The 25th Hour

The 25th hour

By Humbuggie

(c) 2003

san@sv-tales.com

Written for the Halloween challenge for IMTP

Virtual Season 11

Rating: R for some explicit language, and

perhaps some gory details, but nothing too

serious, MSR (but only a tad, no smooching going

on), MT.

Story: On All Hallow’s Eve, all the children

disappear in Old Town. Guess who

disappears too?

The 25th hour

The shit hit the fan, and all Mulder could think

about was the box of Halloween Candies

still tucked in his pocket; and the fact that

Scully had eaten all his liquorice bats. In real

life, Mulder detested those grisly black suckers

that left a foul taste in his mouth, but

right now they represented food. Or at least

anything else but the taste of bile in his

throat. Of all the things in the world she might

devour at such an untimeley hour, why

the hell did she have to go and devour these?

They seemed so perfect to eat right now.

“I’m dying, Scully. Can’t you at least wait

until I’m cold and stiff to start stealing from

me?” Mulder groaned, startling his partner by

stirring at the same time.

“Oh, you’re awake. Good. Feeling better?”

He pulled a face. Scully knelt down beside one

of the large oak trees roots that formed a

circle, in the centre of these dark and

dangerous woods. Somehow the clump of trees

offered them some shelter from the danger that

surrounded them. It hid them from plain

view, and all those creepy crawlers that wanted

to devour them, as he had wanted to

devour his liquorish bats.

Her mouth still full with the gooey black stuff,

she turned to him, her face still splattered

with his blood, and her hands and arms covered

in scrapes and scratches, coupled with

some of her own blood.

“Of all the things you have to complain about

right now, you’re whining about candy?”

she mused. “Interesting.”

Mulder tried to sit up straight, and groaned out

loud when the stake protruding out of his

shoulder prevented him from getting into a more

comfortable position, or a full breath.

“Well, there’s nothing else to whine about, is

there?”

“Use your brain for a way to get us out of this

mess, Mulder. With your eidetic memory,

you should’ve at least memorized where we

started from, how we can get back there,

and where we last saw the children.”

“I told you that I don’t know. There isn’t

exactly a manual accompanying this temporal

plane, you know. I don’t have a map of these

creepy woods either. For all we know, the

Blair Witch could be walking about. I have no

idea why the bushes seem to grasp at our

legs, or why the flowers sting and try to hurt

us, or even why nothing is as it seems. This

is not our usual zip code, Scully. There are no

laws of physics here.”

“Oh god.” Scully wiped her mouth with the back

of her hand and stood up, dusting off

her pants. “You sound delirious, and I feel like

Alice in Wonderland. No, make that

whatever-her-name is from the Wizard of Oz.”

“Judy Garland?”

“Funny. Now, what do we do? Sit around and wait

for the enemy to sniff out the scent of

our blood? Or try to do something useful, like

saving our ass’s and finding those

children?”

“I was thinking more in the lines of you leaving

my ass behind, and getting the hell out of

this hell.”

“Oh, and then who’s going to warm my bed at

night?”

“A hot water bottle. What else?” Mulder groaned,

as he tried to adjust his sitting position,

but anything he did sent swirls of pure pain

through his body. “If this is a dream, Scully,

as you insist on calling it; it sure feels

rather too vivid. I don’t think I’ve ever topped

this

situation, have I?”

“I don’t know what to call this place, and I

don’t know why we’re both experiencing it at

the same time,” she retorted, “and frankly I

don’t want to find out. I just want to get

back to where we belong, and get this over with,

not to mention get you to a hospital.

That’s a nasty wound. I’m not eager to explore

this strange new world, you know.”

“I wish you were.”

She knelt beside her partner and helpt him to

sit up straight. “Try not to move that

shoulder too much. And for goodness sake, keep

that sling in the right position. You don’t

want to damage yourself any further than you

already have.”

“Did you see that the grave was open? Huh? You

would have fallen in too had you walked

in front of me.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t and I wasn’t as stupid as

you to carry a stake. This isn’t Buffy, the

vampire Slayer, Mulder. This is the real life,

whatever it is. You didn’t slay a single

vampire. You just angered them and they could

have killed you.”

