Swan Lake Part 2

cover (2)

TITLE: SWAN LAKE, Part II

AUTHOR: Windsinger (AKA Sue Esty)

EMAIL: windsinger@aol.com

RATING: PG-13

CATEGORY: X

KEYWORDS: Casefile, MRS, mild Muldertorture

SPOILERS: Through VS9

ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusively on VS10, then Gossamer and

Ephemeral. Others are fine, though please let me know.

DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to Chris Carter,

1013 Productions and Fox. No copyright infringement is intended.

SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully travel to Maine to investigate the

story of children who have been lost in a strange, wooded valley and

return changed.

FEEDBACK: Gratefully accepted.

AUTHOR’S NOTES: Many thanks for Suzanne’s infinite

patience. Many thanks to all of the VS Production staff for not

making me carve this down to fit into one part. Many thanks to

the original series (the first few seasons anyway) for continuing

to be such an inspiration and bringing such joy into my life.

And, yes, there really is a play called The Swan (written by

Elizabeth Egloff) which was the initial inspiration for this story.

Chris Lane, the actor who played ‘the swan’, has my continuing

admiration. He is one incredible physical actor (and not bad

sans-clothing either). I wish him well in his career, which my

friends and I continue to follow in the Washington area with

great zeal.

clip_image002

SWAN LAKE, part II

By Windsinger (AKA Sue Esty)

Teaser

Fall, Winter and Spring, a year earlier

In a wood below where the thick branches of two hedges

intertwine, two deer laid face to face in languid repose. One

moves and you see that it is not a deer but a woman. Must have

been a trick of light and shadow, aided by her long, flowing

cloak of deep brown that covers them both. She leans over and

tenderly kisses her companion who also stirs. He is not a deer

either. What was originally taken to be a wide span of antler

must have been that bundle of bare, thorny branches.

Suddenly he jerks awake, stares at the woman with a cry of

horror and then, crab-like, scrambles backwards. Naked, and

beautiful in his nakedness, he is gone, as fleet as a deer but not

with a deer’s grace. . In his terror he doesn’t pick the smoothest

way but blunders on uphill and down. Tearing through the soft,

screening branches of white pine, he doesn’t see the cloaked

figure. Looking behind in fear of pursuit, he runs at full speed

into her embrace.

“Don’t be afraid,” the woman whispers, even as he struggles like

a wild thing in her arms. Swiftly before he can break loose, her

right arm rises. She must have had the ancient blade in her hand

already. “It will be all right. It always has been.” His eyes are

wide open, golden as ingots, as the stroke comes down across

his bare throat deep and sure. The blood flows thick as crimson

cream over his golden skin and onto the ground. She kneels as

he falls, cradling him in her arms until the long legs cease

twitching and death is certain.

His grave is there in the little clearing where his blood and her

tears have darkened the autumn grass. She sits beside the

mound on a little rock, as silent a witness as the red and gold

leaves that fall to cover the broken ground. Night comes — and

day — and night — until the sky is deep in iron-gray clouds. The

cold wind moans. The cold rain flattens the fallen leaves that

are no longer red and gold but brown. It is a blessing when the

soft snow comes to cover the grave and her cloak in a similar

blanket of white. Her tapping toe, barely visible under her

snowy hem, lures the timid doe and the showshoe rabbit, the

mole and the fox. During the cruel blizzards, however, she waits

alone, frozen hands twisting in her lap. After weeks and months

of white, the bitter early rains come to wash away the snow,

leaving a dreary mud. Finally, the sun rises bright and yellow

on a day when she can raise her head to see the geese winging

on the first warm winds from the south.

A single tiny green shoot is the first sign. It struggles from the

grave just over the place where his heart lay cold under the

earth for so long. More bits of green soon rise from the four

corners of the grave. After their first hesitant start they leap up,

desperate for the sun, a month’s growth in twenty beats of her

quickening heart. The grave soon overflows with a dozen

varieties of vines, each with its own green leaves, and more

spring from the fertile earth every moment. She has risen to her

feet, stiff, her back bent as she stares down and down beneath

the wild green.

All at once the mass of vegetation begins to boil, but that is

because the earth beneath is heaving upwards. Swiftly, she

bends down to pull at the thickest vine. At the end of the stem

there follows not roots and damp earth but an arm. She is on her

knees now, clawing with her white fingers at the grasses and the

seedlings and ferns. So full of life are they that they won’t die

no matter where she flings them. They instantly root and thrive.

Her questing fingers find a shoulder. The body itself is moving

now. Powerful as a water buffalo emerging from its sucking pit

of mud, it pulls itself by will and muscle and her aid from the

grave. The head is covered in roots and vines, so is a second

shoulder. A second arm ends in an infant willow tree. The torso

breaks free with her frantic, eager help. Soon the hips follow

and two legs, the toes fringed in fern.

He claws at the green leaves and white roots that obscure where

his mouth should be. She pulls the mass free for him, brushing

the final loose dirt and stray bit of leaf away with her sleeve. As

she plucks the last stems from the corners of his mouth, he takes

a deep, gagging breath. With the first full flow of air his

struggles lessen and he lies back in her arms exhausted. With

great gentleness, she lifts each limb in turn to break off the roots

of stems from the tips of finger and toe. She kisses each one

into healing as she goes. As best as she can, she removes the

last of the dirt from his body with a hem of her cloak. Only now

does she rest, holding him to her breast, a Madonna cradling her

full-grown son.

For a minute, maybe more, he lies quiet, wrapped in the warmth

of her cloak. It is work enough just to breathe. They make a

singular tableau considering that the wood around them

continues to transform in a riot of growing. Bushes bloom with

blossoms. Mighty trees burst forth with tender leaves. Grasses

and flowers rise to meet the sun. Moss in jewel tones of green

spread over rock and barren ground. A fall of her long butter-

yellow hair drifts over his face on a stir of air. As he raises a

hand to brush it away, he meets her hand on the same errand.

He lies so still now that there is not even the movement of

breathing. Eyes as green as emeralds snap open. With an animal

howl of anguish, he tears himself from her arms. He is instantly

away on long longs as strong as the bones of the earth.

Wearily, she rises from the edge of the hallow that now

resembles more garden than grave. To the sky she looks. Her

tear-filled eyes follow the flight of a single swan beating its

great white wings away from her and into the spring-blue sky.

clip_image004

ACT I

Swan Lake, March 23th , noon

Scully tunelessly whistled as she sauntered down from the

porch to spread the towels from her long, warm bath on the

clothesline behind the cottage. She realized with some surprise

that she was in an exceptionally good mood. Maybe it was

because she had slept sinfully late. Here it was nearly noon. But

then after the night she had had, why not? Maybe it was because

the sun was directly overhead now and warm, and the view of

the lake was beautiful. Maybe it was because of the delicious

smell of the cockleberry-scented air. A lot of it had to do with

the fact that she had nothing right now that she really needed to

do. She didn’t even have the little cottage to straighten since it

was neat as pin already. Yes, this was fine; she was content. All

she needed was one person to make the day perfect. He hadn’t

been there when she woke but that wasn’t unusual.

But there he was. As she came out from behind the hanging

towels, she saw him. He was just standing there where the trail

he had taken the day before ran under the trees. She gave him a

slow, sexy smile of greeting, then felt it sag. Something was

wrong. He leaned heavily on a stick. When he tried to take a

step he nearly fell.

Running to him, she automatically moved to support him. How

had he gotten so dirty in such a short time?

“Mulder, what happened to you?”

“Considering how long I’ve been gone,” he growled, “it took

you long enough to wonder.” Clearly, this was not a good time

to ask questions.

“Let’s get you into the house and I’ll take a look at that leg. At

least what happened to that?”

“Got rolled by a stag if you must know.”

Because there was no room for her to stand at his side, he had to

manage the two steps onto the porch and into the kitchen by

himself. His eyes fell on the refrigerator. “Food first,

examination later.”

She cringed as his filthy hands touched the appliance’s sparkling

surface.

He had the bread and the lunchmeat out in two reaches of his

long arms. He was gobbling the first sandwich even as he made

the second and third. Swallowing the first bite, he sighed.

“Ecstasy.”

“Mulder, that’s white bread and bologna.”

“Whatever.”

She nodded towards the remains of the bowl of the

cockleberries that early that morning she had refilled to the

brim. “At least eat something healthy.”

He startled her by recoiling from the bowl. “Not those! Don’t

you eat them, either! How many have you had?”

Shaken, Scully realized that she had no idea. A quart a least,

probably more, probably a lot more. Her stomach turned

queasily. Maybe there was a reason for Mulder’s choice of

sustenance. “Let’s talk about that later. Bring your lunch and

let’s go into the bedroom so I can take a look at you.”

Still chewing the second sandwich and with the third hanging

limply from his fingertips, he followed her through the drab

little living room. Balancing on one leg, sore shoulder muscles

protesting, he began to remove his jacket. She helped with it

when she saw how much he was obviously hurting.

“Don’t lose that! I had to climb half way up the mountain I fell

down yesterday to get it back. It was freezing this morning.”

So why leave their lovely, warm bed? But she forgot completely

about asking after she began to peel the torn shirt loose from the

multiple splotches of dried blood. Bad as his upper body

looked, she knew where the real problem lay.

“Hip,” she instructed.

“Shower first,” he retorted as he stuffed the last of the soft,

white bread in his mouth, kicked off his boots and dropped his

jeans.

She was still staring at this expanded view of the multi-colored

damage to his body as he disappeared into the small bathroom.

“At least I’ll know what’s dirt and what isn’t,” she mused.

As good as the food was, the shower was better. After soaping

he just stood under the spray, drinking and drinking the cool

water. Why he hadn’t gone for hot water after the night and the

morning he had had he had no idea. He really wasn’t thinking

very clearly at all. There was just this rolling anger in him. It

had gotten him out of the woods despite the pain. Not that he

had had any choice. There had been no search party in the

woods. She hadn’t even noticed he was missing. She hadn’t even

cared enough for that. That hurt.

He didn’t even bother to dry off but walked out into the

bedroom still dripping. “You’re frigid!” she exclaimed at the

touch of his bluish skin. “You washed in COLD water?”

Mulder frowned. He had, and not knowing why made him

angry all over again. “It felt good,” he snapped. “Got a problem

with that!”

She didn’t take the bait. They could argue later. She was too

intent on the network of long red scratches and the blooming

patterns of still-rising bruises. She whistled over the huge red

and purple bruise on his hip. He must have fallen hard. Drug

box open, alternately patting his skin dry and applying

antibacterial ointment to scratches, she realized with some

consternation that she had not felt so ‘aware’, so much herself,

for hours, perhaps not since dinner at the Hutchinson’s. Once his

right side had been dried and tended, Mulder collapsed slowly

onto the bed as if all the energy had drained out of him. At least

she wouldn’t have to argue with him to get him to rest this time.

He was still settling into something approaching a comfortable

position when she realized that there was more wrong with this

picture than his wanting to sleep. There was an unusual amount

of puffy redness around the larger scratches. “Mulder,

something’s not right.”

“You’re telling me,” he grumbled sleepily.

“These scratches look like they’re at least twelve hours old.”

“I know, got them last night.”

“Where? How?”

“When I took my little walk out to the spring, remember?” His

voice faded as exhaustion pulled at him. “And I told you how.

Got toppled by a buck. Spent the night in a freezing, filthy

cave.”

Frantically, she shook him. “No, you didn’t! You were here! We

laid on the rug in front of the fire! We — ”

“Saw the ashes as we walked by,” he mumbled. “Couldn’t have

been much of a fire.”

Bewildered, Scully rocked back onto the bed, the tube of

antiseptic cream dropping from her hand. He was wrong; it had

been a perfect blaze — and it had just gone on and on and she

hadn’t tended it once. She clutched at her partner and found him

cold in more ways than one. Staring around the room and out

the open door into the living room in search of more blankets,

the rose-colored lenses finally dissolved completely from her

eyes.

