Flying Hour

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Episode 10×20

Artwork by Val

Link to VS10 Home

TITLE: Flying Hour

AUTHOR: Kestabrook

EMAIL: Kestabrook@yahoo.com

RATING: PG 13 (mild expletives, sexual situations)

CONTENT: MSR

CLASSIFICATION: X

SUMMARY: Several otherwise unrelated suicides have occurred in a small town–at the same place and in the same manner. Copycats, or murder? Mulder and Scully must find the cause before it claims one of them!

COMMENTS: See end notes, please

SPECIAL THANKS: To TCS1121 for the excellent help with ideas and the super beta work; to Dawn who’s helpful and understanding beyond compare; to all my Crystal Ship sisters who, for some strange reason, still encourage me to write; and to my favorite, the late George Harrison, for unknowingly supplying the title.

FEEDBACK: If positive or helpful, I love it!

DISTRIBUTION: Archive, if desired, two weeks after the VS 10 air date. And I’d love to know where.

DISCLAIMER: X-Files characters are 1013’s and Chris Carter’s. All others are mine.

SPOILERS: VS 10 canon. Mention of Clarissa McKinnie, a character from my VS 8 story, “Shady Rest.”

WEBSITE: http://clik.to/Kestories (If that doesn’t work, please let me know)

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Flying Hour

by Kestabrook

****TEASER****

Canyon Road Spirit Dale, NY Monday, 1:47 a.m.

Ann Bridges gazed toward the night sky as she stopped on the precipice. She took a deep breath. The dark and tortuous climb up the steep, rocky path had inflamed her knees and stressed her body. But now, journey over, she relished the cool, fresh air. The night seemed calm despite the strong breeze that pushed the clouds quickly, and silhouetted them against the nearly full moon.

As she rested, she smiled at a fond memory. “‘We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon, streaking the darkness radiantly’,” she breathed, stretching out her arms toward the heavens. She didn’t turn to her escort. “Have you ever heard that? I’ve always loved those lines.”

“Yes, I’ve read the poem,” the escort said quietly.

“Richard. My husband. He loved those lines, too. Often on summer nights we’d sit in the back yard and watch the sky and recite Shelley’s ‘Mutability’ together.”

“It was wonderfully written. When I learned to read poems, that was the one my class started with.”

“A wise choice by your teacher,” Ann observed. “And how true it is. In the grand sweep of time, we’re hardly a piece of dirt in the dustpan.” Ann’s arms returned to her sides. “Seems strange to be so near the end.”

She shifted her weight and looked down. Below the precipice, she could see Spirit Creek glistening in the ephemeral moonlight like a shattered mirror reflecting a flashlight’s beam. The water level was low for the year. Too much drought. The creek was nothing but a small stream, surrounded by the increasing flat bed of gravel.

Her gaze slowly climbed the dark ravine to the stony edge on which they stood. A drop of 150 feet at the least. And only one step away.

“I think I’m nervous. They won’t understand. The kids. They won’t know why.”

“They’ll know. They’ll want you to be happy.”

She swallowed hard. “They’ll think I’m a coward. Willy Loman said that to his brother in the last act of ‘Death of a Salesman’. Did you ever see or read that marvelous play? Now I know what Willy meant.”

“They *won’t* think that.” The escort stepped closer. “Ann, what you’re doing is right. You know that. You *feel* that. They will know and feel it, too.”

“I hope you’re right.”

The escort put a hand on her shoulder. “Do you doubt me?”

Ann slowly patted the hand with her own. Then she smiled. “No, not at all. Moment of panic, I guess. It’s gone now.”

“Good.” The escort’s hand moved to the top of her head where it rested gingerly. “Are you ready?”

After a deep breath, Ann closed her eyes. She nodded.

“All right. You know what to do.” The escort’s voice was calm, steady.

Ann opened her eyes again. The moonlight’s reflection on the creek had widened. In its middle, a welcome, familiar sight suddenly appeared. As she focused on the vision, she smiled. Happily, she spoke to it. “Yes. I’m coming.”

“You see it again, don’t you?” the escort asked in monotone.

“Yes!” she cooed. “And it’s wonderful! I can’t wait!” Ann gleefully edged the last inch to the cliff edge, and paused. “I’m coming!” she called to the vision. She reached backward and took the escort’s hand. “Thank you,” she said. “Thank you for bringing me happiness.”

“*You* are doing that, Ann. You do have the right to be happy.”

“But *you* opened my eyes. I’ll forever be grateful. Thank you.” She squeezed the hand before letting it slip away. Then, eyes only on the vision before her, she rested both hands over her heart. “I’m coming,” she breathed in resolution and contentment. She dangled her right foot over the precipice.

The escort smiled, then cautiously backed away to the path. Ann’s final step would fall on nothing but air. It was unnecessary to watch. The night was late; the escort could be home soon. Just as Ann would be home.

Clouds veiled the midnight moon as a loud thud echoed through Spirit Creek’s ravine. It was heard by no one. And Ann Bridges lay dead.

****

****ACT ONE****

Scene One

The Hoover Building Washington D.C. Friday, 9:04 a.m.

“You’re kidding, right?” Dana Scully sank the last spoonful of lemon yogurt into her mouth as she met her partner’s gaze. She swallowed quickly, not allowing the sour taste to change her expression. “Buffalo airport? Western New York? Again? I swear, Mulder, I’ve been there more in the past three years than I’ve been home. At least it seems that way.”

Fox Mulder flashed her a smile as his hands opened the file folder before him. “I like that area. It has some rich paranormal history.”

“Uh-huh.” Scully tossed the yogurt container into the waste basket. “And now you’re going to tell me that the five recent suicides in Spirit Dale, New York, have a paranormal bouquet.” She wiped her hands on a Kleenex. “Just how did we get this case anyway?”

“I’ve a friend in Buffalo’s Bureau office.”

“And he contacted you about this?”

Mulder’s fingers fumbled through the papers in the file as his gaze lowered. “Not exactly. But he did contact me.”

“When? I don’t seem to remember either of our phones ringing last night.”

“Not by phone, Scully. He emailed me.”

“So you got this email saying, ‘Come to Buffalo’?”

“N-n-noo. Not exactly.” He began sorting through photos inside the file. “I kind of emailed him first, and then he got back to me. Faxed the file and such.”

“You emailed him first?” Scully was nonplussed. “You just figured we needed to visit that area again and wanted to know if they had any mysterious cases?”

Mulder met her gaze. “No. I’d heard about the suicides–”

“Let me guess: from Clarissa McKinnie, your snitch in Belcan. Right?”

He pouted a bit. “Yeah.”

Scully sighed in exasperation. “Mulder, do you go running every time that woman emails you with some crazy idea?”

“No, not *every* time.”

Scully sat back in her chair, resigned. “So then you contacted the agent who saw nothing paranormal in the suicides, but since he’s a good friend, he filled you in–”

“And said he’d call the Spirit Dale sheriff and let him know we were coming–just to check into the case.”

“Oh, well, Skinner will have no problem with that.”

“Scully, surely you’re wondering why five people from one small town would kill themselves–in the same way, at the same place?”

She rolled her eyes. “That’s not too difficult, is it? Either there was some sort of suicide pact, or it’s a copycat problem.”

Mulder set out five faxed photos. “Victim one was Dylan Connor, a seventeen-year-old high school student with a supposedly bright future. Bound for a scholarship to M.I.T. already.”

Scully looked at the nearly destroyed face of what had once been a handsome young man. “Teen ager, Mulder. You know they’re not exactly the most stable people. It’s a shame, but–”

“Victim two.” He pointed to a second photo. “Daisy Moore. Sixty-six years old. Great-grandmother and Spirit Dale’s postal clerk.” He watched Scully’s eyes flicker in interest. “Victim three was Larry Walt, a forty-three year old restaurant owner from Albany. Victim four also left home to die. Meet Mary White, age thirty-two, who lived in Toronto. She was a grocery store cashier. And the fifth victim was Ann Bridges, age fifty-one. A high school English teacher at Spirit Dale Central School.”

Scully studied the photographs. “And they all committed suicide?”

Mulder handed her the autopsy reports which she immediately began to peruse. “No question of it. No signs of force or struggle. No chemical substances in the bodies. The area is forested, and because of the drought there, footprint molds were inconclusive. The victims’ vehicles were either still in their garages or in the parking lots of either of Spirit Dale’s two motels.”

“And all died at the same place?”

Mulder nodded. “Yeah. They each jumped off the same cliff that stands over Spirit Creek. Each victim was found several days later–several by hikers, or by local police. That’s the first place the latter look if townspeople are reported missing.”

“And I don’t suppose that anyone has considered closing off the area.”

“It’s a forest near a town in the middle of nowhere, Scully. How would they close that? My Bureau friend says the police put a barricade at the path that leads to the cliff, but you can only barricade so much. Small town; small budget.”

Scully relaxed against the back of her chair. “So what’s the paranormal angle, Mulder?”

He smiled. “That’s what we’re going to Spirit Dale to find out.”

“What a shock,” she muttered.

“You’ll enjoy it, Scully. More fresh air. More freedom to be ‘us’.” He winked. “And I hear there are some great motels.”

Scully sighed, then smiled. “Okay. Whatever. When do we leave?”

****

Scene Two

Spirit Dale, NY Saturday, 10:17 a.m.

“Sheriff Colson?” Mulder walked into the small, cluttered lobby of the Spirit Dale police station. Two men in grey uniforms stood behind the counter. One, a twenty-ish, tall, muscular blond continued to look at papers on a clipboard, while the other, a fifty-ish, rotund man glanced at the agent.

“Yes?” the round man answered.

“I’m Agent Mulder, and this is Agent Scully. We’re from the FBI. I believe Art Sims alerted you that we were coming?”

The older man nudged his deputy. “Have a seat and get to work.” He waited until the deputy self-consciously moved to a desk in a corner behind the counter. “Agent Mulder.” He extended his hand. “I really don’t know why you’re here. We have five cases of suicide. They’re unfortunate for sure, but that’s all they are.” When he finished shaking Mulder’s hand, he went for Scully’s.

“We realize that, Sheriff, but I find the case details interesting, and I was hoping you wouldn’t mind if we had a look around.”

Colson shrugged. “Can’t hurt. Your presence will be big news in the town; give ’em something new to talk about, I suppose.”

“Always glad to be of service,” Mulder replied.

“Sir,” Scully said, “are any measures being taken to ensure that no further suicides occur?”

Colson turned to her and nodded. “Of course. We may be country folks, Ms. Scully, but we’re fairly current people. We’ve arranged for counselors to go into the school and the churches. Grief counselors have visited the local victims’ families and friends–if they had either. We’ve had memorials, candlelight vigils for the town’s sake–you name it; we’ve done it. Three of the victims were local; the other two weren’t. I don’t pretend to know what to do about the non-residents.”