“Sucked our blood and turned us into the undead

huh? Hmm, I wonder what it would be

like to live forever.”

“Oh please. You’d have let out a girlie scream,

and would have gotten the hell out of

there.”

“So it’s not a dream anymore?”

She sighed. “I’m not going to argue over the

details. All I want is to get us out of this

predicament, and you into a hospital. Do you

think you can walk?”

A huge crackling sound behind them startled both

agents. Suddenly the peace and quiet

of the moment was over, and they realized they

were back in business. Out of the woods

came the eeriest sound either of them had ever

heard. They both knew what it meant.

Run, baby, run.

“We’re not back in Kansas yet, Toto,” Mulder

groaned. “Let’s get moving.”

Scully helped her partner to get up, as he

scrambled to his feet. Panting and heaving as

he rested against the ancient oak tree, he

watched her gather up the few things they

had: their guns and her flashlight. His was left

behind in the grave that had nearly

become the end of him. She shivered once again,

when she recalled the sickening sound

of flesh ripping upon sharp, piercing wood. A

few inches to the left and … When she had

lowered herself into the grave to find him, she

had found him impaled on his own

weapon, and for a second, she feared he was as

dead as a doornail.

She recalled exactly how he had fallen into the

grave, and what had brought them there.

Their first arrival in the underworld brought

them in eye-to-eye contact, with creatures

that Mulder insisted were classic vampires.

“The undead, Scully. You know! Brad Pitt’s

Louis, Tom Cruise’s Lestat, that Angel dude –

Vampires!”

“Yes, I know what vampires are,” she retorted,

“but those things are not them.”

The second she pointed at the creatures rushing

towards them, she paled. Their faces

were distorted, their glistening fangs hung out

of their mouths as if they were starving.

“Uh oh,” she said, “I might be wrong.”

“Run, Scully!” He’d grasped her hand and pulled

her towards the woods, going over a

path that seemed as dreadful flimsy as the rest

of the world, but they had no choice

whatsoever. They could hear the vamps rushing

after them; not panting or wheezing, but

running with ease at an alarming rate. They were

fast. She could feel them brushing her

clothes right on her heels. Just a few more

inches and –

Mulder stopped dead, and then pulled her to the

right, to the left; again to the right until

they were deep in the woods, and the noise of

footsteps stopped.

“Quickly,” he had whispered. “Get some branches

off the ground, the sharper ones.”

And there she stood. “Scuffy, the vampire

slayer”. And she lifted her stake and waited.

So did Mulder.

“There!” he cried, and before she knew it, he

was the one rushing after them. Next she

had heard an almighty crash, the unmistakable

sound of someone falling, and the girlie

scream. No, it was more of a high-pitched, male

scream, yet loud enough to chase off

any creeps.

“I’d make a crappy vampire killer,” he had

grunted after she had crawled down into the

opened grave, and the coffin that rested six

feet under, open and empty. The stake was

impaled through Mulder’s flesh, and the

surprisingly white satin. His eyes had fluttered

open painfully. “I can’t even get the stake into

their hearts.”

But all she could think of at that point, was

his possible close call with death.

No! She stopped herself mentally from thinking

about the What-if’s. All they could do

now, was try to find the way out of this

nightmarish dreamscape, and return to the living

where they belonged. In the real world, there

were no real vampires and creepy beings,

deadly creatures and monsters, despite some of

the stuff she’d seen with the X files. This

was all part of the Halloween illusion.

“On All Hallow’s Eve anything might happen,”

Mulder had warned her. “The 25th hour is

upon us, and you can’t go back if you’re in the

wrong place at the wrong time. That’s the

truth, baby.”

“Oh Mulder, stop believing those children’s

stories you heard in Old Town. It’s not true.

It’s an illusion. Time cannot be changed.”

“Oh yes, it can,” he groaned as he tried to move

faster than ever.

What if Mulder was right and they couldn’t go

back? What if they were already trapped

inside this world forever? What if all that

waited for them was blood and death; gore,

terror and darkness? What if they became one of

them, forever seeking solace for a

restless soul?