It took all her strength to rouse him. “The room! The cabin!

Mulder!”

“S-Sorry,” came his slurred voice. “It’s not exactly a dump, but I

had wanted something better for you this time. Woods and all…

Not that you would have cared either way.”

“That’s the point, you idiot! It was nice, it was wonderful! Last

night, this morning. It was perfect!” After dragging all the

blankets she could find onto the bed — they might be warn and

faded but they were warm — she crawled in as well, and

wrapped herself around his chilled body.

“Mulder, please don’t fall asleep again, we need to talk. Who

was here if you weren’t? God, what did I do! Was I dreaming?”

His head lulled limply from side to side. “Don’t know, maybe.

Wasn’t perfect where I was, that’s for sure. Can’t think. Sorry…

Can’t stay wake. Just let me sleep.” He yawned and made one

last effort. “Whatever you do… don’t eat the berries and don’t

leave me again.”

“Again?” she asked, stunned, but he was deeply, deeply asleep.

Confused, she continued to lie there, arms around him, only her

eyes moving rapidly from bedroom to living room. The cabin

was as it had been the first night they had come — functional but

not magical. As she was still wearing all her clothes, she was

soon sweating under the blankets with him, but still she

trembled.

Monday, March 24th

She woke just as the sun dipped below the westernmost

mountain. Her nap had been full of upsetting dreams that she

could no longer remember. At least Mulder’s warm body was

still beside her. Moving carefully so not to wake him, she edged

out of the bed, though from the way he slept a gunshot wouldn’t

have roused him. He had been angry as well as exhausted and it

disturbed her that he continued to scowl even in his sleep.

Restless, she re-read the case notes they had made after talking

with the Hutchinsons, Richard Jameson, and the children. Now

more had happened: Mulder had been attacked and she was —

seeing things? Still pondering and remembering with horror the

white bread and bologna sandwiches Mulder had wolfed down,

she made a chicken and vegetable casserole that would be large

enough to eat off of for several days. If they got busy they

would need something quick. It was not as if they had much

choice. She hadn’t seen even a McDonald’s in Happenstance and

the small coffee shop looked like it closed at dusk, and nights

were still long this far north and this early in the year. She read;

she paced. Finally she forced herself to lie down next to Mulder

again. When he woke, which had to be soon, he’d be burning to

sniff out this mystery from one end of the valley to the other so

she had better get some rest while she could.

It wasn’t until the almost jungle-like chatter of birds woke her

near dawn that she was aware again. Mulder was still sleeping.

Now she really was worried. Despite the chill in the cabin, he’d

pulled the blankets halfway down to his waist. While satisfying

her physician’s eyes that none of the scratches she could see had

become seriously infected and her woman’s eyes that her

handsome lover lived and breathed, Scully became aware of a

fine spray of crumbs caught in the soft hairs of his chest. It

appeared that he had been up in the night and had eaten.

Curious, she wandered into the kitchen to see what kind of mess

he’s left.

She couldn’t believe what she found. Had he invited an army to

supper? All the bread was gone, and the lunchmeat. All but a

tiny corner of the huge casserole had been devoured cold.

Sweeping into the bedroom, she tried to wake him. Stripping

him of blankets displayed his distended stomach. Shouting did

no more good than shaking him. He merely turned over. A cup

of ice cold water from the tap splashed over his face and chest

finally got a kind of groggy, sputtering wakefulness out of him.

“Enough!” she shouted into his ear. “You stagger back here

looking like hell and tell me that you spent the whole night in

the woods, you don’t explain what strange man I slept with, then

you sleep like the dead and eat like a horse. I want to know

what’s going on!”

Dripping, he sat up like a shot. “You slept with _ what _ strange

man!” or at least that was what he intended to say. Half was lost

for moving quickly had aggravated a hundred muscles gone

stiff, one badly bruised hip, and one critically engorged

stomach.

One hand went to his hip, the other to his belly. Both soon flew

to his mouth. Launching himself from the bed with all the grace

of a landed trout, Mulder made it to the small bathroom just to

time. The retching went on for a long time.

“Mulder, do you need any –”

“Out!”

After that Scully didn’t even try to help. She knew that it was

better to keep her distance when Mulder was not actually sick.

It was time to worry when he didn’t fight her. The toilet flushed,

there was a pause, then the faucet came on. The all-too-familiar

splashing, spitting, and gagging sounds followed. Finally,

Mulder’s face, white as paper, appeared in the doorway.

“What man?” he snarled, the shakiness of his words mixing

oddly with his anger.

In exasperation Scully ran slender fingers through her hair. “I

shouldn’t have said that. It must have been a dream, a very vivid

dream. It must have been because he looked like you, felt like

you, but couldn’t have been you if you were in the woods.”

Something crossed her mind, but she visibly shook it away.

“No, couldn’t have been real…”

“Why are you now so certain?” her naked, dripping partner

demanded. When she was clearly reluctant to talk, he leaped

onto the bed and took her shoulders almost painfully in his

hands. His red-rimmed eyes and scowl indicated that his male

pride was not appeased by the fact that the incident might not

have actually happened. The point was, she hadn’t been able to

tell the difference. “Why now are you so certain that it must

have been a dream?”

Scully’s eyes grew wide. Mulder could be forceful, but this

apparition was truly frightening. “At the risk of sounding like a

bad historical romance– because he gave me pleasure, over and

over, but didn’t take any for himself.”

He rocked back stunned. For almost the first time since he had

limped out of the woods the anger was gone from his face.

“And I’ve never done that?” he asked in a small voice.

She blushed, remembering wonderful, sweet times. “Of course

you have, or tried, but I’ve always managed to get you to change

your unselfish little mind.” Her expression turned pensive.

“That’s why I’m sure that it must have been a dream. Because I

didn’t even try. I just — enjoyed myself.” She blushed again.

The images were still there of the white fluttering shirt, the kind

Mulder didn’t own, and of the perfect fire that never went out. It

had been a dream! She was going to ignore the memory in the

very cells of her body that she had recently been so thoroughly

satisfied. Think about something else instead.

“Besides, it’s more than that. This place…” she turned around,

eyes huge as she stared at the serviceable but unexceptional bed

and dresser and the comfortable but tattered couch and chairs

that she could see out in the living room. “It’s all different. I

thought it was so perfect then, so exquisitely furnished, so

clean. The linens on the bed –” Feeling the heat rise in her face,

she abruptly turned her attention from the thread-bare and

rumbled bedclothes. “That whole night and the morning after, it

was like I was in a kind of fog.”

He was now wearing his that’s-why-they-put-the-‘ I ‘-in-FBI

expression. That was good to see. “Like you were drugged? The

berries… You didn’t say, how many did you eat?”

“I don’t know how many I ate that night, but enough to choke a

horse. What’s the problem?”

“Just don’t eat any more!” he snapped, unexpectedly angry

again. “Not a single one.” He shivered again then as his

expressive eyes flickered back and forth back between black

fury to red-rimmed exhaustion. “Sorry, got to take a another

shower. Be careful.”

“Careful of what?” she wondered only half aloud as he moved

like an injured sleepwalker back into the bathroom.

The shower had just started and she was studying her partner’s

discarded clothes for some clues to this craziness when there

came a knock on the cabin door. It was Dr. Hutchinson looking

as round and as kindly and as concerned as a country doctor

should look.

“I didn’t see you around yesterday, I was just wondering –” His

eyes widened as he spied Mulder’s torn and bloody shirt in

Scully’s hand. “Someone have a accident?”

She sighed. “Mulder. He went out night before last following

one of Reena Jameson’s trails and fell down a mountain.”

The older man’s eyes lit with professional interest. “Let me take

a look.” Then with disappointment, “Oh, I forgot, you’re a

physician yourself.”

“A forensic pathologist, so my clients are all dead — all but

Mulder. His hip’s pretty bad. I guess I wouldn’t mind a second

opinion.”

Hutch brightened. “Lead the way.”

They were just entering the bedroom as Mulder emerged from

the shower, limping, stark naked and once more dripping cold

water.

“What the –! Scully!” he growled as he snatched up the closest

blanket to cover himself.

Scully folded her arms and leaned against the door jam. “Dr.

Hutchinson’s going to examine your hip.”

Frowning, but knowing that particular expression on his

partner’s face all too well, Mulder eased himself down on the

bed. Turning to display his left side, he winced as his teeth

came down on a previously bitten lip.

The doctor whistled at the colorful spread of purples and reds

before him. Gently he prodded from waist to knee.

“Impressive.” His patient hissed as blunt fingers hit a

particularly tender spot. “Yes, bet that smarts.”

“Smarts? That’s a highly technical term?”

“Taught in all the best medical schools. What did this? Not a

fall unless you fell some distance and came down on something

hard, but then I would have expected you to have broken it.

Nerve’s pinched or at least enflamed, muscles torn, a dozen

ligaments stretched, but nothing broken here that I can tell. You

should have it X-rayed though.”

Hazel eyes flared. “Now I’ve got two of you!” With

considerable effort he rolled off the bed and reached awkwardly

for his duffel bag and clean clothes. “More X-rays! One of these

days, I’m going to start glowing in the dark.”

“Someone got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning,”

Scully mumbled, “more than once,” but her eyes were more

concerned than her words.

“Morning?” Mulder stared unbelieving at the hands of a cheap

clock, which was ticking away on the nightstand. His eyes then

fixed on the window where golden autumn sunlight lit harvest

gold woods.

“It’s eight a.m.,” he announced bewildered.

“Yes, it is.”

“I came in –”

“About noon yesterday.”

Wearing only briefs and holding his jeans, Mulder stood as

straight as he could, eyes wide. “That’s impossible.”

Scully felt her tension headache rising from its current two

capsule level to a killing three and then some. “Pretty much so,”

she affirmed, “except for your middle-of-the-night raid on the

refrigerator.”

Shock only began to describe the expression on his face.

“Scully, I’m hungry. No, I’m starving.” Without waiting for

comment, he began rifling through the far corners of his duffel

bag.

“You see, Dr. Hutch, Mulder doesn’t generally sleep well, and

especially not while on a case. He doesn’t eat much while on a

case either and he never gorges. He’s never hungry after he’s

sick either and he was sick this morning and lost everything that

he didn’t remember eating anyway.” All this time her partner

was still searching. “Don’t bother looking for your hoard of

power bars,” she told him solemnly. “I found the wrappers in

the trash. And there isn’t anything food-like left in the kitchen

either.”

Still wearing only his briefs, Mulder sagged back onto the bed,

arms wrapped protectively around his abdomen. “It feels like

my stomach is digesting itself.” His pleading eyes went to her

face.

She took a step backwards. “Don’t get any ideas. Cannibalism is

illegal in Maine.”

Dr. Hutch had been listening, fascinated. “There are always

cockleberries,” he suggested trying to be helpful, not knowing

quite how to take these two. “They’re everywhere –”

“No!” the agents proclaimed in unison.

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

With effort and the aid of a stout walking stick that Dr. Hutch

found in one of the cabin’s storage sheds with the camping

gear, Mulder managed to fold himself into the back seat of their

rental car. At least there he could extend his left leg along the

length of the seat. While waiting for Scully he began forking

into a can of stewed tomatoes. He had already finished a small

can of baked beans. Hutch had found a few canned goods in the

same place as the walking stick. When the physician added his

bulk to the passenger seat the car rocked. After a few minutes

Scully slid in behind the wheel, a frown on her face.

“Your swan’s gone,” Mulder intoned from the back seat, a

dribble of tomato juice running down his chin.