“You didn’t find any connections between the suicides at all?” Mulder wondered.

“Not really,” Colson replied. “Those five people were a pretty depressed bunch. Each had had a death or two in the family fairly recently, so we finally just attributed their suicides to grief.”

“But why would two come from so far away to kill themselves here? Why did all the victims choose the same place to end their lives?”

“Agent Mulder, if you can find the answer to that,” Colson replied, “I’ll buy the two of you dinner in Spirit Dale’s finest restaurant. ‘Course there’s only one restaurant here….”

“We’ll take you up on that, Sheriff,” Mulder smiled. “In the meantime, could you show us where the suicides took place? Or give us directions, at least?”

Colson shot a glance at his deputy. “Aaron? Want to run these folks up to the cliff?”

The young man tried to force down his look of annoyance as he slowly rose to his feet. “Want me to take the cruiser?”

“Unless you’d rather walk all the way up there,” the Sheriff retorted. He watched the young man don his jacket and grab his hat. “This is Deputy Aaron Nash, Agents. He’ll be *happy* to show you the spot.”

Mulder reached out, but Nash ignored the offered hand.

“I’ll meet you outdoors,” the deputy mumbled as he exited.

“Not always the friendliest kid,” Sheriff Colson observed. “He’s got his reasons, so I shouldn’t be so hard on him.” He shifted his weight from foot to foot, then wiped his fingers across his mouth. “He knows the area like the back of his hand. He can show you any place you want to see ’round here.”

Mulder held the door for Scully. “Sheriff, we’re staying at the Cedar Arms in case you need us or think of anything we should know. Rooms 101 and 102.”

Colson nodded. “Cedar Arms. I tell you, Agents, they’re just suicides. But make yourselves at home, and look all you want.”

****

Scene Three

Canyon Road Saturday, 10:52 a.m.

Mulder parked directly behind Nash’s cruiser near the top of a high hill. A deep, green forest lined both sides of the pothole-laden, macadam road, the limbs of its tall pine and spruce trees making the area shady, cool, and isolated. A fifteen feet long concrete barrier stood on the highway’s right shoulder, Behind it, they could see a well-worn, rocky path which led upward into the forest. Deputy Nash walked to the roadside, and easily climbed over the barrier.

Mulder followed, glancing about him. “You really have some high country here.”

“Check your map,” Nash mumbled. “You’re in the Enchanted Mountains, foothills of the Alleghenies. Mountains usually are high country.”

Mulder stepped over the barrier himself, then helped Scully cross it. He met the young cop’s gaze. “You don’t seem to be too happy to see us.”

Nash snorted, then spat into the bushes. “Just don’t see any sense in it. That’s all. Let the dead rest.”

“I don’t think we’re going to wake them.” Mulder placed his hands on his hips.

“Don’t want you stirring up anything else either. Like more copycat suicides or somethin’ like that. People’ll think that since the FBI’s here, they might as well make a name for themselves.”

Scully’s interest roused. “You think four of the suicides were copycat cases?”

“Wouldn’t doubt it,” Nash replied, looking at her for the first time. “The people in this town can’t talk about anything else.”

Scully held his gaze. “Did you know any of the victims?”

“Yep. Well, the locals, at least.”

“Can you tell us anything about them?”

Nash started up the clearly cut rocky path. “The cliff is this way.” Without stopping his climb, he continued, “Mrs. Bridges was my English teacher. A real nice lady–for a teacher. Mrs. Moore was a good old lady–nosey as hell, but good enough. Post office ain’t runnin’ the same without her.”

“Did you know them to be suicidal?” Scully wondered. She followed Nash up the path, Mulder behind her.

“No. Not really. Both their husbands had died, so that was kinda traumatic for them. Used to see Mrs. Bridges walking all over town with her husband, but after he died, we hardly ever saw her. My mom says she even stopped going to church.”

“What about Dylan Connor?” Scully asked. “You must have known him.”

Nash stopped. He gripped a tree branch that threatened his face. “Dylan was my cousin.”

“Your cousin?” Scully stopped, too. “Were you close?”

“Yeah. Used to be anyway.”

“His death must have been very hard for you and your families, then,” Scully observed. As the Deputy turned toward her, she saw his eyelids droop.

“It’s been hard for our familes for months now.”

“Had someone close to Dylan died previously?” Mulder asked. He’d stopped at Scully’s side.

“Yeah, his brother. Sean.” The young deputy broke a twig in his hands and tossed the parts aside. “He was my age. Killed in a car accident by a drunk driver. We all took it hard. But Dylan took it hardest.”

“Did he see any counselors? Get any help at all for his grief?” Scully asked.

Nash began climbing again. “He saw someone down in The Village.”

“You mean in Spirit Dale?”

“No, Scully,” Mulder replied, following. “Deputy Nash means ‘The Village’. I meant to tell you about that.”

Scully frowned. “You *meant* to tell me what?”

Nash now stood at the end of the path–a sudden clearing in the forest. As Scully stopped, too, she saw that they were at the edge of a high cliff, below which lay a stream and lots of gravel.

“*That* Village.” Mulder pointed toward the un-forested distance.

Scully’s gaze searched past the ravine and out to the plain from which they’d just driven. She could make out the Sheriff’s office and the motel where she and Mulder had dumped their overnight bags. Spirit Dale was small, and its places were easy to spot. But between Spirit Dale and the stream lay another, smaller group of buildings which she’d not noticed. In the shape of a diamond, several streets lined with wooden cabins surrounded a central, empty common of green grass. Vehicles were visible only in large parking lots on either end of The Village. She squinted and noticed small specks–people–that roamed the streets.

“What is it, Mulder?” Her eyebrow raised.

“The paranormal link you mentioned, Scully.” Mulder turned toward Nash. “Do you know who your cousin saw there, Deputy?”

“No. Never got the name.”

“Did it help Dylan?”

Nash shrugged. “Seemed to. He got kind of happier for a while. Next thing we knew, though, he– jumped.” The Deputy unconsciously stepped back from the precipice.

“Did you ever look into whether all the victims had visited The Village?”

“Yeah, and yeah they had. But they’d also all been to Pennsylvania, to Six Flags Darien Lake near Buffalo, to Niagara Falls. Just a coincidence, we figured.”

“Or not,” Mulder muttered. “Deputy, are there people in town who knew Mrs. Bridges or Mrs. Moore really well? Their children, for instance?”

“Mrs. Bridges has three kids, but they’re all over the U.S. these days. Mrs. Moore has a son, but he lives clear over in Ithaca. He didn’t know no more about her than we did.”

“How about Dylan’s family? Would they know who he was seeing in The Village?”

Nash shook his head. “We asked ’em that way back when, and they didn’t. We even searched his room, but we didn’t find anything.” He shoved his hands into the pockets of his uniform pants. “I’d rather you leave his family alone. They’ve been through enough. And I don’t want you putting any ideas into Brian’s head.”

“Brian?” Mulder asked.

“Dylan’s younger brother. He’s sixteen and going through hell. I can’t imagine losing two brothers in one year, can you?”

Scully’s lips pursed. “Do you think Brian is in danger?”

Nash almost laughed. “At this point, can you tell me anyone who ain’t in danger?”

Mulder took out his notebook and checked some notes. “We’ll need to talk to the Connors. Are they still at 247 Madison?” The Deputy sighed and nodded. “My aunt is. My uncle left her two weeks ago. The deaths split ’em up. I sure wish you wouldn’t bother my aunt. She’s had enough.”

“We’ll be gentle.” Mulder patted Nash’s bicep. “If you need to get back to work, Deputy, we can get along by ourselves now.”

Nash expression relaxed. “Okay. I’ll be at the station.”

Mulder watched as Nash retreated down the path, then he reluctantly turned to Scully who crossed her arms and set her jaw. He gave her a half-smile, and shrugged. “You want to know about The Village, right? Well, it’s one of the reasons this case caught my eye.”

“Mm-hmmm. What is it, Mulder?”

“It’s been around for years. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of it.”

“What is it, Mulder?” She didn’t even try to keep the annoyance from her voice.

“It’s a village where psychics, seers, Tarot card readers, numerologists, astrologers, mediums–you name it–live. If it has to do with what’s termed the paranormal or occult, it’s represented there. People come from miles to visit, and it’s open year round.”

Scully nodded. “And you see a link between it and these suicides?”

“Not yet. I’ve some theories, but we can’t check them out until we get to The Village.”

“And I’ll bet that’s what we’ll be doing this afternoon.”

“Scully, are you psychic, too?”

She looked at him sternly. “Don’t even try to be cute with me.”

He smiled, nodding. “We’ll go there after we meet Brian and Mrs. Connor.” He moved closer and took her into his arms. He kissed the top of her head. “Have I ever mentioned that I love you?”

She chuckled against his chest. “You think you can win me over with that?”

“Maybe with this.” He tipped her chin up and covered her mouth with his. He let the kiss deepen and lengthen, possessing her lips and tongue until she finally pulled back. “Did it work?”

Her gaze slowly move up over his shoulders and neck, stopping to lock with his. “Somewhat. You might have to do more convincing later.”

“You’re on.” He ended the embrace, but kept his arm around her. He faced them toward Spirit Dale. “It’s beautiful countryside, Scully. You have to admit that.”

“Yes.”

“Someday we’ll retire and move here.”

“Not on your life, Mulder. I’m not moving anywhere that’s close to psychics or numerologists.” She pinched his side. “If we did, I’d never see you.”

“Keep kissing me like that, and you’ll never get rid of me.”

She smiled. “Mulder, we’ve got work to do.”

He nodded, then glanced once more at the ravine below them. “I can think of better ways to commit suicide.”

She followed his gaze past layers of stone and shale to the gravel and stream below. “Me, too. I admit that you must have a point. There has to be a reason they all chose this place to die, and why they chose to jump. And it’s time we found out why.”

****

****ACT TWO****

Scene One

247 Madison Street Saturday, 11:45 a.m.

Marcie Connor’s two story house was middle-class country fare. Its white vinyl siding was accentuated by black vinyl shutters, and a cement sidewalk led from the driveway to the front porch. Mulder leaned on the porch’s wooden railing as he waited for someone to answer the agents’ knock.

“So what’s the theory, Mulder?” Scully turned her back toward the door to face him. “Psychics from The Village tell the bereaved that they, too, are going to die, and then, lo and behold, they do?”

“Ah, Scully, you know me so well,” he mused.

“Uh-huh. What’s your real theory?”

“Tell you what,” he said, shoving his hands into his pants pockets, “indulge me with your theory. What do *you* think is happening, Agent Scully?”

Her eyebrow arched, and she tilted her head to the side. “I think it’s all an alien conspiracy, of course.”

“Very funny.”

