Small Fries

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TITLE: Small Fries
AUTHORS: Kel
RATING: PG-13
CATEGORY: Casefile
SPOILERS: VS9 and “Small Potatoes”
ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusively on VS10, then
Gossamer and Ephemeral. Others are fine, just let us
know.
DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to
Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox. No copyright infringement
intended.
SUMMARY: Progeny of Eddie van Blundt…

Small Fries

by Kel

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Martinsburg Elementary School

Martinsburg, West Virginia

Recess was just long enough for a good round of hide-and-seek or

kickball, but today Michael didn’t have time for games. He was

going to the secret clubhouse for a meeting of the Butt Club.

Michael was a first-grader in the Martinsburg Elementary School,

a public school that was recognized as a paragon of excellence.

Principal Burnside said that at every assembly, and while

Michael wasn’t sure what it meant, he knew it had something to

do with why he had to wear a jacket and tie every day.

Michael liked first grade way better than kindergarten, and it

was all because of Mrs. Cooper. She was the best teacher he’d

ever had and probably the best teacher in the whole world. The

bad thing was that she was in big trouble, and it was all because

of the Butt Club.

Mrs. Burnside said that the first grade class was disruptive and

unruly. The art teacher said they were rude and the music

teacher called them fresh and bratty. Mrs. Burnside said

they reflected badly upon their parents, their community,

and especially Mrs. Cooper. Everyone hated them, except

Mrs. Cooper.

Maybe it wasn’t just the Butt Club and their tricks.

Maybe it was the Greavy twins. They played tricks too. Like when

Andrew told the lunch lady he never got any chocolate pudding,

and then really it was Dylan who didn’t get any, ’cause Andrew got two.

Or it could have been Gabrielle Nelligan’s fault. She dressed

like the other girls, with a blue skirt and a white shirt, but

her hair was funny. Two braids wrapped up into meatballs on top of her

head. She had a big mouth that made grown-ups angry.

The bell sounded for recess, and the children marched from the the

stuffy building into the sunshine of the schoolyard. At the sound of

the second bell, the line scattered. In a six-year-old’s display of

nonchalance, Michael strolled hurriedly to the far end of the yard.

Matthew and Christopher were heading there too, tossing a ball

back and forth to disguise their purpose. Joshua must have

beaten them all. He was probably already inside the clubhouse.

Once all four boys were in the shed, their meeting began.

“I think Mrs. Cooper’s in trouble,” Michael said. “She got called to

the principal’s office again.”

“But she’s so nice,” Joshua protested. “Tons nicer than Mrs.

Pandermarck.”

Mrs. Pandermarck was the school’s irritable kindergarten teacher.

“You’re the one keeps getting her in trouble,” Christopher said.

“Making faces in gym class.”

“You and Matthew were making faces in music,” Joshua said.

“Making fun of the music teacher.”

Michael shuffled guiltily, He’d seen what Matthew and Christopher had

done and he’d joined in. It was so funny, how the music

teacher stared and gaped and then shook his head as if that would

fix what he’d seen with his eyes.

“No more making faces!” Michael ordered the others. “Cause what

if they fire Mrs. Cooper and we get another crabbypants like Miss

Pandermarck to be our teacher?”

“You think it’s us getting Mrs. Cooper in trouble? Cause we’re always

good in her class,” Joshua said.

“You know what Mrs. Burnside said. We are disruptive and unruly,”

Michael said. “It makes Mrs. Cooper look bad.”

There was a tiny metalic groan from the hinges of the shed door.

“Hey, somebody’s out there!” cried Matthew. “A spy!”

“Must be Erica Carlyle!” Christopher whispered.

If there was one kid in the first grade who wasn’t disruptive and

unruly, it was Erica Carlyle. Erica was perfect.

The creaky door swung open a few inches. Michael was relieved to see

that it wasn’t Erica, who was the biggest snitch in the world. It was

Gabrielle. She was weird, but she knew how to keep her mouth

shut when she wanted to.

“This is a private meeting,” Michael said. “Members only, and no

girls!”

“You’re not the boss of me,” Gabrielle protested.

“This is our club, and you’re not invited,” Christopher said.

“I know all about your club,” Gabrielle announced. “If you don’t

let me join I’m tellin’.”

“She don’t know nothing,” Matthew opined. “And she can’t join because

it’s a special club.”

“I’m just as special as you are,” Gabrielle sniffed. “Wanna see?”

To the shock of Michael and the other boys, Gabrielle turned around,

flounced up her skirt, and pulled down her panties.

Christopher was breathing in little gasps, trying not to cry. Joshua

was whimpering. Michael was surprised he was able to speak at all.

“You can put down your skirt,” he said.

“Then I’m in the club?” Gabrielle asked.

“Yeah,” said Christopher. “Just cover up your butt.”

Gabrielle pulled her panties back into place, keeping her back to the

boys as she rearranged her clothing. When she turned around, she

had a big smile.

“Now you boys gotta show me yours,” she announced. “You gotta prove

that you’re special too.”

Michael wondered how she knew that rule. She must be a pretty

good spy after all. He really didn’t like showing his butt even

to the other boys, but rules were rules. He was lucky, because

his belt was Velcro. He opened it easily while Matthew, Joshua,

and Christopher were still struggling with their buckles.

“You ready?” he asked. He didn’t want to be the only one with

his pants down. The others nodded. Together, they turned around,

bent over, and lowered their pants.

“Pick up your shirt a little,” Gabrielle said. Michael wasn’t sure if

she meant him, but he tugged up his shirt tail.

“Well, okay then,” Gabrielle said, but before Michael and the

other boys could pull up their pants, there was a distinctly

adult voice coming from the doorway.

“Boys, fix your pants,” Mrs.Cooper ordered them reproachfully.

Big, big trouble, thought Michael. Probably the worst trouble any kid

had ever been in ever. And then it got worse. There was another

grown-up with Mrs. Cooper

“This is beyond anything I even imagined!” Principal

Burnside shrieked. “Mrs. Cooper, you’re fired!”

= = = = =

ACT I

Residence of Mr. and Mrs. Curtis Cooper

Martinsburg, West Virginia

“My wife is a good teacher. She taught six years in Hatboro and

you can check with them,” Curtis said.

Scully hadn’t recognized the name when Curtis Cooper called, but now

that she saw him she remembered his face. Of course the

deputy uniform helped too.

“Why did you switch schools, Mrs. Cooper?” Mulder asked.

“I moved to Martinsburg when we got married. I hated to leave my old

school, but the commute was too much,” Jessica said.

“They had it in for her from the beginning,” Curtis said. “Always

treated her like an outsider.”

Jessica shrugged a little, as if to downplay her husband’s assessment.

“Principal Burnside favors the conservative, traditional approach, and

my experience was in a progressive environment,” she explained.

“Is that why you were fired?” Scully asked. She noticed

Jessica flinch at the word “fired.”

“They gave her the first grade. The worst kids in the whole school,”

Curtis said.

“They are not!” Jessica protested.

“Well, the principal calls them ‘disruptive and unruly,’ but I have a

feeling there’s more to it than that,” he asserted.

“Are they disruptive, Mrs. Cooper?” Mulder asked.

“They’re imaginative. They’re playful,” she answered.

“They play doctor in the equipment shed,” Curtis added.

“Is that why you called the FBI?” She turned from her husband to the

two agents. “Are you some special sex-crimes division?”

“Nothing like that, honey. These agents were here in town when all

that crazy stuff was going on. Before we met,” he said.

“We specialize in crazy stuff,” Mulder explained. “Eddie Van Blundht

was one of our more memorable cases. Wouldn’t you agree, Agent Scully?”

“By all reports, Eddie has been a model prisoner,” Agent Scully said

after a long silence.

Jessica recognized the name. Her husband had told her about a large,

dangerous prisoner who had ambushed him and knocked him out.

“There were five of those monkey babies,” Curtis said.

“They’d be about six years old now,” said Scully. “Were any of

those children in your class, Mrs. Cooper?”

The two agents leaned forward, eyes fixed on her face as they

waited for her answer, but Jessica was too offended to reply.

“Monkey babies?” Jessica repeated. “You call them monkey babies?”

Mulder exchanged glances with Scully, and then he rephrased

the question.

“Were any of the children in your class born with caudal

appendages?” he asked.

“I don’t have access to the children’s medical records,”

Jessica answered.

“Let’s see… Nelligan? Or Nieman? Scully, do you remember any

of the other names?” Mulder asked. He rubbed his hands together

impatiently.

“Agent Mulder, there is only one first grade class. Of course

I taught Gabrielle Nelligan and Michael Nieman,” she said.

“Did you notice anything different about those children?” Scully

asked quietly.

“I notice something different about every child, because every

child is different,” Jessica insisted. “I only wish that the

Martinsburg Elementary School could respect and accept those

differences.”