She shrugged as she backed the car. “I guess he got better.” She

caught a knowing flicker in a hazel eye through the rear view

mirror. “What? Do you know something about Bill?”

“We’ll get to that later.”

“You didn’t eat him, did you?”

Again that flicker as the fork dipped once more into the can.

“I want to know about the cockleberries,” Hutch inquired.

“I ate the berries when I was out in the woods. Scully assured

me that they weren’t in the same family in strawberries, which I

can’t eat. They really are good. But I did things that night that

only seemed reasonable at the time. I ate the most in the shortest

period of time just before I found the cave. Shortly thereafter, I

had the oddest dreams. My thinking began to go fuzzy only

after I had eaten the berries. After that I stayed clear.”

“In other words, Mulder thinks that taken in quantity they’re

hallucinogenic and in this I’m inclined to agree with him.”

Scully was rewarded for this statement with a warm gaze of

gratitude from her partner.

“You’ll probably find my next theory more difficult to

swallow.” Red eyebrows rose at his reference to food. “Scully,

what have you noticed that’s different about me since the night

we got here?”

Through the mirror, her eyes went to the forkful of limp,

dripping tomatoes. “You mean other than eating anything that’s

not tied down, even canned vegetables, sleeping like the dead,

and being generally foul tempered? Not a thing.”

Before continuing he glared at her but knew that she was only

trying to hide her own rising anxiety. “This county has children

who have gotten lost in the woods and when they return their

personalities are changed. Wait, let me correct that. I reviewed

their case histories again and what their personalities seem to do

is fluctuate. One minute they are their old selves; the next,

someone different. Scully, you just named three idiosyncrasies

that I’ve picked up only since I spent a night in these woods.

Keeping in mind that in this area it seems as if winter is

approaching, what animal has that kind of temperament?”

“Mulder, I don’t –”

Hutch turned his big body around to stare into the back seat.

“Bear?” he mouthed, eyes the size of saucers.

Mulder smiled grimly. “The strangest and most clear of the

dreams that I had in the cave was that a really large, really

smelly, and very furry animal came and breathed into my face

for a long, long time.” He set down the can of tomatoes, his face

pale. “I wanted to stop it, but I couldn’t move. That’s common

enough in dreams but what if it wasn’t a dream? Maybe I

couldn’t move because I was heavily juiced on the berries ”

The big physician’s face was glowing. “That’s amazing. It’s as if

you were given a piece of its spirit. The Native Americans

believe their totem animals bestow similar gifts.”

Scully glared at the big man in the passenger seat. What Mulder

didn’t need in his flights of fancy was a soul mate.

“But it fits, Dr. Scully. It’s fall, at least here it is. Bears bulk up,

sleep heavily, and being bad tempered is generally the nature of

the beast.”

“A little grandiose, though, don’t you think?” Scully quipped.

“Couldn’t be a squirrel, could it? Or a skunk? A mole? Mulder,

this isn’t funny.”

“No, it isn’t; it’s very serious. Do you think I like the idea of

spending the next few weeks blowing up like a blimp and then

spending the winter in a nearly comatose state?” Curiously,

Mulder looked down the collar of his T-shirt at his chest.

“Clearly not a physical change though; no increase in chest

hair.”

“Mulder, stop!”

“At least I could have gotten something useful out of this. So it’s

only a mental or emotional change.”

“What you’re suggesting,” the physician considered, mostly to

himself, “is that the lost children got their new personalities the

same way. By eating the berries and being visited by animals of

their own. That would explain why they’re all different. Some

have turned timid, others vicious, others secretive. But you’re

not a child, Agent Mulder.”

Briefly, Scully took her attention from the gravel road to roll

her eyes heavenward. Her partner didn’t miss her reaction.

Mulder directed his comments to the eager Hutch. “Maybe it

has happened to adults as well, but they have more practice

maintaining the veneer of civilization.”

“Will you both stop!” Scully demanded, clearly ready to

explode. “Neither of you have come up with a ‘why’, much less

a ‘how’.”

“I’m well aware that this is wilder than even my usual theories.

It began to take shape while I was taking my second shower this

morning. Why _ was _ I using cold water? In the past I’ve

reserved that punishment for calming down certain impulses

when the time wasn’t appropriate. I was using cold water only

because warm water just didn’t feel natural. And then I thought

about all that I ate…” he glared with loathing at the nearly

empty can of tomatoes. “Disgusting.”

“But why?” Scully demanded, wanting, and needing, an answer.

“If I knew, our work would be done here. Now here’s a cultural

leap. Remember the Green Man carvings at Jamesons’s,

especially the Golden Man mask in the workroom that seemed

modeled from life? There was incredible power there; we both

felt it. This particular nature spirit is far more ancient than signs

on pub door or even than the capitals in Romanesque cathedral.

Remember, I said that the Green Man has pre-Christian, pre-

Roman antecedents.”

“So finally we have a connection to Reena Jameson’s

disappearance.”

“Yes, getting to that. She spent a lot of time in the woods

looking for inspiration. All at once her art changes drastically.

She creates the Golden Man. Now was this piece based on a real

person she met out there or did her perceptions change because

she picked up one of these souls? One or both kept luring her

back. What I’m hoping is that this last time she ate too many of

the berries and got herself so lost that she still hasn’t found her

way home. Unfortunately, I doubt that we’re going to find our

solution so simple. I think that we’re going to find that both are

true — that the Golden Man is out there and that he’s somehow

linked to her and this ‘soul’ she’s carrying. Dr. Hutch, she’s your

sister-in-law. Did you notice any changes in her personality in

the days or weeks before her disappearance?”

The older man’s look of alarm was genuine. “I wish I could say.

We didn’t see each often during that time.”

“Maybe her husband noticed something.” Unconsciously,

Mulder had polished off the tomatoes, but he hastily dropped an

unopened can of gray-green peas. “That’s why we are on our

way to talk with Richard Jameson.”

End of Act I

**********

Act II

Swan Lake, March 24th, 11am

The craftsman was in his workshop releasing an ancient amber

violin from the clamps that held it while the glue dried. His eyes

could barely be seen in the shadowed hollows of his face. He

had looked tired before, but this was far worse than tired. “I

really don’t have the time for any more useless questions.”

“This shouldn’t take long,” Scully said gently. “Did your wife

begin walking in the woods more often just before she

disappeared?”

The man’s strong, slender hands paused in their task. “I didn’t

think it worth mentioning. She said that she needed to be one

with the spirit of the wood in order to work but it was more than

that. She couldn’t seem to sit still. She kept hiking over to the

lake. To the untrained eye her work was still excellent, but it

seemed rushed to me.”

From where he paced Mulder inquired suddenly, “Did your wife

have a habit of eating the cockleberries that grow around here?”

The craftsman’s head jerked up in surprise.” I didn’t think

anyone else but Roz and Reena paid attention to those things.

Yes, pints.”

“Our working premise is that they contain a mild

hallucinogenic,” Scully reported. She looked at Hutch. “The

active ingredient must be inactivated by heat as in your wife’s

tea, which is why both Mulder and I were initially misled that

the berries were harmless.”

Jameson was clearly disturbed. “You think these hallucinations

explain her disappearance?” Unconsciously, his hand reached

up to rub the side of his skull above his left ear.

“We believe that there may be a tie in, yes,” Mulder affirmed,

suddenly studying the young husband with an intent expression.

“Besides, restlessness, had she picked up any other unusual

characteristics recently? Was she more secretive? Did her eating

habits change?”

“Timid as a mouse, skittish as a squirrel…” Hutch asked trying

to be helpful.

“Sly as a fox, grumpy as a bear,” Scully muttered nearly under

her breath.

Mulder opened his mouth to offer a grumpy retort of his own

then decided to keep his peace. Scully was actually showing

less resistance to all this than he expected.. She was clearly still

spooked by her own ‘dream’. Publicly, she now denied that a

‘man’ had even come, that the fire had ever burned, that the

cabin had ever seemed ‘perfect’ to her, but he was convinced

that all of those things had occurred. Even before coming to

picturesque Swan Lake, the very thought of any man touching

her against her will — and by such trickery — would have driven

him to violence. Since the coming of his tempestuous little

friend, it wouldn’t take much to push him over the edge into a

murderous rage. At least for now, therefore, he could not think

of it. Dare not think of it. Not and stay sane.

Jameson was looking from one to the other of the agents, deeply

confused by the intensity of emotion that radiated from them

both. Before he could even consider how to answer their

questions, his face suddenly transformed with pain. Bending

nearly double, he pressed the heels of his hands hard against his

skull.

As one, Hutch and Scully asked. “Headache?”

A knock at the door of the shop interrupted any response. It was

Sheriff Abrams, a deputy, and two men in hunting jackets and

carrying rifles. The woman wasn’t an escaped convict, Scully

thought. What did they think they were hunting? Bear? She

shivered and thought she saw Mulder do the same.

“A promise is a promise,” Abrams was telling Richard. “Last

night marked three days since your report and so I’ve declared

Reena Jameson officially missing. The state police have been

informed and eight teams are already out on the trails you

identified based on our earlier discussions.”

Mulder saw Scully start. He knew what she wanted to shout —

‘Call them back!’ — but did they really have the evidence, or the

right, to do that with a woman missing? So far the berries’ effect

had not been fatal. These people also lived in these woods day

after day. They must know the dangers — the normal dangers —

far better than they could.

As if reading her partner’s mind, Scully approached the young

officer. “Sheriff, it’s vital that you instruct your people not to eat

the cockleberries until I have them analyzed.”

“The berries? Oh, don’t go the analysis route. There’s really no

problem. No one I’m sending out will partake, not in any

quantity anyway. Not with guns in hand.”

Scully’s head cocked like that of an alert terrier. “You know

about the berries?”

A shrug. “Sure, we all do.”

“Well, we didn’t!” Hutch howled and his brother-in-law went a

few shades paler.

“Uh, sorry. Guess we all grew up knowin’ about them. ‘Wine on

the Vine’ we call them. Gives you a bit of a buzz, a sense of

well being, one with the trees. No big deal. They’re most potent

around Swan Lake, by the way. But the hunters have an

unwritten code, no indulging during hunting season.”

“And what about your children!” Scully demanded.

“A few won’t hurt them. Some mothers pack them with their

kid’s lunch. Better than Ritalin for the over-active ones.”

Mulder thought that Scully’s eyes were going to roll right out of

her head. “So if these are so wonderful in all possible ways,

why don’t they sell ‘Wine on the Vine’ at your corner upscale

grocery store? Why don’t you have a tourist trade like Atlantic

City?”

Another shrug from the sheriff. “They can’t be cultivated. Lord

knows enough people have tried. So we keep them as our own

local secret otherwise the city folk would strip us bare in one

weekend.”

Which, Mulder thought, certainly was true.

“So don’t you worry about the Blue Bombers and my search

teams,” the sheriff concluded. “I came by, by the way, to see if

there’s anything else Mr. Jameson could think of which would

help in the search.”

The craftsman had not moved since Abrams, in his way, had

confirmed Scully’s warning about the berries. He had the look

of having been shot and not with cupid’s arrows.

Sheriff Aaron looked at the young man with sympathy. “You’re

certain that Reena didn’t catch a bus to Miami?”

“Not so mundane, I fear,” Mulder interrupted, staring directly

into the young husband’s worried and wounded face. “I’m

convinced that we are going to find her in the woods — one way

or the other. To start with, is there a place off one of Reena’s

trails which has a sharp drop off and perhaps a scenic

overlook?”

Scully looked from the miserable young husband to her partner

with a curious expression. Mulder seemed to have gotten very

specific all of a sudden and she was very afraid that she knew

where he had come by this particular leap of logic.

Like a zombie, Jameson led them along a well-used path,

another of the paths, not one of his wife’s favorites but still one

that they both knew well. Refusing both painkillers or to be left

behind, Mulder trailed doggedly at the end of the group. At

several points, the path ran along the edge of an escarpment.