“Okay, what I really think is that one grieving person jumped off the ledge to end his problems. The victims all had an interest in the paranormal, apparently, and as you and I both know, paranormal enthusiasts put out publications. I’m surmising that the victims all read how great jumping from the ledge was and decided to try it for themselves.” She kicked at a leaf. “And then the aliens whisked them away to a distant planet….”

Mulder nodded toward the door. “Want to knock again, please?” As Scully’s fist rapped on the wood, he commented, “I think there’s much more to this than people playing copycat. Yes, it’s possible they all believed in the paranormal, and yes, that makes them susceptible to all sorts of suggestions. But someone else is directly involved. How else do you explain the victims’ vehicles remaining at their homes or the motels? They certainly didn’t walk from town and up those hills in the middle of the night. And how else do you explain the out-of-towners coming here and jumping from the same spot? Someone’s playing on the victims’ emotions and calling them here, getting them all to do the same thing in the same way–somehow.” He stopped, nodding toward the door as it finally opened.

A tall, adolescent faced them. He wore jeans and a grey sweatshirt. Though no taller than Mulder, his thin, lanky body seemed to tower above them. His head was topped with a long bowl-cut of uncombed, curly brown hair. His innocent face was contrasted by brown eyes that held a deep and heavy sadness.

“You must be Brian,” Scully observed.

“My cousin told you, right?” The boy stepped aside, holding the door open. “And you’re the FBI. Since when is my brother’s suicide something the FBI needs to look into? He wasn’t a terrorist or anything like that.”

Mulder entered the living room. Stacks of magazines and newspapers had fallen and scattered about the room. Plates with half-eaten, dried food rested on a coffee table and chairside stand. “Is your mother home, Brian?”

The young Connor slouched onto a sofa. “Not yet. She should be, though, soon.”

“Did your cousin call her, too–or did you?” Scully asked.

“He might have. My mother and I don’t talk much anymore.”

“Why’s that?” Mulder stared at family photos that hung on the walls.

“If she comes home, you’ll see. She’s sort of in her own world these days.”

“Are there times she doesn’t come home?” Scully wondered. “I mean, have you seen her yet today?”

“Yeah, she was here when I ate breakfast. Grabbed her purse and the keys, told me to clean the house, and left.” He shrugged. “That’s as much as she says to me anymore.”

“This you playing basketball?” Mulder interrupted and pointed to a photo on the wall.

Brian nodded. “MVP in the Section Six finals last year. Not many small forwards win that award. And I was just a sophomore, too.”

“Impressive,” Mulder smiled. “Did your brothers play basketball?”

“Dylan did. Sean wrestled.” Brian put his feet onto the coffee table, using his ankle to slide a dirty plate to the side. “What do you want to talk to me about? Or are you just waiting for my mom?”

Mulder moved a T-shirt from a recliner and sat across from the boy. Scully lifted a pair of jeans and a photo album from a rocker and sat, too.

“We wanted to talk to both of you,” Mulder replied. “I’d like to see Dylan’s room if I could.”

Brian snorted. “Don’t tell me you’re one of these psychic types who can touch Dylan’s clothing and tell me where he is.”

Scully sensed Mulder’s heightened interest. “That’s his hobby,” she smirked. “No, Brian, we want to see if we can pick up any clues that perhaps the police overlooked. This being a small town with local police–maybe we as outsiders can spot something they missed.”

“There’s nothing to find. ‘Sides, my mom had some lady come in and clean his room. The only thing there now that was Dylan’s is his clothes. Mom said it’s time to move on. She did the same thing when Sean died.”

Mulder frowned in disappointment. “I’d still like to see it.”

The boy shrugged. “Whatever. There’s just no point, though. Dylan jumped off the damn cliff. It’s not big news anymore. People are doing that quite often now. I think he just thought it would be a cool way to get over Sean. Gave up M.I.T. for a damn cliff. How dumb can you get?”

“Did your brother visit The Village, Brian?” Mulder sat up and rested his elbows on his knees.

Again, the boy snorted. “Yes. I told him he was being stupid, but he claimed his visits helped him. He was happier for a while, and then he was dead. Some help.”

“Do you know who he was seeing there?”

Brian shook his head. “He saw a few of the Residents for a while–I don’t know what their specialties were. Then he seemed to narrow his list down to one. But I don’t know who it was, and I didn’t care. I don’t believe in this psychic shit. And by the time Dylan was really into it, I couldn’t get through to him. He was off in his own world.”

“Like your mother is now?” Scully observed.

Brian’s jaw dropped. “Yeah, kind of like that.”

“Has she been visiting The Village?”

Brian’s gaze locked with Scully’s. “Maybe. I dunno. I told you, we don’t talk anymore. I ask where she is all the time, and she tells me that if I didn’t want to know the answer, then I shouldn’t ask the question. I figured maybe she was seeing some guy–you know, now that my dad’s moved out.” He thought for a few seconds. “Maybe she *is* going to The Village.”

“Did she and Dylan talk?” Mulder wanted to know.

Brian nodded. “Yeah, but they were always close. My dad and I are–were–close, ’til he moved. He’s just a town away. I wanted to go with him, but that’s a different school district. I wanted to stay here to graduate with my friends.”

“Would Dylan have told your mother who he was seeing at The Village?” Scully asked.

“Maybe. You’d have to ask her.” Brian brushed his thick mane back from his forehead. “I know the Sheriff asked her about all that, though. She didn’t tell him anything, and I figured she just didn’t know. It was weird when she talked to him that day. She wasn’t even in the room–mentally. She sounded like some kind of robot.”

“Okay. Could we see Dylan’s room now?”

Brain slowly hauled himself to his feet at Mulder’s request. “It’s this way.”

As they followed him up the stairs, Mulder observed, “If you don’t mind my saying so, you seem quite calm about the deaths in your family. You’ve adjusted well.”

“I do what I have to do,” Brian replied. “I gotta hold it together for my mom. I held it together for my dad, too, but he got sick of trying to get through to Mom. Then he left. I’ve got my friends at school and the team. I gotta hold it together.”

Dylan’s room was to the right at the top of the stairs. The aqua walls exhibited darker squares where frames had once hung. A neatly made bed was in the room’s center, and a closet door stood slightly ajar.

Mulder moved to the closet, his hands sinking into pockets of jeans, dress pants, jackets, and shirts.

“Did your brother keep a diary or journal– anything like that?” Scully asked.

“No. He hated English and hated writing.”

“Do you have any old notebooks or papers from school that he had?”

“Nah. Mom tossed all that stuff into the junk not long after Dylan killed himself. She even threw out all his pictures and trophies. I don’t know why she kept his clothes. Dad and I figured she’d toss them, too, but she hasn’t yet.”

Scully noticed Mulder’s hand slip into his own pocket as he left the closet.

“Did anyone look under the mattress?” Mulder asked.

“For what?”

“I don’t know. Did they?”

Brian shook his head and watched as Mulder, in turn, lifted the mattress at all four corners; then the agent dropped to his knees and, for several moments, surveyed the floor beneath the bed.

“Nothing,” Mulder frowned as he stood.

“I told you, Mom had it cleaned,” Brian replied. “You might have noticed that she doesn’t clean much. And I’ve stopped trying to keep up with the mess.”

Mulder reached into his breast pocket and handed Brian a card. “Have your mom call us when she gets home, will you? I’d like to talk to her, too.”

Brian shrugged. “No problem. Sometimes she’s gone a while, though, so don’t hold your breath.”

“Do you have a photo or two of Dylan that we could borrow?”

“Sure. Downstairs.”

Back in the living room, Brian went to a bookshelf and pulled a white envelope from a middle shelf. He peered inside, then pulled out two 3×5 photos. “This is his senior picture.”

“Good looking kid,” Mulder observed as he pocketed one photo and handed the other to Scully. Then he held out his hand, waiting until the boy shook it. “Take care of yourself, Brian,” he muttered. “I think you’re already doing that quite well.”

The boy returned a half-smile. “I do what I have to do.”

Outside, as they returned to their rented Taurus, Scully observed, “He seemed awfully willing to talk to us.”

Mulder nodded. “He has no one else to talk to, Scully. And we posed no threat.”

“He didn’t seem suicidal to me–as his cousin suggested.”

“No, I didn’t get that impression either. Maybe people just assume things about Brian. I liked the kid.”

“I noticed.” She got into the car and pulled the seatbelt around her. “I could see how the two of you related.”

Mulder also entered the car. “What do you mean?”

“It doesn’t take much investigation, Mulder. Both you and he suffered tragedies at a young age. Suicides in both your families. There’s even the basketball connection.”

Mulder smirked. “I hadn’t thought about those things. I just like the kid. I give him credit for being as strong as he is. That’s too much tragedy heaped on young shoulders.” He started the car and backed from the Connors’ driveway.

“He seemed a little too nonchalant for me. I can’t imagine someone being that remote toward a brother or mother who seem so out of it.”

“It’s a coping mechanism. You didn’t really expect the kid to open the floodgates to two strangers, did you? I’ll bet his time alone is pure hell.” He shifted the car into “drive” and headed for The Village.

“Maybe so,” Scully replied. She smoothed a wrinkle in her slacks and then observed the houses they were passing. “Not to change the subject, Mulder, but what’d you steal from the closet?”

Mulder’s eyes twinkled. He placed a folded square of paper into her hand. “I didn’t ‘steal’; I found.”

Scully quickly unfolded it to check out his find. Blue ink formed an outline of a diamond. On one side, an “X” marked a spot near the center angle. “You think this is the cabin of the person Dylan saw in The Village?”

“Scully, I’m starting to think you *do* have psychic powers.”

“One problem, Mulder. Which side is which?”

“That’s for Dylan to have known and for us to find out.”

*****

Scene Two

The Village Saturday, 1:17 p.m.

“What’s our strategy here, Mulder?” Scully’s gaze wandered over the white slat fence that surrounded The Village. It stopped at a woman who sat in a small ticket booth just inside the open gate. She wore a bright, multi-colored scarf around her neck and a gaudy red or orange ring on every finger. Likely in her sixties, the woman had bleached blond, brittle hair that stiffly hung past her ample shoulders. “She looks charming.”

“Scully, enjoy the experience,” Mulder chuckled.

“Right. Our strategy?”

Mulder turned to his partner. “There’s no way we can see the entire place if we go together. We assume the…person…Dylan saw is somewhere in the middle, depending on how accurate the placement of that ‘X’ is. I suggest we each take a side of the diamond, concentrate on whoever resides near the middle of The Village, talk to as many people as we can, show the photos, and compare notes at, what…” he checked his watch, “6:30?”

“Okay.”

“Welcome!” the older woman at the ticket booth suddenly called to them. “Welcome to The Village. We ask for a $20.00 cover charge from each of you. If you seek more personal readings or meetings from our residents, they may ask for personal fees.”

