

ACT II

1:30 A.M., December 25, 2001

“With whom am I speaking, please?” Scully asked.

“Deputy Kyla Heffen of the Springville town police,

ma’am,” came the woman’s voice through the cell

phone’s receiver. “How can I help you?”

Scully paced. “I’m–.” Since she and Mulder were on a

secret getaway, identifying herself as an FBI agent

wasn’t smart. “This is Dana Scully at The Palace

motel. I’ve been waiting for the last ninety minutes

for my–friend–to arrive. I talked to him at

midnight, and he planned to be at this motel within a

few minutes. He hasn’t arrived yet.”

“It’s not a great night out there. Hard travelin’.”

“Yes,” Scully sighed. “I noticed. That’s my point. He

had gone past the motel, and he was going to turn

around and come back.”

“This isn’t much of a town. How’d he miss it?”

“That’s a long story.” Scully said. “We had

reservations at an inn in Glenwood, but between my

flight being late and the roads being bad, the

reservations were forfeited. But my–friend–took a

later flight and didn’t know that.”

“I see. Well, has he called you since?”

“No, and I can’t reach him on his cell phone. I think

he may have…turned it off.”

“Why? Does he keep it turned off normally?”

Scully rolled her eyes. “No, but…”

“You two were fighting, eh?” The woman chuckled.

“Wouldn’t be the first time a man didn’t show up

after he and the little woman had a spat.”

“No,” Scully argued. “He’s not like that. He might

turn it off, but he’d still come here.”

Deputy Heffen still laughed. “When did you expect him

to arrive?”

“Just after midnight.”

“Ma’am, what do you expect me to do? He hasn’t even

been missing for two hours yet! I can’t file a

missing person report on him.”

“I know that. I–I guess I’m asking if any accidents

have been reported. If any names…?”

“Any accidents? On a night like this? Yes, we’ve had

*a few* reported,” Heffen sneered.

“And?”

“‘*And*?’ And those injured have been taken to

Bertrand Chaffee Hospital here in town. All the roads

around us are closed; our ambulances aren’t about to

take those people elsewhere.”

“Can you tell me who was injured?”

“No, I can’t. And I won’t. Not all families have been

notified yet. You can call the hospital if you want

to know that information.”

“Fine.” Scully resented keeping her FBI status

secret. “Can you at least tell me if any Ford Fiestas

were involved?”

Deputy Heffen rustled paper for several seconds.

Finally, she drew a deep breath. “No Ford Fiestas.”

Scully’s head dropped–partly in relief and partly in

worsening fear. If Mulder *had* been in an accident,

then he’d not yet been found. “Thank you. Will you

call me if any reports *do* involve such a car?

Please? My friend’s name is Fox Mulder.”

“*Fox*?” Heffen giggled.

“I’m in Room 8. I’d appreciate a call, Deputy.”

“All right, ma’am. Have you called the bars around

town? Maybe he stopped to wash away his troubles.”

Scully accepted the tip. Reluctantly, Scully had to

bow to the logic of the suggestion. “I’ll do that.”

“Okay. And don’t worry. I’m sure he’ll come home to

the nest when he gets–you know–the urge.”

“Thank you,” Scully said between clenched teeth.

After hanging up, she searched the nightstand for the

phone book. Grabbing it from a drawer, she let her

fingers race through the yellow pages. She looked up

“taverns” and “bars,” and was disgusted to find that

those pages had been torn out.

She next opened the door and looked toward the motel

office, hoping she could find an undamaged phonebook

there, but the office was dark. She ducked back into

the room when a strong gust of icy wind whacked her

face and nearly gagged her. As she panted, she

realized there had been no snow in the wind. Peering

through the window, she found that the storm had

finally stopped. Now, the wind lifted powdery snow

and formed it into drifts like sand dunes. As a

snowplow went by on the main road, she decided that

phone calls wouldn’t do.

Moving to the desk, she found stationery and a pen,

and wrote a hurried note to Mulder should he arrive

while she was out. She left the note on the bed, but

the shivers she suffered told her that he wouldn’t be

back on his own.

Scully buttoned her coat and pulled the collar up.

Grabbing her gloves and keys, she hastily bolted from

the motel room, leaping through the deep snow to get

to her car.

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

1:35 A.M.

“Hey, Mulder? Is your face melting, or what?”

The voice came from the passenger seat, and Mulder

quickly wiped away tears. He straightened himself,

ignoring the shooting pains in his head. Again, the

car was illuminated, and again, an apparition sat

beside him. He was not surprised to find Langly, the

long-haired Lone Gunman.

clip_image004

“Ghost of Christmas Present?” Mulder muttered.

Langly shook his head. “Apparition of Cyberspace.”

“I should have known. And what will you show me?”

“Christmas present. Well, not *a* Christmas ‘present’

but the present Christmas.”

“I had that figured out.”

“Yeah, well, you win a prize.” Langly started to open

the flap of a leather carrying case. “I’m here to

show you how much you mean to people.”

“Yeah, right. Good luck.” Mulder watched his friend’s

movements. “What, no projector this time?”

“In the days of cyberspace?” Langly chided. “You must

be joking.” He produced a laptop computer and let the

leather case fall to the car’s floor. “Yo, Mulder;

man, check this out! One point zero gigahertz

processor, 256 MBs of RAM, twenty gigabytes of hard

drive, DVD capability, twenty-one inch screen,

ultralight notebook…” Langly smoothed his hands

reverently over the computer. “I’m tellin’ ya, this

baby isn’t just state of the art. This is so far

superior–”

“Why not just use a portable DVD player?”

“Why eat one chocolate chip when you can have the

whole cookie?” the apparition countered. “This laptop

is so much more–”

“If I could interrupt your worship,” Mulder murmured,

“could you tell me why you’re here?”