The view each time the path came close to the edge was breath

taking. Up here one might truly wish that they could fly.

A young woman had certainly tried. It was the alert and slowly

moving Mulder, limping along with the aid of Hutch’s walking

stick, who noticed the signs of disturbance on the edge. A

hundred feet below the third overlook on a bolder-strewn field

by a stream lay the rumpled body of Reena Jameson, several

days dead.

clip_image006

A silent, somber group stood at the edge of the cliff and looked

down.

“How did you know?” the sheriff asked suspiciously. He had

directed his question at Mulder, but Jameson interrupted them.

“I just couldn’t find her,” the young craftsman murmured. “I

couldn’t. I tried.”

“Sheriff, can this wait?” Hutch asked, looking with sympathy at

his brother-in-law, “Can’t you see he’s in shock? Richard didn’t

kill her if that’s what you’re wondering. They loved; they loved

each other so much.”

An exceedingly stiff and pensive Mulder rose from where he

was examining the cliff edge. “Could have been an accident. As

I remember, you’ve had a lot rain lately. The edge is soft here

and a section seems to have broken off recently. I wouldn’t be

surprised to find the pieces down there by her body.”

The young husband — the young widower — was silently but

openly weeping. The sheriff studied the man and his gaze was

not unkind. “I’m not one to look for trouble where there isn’t

any. We’ll, of course, do what Agent Mulder suggests and look

closely at the rock and bits down there, even bring in a botanist

and a geologist if we have to, to see if there’s a reasonable

match. And we’ll have to have an autopsy and run a background

check on you and your wife, Mr. Jameson. It’s routine.

Everything’ll probably be okay, but until all the forensics come

back, please don’t leave the county. And, of course, the autopsy

will include an analysis of what she’s eaten. I get the impression

that you and Agent Scully suspect that her being under the

‘influence’ of the berries contributed to this tragedy. That would

shed a new light on our community’s little secret vice. That’s

the last thing we want, but we can take our licks if we have to.

You have to believe me, we’ve had no trouble up till now.”

“What he means,” Scully explained gently to Jameson, “is if

there is a natural drug in the fruit, as we suspect, or even a high

alcohol content, and they find it in quantity in your wife’s

stomach, the coroner will almost certainly rule death by

mischance.” She stared around the woods and its acres of berry

bushes. “And what they’ll do then about these woods, I have no

idea.”

“Likely burn them to the ground,” the sheriff said with

resignation. “Pity.”

It took time to document the scene and gather evidence but they

found a significant chunk of rock and dirt bound in roots from

plants that grew on the cliff edge but not below which seemed

to confirm everyone’s expectations. During the process, Richard

Jameson had wandered back and along the path, alternately

staring over, clutching at this hair, swearing in self-

recrimination and crouching down to weep with his face in his

hands. At last Abrams, his FBI visitors, and Jameson watched

from the overlook as Dr. Hutch and the sheriff’s team below

began their careful removal of the too-familiar black body bag.

Mulder, whose restlessness had increased as the afternoon

progressed, had turned his back on the solemn procession to

watch Jameson, who had suddenly become as twitchy as the

agent. Mulder’s eyes gave nothing away about what he was

thinking, however. Scully had learned long ago to be wary of

that expression.

“We’ll see that Mr. Jameson gets home safely,” Mulder assured

the officer. Abrams put a hand to the brim of his hat in grave

farewell. The remaining three watched as the officer vanished

around a bend in the trail as he headed down to join the solemn

procession they had seen from above.

Scully studied the two men left with her. Mulder was suspicious

about something and Richard certainly didn’t act like a man they

were keeping from following his wife’s body. The young man

had been glancing towards the deeper woods. As soon as the

sheriff was out of sight, he began edging towards a different

path, one that led to Swan Lake.

With three limping steps, Mulder blocked the young man’s

progress. “We need to talk.”

Jameson’s eyes flared with annoyance. The expression was

enhanced by tracks of dried tears on the lean planes of his face.

“These cockleberries,” Mulder inquired, “how many do you eat

in a day? I don’t think that that’s all wood stain under your

fingernails.” The young widower’s hands curled into fists and

for the first time Scully noticed the numerous red scratches on

the backs of his hands that trailed up under the cuff of each

sleeve. Mulder, on the other hand, had clearly seen them before.

“Did you get those in the woods?”

Jameson thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans.

“What do you think?” he snapped. “I’ve been looking for my

wife,” and made an abrupt move to go around the agent. Mulder

reached out to hold him back, but it was Jameson who spoke

first and in warning.

“You should go back to the city, Agent Mulder, and take Agent

Scully with you. You can probably learn to live with what’s in

you, but only as long as you get away from the woods,

especially these woods.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“Oh, yes you do. As we walked up here, Hutch told me about

your theory, the bear in the cave… and you. You think that the

berries and one of these ‘little souls’ had something to do with

Reena’s death. Just leave it alone.”

Mulder’s jaw was set hard. “If your wife’s death was an

accident, if this animal spirit theory is just some crazy man’s

idea, then what is there is be afraid of?”

“Did you hear me put down your theory? It’s already too late,

that’s the point. Too late for you, too late for me, certainly too

late for Renna.” In a rush, grief seemed to crush the young man

with a terrible force. “It was my fault. I went searching for her, I

saw her from down there.” He looked towards the field below

the cliff on the opposite bank of the stream. “She was up here.

Just standing, swaying and, I think, singing. I called to her.” His

voice broke as he raised his stricken face to Scully. “Why did I

do that? She heard me, saw me… and she smiled. She seemed

truly happy and relieved to see me. Arms raised, she came to

me. Just stepped off the edge… to come to me.”

Scully averted her eyes for a respectful few seconds. That kind

of pain no one needed to see. “So you’ve known all along.”

When she turned back tears were rolling down the young man’s

cheeks again and into his close-cropped beard.

“Not exactly. I took her in my arms. She lasted only a moment.

Long enough to know that she loved me and also that that she

wasn’t quite… herself.” A deep shudder went through the dark-

haired man’s frame. “I must have gone mad. I knew who had

done this to her. I went dashing into the woods to find him, to

kill him, to let him kill me. I didn’t care. That was the day

before you came. Th-things happened in the woods. I can’t

remember what, only when I came back to myself I found that I

couldn’t find this spot again, couldn’t find her. I had begun to

hope that it had all been a nightmare, that if I offered them

enough then maybe they would return her.”

“They?” Mulder asked. His senses were clearly on alert but he

spoke gently in light of the craftsman’s distress.

The widower gave a sad, sad smile of irony. “You know one of

them; you don’t want to know the other.”

In his growing irritation Mulder seemed to grow taller. “But

who are ‘they’?”

“You wouldn’t believe me.”

Frustrated, Mulder drew strength from the amused twinkle in

Scully’s cool gaze. “Agent Scully and I have run into a lot more

‘unbelievable’ stuff than you could possibly imagine. Try us.”

But Jameson wasn’t listening, at least not to the agents. Heels of

his hands came up to press against his temples as if the pain he

had felt in the workroom had returned ten-fold, but there was as

much fear as pain in his distorted features. Something was

coming that frightened him to the core.

Something did. In a matter of seconds, the woods began to

come alive. The transformation began small with a whistling in

the very tops of the trees, but from a rising roar in the distance a

significant wind storm was drawing rapidly closer. Desperately,

Jameson began searching the surrounding forest. His eyes

settled on a cluster of the berry bushes overflowing with purple

globes. He raced to these and began stuffing the fruit in his

mouth. After trading an incredulous look with his partner,

Mulder hobbled as quickly as he could over to where the young

man was frantically eating.

“Jameson, stop!” Mulder ordered, even going so far as to seize

the young man’s arm. “Those are dangerous, remember?”

But Jameson only shook off the restraining hand. “I ha’ to,” he

mumbled, cheeks bulging, and by the expression on his face he

wasn’t enjoying the fruit. He almost gagged on a mouthful but

swallowed. “She’s _ so _ angry.” There were actually tears in

his eyes. “Hoisted on my own petard,” he mumbled even as he

ate, the frenetic pace only slowing slightly as he spoke.

As alert as a hunting dog with the scent of prey in the air,

Mulder tuned into the woods. At the same time the nails of one

hand bore down hard in the palm of the other. “So there is a

‘she'” he breathed, more than a little apprehension mixed with

the awe. “Of course, there would be. Is she coming?” he called

over his shoulder to Jameson. “Did she start this?”

Jameson didn’t answer. He probably hadn’t heard the question.

They were in the center of a full windstorm now. The

movement in the forest was like the heaving breath of an

immense giant, yet the wind came from no fixed direction, only

grew stronger, and stronger. Everything in the woods was in

motion now. Trees swayed as if caught in one great wave after

another. The dry grasses alternately snapped in the gale one

moment and were flattened the next. The air was filled with

stripped leaves and needles that stung. This was more than a

storm; there was violence in the air. Scully reached for her

weapon though seldom had it felt so totally inadequate.

Mulder must have guessed her thought. “Firepower isn’t going

to help!” he called over the roaring. She was surprised that he

spoke at all so intent was he on the bewitched forest. His

expression was open, ready, and a wolf smile was on his face,

as wild and dangerous as the storm. Eyes squinted nearly shut

against the wind, he searched to his right, his left, behind. The

gale whipped at his hair. Where to look when the power was

everywhere?

Scully was not immune to the uncanny menace sweeping

around them. What she felt most strongly, however, was a

nearly overpowering impulse to huddle safely under the thickest

mass of bush and begin gobbling berries like Jameson.

Remembering the distraught young husband, she struggled

against the wind to reach him.

The craftsman was still eating but slower, a dazed expression on

his face. She had to stand between him and his selected bush in

order to get his attention. The intense, enticing aroma of

crushed fruit seemed to be everywhere. “You honestly think that

someone is angry enough at you to start this?” she shouted,

though close as she was she still wasn’t certain that he could

hear over the whipping leaves and clashing branches.

Jameson merely stared at his trembling, purple-stained hands.

No longer stuffing berries, now that the damage was done, his

glazed eyes sought Mulder’s. “You feel it, too. How long do you

think that you can fight against her? You’ve even drawn blood

fighting her.” Mulder had. There was blood on his lip and

smears from the oval-shaped wounds in the palms of both

hands.

At that moment a branch cracked directly above where Mulder

stood. The sound was like a gunshot. He attempted a quick step

away from where the heavy branch was falling, but he had

dropped the stout walking stick and he was stiff from standing

in one place. His bad leg gave way. Hair whipping wildly

around her face, Scully shot across a wild open space to push

him to safely. The heavy branch had barely missed them when

the storm exploded with a deafening new intensity. As the air

filled with noise and flying debris of every kind, they clung to

each other, automatically, shielding their eyes.

As if the last gust had been its last gasp, the wind quickly

dropped to its previous storm-driven levels and then continued

to calm. The agents looked first to each other and then back to

where Jameson had crouched. He was gone. Alarmed, they

turned round and round, searching, but there were too many

shadows under the eerie half-light that had descended with the

storm. Scully retrieved the fallen walking stick and had just

handed it back to her partner when both turned at the sound of

something crashing in the woods nearby. The rustle from the

dead leaves was out of rhythm with the dying storm. Mulder

found the source. Twenty yards from them on a cleared rise

above their heads a magnificent buck stood. He carried an

impressive rack of antlers and a dark ruff ringed his muscular

shoulders. Scully remembered her partner’s muttered story of

his night in the woods. She expected it to stand still as deer will

but this one moved his impossibly slender legs restlessly and

kept tossing his proud head as if trying to rid himself of its

adornment.

clip_image008

“This is your stag?” she asked, her voice raised over the last of

the wind.

