Hollow Earth

cover

TITLE: HOLLOW EARTH

AUTHOR: Suzanne Bickerstaffe

EMAIL ADDRESS: ecksphile@earthlink.net

DISTRIBUTION: After Virtual Season 9’s rights

expire, anywhere is fine as long as

the story is not altered, author’s

name is attached, and no profit is

made.

SPOILERS: Passing references to past cases, but

nothing crucial.

RATING: Maybe a PG-13 or a soft R for

language and adult activities.

CLASSIFICATION: X

SUMMARY: Sent by Skinner on an investigation

into the disappearance of three men

in rural Kentucky, Mulder and

Scully’s best suspect would appear to

be Bigfoot. But the answer to this

X-File is much, much weirder than

that.

DISCLAIMERS: CC doesn’t deserve them. What? Oh, all

right… The X-Files and the

characters of Mulder, Scully and

Skinner belong to Fox Television, 1013

Productions, and Chris Carter — who

clearly did not know what to do with

them. No copyright infringement is

intended and no financial gain is

being made from this story.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Many thanks to the Inner Core, a

great group of women who are giving a

lot of time to bring enjoyment to

others, and to MaryBeth and Ten who

beta’ed relentlessly!

HOLLOW EARTH

Prologue

Mammoth Caves National Forest

Doob Creek, Kentucky

Sunday

1:37 AM

“Bastard!” With a none-too-clean sleeve, he wiped the

blood from his nose and the cut on his cheekbone,

noting with satisfaction that the bleeding seemed to

be stopping. “S’om’ bitch! Cain’t say shit like

that to Jack-Bob Smithers an’ git away with it!”

He thrashed his way through the woods, stumbling,

falling, then lurching to his feet again. Lack of

light was not the problem — the moonlight shone down

almost as bright as day. No, the problem was the

record-high amount of alcohol in his system. And for

Jack-Bob Smithers, that was saying a lot.

He tripped over a fallen branch and sprawled

headlong. “Goddamn it!”

A short but frantic search through the stand of

fiddleheads, and his hand touched the smooth, cool

object of its quest. Triumphantly, he held the bottle

up to the moonlight. Only a mouthful left, but the

bottle was intact. He drained the contents and sat

for a moment, catching his breath.

The forest sure is quiet tonight, he thought. But

after all the yellin’ and screamin’ in town, anything

would be quiet. He chuckled. “Yep — cain’t insult

ol’ Jack-Bob. No, sirree!” He clenched and unclenched

his right hand, the pain numbed by the corn liquor

coursing its way warmly though his system. “Pro’bly

broke m’damn hand agin,” he mumbled. But the fact

that he had broken it while beating the shit out of

that smart-mouthed tourist brought some comfort.

He staggered to his feet. Blearily he looked around,

trying to get his bearings. “Goddamn still should be

’round here somewheres. Musta got off the trail….”

Unsteadily he picked his way through the trees,

intent on finding the little shack that was the

center of his life.

The center of his life, his business, his vocation,

his avocation, his true calling. Even his detractors

— and they were legion — were forced to admit that

Jack-Bob produced the smoothest, the strongest, the

most bodacious corn squeezings in the county. Maybe

even the state. And it was to that shack, to refill

his bottle, that the backwoods entrepreneur ventured

into the forest. Not to mention that the Sheriff was

also after him for that little dust-up back in

town…

Yep, the woods sure were quiet. A little too quiet,

even with the bright moon that would naturally make

the wildlife extra-careful. Nervously, he looked over

his shoulder, almost toppling in the process. He

thought about the two locals who had disappeared in

this same area of the forest. His lips retracted in a

smile which would not recommend him for Dental

Hygiene poster boy, and he chuckled again. ‘Course,

Floyd Purdy and Junior Naismith between ’em didn’t

have the sense God gave a goose, he thought. Not like

him.

He weaved through the thick undergrowth, catching

glimpses of the full moon through the trees ahead of

him. His brow furrowed in concentration. Something

was wrong, something just didn’t set right…

That was it! It was his shadow. If the moon was ahead

of him, surely his shadow should be behind him,

right? Any fool knew that. Then why… then why could

he see his shadow, right there in front of him?

The hair on the back of his neck stood up, stiff as a

hound dog’s hackles. Almost against his will, he

turned, to the source of light behind him.

His eyes bulging, they tracked upward, and his lips

curled back in horror. And he began to scream…

ACT ONE

FBI Headquarters

J Edgar Hoover Building

Washington, DC

Thursday

8:35 AM

“Ah, good. Come in and sit down.” Walter Skinner

pushed back from his desk and threw his pen down with

relief. At least his agents got a break from the

paperwork on a regular basis. He wondered if they

ever gave any thought to how mundane, how thankless

and just plain boring his job was.

Fox Mulder and Dana Scully took their accustomed

places in the chairs in front of the massive walnut

desk. At least one of them was thinking guiltily

about the last expense report.

Skinner opened a manila folder edged in red striping.

“I have something right up your alley, Mulder.”

Scully sighed. They had been working non-stop lately,

and she had been almost hoping that today’s trip to

Skinner’s office was to be chewed out for an

uncrossed “t” or undotted “i” in some report.

Something right up Mulder’s alley? Alarm bells

started clanging in her head.

The AD passed three photographs to her. “The

unprepossessing individual in the picture is one

Jack-Bob Smithers of Doob Creek, Kentucky. After

being thrown out of what passes for the hottest

nightspot in Doob Creek early last Sunday morning, he

got into a fight and beat the hell out of some guy

who looked at him the wrong way. Apparently that’s

Smither’s usual weekend entertainment. Then he took

off into the forest. Doob Creek is located within the

boundaries of Mammoth Caves National Park. He hasn’t

been seen since.”

Scully shrugged and passed the photo to her partner.

“I can’t imagine there’s anything ominous about that,

sir. The guy probably knows every hiding place in the

Park. And if he thought he was wanted on assault

and battery or GBH charges, he’d have every incentive

to lie low for a while.”

“Point taken, Agent. Evidently, Smithers is the kind

of guy who brightens up a place by leaving it. The

Sheriff’s just as glad to have him out of his hair

for a while. He wouldn’t have reported it at all

except for…” He hitched his head in the direction

of the other photographs in her lap. She picked them

up and scanned them.

“Billy ‘Junior’ Naismith and Floyd Purdy,” he

continued. “Two more of the town’s least popular

residents. They disappeared in the same ‘neck

o’ the woods’ a little over three weeks ago.”

Mulder took the photos offered by his partner and

winced. “What an advertisement for planned

parenthood.” He put them down and looked at his boss

quizzically. “I don’t understand why this is ‘right

up my alley’, as you say, sir. Either they’re hiding

out, they’ve found another town to blight, or maybe

someone finally had enough of their antics and saw to

it that they’d never bully the other kids in the

schoolyard again. A crime, yeah” — he looked at the

photos again — “well, technically anyway. But right

up my alley?”

“I’ve been saving the best part for last.” Skinner

handed over a sheaf of papers, and after another long

look at his boss, Mulder began to read them. A few

minutes passed while he digested the contents, then

he gave them wordlessly to his partner. Both men

waited for the explosion, which was not long in

coming.

“Oh, sir, you’ve got to be kidding! Bigfoot? Give me

a break!” Scully rolled her eyes. “Sir, Mulder’s

right, this is nothing more than what it appears to

be. A bunch of ne’er-do-wells who either wore out

their welcome and moved on, or finally pissed off the

wrong person once too often. This is a wild goose

chase, and Mulder and I are exhausted!”

Skinner pushed his glasses back on the bridge of his

nose. “I know, Agent Scully, and I sympathize. In a

way, that’s why I’m giving you this assignment.”

“Because no good deed goes unpunished?” she suggested

sourly. Beside her, Mulder chuckled.

Skinner smiled. “No. Look, we all know this case is

probably a pile of crap. But there are always people

looking over my shoulder, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

If I let a case that looks like an X-File go

uninvestigated, sooner or later it will be used

against us. This way, you go down there, you check it

out, and your butts will be back on a plane in time

to have you home before rush hour tomorrow. Then

you’ll have your whole weekend ahead of you.”

Scully looked doubtful.

“A little luck with the connections and we might even

be home in time for lunch, ” Mulder said, smiling.

“Come on – another little trip to the forest. What

could go wrong?”

She shot him a withering glance. “Don’t get me

started.”

“Here.” Skinner passed a portfolio to her. It

contained plane tickets and maps — lots of maps. She

looked up at him.

“Doob Creek is a little… remote,” he said, not

meeting her eyes.

It was at that point she gave up on any plans for the

weekend.

* * * *

“A little remote. Skinner’s a dead man,” she

muttered. It had been her mantra for the last hour

and a half. The trip from Dulles to St. Louis had not

been bad. But the tiny commuter plane from St. Louis

to Bowling Green was another matter entirely. Never

mind that it had no restroom. Never mind that even

the diminutive Scully couldn’t stand upright in it.

No, the real problem was the terrifying hour that it

spent, bouncing like flubber off the storm clouds.

Her hands still ached from gripping the arm rests.

Then, once on the ground, the maps had proven less

than helpful, thanks to flash flooding from the

now-passed storm and some long, circuitous detours

caused by construction.

Mulder noticed a sign by the side of the road. ‘Doob

Creek,’ it announced, ‘Home of the World Famous

Mammoth Caves’. Beneath, in newer paint, was

inscribed ‘Home of Bigfoot’. “Cheer up, Scully. I

do believe we’re entering Doob Creek.”

“And only three hours late,” she grumped.

He scanned the street for the Sheriff’s Office.

“Well, admittedly getting home by lunch tomorrow

isn’t looking good. But with a little luck, we’ll

finish up here tonight, have a good night’s sleep,

and be back in our own beds tomorrow… What’s all

this?”

She roused herself to look out the window at the

almost carnival atmosphere in the street. “I don’t

know… Mulder, stop! There’s the Sheriff’s Office.”

They got out of the car and stretched gratefully. A

tall, broad-shouldered young man wearing a uniform

approached them. “Agent Mulder? I’m Sheriff John

Finn. Folks ’round here just call me Big John.”

They shook hands, and Mulder introduced Scully.

“Come on into the office outta all… this,” he said

with a sweep of his hand. “Y’all look like you could

use some coffee.”

They hesitated before following him, taking in the

street scene. The sidewalk was covered in card tables

and lengths of plywood set on sawhorses. It looked

like a giant flea market. And on the tables…

clip_image002

“Come an’ git your Bigfoot T-shirts! All sizes for

everyone in the family!”

“Right here! Git a gen-oo-ine Bigfoot photograph!”

Mulder strolled to a table and held a T-shirt against

his chest – ‘I Survived the Attack of Bigfoot, Doob

Creek, Kentucky, Spring, 2002.’ “What do you think,

Scully? Is it ‘me’?”

“No, thank you.” Scully declined the ceramic Bigfoot

vase being pressed on her by the persistent artisan.

“I don’t know, Mulder. It might clash with your

Marvin the Martian” — she glanced around the crowded

sidewalk — “accessories.”

He grinned and put the shirt down, much to the

disappointment of the vendor. Then they went into the

quiet of Finn’s office.

“What’s going on here, Sheriff?” she asked.

“Call me Big John.”

“Big John from Harvard University, it would appear

like,” Mulder observed, pointing to a framed diploma

on the wall.

The Sheriff handed them mugs of coffee and gestured

to the cream and sweetener. “I was born and brought

up right here in Doob Creek. Could hardly wait to get

the hell outta here. But six years up north – I

stuck around to get my Master’s in Criminal Justice –

and I found to my shock I was homesick. So I came

back. Have a seat.”

Mulder took a chair and smiled. “That’s a lot of

educational firepower for a town like this.”

The Sheriff returned his grin self-consciously. He

was handsome in a baby-faced sort of way, Scully

noted, and towered a good five inches above Mulder.

“Well, I guess that’s so. I was recruited by the

Bureau, did you know that? But I’d had enough of big

cities. This is where I belong.”

“So what’s going on in town?” Scully repeated.

He laughed. “There’s not too much that goes on here

usually. Some tourists, mostly in summer. The bar

fights every Saturday night, the occasional church

socials. So when somethin’ out of the ordinary

happens, well, folks here take advantage of it.”

“So, have there been sightings of this ‘Bigfoot’

creature?” Mulder pressed.