Curtis patted his wife’s hand.

“My wife’s never seen them do anything out of the ordinary. But

if you listen to the other teachers, you’ll hear a lot of complaints

about ‘making faces,'” he said.

“Making faces!” Jessica repeated. “As if that’s a crime.”

= = = = =

“Six-year old shapeshifters. That would be wild,” Mulder said.

His driving was impeccable, but when they had to slow for traffic or

stop for a light, he would tap his fingers on the wheel or

shift around in the seat. After all these years he still lit up

at the chance to encounter some truly beyond-the-pale phenomenon.

“Six-year-old shapeshifters would present gargantuan ethical and

medical dilemmas,” Scully replied.

“Party pooper,” he snorted.

“Seriously, Mulder. I recommended medication to control Eddie Van

Blundht, but he’s a convicted criminal,” she said. “The use of

drugs to control behavior in children is controversial at best.”

“You might even call it a hot potato.” He raised his

eyebrows, inviting her to appreciate his joke. “But your point

is well taken. How do you keep the Tater Tots out of trouble?”

“I’m still hoping these are ordinary children,” she said.

“Making faces, Scully. Sound familiar?” Mulder asked.

They parked by the school, and Scully was taken aback by the sight of

the children at play.

“Is this a public school or an MBA program?” Mulder asked.

“Some studies show that a conservative dress code can enhance learning

and improve behavior,” Scully said.

“It would appear that it also enforces traditional

gender-stereoptypes,” Mulder observed.

There was a distinct separation of the sexes, as Mulder had noted.

Little girls in pleated skirts skipped rope or hopscotched, while boys

in shirtsleeves and ties played catch or basketball.

“There’s nothing like a skirt to keep you off the jungle gym,” Scully

said.

Mulder sucked in a big, noisy breath and looked her over up and down.

“Hm,” he said.

“Stop it right now,” she said. How had her innocent comment triggered

Mulder’s libido? She didn’t want to think about it because it

might do the same for hers.

“I stopped,” he assured her, but he was chewing on his lip and she

wasn’t convinced.

“Quick–why are we here?” she quizzed him. They were about to

interview the principal of the Martinsburg School, and Scully didn’t

want Mulder gazing out the window imagining God knows what about the

playground equipment.

“Six years ago five babies were born, all fathered by a man with the

ability to transform himself, in appearance and voice, into someone

else. We want to ascertain if the children have some of that same

ability,” Mulder said in a monotone.

“Very good,” Scully said, although his languid drone didn’t

sound quite as focused as she would have liked.

“Scully,” Mulder asked dreamily, “what about the swings?”

= = = = =

Mrs. Cooper was gone and Miss Panasci took over. Usually she taught

art, even though she could hardly see, and health, even

though everyone knew she smoked cigarettes. She wasn’t as

interesting as Mrs. Cooper, but she wasn’t mean or anything.

Michael thought she was probably tired. She was an old lady,

even older than Mrs. Cooper, and she wasn’t used to teaching the same

kids all day long.

The whole class missed Mrs. Cooper. Christopher was the one

who thought of a way they could get her to come back.

“If we’re real bad, the principal will see that it wasn’t

Mrs. Cooper’s fault,” he said. “We just have to be more bad than

we were before.”

Miss Panasci didn’t seem to care if you talked during lessons, as long

as you weren’t too noisy. It was coming up on the time for K

through 3 recess, but the storage shed was always locked these

days. If the club was going to form a plan, they’d have to do it

in the classroom.

“I don’t want to show my butt no more,” Joshua said. “If I ever

do that again, Mom says I can forget about Disney World.”

Michael didn’t want to show his butt again either, but that would be

hard to top, if they were proving how bad they could be.

“We’ll make faces,” said Christopher. “When Mrs. Burnside comes into

the classroom, we’ll all be Joshua.”

“Why me?” Joshua asked.

“I think cause you don’t make faces as good as the rest of

us,” Matthew explained.

“You just have to practice more,” Michael said kindly.

“I know what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna bust up Mrs. Burnside’s car,”

Gabrielle declared.

“Wow,” said Joshua.

“Won’t you get a whoopin’?” asked Matthew.

Matthew was always talking about getting a whoopin’. Once Michael had

asked him what it was, and Matthew didn’t know. Just that it was

something you wouldn’t want to get.

“Nuh-uh I’m not gonna get a whoopin’,” Gabrielle said confidently.

“Cause everyone’s gonna see that it was Erica Carlyle who did it.”

Erica Carlyle, the most perfect kid in the whole school. She

never wore pants, not even on weekends, and she could write her

name in script and play the piano.

Matthew started laughing, that cartoon laugh of his that sounded like,

“A-yuck-a-yuck-a-yuck.” The other boys were quiet, almost solemn.

Everything they’d done before was kid stuff. Imitating the music

teacher, playing quadruplets, making faces. They gazed in

admiration at the the only girl in the club, and the newest member.

“Awesome,” said Christopher.

= = = = =

The main office of the Martinsburg School was a bustling place, and

Principal Burnside was a busy woman. One of the harried secretaries

assured Scully she would inform Mrs. Burnside that the FBI wished

a few minutes of her valuable time. Scully waited on a wooden

bench while Mulder paced and explored, reading the names on the

mail slots and the postings on the bulletin boards.

A nervous boy with downcast eyes joined Scully on the bench, then a

little girl with trembling lips. Adults arrived as well,

some anxious, some angry. A tallish woman in a blue cardigan

emerged from a side office and nodded brusquely at one of the

men on the bench. He seemed to gulp before obeying the summons.

“Was that Mrs. Burnside?” Scully asked the child next to her.

He nodded without looking up. Mulder finished perusing the notices

and made his way over to the bench.

“Hey, what are you in for?” he asked the two young miscreants

sympathetically.

“I can’t find my library book,” the boy answered in a guilty whisper.

“That’s rough,” Mulder said, turning his attention to the girl.

“Mrs. Pandermarck said I was talking, but I wasn’t talking,” she said,

sniffling a little. “Melanie was talking. I was only answering.”

“I see,” said Mulder.

Mrs. Burnside emerged from her office, followed by the man she’d

summoned inside minutes before. As he shuffled away she pointed

at the little library felon to Scully’s left.

“Good luck,” Mulder said pleasantly. The boy rose to meet his

fate, and Mulder took his place on the bench.

“Mrs. Burnside runs a tight ship,” Scully commented.

“I can’t wait to mess with her head,” said Mulder.

Scully knew she should try to discourage him, but she liked the idea

herself. She’d expected the principal to be an old battle-ax, but Mrs.

Burnside was a young battle-ax. Her dress and demeanor seemed to

suggest that she was a woman of high, rigid standards who

was constantly offended by the flawed, chaotic world around her.

The bookless boy looked unharmed when Mrs. Burnside dismissed him, and

the kindergarten girl survived her meeting as well.

Mrs. Burnside stood in her doorway, surveying the people who

awaited her attention. She crooked a finger at Mulder and he smiled

jauntily.

Scully was prepared to let Mulder take the lead in the

interview. He’d probably start with some open-ended questions

before focusing in on the Van Blundht children. Or maybe he’d

ask about the problems that led to Mrs. Cooper’s dismissal. She

never really knew with Mulder.

“I haven’t seen you here before,” Mrs. Burnside said.

“It’s nice to finally meet you,” said Mulder. Scully smiled politely.

“You must be Erica’s parents,” Mrs. Burnside said.

“How do you know that?” asked Mulder pleasantly.

The principal had gone out on a limb, and Mulder had decided to saw

it off. Scully could have ended the deception, but instead she let

it continue.

Mrs. Burnside smiled. Not a warm smile, but a smile nonetheless.

“Just an educated guess, Mr. Carlyle,” she said. “Your daughter has

apparently inherited your poise and grooming.” She included Scully in

her approving nod.

“I’m sure Erica would make any parent proud,” said Mulder.

“I can also guess the purpose of your visit,” Mrs. Burnside said.

“You’re concerned about discipline problems in the classroom.”

“We’re disturbed by some of the stories we hear about the

first grade,” Mulder said.

He practically winked at Scully. =See, I’m telling the truth now.=

“Obviously I’m not at liberty to discuss other children, but I

can offer you some general reassurance. On further investigation,

an incident that at first seemed to signal precocious sexual activity

turned out to be something different,” Mrs. Burnside said.

“How can you be so sure?” asked Scully.

Mulder gave her a tiny nod, welcoming her active participation.

Mrs. Burnside pursed her lips.

“Suppose a group of children were comparing appendix scars. You

wouldn’t consider that to be sexual, would you?” she asked.

“Appendix scars? Really? All five children?” Mulder asked.

“It’s a hypothetical example, Mr. Carlyle. I can’t comment any

further,” Mrs. Burnside said.