“You know why I’m here. I’m supposed to show you the

Christmas that could have taken place today.”

“Then can we get on with it? I’m a little cold here.

And a little bit ready to either die or get the hell

out of this car.”

“Voila!!” Langly exclaimed. “Your wish is my

command!” He twirled a DVD in his fingertips and held

it before his eyes as if appreciating the technology

for the first time. He then placed the disc inside

the laptop, hit a key, and watched as the screen lit

up.

A snapshot of Langly’s face appeared in the lower

case “g” of a homemade logo proclaiming “Langly

Multimedia Productions.” Mulder smirked. “You’re

gonna be right up there with Paramount, huh?”

“Laugh now, but that will be reality someday.”

“Yeah, and Santa Claus is real.”

Langly’s jaw clenched as he bit back resentment.

“Shh. Just watch the disc.” He balanced the laptop on

the steering wheel’s top and dashboard so Mulder

could see better. As a menu popped up on the screen,

he clicked on one of the items. “Christmas 2001

coming up.”

Mulder watched as the Langly logo dissolved into the

living room of Maggie Scully’s house. Instantly, he

felt the room’s warmth, not just from the furnace,

fireplace, and the yellows and browns of the room’s

furnishings, but from Maggie’s cheery smile and

hospitality.

Near the bow window stood a tall, decorated tree.

Plenty of red bows, candy canes, and gold or silver

ornaments hung from its limbs. Tinsel and white

icicle lights sparkled throughout the tree, and many

gifts lay piled two and three deep on the floor

beneath it. Bill Scully, Jr.’s four year old son

stood before those packages. Little Matthew’s round,

blue eyes gazed in awe at the sight.

Mulder glanced at the clock, finding the time to be

1:02 P.M. He could smell the cooking turkey,

potatoes, sweet potato pie, and a variety of spices.

His aching head swooned, and his dry mouth watered.

Nothing matched Maggie Scully’s cooking.

Suddenly, Langly reached over again and clicked on

the laptop’s mouse. Mulder found himself propelled

from the living room into the kitchen. And though the

smells were now more potent, his mouth wrenched in a

sneer. Maggie stood at the kitchen’s island, her

apron showing a Christmas Currier and Ives drawing.

But Bill Scully, Jr., leaned against the sink.

“So she’s not coming?” Bill was asking. “Why not?”

Maggie placed sprigs of parsley on a meat platter.

“She’s vacationing somewhere near Buffalo.”

“Vacation?” Bill’s disdain echoed in his voice. “When

she knows the family is together?”

“She deserves it, dear. She felt she had to get away,

and I agreed. And you know Dana; if something’s on

her mind she has to act on it.”

“Like her shift from medicine to superagent?”

Maggie ignored his comment. “How many times have we

had this conversation? It’s Christmas, darling. I’ve

not seen you, Tara, and my grandson for quite a

while. I’d just like to enjoy the day.”

“Mom, you and I both know what turmoil that decision

added to Dana’s life. We’ve both seen the tragedy it

brought to this family. It killed my sister, and it’s

nearly killed Dana many times.”

“Shhhh!” Maggie warned, noting the rise in her son’s

volume. “Matthew and Tara will hear you.”

“Tara knows how I feel. It’s not new to her.”

“That’s not the point–”

“No. The point is,” he said angrily, “that Dana keeps

running from everything that could make her happy.

She could have had a safe career in medicine. She

could have had a husband and children by now. She

wouldn’t be rushing off or hanging on every word of

her worthless excuse for a partner.”

“Stop it, Bill. Just stop it.” Maggie’s hands were

now clutched against her chest, her face stern in

anguish. “Yes, Dana could have picked a safer

profession, but she’s happy with her decision. All

I’ve ever wanted was for my children to do with their

lives what they felt best. Dana *is* doing that. Just

as you are.”

“Is she? Mom, you know how Dana idolized Dad. She

would have followed him anywhere or done anything he

asked. Are you so sure that she hasn’t simply

projected that loyalty to this Mulder?”

“Yes, dear.” A hint of laughter touched her voice.

“I’m quite sure she hasn’t.”

“Well, I’m not so certain.”

“You don’t see Dana often, and you don’t know Fox.”

“And I don’t want to know him.” Bill tore a chunk

from a dinner roll and placed it in his mouth. “I

wish Dana would let him rot in his basement office

and get on with her life.”

“That basement office *is* her life. Let her be.”

“Oh, Bill, not this again.” Tara came into the

kitchen. “Mind your own business.” She wrapped her

arms around her husband and kissed his cheek.

“Whoa! Good woman!” Langly suddenly shouted. He

pressed a key on the laptop and paused the action.

“Score one for her, eh?”

“Langly,” Mulder shook his head, “mind *your* own

business.” He put a hand to his throbbing head. “Is

there a point to all this? I’m not Bill Scully’s

favorite person. That’s not news.”

“Did you know Mrs. Scully liked you so much?”

“‘So much’? I guess I knew she didn’t hate me.”

“Did you know she stood up for you in family

arguments? Did you know she invites you to these

celebrations because she wants you to be there?”

“I don’t believe that.”

“Well then, my friend, watch on!” Langly hit the key

again, and action resumed.

“Bill, why don’t you go play with Matthew?” Tara was

saying. “He’s so excited about the gifts.”

“Yes, that’s a good idea,” Maggie added.

Bill popped the rest of the roll into his mouth.

“Okay, but when Dana gets home from this vacation,

I’m going to have a word with her.”

“You are not,” Tara replied. “Unless it’s to ask if

she had fun or why she doesn’t vacation more.”

“Not likely,” Bill stated as he left the kitchen.

The younger woman sighed heavily. “I’m sorry, Maggie.