Mulder dug into his pants pocket and handed her two, twenty dollar bills.

“Thank you,” she replied, then her hands and body suddenly stilled, her eyes gazing into the distance. “You will find what you’re looking for….”

Scully rolled her eyes and sneered. “For that price, we’d better.”

The woman came out of her trance. “You’re the FBI agents, aren’t you?”

“Did you psychicly divine that?” Scully asked sarcastically.

“I could have, but word’s out all over town. And no one else dresses like that around here. Doesn’t matter. The answer lies within. You *will* find it.”

“Well, that’s good to know.”

Mulder pulled the photo of Dylan from his pocket, hoping to end a catfight before it escalated. “Ma’am, do you remember seeing this young man?”

“Yes, of course, I remember seeing him. No, I don’t know who he saw when he entered The Village. And no, he didn’t have to pay the twenty dollars each time he came in. The residents give a pass card–same one for all of ’em, so don’t get your hopes up–if a visitor is coming back often. This kid had one. No, I don’t know how many visits he made here. After I’ve seen a pass card, I don’t pay attention to how many times it *passes* me.”

Mulder laughed and stepped away. “You either foresaw my questions, or you know the routine.”

“Count on it, Fox.”

He stopped. “You know my name? Has the Sheriff been here to warn you about us?”

“No,” she replied. “It’s in your aura.”

“Oh, please,” Scully commented as she noticed Mulder’s eyes widen with interest in the woman’s skill. “I’m sure that if it’s common knowledge that we’re here, you’ve heard our names.”

“Believe what you want….” The older woman stared at Scully until the two agents had wandered far past her. Then she muttered, “Yes. Believe what you want…Starbuck.”

****

Scene Three

The Village Saturday, 6:40 p.m.

“My God, Mulder, I’ve never seen such a bunch of charlatans.” Scully joined her partner as he strolled from The Village grounds. “Fortune- tellers, people who claimed they could see my past–none of it at all convincing.”

“Scully, you didn’t go into this with an open mind.”

“And you did?”

“Did you find anyone who had seen Dylan?”

“The better question would be, ‘did you find anyone who *hadn’t* seen Dylan?’ Everyone I talked to claimed to have seen him here.”

“Yeah, I heard the same thing,” Mulder replied. “I talked with a few people who said he’d been a repeat customer. Some even mentioned that they’d met with the other suicide victims as well.”

“Yeah, I got that, too.” She unconsciously brushed her hair back from her face as they walked past the now empty ticket booth and through the gates of The Village. “There were three mediums and one psychic who weren’t in attendance today. Two of them are located near the middle of The Village. Each had someone at their doorstep handing out pass cards so I can come back tomorrow and see them.”

“Same here. My side was missing a numerologist, and two mediums. Their cabins were toward the middle, too. We’ll make a return visit.”

“Why don’t you just call the Stupendous Yappi?” Scully groaned. “I think we should arrest all of these people. What they tell us is such a load of–”

“Easy now, Agent Scully. You wouldn’t want to cloud your judgment.”

“Mulder, I don’t know how you can take these people seriously. That little act at the ticket booth was enough to cloud my judgment. And then to enter *The Village*,” she said as sarcastically as she could manage, “and have the act repeated endlessly–”

“I found some of the residents to be very convincing,” he interrupted. “I got a few messages from my mother from one medium. My dad commented through another. And every psychic I saw told me we’d find what we were looking for. I found this visit to be a very positive step, Scully.”

“Uh-huh. You would, Mulder. It was all as convincing to me as a ‘Crossing Over with John Edward’ program. All it lacked–on the side I visited anyway–was the desperate, willing plant in the audience. Apparently, the side *you* visited had *that*.”

“I’m not desperate, Scully. And I’m only as ‘willing’ as anyone who wants insight into a case.”

She worked at the buttons on her coat until he unlocked the car’s doors. “So what did your mother and father have to say to you?”

He smiled. “It’s kind of personal.”

“Right. And you believed every word.”

“They said I was doing the right thing in being with you, Scully. They approve of you.”

She sniffed. “And they said my name?”

“Well, no. The messages that came through referred to you as ‘your woman’ or ‘your partner’. Since there’s only one of you, I assumed they meant you.”

“That’s what I mean, Mulder. Don’t you see? They could say that to anyone and claim that they heard it from beyond. I suppose you’d already told them that your parents are deceased?”

“No, not in so many words. One said he was hearing from a woman whose name started with a ‘T-E’. Another said that ‘Bill’ was trying to reach me.”

“And then you chimed in with, ‘Oh, they were my parents’?”

“No, not really. I said that I had known people with those names.”

“Well, who hasn’t, Mulder? Tell me one person in the United States who doesn’t know at least one Bill! Tell me one person who doesn’t know a Teresa or a Terri or a Teena or a–”

“I get your message, Scully.” He started the car. “But I also know how I felt while these people were speaking to me. Sometimes you have to go with the feeling rather than the logic. I think I may have told you this before.”

“I don’t remember,” she sighed. “I could consult a psychic.” He smirked. “I’m starved. You want to find the only restaurant in Spirit Dale?”

“You’re just trying to get out of this argument.”

“Do you blame me?” He smiled. “You’re not going to convince me, and I’m not going to convince you. Let’s eat.”

She returned the smile reluctantly. “Okay. You can try to convince me again later.”

He remembered their earlier conversation. “I look forward to doing that.”

She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “I don’t mind the idea myself.”

****

Scene Four

Cedar Arms Motel Sunday, 4:47 a.m.

Mulder rubbed at his eyes with one hand and reached over Scully’s naked body with the other. The incessant ringing of the room phone had slowly awakened him, and by the time he answered, his mind was clear.

“Yeah? Mulder.”

“Agent Mulder? This is Bernie Colson. Sheriff Colson. We’ve got another one.”

A sudden dread rolled through Mulder. He slowly sat up, his free hand gripping his forehead. He closed his eyes. “It’s Marcie Connor, isn’t it?”

The voice at the line’s other end took a beat. “How’d you know that?”

“Doesn’t matter.” Sorrow for Brian Connor filled his mind as he tried to imagine the boy’s reaction to this latest tragedy. He sighed heavily, then shook his head and opened his eyes. “Are you at the creek, Sheriff?”

“Yes.”

Mulder bit his lower lip. “I’ll get my partner. Give us a few minutes.”

“We aren’t going anywhere.” Colson ended the conversation.

“Scully?” Mulder whispered. Stunned, he stared, unseeing, ahead of him, the phone receiver dangling from his forefinger and thumb.

Scully rolled toward him. “Another one? Mrs. Connor?”

“Yeah,” was his faint response.

She, too, heaved a sigh. “What a waste. What a horrible waste.”

Mulder was still entranced. “That’s why she’s been in her own world as Brian said. She’s been planning this. Preparing herself for it. Or someone else has been preparing her.”

Scully sat up. She reached back to the bedstand and turned on the light. She carefully took the receiver from Mulder’s hand and returned it to its cradle. “We’ve got to go, Mulder.” She waited, then leaned forward to look into his eyes. “Are you okay?”

Slowly, his eyes focused on hers. “Yeah.” His hand ran through his hair. “I just feel sorry for the kid, you know?”

She nodded, then leaned closer and kissed his cheek. “Me, too. Poor Brian. You’ve got to wonder how much more he can take.” She rested her head on his bare shoulder. “Now you two have even more in common, unfortunately.”

Mulder’s head drooped forward. “Lucky us.”

She smiled sadly, and kissed his cheek again. Her right hand rubbed his back, slowly rising to caress his shoulder. “Brian still has his father. There’s hope in that fact.”

He nodded reluctantly. “Maybe so.”

“Count on it.” She patted his shoulder once more, then rose. She leaned back to softly kiss the top of his head. “C’mon, partner. The Sheriff is waiting.” She quietly slipped through the open door of her adjoining room to dress.

Mulder heaved a sigh, and his fist slammed into the mattress. He shook his head sympathetically, then he, too, rose to dress.

Within minutes, they approached the hilltop they had visited hours earlier. The Taurus’s headlights fell on a hearse and the sheriff’s cruiser. Mulder and Scully parked behind Colson’s car.

“Didn’t take you long.” Deputy Nash came from the path as they exited. “Sheriff told me to wait here for you. I can lead you down the path to the creekside.”

Mulder stepped beside Nash, his hand gripping the young man’s shoulder. “I’m sorry about your aunt, Aaron.”

The young man pulled away and headed into the forest. “Yeah. Thanks.” He shone a flashlight toward the ground for the agents. “I’m sorry you didn’t get to meet her; Brian told me she wasn’t home when you were there.”

Mulder pulled out his own flashlight as did Scully. “We’re okay. Go ahead. We’re right behind you.”

“Okay. This is the same as all the others,” Nash volunteered. “Before you got here, we used a spotlight up top to see if there were any footprints. As usual, there weren’t. Not even so much as a broken twig.”

“Did you notice any tire prints?” Mulder wondered.

Nash turned his head. “Tire marks? We never have before. Didn’t take the time to look tonight. Aunt Marcie left her car at home.”

“How’d you–find her?” Scully asked.

“Brian called me around 2:30. He said she’d come home after he went to bed, but he woke up after he heard the front door close again. He got up later. He couldn’t find her even though her car was in the garage. Brian was pretty freaked.”

“Is he here?” Mulder asked.

“No. Not yet. I’m sure he’ll show up in a few. I called–after we found her.”

They proceeded down a steep dirt path about a foot wide. Stones overturned under their feet, and branches swiped their faces as they descended. Occasionally, they gripped tree trunks for stability. The ravine’s bank was to their left; the gully lay at their right. In the darkness, the descent took over ten minutes. Finally at the bottom, they saw a portable floodlight. Its glare fully and brightly exposed Marcie Connor’s blood, grey matter, bone, and torn flesh.

Sheriff Colson headed toward the agents. As he shook his head, his jowls quivered. “Never seen anything like this damn suicide business. What the hell’s gettin’ into ’em?”

Scully continued walking, then knelt next to the body. She used the backs of her fingers to feel the torn flesh. Noting the condition of the ragged corpse, she observed, “She’s only been dead about three hours.”

Colson nodded. “That’s about what our coroner figured.” He indicated a middle-aged man in a plaid, flannel coat and jeans. “Fred Thomas. Fred? These are the FBI agents I was tellin’ you about. Agent Mulder and Dr. Scully.”

Thomas nodded to each. “Nothing out of the ordinary here,” he commented. “Well, nothing different about this case compared to the others.”

“I read through the previous autopsy reports,” Scully told him. “There were no traces of drugs or alcohol in the victims’ tox screens. Not even anti-depression drugs. Do you have any idea why they’re choosing this kind of death?”

The coroner shook his head. “Nor death at all, for that matter.”