Oh god Scully, she thought. Get a grip. This is

not real. It’s the most vivid nightmare

you’ve ever had, but that’s all. It’s. not.real.

Okay?

She picked up her gun, stashing it between her

sweater and trouser waistband. She put

Mulder’s gun back behind his belt too. “Don’t

use it unless you absolutely need to,

alright?”

“ Would I be a bad person if I said that, that

turned me on?”

“Yes, you are.”

“Oh, I love being naughty,” he wheezed through

his pain and discomfort as she helped

him up, supporting him on his right, uninjured

side that was still in one piece.

The left side of him was a total mess, and one

she dared not to look at right now. The

arrow-sharp piece of wood that had lanced right

through his flesh, dangled on both sides,

having been frayed in the final proces of

piercing his shoulder. She knew he wouldn’t die

from the serious injury, but he was hurting

badly. There was much blood loss and muscle

damage that would need a heavy repair too. Any

slight movement jarred the wound,

threatening to send him into a world of

oblivion. He’d already passed out twice en route

to temporary safety.

Yet she couldn’t get the wood out all the same,

not safely, that required a hospital trip. If

she pulled it out, she might cause his shoulder

further damage than it had already

sustained. It was better to immobilize the

shoulder with an improvised sling, and hope

for the best. This way at least it would not

allow him to bleed to death. Shock was a

constant spectre she’d have to keep an eye on

with him.

But what good was Mulder in his current state?

He could barely stand up straight, let

alone go hunting for the missing children and

their abductor. The perp had taken them

god-knows-where throughout this freak world,

where every shadow could mean death.

They’d followed him, and the voices of the

captured children they had heard shouting and

yelling throughout the forests. Suddenly, they

had lost sight of everyone and their world

had turned pitch black.

She didn’t like it. She didn’t like it at all.

It seemed as if all the trees had eyes, as if

the rosebushes that grew unnaturally in

strange shapes and forms, were out to get them.

It was as if every single creature that

passed them had an unnatural form. This world

was out of place, and they didn’t belong

in it. As much as she wanted to deny it, she

knew this was the truth. They were alone.

Nothing. Not a single sound. Not a single soul.

Not human, anyhow.

Beady eyes staring at them. Shadows moving,

stirring. Leafs rustling through the trees.

No moon, no stars. Nothing. She looked up to

found two beady eyes staring at her. She

squealed, groaned and moved away, almost tearing

Mulder’s sleeve in the process. He

cried out in pain.

“Oh sorry.”

“That was a bat, Scully. A live one!” he

muttered through gritted teeth.

“I said sorry, didn’t I?”

She regained her posture and stretched her back.

“Grow up, Agent Scully.”

He laughed, despite everything. “Are you

chicken?”

“Of course I am. I’m peeing my pants here.”

“Goodie. Thanks for that piece of information.

Watch out for real life killers now, not

harmless little bats.”

The second he’d said it, hundreds of bats seemed

to fly into their faces, sending them

careening backwards onto the ground, and Mulder

into a series of fresh agonized gasps

and grunts.

“Oh god!” Scully cried as she felt something

crawl over her bare ankle. She batted it

away, and then laughed hysterically when she

discovered it was a snail. “Fuck this.”

“Fuck me,” Mulder agreed, rolling to his right

side where the pain felt less. “Let’s get the

hell out of here before the ground opens up and

something black and ominous comes

crawling out.”

Then started a walk into nothingness. They had

no idea where they were. Scully just

knew they had to return to the path, which

somehow ran across the forest.

“We are drugged, Mulder,” she groaned after a

while as they made their way through the

frightening darkness. “We ate something

poisonous, a hallucination inducing poison.”

“No, we didn’t.”

“Those spare ribs were off. I told you they

tasted funny.”

“Then how come I’m sweating like an ox, and

panting like Elizabeth Taylor?” She shot

him an incredulous look.

“Because we’re living a vivid dream. Remember

those mushrooms?”

“That was different. We were on a case, Scully.

Remember that? The Rat Catcher.

Remember the legend? We chased him into this

world, and now we have an hour to get

out of this hell.”