He comes 3,000 miles and says the same things.

Sometimes he exasperates me.”

Maggie smiled. “I know. He’s too protective of Dana

since her dad died. He needs to let go.”

“Agreed.” Tara dumped boiled potatoes into a bowl.

“So Dana has actually gone to have fun somewhere?”

“Yes. She and–she and a friend are in upstate New

York on a skiing vacation.”

“She skis? I didn’t know that.”

Maggie chuckled. “No, she doesn’t. I’m not sure how

much skiing she’ll be doing.”

Tara’s eyes twinkled. “I see! Well, good for her!”

“I’m happy, too–with some reservations. I’ll never

like your generation’s morals–or lack thereof.”

“Well, Dana’s not exactly promiscuous.” Tara poured

some milk onto the potatoes. “Is she with Fox?”

Maggie noted the mischievous smile. “Yes.”

“Good. I like him. I don’t know what Bill’s problem

with him is–unless it’s jealousy. Someone else has

the attention of his little sister.”

“You do like Fox? I’m glad to hear that. Until Dana

announced this trip, I wanted them both to come to

dinner today. I would like Bill to get to know Fox as

I know him. I don’t think Bill would doubt then. But

Fox and Bill have had words in the past, and they

just seem like bulldogs together now.”

“Woof! Woof!” Langly laughed, pausing the film again.

“See what I mean, man?”

Mulder’s eyes were closed. “No. I *am* dreaming,

aren’t I?” He shook his head slightly. “I don’t

really believe this one, Langly.”

“No? It’s true; I swear.” The Gunman suddenly ejected

the disc. “But I have another version of Christmas

2001 that you’ll *have* to believe.”

“I can hardly wait,” Mulder yawned.

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

1:45 A.M.

Scully had given up trying to get her car out of the

motel’s parking lot. The main road had been plowed,

but not the motel’s driveway. Her winter hiking boots

were no match for the deep snow that covered what

must have been sidewalks. Her short legs weren’t much

help either. With chunks of packed snow slithering

inside her boots and melting into her socks, she

walked in the cleared roadway beneath streetlights.

No traffic passed at nearly two in the morning, and

so far, no taverns or other establishments appeared

open.

Almost ready to call Deputy Heffen again, Scully

noticed an old, flashing neon sign on a distant

building. She stepped up her pace, beginning to jog

as the wind hurtled at her. Her gaze roamed over the

snow-covered cars parked around the run-down bar, but

none of them resembled Ford Fiestas. Two tractor-

trailers and a panel truck were also parked nearby.

And to her amazement, several snowmobiles rested at

the side of the building. Apparently, some people

used any means to get to their favorite watering

hole.

At last, she entered the Smiling Oaks. She was eager

to get out of the freezing night, but not thrilled to

see the smoky haze and dimness of the tavern. She

coughed as she breathed the dank air and moved

further into the room.

Her trained eyes took in at least fifteen people.

Most were at the bar, but some sat at a back table or

threw darts at a board on the side wall. A recently

released country tune, “Slammin’ My Love Away,”

warbled over the stereo system. She allowed a brief

smile; she remembered hearing that song while in the

car with Mulder once. She’d laughed at the bawdy

lyrics he had sung in place of the real words. But

his unexplained absence brought a frown back to her

face, and she returned to the present.

She suddenly noticed that all eyes had turned in her

direction, and all activity had stopped. Before her

were big, burly men. Some had long, stringy hair that

needed to be washed, and others had buzz cuts or

receding hairlines. Most were either overweight or

just overly muscular. Scully was a David meeting

fifteen Goliaths.

“Merry Christmas! Can I help you, miss?”

The question came from behind the bar, and Scully

quickly relaxed when she saw its owner: a small

woman, fifty-ish, with a conditioned body. Scully

flashed a smile. “I hope so.” She glanced warily at

the surrounding men as she moved to the bar.

“Name’s Laura Dow,” said the bartender. “What can I

do for you?”

Scully looked into the open, cheerful face of the

woman and felt instantly confident. If anyone could

help her, it would be Laura.

“I-I’m looking for someone–”

“Aren’t we all, honey?” Dow laughed.

Scully shook her head. “No, not like that. My friend

was supposed to be at The Palace hours ago. I talked

to him by phone, and he’d just passed the motel. He

was going to turn around and come back. But he’s

never made it.”

“And you’re out on this night looking for him?”

“Well, Deputy Heffen suggested I try a few bars–”

“Oh, not her.” Laura looked toward some of the men.

“Hey, guys? Deputy ‘Heifer’ is giving advice again.”

Many groans and shaking heads greeted her comment.

“Look,” Laura told Scully, “Deputy Heffen doesn’t

have the best reputation. She has an awful lot to do-

-but so little of it is police business. She’s a

great gossip. She got that job because she wanted to

hear any news first.” She gazed at Scully’s face.

“Where are you from?”

“Washington, DC. We were going to Kissing Bridge, but

with this storm and delayed flights–”

Dow held up a hand. “Don’t even bother. I know the

stories. Been running this dump for years now.” She

poured a cup of coffee and put it before Scully. “You

got a picture of your guy?”

Scully quickly removed her gloves and sunk her hands

into the pockets of her long wool coat. On a whim,

she’d grabbed a photo of Mulder from her bag before

leaving the motel. She now handed it to Laura. “It’s

not the best one I have, but that’s him.”

Dow’s eyes widened as she whistled. “And you let him

out of your sight?” She regarded Scully with

interest. “Does he have an older brother?”

Scully frowned; no recognition had registered on

Laura’s face. “You haven’t seen him, have you?”

“Sorry. I sure wish I had.” She turned to her

patrons. “Hey, fellas? C’mere a second.” She waited

until they came to the bar. “Any of you seen this guy

tonight? His lady is waiting for him.”