“You could say that,” he nodded agreeably. “There’s

somethin’ in those woods. Of course there’s been

stories for years that go back to when Doob Creek was

first settled. I was brought up on ’em. But I

always figured they were just moonshine-inspired

fairy tales. That was, until I saw the damn thing

myself.”

Scully’s eyebrows shot up. “What exactly did you

see?”

“We were out in the forest, lookin’ for the first two

men who went missin’. All of a sudden, it got real

quiet – no birdsong, nothin’. And a ways away, I saw

something big, walkin’ on two legs. Kinda looked like

a man, from the glimpse I got. ‘Cept he was near to

ten feet tall.”

She was far from convinced. “How far away were you?”

He shook his head. “Too far. But others have seen it

recently too. A couple of hunters got the shit scared

outta ’em – oh, sorry, ma’am. Said they saw him

through the trees one night. Described him as bein’

big, but not all hairy and shaggy like you see in

those pictures they’re sellin’ out there. And they

said… they said he, like… glowed.”

“Glowed,” echoed Mulder thoughtfully. He was toying

with his bottom lip in a way Scully had come to

associate with his announcement of some of his wilder

theories. “Sheriff, do you think whatever people are

seeing is responsible for the disappearance of those

three men?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. To be honest, I don’t

much care, and y’all won’t hear anything different

from anyone in this town. Those boys were bullies and

troublemakers, have been since they could stand

upright. Just mean, nasty men with a likin’ for

alcohol and beatin’ up on folks smaller and weaker

than them. I’m an officer of the law, and I should

care what happened to ’em, if a crime’s been

committed. But I’ve had a skinful of their

shenanigans over the years, and the town’s better off

without ’em.”

“Perhaps you could give us a list of the names and

addresses of their families, Sheriff,” Scully

suggested.

“And point us in the direction of a motel,” Mulder

added.

“I got everything you need right here – names,

addresses, a map of the town, and another of the area

where they disappeared. As for motels, most of our

tourists just kinda pass through. There’s just one

place, called the Cave Inn. It’s not much, but it’s

clean, and I reserved y’all a couple of cabins.”

Mulder stood and shook hands. “Thank you, Sheriff.

We’ll check in with you later.”

With the comfortable pressure of Mulder’s hand at the

small of her back, Scully led the way out into the

street.

“You’re too quiet,” observed Scully. “Don’t tell me

you’re buying in to this Bigfoot thing.”

Enigmatically, he smiled as he held her car door

open. “Not at all.”

Thank God for that, she mused. The happy thought

lasted only as long as it took him to get into the

car and start the engine.

“I think they have altogether the wrong creature in

mind.”

* * * *

They drove to the first address on the list, a

shabbily genteel old Victorian home.

An elderly lady, petite even by Scully’s standards,

answered the door. “Y’all must be the folks Big John

called about. Come right on in and have a seat in the

parlor.”

The ‘parlor’ was like a room from the set of a movie.

Horsehair-stuffed sofas and chairs were dotted with

fine lace doilies, probably handmade by the lady

herself. The darkly ornate pattern of the upholstery

was repeated in the heavy draperies, tied back with

tasseled cords. Little tables were everywhere,

covered with fringe-shaded lamps and dozens of

silver-framed photographs dating back to the turn of

the century. Curio cabinets filled with mementos vied

for the little remaining space.

Emma Purdy approached from the hallway with a

heavily-laden tray. Mulder leapt up, took it from her

hands and carried it to the one empty table in front

of the sofa. “Why, thank you, young man. Now please

have a seat and help yourself. That’s fresh-squeezed

lemonade and some pecan cookies that just came out of

the oven.”

“You really shouldn’t have gone to all this bother,”

said Scully.

“Nonsense! It’s nice to have callers. Now — how can

I help you?”

“We’re looking into the disappearance of your nephew

and two other men,” began Mulder.

“Well, honey, if I were you, I’d see the sights in

town and then just go on back to Washington. You

won’t find ’em, and everybody’d be a whole lot

happier if you didn’t.”

“Forgive me, but I find the lack of interest in

finding these men rather puzzling,” Scully commented.

“Floyd Purdy is your nephew, is he not?”

“Yes, he’s kin – my great nephew, to be exact. That

doesn’t take away from the fact that he was a trial

to this town and his family his whole life,” Miss

Purdy said, without rancor. “The first few times he

got into trouble, I stood by him, even paid his bail.

And lost it, when he lit out of town. Unfortunately,

the law would always find him and bring him back. But

I got so I just couldn’t stomach his behavior any

more. The only peace I had was when he was in jail.

Finally, he stole from me — took my grandmother’s

silver and sold it. Spent the money on whores and

liquor. That was the last straw.”

“Did he ever hit you?” Mulder asked gently.

To his surprise, she emitted a dry cackle. “Hit me?

Hell, no! Floyd’s dumb as a stump, but he has more

sense than to raise a hand to me. I may look like a

defenseless old lady, but I’m a tough old bird. I

can take care of myself.”

“I wouldn’t doubt it for an instant,” he replied,

amused.

“How long has it been since you’ve seen him?” his

partner asked.

“I threw him out of the house and got a restraining

order two years ago. He hasn’t lived here since. I’ve

seen him around town, of course, right up to the day

before he disappeared. But I haven’t had any contact

with him since I threw him out.”

“He never came back, threatened you?” she inquired.

“Well, now you mention it, just once, about a year

ago. He wasn’t threatenin’ – he just came to ask for

money. But I called Big John as soon as I saw Floyd

coming up the walk, and John dragged him out of here.

Must have given him a good talking to — or worse —

because he never tried that stunt again.”

They got up to leave. “Thank you, Miss Purdy,” said

Mulder. “If we think of anything else, we’ll be in

touch. And thanks for the lemonade. I haven’t tasted

anything that good since I was a kid at my

grandmother’s house.”

Her cheeks flushed with pleasure. “Thank you, Mr.

Mulder. You’re a nice, polite boy. I’ll bet your

parents are real proud of you.”

His eyes darkened for a second, so quickly and so

subtly that only Scully could have noticed. “Yes,

ma’am,” was all he said.

“You okay?” she asked when they returned to the car.

His lips twitched in a self-deprecating smile. “Yeah.

It just stings a bit when I’m not expecting it.

Besides, my mind is too involved with other things at

the moment to waste much time on old baggage.”

Her eyebrow arched. “What things?”

“Oh… you, for instance.” He glanced over at her,

then returned his eyes to the road ahead.

She squeezed his free hand. “Lovely sentiment,

Mulder. But I know you too well. What else?”

“Just a theory, and a glimmer of a plan. We’ll talk

over dinner.”

Next on their list was the wife of Billy ‘Junior’

Naismith. They pulled into the Sans Souci Trailer

Park and after some confusion with the layout of the

units, eventually found Mrs. Naismith’s mobile home.

An extraordinary woman in her late forties answered

their ring. Give Tammy Faye Bakker a sixty-inch

bustline and a Dolly Parton wig… “Mrs. Naismith?”

Mulder choked out.

“Call me Glory Bee,” she said heartily. “Everyone

does.”

Scully’s eyes widened as Mulder entered and she got a

good look at the woman for the first time. She could

well imagine most males uttering ‘Glory be!’ when

they saw her.

The woman stood beside Mulder, who was scanning the

photographs on her walls avidly. “Yep, that’s me, a

few years ago. I used to be a headliner, you know.

Never made it up north, but there isn’t a strip

club south of the Mason-Dixon that I haven’t danced

in. You like the pictures?”

“They’re… er… remarkable,” Mulder said. “You

wouldn’t have a spare that you could autograph, would

you? I have a friend…”

“Sure, honey, I got a stack of ’em. Now what’s your

‘friend’s’ name?” she asked archly, pulling a pen and

a photograph from a drawer.

“Melvin.”

“Mulder!” Scully whispered fiercely.

“It’s okay, sweetie. Just mixin’ a little pleasure

with business. Nothin’ wrong with that. Now you give

this to ‘Melvin’ with my best wishes, you hear? Come

on in and set yourselves down in the kitchen. The

living room’s a mess.”

When they were settled, she lit a cigarette, inhaling

deeply and with evident pleasure. “I suppose you’re

here about Junior. You didn’t find his body by any

chance, did you?”

“So far there’s been no evidence of foul play, other

than the fact that he’s missing,” Scully said

carefully. “Do you have reason to think that he’s

dead?”

“Shit, I’m *hoping* he’s dead!”

Mulder smiled. “In that case, we’re sorry to raise

your hopes falsely. Why do you feel that way?”

“Because the man’s a boil on the butt-end of

humanity, that’s why. Lived off my money, took up

with other women. When he wasn’t too hammered to

move, that is. Beat me up a couple times, put me in

the hospital.”

“Why didn’t you divorce him?” Although Scully asked

the question, the woman’s attention was completely on

Mulder, and her response was to him.

She inhaled and blew out a cloud of smoke. “For one

thing, he threatened to kill me. Now between you and

me, I doubt he’da had the balls to do that. But he

also said that these days, men could git alimony from

their ex-wives, and git half of whatever they had. I

have a little nest egg squirreled away that he could

never manage to git his hands on. If I’da divorced

him, he said he would git half of it. That true?”

“We’re not attorneys, ma’am,” replied Mulder. “I

don’t know if Kentucky is a community property state

or not, but if it is, then yes, it’s possible.”

“When’s the last time you saw your husband, Mrs.

Naismith?” Scully asked tersely. The sooner they

finished this investigation, the sooner they could go

back home.

Once again, it was as if Glory Bee didn’t even know

Scully was in the room. “The day he left to go

huntin’,” she told Mulder. “It’s illegal to hunt in

the forest, ’cause it’s a national park and all, but

that wouldn’t stop Junior and Floyd. Nor the fact

it’s not huntin’ season anyway. But I ‘spect the only

huntin’ goin’ on was for Jack-Bob’s still.”

“Moonshine?”

“Sure ’nuff, honey. The man sopped it up like a

dishrag.”

Mulder looked at the woman appraisingly. “What do you

think happened to him?”

“I’m hopin’ Bigfoot stomped him into the ground. But

it’s more likely he and Floyd had a fallin’ out, or

Jack-Bob killed ’em for tryin’ to steal from his

still.”

Scully rose. “Thank you, Mrs. Naismith. We’ll be in

touch.”

She led the way out. Behind her, Glory Bee linked her

arm in Mulder’s. “Now if your friend likes that

photo, you tell him to write me. A friend of yours is

a friend of mine.”

“I’ll be sure to tell him,” Mulder assured her.

Scully’s eyes rolled, but she held her tongue until

they were in the car and driving away.

“Amazing woman,” her partner said mildly.

She snorted. “What’s amazing is that the woman can

stand upright.”

“Jealous, Scully?”

“Jeal–!”

He chuckled. “Relax. I was only kidding. I prefer my

women redheaded, petite and less… well, less.”

“‘Your *women*’?”

“My only woman.” He glanced over to see her

expression soften. “But she might be a good match for

Frohike.”

Scully burst out laughing. “He’d think he’d died and

gone to heaven.”

“Come on. What do you say we get some barbecue and

take it back to the motel?”

“You’re on.”

* * * *

While not adjoining, their cabins were next to each

other at the end of the row, surrounded by tall

conifers. Sheriff Finn had been right. The Cave Inn

would never make Conde Nast’s Ten Best list, but the

cabins were immaculate and comfortably, if shabbily,

furnished. They included a tiny kitchenette. Both

cabins would be used, as was their habit lately when

on the road. But there was a fair chance that only

one would be slept in.

Mulder stood in the middle of Scully’s cabin, his

arms outstretched. “All the comforts of home.”

“*Your* home, maybe,” she replied, but her eyes

twinkled with good humor. She wrapped her arms around

him. “Mmmm, this feels good.”

They kissed with the same sense of coming home they

always felt, locked in each other’s arms. Eventually,

Scully stepped away reluctantly. “Food’s getting

cold,” she murmured.

“And everyone knows, Bigfoot Bar-B-Cue and Sasquatch

Fries are no good cold,” he agreed. They got out

plates and utensils and began to eat.

“So what’s your theory, Mulder?”

Chewing, he shook his head. “Too early to say. The

“glowing” thing twigged something in my memory, but I

just can’t bring it into focus. But I’ll bet you have

a theory. And I’ll bet it has nothing to do with

Bigfoot.”