“That hour has long since passed, Mulder. The

25th hour, or whatever you call it is over.

We’re stuck here, trapped.”

“In this world it may be, yes, but not in ours.

I have the feeling that time is of no

importance in this place, Scully. Don’t you see?

We stand a chance to escape. I’m sure

we do.”

“Ever hopeful, hey Mulder? And yes, I remember.

We came to Old Town because of the

legend. Because they have children that go

missing every year during Halloween, and

that there were reports of a man, playing the

flute to lure them, just like in the legend of

the Rat Catcher. I know the tale.”

“He punished a village because they wouldn’t pay

him for getting rid of all their rats, by

taking their children,” Mulder groaned. “And you

and I both made the link to the current

day, and to that village. Remember what old Mrs.

Whittle told us? On this night; All

Hallow’s Eve, the 25th hour comes. That’s when

he takes them away, leaving one hour for

everyone to find them, and an eternity for them

to find a way out. Unfortunately she was

stopped from telling us anything else.”

“I don’t remember getting here though,” Scully

sighed as she tripped over a branch. “I

recall falling, after we chased that man towards

the paddock, and then we were suddenly

here.”

“Alongside the geeks, the monsters, the

creatures, and vampires.”

“Yes.” Scully felt dreadful, suddenly realising

this wasn’t a dream. More like the worst

nightmare she’d ever experienced. She would give

her right arm to be back in the

comfort of her home right now, watching 24,

sipping a glass of Chardonnay and

munching her favorite chips.

“Scully!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Mulder’s petrified cry shook her out of her

reverie. In a flash, she saw how something

coming towards them. It was pitch black and

seemed to consist of nothing but shadows.

She couldn’t make anything of it; just that it

was strong and very powerful. It seized

onto them, swaying past them as if it had

appeared from nowhere.

She felt Mulder let go of her, and she dropped

to the ground, pushed aside, smacking her

head against the cold ground. Bushes seemed to

strangle her, their branches crawling

over her, holding her down. She cried out and

struggled, fighting against them. She saw

Mulder take on the shadowy thing that seemed to

be all over him. He landed with a

strangled cry and thud too; she heard him shriek

in agony. His hand reached for

something. A weapon. Anything. His ruined

shoulder made it impossible for him to reach

for his own gun. He was trapped.

Scully managed to pull out her gun, despite the

strong forces that held her down. She

pulled and broke free, fought and wriggled from

its grasp. Then she fired twice at the

thing. She spotted its contours clearly. She

knew her partner wasn’t in any danger, as he

lay immobile underneath the thing. The shadows

squealed like a banshee, stopped

fighting and then, was eerily still in the dark.

She couldn’t hear a single sound now. The

silence had returned. Even the leaves had

stopped rustling in the breeze.

The bushes released her suddenly. She struggled

to her feet, crawling over the ground to

her partner, who lay motionless underneath

whatever had attacked him. She pushed the

thing off him, almost puking her guts out, as

she took in its horrible consistency of

strange pungent gel that now stuck to her hands.

It didn’t have a face or appendages;

nothing discernable she could recognize. No form

to it. It was just … black goo. She

rubbed her hand onto her pants instinctively;

wanting to be rid of the horrible substance

and the feeling of dread it gave her.

“Mulder?” Her partner didn’t move. His face was

turned towards her, but his eyes were

closed. She could see the black goo smothered

all over his throat and chest. The thing

had tried to strangle him. She pushed away her

repulsion and touched two fingers to his

throat.

“Oh god,” she muttered as she couldn’t get a

pulse at first, horrified that he was already

gone. But at her frantic touch, he coughed

roughly and exhaustedly opened his eyes in

his attempts to breathe. Relief surged through

her, as she helped him to turn on his right

side. He heaved dryly. The taste of bile in his

throat returned. She held him closely,

waiting for the attack to subside, patting him

on the back.

“You’re okay,” she spoke soothingly. “ Deep,

even breaths. Think like you’re going into

labour.”

“F – Funny,” he choked, and as soon he had his

breathing under control again,

continued, “What the hell was that thing?”

“I don’t know. It seemed like liquorish. A

liquorish bat.”