A frenzied rustling from the path suddenly distracted all of them. Moments later, Brian Connor burst through the foliage. The floodlight’s glare illumined his sorrowed face and sagging frame. He stopped short, seeing the remains of his mother beneath the harsh light. Tears erupted from his eyes. “NO!” He staggered forward. “No, Mom!”

Mulder quickly intercepted him before he could get closer to the body. The boy pushed hard against him, trying to get free, but Mulder held him firmly. “You don’t want to see this, Brian. Stay here.”

“Mom!” Brian stared ahead, his body tense with frustration and agony. His fists pounded Mulder’s shoulders. “Mom! Why?”

Gently but firmly, Mulder embraced the young man. “We’ll find that out, Brian. I promise you. We’ll get whoever led her to this death.”

Brian sobbed. “My God. How much more….” He cried out, suddenly losing strength. He wrapped his arms around Mulder and leaned his face into the wool overcoat, his tears gushing. “I don’t know; I don’t know,” he gasped. “What? Why did she…?”

Mulder’s hug tightened as the boy weakened. Brian’s knees seemed to fail him. “I know, Brian” Mulder said sofly. “It’s a pain no comfort can reach.” His right hand rose to the back of the young man’s head, nestling into the brown curls and gently holding the face to his shoulder. The boy’s body spasmed, his distress so deep. “Hang in there, kiddo. We’ll get you through this.”

Brian clutched Mulder’s coat, his sobs loud and violent. “God! God! My mom….”

Watching the tableau, Scully crossed to Nash. Even in the shadows, she saw tears in his eyes, too, but he held a firm resolve. “Are you okay?” she asked. When he nodded, she turned to Colson. “Could Aaron take Brian somewhere? Maybe to a doctor or hospital? Or his dad’s? He needs someone to–watch him–maybe calm him down.”

Colson nodded. “Aaron, that’s a good idea. Maybe Agent Mulder can ride along with you.”

Mulder turned Brian so that the two of them could climb the path together. As Brian desperately cried out, Mulder turned back to his partner. “Scully? I’ll see you back at the motel. We’ll visit The Village this morning. And we will find this murderer.”

****

****ACT THREE****

Scene One

The Village Sunday, 12:07 p.m.

Mulder trudged toward the cabin of the third Village Resident on his list of Saturday absentees. His hopes were not mounting. Unlike his partner, he saw the Residents as honest and serious about their crafts. So far, none had given him any indication of guilt in luring Marcie and Dylan Connor, and the others to their deaths.

He climbed the steps of the small log house which was located near The Village’s center. A placard beneath the doorbell advertised Raymond Rahr, Psychic and Medium. Before Mulder could ring the bell, Rahr opened the door.

“You must be Agent Mulder.” The man wore a light grey suit over his heavy frame. When he saw Mulder’s eyebrows raise, he laughed. “No, I am not *that* psychic! My aide told me why you were here yesterday. I expected your return. Come in.” Mulder nodded and entered the house. As with all the others he had visited, this cabin had a small entry room that held a round table and four chairs. Rahr offered him one, and he sat.

“You are a believer.” Rahr, too, joining him at the table. “I can feel it in your presence. Part of you does not want to believe that anyone here could cause these suicides, yet you also have a great desire to locate whoever has led these victims to such a fate. I concur. Indeed, you must weed out whoever is causing this shame upon our Village.”

Mulder undid a button of his overcoat. “Your psychic ability can’t supply any answers for me? You can’t just point out the culprit?”

“I wish I could, sir.” Rahr unconsciously scratched at his untrimmed mustache. “But my powers do not work that way. They only present themselves when I am with a person. In other words, only if I were with the *culprit* would I be able to see such guilt.”

“Okay. Would you come with me and talk to your colleagues? See if you can sense the guilt?”

Rahr chuckled. “As a last resort only. Most of these people are good, old friends. I assure you *they* are not involved.”

“I’ll keep that last resort in mind.” Mulder quickly scribbled some notes on a pad he took from his pocket. “How long have you been in The Village?”

“This is my twenty-fourth year. As you probably know, our living quarters are these cabins. I also have a house in Philadelphia. I am in residence at The Village six to eight months of the year. I live elsewhere from November until March. Western New York winters are unbearable.”

“I found that out for myself last year,” Mulder replied with a grin. “Mr. Rahr, in all your years here, have any such suicide cases been connected to The Village or its Residents?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Are there any new Residents this year?”

Rahr shook his head. “I wish there were. It could be an easy way for you to sort out who’s responsible.”

Mulder bit his lower lip. “I have to tell you I find it strange that you’re willing to believe someone in The Village may be orchestrating these suicides. Most Residents to whom I’ve talked refuse to discuss the possibility.”

“Well, I have to tell you, Agent Mulder, that any disorder in our Village cuts me deeply.” He straightened his tie. “I have read the newspapers, seen the TV reports from Buffalo. I am aware that all of the victims did indeed visit The Village. I have also heard the occasional voice crying that we must beware the one misusing powers–”

“‘Voice’?”

“From the Other World, yes. For some reason, though, I cannot entice the spirit to speak to me directly–it seems afraid to trust me.”

“Have you had these powers–this hearing of voices–all your life?”

Rahr nodded. “My abilities are both a gift as well as a burden. And I have had them from as early as I can remember. I once told my mother my father was about to fall down the front steps of our house in Pittsburgh. She laughed as I said it–until she heard him tumble. She tells me I was three at the time.” He chuckled robustly. “When I was six, I spoke aloud during the funeral of a family friend, much to my parents’ embarrassment. It was during the pastor’s address, in fact. I suddenly stood and told all present that Frank, our deceased friend, did not like his wife’s black dress. He preferred her in blue.” He continued to smile. “You see, Frank was telling me this–was speaking directly to me–during the service. His wife, Carol, has come to me ever since to communicate with him. They have some lovely conversations.”

Mulder smiled, too. “You must relay some interesting messages.”

“You cannot imagine!” Rahr laughed again. “But that’s why I love coming to The Village. So many people visit us. They have a plethora of needs and requests. Locating their loved ones and putting voice to messages of comfort is a superb, exciting, and satisfying challenge.”

“But that’s as far as you go, right?” Mulder asked. “You don’t, for instance, promise your customers an instant reunion with their loved ones.”

Rahr’s smile vanished. “If you are implying that I suggest suicide as a means of finding comfort, you can leave my house. Now.”

“No, I’m not suggesting that,” Mulder replied. “I just wanted to gauge your reaction. I’m sorry if I offended you.”

Rahr glanced out the window. “I realize you have a job to do.”

Mulder scribbled more notes. “May I ask where you were yesterday?”

Rahr nodded, and his gaze returned to the room. “Of course. I have nothing to hide. Every Saturday I go to the Broadway Market in Buffalo. A vendor there sells a particular kielbasa that is to die for, pardon the expression. I seem to have a weakness for it.” He patted his ample stomach. “But I also make a day of being in the city. I take in a play at Shea’s, or spend some time at one of the malls. You see, after all these years, I feel I’m entitled to one day off, and Saturday is the day.”

“Did any of the suicide victims come to see you?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I saw each one. I didn’t realize it until I looked back in my ledger.” He reached behind the coat rack and pulled out a black book. “After the third person died, the police came to visit each of us. I found the names in my pages, but each only visited me once. And after subsequent newspaper reports, I found the latest victims had been here as well. However, I am sorry to say that I cannot remember any of them precisely. Nor can I remember what each wanted from me. I see over five hundred people in the months that I’m in residence. If they visit only once, I rarely remember them.”

Mulder touched the ledger. “Did Marcie Connor visit you recently?”

Rahr’s forehead furrowed. “N-no. The name is unfamiliar. It’s a new name, isn’t it? One that neither the police nor the papers mentioned.” He suddenly gasped, then frowned, as he leaned back in his seat. “Oh no. She’s–” he closed his eyes, “She’s a new victim! Oh dear God. How awful. Another one.” He bowed his head, his hand frantically rubbing his mustache. When he opened his eyes again, tears welled at the lower lids. “How tragic for her son. She wants him to know that she is sorry. She is sorry she did this to him.”

“You see her now?”

“No. I don’t ‘see’ her. I hear her. But she is leaving, fading.” He paused as he seemed to listen. “She fears endangering another and will not come forward. I sense…I sense…Dylan. And…a…Sean. Her sons. She is with them.”

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Mulder also leaned back in his chair, staring at the man who genuinely seemed touched by what he was now experiencing.

Rahr emitted a long, heavy sigh, then focused on Mulder again. “You’re on the right track, Agent Mulder. I sense that. Someone here–in The Village–*is* leading people to the cliff. But I cannot tell you who. It is not clear to me. I wish I could help more than that.”

“I wish you could, too.” Mulder pushed his chair back and stood. He offered his hand. “Thank you for meeting with me.”

Rahr shook the hand politely, then he suddenly grasped it tightly. He squeezed his eyes closed in concentration. “Something–tragic–is about to happen. Beware, Agent Mulder. It *will* happen. Soon. The cliff…you…beware.”

Mulder stared. “You mean me? I’m going to jump?”

“Not clear…not clear,” Rahr intoned. “Night. Darkness. A bright light–a vision. I see falling. Death. Not clear. Beware.”

“I wish you could tell me–”

Rahr visibly shook as, eyes open again, he let go Mulder’s hand. “I wish I could, too, Fox. I saw people at the cliff. You are one of them. Someone jumps. Someone dies. But it is all cloudy to me.” He rubbed his forehead and eyes as if exhausted. Then once more he stopped as if listening. Faintly, slowly, he smiled. “And Teena wants you to know she likes your partner.”

****

Scene Two

The Village Sunday, 2:45 p.m.

Scully sat across the table from Paul Morbin, Medium and Psychic. She had already pushed the “record” button of the micro-cassette recorder she carried in her coat pocket, and now she looked at the tall, handsome man who had welcomed her into his cabin. Morbin’s precision cut black hair and square jaw framed an almost perfect face, and his casual manner relaxed her. “Mr. Morbin–”

“Please. Call me ‘Paul’. I hate formalities, Agent Scully. But–may I call you ‘Dana’?”

She started. “I didn’t tell you my first name.”

“It’s in your aura, Dana. And it’s a lovely name for a lovely lady. It suits you perfectly.”

She laughed nervously. “You must believe that old saying about flattery getting you anywhere.”

He sobered. “Not flattery, my dear. Just truth. You’re a rare beauty, a gem shining brightly in the dullness of this area. I’m fortunate that you’re the FBI agent assigned to my side of The Village.”

“I wasn’t assigned–”

“Your partner decided that you should canvass this side of the street, didn’t he? I think *you* should make more of the decisions, dear Dana. I know you want to.” He laughed. “But if those choices were yours, you may have given him my side of The Village, and why would I want to meet him? I’d have hated to miss this opportunity.”