“Damned right I have a theory. And actually, it does

have something to do with Bigfoot.”

“Scully!” he exclaimed, grinning. “Don’t tell me

you’ve finally seen the light!”

She chuckled. “Not exactly. I think those men are

dead, Mulder. And I think everyone we’ve talked to

today – including Sheriff Finn – either knows about

it or were active participants in the killings.”

“Even sweet little old Miss Purdy?”

“I don’t suppose you noticed the gunrack in her

hallway.”

“With the three very fine expensive shotguns? Of

course I did. I even took a sniff at them when I took

the tray from her. They didn’t smell like they had

been fired recently.”

“And she wouldn’t know how to clean a gun?”

He made a motion in the air, giving her the point.

“I’ll bet she was a crack shot in her day, too. But

where’s your evidence? And what’s the Bigfoot

connection?”

“Well, I don’t have anything that isn’t

circumstantial,” she admitted. “But you have three

men, despised by everyone in town, including their

nearest and dearest. Their relatives have every

reason to want them gone permanently, as does the

Sheriff. And look at the town! With this revival of

the Bigfoot myth, this town is having an economic

renaissance. Tourist season is just getting underway,

and bound to be better than all expectations because

of the Bigfoot business, and that’s going to mean a

lot of dollars flooding in. So everyone benefits.”

He dabbed at his mouth with a paper napkin. “Well, I

can’t say that that doesn’t make a hell of a lot of

sense. Except for one thing. If people in this town

were involved in the disappearances, with the

knowledge or active participation of the Sheriff,

they would be home free. No one would be any the

wiser and everyone would be happy. So why contact the

Bureau? Why open themselves up to that risk of being

found out? Unless he has one hell of an ego and wants

to see if he can put one over on us, I can’t see

Sheriff Finn calling in the FBI if the town were

trying to get away with murder.”

“I can’t see the incentive, that’s true,” she

admitted. “I don’t know, Mulder, maybe Finn is trying

to prove something. Or… or maybe he knows who did

it, but doesn’t want to have to bring them to justice

himself because of his fondness for them, so he

called us in to do the dirty work.”

“Maybe…”

From the far-off look in her partner’s eyes, Scully

knew he wasn’t really listening. “Mulder?”

“Oh. Sorry. Hey, Scully, how tired are you?”

She smiled and her heart beat faster. She got up from

her side of the table and slipped into his lap, her

arms around his neck. “Not so tired we can’t engage

in some nice bonding activity,” she said in a low,

throaty whisper.

He stroked her hair and murmured softly, “I’m so glad

you feel the same way I do. I’m sure Sheriff Finn can

lend us a couple of sleeping bags.”

Abruptly, she pulled back to look him in the eyes.

“Sleeping bags?”

“Of course. If we’re going to spend the night in the

forest watching for ‘Bigfoot’, we’re going to need

them!”

ACT TWO

Millie’s Diner

Doob Creek, Kentucky

Friday morning

7:35 AM

She sat alone for the moment at the formica table.

Scully propped up her head with one hand and clutched

her coffee cup in the other, her eyes nearly closed

in weariness. But all things considered, the

experience had not been as bad as she had feared.

They had changed into their ‘forest’ gear and

received not only sleeping bags, but a tent, lantern,

thermos of coffee and directions from Sheriff Finn.

Entering the Mammoth Caves National Park by the

back trail Finn specified, they left the car and

followed the path to the fork, easily finding the

secondary path to the general area where ‘Bigfoot’

had been sighted and the men disappeared. For hours

they watched the forest from the shelter of the tent,

noting nothing but the sounds of wildlife and the

hypnotic, susurrous breeze through the treetops.

Whether it was the peaceful setting, the clement

weather, or the presence of sleeping bags on this

trip to the woods, Mulder indeed ‘got lucky’.

So did I, Scully thought with a smile.

And of course, there were the footprints.

On arising shortly after dawn, they packed away the

gear and began the hike out of the Park. With the

daylight in their favor, they kept their eyes on the

ground, looking for anything that might explain the

disappearance of the missing men. Suddenly, Mulder

stopped, whistling low in amazement.

“Scully. Take a look at this.”

On a patch of muddy ground left by the previous day’s

storm were two footprints, made by what looked like

sandals or moccasins. Size 26 sandals or moccasins…

Trip to the restroom completed, Mulder rejoined his

partner. The waitress set down their breakfasts —

the Bigfoot Biggie for him, grits and fruit salad for

her — and refilled their coffee cups.

“What’s our next move, Scully?”

“I propose we go by the Sheriff’s office, return the

camping gear and report the footprints, grab a few

hours sleep at the motel and go home.”

He put down his fork. “But what about–”

“The footprints are intriguing, Mulder, I’ll admit

it. But we’re here to investigate the disappearances

of those men, and we saw no signs of violence, no

clues to follow, nothing. Maybe they were murdered

and we’ve been cleverly misdirected. Maybe they

simply moved on to someplace else. But either way,

it’s a non-case, at least for us. Those footprints

might have been manufactured, for all we know, by

some of the townspeople who have every reason to

profit by our finding them.” She spooned in a

mouthful of grits.

“If they were faked, they’re damn good fakes, Scully,

you have to admit. They were the right depth and the

right distance apart to indicate a nine-and-a-half

foot tall, 400 pound biped, probably human.”

Her eyebrow arched. “And Sheriff Finn doesn’t have

the brains and training to manufacture a set of

prints like that?”

He waggled his head in concession to her point.

“And unless Bigfoot has taken to footwear…”

“I told you, Scully, I don’t think Bigfoot is the

issue here. I think–” He was interrupted by the

trill of his cellphone.

It was Skinner. Quickly, Mulder briefed the AD on

their progress, or lack thereof, thus far.

“I just got a report across my desk and need you to

break off your investigation there. Especially if

you’re at a standstill anyway.”

“What is it, sir?” He looked meaningfully at Scully

and her eyes rolled. Somehow, going home didn’t seem

likely.

“Two men are missing in Lassen Peak Volcanic National

Park from the nearby town of Manzanita Lake,

California.”

“California,” Mulder repeated for his partner’s

benefit. With a sigh, Scully signaled the waitress

for more coffee.

“Yes. There are certain similarities to the case

you’re currently working on. The two men involved are

not exactly the town’s most upstanding citizens, and

there have been unsubstantiated reports of a huge

‘man-beast’ in the National Park. Also…”

“Yes, sir?”

“The huge man-like creature? He had something with

him…”

Mulder waited for what Skinner was obviously having a

hard time delivering.

“It was… well, it was described as a huge furry

elephant.”

Mulder leaned back in the booth, thinking furiously.

“Agent Mulder, are you there? You’d better not be

laughing…”

“No. I mean, yes I’m here and no, I’m not laughing.

When do we have to be there?”

“Today. I have tickets waiting at Bowling Green

airport. A short hop to Cincinnati, then to San

Francisco, and change there for Redding. You’ll take

a rental car from Redding.”

“Sounds like it’s a bit–”

“Remote. Yes. Tell Agent Scully I’m sorry. I guess

this is why you agents are paid the big bucks.”

Yeah, right, Mulder thought. “She’s right here, sir,

you can tell her that yourself.”

“Discretion is the better part of valor, Agent

Mulder. And in this case, delegation. I delegate you

to brief her on what I’ve told you.”

He could hear the amusement in his superior’s voice.

“In that case, you owe me one. We’ll call you from

there.” Mulder pushed the button to end the

connection.

“We’re not going home, are we?”

He shook his head. “Manzanita Lake, California. More

disappearances of unpopular people, more sightings of

a big man-like creature. And this time,” Mulder said,

eyes twinkling, “he brought his pet.”

“Pet?”

He grinned. “I’ll brief you on the way.”

* * * *

Manzanita Lake, CA

Friday evening

More miles later than she wanted to think about, a

very rumpled and tired Dana Scully emerged from the

rental car parked in front of the small combined

police-and-fire station. Mulder, no less rumpled but

in a decidedly more receptive frame of mind, joined

her on the sidewalk and together they entered the

building.

“We’re here to see Captain Lopez,” she announced to

the sergeant at the desk.

“You from the Bureau? He’s expecting you. I’ll show

you to his office.”

Michael Lopez’s dark face was warmed by a broad,

welcoming smile.

“Jerry, some coffee, please. Our guests look like

they could use it.” To them, he said, “Please, sit

down. I appreciate your coming all the way out here.

We’re not an easy commute.”

“Amen,” Scully muttered under her breath.

Mulder shot her a sympathetic glance, then got down

to business. “What can you tell us about the

disappearances?”

Lopez handed him two files. “Julio Esposito and Frank

Crane. Both with long records that go back to juvie.

Mostly assault and battery, burglary, car theft.

Nothing to make the Ten Most Wanted List, but royal

pains in the ass nonetheless. They’ve both done

prison time, but always end up coming back here.

Esposito has a temper, especially when he’s been

drinking. Beats his girlfriend up regularly, but she

won’t press charges against him, so our hands are

tied. Crane is, if anything, worse. Unfortunately,

he’s been arrested a lot more than he’s been

convicted. We suspect that lately he’s into drug

running, but don’t have enough evidence to go after

him… yet.”

“So the town doesn’t really miss them,” Scully

concluded.

“Bingo. Anyway, Crane disappeared about two weeks

ago. We thought he either cleared out, or ran afoul

of some of his ‘well-connected’ friends over drugs.

Last anyone knew, he went up to the Park. We even

followed him most of the way, convinced a deal was

going down. Unfortunately, we lost him when it got

dark.” Lopez shrugged. “Best laid plans. Anyway, no

one’s seen or heard from him since. Esposito

disappeared three days ago, after telling his

girlfriend he was going into the Park with some

friends. All his friends are accounted for, though,

deny any plans to go into the Park, and seem to have

alibis for the time in question.”

“Is there any other explanation for these

disappearances?” Mulder probed.

The police captain shook his head. “I dunno. It’s

rough country. Even I wouldn’t attempt it in winter.

But this time of year? They might have gotten lost,

of course, but the area’s been pretty thoroughly

combed. If they weren’t found, it’s either because

they weren’t there, or they didn’t want to be found.

Or…”

“Or they were in no condition to be able to yell out

to the searchers?” suggested Scully.

Lopez nodded.

“What’s this about a Man-Beast?” Mulder asked, his

expression bland.

“You got me,” Lopez replied. “There’s been tales here

for over a hundred years about the Man-Beast. I

always thought it was a load of crap. Lately,

though… Well, we have a park ranger, Connie

Crowley, who reported seeing it when she was out

searching for the missing men. Connie’s not the type

to start trouble or see things that aren’t there.

She’s the one that saw the elephant, too. If Connie

said she saw it, I’d bet my pension that she did.”

Something was bothering Scully. “We’ve been working

on a case in Kentucky that bears certain similarities

to this one,” she said. “In that case, the town was

capitalizing on the disappearances, tying it in with

the local Bigfoot legend.”

Lopez snorted in disgust. “You won’t find that here,”

he said firmly. “We like it quiet. Truth is, a few

years ago some tourists said they saw a UFO over the

Park. Shot off their mouths to the press and we were

inundated. Reporters, photographers, UFO crazies…

Finally one of the people who originally reported the

UFO admitted they hadn’t seen anything more than some

funny light in the woods. Could have been anything,

from swamp gas to someone else with a flashlight.

Anyway, the press turned on the town, not that anyone

from here had anything to do with it, and it got real

nasty. Made us out to be fools at best, and money-

grubbing opportunists at worst. Since then, we’ve

downplayed any of the stories about weird things

going on in the Park. We don’t need that mess again.”

He fixed the agents in his glare, his meaning clear.

Mulder looked over to his partner, then back to the

captain. “Okay – we’ll need to talk to the park

ranger, Esposito’s girlfriend, and Crane’s friends.

And we’ll need the name of a motel.”

“It’s getting late to drive up to the Park. Best time

to get Connie would probably be when she goes on duty

tomorrow morning. Esposito’s girlfriend – now that’s

gonna be a problem. She took the opportunity to get

out of town after Julio went missing. I can put out

an APB, but I interviewed her myself after the

disappearance. She was at work immediately before and

after the last time he was seen. I believe she’s in

the clear. And in case the son of a bitch does comes

back, I figured she was better off back with her

family in L.A.”