Entranced, Mulder had already taken two limping, cautious

steps towards the animal. “Not just any stag, the King Stag if

I’m not mistaken.”

As if in answer, the buck tossed his head one final time and then

was off in great effortless bounds. With a less elegant toss,

Mulder was after him, only much slower, limping and limping

badly. Exasperated, Scully followed. At least this time he

couldn’t outrun her.

They hadn’t gone more than a few yards, however, when a huge

white object suddenly burst from the trees, aiming at their

heads. Mulder ducked and, off balance, fell awkwardly. As he

writhed in pain in the long, dry weeds, Scully knelt at his side.

One hand hovered protectively over her partner. In the other she

still held her service weapon though she didn’t remember why

she had bothered to draw it to start with. There never had been

anything to aim at.

“Speak to me, Mulder.”

” Hurts –” he wheezed. “What do you want me to say?” Then

his eyes widened, no sign of pain any more. Whatever

discomfort he felt had been replaced by something far more

distracting.

Scully knew enough to freeze and follow the direction of

Mulder’s gaze. No movement came from the thick tangle of

bush. Still she saw what he had. Eyes bright in a stray shaft of

the lowering sun were glittering green and alive amidst the dark

green foliage. The owner of those eyes wasn’t trying to hide but

peered out at them like a child playing hide and seek.

End of Act II

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

Act III

Swan Lake, 5pm

“Out!” Scully ordered raising her weapon.

The eyes seemed to leap towards her as the face behind pressed

forward. “Are you sure that’s what you want?” a voice asked, its

smooth tones full of some indeterminate British countryside.

“It’s what the lady said!” Mulder growled. With considerable

effort, he had rolled to his knees and drawn his own weapon and

was doing his best to gain his feet but without success. Using

her extended free arm for support, he managed though the effort

forced out a pair of tears. Despite the pain there was no

mistaking the anger in his face and posture. From experience

Scully knew that this was not a good sign. “We repeat, out!” her

partner ordered.

Their visitor came forward though neither agent could have told

when he fully emerged, so perfectly did he blend with his

surroundings. His skin was the golden brown of the autumn

woods. He was young but no child, tall and lean and almost

exactly Mulder’s height. His light brown hair was thick and wild

and curled like a tangle of vines. On his chin was a fuzzy down.

His peasant shirt and trousers were the color of shadow under

leaf and seemed to be a part of him rather than worn.

clip_image010

“He’s not an Ent, Scully,” Mulder admonished when she stared.

“I never thought he was. What he is, is Reena’s model for the

Green Man in the workroom.”

“Bingo. We have questions, Mister….?”

The full lips curled in a faint smile. “You are asking for a

name?”

“They’re handy for filling out arrest warrants,” Mulder replied.

His hazel eyes had that predator gleam as if he’d been following

a vague scent and just made visual contact. “Let me guess.

Would Attis be correct?”

There was no response at first, just a vague processing behind

the golden eyes. “That may have been it. If so, no one has called

me by it for a long, long time.”

“Two thousand years long? Three thousand?”

Attis stiffened, the playfulness totally gone now.

“Is Cybele around here as well then?”

The golden man paled and stared at Mulder with a tense

wariness. “One of her names, though she has even less need for

a name than I have.”

“Where can we find her?”

Attis’s golden face, a truly unique and beautiful face, lost some

of its pallor. Anger and a little fear returned a ruddy golden

color. “The time has passed for questions. Time has come for

you to leave the woods.”

“That seems to be the general consensus today,” Mulder said,

“but we’re not quite ready. We need to find Richard Jameson.

He was just here.” No response. “And we’d like to talk about the

children. We know about the little ‘souls’, though you may use

another name for those as well.”

“I can’t help you. That is her doing. She has always enjoyed

toying with Man.”

“Not good enough. They can’t remain the way they are. Two

souls where one should be? It’s cruel.”

The golden man’s eyes glittered. He had clearly recovered from

his initial shock. “You should know.”

Eyes black, Mulder glared back.

Attis tried a careless shug. It wasn’t very convincing. “Her

magic or her curse, depending on how you look at it.”

“Help us find her.”

“Do you want worse to happen?” All at once, Attis threw back

his head, sending the curls dancing. “Here’s an answer to at least

one of your questions. You asked about the man Jameson? Then

look! For there he goes!”

His slender pointing hand showed the silhouette on a hill above.

Once more they saw, not a man, but the stag with the

magnificent twelve-point rack. The agents barely had time to

turn before it was gone.

“That’s a deer,” Scully reported.

“Is it? You don’t believe that it’s only a deer do you, Lord

Bruin?”

Mulder frowned. “King Stag in your place? King Stag and

Green Man, you’re a busy immortal, Attis.”

“Have been. No more. Let the honor pass on. Could have been

you, you know, if you had been just a couple of days earlier.

Though even then I suspect that this Jameson would have won.

Like you, he wanted to find ‘Her’. He wanted to find a way to

get close to Her. Revenge was on his mind. Sad that there is

nothing much on his mind now but the rut and being King. He’s

been that, too, for these three nights of the full moon. So it’s too

late for you. Come back next year, though you might consider

whether you really want four hooves and a head like that. It’s a

heavy burden. Only the fire in the blood makes the bearin’

possible. Of course she could decide to complete what she

began and take a bear to her bed after the ceremony. Lord Bruin

was her special friend. Pity that the original is dead now.”

Mulder only had time to look startled before the Golden Man

continued. “Not your fault. He was very old. They can only give

up their souls when they are on the very threshold of death. Are

you sure that you still want to find Her? Better to run away and

stay away. One can learn to live with a second soul.” The eyes

that moved over Scully were too familiar. “She might even

grow to like the unpredictability he can bring, though you might

need a bed large enough for three.”

Mulder bristled and if he had had fangs would have bared them.

“The subject is Richard Jameson. He’s stumbled into something

way out of his league. We’re going to release him if we can.”

The golden-skinned man’s expression was surly. “Leave it

alone. Leave here. She’s found a new champion. That’s what’s

important.”

“Only because you were her old champion.” Mulder said. “I

sympathize with whatever disagreement you and Cybele have

going on but leave Richard Jameson out of it — except to tell us

how we can break this hold she has over him. And while we’re

at it, what happened to Reena, his wife? Was her death an

accident or murder?”

Attis had gone pale under Mulder’s questions. His response was

quiet but intense. “I loved her! Her eyes were more open than

any that I have seen for a long time. She ‘saw’ the woods, the

cycles of the land. I never would have hurt her!”

“But you did. You have the habit of taking on one of the old

forms, don’t you?” Mulder accused. “You were the swan over

our heads just a little while ago and you were the swan Scully

nursed, and you were a swan for Reena, too, at least part of the

time. And when she choose her husband over you, you gave her

a swan’s little soul, didn’t you? Was that an attempt to bind her

to you? Didn’t work, did it? When she saw her husband she

tried to go to him but, dazzled by too many berries and confused

by your gift, she forgot that she couldn’t fly. How does it feel to

know that she died trying to get away from you?”

“Stop!” The golden man was both white with rage and near to

tears.

Mulder actually took a step towards him though it hurt like hell.

This next had to be man to man. “After you lost Reena, you

tried it with Scully, you bastard!”

For almost the first time, the Golden Man rested his gaze on

Scully. “You were kind. I thought maybe –”

“Didn’t work, did it?” Mulder snarled.

“Because she only saw _you_ when we were together!” he spat.

“My Reena, she saw _ me _!”

“With the eye of an artist!”

“As a man!” Attis retorted.

“Really? Got it up, did you?”

Attis looked ready to explode. “Unlike the rest of you, I’m not

an animal!” Then all at once, his head drooped and the golden

shoulders hunched. “There’s no point in even discussing it.

None of that matters now.”

He made a motion then as if to melt back into the bushes, but

then he paused. “I meant you only good by revealing myself. I

try to warn you and you repay me with cruelty. Think… were

you always so? The soul she gave you is not so small and will

only grow if you stay here where it feels at home. I will only

warn you one more time. Leave!”

Moving with unnatural grace and speed, it was Attis who left.

An instant later a large ghostly form burst out of the very

branches of the trees over their heads but moving too quickly to

be seen clearly. Instinctively both ducked, but it was Scully first

saw the two large white feathers sailing gently down against a

sunset sky. How had it gotten so late?

One of the feathers had landed on a bush, the other on the

ground. Reverently, as if he were approaching the Holy Grail,

Mulder limped over, picked up the one on the bush and handed

it to Scully. It felt real in her hands, even though so much of this

didn’t feel real at all.

“I hope that the intent of that performance was to humor the

poor man in his delusion. I’ve come to accept a lot, but don’t ask

me to believe that two-thousand-year-old myths are living in the

Maine woods! Attis abducted Reena Jameson and did who

knows what to her mind when he realized that she was

interested in him only as a model. It doesn’t need to be any more

complicated than that.”

Awkward with his bad hip, Mulder stooped for the second

feather. The movement must have pinched the enflamed nerve

for a shot of pain crossed his. She didn’t go to him. He didn’t

need comfort; he needed a dose of reality. Instead his brows

drew together and his expression hardened.

Uh, oh. She knew that stubborn look.

Pain or no pain, he managed two steps towards the deeper

woods.

“Mulder, you fool! Where do you think you’re going?”

“Where do you think?” he spat. “To find our feathered friend,

or, more importantly to find Cybele, who is probably the center

of all this. If neither one, then at least to save Richard from his

noble foolishness!”

“Not with night falling, not with that leg you won’t.”

He snarled and, teeth clenched, continued step by anguished

step in the direction of Swan Lake.

Exasperated, she looked after him, hands on hips. “Just like that.

What about all the promises!” she demanded harshly. “No more

ditching me, no more disappearing into dark places without

backup?”

He turned only long enough for her to see his strained face. “I

thought I had you.”

That stung. “Mulder, stop. This is dangerous.” She grabbed his

arm with iron fingers and forced him around to face her, a move

that threw his weight fully onto his bad leg so that he was

forced to accept her support or fall. He chose to fall. When he

stared back up at her his eyes were black with cold anger.

“Mulder, what’s gotten into you?”

A beat. The blackness wavered. All at once he was leaning back

on his hands and laughing. It was an eerie, frenzied kind of

laughter especially from someone who didn’t laugh out loud

often.

“Mulder, stop it. Stop it!” She stooped and shook him more

strongly than she planned but his behavior was frightening her.

“Ouch!” The laughter eased almost immediately. “All right,

already. Scully, I wasn’t hysterical. It really was funny in a

macabre sort of way.” For a moment he sat on the ground just

staring up into the gray sky. Tears were in his eyes again, but

whether from laughter or pain, she couldn’t tell.

“Scully,” his voice came softly. “You’re going to have to help

me.”

She wrapped her arms around him. All her irritation was gone;

it took a lot for him to ask. “Mulder, see reason. You need a

hospital. You need rest. All that you ate before didn’t stay down

for all that long. You need food.”

“Food…” The hysteria threatened to rise again but he held it

down by biting down on that poor chewed lower lip. “My

stomach wouldn’t know what to do with something other than

itself to digest.”

She helped him to his feet, love and concern in her touch. “Let’s

get out of here. We’ll tell the sheriff about Jameson and get

some help. Can you walk?”

No better than before, but he could manage. “Scully, don’t you

see, I can’t just leave.” The hand not on the walking stick spread

itself wide across his chest. “I can’t stay this way.”

“You’re in pain. You’re sick –”

“Weren’t you listening!” he snapped, anger flaring like a torch.

“It’s in me! I have to make her take it out!”

“You can’t believe that about the bear!”