Scully raised her eyebrows. “Well–Paul–you certainly are a charmer.”

He folded his hands on the table, and leaned toward her. “And you, Dana, are certainly beautiful. I wish I knew you in a different capacity.”

Scully felt herself blushing. “Well…on to why I’m here.”

“You’re changing the subject. I’ve embarrassed you. I apologize.”

“Not at all,” she replied. She buttoned the collar of her coat.

“More men should tell you how lovely you are. Does he–your partner–does he tell you?”

“Paul–” She cleared her throat and rested her right hand on the table. “How long have you been at The Village, and where were you yesterday?”

He chuckled. “I think you’d much rather talk about yourself. Wouldn’t you, Dana?” He gazed at her intently. “You want to know what I know about you. But you’re afraid to ask. You’re afraid to let me see your inner self. But I do see it. You try to hide it, but I see everything about you.”

Scully stared back, unable to break the gaze. “I have to ask you questions….”

“No.” Morbin smiled. “*He* wants you to ask me questions. You don’t care about the answers. You don’t agree with his theories.”

“I do–”

“Not always.” He covered her hand with his. “He frustrates you. He ignores what you believe, what you know.”

“No, he listens.”

“And then acts as he planned anyway. Isn’t that right?”

She shifted in her seat. “Sometimes.”

He winked. “More often than that, I’m sure. You feel he underappreciates you, takes you for granted.”

She shook her head. “Not anymore.”

Morbin’s eyes continued to hold her gaze. “No matter.” He grinned. “I can tell you other things, Dana. Other things you wonder about in the privacy of your mind. I can tell you, for instance, about your father. And about your sister. About how much they miss you.”

“They miss me?” She swallowed. “How do you know?”

“They’re right here.” With both hands he gestured around the table. “Right now. With you. They’re always with you.” He reached over and squeezed her hand. “Would you like to talk to them?”

Scully struggled with confusion. “No–no–I–need to talk to you.” She shook her head slightly, her gaze still locked with his. “I don’t believe in… in mediums…and psychics.”

“Oh, you do. You just put on a front for your partner. You trust me. You know I’m telling you the truth. You know you believe.”

“No,” she said, forcing herself to close her eyes. She needed to control this interview, but when looking at him, she felt powerless. She pulled her hand from his. “Please stop changing the subject.”

“I will. If that’s what you really want me to do.”

She sighed heavily, opened her eyes, and briefly glanced out the window. Then, resolutely, her gaze returned to his. “Why weren’t you in The Village yesterday?”

He shrugged. “Who said I wasn’t? I was right here in the residence, but I wasn’t feeling well– really rough migraine. I had an aide cover for me. I slept the day away. I’m sorry there’s no evidence–other than my prescribed medication.”

“Did you ever meet with Dylan Connor, Daisy Moore–”

“The suicide victims? Of course. They missed their loved ones, and I was able to facilitate communication. Just as I could help you communicate with your father and your sister.”

Scully cleared her throat. “Did you see them–the suicide victims–more than once?”

He stared at her, imploring her gaze to not leave his. “You have lovely eyes, Dana. Exquisite shape and color. But it’s your lips. They’re so perfectly formed. Yours is such a natural, untouchable beauty.”

“Mr. Morbin–”

“Paul,” he steadily reminded her.

“Paul…I need–”

“Your father called you ‘Starbuck’. You called him ‘Ahab’.” He watched her eyes widen, and enjoyed seeing the effect of his words. “He forgives you for going into the FBI, you know. He’s proud of all that you’ve accomplished. He needs you to know that.”

Scully leaned forward, gazing into Morbin’s eyes, her resolve gone. “He’s telling you that? Right now?”

Morbin nodded. He tilted his head to the side, listening to an unseen speaker. “Missy says that she and your dad are happy together. They miss you and your mother. They don’t miss Bill that much, but they miss Charlie.” He paused, then smiled. “Oh, they’re laughing about that Bill remark. They *do* miss him.”

Scully chuckled softly. “You’re really hearing them?”

“You have a lovely smile, Dana. Such perfect teeth. People haven’t appreciated you for your beauty. You present your tougher side to them. They see the FBI agent too often–and not the lovely woman underneath.”

“My father and sister are *not* telling you that.”

“Actually, they are. But I see it, too.”

Scully gazed at him. “What else are they saying to you?”

“Let me suggest something.” He smiled warmly. “Why don’t we go into my living room and talk about that? They have much to tell you, and this little meeting room is so formal, so impersonal. Friends need to sit together in a more comfortable setting.”

“Okay.” She pushed her chair back and rose, her eyes not leaving his. As his arm went around her shoulders, she unbuttoned her coat and allowed him to guide her into his residence.

****

Scene Three

Cedar Arms Sunday, 10:13 p.m.

As Buffalo FBI agent Art Sims read off details over the phone, Mulder furiously took notes. He sat at the motel room’s desk, a legal size notepad spread before him, and the phone receiver wedged between his ear and shoulder.

“That’s it,” Sims sighed. “Finally. Got it?”

“All of it,” Mulder replied. He finished another line, then tossed the pen onto the notepad. He flexed the fingers of his right hand.

“Have I given you any possibilities?”

Mulder pinched the bridge of his nose as he squeezed his eyelids shut. “Yeah, I think so. We’ll go back to The Village again tomorrow, check a few leads, zoom in on a few people….” He paused, failing to stop a yawn.

“Been a long day, huh?” his friend asked.

“You know it.” Mulder lifted the pen again and looked at his notes. “Hey, thanks, Artie. I owe you one.”

“Damn right you do. And I *will* collect,” Sims chuckled. “You take it easy, Spooky. Call me if you need me to solve this thing for you.”

“Yeah, right.” Mulder laughed as he hung up the phone. Already, he was re-reading the information Sims had supplied. He wanted to tell Scully, just to keep her informed, but she had retired to her adjoining room after their return from The Village, an uncommon headache keeping her quiet in the car, and forcing her to rest at the motel.

In consolation, he grabbed the legal pad and flipped through the pages he’d written earlier which summarized his visits to Residents during the day. He checked off the names of those he’d visited whose background information he now had, courtesy of Sims. He put X’s by the background information he’d gained about the names on Scully’s list. He now turned to the tape recorder his partner had used in her visits.

He pressed “Rewind” and involuntarily listened to the soft whirr of the micro-cassette tape as he perused his notes. None of the people with whom he’d spoken had seemed suspicious at all, each having been at The Village for at least fifteen years. None had police records or any history of even so much as a traffic ticket. Each was married and had children. Some, like Raymond Rahr, listed out-of-state permanent addresses, while others listed addresses within an hour’s drive.

Two people on Scully’s list caught his eye, though. One, Marianna Whitcomb, an astrologist, listed no permanent residence. Seven angry customers had sued her, claiming fraud. The IRS had audited her several times, and she seemed to be on their “watch list.” He made a note to himself to check on the suicide victims’ wills the next day.

Another person on Scully’s list worried Mulder. Paul Morbin listed his permanent residence as Buffalo, yet he gave no box number or street address. Four wives had divorced him, the latest within the last six months, and the Buffalo police had investigated him for the harrassment of three other women. Unfortunately, Art Sims had not been able to find further details of those cases. Morbin held a Ph.D. in psychology and had been a professor at Cornell University for five and a half years until he was dismissed under suspicious circumstances.

The tape recorder clicked as the rewind stopped. Mulder pushed “Play” and listened to Scully’s voice give date and time as she approached the cabin of Les Williams, numerologist.

“Hey, are you ever going to bed?”

Mulder looked up in surprise as his partner’s live voice came from the adjoining room’s door. “Hey, Scully, you’re in stereo.” He pointed to the recorder.

“C’mon, Mulder, shut it off. You can do that tomorrow.”

“Can’t. I want to get through this tonight so we can go back tomorrow, armed.” He watched her shuffle into the room and sit on the bed. Her hair, damp from a shower, brushed the collar of her white bathrobe. He noticed that the robe’s belt was very loosely tied at her waist. “Headache gone?” he asked, as he also noted her pallid complexion. “Are you okay?”

Nodding, she crossed her legs, causing the robe to open at the front, and giving him an eyeful of exposed skin. “I could be even better.”

“Me, too.” He grinned, and forced himself to return focus to the items on the desk. “Maybe later. Right now I want to listen to your tape.”

“There’s nothing worthwhile on it. I didn’t get anything new from those Residents today. They all truly believe in what they do. But other than admitting to seeing the victims, they didn’t offer anything we don’t already know.”

He pointed to the legal pad. “Art Sims called with that background information I asked for. He’s still looking. But there are two people on your list who sound suspicious to me.”

“Really? Who?”

“Marianna Whitcomb and Paul Morbin. Whitcomb–”

“Forget Morbin. He didn’t do anything.”

“He sounds the most suspicious to me, Scully.”

“He’s a nice guy. Very charming. Of all the people I visited, he cared the most. He admitted to meeting with the victims and feeling sympathy for their losses.”

Mulder smirked. “Then maybe he’s our man. Maybe he cared too much.”

“How do you mean?”

“He was a professor of psychology at Cornell. He was ‘dismissed’ due to some questionable techniques he used with students. I’m wondering what those techniques were.”

She scoffed. “Mulder, *you’ve* used questionable techniques before; maybe we should investigate you.”

“Psychological techniques could include mind games, hypnosis…. Think how that could relate to getting suicide victims to the Spirit Creek cliff, Scully.”

“I’d rather not,” she sighed. “Not tonight. C’mon, it’s time for bed.”

“What number was Morbin for you today? Where is he on the tape?”

“I really don’t remember.”

“Scully, you saw four people. Which one was he?”

“Mulder.” She waited until he looked at her, then she slowly stood. With one swipe, she undid the belt and let her robe fall open, allowing him a long glimpse of her nakedness. She moved to stand behind him, and placed her hands on his shoulders. “Bedtime.”

He pressed “Forward” on the tape recorder as the scent of Scully’s body reached his nose. She’d not only taken a shower, but she’d also soaked in the tub, using the soap and lotion she favored when she wanted to take her time, or when she wanted most to entice him. Now, he felt her fingers undoing his tie. He struggled to concentrate on his work. “Scully, I have to do this. For Brian if nothing else. I owe him answers to what happened to his brother and mother.”

“You can find all the answers you want–tomorrow.”

“I really want to find them now.”

Her teeth nibbled his ear. Her fingers, having pulled the tie from his collar, worked at the buttons of his shirt. “And I want you.”

“Later,” he breathed, her scent overwhelming his senses. “I promise you.”

Her hands edged under his shirt. Her fingers slowly stroked the bare skin of his chest, then wandered downward to trace his ribs. She kissed his temple. Her palms pressed against him and urgently roamed his torso. As his breathing pattern altered, her nails gently raked his chest and shoulders. Her lips pressed his neck. “I need you.”