Each of the men gazed at the photo, but none of them

nodded. A long-haired, young man grinned at Scully.

“If he don’t come back, I’m available.”

Scully laughed slightly. The man intended no harm.

She noticed that he had playful but sincere eyes.

“Where was he?” an oversized, furless bear asked.

“Coming in from the airport. He was on Route 39 when

I last talked to him,” Scully replied.

The man leaned closer. “On 39? Heading which way?”

Scully searched her memory of the earlier

conversation with Mulder. “I don’t think he said.

He’d gotten off–what was it? 219? 319?”

“219?” the man asked. “Then he’d been going east.”

Scully could only shrug. “I really don’t know.”

“Hey, Al?” the man called to another. “Maybe this

explains that car.”

Al was bald and wore a red mustache and goatee on his

terribly large face. “Ma’am, what kind of car was

your friend driving? How big?”

Scully’s curiosity was peaked. “A Ford Fiesta.”

Al nodded while giving his friend a wink. “Yep, I’ll

bet that explains it.”

“Explains what?” Scully didn’t dare hope.

“About that time,” Al began, “I was heading west.

Came around a curve; couldn’t see anything out there

in that damned storm. All of a sudden, there was this

dinky car right in front of me. He swerved and

skidded, and I missed him. But when I looked into the

rearview, I couldn’t see any sign of him. Just seemed

to have disappeared. I ‘spect I should have stopped,

but that ain’t easy with my rig when it’s rolling.”

Scully’s eyebrows raised. “Where did this happen?”

Al shrugged. “I travel this route a lot, but in this

weather, it’s hard to tell where you are.”

“Please!” Scully pleaded.

“How far out were you, Al?” Laura asked.

“I don’t know. Somewhere’s between five and ten

minutes, I guess.” His hand scrubbed at his beard.

“That’d put me near the creek, wouldn’t it? ‘Bout

where they found that girl a few years back.”

“Girl?” Scully asked, confused.

Laura nodded. “In the winter a few years ago, a local

girl came up missing on her way home from work.

Family, police, friends, and townspeople searched for

weeks. Didn’t find her until spring. Her car went off

the road and under a bridge on 39. She was dead, but

all those months passed until the family found that

out. Terrible thing.”

Scully looked frantically from Laura to Al to their

friends and back. “My car–it’s buried in the parking

lot at the motel. Could you–some of you–please help

me dig it out? I need to look for Mulder’s car.”

Again her hands went to her coat pockets. “I can pay

you for your trouble–”

“A car isn’t going to get you there tonight,” Laura

said. “The town’s streets are plowed, but the state

and county roads haven’t been touched yet. We’re

under a State of Emergency.”

Before Scully could protest, the long-haired man

intervened, “Hey, we’ll take my machine. I can get

you out there in no time.”

“John,” the barkeeper asked, “look at how she’s

dressed. She’ll freeze on that snowmobile.”

“She can wear my helmet and suit,” another man said.

“They ain’t gonna fit, but they’ll work.”

John grabbed the offered one-piece snowmobile suit

that was far taller than Scully. “It’ll be warmer

than your coat. The temperature is fifteen degrees

tonight. Wind chill’s at five below zero. When you’re

riding on my machine, that’ll feel like at least

twenty below.”

Scully felt confused and a bit dazed as she hurriedly

put on her gloves. “Are you sure we need to do it

this way? I really could take my car–”

“C’mon.” John held the suit open for her.

Al peeled her long coat from her shoulders so she

could don the proper gear. “A few of us will go with

you in case you need some help.”

Scully nodded. To find Mulder was the objective after

all. She let John guide her arms into the sleeves,

and then she stepped into the suit and zipped it

around her. She was reminded of another time when

she’d been dressed in a taller man’s clothes to

survive extreme weather. She hoped this time would

have as favorable an outcome.

“I’m grateful to you all,” she said as a helmet was

placed on her head and a clear visor fell over her

face. She felt John fixing and adjusting the chin

strap as several other men nodded and pulled on their

suits or heavy coats.

“Here.” Laura Dow handed her the cup of coffee. “Have

a sip right now and warm yourself up.”

Scully raised the visor and did as told, the hot,

bitter liquid filling her mouth. The shivers she’d

felt earlier were gone; she sensed she was closer to

finding Mulder.

“Gloves!” John suddenly shouted. “She’ll need heavier

gloves. Don’t want her pretty hands to freeze.”

A thick pair of mittens was produced and put onto her

hands by two different men. “I don’t think I’ve been

dressed like this since my mother did it back in my

childhood,” Scully breathed.

John laughed. “Well, the pleasure’s all ours, ma’am.

I hope your boyfriend’s okay.”

“Me, too,” Scully murmured. She followed the suited

men out the door. “Me, too.”

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

1:45 A.M.

“And this disc will show me what, precisely?”

“You’ll have to see, won’t you?” Langly handily slid

the DVD into the laptop.

“Just tell me.”

“Christmas 2001. But this time, it’s as if you hadn’t

asked Scully to join you here. You’ll see how she

would have spent Christmas otherwise.”

Mulder settled back against the headrest. “But I’m

still not going to believe it. Not if it hasn’t

happened yet.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” The blond apparition was

suddenly serious. “This Christmas *has* been

happening to Scully for years.”

Mulder took a long, stunned glance at the Gunman.

Then he turned to the laptop, curious and wary.

Again, Maggie Scully’s festively decorated house

greeted Mulder’s sight, and the wonderful smells

filled his head. And again, as he saw people gathered

for the holiday, Mulder felt a bit of nostalgia and

jealousy.

Maggie and her family were seated at her big dining

room table. Plates were full; voices were busy in

various conversations.