Mulder shook his head. “If it becomes necessary,

we’ll have someone track her down there.”

“Fine. I interviewed Crane’s friends, too, and they

were dead ends – in more ways than one,” Lopez said,

grinning. But you’re welcome to take another shot at

them. Now… a motel. We don’t have one.” He handed

Mulder a set of keys. “Those are to my cabin, up near

the entrance to the Park. It’s not the Ritz, but it’s

got a septic system, running water and oil lamps.

There’s a double bed downstairs, and another in the

loft. You’ll have to bring in your own food, though.

I live here in town and haven’t had much opportunity

to get away from the job and use it lately.”

Mulder stood. “We appreciate it, Captain Lopez.”

“No, you’re doing me a favor. The sooner we can put

all this behind us, the better. I’ve written out

directions to the cabin. You might want to get some

supplies and get up there while it’s still light.

After dark, you’ll never find it.”

* *

They grabbed the bare necessities at a Mom and Pop

grocery, with ‘Mom’s’ fingers drumming impatiently on

the counter. They were just out the door when the

“Open” sign was whipped around to say “Closed” and

the deadbolt slid into place.

The sun was setting as the car rolled to a stop

outside a rustic cabin.

“Scully? We’re here,” Mulder called gently. His sense

of guilt rose unbidden to the surface. She looked

exhausted, dark semi-circles under her eyes like

bruises on her pale skin.

“Mm?” Her eyes fluttered open. “Is this it?”

“Be it ever so humble. Here.” He handed her a set of

keys. “Why don’t you go on in and sit while I bring

in the food and our bags.”

She smiled, or attempted to. “Normally I’d take

offense, Mulder. But tonight I’m too damn tired to

worry about your being over-solicitous.” With a

groan, she pulled herself from the car and trudged up

the piney path to the cabin.

She was pulling the covers back from the double bed

when he completed the last of the trips to the car.

“What do you feel like eating? I’ll cook,” he

offered.

She began unbuttoning her jacket. “To be honest,

nothing. I’m too tired to eat, I just want to get

some sleep.”

She finished undressing, and pulled one of his T-

shirts over her head. Mulder held open the covers as

she slid in, and he tucked the edges under the

mattress. “Comfy?”

She smiled, putting out a hand to brush an errant

lock of his hair into place. “Not bad. Though I think

I could sleep on the photocopier in the middle of the

bullpen right now. You going to be up late?”

“Not if I can help it. Food, then I want to do a

little research. I’ll make extra, in case you wake up

hungry later.” Bending, he kissed her. She was asleep

before the warmth of his lips dissipated from hers.

Mulder stayed by the bedside, watching her in the

serenity of her sleep, and once more counting his

blessings. Finally, he went to the kitchen, heated up

the canned stew and mixed the contents of the Caesar

salad ‘kit’. Taking a serving of each, he went to the

small utility table and fired up his laptop.

* *

She didn’t know what awakened her, but the door to

the cabin was swinging open and she could hear the

sounds of someone thrashing through the forest. As

she expected, her partner was gone.

“Shit!” Scully leapt out of bed, frantically

rummaging through her overnight bag and pulling on

the first pair of pants she found, then her sneakers.

Pausing only to snatch up her weapon, she dashed

through the door.

“Mulder!”

There was an indistinct yell in reply. She began

running in the general direction of the sound.

“Mulder!” A thousand thoughts buzzed through her

mind, not the least of which being that she and her

partner were going to have another long talk on the

subject of ditching and running headlong into

dangerous situations.

“Over here, Scully. Argh–!”

She pushed branches out of her face and tried not to

think about the snakes that could be slumbering among

the very rocks and stumps she now stumbled over.

“Mulder, I’m coming! Keep yelling!” she called.

Though nearer, his voice seemed weaker. “Here,

Scully!”

She stopped for a moment to get her bearings. “Are

you all right? Where are you?”

“Go more to your right, then straight. Maybe fifty

yards. And no… not exactly.”

She threaded her way around thickets and fallen

trees, moving as quickly as she dared. Though the

bright moonlight was some help, the ground was uneven

and treacherous. “What do you mean, ‘not exactly’?”

He caught sight of the movement of bushes and

branches. “Here, Scully.”

He was on the ground, more or less sitting.

“What in hell is going on, Mulder?” She looked around

the area before holstering her weapon. Then she knelt

on the ground next to him. “All right, where does it

hurt?”

“My ankle. No, the right one. Yes, that’s– Shit!” He

grimaced, his breath a long harsh hiss of pain.

She prodded gently. “Did you hear it snap?”

“No, I think it’s just a sprain. Hurts like hell

though. I caught it between two tree roots as I was

running.”

She sat back on her heels, her face pulled into a

concerned frown. “It’s swelling fast. Do you think

you can make it back to the cabin? Assuming we can

find it, of course.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Well, you could stay here while I go back to the

cabin and call on the cellphone for a rescue party.”

Mulder considered it, but for less than a second.

“I’d just as soon skip that kind of humiliation. If I

can lean on you, I’ll be okay.”

He was a lot less sure of that once he was standing.

If he thought his ankle hurt when he was down, the

focus of sheer agony when he stood left him

breathless, nauseous and dizzy. His partner steadied

him.

“I don’t think this is a very good idea, Mulder.”

“No, I can make it.”

“Well, all right, just don’t put any weight on it.”

“That was my last thought, believe me.”

Much as Scully wanted to know what exactly made her

partner go charging through heavy forest in the dark,

it would have to wait. It required all of his

strength and hers to get him back to the cabin.

Unsure of the way, several times she helped him to

sit, or lean against a tree trunk while she scouted

ahead, looking for familiar landmarks or broken

branches that signaled their way in.

Finally, when both were breathless and sweating

despite the chill of the night, they found the cabin.

Scully got Mulder to the bed, then went out to the

car for her medical bag. When she returned, she shut

the door behind her, turning the deadbolt. Mulder

had peeled off his shirt and unzipped his pants. He

laid back on the bed and she swung his legs up.

Quickly she stripped the shoe and sock from his good

foot and pulled his pants down below his knees. “It’s

going to hurt, getting that shoe off.”

“I know,” he said grimly, bracing himself.

Scully took out the shoelace and as gently as she

could, eased the shoe from his rapidly swelling foot.

Mulder clutched the sheets and turned a whiter shade

of pale, but made no sound. The sock, already skin

tight above the ankle, she simply cut off. The pants

were disposed of next. She lit another oil lamp and

brought it closer to the bed.

“Well, you’ve done a bang-up job of it this time,

Mulder. It’s a very severe sprain, and I can’t

guarantee that you haven’t managed to do some tendon

and ligament damage on top of it. What the hell did

you think you were doing?”

“I *thought* I was pursuing a clue!” he shot back

testily. Then he sighed. “I’m sorry, Scully. You have

every right to be annoyed with me. I’m always acting

without thinking. But you should have seen it!”

“Well, why don’t you tell me about it while I work on

your ankle.” She propped his lower leg on several

pillows, then dug around in her bag, retrieving a

couple of ace bandages and a chemical cold pack.

“I was working at the computer. It had gotten dark

and I didn’t light any lamps because I didn’t want to

disturb you.” He looked at her hopefully, trying to

judge if his thoughtfulness scored any points, but

her expression revealed only her concentration on her

work.

“Anyway, I saw a source of light coming from outside.

At first I thought it might be Sheriff Lopez, driving

up to give us an update. But I didn’t hear a car

engine, and the light wasn’t bright or focused

enough to be headlights. So I looked out, and —

Scully, it was incredible! It was a man… or a man-

like biped — emitting this eerie glow. And he had to

be nine feet tall, at least! Tell you what, why don’t

you take one of the oil lamps and check around the

cabin for footprints?”

“Tell you what, Mulder. Why don’t we wait for morning

and I might let you live.” She taped the ace bandage

into place and expertly cracked the vial inside the

chemical pouch, shaking it until the contents were

cold. “How does that feel?”

He made an ‘iffy’ motion with his hand. “Feels better

being off it and having it stuck up in the air,

that’s for sure.”

“You need to get to an Emergency Room.”

“Not tonight, Scully. We don’t know our way around,

or even if there’s a hospital in town. It can wait

until morning. Besides, you’re exhausted.”

“I won’t deny that.” She slipped off her sneakers and

pants, and joined her partner in bed. She was almost

asleep, when…

“Scully?”

“Mmm?”

“I’m sorry. I did it again, didn’t I? Went running

off after something without thinking.”

Her hand edged across his chest, stroking, soothing.

“‘S all right, Mulder. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“I know.”

* * *

ACT THREE

Manzanita Lake, CA

Saturday

8 A.M.

There was no hospital in town, but Captain Lopez

directed them to a very well-equipped family practice

office. By necessity, Dr. Cote had become a jack-of-

all-medical-specialties in the small town. In a

fraction of the usual time spent in a big city ER,

Mulder was x-rayed and diagnosed with a severe ankle

sprain. It was taped and braced and he was issued

crutches.

Dr. Cote, a dead ringer for Marcus Welby, gave Mulder

a prescription for Tylenol #2. “Now stay off it. No

weight bearing on that leg at all, and the more time

you can spend with it elevated the better, to keep

down the swelling. Loosen the brace if it gets too

tight from the swelling. When you get back to the

city, I’d have that ankle CT scanned. There may be

something I missed and with your profession, you

can’t afford to have a permanent problem.”

They thanked the doctor and made their way out to the

car.

“What now?” Scully asked as they settled in.

“Well, the good news is that you get to drive for the

next few weeks.”

She smiled and squeezed his hand. “I know that. I

meant about the case.”

“Carry on, I guess. You didn’t happen to notice any

footprints this morning outside the cabin, did you?”

His tone was hopeful.

She shook her head. “Too many spruce and pine needles

on the ground to take a print.”

He sighed. “I was afraid of that. Okay, I guess we

should drive up to the ranger station and look for

Connie Crowley. Unless you want to go back to the

cabin and try to get a nap in. You really look beat,

Scully.”

“I am. But let’s talk to the park ranger and see how

much we learn from her.”

“That’s my Scully.” His voice was warm, his

admiration clear in his tone.

Just as she started the engine, Mulder’s cell phone

rang. They exchanged expressions that said that

whatever the reason for the phone call, it couldn’t

be good. “Mulder.”

“This is AD Skinner. What are you doing right now?”

He mouthed “Skinner” for his partner’s benefit, then

said “We were just about to interview an eyewitness.

Why?”

“I need one of you back in Doob Creek as soon as you

can get there. It seems one of the missing men was

returned.”

Mulder’s eyebrows shot up, the AD’s wording not lost

on him. “*Was* returned. By whom?”

“That’s why I need one of you there. The guy’s story

is… frankly, it’s bizarre. Sheriff Finn doesn’t

know what to make of it.”

“Don’t tell me it was Bigfoot after all?”

“Weirder than that.”

Mulder looked at his watch. “At this point, with the

time zones and all, it’s not going to be until

tonight.”

“I know. And so does Sheriff Finn. He’ll be waiting.”

Mulder glanced over at Scully. By this time, his

partner had a pretty good idea of the subject of the

conversation. Her arms were crossed on the steering

wheel, her head resting on them. He swung into

‘protective mode’. “Look, it’s ridiculous to spend

eight hours traveling back there. I don’t suppose we

could do this by phone and save the government some

money.”

“I’m afraid not. I need you there to assess the

situation. I’ll see that you both get some comp time

when you finish the case.”

Yeah, right. Unless there was another case waiting in

the wings by then, Mulder thought sourly. “All right.

One of us will be there tonight.” Viciously he

stabbed the ‘off’ button.

“Let me guess. We have to go back to Kentucky.”

“One of us does. One of the missing men has been

returned and evidently has a story to tell. I’ll do

it, Scully. I know how all the travel wears you out,

and–”

His partner was incredulous. “Mulder! Reality

orientation time! On crutches, you’ll never make the

connections at the airports.”

He grinned back impudently. “I’ll get one of those

cart thingies they chauffeur the old ladies around

in.”

“You can’t keep your foot elevated on the plane.”

“Maybe there’ll be an empty seat I can rest it on. Or

maybe I can charm my way into First Class. There’s

more room in there.”

She went on as if she hadn’t heard him. “Not to

mention the fact that you can’t drive.”