His mind raced as his body stirred. He stopped the recorder and pushed “Play.” He heard another woman’s voice with Scully’s. “Is this Whitcomb?” he breathed as her teeth nibbled his collar bone.

“Maybe,” she whispered. She pushed his shirt open. “Probably. I only saw one woman.”

He pressed “Forward” again. “Which one is Morbin?”

“Forget Morbin.” Scully knelt at his side. She pulled his shirttail from his waistband. Her lips pressed against his chest.

“Scully, this isn’t like you.” Mulder tried to steady his breathing. “Why are you so obsessed? Please, let me get this done first.” As her tongue reached his stomach, he swallowed hard and pushed “Play.” Her hands continued their exploration. Though he could no longer concentrate, he heard her taped voice say, “I’m now approaching the cabin of Paul Morbin, Medium and Psychic. Yipee.”

Scully pressed “Stop,” grabbed the tape recorder, and tossed it to the desk. Her intense gaze met his. “I said I want *you*, not *that*. Not work. Not tonight.” With one hand, she pulled his head toward her, pressing her lips against his. The fingernails of her other hand raked roughly at the fabric covering his inner thigh. She broke the kiss long enough to whisper, “Now, Mulder. I need you–now.”

He quivered as her nails raked his groin. Then her palm rubbed over the same area, slowly increasing intensity. He breathed rapidly, knowing there was no denying her or his own body now. As her hand continued the motion, his mouth covered hers.

Her tongue forced its way between his lips and mimicked the explorative motions her hands and fingers had made. She let him slide the robe off her shoulders; she felt his fingers begin their own journeys. As she undid his belt, he edged from the chair, his hands on her back so he could lower her to the floor. She stopped him.

“Oh no, G-Man,” she breathed. “I make the decisions tonight.” Letting her robe fall from her arms, she rose, took his hands, and led him to the bed.

****

Scene Four

Cedar Arms Monday, 4:07 a.m.

Mulder drowsily woke in the room’s darkness. The motor of a car outside had roused him, but as it grew fainter, he relaxed. Hundreds of motels over the years. Hundreds of motors at all times of the night. Nothing new.

He felt lethargic, his body not yet recovered from the fervent lovemaking Scully had wreaked upon it. She’d been obsessed with pleasuring him, her frenzied energy depleting the ambition he’d had toward solving the suicide cases. Her energy robbing him of ambition to even get out of bed in the next few days. He smiled, recalling her lips, her teeth, her tongue, her hands, her body.

Somehow, he was sure, she’d spent hours bringing him close to rapture, only to stop, then begin again. She’d kept him, in both pleasure and pain, waiting for release. After they had finished, they had both fallen back on the bed, exhausted. He had sensed her leaving the bed and had heard her close the bathroom door, but, his body sated and enervated, he’d slipped into sleep and remembered nothing after that.

He realized now that she had arranged the covers over them, and he basked in the scent she’d left on his pillowcase and in the warmth from the blankets. He turned onto his left side and reached for her. He could not have her again now, nor could she repeat her performance so soon, but he wanted to hold her close and love her.

But the other half of the bed was empty.

He opened his eyes and scanned the darkness. He listened, but heard no sound. Sitting up, he turned on the light. The adjoining door was closed again, but the bathrobe still lay on the floor. He wondered if her headache had returned, and if she’d wanted to be alone. He rose to check.

He crossed to her door. Cautiously, he turned the knob and gently pulled, wincing as a hinge squeaked. Her room was dark, and he paused, hearing no sounds of surprise or waking. He pulled the door open far enough so that he could tiptoe inside.

With arms outstretched, he felt for and found her double bed. The side he was on was still made. He slowly, quietly felt his way across the coverlet to search the bed’s other side. Empty. Concerned, he softly called, “Scully?” He fumbled for a light. “Scully? Scully! Are you here?” He turned on a lamp and saw that her room was as empty as her bed. Scully’s suitcase sat atop her dresser. It was packed but not closed. He sprinted to her bathroom, finding that her toiletries had been removed. His mind racing, horror seized him as he realized the outside door slightly ajar. He looked into the parking lot. Their rented Taurus was still parked in the same space.

Details sorted themselves in his mind. Scully’s silence as they’d returned from The Village that afternoon. Scully’s uncharacteristic headache. Her uncharacteristic insistence on bedding him. Her uncharacteristic refusal to believe anything suspicious about a suspect such as Paul Morbin. The motor he’d heard outside the motel. Their car still in the parking lot.

“Jesus, no.” He ran back to his room, quickly donning his pants, a T-shirt, shoes, and his coat. He grabbed his gun, car keys, and Scully’s tape recorder from the desk. As he ran for the car, he pushed “Play” and heard the velvet voice of Paul Morbin greet his partner. The tires screeched on black-top as he raced to Spirit Creek.

****

Scene Five

Canyon Road Monday, 4:31 a.m.

“I’ve been here before. It’s a beautiful place. A beautiful view,” Scully observed softly. She stood in the clearing, looking toward The Village.

“There are many hills in Spirit Dale, but none like this,” Morbin’s steady voice told her.

“The Enchanted Mountains. Foothills of the Alleghenies.”

“I’m impressed. You’ve done your research.”

“Not really,” she chuckled. “Someone told me.”

He stepped closer and put his hand on her shoulder. “You’re a charming person, Dana.”

“You’re kind to say that, Paul.” “I’m not just saying it; I mean it.”

She smiled. “I can see why the Connors and the others liked you. Why they trusted you. You’ve been a comfort that I didn’t realize I needed.”

“You’d shut off your emotions. You only needed someone to wake them.”

Scully’s hand covered Morbin’s. “You’ve been wonderful to me. Thank you.”

“I’m only sorry we couldn’t know each other longer. Or maybe in a different way. Your partner was a lucky man.”

She turned toward the precipice. “Are you sure he’ll understand?”

“He’s a believer, isn’t he? He’ll applaud what you’re doing.” “I hate to leave him. I love him.”

“Dana, he will understand.”

“I left him sleeping, as you told me to do.” She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. “And I exhausted him–as you told me to do.” “Then you have left him a powerful memory.” Morbin gripped on her shoulders. “I’m jealous of him.” Gingerly, he nudged her forward, guiding her to the cliff’s edge. “Are you ready, Dana?”

“Yes,” she replied distractedly. “I think so.”

“You ‘think’? Dana, do you trust me?”

“Yes. Absolutely.”

“Then you must remember what you saw. If you don’t, you can’t proceed.”

“I want to remember.”

“Then close your eyes.” He gently rested his right hand on her head.

Scully gazed downward at the creek, noting the moon’s light reflecting in the water’s ripples. She saw the gravel. Something–an elusive memory–stirred in her mind.

“Are your eyes closed?” he asked smoothly.

“No. Not yet. I’m remembering something. Something from down there.”

He stroked her hair. “You must close your eyes, my dear. Focus. And concentrate. As you did this afternoon.” He felt her nod. “You must do it–for them and for yourself. Have you closed your eyes now?”

Scully looked toward The Village. “They’re pretty at night. The lights of The Village. Of Spirit Dale. They’re so tiny in the distance. They look like stars that floated to the earth.”

“Dana, we’re wasting time. Your father, your sister–you know they’re waiting. You do want to be with them, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Then close your eyes.” His hand returned to her head, and he pressed lightly. “Focus.”

“You’re sure he’ll understand? Will you talk to him for me? Tell him why?”

“Dana. Focus. Now.”

She shivered and folded her arms across her chest. “Focus.” She closed her eyes. Gently, she swayed in the slight breeze.

“Breathe deeply. Concentrate. Do you feel what you did today? Do you feel them returning?”

Scully concentrated as told. She saw herself spinning in the middle of a dark but pleasant space. She felt warm, relaxed. Voices whispered unintelligible words all around her, yet their low sounds comforted her. And then one unforgettable voice–one she’d not heard in years–spoke through the din.

“Starbuck. Starbuck, is that you?”

She smiled and strained to see the speaker. “Ahab? Dad? Where are you?”

“Here. With you.”

“Dana?”

Scully smiled widely at a second, recognized voice. “Missy?”

“Yes, I’m here as well.”

“Oh, Missy! It should have been me. They meant to kill me.”

“No, Dana,” her sister’s voice cooed. “Don’t remember that. Evil has no place here–where we are. You must forget what happened back then. Will you do that for me?”

Scully nodded, trying to shut out the agonizing memory of her sister’s death.

“Dana.”

Morbin’s voice seemed distant. It was a distraction she didn’t want. “Dad? Missy? Are you still here?”

“They are,” Morbin answered levelly. “And it’s time for you to see them. Now open your eyes.”

“I can’t! I’m afraid they–that Dad and Melissa–will go away.”

“I assure you they won’t. You *do* trust me, don’t you?”

She murmured, her mind fumbling, “Trust no one.”

“Those are *his* words, my dear. They have no value here and no value where you’re going,” Morbin scoffed. “Now open your eyes, Dana! See your family!”

Reluctantly, Scully raised her eyelids. She found that the moonlit creek had turned into a hazy white gleam that slowly began to brighten. Gradually, the gleam changed into undefined figures which, as she watched, grew into humans. Finally, there on the creekbed below, she saw her father and sister, smiling up at her and waving happily.

“I see them!” Scully gasped. “I do see them! They *are* waiting for me!”

“Yes,” Morbin whispered in relief. “Your flying hour has arrived. You must go join them.”

Scully beamed happily. She wiped tears from her eyes. “Thank you! Thank you, Paul!”

“Go, Dana. They’re waiting.”

Scully’s arms dropped to her sides. She heaved a sigh of relief and scuffed her right foot forward over grass and stone. And then her foot dangled over nothing but the ravine. “I’m coming, Dad! Missy! I’m coming!” she called.

“SCULLY!! NO!!”

A familiar voice ripped through the vision of her father and sister, scattering them. She struggled to comprehend.

“Scully? It’s me! It’s Mulder! Don’t jump!”

She teetered on the precipice, her foot still dangling. “Paul? What do I do?”

Morbin held her shoulders tightly. “It’s not too late, Dana,” he spat. “You can still join them.”

“Join them?” She stared into the creekbed where she saw nothing but moonlit ripples. She felt faint, and she sagged against Morbin. “My father and Melissa–they’re gone.”

Morbin’s eyes glimpsed a flashlight beam approaching the clearing and searching the precipice. The light fell on him and stopped. Below the beam, Morbin saw the glint of a handgun’s barrel. Quickly, he pinned Scully’s arms against her sides. He whirled her around, putting her between himself and Mulder’s gun, his back to the ravine.

“Agent Mulder. Do the smart thing. Leave us now, and I won’t hurt her.” Morbin’s voice was low and measured. “If you take one step, and you’ll be scraping her off the gravel.”