“Oh Ha.Ha. Even better. Attacked by giant

confectionery. Great.”

“All I know is, we have to get out of here now.

I can feel them watching us.”

“Not without the children, Scully.” Mulder

crawled upward so that he sat on his ass, and

could dab tentatively at the damage to his

throat, that felt raw and squeezed.

“There are no children here, Mulder. They’re

gone. We don’t know where they are. Were

they even here? Perhaps it was all an illusion

too. And even if there are, where are we

going to start searching? I mean, look at us!

We’re two, battered wrecks trapped in some

situation we can’t get a grip on ourselves.

We’re putty in their hands, meat ready to be

sliced and diced. Ala Carte Food for creepy

crawlers.”

“Has there ever been a controllable situation?”

he asked wryly. “Now get a grip. You can’t

give up hope now. We’ll find the exit of this

place; wherever it is. It has to be around

here somewhere. We didn’t go that far. If we

find the gravesite again, we’ll find our way

back too.”

“Yeah, if we’re not devoured by vampires, or

gooey stuff, or whatever.”

“I thought you said they were insane humans?”

“Whatever. Humans don’t seem to exist in this

place. I never thought you’d be attacked

by some Star Trek-like black goo creature

either.”

“So what then?” Mulder shrugged. “Pretend this

didn’t happen, try to go to sleep and

wake up dead? I’ll take my chances with the

vamps then.”

“Okay,” she sighed. “We’ll trace our path back

and see what happens. But you’re not

getting a new stake. The last one ended up

sticking out of you.”

“Yes mother. Let’s go.”

Scully was amazed to find her partner had

renewed energy, after his close encounter of

the pointy wooden kind. She helped him up again,

but he leaned more heavily into her

body than he should have. When he bumped into

her and muttered a sorry, she grinned,

“I’m not.”

After that, they made their way back through the

forest, using the same path they had

come through the first time. Then, several

abhorrent creatures had been chasing them,

but this time round it seemed awfully quiet. Too

quiet for Mulder’s liking.

He sighed, ears adjusting to the sound of

silence; he thought he could hear something

suddenly. It was only faint but he detected it

anyway. Then he turned to his partner.

“We’re in trouble.”

“Why?” she asked, by now worn out.

“They’re watching us.”

She felt shivers run down her spine and turned

around to look for them, but saw nothing.

It was pitch black in those woods, and all they

had was the single flashlight she’d used to

see their path with earlier. It was growing dim

to both their dismay. She knew they

should wait until morning, but they couldn’t

risk it. If the portal, or whatever it was that

had brought them here, closed, they would never

get back. For the first time in her life,

she felt a despair that washed over her, like a

wave of dark fetid water she couldn’t

avoid. It was the most horrid feeling ever.

Nothing had ever prepared her for this.

Please, let someone wake us, she prayed silently

before returning her focus on Mulder,

who was staring intently at the darkness, which

didn’t even reveal shadows anymore.

There was just … the dark.

“Keep your gun ready.”

Scully found herself propping Mulder against a

tree, and digging his gun out of the belt;

handing it to him armed and ready. She held her

own weapon and flashlight over each

other, shining it through the trees. She felt

every hair on her body stand up, and a deep

fear rushed down her spine.

They were everywhere at the same time. She could

feel their hands on them before she

even saw them. They pulled her backwards, trying

to force the gun from her. They

attacked her from behind, trapped her and drove

her away from Mulder. She turned and

turned, seeing a sea of eerie faces, contorted

in their uglines. Some were missing eyes,

others the nose. Some had no lips, or ears. She

thought she was in a Michael Jackson

video, but their touch was icy cold and very

real. She could see the veins ripple

underneath their skins. They seemed to be

lighter than the night. She could make out

each and every one of them. Vamps, zombies,

creeps, gooeys and a plethora of other

nastiness that crawled around her.

“’Cause this is thriller,” she squeaked out

softly as she tried to force herself loose. Her

partner was in the same predicament, and winked

at her all of a sudden.

“So you wanna play, hey?” Mulder groaned. “Well

then, let’s play.”