Mulder’s gaze settled on Scully. She sat to her

mother’s left, across the table from brother Bill.

She wore a low-necked, tight, black sweater that

beautifully accentuated her curves and proved

provocative enough to make him squirm slightly in the

seat. But he noticed that while her lips moved in

pleasant conversation, her eyes were pensive, her

face showing anyone who knew her well that she was

not happy here. Not content.

“What’s wrong with Scully, Langly? Why is she sad?”

he whispered.

“Duh. Listen and find out.”

“So, Dana,” Bill was saying as he stuffed a piece of

roll into his mouth, “where’s your partner today? Mom

invited him, didn’t she?”

On her plate, Scully’s fork chased a pea, finally

spearing it fiercely. Mulder winced.

“Mulder celebrates Christmas his own way, Bill.”

“Kind of rude, don’t you think?”

“Bill…” Maggie warned. “Let’s not do this.”

“No, I don’t think it’s rude,” his sister replied,

not meeting her brother’s gaze. “I think it’s just

the way he handles it.”

Bill scoffed. “What kind of crap is that? What–is

this his ‘I lost my sister years ago and never got

over it’ routine again? Well, it’s old, Dana. We lost

our sister, too–thanks to him and his worthless

quest. And we manage to celebrate still.”

Scully sipped from her water glass. “We also have

family that’s living. Family we can still enjoy.” She

set the glass down. “Mulder doesn’t.”

“We *are* missing a few, though, in case you haven’t

noticed,” Bill sniped. “Missy *and* Dad. Charlie’s

absent again, but still we celebrate.”

“And isn’t it a wonderful thing that we’re this

fortunate?” Maggie asked. “We’ve had our losses, but

still we gather.”

“Yes, it is, Mom,” Scully replied. “I’m sure that if

Mulder joined us, he’d feel differently, but I don’t

blame him for feeling as he does.”

“Well, I do.” Bill’s fork sank into mashed potato.

“Don’t get me wrong; I have no desire to see him. But

if he’s invited, he should make the effort. We don’t

all give up when hardship enters our lives.”

“Mulder doesn’t give up, Bill.”

“No, I’m sure,” was his sarcastic response. “But I’ll

bet he expects you to come to his place later today,

right? To make it all better for him?”

“He doesn’t expect it, no. In fact, he was adamant,

as he usually is, that I be with my family.” Scully’s

eyes coldly stared into her brother’s. She tossed her

fork onto her plate and hit the table with her fist.

“But, yes, I am going to his apartment and surprise

him this afternoon, if you want to know. For his

sake. And for mine.”

Maggie covered Scully’s hand with her own. “I think

that’s a wonderful idea, Dana. You’ve got the best of

both worlds today. Christmas isn’t Christmas unless

you’re with the ones you love most.”

“*That* line again,” Mulder mused. He watched mother

and daughter exchange understanding looks. Then he

turned to the apparition. “You’re showing me this

because Scully *did* want to be with me?”

“Boy, you’re quick, Mulder,” Langly smirked.

“And because I’m apparently stuck in the past too

much to enjoy things in the present?”

“Gee, can’t get anything by you!” Langly’s smirk

became a goofy grin.

Mulder didn’t notice. He stared blankly at the

windshield. In his mind, he heard, “People don’t give

up after hardships…the ‘I lost my sister years ago

and never got over it’ routine…” Suddenly Mulder

focused. “The handcuffs. That’s why Jack had them,

why I saw my family after he left. I’ve been attached

to them even though they’re no longer here. Is that

right, Langly? Is that what this is all about? I need

to let go of them?”

He turned to the passenger’s side of the car, but

Langly was gone. The laptop had disappeared. Mulder’s

jaw dropped. “Hey! Wait a minute! Tell me if I’m

right? Apparition of Cyberspace? Hey!”

When nothing but quiet greeted him, Mulder sagged in

his seat. He allowed himself to recall Scully’s face-

-how it had appeared so melancholy in the last disc,

and then had brightened when she’d mentioned going to

clip_image006

his apartment. *That* had surprised him, and it

warmed him now. He closed his eyes to savor the

feeling. But the sound of clinking metal returned to

his ears, and visions of multiple pairs of handcuffs

floated in his mind.

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

ACT III

1:50 A.M., December 25, 2001

“Hey, Mulder. You’re missing the porn flick.”

Mulder’s eyes snapped open at another familiar voice.

Once again he found the car illuminated by a soft

glow coming from his right, and though he needed no

identification of his latest visitor, he turned his

head to find Melvin Frohike. “Which one are you? Doc?

Sneezy?”

“Ha, ha, very funny,” the elfin man replied without

smiling. He adjusted the headset he wore, positioning

the earphone more comfortably. “If you’re trying to

get beauty sleep, you should give it up.”

Mulder smirked. “So, you must be the ghost–the

*apparition*–of Christmas Yet to Come?”

“Close. Apparition of Futurama, actually.”

“How could I have missed that? Look, Frohike, I know

what you’re going to show me. I’ve seen the movies,

read the book. Why don’t you just forego this little

charade and help me out of this car? It’s not exactly

an oven in here, and I should at least let Scully

know where I am.”

The small man was shaking his head. “No, you don’t

know what I’m going to show you. And I’m not so sure

that letting you out of his car alive has been

decided yet. So shut up, will you?”

“That’s no way for an apparition to talk.”

“Mulder, I know what you’re trying to do. You’ve

dealt with some pretty heavy emotion so far–your

childhood and the end of Christmas as you knew it.

You’ve seen the rebirth of happy Christmases for you,

though you’ve been too bull-headed to enjoy more

since 1999. And you’ve even seen that you mean a

great deal to Scully and to most of her family. But

you don’t handle close looks at your emotions well,

so you’re trying to avoid the next images. I’m

afraid, my friend, that you can’t do that.”