“Don’t you?” He backed away from her, eyes glowing small and

fiery in his shadowed face. “You should. Man isn’t as

domesticated as you might think. We’re not so far from the

forest. Think of the men we hunt, the predator in them, what

they are capable of. And now something even less human is in

me. Can’t you tell, on and off, ever since this morning? It’s like

there was something caged inside and it’s been growing and

growing and it wants out. And it’s all I can do not to let it out. I

don’t dare let it out!” His free hand came down in a fist,

splintering a branch that should have been too thick to crack.

It was with some hesitation that she approached him. He was

bent over now, cradling his injured hand, a low sound like a

cross between a growl and a deep whimpering rumbled in his

throat.

“Let me see.”

He leaned away when she reached to examine it. “Scully,

you’ve got to get away from here — and me.”

She gently touched his bowed head, felt the tension like a strung

bow vibrating through his body. “I’m not afraid. You’ve never

hurt me.”

A lip curled showing an eyetooth, but it was not a grin. “You

think. It’s not only some mindless lust. If so, we could deal with

that and happily.” His attempt at a leer falling flat, his head

cocked like that of an alert hound. “But there are other scents on

the air. Dozens, and it’s like my body’s on fire. To fight, to flee,

to hunt, to eat.” His eyes strayed to the deeper woods. “Not just

to mate.” Uncomprehending eyes went to hers. “I’ve got to find

her. Got to make this stop.”

She signed a deep, long sigh. “All right, but not alone, not while

there are female predators out there waving their pheromones

about. I don’t want to have to dig you out of a cave somewhere

in the spring.” And she handed him his fallen cane and took his

other side.

He didn’t start immediately however, but stood shaking his head

as if some fog were clearing. “Spring, that is the problem, isn’t

it? It should be Spring. Time is stuck here in autumn. That’s

what the Green Man’s for, you know. To die with the harvest, to

lie three months in the ground, and rise again in Spring. Christ

wasn’t the first.”

Scully frowned. Back to that, but better than more talk of

leaving her behind while he loped off into the forest aroused by

the Call of the Wild. If hunting Green Men got him off that

subject, all well and good. Phoebe had been right in this one

thing — Mulder almost always found a good Sherlockian three-

pipe problem more absorbing than sex, sex AND a three-pipe

problem being the most distracting of all.

It soon became clear that wherever they were going they were

getting there very slowly. At least it would take Mulder longer

to get into trouble, Scully thought. They traveled in silence as

the ground was either broken with rocks, bogs, brambles, or

headed uphill. It was only after they hit a long gentle downhill

slope that the tension eased and Mulder spoke. “Tell me what

you know about the King Stag.”

“I know my Arthurian legend if that’s what you mean. The

chieftain chosen to be the King Stag was sent off into the forest

with horns strapped to his head and probably his belly full of

hallucinogenic mushrooms. I think running down and killing

some animal played a part. Afterwards, covered with the blood

of his kill, he would bed one of the priestesses of the sacred

grove, thus laying down the virility of his manhood for the land.

I can see the similarities to the Green Man who was also

sacrificed for the land but not how the story of Cybele and Attis

figures in. She was one of the nature goddesses and took him as

her human lover but there were a lot of these.”

“Attis was unique. If you remember, I got him to admit that he

and Reena weren’t lovers in the physical sense. And when he

bestowed his attentions on you he didn’t consummate that

liaison either, even though he could have easily enough, since

you thought it was me.”

Scully felt an embarrassed heat rise up neck. “So how does that

make him Attis?”

“That’s the part of the story I though you would remember. I

certainly do. Cybele became infatuated with a shepherd, our

Attis, only he spurned her and instead had an affair with a water

nymph. Remember, it isn’t nice to fool Mother Nature. In a

jealous rage, Cybele drove him mad and in his madness,”

Mulder twitched uncomfortably, “he castrated himself with a

pine branch.”

“Ouch.”

“Then he hanged himself from the same tree. I can’t say that I

blame him. He may resurrect every spring, but it seems that he

has never quite gotten over that particular incident. The cult of

Cybele went on to be big-time popular in Ancient Rome. In the

spring a pine tree was dressed in a shepherd’s clothes and

displayed in her temple. Her priests whipped themselves to

draw blood to water the tree and then used its branches to

castrate themselves. The blood-soaked branches were carried in

procession while the remainder of the tree was left in a crypt to

be magically resurrected as a young man on the next day. I

think that you know of another story that involves a procession

of branches, death on a tree, burial in a crypt, and resurrection

in spring.”

Mulder paused on a level spot to shake a cramp from his leg. “A

couple of millennia later and it seems that our story has

evolved. The rite has embraced that of the Green Man and has

moved to fall. The King Stag’s death is the method of sacrifice

for the Green Man. The time in the crypt is now not three days

but three months of winter. The young man’s return is the return

of spring incarnate, but it’s a painful rebirth. The first vegetation

of spring springs literally from his remains. Vegetation spews

from his mouth, that’s the most common representation, but

growth from the eyes and nose, arms and legs, and the private

parts are not unknown in medieval art.”

Scully felt her gorge rising. “Mulder….”

“All right. Enough background. After rising in agony every

spring and the mutilation he suffered because of her jealousy, is

it any wonder that he keeps his distance from our Cybele

whenever he can? Incorporation of the King Stag into the mix

was her solution to the problem that he isn’t exactly enchanted

by her charms. Things could have been better between them but

our Green Man is a slow learner. He continues to be attracted to

other women, if his attentions to Reena and to you are any

indication. This year, however, there’s a new twist. After three

thousand years, Attis seems to have finally grown a backbone.

He’s decided to fight back. Talk about procrastination.”

“Mulder, this is myth! This is not reality.”

“Fits the facts, though, intriguing as it sounds, I’ll be happier

once Jameson is gone from here. He’s mad in more ways than

one. Even in his right mind he has not only her death to avenge,

but his own guilt over his part in her death to assuage. On the

other side of the coin, the parties he is seeking believe that the

land is overdue for a sacrifice. At least we agree that we ought

to stop that!”

Unfortunately, Mulder was the one who stopped. A wrong step

on a mossy, leaf covered rock threw him once more onto the

undependable bad leg. This time he went down at the edge of a

hill and kept going, rolling over and over with Scully slipping

and sliding down the slope to reach him. The trunk of a tree

stopped his fall but not until he had nearly reached the bottom.

“Damn you, Mulder! You shouldn’t be out here! Break anything

else, like maybe your other leg, or maybe your head?”

Grimacing, he tried his best to not show how much he did hurt.

“None of the above. Let’s –”

But he had gone down on the leg one time too many. Spasms

surged up and down his left side from knee to well into his

back. Worse, as he groaned and lay back in the leaves, he got a

really good look at the sky. It wasn’t only dark because they

were under the shadow of the trees. The sun had set.

Moments later, Scully flopped down on the ground beside him,

useless cell phone in her hand. “Looks like we stay here till

morning. You certainly can’t walk out now, and I am certainly

not going to leave you alone to go wandering around in the dark

looking for help.” Before his jangled brains could come up with

a retort, she snapped with irritation, “Just this once, Mulder,

let’s not go around and around discussing this. How about you

hibernate for a few hours?”

He knew that tone of voice; Scully was thoroughly pissed.

Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to do just what she said. It

was a better place than many to spend the night. The hollow he

had rolled into sheltered them from the slight wind, and the

wide, fanlike fronds of a hemlock spread above them. The pain

was even endurable as long as he didn’t move. With a sigh, he

snuggled as comfortably as he could into the years of leaf mulch

and pine straw. After a few moments, he cautiously lifted his

head. Company would have been nice, but Scully sat upright,

arms around her knees, ignoring him. So she was going to keep

watch and keep her anger. He couldn’t blame her; he’d been

more than useless all day. Maybe she would see her way to

forgive him when the dew and the temperature had time to fall.

In the meantime, he had to admit that he was even more tired

than he was hungry.

Even anger can keep a person alert for so long after the kind of

day Scully had had. Uncharacteristically, Mulder had fallen

asleep almost immediately. Even if she discounted his flights of

fantasy into the world of goddesses and Green Men and his

irritation with his injury, she couldn’t ignore that this was an

atypical Mulder. On one point she had to agree with the crazed

Richard Jameson and the angry Golden Man: she wanted

Mulder and herself out of this place.

After jerking awake where she sat half a dozen times to find

each time that the woods looked and sounded exactly the same,

Scully finally decided that she had to have at least some sleep if

she was going to have a clear head in the morning. One of them

was certainly going to need one. She looked over longingly to

where Mulder snored softly. To snuggle next to that warm body

would be bliss, but she didn’t want to sleep that well. Besides,

she wanted to stay angry with him a lot longer. She laid down

where she was. ‘Just for a few minutes,’ she thought. ‘Just for a

few …’

She dreamt that she was cold which, as is in the nature of

dreams, meant that she probably was cold and was more awake

as she thought she was. More than cold she dreamt that there

was movement around her, air moving, many feet scuttling

about in leaves, grunts and whines, the touch of a hand, the

brush of fur on her face, and the soft tickle of feathers.

But the noise didn’t wake her fully; the return to silence did. She

had a sense that a parade had just marched through her bedroom

and then had moved on, and that even now it was just turning at

the end of her street. Sleepy and heavy limbed, she felt that she

could raise her head only after the last echo of its passing had

faded away. Opening her eyes, however, she stiffened.

Something tall and slender and ghostly gray wavered above her.

Blinking, the vision came into focus. She stared in awe. The

glowing object was the trunk of the hemlock under whose

branches they had taken shelter. Even as she gaped open-

mouthed, the shimmering gray light grew not only brighter, but

the fine silver luminescence flowed upwards into the branches,

to the very ends of every needle on every branch.

“Mulder… Mulder, look,” she called in a voice full of wonder

even as her hand groped unsuccessfully towards the place where

he was sleeping. It was now brighter than a night under a full

moon within their sheltered sleeping place. When she turned in

alarm there was easily light enough to see that Mulder was quite

gone from his nest in the leaves.

End of Act III

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

Act IV

Swan Lake, midnight

She was up and out from under the glowing canopy within

seconds, calling his name. Her voice faltered as she saw the

base of the oaks immediately to her left begin to glow with that

silvery light. Like the fir, the light spread up and out until every

tip of every twig was bright with the pearly luminescence. The

effect was brightest in the branches where the bark was thinner.

The dead leaves that clung to some branches stayed black as the

night. ‘Only the living parts of the tree,’ she whispered. Even as

she watched, more of the forest to her left went up in similar

staggered blazes. To her right the trees and bushes, bits of the

very ground where moss showed through, were already alight

with the unearthly illumination. That was the direction the

radiance came from, like the source of a flowing river. If she

remembered her dream well enough, that was also where the

parade of figures had gone, towards the wellspring of that

brightness. And taken Mulder with them?

It was easy to follow the path of the parade. There had been

many of them, and where they passed the dead leaves were

disturbed revealing glowing moss and bits of silver grass.

‘Follow the yellow brick road,’ came to her mind, only this road

was a ghostly gray.

She found him less than ten minutes later collapsed against a

rock to ease the weight on his injured leg and who knew what

other bruises by now. He had been easy to find. Like the living

parts of the woods he also glowed just a little from somewhere

deep inside. In this respect her skin was unchanged. There were

tracks of tears like silver snail trails down his cheeks and a lost

expression in his dark, staring eyes. She was reminded of the

little crippled boy in the story of the Pied Piper who couldn’t

keep up with his playmates.

Shuffling her feet in the leaves to announce her presence, she

went to his side, calling his name. He wasn’t startled. He

blinked, turned his head, and his lips arched in the hint of a

smile. “This wasn’t my fault, not this time.”

“I know.”

“They picked me up and carried me along with them.” He

sighed, shoulders slumping. “It was like a happy party until I

got too heavy. I slowed them down so they made me walk. That

was hard because they didn’t bring Hutch’s walking stick.” But

she had and passed it to him as his voice faded. “I couldn’t keep

up, so they left me. They were in a hurry.”