“We had other concerns about the first grade class,” Mulder said.

He’s pushing it, Scully thought. Unless they’d lucked out and little

Erica happened to be a first-grader, Mrs. Burnside was going to become

suspicious.

“Of course your daughter’s conduct has always been exemplary.

She’s an inspiration to the other children,” the principal said.

“I’m sure the rest of the class will fall into step, now that

they have a good teacher.”

“Mrs. Burnside, the sad fact is that the behavior of the first grade

class has only deteriorated since the removal of Mrs. Cooper,” Mulder

said accusingly.

“With time and patience, every child in the class will be as

mature and well-mannered as your daughter,” the principal promised.

At that moment the office door burst open. Mrs. Burnside whipped her

head around to confront the offending intruder.

“What’s the meaning of this, Miss Panasci?” she demanded.

“S-s-orry,” Miss Panasci stammered.

This was the teacher who had inherited the first grade class when Mrs.

Cooper was fired, Scully remembered. She looked like some 1950’s

ideal of the school marm, except for her nicotine-stained

fingers.

“Well?” Mrs. Burnside asked.

“Erica Carlyle took a baseball bat to your car, Principal

Burnside. She cracked your windshield!” Miss Panasci exclaimed.

“Miss Panasci! Erica’s mother and father are right here. Do you

honestly expect them to believe that Erica would ever do such

a thing?” Mrs. Burnside asked.

“But I saw her. Half the school saw her,” Miss Panasci protested. A

bratty little voice behind her confirmed the misdeed.

“I did it all right!”

“Erica Carlyle, get in here!” Mrs. Burnside ordered.

Now what, Scully wondered as the child flounced into the room.

The little girl was dressed in the obligatory blue skirt and white

blouse, although both had seen better days. Her scuffed sneakers were

untied. She didn’t quite fit the portrait of perfection that Mrs.

Burnside had painted.

“I want you to look your parents in the eye and tell them why you did

it,” Mrs. Burnside commanded.

Scully decided to wait until Erica protested that these strangers were

not her parents. Then she would take out her credentials and

claim that the principal had somehow misunderstood.

The kid, however, seemed unaware of the deception. She folded

her arms across her chest and addressed herself to Scully and Mulder.

“Mommy, Daddy… I won’t be good no more until Mrs. Cooper

comes back,” she announced.

“Child, your grammar!” Mrs. Burnside groaned, as if the

double negative was as appalling as the vandalism.

“Oh… I won’t talk good no more neither,” said the girl.

“We’re taking you home, young lady,” Mulder announced.

Scully’s jaw dropped. She looked at him and mouthed the word, “What?”

“That would be best,” Mrs. Burnside agreed.

Mulder and Scully walked out of the building with their new daughter

skipping along between them. A couple of teachers were standing

by Mrs. Burnside’s car, studying the cracked windshield.

“Yeah, it was me!” the girl shouted gleefully to them.

The Lariat rental was parked a few rows away. The child slipped into

the back seat without protest. Scully closed the door for her, then

took the passenger seat in front.

“We’re taking you home, Gabrielle,” Mulder said.

Scully held her breath for a second. Mulder wasn’t =always= right.

“But Daddy, I’m Erica!” she answered. Mulder looked at her

reproachfully.

“You’re not Erica,” he said firmly.

“Oh yeah? Well, I bet you ain’t Erica’s daddy neither,” Gabrielle

retorted.

“We’re federal agents,” Scully said, wondering if Gabrielle had

any idea what that meant.

“Aw, fudge,” said Gabrielle. Her long blond hair turned into

twin buns, and her features softened and changed as well. “I wanted

to see where Erica lives.”

= = = = =

end 1/3

ACT II

Residence of Amanda Nelligan

The Nelligans lived in a shabby neighborhood of tired little bungalows

and run-down shops. A convenience store on the corner boasted of “Hot

Lotto” and cold beer.

“You can drop me off here,” Gabrielle offered helpfully as

Mulder parked in front of her house.

“That’s okay,” Mulder said. “We want to talk to your mom.”

“I don’t want you to get in trouble,” Gabrielle said.

“You don’t want =us= to get in trouble?” Scully asked. She’d

been around children enough that she was prepared for some

twisted kid-logic, but at the same time she was feeling rather guilty.

“I’m gonna have to tell on you if you come inside,” Gabrielle warned

them earnestly. “‘Bout how you tricked me into getting in your car.”

“That was very wrong of us,” Scully said soberly. She glared

at Mulder, because even by his free-wheeling standards they

were playing with fire. Mostly she was angry at herself, because she

knew better.

“Yeah, very wrong,” Mulder agreed dryly. “I think the best thing

is if we all go inside and confess about the bad things we’ve done.”

Gabrielle looked beseechingly at Scully.

“It’s okay, sweetie,” Scully said. “We’ll all work this out together.”

Gabrielle led Mulder and Scully around to the side of her house. She

looked over her shoulder a few times to show them how pitiful and cute

she was, but when that didn’t work she broke into a run.

Gabrielle always used the side entrance, which opened into

the kitchen. Her mother, meanwhile, was occupied in another room….

….The Nelligans’ den was full of second-hand furniture, but it

was cozy and comfortable. Amanda slid the videocassette into

the player and sat down on the couch.

“This is from Gabrielle’s first birthday,” she told the roguishly

dashing man who sat beside her.

“She sure is cute,” he said, reaching his arm around

Amanda’s shoulder, pulling her closer.

“I can’t believe you want to watch my home movies. Most people

would be bored to death,” Amanda said.

“I like children,” he said. “When are you going to let me meet your

daughter, anyway?”

Amanda pulled away a few inches.

“You have to understand, Jack. All these years it’s been just me and

Gabrielle. I don’t know how she’ll feel about sharing me with

somebody,” she said.

“She’ll be fine, once she gets to know me,” Jack said, giving Amanda

that look that always made her melt. “Trust me.”

Jack stretched and casually placed his arm over the back of the

couch. Amanda leaned against him a little stiffly, but then something

startled her, and she pulled away.

“There’s someone at the door,” she said.

“Probably a salesman,” Jack said. “Ignore him.”

“No, Jack, the side door. It must be Gabrielle,” she said.

“You said she doesn’t get home until three,” he protested.

Amanda seemed to hold her breath, and in the quiet they could clearly

hear the squeak of a door, and then a child’s voice:

“Mommy, I’m home….”

….The first thing Scully noticed when she followed Gabrielle

and Mulder into the kitchen was the R2D2 cookie jar. She wondered

if it beeped and whistled when you lifted the lid.

She heard Amanda’s flustered voice from another room:

“Just a minute, honey. Wait in the kitchen.”

Amanda wasn’t expecting her daughter home this early, Scully remembered.

“Oh my God,” she whispered to Mulder. “She’s not alone.”

“You still have time to get away,” Gabrielle informed them craftily.

“You’re scary, kid,” Mulder answered, and Gabrielle glared.

“Mommy, I’m hungry!” she called out in a sing-song.

“Nobody’s trying to get you into trouble,” Scully assured her. “You

have a gift, Gabrielle, but you mustn’t use it to hurt other people.”

Gabrielle stuck out her tongue.

“Mommy, I came home in a car with two strangers!” she shrieked.

“You what?” Amanda shrieked back.

“We’re cops,” Mulder said. “It’s okay to get in the car with us.”

Scully found herself siding with Gabrielle on this one. They were

strangers and they’d tricked her.

“Don’t be alarmed, Ms. Nelligan. We’re from the FBI,” she

shouted with more self-assurance than she felt.

“You might remember us. Agents Mulder and Scully,” Mulder called.

Gabrielle was frustrated and furious. Her little shoulders

hunched and her breath huffed out through her nose.

“Mommy!” she bellowed.

“I’m coming,” Amanda answered, and a second later there she was.

Amanda hadn’t changed at all in six years, Scully thought. She didn’t

look any older than the day she told them that Luke Skywalker was the

father of her baby.

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“What’s going on?” Amanda demanded as Gabrielle wrapped herself around

her mother’s legs.

“They fooled me, Mommy. They made me get into their car,” Gabrielle

said. Tears welled in her eyes and she started to sniffle.

“Why are you here?” Amanda asked. “Is this something about…

E-D-D-I-E?”

“It might be,” Scully confirmed.

“Isn’t he in prison?” Amanda asked. “For what he did to… his

victims?”

“He’s been transferred to a halfway house, but he’s still under close

supervision,” Scully said.

“This doesn’t involve him directly,” Mulder added.

“Mommy, the strangers are scaring me,” Gabrielle whimpered.

“It’s all right, baby. I won’t let anyone hurt you,” Amanda promised.

“Ask your daughter what happened in school today,” Scully suggested.