“Are you going to tell me the secrets of the

universe, too? Why we’re here–”

“Quiet, wise guy. You wouldn’t understand them

anyway. You still don’t understand your own personal

life. You don’t understand what these visions are all

about.”

“I beg to differ,” Mulder replied. “I was shown my

childhood to remind me why Christmas used to be great

and why that ended. I was shown Scully at my

apartment to realize I *can* feel holiday spirit.

Maybe it even showed me that having her come here

wasn’t a bad idea. I did see Scully’s family and know

they’re not all against me, and then I saw Scully

with her family to know that she understands me and

didn’t want me to be alone on Christmas.”

“That’s the only reason she was going to your

apartment?” Frohike asked, but immediately he held up

a gloved hand. “Never mind. I know you’ll say it

was.” He pushed his glasses higher onto his nose. “So

what have you learned from all you’ve seen?”

Mulder looked toward the windshield. “That Scully has

a loser as a friend.”

“Hmmmm…” Frohike said. “That wasn’t the point.”

“I know.” Mulder turned back to the apparition. “I’ve

learned that I’ve been stuck in the past, and I fail

to appreciate all that I have around me.”

Frohike nodded, smiling. “Not bad. Anything else?”

The younger man paused in thought. “No.”

“Here. Put these on.”

Mulder stared at the sunglasses his friend held

toward him. “It’s night and dark already, Dopey.”

“In the future, you won’t need film projectors and

DVDs. These are virtual reality glasses. Put them on

and see where they take you.”

“Do they show me what’s in my mind? I can see Bambi

Bigboobs if I imagine her?”

“Down boy,” Frohike replied. “No, you’ll see what

you’re *supposed* to see. Besides, who needs Bambi

Bigboobs when he could have the fine Agent Scully?”

Mulder donned the glasses and blinked in the new

darkness. Instantly, he saw the basement of the

Hoover Building. And though his feet weren’t moving,

he moved down the hallway, nearing the X-Files

office. “Not bad, Frohike,” he murmured.

“Glad you like them. By the way, you’re about to see

Christmas, 2005.”

Mulder nodded. In virtual reality, he turned to the

closed door of his office and jolted to a halt. “What

the…” he muttered in shock.

His doorplate had been replaced. He didn’t bother to

read the new one as he sifted through the door. The

occupants of the office were oblivious to his

presence.

His gaze quickly found his partner. Her red hair had

been cut in a close-cropped, skull-hugging style that

looked fine but wasn’t *his* Scully. She stood behind

a metal desk; his old one had been removed. New file

cabinets were in place. And he noticed Scully’s

nameplate occupying the desktop.

Seated before her was a dark haired man whose face

Mulder couldn’t see. The person was tall and had

short hair, too, and wore a dark suit.

“But Dana,” the man was saying, “I really don’t want

a new partner. You were terrific–the best. I can’t

do this without you.”

She smiled at him. “I know you mean well, but this is

something I have to do. The decision wasn’t easy;

I’ve enjoyed working with you, too, but the time has

come. I could spend the rest of my life here, but

what would I have in the end? Nothing but memories

and a ton of paperwork that bears my signature.

That’s not enough, Robert.” Her eyes seemed to stare

into the past as she slowly muttered, “I learned that

the hard way.”

“But leaving the FBI–”

“For what might be a more stable, promising career

and life?” Scully grabbed her nameplate and stuffed

it into a box on the desk. “I think that’s all.” She

held out her hand and let Robert shake it. “It’s been

a pleasure, Agent. Good luck here in the Bureau’s

Office of Case Re-Assignment.”

As the other agent stood to usher Scully from the

room, Mulder tore off the glasses and turned to

Frohike. “What is this? Scully quits the FBI? The X-

Files are gone? Where am *I* in 2005?”

The elfin man met his gaze. “Got a joke for you:

knock, knock.”

Mulder stared in frustration, then impatiently

answered, “Who’s there?”

“Mulder.”

“Mulder who?”

“That’s what they all say at the Hoover by 2005.”

Frohike gave him a moment to digest that. “Yes,

Scully leaves. The X-Files are closed down. New

people and assignments have taken the office.”

“Where am I during all this?” Mulder asked in

desperation.

“That’s what I’m about to show you.”

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

1:55 A.M.

Had she ridden this snowmobile under different

circumstances, Scully thought she might have enjoyed

it. She and John were second in the line of three

snowmobiles that sped along the snow-covered road in

the deep darkness. The wind whipped against her as

did the snowmobiles’ slipstreams, and riding on the

back of the sled, she tightly gripped the handholds

at her sides.

But her thoughts were fixed on Mulder. If they found

him, in what condition would he be? Could he have

frozen to death by now? How injured was he? How

damaged? It had been a horrible day; she prayed it

would not be a horrible night.

“Almost there!” John yelled back at her.

“Okay!” she called back. She just hoped there would

be truth to what she said.

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

1:55 A.M.

At Frohike’s urging, Mulder returned the glasses to

his eyes. The despair he’d felt before had turned

into budding anger and fear. He wanted now to get out

of the car and find Scully. She couldn’t quit the

FBI, and she couldn’t let the X-Files be closed.

Heck, she couldn’t cut her hair either.

“Christmas 2010,” Frohike stated. “Straight ahead.”

“Wait a minute–I don’t get this.” The images coming

to Mulder were of a large family car driving through

the streets of DC. “These glasses still need work,

Frohike.”

“Just be patient, will you?”

The car slowed and turned into an area hemmed by a

wrought iron fence. Before Mulder could see the

auto’s destination, though, he found himself in the

car, seated with his back against the dashboard. He

faced the family inside.