His jaw was set in a stubborn line. “Maybe I–”

Her tone softened. “I appreciate what you’re doing,

Mulder. I do. But it just doesn’t make any sense.

I’ll go. But how will you manage here?”

“Captain Lopez got us out here. He’ll just have to

have one of his men provide transportation for me.

Are you sure, Scully?”

“I’m sure. Skinner is dead meat though, once I get

back to Washington.”

Mulder chuckled wryly. “Don’t think he doesn’t know

that already.”

“I’ll drop you at the police station.”

A minute later, they were there. Looking around

furtively, Mulder saw the coast was clear and pulled

his partner into a long, deep kiss. He broke off

reluctantly and his anxious eyes scanned her face.

Her fingers trailed down his face. “It’s okay,

Mulder. I’ll call you from Kentucky.”

He nodded, then eased himself out of the car, pulling

his crutches from the back seat. “Be safe, Scully.”

She smiled. “Always.”

He watched until the car disappeared in the distance,

then made his way painfully into the police station.

Captain Lopez was waiting for him.

“No cast. I guess that’s a good sign.”

“I guess. I can’t say it feels any better.” Mulder

sat down and gratefully accepted the coffee Lopez

handed him. “My partner had to go back to Kentucky,

and I obviously can’t drive. Any possibility of

one of your men ferrying me around?”

“No problem. It’s not like we’re rushed off our asses

here or anything. How’d you do it, anyway?”

Mulder took a long swallow of the heady brew.

“Chasing something I saw outside your cabin. My best

guess is that it was the same thing Connie Crowley

saw — minus the elephant.”

Lopez’ eyebrows rose to his hairline. “No shit?”

“No shit. A very tall, glowing man-like figure.”

The police captain stood. “Hell, I’ll drive you

myself. If you’re finished with your coffee, we can

go.”

The men chatted on the drive up to the national park,

but Mulder’s mind was less on the conversation than

on the apparition he had seen. Could it be

extraterrestrial, he wondered. For some reason, he

didn’t think so, although he was perfectly willing to

be proven wrong on the matter. Scully’s report after

her interview with the ‘returned’ man would prove

interesting…

Ranger Crowley was just finishing a lecture to some

hikers. She was an attractive woman in a weathered,

outdoorsy sort of way. She was of medium height and

stocky, though Mulder was ready to bet she didn’t

have anything other than heavy muscle on her body.

About middle age, she had the kind of eyes that

didn’t miss much, and her long chestnut hair was

pulled back in a sensible braid.

“Connie, this is Agent Mulder from the FBI. He’d like

to talk to you about what you saw. Maybe we could

move this inside so he can sit down?”

“Sure thing, come on inside. Watch the steps.” She

led the way and soon they were seated before a

crackling fire, an empty chair pulled up for Mulder

to rest his foot on.

The agent let her tell her story.

“We were out searching for Frank Crane. There must

have been twenty or so of us, but we were pretty

spread out. Within shouting distance, but not in

sight of each other. We had been at it all day, very

methodically searching the park on a grid system. We

were in the southwest grid when the sun went down.”

Her keen brown eyes stared intently into Mulder’s.

“Now, there’s no use searching for anyone after dark.

Even with a full moon, you can’t see well enough to

find squat, especially if what or who you’re looking

for doesn’t want to be found. I was just turning

around to start back to the station when I heard

something moving through the trees about fifty yards

off to my left. I saw some glimpses of light and

thought it might be one of the other rangers or one

of the cops in the search party. I changed my path so

it would intersect with the one this other person was

on. I know this park like the back of my hand, and if

it was one of Captain Lopez’ men, I didn’t want him

getting lost.”

“Did you call out to this other person?” Mulder asked

quietly.

Her brow knit in a frown. “No. No, I didn’t, and I’m

not sure why. I guess I thought he could hear me,

though I move pretty quietly. I don’t know, maybe I

thought at the time it might be Crane.”

She scanned Mulder’s face. “Look, I’m not one to

over-dramatize or see things that aren’t there,” she

asserted with some heat.

He nodded slowly. “I’m sure you’re not.”

“Because I don’t want you thinking I’m looking for

publicity, or I’m one of those nut cases in the

Enquirer or on Jerry Springer.”

“Captain Lopez has vouched for your character,”

Mulder assured her. “Please, go on.”

Warily, she continued. “There was an outcropping of

rock that I had to get around to intersect with the

other path. When I did, I guess I was about thirty

feet or so from… from what I saw…”

She hesitated, clearly having difficulty talking

about something she couldn’t explain rationally to

herself, let alone anyone else. “I noticed the smell

first, as I went around the rock. Kind of an earthy,

cow pasture sort of smell. Then when I came into view

of the other trail, I saw it. A huge elephant, only

hairy, with enormous curving tusks. Well, I was just

frozen in place. I couldn’t believe what I was

seeing. Then this… this figure stepped out from the

other side of the creature. He was glowing and had to

be ten feet tall. I didn’t move. I’m not sure I could

have. But he seemed to sense my presence. He looked

over toward me, then moved off quickly in the

opposite direction into the forest. The elephant

followed him.”

Mulder was fascinated. “Was he running away, like he

was afraid of you?”

“No, I wouldn’t say he was running away. It was like

he didn’t want to run into me any more than I wanted

to run into him.”

“How was he dressed?”

“Dressed?” Connie seemed surprised by the question.

“I’m not sure I noticed. Wait a sec… ” She closed

her eyes, as if to concentrate better. “Robes. Loose

robes, like in those pictures of ancient Greeks or

Romans.”

“I don’t suppose you found any physical evidence of

what you saw? Not that I don’t believe you,” Mulder

said quickly as the woman stiffened. “It’s just that

it would help. Footprints, anything like that?”

“It was way too dark to see footprints, and the

weather had been pretty dry, so I’m not sure there

would have been any even if I looked. But I did see

something.” At Lopez’ expression of surprise, she

turned to him. “I’m sorry, Michael. I know I didn’t

tell you before. I was just too freaked out by the

whole thing. But after they left — long after they

left — I went over to where they had been standing.

I found out where the smell was coming from. There on

the trail was a huge pile of what I can only assume

was fresh elephant dung. It was way too big to be

from anything normally in the park. Definitely a

plant-eater, and just way too huge to be from deer or

moose or elk.”

“I don’t suppose you took a sample,” Mulder said

hopefully.

Connie looked at him as if he had taken leave of his

senses. “At that point, Agent Mulder, I got my ass

back to the ranger station as fast as I could move.

Maybe you see enough of this sort of thing to take it

in stride, but I was a basket case. Look, all this is

confidential, right? I love my job here, but if the

powers that be think I’ve started seeing things…”

Mulder chuckled. “Don’t worry about that, Ranger

Crowley. My report will never be seen by anyone from

the Parks Service, I can promise you that.”

Lopez stood. “Thanks, Connie. We’ll let you get back

to work now.”

Mulder swung himself painfully out to the cruiser on

his crutches.

“Where to?” the police captain asked.

By that time, Mulder’s ankle was throbbing terribly.

“Back to your cabin, if you don’t mind, Captain

Lopez. I can do what I need to do by phone and

computer.”

It was a short trip to the cabin. Mulder slid out of

the cruiser and propped his crutches under his arms.

Lopez called out the window, “Sure you’ll be okay?

It’s pretty lonely out here. You’re stuck if you need

anything.”

“No problem. I won’t need anything.”

Lopez nodded. “Yeah, well, I’ll have one of my men or

a ranger drop by later to check and see how you’re

doing. I don’t want to have to explain to Washington

why I abandoned an injured Fibbie.”

“I’ll be fine, thanks,” Mulder assured the police

captain. He was nauseous and in a cold sweat from the

pain by the time he finally got into the cabin and

collapsed in a chair. It was only after Lopez’

cruiser had disappeared from view that he remembered

the prescription for pain medication in his pocket.

After his assurances to Lopez that he would be fine,

his male ego would not allow him to call the police

captain back to run to the pharmacy for him. Wryly,

he thought about what his partner would say if she

were there.

He looked at his watch. Scully would be on her way to

San Francisco by now. Sighing, he looked around the

cabin. She hadn’t stopped at the cabin before she

left, probably feeling that she would be back soon

and she could pick up anything she needed at an

airport shop between flights. Grimacing, he grabbed a

crutch and maneuvered it to where Scully’s medical

bag lay next to the bed. He hooked one of the handles

on to the end of the crutch and swung it around to

drop by his chair. He knew she rarely carried drugs –

not the good kind, anyway – but there was always a

chance. All he found was some ibuprofen, but he

scooped up four tablets and swallowed them without

water, considering himself fortunate.

While he waited for the tablets to take effect on the

bone-deep ache in his ankle, he picked up his cell

phone and dialed a familiar number.

“Lone Gunman.”

“Hi, Byers. I need you guys to help me out on

something.”

“Always glad to oblige, Mulder. It’s been a little

quiet around here.”

“Great. What can you tell me about sightings of a ten

foot tall glowing man dressed in Greek robes and

sometimes accompanied by what sounds like a woolly

mammoth?”

There was a silence at the end of the line. Then,

“No, really, Mulder. What do you want?”

“That’s it.”

He heard a muted discussion in the background between

the three eccentrics, Langly’s bark of laughter, and

Frohike’s question about what hallucinogenics Mulder

had been exposed to this time. “I’m switching to

speaker, Mulder,” Byers’ voice said.

“Really, guys. I’m serious. I seem to remember

something I read once, but can’t quite place it.

Something about glowing super-humans.”

“All right. Where were the sightings you know about?”

Frohike’s tone made it clear that he thought he was

wasting his time.

“Mammoth Caves National Park and Lassen Peak Volcanic

National Park. Hey, Frohike, I met the woman of your

dreams. Even got her picture for you.” He could hear

the Gunman typing information into his computer.

“About time I got some recognition for my expertise,”

he replied, distracted. “Well, I’ll be… Hey,

Mulder, it looks like you may just have stumbled on

something interesting. What do you know about Hollow

Earth?”

* * *

Doob Creek, Kentucky

Sunday, 1:40 AM

Scully glared through reddened eyes. “I realize you

were expecting me sooner,” she growled, her teeth

clenched. “And I realize that it’s late. I may

realize better than anyone that it’s late. But if you

want me to interview Floyd Purdy, it’s going to be

now. I am less than sympathetic to the fact that he

happens to be sleeping at the moment.”

John Finn held his hands up placatingly. “Okay, okay.

I’ll go wake him up. I have him in a cell, since he

didn’t have anywhere else to go. Let me get him.”

She threw herself into the most comfortable chair in

the office – Finn’s, to be precise. The trip getting

back to Doob Creek had been a nightmare. First, the

flight from San Francisco to Cincinnati made an

emergency landing in Salt Lake City due to equipment

failure. Though the pilot did not announce the source

of the problem to avoid alarming the passengers,

Scully in her window seat had an excellent view of

the black smoke billowing from one of the engines.

Thirty white-knuckled minutes later, they landed

safely, with an escort of firetrucks and other

emergency vehicles on the runway flanking them. She

was forced to route through Dallas to then go to

Cincinnati. On the Cincinnati flight, a passenger had

chest pain. As Scully was the only doctor on board,

she spent an hour tending to the sick man until the

plane made an emergency landing in St. Louis to take

the passenger to the hospital. Deciding that the

patron saint of air travel was napping, whoever the

hell he might be, she opted to drive from Saint Louis

before she tempted fate further. Two rest stops for

coffee at truck stops further tried her patience. She

pulled up in front of the Sheriff’s office in a foul

temper and with her head banging.

She heard some mumbling and footsteps from down the

hallway. “All right, here he is,” Finn said, shoving

Purdy into a straight-backed chair. He loomed over

the scruffy man. “Now you listen up and answer the

lady’s questions, or I’ll see to it your new

accommodations are a hell of a lot rougher than your

present ones, y’hear?”

“Yeah, I hear. I won’t make no trouble. I turned over

a new leaf, I keep tellin’ ya.”

She stared at the man for some time, a look that had

made stronger men’s blood turn cold, but he returned

it calmly. She noted that in spite of the ordeal he

had supposedly been through, he looked a lot

better than he had in his photograph. Maybe five

years younger, in spite of the fact that the man

hardly lived anything remotely like a healthy

lifestyle. “All right, Mr. Purdy,” Scully said. “I’m

tired, and I’m not in the mood to hear any tall tales

about Bigfoot. What happened to you and the other men

out in the forest?”