Amanda looked at the two agents with a mix of hostility and suspicion,

and then kneeled down so that she was eye-level with Gabrielle.

“Tell me what happened in school today,” she said.

Gabrielle’s lips quivered.

“Everyone saw Erica Carlyle cracking the glass on Mrs. Burnside’s car,

but =they= say I did it,” she said in a hurt little voice.

Amanda swallowed hard and gave her daughter a squeeze before she stood

up.

“I see what’s going on,” she said, glaring at Mulder and Scully.

“Gabrielle, I want you to go to your room so the grown-ups can talk.”

“Can’t I go to the den to watch TV?” Gabrielle asked.

“No! Just go to your room for now, okay, honey?” Amanda said.

Gabrielle scuffed off to her room with only a backward glance or

two for dramatic effect.

“Maybe you ought to sit down,” Scully said.

“I don’t need to sit down because you’re leaving,” Amanda retorted.

“Unless you got a warrant or something.”

“We have to talk about this,” Scully insisted.

“Talk about what? The way you single out me and my kid because

she’s poor and illegitimate plus her father’s a convict?” Amanda

asked angrily.

“You know that’s not it,” Mulder said.

“I want you out of my house,” Amanda said. “I want you to leave

my daughter and me alone.”

“You’re trying to protect her, but you can’t do it by hiding from

the truth,” Mulder said, taking a step forward.

Mulder had the tendency to use his height and muscle as an unspoken

threat, pushing himself into people’s space to make them back down.

Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t.

“Maybe you didn’t hear me right,” said Amanda staunchly.

Scully put a hand on Mulder’s arm, and he broke off the confrontation.

“You must know your daughter is special,” he said, already turning

toward the door. “You must have seen it.”

“You’re real big shots, coming around to try to scare us,”

Amanda said. “Why don’t you just drive across the railroad tracks

and try telling the rich folks that their children are freaks?”

“Gabrielle is not a freak. She has a gift,” Scully said.

“Those are real pretty words,” Amanda said. “Close the door on

your way out.”

….Meanwhile, back in the den, the man called Jack was asking himself

why Mulder and Scully had to turn up again just when everything was

going so well.

“Oh, crap,” he said.

= = = = =

“We need to talk to Mrs. Burnside again,” Mulder said. “She’ll

be more objective.”

They were sitting in the car outside Amanda’s house. People actually

seemed to walk in this neighborhood, Scully noticed.

“It might be difficult to win her over,” he said.

Very difficult, Scully thought, since they’d have to begin by

apologizing for their pointless deception. What had they gained by

telling the principal they were the parents of one of the first-graders?

“Perhaps she already suspects about those children,” Mulder

continued. He started the engine.

Eddie Van Blundht had fathered five children, Scully thought,

and Amanda Nelligan was the only parent they’d contacted so far.

A single mother struggling to make ends meet. No wonder she was

defensive. Furthermore, Scully was sure there was someone else in

the house at the time, someone that Amanda wanted to keep hidden.

“I’ll ask the principal if I can speak to the class. I’ll

appeal to the children’s sense of fair play,” Mulder said. “I’m good

with kids.”

Maybe Scully would drop him off at the school while she paid a

visit to one of the other families. Or maybe she’d stay right

here and try again with Amanda.

“I just want to wait a few more minutes,” Mulder said, leaning

back in his seat. “Let’s see what Amanda does next.”

They waited in silence. Scully found herself irrationally curious

about the secret guest. She remained convinced that Amanda

had company.

“Scully,” Mulder said, jerking his head toward the house. A man was

walking from the side door toward the street.

“Knew it,” said Scully. Maybe Amanda’s friend would confront them and

repeat her demand to leave her alone.

He was a seriously fine-looking man, Scully noticed. He

headed straight to their car, but instead of rapping on the glass

he gave them a long, smug look and then strolled away.

“Kind of flamboyant for these parts, don’t you think?” Mulder asked.

He wore black trousers and a plain white shirt, but Mulder was right.

There was something larger than life about him.

“It’s Harrison Ford!” Scully proclaimed.

“I think you’re off by a couple of decades,” Mulder answered casually.

clip_image005

“Mulder!” she complained. It was rare for him to be so obtuse. She

opened the door and got out of the car, but he just sat there.

“Scully, you got a thing for Harrison Ford?” he asked.

“Harrison” was walking purposefully, and Scully had to hustle to

close the distance. Damned if he didn’t turn and wink at her

before he slipped into the corner convenience store.

By that time Mulder’s synapses were back up to speed. He practically

shoved Scully off the sidewalk as he ran past her.

“Han Solo!” he explained unnecessarily.

“Back door, Mulder. I’ll cover the front,” she called after him. She

thought she saw him nod that he’d heard her.

= = = = =

“Sorry, Scully. He got away,” Eddie said.

Mulder’s face, Mulder’s body, but Scully wasn’t fooled. For

one thing, she’d seen Mulder slip out the back door as soon as she

caught up with Eddie.

“Who got away, Mulder?” she asked, reaching for his hand.

“That guy we were following. That good-looking guy,” Eddie said. He

let her take his hand, but he gave her a surprised, questioning look.

“Where’s your tie?” she asked as she led him out of the store.

“I, uh, took it off,” he explained. “Anyway, I think we’re all done

here.”

“You said we’d talk to Amanda again,” Scully said. “Let’s go, Mulder.”

He stopped in his tracks until she gave his hand a tug.

“We really don’t need to bother that poor woman any more,” Eddie said.

“We’ll just go in to tell her we’re leaving town,” Scully said.

Eddie looked very uneasy, but he was still walking with her.

When they reached Amanda’s house, Scully held back a step, waiting

to see if Eddie would head for the side door. When he remained

motionless at her side, she made her own decision and headed for

the front entrance.

“You wait here,” Eddie suggested. “I’ll go in and tell her myself.”

Scully rang the doorbell. Amanda opened the door with a startled frown.

“You again,” she said.

“Just wanted to say that you’re off the hook,” Eddie explained.

“May we come in?” Scully asked, pushing the door open and

dragging Eddie along with her.

“I thought I was off the hook,” Amanda said.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Eddie. “That fellow, Jack, took care of everything.”

“All right then,” said Amanda. “He told me he would.”

The room held a sofa, a chair, and a loveseat. Scully

maneuvered Eddie to the loveseat because it was next to the

old-fashioned radiator.

“Jack’s quite a guy,” Eddie said as he sat down.

“Isn’t he?” Amanda asked enthusiastically. “He treats me like

a queen, and he doesn’t mind I have a little girl.”

“Where is Gabrielle?” Scully asked.

“I sent her next door,” Amanda said. “Mrs. Doran lets her help on

baking day.”

Good, thought Scully. She really didn’t want Gabrielle around for this.

“So, you really like Jack,” Eddie commented.

“Of course she likes him, Mulder,” Scully explained. “He’s very

handsome.”

“That’s not the only reason,” Amanda protested.

“He’s a snappy dresser, too,” Scully said. “In fact, Mulder,

I believe you’re wearing his clothes.”

Amanda’s eyes widened as she looked him over.

“Where is he? What did you do to Jack?” she demanded.

Eddie’s eyes bugged out too as he looked to Scully for help. Scully

decided she could wait no longer. She slapped the handcuffs on

him, one end around his wrist and the other through the radiator.

“Jack is right here in this room,” Scully announced.

“Scully, what are you doing?” Eddie stammered.

“You son of a bitch,” Amanda said. “I don’t believe this.” She stood

over him, shaking with anger.

“Scully? Please?” Eddie asked, rattling the cuffs as if she might be

unaware of his predicament.

“Lies. All I get from you is lies!” Amanda screamed.

Eddie let his features soften and shift until he was once again the

dashing captain of the Millennium Falcon.

“You don’t understand, Amanda,” he said. “Every time I start to make

something of myself, the FBI comes along and screws me up.”

“I must be the stupidest woman on earth,” Amanda wailed.

“At least he didn’t claim he was Han Solo,” Scully tried to console

her.

“I don’t know why I didn’t recognize him,” Amanda said. “I

just wanted so bad to believe.”

“He can be very charming,” Scully said, remembering an evening

six years ago.

“Amanda, everything I told you was the truth,” Eddie said.

“Don’t you even talk to me about the truth! Not while you’re

sitting on my sofa being someone you’re not!” Amanda yelled.

“I want to treat you like a queen,” Eddie said. “I want to be

a father to my daughter.”

“You leave her out of this,” Amanda said. Her voice was shaking and

Scully thought she might start to cry. “I don’t want my daughter

growing up around a con man.”

Eddie looked stricken, and suddenly he looked like Eddie.

“I didn’t mean to con you, Amanda. I just wanted you to give me a

chance,” he said.