“Who are we talking about exactly?”

He had been wrapped in the dream as he spoke. Now he missed

her question as he noticed for the first time the fairyland that

was behind her and before them both. His eyes widened in

wonder at the sight of the transformed forest, the silver trail that

continued both east and west through the woods. He had the

look of a child seeing his first Christmas tree.

“Yeah, I know, Mulder. This stuff would save Disney millions

in electricity. _ Who _ took you?”

“The children, Scully. Some adults, too, even Dr. Hutch — he

makes a sleepy groundhog, by the way — but mostly it was the

children.” With both joy and pain reflected in his eyes, he began

hobbling towards where the road was glittering as if strewn with

diamonds. He studied his own skin in awe for a moment then

set his jaw and continued doggedly forward. “We have to hurry.

I’d say that tonight was the night, wouldn’t you?” Knowing

protest would be less than useless, she placed his arm around

her shoulders to give him more support. They limped on

together as fast as they could.

It took some effort but there was no doubt when they finally

reached the silver heart of the woods. The brightness made them

blink as they followed the glittering trail down into the center of

a ring of shining white trees.

At first there was no sign of the vengeful goddess they had

come to see. Instead a pale, thin woman stood to greet them.

Most surprising of all was her size. She was so small, not much

taller than the older of the twenty or more children who

surrounded her and far smaller than the half dozen adults. These

all stiffened and looked up like startled forest creatures as the

two agents stumbled into the ring. The children they had

interviewed were there, as were Hutch and his unassuming wife,

Roz. None showed them a hint of recognition. Only the small,

golden-haired woman gave them a smile of welcome.

“So the lord of the woods is able to join us after all,” the smile

saddened, “if only in spirit.”

Mulder shied away as she stretched out her hand to touch him

though there was only a gentle sympathy in her expression.

“Things were bad enough without your ‘gift’,” he snarled, not

caring if he showed his eyeteeth.

“It _ was _ a gift. You would not have found the strength to

make your way out of the woods without it.” At the black

expression in his eyes she merely shrugged. “I thought for once

a spirit had been well bestowed. In any case, it was not my hand

that placed it there.”

“We certainly are up to our… knees… in denial today,” Mulder

muttered sarcastically. His eyes drifted to her right hip where

she wore a fine, tooled scabbard that seemed to white glow all

its own. “You carry a very long knife. Do you plan on

performing a sacrifice or two in the near future, Cybele? I am

correct? It is Cybele?”

There came another slight shrug from the slim shoulders. “As

you will.” Her posture hardening to a royal aloofness, she

turned her back, walking slowly back to her seat on a smooth

stone within the circle of her ‘children’. For the first time the

agents noticed that she moved like something infinitely fragile,

like a frail and very old woman despite the agelessness of her

face and body.

As if to acknowledge the continuing accusation in Mulder’s

expression, she drew the knife. It was slender and intricately

patterned but also sharp as lover’s words and ancient beyond

imagining. “That’s what it’s for after all — to take a life in order

to bring life.” The blade flashed in her hand like white fire.

“Note that it is sharp on both sides. The one who wields does

not do so without peril.”

“And the one that’s slain?” Mulder inclined his head towards

Scully. “My friend has trouble believing that the King is

actually a man. She thinks that I’m living in a fairy tale.”

“Fairy tale, myth, they all tell a universal truth.”

“Which I would just love to discuss with you at length after

Richard is released from this enchantment.”

“Richard?”

“Your King for a day.”

“Ah. He presented himself to me with his anger and his passion,

not his name. As for his being King, I did not choose him. He

sought it. Indeed, he fought for it.” Distress and a little anger

shadowed her face. “There should have been another.”

“Attis.” This came from Scully, who found it a little

disconcerting to stand face to face with someone even smaller

than she was.

With some surprise, the golden head lifted. “Yes, Attis.” There

were lifetimes of meaning in that one word. “Attis would have

been my choice, always my choice, but he will not come and

there has to be someone. You’ve seen the wood, frozen in time.

Trees are strong, they can survive much, but out of their season

and weakened by this age of poisoned air and poisoned water

and poisoned earth, the animals are dying.” She spread her

hands to indicate her adoring children. “There has to be a King

or there will be more of these!”

Mulder straightened as if a snowball of truth had suddenly hit

him in the face. He ignored the stitch of pain that shot across his

back and all the way down his leg. “The animals dying too

soon… You’re trying to find a substitute home for their souls.

That’s why they were placed in the children and people you

found wandering your woods.”

Cybele looked with sympathy on the ring of glowing faces. “I

know that they’re in pain; that you are. Two souls can’t live

comfortably where one should be. This is my fault, but not in

the way you think. Attis has not been content for many years.

Restless, melancholy, rebellious, but not content. I gave him

some power like you would give a toy to a child. What he did

with that power…” She sighed. “He did not think through

clearly what he is doing when he makes the wish to save one of

their spirits. He means well but his actions are not often wise.”

“He blames you.”

The golden head shook in sorrowful weariness. “He would. He

remembers what he wants to remember. He doesn’t understand,

he has never understood.”

“A funny way you have of trying to educate him. He looks at

another woman so you drive him so mad that he –”

She was up like a shot, barely four and a half feet tall but in her

regal posture looking far taller. “Thousands and thousands of

years and can I never atone for that!”

“Why didn’t you just let him go?”

The storm quieted to a hush. “Because I loved him. How could I

see him with another? And yet I know that he has never been

quite ‘right’ since. For that he is also my responsibility. It could

be worse. His life is not without meaning. He has a great

purpose, yet I would have him content and know that I still love

him.”

Scully sighed somewhere near her partner’s right shoulder and

murmured softly, “There’s no easy fix here, Mulder. We’re

talking long term family counseling, not to mention some

extensive psychiatric evaluation.” Ignoring his scowl, she

turned to the small woman who was sitting on her rock with

shoulders slumped, her court at her feet. “We’re sympathetic to

your problems, but our immediate concern is Mr. Jameson. He’s

just a man, a normal man, and mad in his own way with grief

over the death of his wife, a death we’ve been told that you

know something about.”

The bowed back raised listlessly. “Attis’ swan-woman?” The

woman’s lips formed a sad, ironic smile. “For the last several

seasons he took it into his head that he would be better off if he

were not a man. There was then a young female swan that he

admired for her peaceful grace. Wishes can be dangerous with

the kind of power at his command. One evening upon waking

by the lake he found that he had actually transformed into a

swan while he slept. Even as he reveled in the sensation, he

became convinced in his mind that I had cursed him for desiring

the swan, and that his penance was to spend part of each day so.

As he believed, so it became true. At least he was devoted to his

swan mate.” Her expression clearly added, ‘as he never was to

me’. “He mourned egregiously when she died. He did not want

her soul to be lost –”

“– And Reena Jameson found her artistic inspiration at just the

wrong time,” Mulder guessed.

A nod. “She happened upon him in the wood and fell under the

spell of his beauty. I can understand — so do I, even after so

many years. To her grief, he misread her interest. I pitied her. I

tried to intervene but that only made it worse.” The small chin

was lifted. Altruism had nothing to do with her coming to

Reena’s aid but injured pride certainly did. “While we argued,

she wandered, unwatched, confused, and drunk on the god’s

fruit. I see in your eyes that you know what happened then.”

Cybele aimed a level gaze on Scully. “I was relieved that he

failed when he tried to transfer that soul yet again. He has

caused the two of you distress enough.”

“Why did he choose Mulder for his joke?”

“Partially accessibility, for Bruin was dying; but mostly

jealousy.”

“Jealousy?”

“Because your man could hear my calling of the King.” For the

first time since their initial greeting, she studied Mulder with

real interest. “Any other year and you would have made worthy

challenger. Being host to such a soul makes that less likely. As

you’ve found; it isn’t healthy.”

In that Scully had to agree; Mulder did not look well. “Why did

Attis even bother, if he didn’t want the job.”

“Nothing is so attractive as having another be offered the

position you have spurned.”

“Well, if it’s so dangerous, take the power back and release

these people!” Scully cried.

The tiny woman laughed grimly. “If only I could. Can you

believe that I no longer have the strength?” She looked around

her at the circle of silver trees. Beyond the circle the glittering

forest had dimmed considerably. “See? Even this simple

illusion is coming undone, unraveling in my hands. My options

are so few.” She suddenly paused, listening. “But you can see

that for yourselves, for here he comes now in all his glorious

rage.”

She was not referring to Richard, nor any stag, but to Attis,

moving as graceful as any dancer and looking wild and

beautiful. She said nothing more but seemed to glow brighter

and warmer in his presence. His response upon seeing her was

to furrow his brow, perplexed.

“You’re very small. Why don’t I remember that?”

From the way her small frame tensed, she obviously took his

faulty memory as an insult.

“There are clearly many things you have forgotten, like the

summer on the shores of the Aegean Sea before you learned

what I was and fled into that nymph’s arms.”

His golden eyes flamed in anger. “And as a consequence what

did you do, vindictive witch!”

An almost identical heat rose in hers. “You blame me! Your

madness came from your own guilt and your own terror of what

you imagined I _ might _ do!”

“Selfish, whoring, sadistic bitch!”

“Jelly-spined, egocentric, narcissistic man!”

Beside his partner, Mulder sighed. “I have to agree with you,

Scully. I don’t think that this relationship can be saved.”

“Every year you have murdered me!” Attis was snarling.

“To rise again!”

“Do you have any conception of the agony of having the life of

an entire world dragged through your loins.”

“Oh, poor male!” she sneered. “Who are you to be better than

every mortal woman who gives birth?”

“And what do goddesses know about such pain?”

“Goddess!” she cackled gesturing to her diminutive form.

“What goddess do you see? I would have died a thousand times

to save you one year of pain, but that was not to be. All I could

do was die in tiny bits each time you did, then wait in loneliness

and despair by your grave through every bitter month.

Companionship from you was all I asked in exchange for life

ever renewing, for the joy of being the father of as much of the

world as we could hold, for eternal youth and beauty. And how

am I repaid! Scorn, desertion and infidelity! Our kingdom once

stretched a continent wide, but how could I hold so much when

all you did was fight me? When you sought to escape your

destiny over the sea, what choice did I have but to follow into a

foreign land that has never known the touch of a hand such as

mine. Is it any wonder that I have grown so very small! ”

He looked shaken. Clearly, there was much here that was new.

“I did not ask you to follow me,” he whispered in a softer voice.

“Without the rites your death would come swiftly for there is

much about you which is mortal still.” The sadness in her bright

eyes bound them where anger had not. “Ungrateful wretch, I

would not have had you so far away over the wild ocean and die

hating me.”

He stood in shock, a head taller than she was at least, his mouth

working, though no words came.

Neither moved but that didn’t mean that nothing was going on.

The very air seemed to almost crackle with emotions great and

small. So absorbed were Attis and Cybele that it was Mulder

who heard, or rather felt through the inflamed nerve in his leg,

the first rhythmic rumbling through the ground. Before what it

meant could register, there came a crash as brittle branches

broke and a heavy body came hurtling down from a high knoll

just beyond the circle. It was the black-ruffed stag, beautiful and

terrible, flecks of spittle on the slender muzzle, hooves as sharp

as knives, an arsenal on its head that at the last minute and in a

final burst of speed, lowered.

The partners saw the charge. They also saw that there was no

time for the children to scatter. Mulder took most of them out of

the way of the maddened animal’s charge with a low tackle that

would have been agony if he had had time to think about it.