Scully didn’t need another signal, and started

kicking ass. She kickboxed, belted, hit,

punched, and shot her way through at least ten

of the ungodly creatures. Heads flung

everywhere. Arms and legs followed. She laughed,

as she kicked ass against another one

coming at her.

But Mulder did almost as good. Even with his

left arm in the sling and in pain, he only

needed one arm to fend them off and kick some

serious zombie ass.

“Zombie nation!” Scully squealed as she

pretended to be Scruffy, the vampire slayer

again. Mulder laughed as he dove at his next

opponent.

And all of a sudden, it was over. The zombies

pulled their pieces together and rushed off

into the dark, aided by the vampire nation and

all the rest of the nightcrawlers. Scully

almost laughed when they saw them part as if the

lord of darkness itself was after them.

“High five!” Mulder grinned as he dealt a

winning blow to the last creep standing. His

smile faded a bit when the returned silence

again, made way for something or someone

else to find them.

This time, it was someone familiar.

The Rat Catcher stepped into the light and

raised his arms. In one hand he held a flute.

His body was very tall and skinny. His eyes were

large and bulging out of their sockets.

He had a large nose, big ears and a hairdo that

desperately needed a cut.

“Who are you?” Mulder asked, wincing in pain,

even though he already knew the answer.

He smiled and shrugged. “You are not supposed to

be here. It’s not my fault you’ve

suffered.”

“Where are the children?” Scully asked, keeping

her gun ready to go.

“They’re safe. In fact, they’re back where they

belong.” The man spoke with a soft,

almost gentle voice that seemed out of place

inside his body. It didn’t seem to belong to

him. Mulder felt a surge of trust going through

him. He liked this guy. He felt comfortable

here, almost content to be in his vicinity,

although couldn’t understand why. The agent

lowered the gun.

“Mulder, what are you doing?” Scully’s desperate

voice betrayed that her own active

mistrust in their situation. Yet strangely

enough, she too felt the urge to trust this man

beyond anything. She forced herself to keep the

gun up straight, aimed at his chest. Her

fingers trembled. It took every effort from

within to protect herself and her partner.

“Please, Agent Scully,” the man said, offering

his hand to her. “I am not here to harm

you. I want to take you back to where you

belong, just like the children.”

“I repeat: who are you?” Mulder asked in her

place.

“I am the man that gives every child in this

town a happy Halloween, Agent Mulder.

That’s my job and my only business. After that,

I retreat to this ethereal world for a year,

and live happily until the next.”

“You take the children away from their homes,”

Scully protested. “They never return!”

The stranger sighed. “Agent Scully, I wish you

were a child still, so you would know what

it’s like for children to see the world through

their own eyes. Every boy or girl wants to

live a dangerous, fearless life. They cannot do

that in real life. Real life means school,

homework and chores. I can take them away from

that, if only for a short while. I bring

them to this world, where they live the life

they’ve always wanted to live. The boys are

princes and fierce dragon warriors. The girls

are princesses waiting for their savior. They

can play pretend for a whole hour that lasts

almost a lifetime for them, and when they

are weary of it, they return to the real world.”

“You lie,” Scully, said, “not a single child has

been returned.”

“Oh yes, they have, Agent Scully. The men and

women you’ve seen in that town, whom

you have investigated and talked to, all protect

this secret because they want their own

children to experience it too. They didn’t want

to answer your questions, or listen to your

banter. They wanted you out of town before the

time was near, but instead, you meddled

into business that was not your concern, and

were accidentally sucked into this world.

Only, you didn’t know that this world – safe as

it is for children – does not welcome

adults. It is not made for you and it does not

need you. ”

“You’re lying,” Mulder spoke hoarsely as beads

of sweat danced on his forehead; he was

starting to go into shock. “The children didn’t

come back.”

“You believed a stupid story told by a woman

full of envy, jealousy and anger; an

outsider who wanted to punish the people of Old

Town for keeping their secret. You

didn’t know what you were getting yourself into.

I can reassure you that by the end of

the 25th hour, the children will all be home

again.”

“And what about us?” Scully asked. “What about

my partner, who was hurt and is in

need of aid?”