“But you never gave me a chance,” Amanda said. “You can’t use

tricks to make someone like you, Eddie. It doesn’t work that way.”

clip_image007

= = = = =

The Martinsburg Elementary School

The first grade was watching “The Food Pyramid” for the second

time that afternoon, and Miss Panasci was sitting by her desk with

her hand on her head, rocking back and forth.

=Potatoes are an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C, and

niacin! A small potato, baked or boiled, equals one serving

from the vegegable group.=

“I gotta go to the bathroom!” Christopher blurted.

Even a kindergartener knew you were supposed to say, “Please may

I leave the room.” Miss Panasci didn’t bother to correct him,

though, just waved him to the door.

“Miss Panasci, me too,” Michael said. “I gotta leave the room real

bad.”

There was only one boy’s bathroom pass, so Michael had to carry

the one for the girls’ bathroom, but that was the least of

his problems. Gabrielle had never come back from recess, which made

sense. She was probably still being Erica, maybe busy

getting hollered at.

The big question was, Where was the real Erica?

Kids had all kinds of stories about that, but Michael didn’t know

what to believe.

The Greavy twins, Andrew and Dylan, were telling everyone that they’d

locked Erica in the Art room again. The Art room was where the kids

went for recess when it was raining out, so it had lots of neat

stuff to play with. Most kids would be happy to be locked in

there, but Erica didn’t like to have fun.

“Do you think we should let her out now?” Dylan had asked Andrew.

“No, dummyhead, cause she got out herself. Didn’t you hear how she

busted up Mrs. Burnside’s car?” Andrew had rolled his eyes

because his brother was so clueless.

“She didn’t either, and you’re a dummyhead,” Dylan replied.

The most disturbing story was about what happened next. Some

kids said that two grown-ups took Erica away in a car. Not her

mom and dad, because her dad was fat and her mom had black hair

and glasses. These were strangers.

Michael knew that strangers sometimes stole children.

His mind was clouded with worry as he walked down the corridor with

Christopher, but he kept silent. Finally, behind the closed door

of the bathroom, he dared to speak.

“Did strangers really take away Gabrielle?” he asked.

“I saw them,” Christopher confirmed. “But maybe they weren’t the bad

kind.”

“What do you mean? Strangers are bad,” Michael reminded him.

“There’s, um… you know, like police and ice-cream men,” Christopher

said. He leaned down to tie his shoe.

Michael nodded wisely.

“Yeah, helpers. Maybe they were taking her to millary school,” he

suggested.

“Millary school,” said Christopher. “What’s that?” He was

still working on his shoelace. He had one real good loop, but

the rest was just a long string.

“Bad kids’ school,” Michael explained. “Like on Malcolm-in-the-Middle.”

“That’s smart kids’ school,” Christopher said. He twisted the

loop and the string together and stuffed them into his shoe.

“No, where Francis the boy went,” Michael said.

Michael had an Aunt Frances, and it made him feel funny that

Malcolm’s brother had the same name.

“Oh, that,” said Christopher. “The real Erica would like millary

school.”

“And Gabrielle would like if Dylan and Andrew locked her in the Art

room,” Michael giggled.

“Wouldn’t it be neat if you could be locked in there all night? That

would be so cool,” said Christopher.

The Art room had clay, paint, crayons, toys, and even a

puppet theater. There was a VCR with real tapes, not just “The

Food Pyramid” and “Metric Mania!”

“Super-cool. But someone gotta let Erica out,” said Michael.

They walked back to the classroom, where a new shock awaited them.

Miss Panasci was gone, the video wasn’t playing any more, and there

was a man in the front of the room.

There was a clue on the blackboard.

“Special Guest: Mr. Mulder.”

Michael tried to sound it out. If the vowels said their names, the

Special Guest was Mr. Mule-deer.

Funny name!

Mr. Mule-deer was talking about right and wrong, and how everyone made

mistakes and the important thing was to try your best. He was talking

about responsibility and telling the truth.

It didn’t sound that different from a lot of things grown-ups

said, and Michael was at a loss to understand why the kids were

acting so frightened. Then Christopher grabbed his arm,

clutching so hard that it hurt.

“That’s the stranger who took Gabrielle,” Christopher whispered. “The

millary-school man!”

“Should we run?” Michael asked, but it was too late. The man had seen

them.

“Come on in, boys,” he said.

They slunk back to their seats, and the millary-school man went

on with what he was saying.

“Everyone likes to play make-believe, and there’s nothing wrong with

that,” he said. “Playing make-believe is fun because no one is

really trying to trick anyone else.”

Michael looked over to Erica’s seat, forgetting for the moment

that she was missing. Erica was in the habit of raising her

hand after pronouncements like this in order to voice her agreement.

“When we use tricks to deceive our friends, we damage their trust in

us,” the man said. “How many of you feel that it’s important for

friends to be able to trust one another?”

The millary-school man was as boring as the food pyramid, but Michael,

along with most of the class, raised his hand.

“Mr. Mulder? What if a person de-, uh, deceived his friend, and he’s

real sorry now?”

The question came from Dylan. Andrew was shaking his head wildly,

gesturing his twin to be quiet.

Mul-der, Michael realized. Not Mule-deer.

The millary-school man seemed to consider the question carefully.

He was looking at the twins funny, but Michael had seen grown-ups do

that before. Special Guests, like the ecology lady or

the bicycle-safety man, would sometimes do a little double-take when

they realized that Andrew and Dylan looked the same.

“Understanding that you’ve done something wrong is the first step

in making it right,” said Mr. Mulder. He was staring hard,

and Michael could see the twins really starting to squirm.

“It wasn’t me,” Dylan said. “It was him.”

“You did it first,” Andrew protested.

“That’s okay,” the millary man assured them. “Why don’t we go

out in the hall and have a little talk?”

Michael was terrified, but he was angry, too. The millary

man was talking about tricks and trust, but all the while he

was looking for kids to take away in his car.

Andrew looked at Dylan, and Dylan looked at Andrew, and for once they

were in perfect agreement.

“Run!” they both screamed.

Mr. Mulder was too near the front door, so they both raced for

the door at the rear of the classroom. The man ran after them,

but Joshua stood up and shoved his desk into the aisle. For a

minute it looked as if the man would leap right over it, but he

didn’t jump high enough and he landed on his face on the floor.

“Stop him!” Joshua yelled, and Michael jumped on the man’s back. Mr.

Mulder was strong and tricky, and he managed to toss Michael aside and

make it out the door.

“After him!” Michael commanded, and the class obeyed.

If only the twins would split up, at least one of them would have a

chance, Michael thought, but they ran together down the hall and to

the staircase.

By the time Michael reached the staircase, Mr. Mulder was halfway down.

“Hey, look at me!” Michael shouted. He turned himself into Dylan, who

was somehow a little easier to do than Andrew. “I’m here!”

The man looked up and stopped in his tracks.

“Come and get me,” Michael called, but after a second’s

hesitation, the man continued down the stairs and then Michael

ran after him.

“Split up!” he yelled, hoping the twins would hear him.

“They’re going to save Erica,” Christopher shouted from the middle of

the mob.

It was the right thing to do, but the wrong time to do it. Also,

Michael didn’t think they’d have time to pop open the big

padlock before the millary man snatched them and dragged them

away.

The whole mob arrived at the locked door, and while the twins

tapped and jiggled the padlock a bunch of kids piled on top of

the millary man. They had him on the ground when the lock

sprang open, and Michael heard Andrew yelling for Erica to come on out.

Erica took her time leaving the room, taking her little lady-girl

steps. And she was drinking a juice-box. Michael didn’t know

they had juice boxes in there too.

Mr. Mulder was back on his feet, but before he could grab the twins,

Joshua and Matthew swarmed at him, with the other kids behind them.

“Lock him up!” Christopher yelled.

“Not again,” Mr. Mulder complained, but the swarm advanced,

bumping and pushing. They shoved Mr. Mulder through the door,

pulled it closed, and refastened the lock.

Matthew let out a yelp as the door pinched his finger, but he

managed to yank it free. Nobody else was hurt.

“Now what do we do?” asked Christopher.

Somehow everyone was looking at Michael, as if he knew what

they should do next.

“Let’s go back to the classroom,” he said.

They could hear pounding and yelling from inside the Art room, but

as they walked away, it got quieter and quieter.

= = = = =

ACT III

Residence of Amanda Nelligan

Scully phoned Deputy Cooper for a favor, and he said he’d be happy to

take Eddie over to the county lock-up for safe-keeping.

Eddie, still hand-cuffed to Amanda’s radiator, was resigned but

resentful.

“What’s the charge?” he challenged her.

“I’d advise you to accept voluntary confinement while we figure out

what to do with you, but if you prefer, the charge is impersonating an

officer of the law.” Scully left him to weigh his options while

she joined Amanda in the kitchen.