Mulder slowed his breathing, glad that Scully was still alive. He aimed his flashlight toward his partner. Her glazed eyes stared ahead, seeing nothing. “Scully? Can you hear me?”

She looked at the light without squinting. “Mulder?”

“That was quite a tape you made, Scully,” he told her, hoping to cut through whatever kept her from reality. “This bastard hypnotized you. Morbin. That’s what he did to all his victims.”

“Hypnotized?” Scully still sagged, motionless, in the arms of her captor. “Victims?”

“She made a tape?” Morbin looked from Mulder to Scully and moved backward, pulling Scully with him. His eyes narrowed. “I don’t know what he’s talking about, Dana. You trust *me*, remember?”

Mulder tried to keep his voice calm. “This guy’s a loser, Scully. He’s lost at love; he’s lost jobs. He can’t find happiness for himself, so he promises to provide it for others. He preyed on your emotions. He made you think you weren’t happy–with me.”

“Don’t listen to him, Dana,” Morbin warned.

“He seduced you with praises heaped upon praises, with memories of your father and sister,” Mulder continued, slowly edging toward them. “He programmed you to seduce me. To leave me at the motel while he brought you here to die. Scully, do you hear what I’m saying?”

She continued to stare ahead. “Paul wouldn’t hurt me,” she intoned. “He’s a nice guy. A charmer.” “Those are words he made you practice when you were with him this afternoon. It’s all on the tape. You can hear it for yourself if you come with me,” Mulder pleaded. “I’m telling you the truth, Scully.”

She languidly lifted her right hand and pointed to the ravine. “The truth is out *there*.”

“No, Scully. It’s here. It’s here with me.” Mulder neared the cliff. “Morbin is a master of mind games. You’re still under his spell. Scully! Don’t let him kill you.”

“Stay right there,” Morbin warned, noting Mulder’s advance, “or she’s gone!”

“Scully? Remember Marcie Connor’s body? Remember the autopsy photos of the other victims?”

“Marcie Connor…and Dylan.” Scully’s elusive memory slowly unveiled itself in her mind. “So much blood. And bone….”

“All the victims were Morbin’s clients. He hypnotized them, made them reveal loved ones who’d died. Over time, he planted visions in his victims’ minds, made them believe they could be with those loved ones. But he knew he didn’t have that kind of time with you, Scully. He knows you’re stronger, that you’d see through him.” Mulder swallowed hard. “Remember Brian telling us his mother was in a different world? That she rarely talked to him? Morbin made Marcie believe she didn’t need to love Brian. Scully, Morbin made *you* believe I’d be happy about your death. I need you here-with me–Scully. Not dead.”

Scully squeezed her eyes closed as she absorbed Mulder’s words. “But Paul–”

“But Paul wants us out of the way. He brought you here to die. He didn’t want us investigating and ending his spree. Scully, you’ve got to believe me,” he pleaded. “It’s me, Scully. It’s me!”

Scully opened her eyes. She looked into the flashlight’s beam, but this time, she squinted at its brightness. She felt weak and confused, wondering how she’d gotten to the cliff and into Morbin’s grasp. Her partner’s voice had awoken her consciousness, and she now realized the danger both of them faced. Morbin’s arms prevented her body from moving, but she was able to nod toward Mulder.

Suddenly, red and white flashes illumined the forest. The roar of the Sheriff’s cruiser and the screech of brakes made Morbin’s eyes widen in panic.

“That’s Sheriff Colson,” Mulder observed. “I thought he should be here.”

“I’ll let her go if you back off,” Morbin panted. “I’ll take her, and if you don’t follow us, I’ll let her go when I’m out of here.”

“No. It’s over. You’ve killed and hurt too many people already.” Mulder tightened his grip on his gun. He saw his partner set her jaw. She began to struggle against Morbin, and he yelled, “Scully! Now!” He ran forward, aiming his beam straight into Morbin’s eyes.

At the same instant, Scully kicked backward, her foot slamming into Morbin’s knee. As the man buckled, she dove to the ground, her face and palms scraping against dirt and stone. She tried to roll toward Mulder, but Morbin’s hand clutched her right arm. He pulled her back toward the precipice.

As Mulder dropped to his knees to grab Scully, Morbin’s foot smashed against his arm, sending gun and flashlight flying, and causing Mulder to reel in pain. Morbin slammed his knee into Mulder’s jaw and knocked him backward, his head hitting hard ground with a sickening thud. He lay, stunned, fighting to maintain consciousness. He heard Scully struggling with Morbin, and he pulled himself to his hands and knees.

“Mulder! He’s pulling me toward the ledge! I can’t–I can’t–get up!”

Mulder clumsily lunged for his partner. His hands reached for her ankles, and he pulled her backward. He regained his feet as another flashlight’s beam illuminated the clearing. Morbin reached for Scully, but Mulder threw himself forward, coming between his partner and the hypnotist. His fist smashed into Morbin’s gut, causing him to let go of Scully’s arm and to double over, coughing and gasping.

“That’ll be enough!” Colson huffed. “Mr. Morbin, you’re under arrest. I’ve a Glock 9 aimed straight at you. Make one more move, and I *will* fire it.”

Morbin slowly stood straight, his mouth open as he caught his breath. He looked at the outlines of Mulder, Scully, and Colson in the moonlight. He glanced at the creekbed below. “I won’t go with you.” He swallowed hard. “I won’t spend my life in jail. I’ll jump first.”

“At least you have that choice,” Mulder rasped, his head aching from its impact with the ground.

Scully stood unsteadily and moved to Mulder’s side. “And that’s more than you gave Marcie and Dylan Connor, and the others,” she breathed. “And me.”

Morbin sneered. “There was choice! They *chose* to come to me. They wanted release from their pain.”

“You told them they could join their loved ones,” Mulder scoffed. “You never told them how you’d make that happen. You son of a bitch, you were jealous of them. They’d had someone who loved them; they couldn’t cope without that. But you’ve never kept anyone’s love or respect. You lured victims here to punish them for having what you never had.”

“I gave them relief,” Morbin spat.

“You gave them death,” Scully replied.

Morbin snorted sarcastically. “And that’s what I’ll give myself.” He turned toward the creek. “This is *my* flying hour!” He put his arms straight out as a diver might.

He lifted his right foot and stepped off the cliff.

****

EPILOGUE

Spirit Dale Cafe Wednesday, 1:20 p.m.

“Well, Sheriff, if this has to be the only restaurant in town,” Mulder said as he wiped his lips with a paper napkin, “you’re lucky it’s a good one.”

“Amen to that.” Colson saluted Mulder and Scully with his coffee cup. “And I’m pleased to make good on my promise. I don’t know how you figured Morbin out, but I’m sure glad you did. You two deserve more than a free lunch.”

Scully laid her napkin next to her empty plate. “I would have preferred to figure out Morbin in a different way.”

“But if we had, you wouldn’t have gotten your name into yet another X-File, Scully,” Mulder joked. “I swear you’re going for a record.”

Colson nodded toward the restaurant’s large windows, calling Mulder and Scully’s attention to the town’s main street. “Marcie’s funeral’s over.”

Scully saw the hearse pass, followed by several cars. “Has Aaron mentioned what Brain is going to do now?” she asked Colson.

“Yes, and it’s good news. Tom, Brian’s father, is coming back to Spirit Dale so Brian can stay in our school. They’ll be looking at some different houses soon, and living in the old one ’til they find one.”

“That’s good,” Mulder observed. “I’m glad Brian will be with his dad.”

“Amen to that, too,” Colson said. He reached for the check, then fumbled in his pocket. Finding change for a tip, he put it next to his plate. “Folks, I hate to do this, but I’ve got to leave you so’s I can get out to the cemetery. It’s been a pleasure, and I’m real grateful to you. If you’re ever in Spirit Dale again, you be sure to give me a call.”

Mulder rose and shook hands with Colson. “Thanks for your help, Sheriff. I don’t know how things would have gone at the canyon without you.”

“Didn’t do much,” the Sheriff replied. “But thank God it turned out all right.”

Scully also stood and took Colson’s hand. “I hope your town can get back to normal soon. You’ve had a rough time.”

Colson nodded to both. “Have a good flight back to Washington. Tell J. Edgar I said hello.” He laughed and headed toward the cashier.

Mulder helped Scully with her coat as the Sheriff left the restaurant. “Hey, partner, we’ve got a little time before we head for the airport. Want to visit The Village one last time?”

“Absolutely not. I want to go back to the motel–”

“Hey, that’s a better idea,” he said as he headed for the car. “Do you have a headache today?”

She playfully glared at him as she got into the passenger’s side. “I don’t want to ever hear about that again, Mulder. The hypnosis, my falling for everything Morbin said–I still can’t believe it happened. That I let it happen.”

He reached from the driver’s seat to caress her bruised cheek gently as he engaged her eyes. “You’ve nothing to be ashamed of, Scully. I told you he was a master at his craft. Other than not meeting with him at all, there’s no way you could have avoided Morbin’s manipulation.” He shrugged. “You’re the one who’s hardest to convince about the paranormal–that has to show you how good he was at what he did.”

She leaned her head into his palm. “I know you’re right, but I’m still embarrassed. Mulder, will you let me get rid of that tape? It won’t have to be put in the file, will it? I listened to it on Monday. I can’t believe what I said to him and what I let him say to me. I can’t believe what I let him talk me into–”

“He was sick, Scully. Got his thrills vicariously. He enjoyed telling people what to do and watching them do it–or hearing about it later. It was the only time he felt powerful.”

“I realize that, but it doesn’t make what happened any easier for me.”

“You’re tough,” Mulder said. “You hate to admit that you’re vulnerable. But anyone would have been susceptible to Morbin, Scully. You’re not superhuman, you know. Congratulate yourself on being the only one to have survived his hypnotic schemes. You fought and won.”

“I wouldn’t have if you hadn’t gotten to the cliff when you did.”

“You might have. You never know.” His hand moved from her cheek and touched her hair. “Anyway, that’s why we’re partners. We’re good for each other.”

She smiled and nodded. “And the tape?”

“The tape has been sliced into a billion pieces and scattered over Spirit Creek from the cliff. I went up there this morning before you woke.”

She closed her eyes. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” He kissed her forehead, then started the car. “So ends another exciting trip to western New York. Shall we get our luggage and head for the airport?”

“Yes,” she replied, fastening her seatbelt. She looked at her watch. “But we don’t have to leave for Buffalo until 5:00. Maybe we could spend just a little time at the Cedar Arms before we go.” She winked at him. “You were right, Mulder. Spirit Dale *does* have great motels.”

****END****

END NOTES: “The Village” is *very loosely* based on Lily Dale, NY, a very real and respected village of psychics, astrologers, and the like. This story intends no malice toward Lily Dale’s purpose or reputation.

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