He grinned, displaying cracked and stained teeth, but

the smile was oddly disarming.. “T’weren’t no

Bigfoot, ma’am. I’ll tell ya jist what happened, but

hear me out, okay? Because its goin’ to be hard for

you to believe. It was for me… it still is. But as

God is my judge, it’s the truth, I swear it.”

“Go on,” Scully said non-committally.

“Okay.” Purdy took a deep breath and began. “Junior

and me was in the Park that night, lookin’ for Jack-

Bob’s still. He makes the best corn liquor

hereabouts, but we already owed him for the last

batch we got, and he wouldn’t give us more until we

paid up. Junior’s ole lady wouldn’t give him any

money, and I was dead broke, so’s we were gonna

jist make a little withdrawal from his stash,

figurin’ he’d never miss it. You follow so far?”

“I follow,” Scully replied with a distinct lack of

enthusiasm.

“Jist makin’ sure. You look wore out,” he remarked

solicitously. “Okay, so we was havin’ trouble findin’

the right trail. Jack-Bob covers it up so folks

cain’t find it. Not very kindly of him, but that’s

Jack-Bob for ya. Anyways, all of a sudden, we saw a

light up ahead about fifty feet or so through the

trees. So we figured either Jack-Bob was protectin’

his still, or some other enterprisin’ folks was doin’

what Junior and me was. So we laid low for a while

and watched. After a while, the light went around to

our right, about sixty feet off. We waited another

coupla minutes, then started ahead. “We was lookin’

around for the trail, when all of a sudden, we could

see our shadows ahead of us. Meanin’,” Purdy

explained earnestly, “that there was a light right

behind us. We turned around — and there it was!”

“If you say Bigfoot, you’re a dead man,” Scully

intoned dully, rubbing her temples.

“No, ma’am,” Purdy replied. “It weren’t nothin’ like

Bigfoot. It was a man… a huge glowing man, dressed

like in one of them gladiator movies. He musta been

ten, twelve foot tall. He was shinin’ jist like the

sun and he had this real peaceful-like look on his

face. Well, he reached out and took us by our

collars and nudged us a little, to get us walkin’.

Well, Junior and me was jist about ready to shit

ourselves, we were so scared. Oh — sorry, ma’am. But

real gradual-like, we started feelin’ less scared,

like everything was gonna be okay. We walked through

the forest for miles, sometimes along hikers’ trails,

sometimes through the underbrush. When we was jist

about ready to drop, the man pulled us around this

like mountain of rock. He let go of us then and

motioned to us, like we was supposed to follow him.

It was like mind control, or somethin’, ’cause we

did, even though we both wanted nothin’ more than to

clear out.

“Anyways, he went to this rock formation and seemed

to disappear! Junior and me followed his light

through an opening that you couldn’t see ‘cept from

this one angle. Now, there’s caves all over the Park

— that’s how it gets its name — and I know most of

’em like the back of my hand. But this one was a new

one on Junior and me.

“So we was in this cave, the floor slopin’ so steep

it was hard to keep from slidin’. We followed him

down what seemed like miles.” He stopped, a confused

expression on his face.

Despite her fatigue, Scully was intrigued by the

man’s story, if only for the amount of imagination

Purdy showed in its fabrication. “What happened

then?”

He scratched his head with a grimy finger. “Well, I

don’t rightly know. I don’t know whether we fell

asleep, or got knocked out or what. All I know is the

next time I opened my eyes, we was in this amazing

place! It was like Disney World, only without all

those folks walkin’ around in cartoon suits and mouse

ears. I… I don’t know if I’m s’pposed to say any

more. I think it’s kinda a secret.”

Scully was unimpressed. “Uh-huh. So why were you

brought there, Mr. Purdy? Why did they let you go?

And what happened to Mr. Naismith?”

Purdy’s expression cleared and he nodded. “Now *that*

I can tell ya. The guy said — well, he didn’t like

actually talk, he spoke into our heads, you know? He

said we were there to learn. He said humanity had

been cursed with bad lots like us, and once we

learned, we’d be sent back to rejoin humanity. I

cain’t remember much about the time I was there. I

jist know that after I was there a while, a feelin’

came over my heart, and I knew I would change my

ways. The next thing I remember is standin’ on a path

in the forest. I followed it and hitched a ride from

a tourist back to town. Then the Sheriff spotted me

and hauled me in here. You wouldn’t have some coffee,

by any chance, Big John? All this talkin’ makes a

man’s throat dry.”

“Yeah, I just made some. You, Agent Scully?”

“Yes, please. So, Mr. Purdy, where’s Mr. Naismith?

And Mr. Smithers?”

“I guess they’re still there. I cain’t remember

seein’ ’em, but if Junior ain’t here, he must be

there. I guess they haven’t learned yet. Hardly

surprisin’,” he concluded with a grin. “We’ll

probably never see Jack-Bob again. No one can git

anything through that thick head of his.”

“So what are you going to do now?”

“Git myself a real job. Maybe take night classes so I

can git my high chool diploma.”

Despite the man’s track record up to his

disappearance, Scully could discern the unshakable

faith of the recently converted in his demeanor.

Not that she believed a word of his story, but

obviously some sort of epiphany had taken place. She

had no doubt that he meant what he said about turning

over a new leaf. Whether he could sustain that

intent, only time would tell.

Purdy accepted the styrofoam cup from the Sheriff.

“Can I go back to bed now?”

“You need him any more?” Finn asked Scully. At her

head shake, the Sheriff led Purdy back to his cell.

She sipped her coffee, her mind on the man’s tale.

Soon, Finn returned and sat down with his own mug in

hand. He grabbed the coffee pot and refilled her cup.

“So what do you think?”

She smiled tiredly. “Do you mean, do I believe his

story? No. Clearly something happened, something he

can’t explain even to himself. So he concocted this

story, perhaps even subconsciously, to come to terms

with whatever did happen to him. I do, however,

believe that whatever it was, it was powerful enough

to force him to re-think his life. I think he’s going

to make an honest attempt to clean up his act.”

“I sure as hell hope so,” Finn sighed. “We’ll see. Do

you think your partner is going to believe his

story?”

She smiled once more. “Undoubtedly.” She looked at

her watch. “It’s after midnight there, but he should

still be up.” She pulled her cellphone from her purse

and hit the speed dial.

“Mmm? Mulder.”

“I’m sorry, were you sleeping?”

His chuckle warmed her. “More like dozed off over a

hot computer. What time is it?”

“Two-thirty AM for me, twelve-thirty for you. How’s

your ankle?”

“Hurts like hell. I forgot to get the prescription

filled. Besides, codeine makes my thinking go all

fuzzy. Did you speak to Purdy yet? I was worried, I

was expecting to hear from you hours ago.”

“I had a couple of flights from hell. Long story.

Anyway, yes, I just finished my interview with him.”

“And…?”

“Some nonsense about a glowing man in a toga taking

him to a magical city in a cave. Whatever really

happened, it does seem to have had a remarkable

effect on him. Not only is he swearing to become an

upright citizen, but he looks at least five years

younger in person than he did in that mugshot we saw.

Or maybe that was just a bad picture.”

There was an undercurrent of excitement in Mulder’s

voice. “I don’t think so, Scully. As a matter of

fact, everything that Purdy says makes perfect

sense.”

“Mulder, you have got to be kidding. He described the

place as Disney World without the cartoon characters,

for heaven’s sake!”

“It’s called the Hollow Earth theory, Scully. I’ve

been studying up on it all day. Edmund Halley, the

astronomer and discoverer of Halley’s comet, proposed

one of the earliest theories in 1692. He said that in

order to account for variations in the magnetic

field, the earth had to be hollow. In fact, he

theorized that the earth was actually four spheres,

nested one inside the other.”

“Mulder, even a brilliant astronomer can make

mistakes. He probably believed in leeching and

witchcraft too.” She glared at Finn’s obvious

amusement.

Her partner went on as if he hadn’t heard a word she

said. “And in the eighteenth century, Leonhard Euler,

a Swiss mathematician, theorized a hollow earth with

an internal sun 600 miles wide, and the advanced

civilization that lived there.”

Scully sighed. “Fortunately, we live in the twenty-

first century, and no one believes that nonsense

anymore. And what does that have to do with glowing

men in togas and their pet elephants?” Finn appeared

as if he was going to burst into hysterical giggling.

Throwing a hand over his mouth, he exited the office,

his laughter ringing in the silent street.

Again, Mulder’s enthusiasm was unchecked. “I’m so

glad you asked. In 1846 a woolly mammoth was found in

Siberia in a remarkable state of preservation.

Several scientists at the time believed that the

state of the remains was explained by the fact that

in truth, they had not been lying around for millions

of years, but rather the animal had died relatively

recently, having wandered outside the hole at the

North Pole that leads to Hollow Earth.”

Scully’s tenuous control on her temper was beginning

to fray. “Mulder, I’m too tired for this insanity. No

modern scientist in his right mind would give any

credence whatsoever–”

“Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong, Scully. No less

an authority than Admiral Richard Byrd had the

backing of the United States government when they

sponsored his flights to the North and South Poles,

in part to look for these openings to Hollow Earth.

Even Hitler believed that the Master Race originated

from the people who dwelled in the advanced

civilization at the center of the earth, and he sent

missions looking for these openings.”

“Oh, Adolf Hitler. There’s an authority for you. The

very pinnacle of rational thought.”

Her sarcasm was lost on him. “And guess where two of

these openings are thought to be? Mammoth Caves

National Park in Kentucky, and Lassen Peak Volcanic

National Park in California! And that’s not all. The

advanced civilization? Well, there are a number of

theories about who those people are – from the

survivors of the destruction of Atlantis to the Lost

Tribes of Israel to the lost Viking colony in

Greenland–”

“Mulder!”

“–but nearly every authority describes these people

as being ten to twelve feet tall, with a rich,

advanced civilization. In fact, some feel that that

what we think are UFOs carrying aliens from other

planets are actually the flying craft of Agartha —

that’s another name for this place — coming from

inside the earth, rather than from space.”

“MULDER!”

Scully’s angry shout finally brought him to a halt.

“What?”

“There is absolutely no scientific proof of this.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say absolutely none,” he replied, a

little stiffly.

Scully sighed. “Look, I know you get frustrated when

I don’t believe in this stuff, when… when all I

seem to do is throw a bucket of cold water on the

fire of your enthusiasm. Mulder, you once told me

that I keep you honest. I wouldn’t be able to do that

if I didn’t challenge these wild theories. Maybe

there’s something to them, maybe not. I simply think

it’s too early to say. And Floyd Purdy is not the

most credible witness I’ve ever interviewed…

…Mulder? Did you hear me?”

“Sorry, Scully. I could have sworn I saw a light

outside.”

“If I set off now, I should be able to get to Bowling

Green in time for the first flight out in the

morning. With luck, I can be back in California by

early afternoon, and we can go over the evidence and-

-”

“There *is* a light outside! Hold on, Scully, I’m

going to check it out…”

She heard the cell phone clatter to the table, the

dull rhythmic thud of his crutches on the wood of the

cabin floor, the creak of the cabin door as it swung

open. “Mulder! Mulder, don’t you dare try to chase

anything through the woods. You’re on crutches, and–

In the distance, she thought she heard a shout, less

of fear than surprise. “Mulder!” she yelled into the

cell phone.

For close to a lifetime — at least fifteen minutes –

– she held the phone, calling his name, the

connection open to the eerie silence of the cabin so

far away.

Then she grabbed her keys and ran for the car.

ACT FOUR

Cabin

Lassen Peak Volcanic National Park

Noon, Sunday

“Captain Lopez!”

The stocky officer turned as the car skidded to a

halt and the red-headed woman charged toward him.

“Agent Scully, you made good time. I wasn’t expecting

you for another hour or so.”

“Have you found him yet?” she demanded.

He looked at her, taking in the disheveled clothing,

the reddened eyes, the pallor of her skin. “Come on

in the cabin, Agent Scully. You look like you could

use a hot meal and some rest.”

“I don’t have time for that,” she snapped. “Where’s

my partner?”

Lopez grabbed her by the shoulders mid stride as she

tried to push past him. “How long is it since you

ate, or got any meaningful sleep?”