“Agent Scully, are you planning to tell the school about

Gabrielle?” she asked.

“Even if I don’t tell them, it’s just a matter of time until they

learn,” Scully pointed out.

“They’ll throw her out of school,” Amanda said. “Those rich boys

stand a chance, but not my kid.”

“It isn’t easy raising a child on your own,” Scully observed, taking a

seat at the kitchen table.

Amanda shrugged.

“I’ve had help. My neighbor is great about babysitting and Dr. Pugh

kind of keeps an eye on us,” she said.

“Dr. Alton Pugh? The obstetrician?” Scully asked in surprise.

“He’s ‘semi-retired’ now.” Amanda used her fingers to indicate the

quotation marks. “He doesn’t deliver babies any more, but he has

a special laser beam that’ll take away your varicose veins right

there in his office. If you’ve got any, that is.”

Amanda sounded so enthusiastic that Scully was loathe to

disappoint her, but she shook her head apologetically.

Amanda filled a tea kettle with water and placed it on the stove.

“Dr. Pugh says he feel responsible. Not that anyone blames him

for what Eddie did, or what the kids can do,” she said.

Mulder was right, Scully thought. Deputy Cooper was right.

Eddie’s children were all shapeshifters.

“How long have you known?” she asked.

“Matthew was doing Teletubbies before his first birthday. The others

didn’t have it real bad until this year,” Amanda answered.

“Did you really think you could keep it a secret?” Scully asked.

“Dr. Pugh thought we could,” Amanda said. “He thought he could help.”

“What could he do?” Scully asked.

“He’s president of the school board,” Amanda explained. “He

thought the kids needed a strict school to keep them in

line, someplace with a lot of rules and standards. Otherwise we might

have to use drugs on them.”

“It would be better for the children if you could avoid medications,”

Scully agreed.

“Dr. Pugh brought in that loony Mrs. Burnside to run the

school. Guess that didn’t work out very well,” she said. “Do

you want some tea?”

Amanda dropped tea bags into a couple of mugs and filled them with hot

water.

“You know, Amanda, I think Dr. Pugh was on the right track. The

children will need education and self-discipline,” Scully said. “What

they don’t need is secrecy.”

“We just want our kids to grow up normal and get treated

normal,” Amanda said. “If you spill the secret, it’s all over for us.”

“Your secret won’t keep, Amanda. You must realize that,” she said.

Scully picked up her mug. For a few minutes, she and Amanda sat and

sipped, saying nothing.

Finally Amanda set down her tea and stood up.

“Maybe it would be better if we were the ones who told the

school,” she said. “I’ll call Mrs. Neiman, see what she thinks.”

= = = = =

end 2/3

Small Fries

(3/3)

= = = = =

Martinsburg Elementary School

Mulder leaned back in the little chair, ignoring its ominous groans.

There wasn’t a single full-size chair in the room. He shook the

sunflower seed bag into his open hand, but it was empty, so he

tossed it onto the table.

His jacket hung over the back of another little chair, and he

reached in the pocket and pulled out his cell phone. The display

was still blank, and it remained blank no matter how many times

he pushed the button. He tried every button and then every key, but

when none of his maneuvers brought it to life, and he shoved

the useless thing back in his jacket.

Resigned and bored, Mulder returned his attention to the TV.

=No one hits like Gaston, Matches wits like Gaston, In a

spitting match nobody spits like Gaston….=

“Scully never told me her brother was in this movie,” he mused

out loud. Then he licked his salty fingers and reached for another

juice box.

= = = = =

It was rare for anyone to stand up to Mrs. Burnside, and she

didn’t like it.

“I cannot allow shapeshifters in this school,” she repeated

staunchly to the parents assembled in her office.

“This is a public school and you must provide every child with an

education,” Michael’s mother replied, and the other parents nodded in

agreement.

“And don’t call my daughter a shapeshifter,” added Amanda Nelligan.

Scully didn’t have to say a word. The parents were more than

capable of arguing their case. At first the principal had refused

to believe that a child could transform into another person, but

then Gabrielle had made herself into a perfect miniature of

Miss Panasci, complete with yellowed fingers and smoker’s cough.

“Your children will be best served by home tutoring,” Mrs. Burnside

asserted. “You can’t expect us to endure the antics of five little

chameleons.”

“Lady, you’re asking for it,” said Matthew’s father.

“Miss Panasci resigned today,” Mrs. Burnside said. “Where will I

find a teacher willing to put up with this level of disruption?”

“Mrs. Cooper might still be available,” Scully volunteered.

“Let’s add that to our demands,” said Joshua’s mother. “We want Mrs.

Cooper back.”

The parents broke into applause.

“You know, these kids couldn’t be getting everybody so rattled if you

didn’t make them dress alike,” Amanda said. “You’re making it way

too easy for them to trick you.”

“That’s right,” said Matthew’s mother. “Beyond that, I am sick

to tears of ironing those white shirts.”

“Me too,” said Michael’s mother. “And replacing all those lost ties.”

“This is America!” announced Christopher’s father. “It’s bad enough

when grown-ups have to wear a tie.”

“Are you challenging the dress code?” Mrs. Burnside asked in amazement.

“You bet your sweet ass we are,” said Michael’s father, and his

wife led the others in applause.

“See you at the next school board meeting,” said Christopher’s father.

“I think you’ll be surprised how many of the parents have had

enough of your rules.”

Scully felt hopeful that the people of Martinsburg would find

their own way to deal with the special children. She thought

about slipping out of the meeting to watch how Mulder was

entertaining the six-year-olds, because he really was good with

kids. But it was almost three o’clock and she decided to wait.

= = = = =

Gabrielle Nelligan was the star of the day.

First she’d turned herself into Erica and busted up a car. Then she’d

gone home early from school, and it wasn’t even her fault because the

strangers tricked her. That was a big surprise for Mom!

And then Mom had called up other parents, and they all went to

school to yell at Mrs. Burnside. Gabrielle missed most of that,

unfortunately. After she showed Mrs. Burnside how well she could

make faces, they made her wait outside on the bench while

the grown-ups talked in the office.

Then Mom told her to go back to class. Gabrielle didn’t even mind,

because she had so much news to share.

“Hey, everybody, I’m back!” she called, marching into the room like a

triumphant general.

The class was very quiet, and the VCR was on. “The Food Pyramid.”

Usually they had to watch that when Miss Panasci had a headache, but

Miss Panasci wasn’t even in the room.

“You missed all the fun!” Andrew told her. “Erica Carlyle destroyed

the principal’s car! She almost went to millary school, only she

‘scaped!”

“Quiet,” Michael reminded everyone. Michael thought he was in

charge of the world.

“That wasn’t Erica,” Gabrielle protested. “It was me.”

“Everybody saw me,” Erica boasted.

Usually the kids groaned when Erica said something, but now they were

nodding and agreeing with her. It was kind of disgusting.

“Guys, Erica doesn’t do stuff like that,” Gabrielle reminded them.

“People saw her,” Christopher said pointedly. “They =saw= her.”

Gabrielle remembered about their secret.

“Well, you wanna know what I heard in the office?” she asked. “Miss

Panasci quit!”

“Really?” Michael asked.

“I ain’t a liar!” she shot back. For the star of the day, she

wasn’t getting a lot of respect.

“She has been gone a long time,” Michael conceded.

“You don’t have any grown-up at all?” Gabrielle asked, looking around

the room.

“We had a stranger, but we locked him in the Art room,” Matthew

said.

Gabrielle was mad she’d missed that.

“Shut up!” said Christopher. “Unless you want to be the one to

let him out.”

“And then you’ll get a whoopin’ *and* go to millary school,” Joshua

said.

“We have to let him out some time,” Michael said.

“Maybe you should have thought of that before you put him in there,”

Christopher said sharply.

“You put him in there too,” Michael insisted.

“Guys,” said Gabrielle. “They’ll let him out next time we have

to stay inside for recess.”

“Yeah, soon as it rains,” Christopher said. “Good thinking,

Gabrielle.”

She smiled proudly.

“All right!” Michael conceded. “Let’s just stay quiet, okay? It’s

almost three o’clock.”

Gabrielle took her regular seat.

“The Food Pyramid” was near the end, where the perky lady told

them how much they’d learned.

=Instead of greasy french fries, try a baked potato! Butter is

loaded with fat, so use a squeeze of lemon juice or splash of vinegar!

Delicious!=

= = = = =

Mulder had three choices.

He could pull the fire alarm. There would be bells and sirens and

firetrucks and huge embarrassment, but he would be free.

He could blast his way out. With the hasp and the padlock on the

outside where he couldn’t see them, he’d have to shoot off the

hinges. It would work, but it would be noisy, destructive,

and potentially dangerous. He’d have to wait until the building

was empty.

Or he could just hang out. Scully would find him sooner or later.