He noticed her first. Scully, nine years older. She

was still beautiful and desirable to him, but a few

wrinkles had sprouted around her mouth and eyes. Her

hair, still close-cropped, held a few streaks of gray

she’d not yet colored. She wore a black turtleneck

sweater beneath her camel coat. Driving the car, was

a man of medium build and receding hairline. His

glasses magnified his mid-forties’ eyes, and he, too,

wore a black sweater and camel coat. Mulder suddenly

noticed two boys and a girl, between ages six and

twelve, in the back seat. Each wore glasses and bored

expressions.

“Dana, please make this fast,” the man said. “We

don’t want to be late. Your mother will worry.”

“Tom,” she replied, “we have plenty of time. Bill and

Tara and their kids will keep Mom entertained until

we get there.”

“I don’t see why we do this anyway. It’s been nine

years. It’s silly to hold onto the past. You’re a

mother now as well as a researcher, a professor, and

a doctor in charge of medical mysteries at

Georgetown. Yet we do this every year.”

She looked at the driver. With her left hand, she

smoothed a piece of lint from his lapel. On her

finger, Scully wore a big diamond and a gold wedding

band. “It’s important to me.”

Tom smiled. “Like we are–I hope.”

“Of course. You’re all important to me.”

The car stopped. Tom leaned forward, looking out at

something. “This is the right spot, yes?”

Scully gazed out solemnly and nodded. “I won’t be

long.” She opened the car door.

“Dana? Don’t forget this!” The little girl in the

back seat handed Scully a miniature sunflower.

“Thanks, honey.”

Mulder, gazing in shock, asked, “They call her by

name? Why don’t they call her ‘Mom’?”

“They’re his kids. With his first wife.”

In dismay, Mulder watched Scully move through what he

now found to be a cemetery. The day was chilly, and

its cloudy gray light mixed with the scent of

December earth and decaying flowers to create a

dismal atmosphere. A brisk breeze lifted dead leaves

in a macabre dance about the cold stone of grave

markers. In their midst, Scully walked, her steps

slow but determined. Her mouth formed a tight line,

but her eyes glistened with tears.

At last she stopped. She gazed at a headstone for

several seconds before kneeling. At this grave, she

placed the sunflower in a small urn already filled

with a fairly fresh bouquet. Mulder’s eyes left her

briefly and read what he’d expected to find on the

marker: “Fox William Mulder. 1961-2001. Partner, best

friend, touchstone. Rest in peace.”

Again, Mulder tore the glasses off. “Frohike! I *do*

die in this accident? I die tonight?”

“Mulder, be patient,” the other man chided.

“I don’t want to die tonight! Not like this!”

Frohike gave him a stern glance. “If you don’t shut

up I’m gonna kill you anyway.”

Mulder’s expression mirrored his frustration, but he

gradually, reluctantly returned the glasses to his

face. “Everyone’s nightmare: to be killed by an elf

on Christmas.”

Scully still knelt and slowly ran her fingers over

the engraving of Mulder’s name. Finally, she sat back

on her heels. “Oh Mulder,” she sighed. “I know I was

just here the other day, but today is different.

Tom’s great; he really is, and the kids are sweet.

They’re a lot of work, believe me.” She wiped some

tears from her eyes before they could spill. “I can’t

believe it’s been nine years. So much has changed. My

work is rewarding, and my family is a joy. But

there’s something missing. Something I’ll never know

again. Something I want so much it hurts, and that

hurt will never go away.”

“Dana! We’ll be late, sweetie,” Tom called.

“In a minute!” she yelled, never taking her eyes from

the tombstone. In a quiet voice, she muttered,

“Mulder, why couldn’t you be here? Why did you have

to die? We wasted so much time. With our running all

over the country, investigating this and that. We

failed for too long to investigate what was most

important–us–our feelings for each other. And once

we finally did that, you were gone.” She wiped more

tears and then inhaled heavily. She visibly willed

her composure to return. Reaching out, she lay her

hand atop the grave-marker, caressing it lovingly.

“I’ve got to go now. But I wanted to do this. To be

here. With you. Mulder, Christmas isn’t Christmas

unless you’re with the one you love most.” She slowly

rose to her feet, her hand keeping its place even as

she turned. Slowly it left the cold stone. He felt

her pass as she walked toward the waiting car. After

a last longing glance, she got inside, and Tom drove

away.

Mulder remained at the grave, wanting to follow. But

he suddenly found that no movement was possible. He

had become embedded in the earth beneath his feet and

was slowly sinking.

“Frohike!” He tried to take off the glasses, but they

wouldn’t budge. And the sinking didn’t stop. He felt

himself mired up to his shins. “Do something! I’m

stuck! I’m getting buried! Get me out of this!” The

ground quickly claimed his knees and worked toward

his thighs.

“Have you learned anything yet?”

“Yeah! I don’t want to die! Help me!”

“Why don’t you want to die?”

Mulder stared frantically at the ground now

swallowing his hips. “Because there’s so much I

haven’t done! So much yet to be lived! That should be

me in that car with Scully. She’s with that guy–that

Tom–and those kids. I don’t want that!”

“You what? *You* don’t want that?”

“No! And neither does she! You heard her! My job, my

past–I’ve been hooked to those for too long. I’ve

ignored what I could have had–what I could have had

with Scully! Let me go back. Please!”

“Isn’t that being selfish?” Frohike asked.

“No. Maybe. I don’t care,” Mulder protested, the

ground at chest level. “It’s what I want. And it’s

what she wants.”

“So what you want–and need–in your personal life

*is* important after all?”

Up to his shoulders in the earth now, Mulder

screamed, “Yes! What Scully and I have together is

the most important thing in my life!”