“It doesn’t matter, I have to find him.”

“How long?”

Suddenly, the fight seemed to drain from her. “I

slept a little on the planes. Eat… I think the

last time was breakfast yesterday, outside of some

pretzels on the planes.”

“That’s what I thought.” He kept an avuncular arm

around her shoulders as he led her to the cabin.

“Look, you can’t do him any good if you pass out. I

have to brief you anyway. It would be better for you

and easier for me if we could do that over some hot

food and coffee.”

There was no denying what the police captain said

made sense. “All right. I have to change anyway.”

“That’s more like it,” he said kindly.

In any event, Scully already knew what he was going

to say… that there was no trace of her partner. She

had lived this moment so often in both real life and

her nightmares that she was a little surprised she

wasn’t more accustomed to it. But her heart thudded

painfully in her chest, and the rest of her was just

a vacuum Mulder’s presence should have filled. She

pulled some jeans, socks, clean panties and a sweater

from her bag and disappeared into the bathroom.

Quickly she washed, drying off, changing her clothes

and then bathing her face once more in the ice-cold

tap water. Feeling no less tired but infinitely less

grubby, she emerged from the bathroom to find Lopez

busy at the gas stove.

“Have a seat at the table. It’s almost ready.”

She laced up her hiking boots over the thick wool

socks. When she finished, a steaming mug of coffee

was waiting for her. She grasped the chipped mug like

it was the last life preserver on the Titanic and

carefully sipped. A moment later a bowl of stew was

placed in front of her, and Captain Lopez sat across

from her with his own bowl.

“Now I want to see you eating before I start

talking,” he said with mock severity.

She sighed and picked up her spoon, tasting the

savory stew. Her brows rose. “This isn’t just canned

stew. You’re quite a cook.”

He chuckled. “It is just canned stew, I just added a

little of this and a little of that. Surprising what

a few chilis and fresh herbs can do. It’s good to see

you eating.”

In truth, she was hungrier than she thought. And God

knew she needed every bit of energy she could grab

for the search ahead.

Finally, about three quarters of the generous serving

gone, she pushed back the bowl. “You obviously

haven’t found Mulder. Why don’t you start at the

beginning?”

He shrugged. “All right. After you left, we drove up

to the ranger station and interviewed Connie Crowley.

I found ” — he gestured to a pile of handwritten

papers — “your partner’s notes from the interview.

Connie was very convincing about what she saw. Then I

dropped him off back here — he said he had some

research to do and some people he wanted to contact.

I had one of the rangers check on him when the

park closed for the night. He was okay, so the ranger

went home. Then nothing until I got the call from you

at around one in the morning.”

She perused the notes, then looked up. “Did you see

any sign of him at all?”

There was a vulnerability in her question that caught

at Lopez’ heart. “We found his crutches. And that was

weird.”

“Weird? How?”

“Well, I would have expected to see them thrown on

the ground, or maybe evidence that he had used them

defensively, like a club, you know? But we found them

together, leaning against a tree. Like he didn’t need

them anymore, stacked them neatly against the tree,

and walked off.”

“Was there any sign of… of…”

“Of a struggle?” Lopez finished for her. “No,

nothing. There were signs that the ground had been

walked on, but no sign of a struggle. No broken

branches, no churned-up ground, no blood or ripped

clothing. Nothing to indicate that a fight had taken

place.”

Scully rubbed her eyes tiredly. “Then what do you

think happened, Captain Lopez? You yourself saw how

bad Mulder’s ankle was. He couldn’t have walked ten

feet without those crutches.”

He shook his head. “What it was, I have no idea. But

we know what it wasn’t, and that should bring some

comfort. We know it wasn’t some wild animal — a bear

or mountain lion. Nor was it either of the missing

men — they definitely would have left signs of a

fight, and if worse came to worst, they wouldn’t hang

around to hide a body. But beyond that, I’m stumped.”

He took a good look at her. “Now you can tell me

to tuck it where the sun don’t shine if you want, but

I gotta know something. Is there something personal

here? I mean, when I got your call last night, you

were practically hysterical, Agent Scully. And you

don’t strike me as a woman prone to hysteria. And I

gotta say, you and your partner seem a lot…

closer… than I figure is customary in the FBI.”

“I was just tired,” Scully replied evasively.

“Normally I’m a lot more in control than that.”

“Uh-huh,” responded Lopez, clearly having his own

ideas on the matter, regardless of Scully’s

reticence. “Well, I suppose I won’t be able to

convince you to get some sleep, not while your

partner’s still missing.”

“That’s right,” Scully said, standing up. “So why

don’t you start by taking me to the place you found

the crutches?”

* * *

It was sundown when a trickle of tired cops and park

rangers emerged from the forest. Behind them, one

very angry voice could be heard.

“You can’t leave him!”

Lopez turned to her, his arms outstretched in a plea

for understanding. “I don’t want to break off the

search, Agent Scully. But the fact of the matter is

that there’s no point to continuing after dark. We

won’t be able to see a thing, and we risk getting

lost or injured ourselves. We’re all tired, and I

don’t know how you’re even still on your feet.”

“My partner is still missing.”

They walked out of the forest, now on the pine

needle-strewn ground in front of the cabin. The

patrol cars and Park Jeeps were backing out for

the drive home.

“Look, Agent Scully,” he said, not unkindly. “We’ll

all be back at sun-up. There simply isn’t anything

else to be done right now. If you want to do

something for your partner, take care of yourself.

Get some food and then get some rest. You’re so tired

you’re barely rational. Or would you rather come into

town? I could find someone to put you up.”

“I’m not leaving here,” she said, shooting him a

withering glance.

He patted her on the shoulder, then got into his

cruiser and backed down the drive.

Scully’s eyes filled with tears of frustration. Her

practical side told her that Lopez was right. She

hadn’t had any meaningful sleep in two days and

Mulder would be furious if she ignored her own

welfare to continue to search through the night. But

her emotional side…

Feet dragging, she went into the cabin. There was

quite a lot more food than she and Mulder had

brought, as well as all sorts of camping gear. Lopez

must have brought it when he used the cabin as the

staging area for Mulder’s search. She put a fresh pot

of coffee on the gas stove and cracked a couple of

eggs into a pan. Then, when her sparse meal was

ready, she sat at the table. She picked up Mulder’s

cell phone and checked the last number dialed out.

She should have known – the Gunmen. She pushed a

button.

“The Lone Gunman.”

“Byers, this is Scully.”

“Oh, hi, Scully. Back in California with Mulder? Hold

on, I’ll put you on speaker.”

“That’s the problem. I’m back in California, but

Mulder is missing.”

“No shit?” exclaimed Langly. “What happened?”

Quickly, Scully briefed them, including her

conversation with Floyd Purdy.

“Mulder said he saw a light, and followed it?” Byers

asked. “If so, that would fit in with-”

“Don’t give me that Hollow Earth garbage, okay guys?

I’m not in the mood.”

“You may not be in the mood, Agent Scully, but if you

ignore the possibility, you may never find him,”

Frohike commented.

“Seriously, Frohike… do you think there’s anything

to this Hollow Earth business?” God, I must be tired,

Scully thought. Look who I’m asking.

“There’s a lot of evidence, some of it even you would

have a hard time refuting. Yeah, I think there’s a

fair chance it exists.”

“So how’s that going to help me find Mulder?”

There was a short silence as the Gunmen considered.

“Well,” Frohike said, “these ‘glowing men’ have never

been spotted by more than one or two people at a

time. Could be a big search party just keeps them

away.”

“If what Purdy said was true, Scully, it would seem

we have little to fear from these creatures,” Byers

added.

“Even in the extremely remote possibility that these

creatures from Hollow Earth have Mulder,” she

persisted, “why take him? He certainly doesn’t fit

the profile of the others they’ve been taking.”

“True,” conceded Langly. “But these glowing guys seem

to be able to sense things about the men they’ve been

taking. They certainly don’t hang around town or

scour rap sheets to find out who to take. So they

must have figured out who to take by telepathy or

something. What if they took Mulder for another

reason? Because they sensed he was a believer?

…Scully?”

“Sorry… I drifted off there for a second. Look, I’m

too tired to think straight. I just can’t believe in

ten foot tall glowing men, but I’m fresh out of other

theories.”

“Get some sleep, Scully. We’ll see if we can come up

with anything,” Frohike said.

“Like a way to contact these Hollow Earth people,”

Langly chimed in.

“And we’ll call you back in the morning,” added

Byers. “Mulder will be pissed at us as well as at you

if you don’t take care of yourself.”

“Yeah, I know. Thanks, guys.”

She looked down at the unappetizing mess of cold eggs

on her plate and shoved it away. The bed beckoned.

She pulled off her hiking boots and crawled under the

covers.

But somehow, sleep wouldn’t come. She tossed and

turned for over an hour, haunted by the smell of

Mulder on the sheets. Finally she gave up, throwing

off the covers and pulling her boots back on.

Scully scanned the cabin. She snatched up a ground

sheet and a sleeping bag, then a flashlight, and went

out into the night.

The path to the area where Mulder disappeared was

well-trodden by the search party and easy to find.

She followed it, coming to the tree where his

crutches had been found. Spreading the ground sheet

out, she unrolled the sleeping bag on it and crawled

in, supporting her back and shoulders against the

tree. The woods were alive with the sounds of night

creatures.

All right, she thought. If you exist, you glowing

men, if you can read minds… bring him back. Aloud,

she called, “Bring him back! Please, bring him back.”

Over and over she thought the words, her lips moving

as if in prayer, not noticing a long time later when

an eerie silence came over the forest. Finally sleep

claimed her…

* * *

Voices. There were voices. Deep, soft. Trying not to

wake her. Somewhere to the left, a source of light.

If she could just get her eyes to cooperate, and

open… They fluttered a few times, giving her just

a glance of Mulder, and a tall, glowing figure…

A low chuckle, and a farewell. Then footsteps coming

close…

“Scully? Scully, love. Can you open your eyes?”

Finally, the exhaustion that had paralyzed her was

extinguished by the rough whisper of his voice.

“Mulder!” Her arms flew around his neck as she buried

her head in his chest. “Oh, God! I didn’t know where

you were, if I’d see you again…”

“Shh.” He stroked her hair, calming her, holding her

until the rough sobs had trailed off to sniffles.

“I’m so sorry, love. You okay now?”

She nodded and released him. “Mulder, where were

you?”

“Come on, let’s go back to the cabin and I’ll tell

you a bedtime story.”

She started to wriggle from the sleeping bag but he

stopped her with a gentle pressure. “Let me,” he

whispered. Effortlessly he scooped her up, still

cocooned in the sleeping bag.

“Mulder, your ankle–”

“Good as new, Scully. That’s part of the story.”

“But how–?”

“Shh. Just wait.”

He carried her through the trees and into the cabin,

depositing her on the bed. Then he lit the lanterns,

brightening the cabin so for the first time she got a

good look at him.

“Mulder, you look… amazing! You’re tanned, and

you’re walking on your bad ankle without a trace of a

limp. In fact, you look like you’ve just gotten back

from a health spa!”

“And you look like you need one. You haven’t been

eating or sleeping, have you?”

She leveled an accusing gaze at him. “And if our

positions were reversed, would you?”

He shrugged. “Score one for Scully. You’re right, I

wouldn’t. First, let’s call off the hunt, so we won’t

be disturbed in the morning.” He picked up the cell

phone and dialed, announcing to a no-doubt startled

desk sergeant who he was, that he was back at the

cabin with his partner, and would be getting in touch

with Captain Lopez the following afternoon. He

returned the cell phone to the table. “Now, what do

you say we both get more comfortable, and I’ll tell

you what happened.”

Gently, almost reverently, he undressed her and

pulled the heavy bed linens over her. Then he

stripped and slid in beside her. “Comfy?”

Her brow was furrowed. “When I was waking up in the

forest, I could have sworn… No, I couldn’t have.

It’s not possible.”

He chuckled. “Oh, yes it is. The evidence of your own

eyes, Scully. Believe it. And wait until you hear the

rest.”

“In that case, Mulder, if you don’t start talking,

I’m going to hurt you.”

“So impatient,” he said, gathering her close to him.

“All right, where do you want me to start?”

“I’ve already read your notes of the Crowley

interview and talked to the Gunmen. So why don’t you

start where you left me holding the phone –

literally.”