Scully drew and shot with practiced skill even as Mulder cried

‘No!’ in pain and horror from where he lay sprawled across at

least four of the dazed children. The large animal staggered, but

his great momentum carried him forward. The silver forest rang

as if a mallet had struck the edge of a huge goblet of the finest

crystal. It tolled, however, only to crack, exploding, as if that

same goblet had dropped upon stone. With that single chime all

of the lights went out. As bright as it had been before, the result

was an impenetrable black.

There was absolute silence for several seconds, then a great

wave of movement and noise rose in the dark. The children

shrieked aloud in terrible pain. A few whelped like kicked

puppies. Men and women’s voices raised in distress from some

deep tearing agony and loss. Before the first cry rang out, Scully

was reaching in the pocket of her jacket for a pencil flashlight.

At noon when they left the cabin, it had not seemed necessary to

come better equipped. At least it was something. The thin,

bluish beam revealed only glimpses of writhing bodies, as

children and adults fell, or stood and cried, or ran aimlessly

about. Some knelt, retching. All looked sick and ghostly pale.

Suddenly, she swung the beam in the direction of a voice that

she knew better than any other. He was still on the ground

where he had carried the children like a tidal wave but in the

stark contrast between pallor and shadow she almost didn’t

recognize him. His dark eyes were even then rolling back into

his head. Stooping by his side, she touched chill, damp flesh.

“Don’t you faint on me. I need you.”

The eyes blinked but didn’t entirely focus. Still, he had heard

her and nodded slightly in her direction. She noted that his

mouth remained tightly shut as if to keep from being sick

himself.

“Jameson,” he mouthed quickly then rolled onto his knees and

proceeded to do just that. At least they were dry heaves.

With more emergencies on her hands than she could count,

Scully swung the little flashlight in the direction of his nod,

though she hadn’t seen the bereaved widower since that

afternoon. The craftsman was in the midst of the chaos, a naked,

crumpled, dirty figure, clutching his upper arm. Dark rivulets of

blood streamed from between his fingers.

Scully froze, confused and horrified. But no one had been

anywhere near when she fired! She had shot at a deer!

Frantically, she scanned for dark fur on the equally dark ground.

No deer and she should have been able to find it, since most of

the children and adults had also scattered. She realized that she

could now see beyond the cone of the beam, so much so that

she turned it off. Her eyes quickly grew accustomed to a new

source of light.

Gray dawn was beginning to make itself known even under the

trees. It was even more advanced in a tiny clearing just beyond

what had been the silver circle. Here was another fairy ring, one

even more ancient, whose central oak of innumerable age lay on

its side, blasted years before by lightning. There under the open

sky, seated on the trunk of the fallen giant, Golden Attis sat

hunched over and weeping. Hesitating, Scully took two steps

and then felt Mulder’s presence by her side, a little unsteady, but

solid and warm. They approached together.

The goddess that at one time had been the terror of the Roman

world lay in the Golden Man’s arms. She had looked the size of

a child before, now she looked like that child’s limp rag doll

drowned in blood. Scully rushed forward. The wounds were

indeed terrible. The power of the stag’s rush had carried him

forward and the rack of antler points had driven with murderous

force into their target. The small, fair body was pierced in neck

and breast, shoulder and arm. It was the severed artery near the

juncture of neck and shoulder that had pumped out the river of

blood. Now the river was nearly dry. Attis’s strong, beautiful

face was nearly unrecognizable in his anguish.

Mulder’s soft voice reached him. “You may have the power to

save her. Over time she gave you almost everything.” But Attis

only clutched the tiny body more tightly. “No, I guess not. If

you never believed in what you had before,” the agent said,

sadly shaking his head, “there’s no time to convince you now. Is

there anything we can do, Scully?”

She met his deep, tired eyes. He already knew the answer. Not

now, not here. They could only watch. After a moment Mulder

whispered, “Where’s her knife? The scabbard’s empty.”

They found it almost at once on the ground at Attis’s feet where

it had slipped from his hands. The hilt and its sharp edges were

both wet with fresh blood.

Scully was able to pull the dying woman away long enough to

see the deep gouges that the blade had made in Attis’ own arms.

So only half the blood was hers. “We have to find something to

bind the wounds with,” she said, fruitlessly scanning the

clearing, the dead tree, and the forest beyond. Finally, she tore

off her own jacket. “How could he do such a thing!”

“He’s had practice.” With deliberation Mulder placed one strong

hand on his partner’s shoulder to stop her from trying to

separate the two again. “It’s too late, Scully. Even if it weren’t,

he wouldn’t thank you for saving him. Who could he relate to

but her? What they have isn’t much of a relationship, but it’s all

he has. Without her, he’s lost. It’s not Attis’ world, not his time.”

Not looking at all well and dragging the leg that had taken too

much, Mulder approached the grieving man, but only close

enough so that his question could be heard. “Will you come

back?” he asked softly. “Will she?”

He hadn’t really expected an answer but got one even if the

voice was nearly too weak to stir the air. “There’s no point. The

light’s gone out. She will not and I only returned all those times

to see her face. Then I ran. To punish her? Who punished

whom? So much time wasted.”

A breeze began and caught in the boughs of the trees. If you

listened, you could almost hear words.

“You’re still here. You could have been free of me.”

Wearily, Attis raised his tear-stained face to stare up at the

swaying branches. “I don’t want to be.”

“So _ now _ you will stay?”

A smile played on his lips. “Yes, now I will stay. That means

that you must stay, too.”

“Too late, but then it was too late the first time I saw you.”

“If not this year,” he begged, “then next year, or the year after.”

“No,” and the note was final. “I would be your death only one

more time.”

He changed his hold on the small body. His arms were going

numb, and she was slipping from the blood. “I’m afraid.”

“You have known death more than two thousand times. What is

once more?”

“I don’t know where I’ll be going this time.”

“With me, into the land where I should have gone long ago. But

then I would have missed your rising like glory in the spring. I

thought that there were no other choices. I was wrong. I did not

foresee that our spirits could flow as one great healing river

across this damaged land.”

Attis bent to kiss the cold motionless lips. “That would be

something to die for.”

The partners would disagree later on what happened. The

branches swayed for a time and then Attis looked at the sky. At

the end he bent for a kiss but never straightened up again.

Instead, he kept falling from his perch on the fallen tree as one

falls in a dream, Cybele ever in his arms. Shaking herself into

motion as if breaking a spell, Scully reached to catch them but

Mulder’s strong arm held her back.

“Let them go.”

She looked up into his face. “Let them go? Where?” But he

didn’t answer and when she turned back they had both

disappeared. She sprang forward not understanding. They

weren’t lying on the ground in front of the tree, nor behind. It

was vaguely possible that they had fallen sideways into the

lethal gash in the great tree that the lightning had made, but that

also was empty. No, not quite empty. Surprising for this season,

the cavity was lined with a green and verdant moss as soft as

velvet. Mulder pulled his partner back even farther then, though

his eyes never left the tree.

Something was happening. Even as they watched, the green

moss from the gash grew up and over the lip of the cut — and

kept growing. Scully couldn’t help but be reminded of how the

silver had flowed across the forest. The spreading vegetation

was like this, only this was a fertile and vibrant green, as life-

giving as a river. From the tree’s base there sprang up a carpet

of new grass shining in the slating rays of the newly risen sun.

On it flowed as the silver had, radiating out from this one

central point. Where the leading edge touched the base of trees,

the over-long autumn leaves fell like old gold. Within seconds

buds swelled green and red and burst into tiny green tufts of

new leaves, so that before the verse of a nightingale’s song

could play once through, the tops of all of the trees within sight

waved gently in the breeze like giant fans.

Beside Scully, Mulder suddenly gasped. She heard him take a

deep breath and hold it. Heart pounding, she stared up into the

familiar face, expecting to see him in pain. On the contrary, he

was smiling. No wonder, the air had turned suddenly warm and

was filled with an energizing and healthy scent, all the more

healthy for being free of the sickening sweetness of

cockleberries. That was when she realized that the edge of the

new spreading growth, the first touch of Spring, had just passed

where they stood.

“I take it that this isn’t the bear waking?”

He let out his held breath with slow pleasure. “Not at all. He’s

gone. He left back when the light died, or rather was forced out.

The only problem was that he left behind — call them psychic

claw marks. Hurt like the devil. You had to have noticed. The

children felt it, too, and Hutch and the others.” He took another

deep breath, a look of blissful peace on his face. “This is like

being healed.”

“Almost seems worth it.”

“Believe me, it’s not.”

Around them the children had risen from where they had been

lying sick or in a stupor on the ground. Where only minutes

before they had sat in a fairy grove stark in autumn moonlight,

now they played upon new grass in the sunlight like lambs. The

recovered adults, Hutch and Roz among them, were clustered

around the bleeding Richard who alone of all the company still

wept.

End of Act IV

**********

Epilogue

Washington D.C., their office, two weeks later

Despite the fact that Spring was Scully’s favorite season, she

was strangely silent during the few hours that they remained in

the area of Swan Lake and Happenstance, Maine. She positively

moped when they arrived back in Washington, where that short-

lived season was already showing signs of disappearing under

the weight of too much humidity and tons of pollen. On the

other hand, Mulder was tunelessly whistling as he maneuvered

his crutches through the door of their office.

“You’re chipper enough,” Scully grumbled.

“Why not? It’s a beautiful day and my new oak pollen allergy

doesn’t kick in for another four weeks.”

“You’ve still got your souvenir from Maine.”

He shook the leg, wincing only slightly. “Oh, this. Not so bad.

In addition to those days in traction and that week of very fine

muscle relaxants, our health plan actually swung for three

sessions of deep tissue massage. I had a technician….” He leered

complete with appropriate gestures.

“I don’t want to hear it.”

Mulder’s brow furrowed. Scully sulking was not all that unusual

these days. He would have gone to her and taken her in his

arms, but adding crutches to the mix rather ruined the affect.

“Come here,” he said from where he sat and opened his arms.”

She came but only to perch gingerly on his good leg. “What’s

wrong and don’t tell me you’re ‘fine’.”

“I am fine. It’s just that I’m still trying to word my final report

on Jameson’s shooting. Then there will be the hearing–”

“He’s not going to press charges. We’ve gotten a local

commendation and Hutch and Abrams have both spoken for

you. Still, bureaucracy can be a bitch.”

“Stop it! You know what I mean.”

“I know,” he told her softly. “You take pride in your

marksmanship, as well you should. What you write in your

report is your business, but for your peace of mind you do know

that you hit exactly what you were aiming for?”

“I aimed at a deer.”

He had that look in his eyes. “You shot the Winter King just as

the magic died.”

“And you expect me to believe that?”

“Scully, you know what you saw.”

“Mulder, sometimes a zebra is just a zebra. Not a horse but not

a unicorn, either. The never-ending Autumn was unusual, I’ll

buy that, as was the miraculous return of Spring. Even Attis and

Cybele’s disappearance is unexplained, but two-thousand-year-

old goddesses and people who transform into deer and swans —

for real — that’s another story. Besides, if there was so much

‘magic’, why are you still hobbling around on that bruised hip?”

He shrugged. “The way I see it, there’s health of the body and

health of the soul. If the old magic only cured those bear claw

marks on my soul, that’s still magic.” He put an arm around her

waist. “I may be working on my ninth life, body wise, but at

least my spirit is still young, and do you know why?”

She snuggled against his chest. “Been eating cockleberries?”

“That would do it except that from what I hear, those around

Swan Lake have completely lost their potency. No, you. You

may not agree with my theories — we wouldn’t be as effective if

you did — but you’re always there for me. It’s taken me a long

time to accept that, but I finally have. At least when I’m in my

right mind, I have. You have no idea how incredible that

knowledge is to me. You’ve healed forty years of hurt to my

soul, not just two days’ worth of a few psychic bear claw marks.

Now that’s real magic.”

The End

13

33

One thought on “Swan Lake Part 2”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s