The video on the TV rolled into its closing credits, and Mulder was

surprised at how much he’d enjoyed it. Stiffly he lumbered up

from his miniature chair.

Scully had seen “Babe” dozens of times, thanks to her nephews. It

was a cute movie, but Mulder decided that once was enough.

“That’ll do, pig, that’ll do,” he said as he hit the “rewind” button.

= = = = =

Mulder’s vanishing act was annoying, but at least today Scully

had no worries about his safety.

She’d loitered by the principal’s office, expecting him to make an

appearance after school was dismissed. When that didn’t happen she’d

tried his cell phone and finally walked over to the

classroom. Mulder’s name was still on the blackboard, but the

room was abandoned.

She phoned Curtis Cooper.

“I haven’t heard from Agent Mulder all day, but I’m glad you called.

What do you want us to do about Eddie?” the deputy asked.

“Good question,” she said.

“If he’s not back at the halfway house by supper, he’ll lose his

privileges,” Cooper reminded her. “Maybe that’s not a bad thing.”

“Maybe not,” Scully agreed.

Some people seemed to think Eddie Van Blundht was a lovable scamp,

but Scully didn’t see him that way. He’d used his sensitivity

and his unique physiology to steal intimacy, and she could not easily

overlook his crimes.

“Someone who can do what he does shouldn’t be walking around loose,”

Cooper said.

“I hope you’re wrong,” Scully said, but she wasn’t thinking about Eddie.

“I’ll leave it to you, Agent Scully. The next bus to New Cumberland

leaves at four-thirty,” Cooper said.

“I’d like to drive him back myself,” she decided. “That is, if

you can lend me a car.”

The Lariat was parked by the school. It would serve Mulder right

if he came back from wherever he was and found it missing, but

Scully didn’t have the keys.

Deputy Cooper took a few minutes to make the arrangements. He had a

patrolman swing by the school to drive Scully back to

headquarters, and there he had an unmarked vehicle waiting and

the prisoner ready for transport.

Somehow the blousy white shirt and the fitted black trousers

that looked so dashing on young Harrison Ford looked silly on

Eddie Van Blundht.

Scully let him sit in the front seat, after some quick consideration.

She wagered that Eddie had too much to lose by trying a

direct physical assault.

“I guess you’re going to rat me out to the prison board,” Eddie said.

He seemed incapable of understanding that he was not the

injured party, Scully thought.

“Rat you out?” she asked.

“You know. Tell ’em,” he said.

“Oh. As in, tell them that you continue to use your shapeshifting in

order to deceive women? Yes, I believe I will report that,” she said.

Eddie nodded. Scully felt his eyes on her as he studied

her, pondering the best way to win her over.

“I can respect that,” he said earnestly.

“Thank goodness. I was worried,” said Scully.

Eddie seemed hurt by her sarcasm.

“You know, all over the counry there are guys trying to blow

up bridges and pump up the stock market. Why are you so interested

in me?” he asked.

“Yeah, what did you ever do?” Scully asked even more sarcastically.

“Okay, Agent Scully, what did I do that was so terrible? All I

did was try to give a woman everything she wanted,” he said.

If it was just about Eddie, Scully wouldn’t have cared so much.

She had to prove to herself that the ability to transform was not

part-and-parcel with lack of character.

She decided to try something totally unorthodox.

“You know, Eddie, you have a point,” she said.

He seemed surprised but he quickly readjusted.

“I just want to make people happy,” he said. “Especially Amanda.”

“I can see that. What woman wouldn’t be delighted to have a handsome

boyfriend who took an interest in her child?” she asked.

“Don’t forget, that little girl is my child too,” he said.

Arguably, the four little boys were also his children, but Scully was

grateful that Eddie wasn’t taking that view.

“You’re just trying to make a family,” she said.

“Uh-huh. You know why women enjoy my company?” Eddie asked.

Unfortunately, Scully knew exactly why women enjoyed his company.

She vowed not to show her discomfort.

“Why?” she asked blankly.

“Because I listen to them. When I’m with a woman, she has my full

attention,” he said.

Scully nodded thoughtfully.

“I give you a lot of credit for that,” she said.

“That’s why I know I could make Amanda happy. Don’t you think she

deserves that?” he asked.

“She’s been so lonely,” Scully said. “She thinks about you a lot.”

May God forgive me, she thought.

“Really? What did she say about me?” Eddie asked eagerly.

“Oh, just that she was hoping there was a way you could be part of her

life. And Gabrielle’s,” Scully said.

“I’ve been hoping the same thing,” Eddie said. “I’ll be eligible for

full parole in six months.”

“I hope my report won’t hurt your chances,” Scully said, promising

herself she’d make early Mass on Sunday.

“It would be a shame if your report ruined things for Amanda,”

he said.

Scully turned to him and patted his arm.

“She was asking when I thought you’d be able to move in with her,”

she said.

His jaw dropped, and Scully saw tears in his eyes.

“That’s all I’ve been thinking about,” he said.

“That would be exactly what you want,” she said.

“My dream come true,” he whispered.

Eddie looked so goofy and vulnerable that it was hard for Scully

to do what she had to do next. She counted silently to ten and then

she made her move.

“Keep dreaming, Eddie. It’s all a lie,” she said.

“What are you talking about?” he asked with a nervous laugh.

“Amanda doesn’t want you around because she doesn’t trust you. Her

biggest fear for Gabrielle is that she’ll turn out like you,” she said.

“But everything you said before…?” His question ended in a grunt as

the truth hit him.

“Lies, Eddie. Every word,” she said.

His lip curled with disgust.

“What the hell’s the matter with you?” he asked angrily.

“What did I do?” she asked.

“You lied to me, you–” He caught himself and started again in a more

controlled tone. “You lied to me, Agent Scully.”

“I gave you everything you wanted,” she countered. “I was listening,

Eddie. You had my full attention.”

She knew she had hurt him, but she didn’t know if she had made her

point. In any event, he would have plenty of time to think about it.

Eddie Van Blundht had demonstrated that he wasn’t ready to return to

society.

His face was turned toward his window. He said one word, but he

said it quietly and she let it pass.

= = = = =

Nieman residence

Michael’s room was over the garage, so he woke up when Mom and Dad got

home. He slipped from his room to the top of the staircase, where he

could hear Mom thanking Aunt Frances for babysitting on such short

notice.

“Not a problem. That was one meeting you couldn’t miss,” Aunt Frances

said before she left.

Mom usually went to the school board meetings with some of

her friends, so Michael had known something big was up when his

dad went along. It wasn’t an ordinary meeting. It an emergency

executive session.

Michael hoped it was something about getting Mrs. Cooper

back. Earlier he’d heard Mom on the phone with Uncle Alton, and

she’d told him how much everyone missed her.

Mom and Dad were talking quietly downstairs, and about the only word

Michael could catch was his own name. They didn’t seem to be

angry, but they sounded very serious. Then there was a long

pause, and then his mother’s voice, a little louder but still

not angry.

“Michael?” she called.

He felt apprehensive as he climbed down the stairs.

“I woke up from the garage door,” he explained.

“It’s all right,” said Dad. “We want to talk to you.”

Oh-oh, Michael thought. Dad pointed to the couch, and Michael sat.

“You remember when we told you not to make faces at school,” Dad said.

Michael nodded guiltily.

“Why do you think we told you that?” Mom asked.

“Cause it’s bad,” he answered in a voice barely over a whisper.

“No,” Dad said. “It isn’t bad.”

“It’s not =necessarily= bad,” Mom added.

“It’s only bad when you use it to do something bad,” Dad said.

“Really?” Michael asked.

“It’s bad when you change your face to trick someone or get someone

else in trouble,” Mom said.

“It isn’t bad if you’re just playing, or just showing people what

you can do,” Dad said.

Michael couldn’t have been more surprised. Even Mom was looking

at Dad funny.

“Most people can’t do what you do, son. That makes you

different,” Dad continued. “But it’s okay to be different.”

Grown-ups said that a lot, but Michael knew it wasn’t entirely

true. It was okay to have different color skin or use a

wheelchair, but it wasn’t okay if you talked funny or wet your pants.

“When it’s so easy to trick people, you have to work extra hard to

be truthful and fair,” Dad said.

“It’s a big responsibility,” Mom added.

Like Spiderman, Michael thought. With great power comes great

responsibility.

“I just want you to know we’re proud of you,” Dad said. “You’re

a good person, Michael.”

Michael felt confused, especially because Mom looked like she

was about to cry. He also felt terribly guilty.

“I did something bad at school today,” he said. Mom and Dad

both looked scared, and Michael hurried to reassure them. “But

I didn’t show my butt.”

Mom and Dad started laughing, which made Michael feel better

and safer. When they stopped laughing, he told them.