“Well, why didn’t you say so?” Frohike gleamed. He

paused a moment, listening to the headset. A smile

formed and widened at whatever he heard. “It’s been

decided. Seems you’re gonna live after all.”

Instantly, the glasses fell from Mulder. The sinking

feeling, the consuming earth, the gravestone

vanished. As he tried to raise his hands to his face

to rub the images from his eyes, he found his wrists

handcuffed to the steering wheel.

“A last reminder,” Frohike laughed, and the handcuffs

fell away.

Mulder tried to calm his breathing. “If that was just

a dream, it was major league.”

“Who said it was a dream? Illusion or reality, my

friend. Who can tell the difference?”

“I don’t know at this point. And I don’t care.”

Mulder swallowed hard as his heart pounded in relief

and joy. He looked over at his friend. “I’ve got to

see Scully. Now. Are you–can you–get me out of

here?”

“Nah. I’m just an apparition, remember? Gotta go.

Besides, help’s on the way.” As Frohike began to

evaporate into the night, he waved once. “Welcome

back to the living, Mulder. Not just the existing,

but the living. There’s a big difference.”

As the apparition disappeared, Mulder lay his head

back, swallowed, panted, and swallowed again. The

images of Scully at the grave, with another man, and

out of the FBI, as well as the words he’d just

spoken, haunted his mind. He ached to be with her, to

touch her and know she was real.

He closed his eyes, then immediately opened them,

checking the dark car for the source of humming

engines getting louder.

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

2:00 A.M.

Before the snowmobile came to a full stop, Scully

bounded from its seat. She’d come to appreciate

snowmobiles when she realized they could leave the

road to explore rugged terrain. And that’s what their

party had done. At a wicked curve on the two-lane

road, John and his friends had veered into the side

ditch and slowed to descend a hill. Their headlights

had illumined a bridge’s abutment, and just to its

right, they had fallen on a large mound. The wind had

swished away some snow from the mound, revealing

badly dented red fiberglass.

Scully bounded clumsily through the deep snow,

imagining that she resembled an astronaut moonwalking

in zero gravity. She chanted Mulder’s name with each

plunge and paid no attention to those with whom she’d

traveled or the cold surrounding her. Her eyes

focused on the driver’s door, and her mind cringed at

what she might find.

The mittens loaned to her now swiped at the snow

covering the driver’s window. Underneath that, a thin

coat of ice prevented her from seeing inside. She

debated not opening the door in case that might cause

Mulder injury, but her need to know overcame reason.

She grabbed the door handle and pulled. When nothing

happened, she jerked the handle roughly. Snow fell

away, and with a loud creak, the door opened.

From somewhere behind her, a flashlight shone. Its

beam came to rest on Mulder’s face. Scully stared,

noting blood issuing from a forehead cut. She held

her breath as she pulled the mittens from her hands

so she could check for a pulse. She muttered,

“Mulder? It’s me.”

Then her breath burst forth as her mouth widened into

a smile of delight. Mulder’s head pivoted groggily on

the headrest.

He looked straight into her eyes and gave her a

crooked smile. “Merry Christmas, Scully.”

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

Epilogue

6:38 A.M.

Early morning sunlight silhouetted icicles on and

gently seeped through the dusty, cream blinds. The

heater knocked occasionally and spat warm air, making

the atmosphere cozy and relaxed.

Mulder lay on the hard mattress of the motel room,

his head pillowed by Scully’s left shoulder. He

barely felt any pain from the accident, and the cut

he’d suffered, now mended with a butterfly bandage,

caused him a mild twinge only if he moved. He drifted

in and out of contented sleep, happy to open his eyes

that were very close to Scully’s red-lace-covered

breasts; happy to feel his head gently rise and fall

with the pattern of her breathing. Happy to be with

her.

“Mulder?” Scully whispered. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” In fact, he was drunk with pleasure–the

scent of her skin and warmth of her body captivating

his senses.

She sighed heavily. “I think you should have stayed

in the hospital. Just for observation.”

“Not on Christmas,” he muttered. “Besides, the ER doc

confirmed your diagnosis: mild concussion and

bruises. All I’d get at the hospital is rest. I can

rest much better here.”

“Well, that’s not all you’d have gotten at the

hospital, but…” She lightly stroked the left side

of his head, her fingers softly grazing his ear. “Are

you cold?”

“No, I’m fine. Very comfortable. Are you?”

“Yes,” she sighed lazily. “I don’t know how you

survived that crash, Mulder. And with only a

concussion and bruised knees. Talk about Christmas

miracles.”

“Couldn’t leave you alone in the middle of nowhere,”

he smirked. His hand moved to rest on her lace-

covered thigh beneath the covers. “You still want to

go home to your mother’s?”

“No. I never did. I was just tired and worried–”

“And angry. I don’t blame you, Scully. I should have

called.”

“Oh well, that’s in the past, Mulder. Let’s forget

about it.” She pulled the bedcovers up closer to his

chin. “You should sleep. And I hate to tell you this,

but even just a mild concussion will prevent you from

learning to ski. I’m not sure I’ll let you out of

this room until it’s time to go home.”

“Sounds a bit naughty–keeping me captive.”

“You love the idea as much as I do,” she chuckled.

“Now tell me about your dream again.”

He started to shake his head but winced as the cut on

his forehead protested. “I’m not sure it was a dream.

And I don’t want to relive it. But the images, the

things I learned from it are fresh in my mind. I

think–I hope–they always will be.” He closed his

eyes as her lips touched his head.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” she murmured. “I’m glad

you’re here.”

“I’m glad *we’re* here, Scully,” he replied softly.

“Christmas isn’t Christmas unless you’re with the one

you love most.”

**********End**********

One thought on “A Christmas Peril”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s