“You can return now, if you are willing to trust

me. I can guide you through the evil and

mischief that haunts all adults here, and

release you.” He smiled. “But you have to lower

your gun.”

Scully’s fears were replaced by uncertainty and

distrust, but for Mulder’s sake alone, she

wanted so badly to be able to trust. They didn’t

have any choice in the matter; Mulder

needed urgent hospital care. Every line on his

face spoke of agony. This stranger had

brought them here; he could damn well take them

back.

“Okay,” she said, knowing her partner was at the

end of his rope. He had been attacked,

staked, attacked again, and then – just for a

change – once again been attacked. Life

was more fun in the other world.

The tall man turned, and began to make his way

through the woods, beckoning them to

follow. The trees and bushes seemed to move for

him. Somehow the path broadened,

and led them straight through the dark woods.

Mulder clung onto Scully, his movements

becoming much slower as the pain wore him down.

“We’re almost there,” Scully whispered. “I

guarantee it.”

He smiled wearily, knowing she was resisting the

urge to sing songs again to keep him

awake.

Everywhere they passed, they saw dark shades and

images, willowy figures and

enemies, darkness and evil. Yet in the far

distance, the images became a cascading

world of light and somehow, bliss.

“Look, the children!” Scully almost cried it

out; relieved now they had taken the plunge

and trusted the Rat catcher. “They’re alive.”

Yet they were surrounded by the same black

shadows, which had threatened the agents

before. The Rat Catcher turned and smiled at

them. “You’d better go now or you’ll be

here for another year. I wish I could tell you

that time goes by faster here, but it’s the

opposite. Every hour lasts twelve in your

reality. You wouldn’t live to see daylight.

These

creatures don’t like adults in their world.”

“What is this place?” Mulder asked tiredly. “A

playhouse for bored kids?”

“Yes. You could call it that.” The Rat Catcher

bowed his head. “And I am their referee.”

“So this is real?” Scully asked breathless.

“Only during the 25th hour, Agent Scully. Only

then. And only in Old Town. Goodbye.”

The children waved excitedly at the creatures

that – strangely enough – waved back.

Mulder was startled to observe happy faces,

strange, awkward grins and a lot of

friendship between the children.

“If this were any other place, I would be

euphoric with joy,” Mulder spoke dryly.

The Rat Catcher waved at the agents, as they

were swallowed into some sort of light. It

swirled around them, catching them in its beams.

“I’m getting woozy,” Scully whispered, and

suddenly she was sucked into a void where

she saw or heard nothing anymore. If she died

now, she could not have stopped it, but

somehow she sensed she wasn’t going to. She felt

safely back where she and Mulder

belonged.

As she woke up, she found herself on top of a

bunk in a cabin where she’d been before.

No, not a cabin, but the Bed & Breakfast room

where they had rested yesterday too. It

felt strangely familiar, and almost homelike.

“Mulder!” She was startled to find herself alone

at first, and then realized her partner was

in the en-suite kitchen rummaging. She jumped

off the bed and went to look for him. To

her amazement and shock, the stake and damage to

his shoulder had gone; he looked

healthy.

“Hey,” he said. “Coffee?”

“What?” she asked wearily, scanning his

reassuringly undamaged torso? There wasn’t a

mark on him. Then she realized she was fine too.

All the scrapes and scratches were fully

gone. He wore just a towel around the waste,

leaving her enough space to check him

out.

“I don’t have any bats left, you know,” Mulder

smiled. “You ate them all.”

“So it wasn’t a dream?”

He smiled. “I guess not.”

“But –“

“Scully.” He moved forward and placed a finger

on her lips, pushing a hot steaming mug

of coffee in her right hand. “Be grateful that

it wasn’t. And be happy that we’re no longer

trapped. We are back where we belong, and we

shouldn’t wonder about it too much. I

did a check-up. All the kids are safely at home.

The people of Old Town all knew we were

there. They consider us their friends now. We

can stay as long as we like.”

“But Mulder.”

“What?”

“I don’t know! How, why, what?”

“It’s over, Scully.”

“But –“

“No buts. Just us.”

“Your butt then?”

“My butt is fine by me.” He sat down next to

her with a leer.

The End

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