“I locked up a stranger in the Art room.”

= = = = =

Martinsburg Elementary School

Mulder had drunk all the grape and cranberry juice boxes, and only the

syrupy orange ones were left.

He should probably slow down on the fluids anyway, he decided, or

long before morning he’d be choosing between the garbage can and

the water fountain.

His jacket was still over a chair, joined now by his tie, but Mulder

himself was sitting on the floor.

He hummed along with the music from the VCR, but most of his attention

was directed to a massive construction project.

Mulder had discovered that the Mighty Mega Garage set could interlock

with the Mighty Mega Car-wash, and now he was working to tie in the

Mighty Mega Freightyard and the Mighty Mega Speedway.

= = = = =

Martinsburg Sheriff’s Department

Deputy Cooper was near the end of his shift when Scully met him

back at headquarters. She helped herself to a chair by his desk.

“Any word from Agent Mulder?” she asked, trying to sound casual.

“Nope,” Cooper answered. “How did it go with Eddie?”

“He’s been transferred back to the reformatory, but they’re

letting him keep his job,” Scully said.

Cooper shook his head.

“A guy like that shouldn’t be on work release,” he said.

She pulled a plastic band from her pocket to show him.

“He’ll be under much closer scrutiny now. They fitted him with a

security device,” she said.

Cooper snorted.

“They should have had one on him in the first place,” he said.

Scully examined the band, flicking at the straps. She’d had

no earthly reason to take it…. just the vague idea that

Mulder needed something like that.

“I think your wife has a good chance of getting her old job back,” she

said.

“Yup. The school board made her an offer at the meeting tonight,” he

said.

“That was fast,” Scully commented. Nothing in Washington

ever happened that quickly.

“I don’t feel real good about her going back to those monkey babies,”

Cooper said. “I think they’re trouble waiting to happen.”

Scully hoped the kids didn’t have to face too many people with Curtis

Cooper’s attitude, but she didn’t try to argue with him. If his wife

hadn’t brought him around, Scully knew she wouldn’t have much luck.

“They have that potential,” she conceded.

Cooper had begun to clear his desk, slipping loose papers into folders

and stacking up the large ledgers.

“I’ll be shoving off in a few minutes. Need a lift?” he asked.

“I’ll try Mulder once more,” she said.

Mulder remained unavailable, and Scully was torn between her

intellectual certainty that he was all right and her anxiety and anger

over his unexplained absence.

She keyed in Amanda Nelligan’s number.

“Have you heard from Agent Mulder, by any chance?” she asked.

Fortunately Amanda didn’t ask for an explanation, but she had no

information to offer.

“I suppose Gabrielle’s in bed by now,” Scully said.

“Yes she is, Agent Scully, but I can’t see where she’d have

anything to tell you either,” Amanda said.

“You’re probably right,” Scully replied. “I thought Mulder might have

mentioned where he was going when he spoke to her class this afternoon.”

“Agent Mulder wasn’t there when Gabrielle got back to her classroom,”

Amanda related. “The kids were all alone until school let out at

three.”

= = = = =

Mulder had to admit it was strangely exhilarating to be locked up

with nothing to do but play. His empty stomach and full bladder were

nagging him for relief, but there was so much left to do. He

decided he could hold out a little longer.

The jars of poster paint caught his eye. Just one painting, and then

he’d shoot his way out.

He carried his tiny chair over to an easel, selected three

brushes, and chose his paint. Big rolls of butcher paper hung from

a rack. Mulder pulled out about a yard, and as he raised the end

so that he could tear the paper against the serrated edge, he saw

something behind the rack. At a distance it was completely hidden

by the rolls of paper, but from this close it was staring up at him.

A puny, child-sized, paint-stained sink, with little blue palm

prints on the faucets and a gray halo around the drain. A

beautiful little sink.

“Thank you, God,” Mulder uttered reverently.

He rolled the rack out of the way and utilized the sink with

a profound sense of gratitude and contentment. After he’d washed

his hands, he sprinkled in some scouring powder and gave it a good

rinse.

The night was young, his bladder appeased, and nothing stood

between him and his creativity. He sat down on the chair, rolled

up his sleeves, and started to paint. He was as happy as Frohike

at a nudist camp, except for one little thing. He was starving.

= = = = =

EPILOGUE

“Maybe I was wrong about those kids,” said Deputy Cooper said,

his eyes fixed on the road ahead. “That little Michael must have

some kind of conscience to come clean about what he did.”

Scully was feeling considerably less charitable about Michael and his

classmates. The deputy was driving like an old man, and she was ready

to snap.

“Would you mind using the siren?” she asked curtly. “My

partner happens to be trapped in a deserted building.”

“Ma’am, he’s locked in the playroom is all. I was thinking he

might be kind of embarrassed if we draw a lot of attention to the

situation,” Cooper said.

Scully hadn’t thought of that. Martinsburg was the kind of small town

where people would ask about the siren.

At last they arrived at the school. The deputy parked the

prowler next to the Lariat car, and Scully began to turn her anger

on herself.

Some partner. Driving halfway across the state to play mind-games

with a convicted rapist while her partner was held prisoner by

the Village of the Damned.

“Where is this so-called Art room?” she barked at Cooper as

he unlocked the door to the school.

“In the basement,” he said.

Like a dungeon, Scully thought, but she stifled her response and

followed him down the stairs.

Even after Cooper flipped on the lights, the hallway was shadowy and

creepy.

Poor Mulder, Scully thought as she walked down the hall.

He’d probably shouted himself hoarse and pounded his fists against the

door until his knuckles bled.

Scully thought of all the situations he’d weathered, all the ordeals

he’d endured, and this one didn’t seem that bad.

But there was another possibility. All those past experiences

would be dancing through Mulder’s head, haunting him. What if

she found him cowering in a corner, overcome by anxiety?

The padlock was huge and heavy, but not very sophisticated. No wonder

the kids had been able to poke at it until it opened. Scully’s pick

unlocked it in less than a second.

She turned to Cooper.

“I want to go in alone,” she said, still imagining that Mulder

might be whimpering on the floor.

“‘Course,” the deputy agreed easily. “He’ll feel like enough of

a fool without me around. Just remember to bring back the keys.”

As Cooper walked away, Scully opened the door slowly.

“Mulder,” she called. “Don’t be afraid, Mulder. It’s me, Scully.”

“Scully, what took you so long?” Mulder called cheerfully.

Scully’s relief escaped in a sound between a gasp and a sob.

She could see him on the far side of the room, folded into a little

chair, and he waved to her before turning back to… painting.

Mulder was painting a picture.

She almost tripped over a sprawling toy city that covered much of the

floor, and she was surprised that the strict principal didn’t

insist on the children putting away their toys.

Mulder was chewing on something as he painted, and the cluster

of empty juice boxes on the floor told her it was a straw.

The painting looked finished, but Mulder was adding little dabs

and flourishes, squinting as he worked.

His finished paintings lay across the table, the wet paint still shiny.

She expected aliens and spaceships but found not a one.

The theme of the day was food. A steaming pizza pie with one slice

gone. An ice-cream sundae. A bagel–or was it a doughnut?

His work in progress was a gigantic cheeseburger.

Not bad, either. The man had talent.

clip_image009

“Hey, Rembrandt,” she said, leaning down to flick a stray shell

from his hair. “Want to go get something to eat?”

“Okay, Scully, if you’re sure it’s really me,” he said, laying

his brush on the ledge of the easel and rising from the chair.

“Aren’t you going to clean up?” she asked.

Mulder looked around the room.

“Wasn’t planning on it,” he said.

“Then let’s get going,” Scully said. She took the picture from the

easel, holding it carefully by the corners.

“You’re going to check for fingerprints,” Mulder teased. “You really

aren’t sure who I am, are you?”

“I’m sure, Mulder,” she said.

“Then why?” he asked. As they walked, he cleared a path for her with

his foot. Occasionally he had to bend down to move something aside.

“I want it for my refrigerator. I didn’t know you could paint,” she

said.

“Maybe I can’t. Maybe it’s Eddie who can paint,” Mulder goaded her.

Carefully Scully placed the painting on a desktop and turned to him.

“I know it’s you, Mulder. I know you so much better than I did six

years ago. I know how you talk, how you smell.”

She reached for him, and if he’d had any notion of disguising his

identity, he blew his cover by leaning toward her in an

automatic response.

She kissed his full lips, once so elusive and now so familiar.

“I know how you taste,” she sighed, gazing up at him.

Mulder didn’t release his embrace but gathered her closer.

“How I feel?” he murmured into her neck.

“Mm,” Scully agreed, but then she forced herself to pull away. They

were professionals. They were FBI agents. They were closing a case.

“Besides,” she said crisply, retrieving the painting and holding it

up to him. “Pickles aren’t gray.”

=end=

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