“Yeah. I’m sorry. I really didn’t plan on a ditch,

but it looks like that’s the way it turned out.

Forgive me?”

“I’m thinking about it. Start talking.”

He kissed her on the top of her head. “You’re a hard

woman, Scully. Okay. I saw the source of light

outside the cabin. It was definitely the tall glowing

figure I had seen before when I screwed up my ankle

chasing him. So I grabbed my crutches and took off as

fast as I could into the forest. Now I don’t know if

you were aware of this, but crutches leave something

to be desired for negotiating woodland terrain.”

“Actually, I did know that,” she replied dryly.

“Anyway, I fell — sprawled headlong, is more like it

— and had the wind knocked out of me. So I was lying

on the ground, trying to remember how to breathe,

when I noticed the light coming back towards me. He

stopped and stood about ten feet away, his hands

raised, as if in a gesture of peace or something. So

I guess I just nodded — I certainly wasn’t capable

of much else at the time — and he came closer,

holding out a hand to me.

“Well, I struggled to my feet. He told me to follow –

– no, that’s not entirely right. I didn’t figure it

out for a while, but he rarely ever really spoke. He

was telepathic. What I thought was speaking was his

thoughts in my mind. So anyway, I tried to follow and

of course, fell flat on my face as soon as I tried to

put weight on the bad ankle. He looked at me

quizzically, I guess trying to figure out why I had

such an affinity for being on the ground. I motioned

to my ankle, and mimed that I couldn’t walk. He could

probably read my thoughts, but I hadn’t clued into

that at that point. His face cleared and he came and

knelt next to me. He put his hands on my ankle and

the glow increased, and I felt a deep warmth and

tingling there. A minute later, he got up, helped me

to my feet, and my ankle was as good as new!. He

picked up my crutches and leaned them against the

tree, and we started walking.

“There wasn’t much conversation as we walked. He

sensed that I had a million questions, but he always

communicated ‘Later’. So I kept my thoughts to myself

for a change and followed him through the forest

for miles. We moved fast, and he kept looking at the

sky, as if we had to be wherever we were going before

it got light. Finally we came to a rocky area. I

followed him around an outcropping that led to a

little inlet between the rock walls. He went to the

left, through what appeared to be solid rock, until I

got close enough to see the opening. It was so well-

hidden, blended in so well with the surrounding

colors, you’d never know it was there. We bent low to

get through but then there was a steep downward path

through caverns hung with stalactites of amazing

colors. There were all sorts of twists and turns,

nearly invisible openings, openings that seemed like

they would go somewhere but didn’t. Even if someone

found the opening to the cave, they could never find

the path we took. Still with me, Scully?”

The exhaustion that had plagued her for days seemed

very distant now. Mulder’s tale completely absorbed

her, drew her into a fantastic world. “Yes… but

it’s so… unreal…”

He chuckled. “Believe it or not, even I was having a

hard time with that. I felt like I had fallen down

the rabbit hole in ‘Alice in Wonderland’. And that’s

the one time he did speak to me. Evidently my

metaphor amused him. He turned around and smiled at

me, and said, ‘There are more things in heaven and

earth, Mr. Mulder, than are dreamt of in even your

philosophy’.”

“Paraphrasing Shakespeare?”

Mulder nodded, his eyes reflecting wonder. “They were

probably buddies. Anyway, at some point he sort of

made a gesture to my head, and there’s a gap in my

memory. I don’t know whether he carried me the rest

of the way, or we were transported somehow. But the

next thing I knew, I was in this fabulous city.

“Scully, I wish I could describe it to you in a way

that would do it justice. The colors were so clear

and bright they hurt my eyes. Incredible

architecture, combining both strength and an amazing

ethereal beauty. Clean, so clean – clean air, clean

water, clean streets and buildings. Flying vehicles

like cars, but the ground was for pedestrian traffic

only, and inlaid with beautiful mosaics. Gardens were

everywhere – on the ground, hanging from the sides

of buildings, on rooftops. Flowers, vines, fruits and

vegetables of incredible size. Fountains, both of

water and of light… Perfect…” Mulder’s voice

shook with emotion. He cleared his throat.

“Anyway, he led me to a building, with soaring

buttresses and skylights. The walls glowed with an

artificial light that bathed everything in a soft

gold. There were indoor gardens and soft, exotic

music that seemed to come from the walls themselves.

He led me to a kind of conference room, all set out

with wine and food. He explained, again

telepathically, that I was in the city of Lesser

Shamballa, a major city in their land of Agartha.”

“So it’s true?” she asked, dazed. “The legends are

all true? Are you sure you weren’t hallucinating or

something?”

Mulder nodded. “Positive. Scully, if there is a

Heaven, it must be like Agartha. The frustrating

thing is that I know I saw and learned so much more

there than I remember now. Lathos — that was my

guide — said that would be the case. You know how

we’re told that we don’t use more than a tenth of our

brain capacity? In Agartha — whether because of

mutation or the atmosphere or what — a much greater

proportion of the brain is utilized. Which explains

why the culture is so advanced. Why they’ve mastered

telepathy and psychic healing. It also explains that

while I was able to absorb so much when I was there,

recalling it now is a problem.”

“Though your eidetic memory must be playing some sort

of a role. You remember a hell of a lot more than

Purdy did. What about the people, Mulder?”

He smiled and held her close. He was amazed but

gratified that Scully seemed to accept at face value

what had happened to him. “Just like Lathos. Not a

lot of diversity. There were women and men, all tall,

strong, and beautiful, radiating peace and well-

being. Not a lot of children, though. Lathos said

that although death is not unknown, it comes only

after many, many centuries of life. I think somehow

natural forces control the birth rate there, just

replacing those who die to prevent overpopulation.

Most of the beings take on the appearance of being

between 30 and 40 years of age, and just stay that

way.

“They’re unfailingly polite, but reserved, especially

in dealing with those of us from ‘above the sun’, as

they call our world. I did see the missing men — not

to speak to, but enough to know they’re being treated

far better than they deserve. That was the reason I

was brought there. Lathos sought me out, to explain.”

“Explain?”

“They saw how we were searching for the missing men

and couldn’t risk being discovered. They had a close

call when Ranger Crowley saw one of them. So they

decided they would have to explain to one of us, so

we wouldn’t inadvertently screw things up.

“Their taking of Smithers and the rest — it’s an

experiment, Scully. They know that the biggest danger

to Agartha lies ‘above the sun’. If we manage to

destroy our world, through nuclear war, or biological

or chemical warfare, or even poor management of

resources and the ecology, it will have an effect on

their world. There are scores of openings all over

the planet from our world to theirs. Radiation or

toxins could leak down there, or massive nuclear

detonations could crack the inner sphere which holds

their atmosphere, destroying them. Their plan is to

try to enlighten the humans who are the bottom-

feeders like Smithers. If they find it can be done,

they’ll pick more high-profile humans in need of

enlightenment. Just think, Scully – what would the

world be like if the Agarthans could have enlightened

a Hitler or a Stalin, a Smoking Man or an Alex

Krycek? What if once and for all we could take all

the money and manpower we use for war and law

enforcement and incarceration of criminals, and use

it to eliminate disease and poverty, and to advance

civilization?”

“But what if it doesn’t work, Mulder? It worked for

Purdy, but the others are all still there. What if

the experiment fails?”

He sighed. “That is something they really don’t want

to think about. That’s Plan B. Killing is anathema to

them, but they will kill if they feel the destruction

of their world or ours is imminent. ‘Excisions’

Lathos called it, of those who would bring

destruction to our worlds. The experiment is just

beginning. Time is… different there. I can’t

explain it, but it doesn’t really correlate with

ours. I got the impression it’s a very long-term

experiment — decades or centuries long — unless it

appears we’re about to self-destruct.”

“Mulder, we’re not going to be writing any of this in

a report, are we? Not only will the Bureau think

we’re nuts, but the last thing we want is for someone

to actually take this report seriously and start

searching for Agartha.”

He nodded. “You read my mind. And that’s why I’m

going to need your help. I need you to come up with

some sort of rational, scientific explanation for

this, Scully. For my disappearance, my reappearance

in glowing good health. Something we can put in a

report. I know the truth, and now you know it. But it

needs to stay with us, Lathos made that clear. The

world isn’t ready for this. And having seen the

civilization that we would be putting at risk, I’d

die rather than divulge that secret.”

“We’ll come up with something. I never reported your

disappearance to Skinner — I was so tired, I just

sort of forgot — and we never mentioned your injury

to him. You can fake that your ankle is still

sprained for the folks around here. Once you leave

town you can get rid of the crutches. You’ve been

outdoors a lot — that explains the tan. If Skinner

should find out about your disappearance, well, you

just got lost in the woods. And our report will say

what everyone wants it to say — that the men who

disappeared did so of their own volition. Though you

thought one time that you saw something in the woods,

it was impossible to say with any certainty what it

was. It’s to Doob Creek’s financial advantage to keep

the Bigfoot myth alive, so they are unlikely to be

broadcasting anything about any glowing ten foot

tall creatures. And no one there believes Purdy,

anyway. The tales of the glowing man will stay

exactly that — legends with no basis in fact.”

“That’s my skeptical partner! I knew I could count on

you.”

She snuggled against him, drowsiness rapidly pulling

at her. Sleepily, she murmured, “I wish I could have

been there with you… seen it all with you….”

He stroked the skin of her arms, her shoulders, her

back. “Lathos didn’t say not to come back. I think

that someday, once he knows we’re keeping his secret

and we’ve rewarded his trust, we could come back

here. I think if we hang around a few days he’ll be

able to sense us. Then maybe he’ll reappear, and take

you on a tour…. Scully?”

Finally, she slept.

EPILOGUE

Jaipur, India

Thursday

3 AM

Ravi “The Blade” Patel trotted down Agra Marg, away

from the LMB Hotel. Damn bitch, he thought. If she

had just let go of her purse, he wouldn’t have had to

cut her up like that. They brought it on themselves,

he thought. Rich people, with all the advantages of

life, holding on to them, unwilling to share.

Once more he looked behind him, satisfied that as yet

no police were following. With any luck, he’d be in

the forest east of town before they’d come after him.

And with the reputation of that forest he doubted

they’d have the balls to follow him into the dense

woods, especially at night. The place was infamous in

all of Rajasthan, maybe all of India, for the stories

of strange creatures who prowled the woods at night.

Ravi cut sharply from the road and dived into the

trees, keeping to his same easy jog. The forest floor

here was relatively free of impediments. Finally, at

least a kilometer into the forest, he stopped and

squatted in a patch of moonlight to survey his

takings.

The beaded purse was smeared with blood. Ravi tore it

open. “Pah!” he spat in disgust. Perfume, cosmetics,

a comb. Nothing of any value at all! Why did the old

bitch hold on so fiercely, he wondered. He could have

saved himself the trouble of cutting her throat. And

now Jaipur would be too hot for him… he’d have to

move on. Maybe to Amer… no, there were still

warrants out for him there. He would have to go to a

really big city where he could blend in, unnoticed.

Maybe Delhi.

Discarding the purse, he walked further into the

forest, looking for a convenient thicket where he

could bed down for the night. His head pulled sharply

to the right. Was that a light through the trees?

The path forked and he chose the left. He moved more

swiftly, his heart pounding, wanting to put as much

distance as possible between himself and that

mysterious light. Fifteen minutes later he began to

breathe a bit easier. He spotted a stand of ferns

that would make a soft bed. He laid down, his dark

eyes searching out the night.

Suddenly, from behind him, a bright glow lit the

forest floor…

End of “HOLLOW EARTH”

Author’s notes: I became fascinated with the subject

of Agartha while researching for this story. The

events in this story are a mixture of the many and

various Hollow Earth beliefs and my own imagination.

The three main places where the action takes place,

however — Mammoth Caves, Lassen Peak Volcanic

National Park, and Jaipur, India — are all reputed

areas where these openings to Agartha can be found.

Readers wishing to learn more about this compelling

subject are urged to go to the following websites,

which provided me with much of the background

information used in this story:

http://www2.eu.spiritweb.org/Spirit/hollow-earth.html

http://www.onelight.com/hollow/hollowlaunch1.html

or just type “Hollow Earth” into a search engine.

There was also a very useful http://www.mapsofindia.com site

I used to give me information about the location and

layout of Jaipur.

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