Eye of the Beholder

TITLE: ‘Eye Of The Beholder’

AUTHOR: XSketch

EMAIL: XSketch@hotmail.com

WEBSITE: http://thesketchfiles.bravehost.com

SPOILERS: Oh, everything up to Je Souhaite and all the way thru to

the middle of VS12 is up for targeting 😉

RATING: R (Strong violence, gory scenes and occasional language.)

CATEGORY: X, S, MSR, A, ST, MT

SUMMARY: Do you see it or don’t you? Reality or hallucination?

Is a middle-aged, disabled man or an unknown creature committing

sporadic murders in a small Illinois town? Mulder and Scully

arrive to find the answers, but will they be able to wrap up the

case before they’re next on the menu?

FEEDBACK: It would make me the happiest person in the whole world!!!

DISCLAIMER: *sigh* Still not mine, which I guess means everything

you recognise from the show belongs to CC, 1013, Fox, yadda yadda

yadda – no copyright infringement intended. Kenny Andrews belongs

to the talented duo of Susan Proto & Vickie Moseley, and is being

given an airing here with their permission because at least they

know how to share their toys!!! 🙂

ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusive to IMTP, and then I’d be honored for

you to archive it as long as you let me know 🙂

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Written for the Virtual Season 12. Biggest thanks and

hugs to Vickie and Lisa for looking this over, checking it and

encouraging me – if it hadn’t been for the poking, this would probably

be sitting on my computer only half done! LOL

DEDICATION: In fond memory of my dear friend Karin Crabb – this was

out of your area of interest, but you were always supportive.

You’ll be missed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

==========

TEASER

==========

SOLUS, ILLINOIS

APRIL 17th, 2005

Everybody thought the guy was crazy, and they always questioned Pitt

as to why he was still friends with the loony. But as high up in

the social ladder Greg Pitt might be, he wasn’t that small-minded

and he certainly didn’t listen to what the folks had to say in this

neighborhood (at least, not for several years now), so whether his

friend was shouting a load of mumbo-jumbo or not all the time was

none of their business. Besides, it wasn’t right to pick on a

blind guy.

Greg Pitt and Bobby Randolf had grown up together as the bestest of

friends, with similar interests and hobbies – they’d even wound up

working at the same digital graphic designs company twelve years

ago. But since the car accident that had killed his wife last

Christmas Eve, Bobby had drastically begun to lose his sight. He

still had some peripheral vision, but only to a very limited extent.

That wasn’t why everybody thought he was crazy, though.

*Don’t you see it?*

Despite his disability, Randolf…saw things that weren’t actually

there. No matter how much the members of the small community told

him he was mistaken, he would swear blue murder that there was a

big vase of flowers, or a fruit bowl or something of the like there.

*Ooh, maybe the ghost of the fruit bowl is coming to haunt

yooooooooooouuu!* Jerry Richter at the local gas station had teased.

Greg wasn’t sure to be more annoyed at their rudeness or saddened

by the state his friend’s mind had deteriorated to to bring on such

hallucinations.

“I saw it again this morning,” Bobby suddenly called out.

Snapping out of his own deep thoughts, Pitt looked up from the two

cups of coffee he was making out in Randolf’s kitchen. “Say again?”

“I saw it again!”

Just recently, claims of non-existent, inanimate objects had moved

on to a large, black, panther-like creature stalking the streets of

Solus. Of course, nobody had seen it and no-one believed him, but

he continued to warn them of its threatening presence nevertheless.

“Ah,” Greg sighed, carrying the drinks into the living room and

putting his down on the table before carefully handing the other to

his friend. “You got it? There. Well, you sure it wasn’t just a

shadow? Maybe a trick of the light…Even your doc said that

sometimes your brain fills in for what your peepers don’t see, so

maybe your imagination–”

“I know what I *saw*, Greg. It was there…slowly, *slowly*

walking up the sidewalk right outside my window there, fixing its

eyes on anybody that passed. I’m tellin’ ya, it’s planning

something a–”

“‘Planning something’, Bob? Come on, even if it were real, no

creature or whatever it is you think you’re seeing has some…uh…

calculated plan laid out.” Pitt paused and finally sat down,

briefly glancing out at the street through the window on his left.

“Now, how about we forget about it and get on with our game…”

His voice trailed off into a sigh as Bobby shook his head

dismissively. “Bob, look, I know you’re still mourning after what

happened to Jess, and losing your sight must really be the final

blow, but this ain’t healthy. Do you like hearing ev’rybody call

you crazy? I mean, you go ’round telling these stories, and how

the hell you expect people to ever listen to you I don’t know!”

Randolf frowned and found it hard to keep control of the anger

boiling within him. For thirty-seven years – and, more

importantly, over the past five months – Greg Pitt had been the

only person he could really trust and depend upon. And now, with

the whole village literally turning against him, he had hoped that

to still be the case. Maybe it truly wasn’t, though, after all…

He shook his head to try shake that thought process away – this was

his best friend for god’s sake! – but it refused to budge, and as

tears stung at his eyes, he turned his head away to face the large

window to his right.

And there it was, stalking the street as always. But this time, it

actually stopped and looked directly back at him.

“Are you listenin’ to me, Bo–”

“Shhh.” Fear pulsing through his veins; sweat beading his skin;

terror widening his almost-sightless eyes that refused to turn

away, Randolf shot out a hand to his side to touch his friend’s

forearm. “I-It’s b-b-back…”

There had always been doubt and disbelief, and even as Greg shot a

brief, almost dismissive look out the window only to see – as

always – nothing, he had no reason to listen to what his friend

said. And yet the pale face on the quivering figure beside him

that had uttered such fear-laced words seemed so genuine, he had to

wonder…

“Where? I don’t see it? Are you *really*–”

“I…I’m n-not imagining it, Greg – Jesus Christ in H-Heaven I-I-I

wish I w-were…But…”

The shadowy figure outside took a step closer with its head lowered

– preparing to pounce.

“I get that, Bobby, but maybe you just need some rest-”

Four feet breaking into a run as an almost hidden force bursts

through the fence around Randolf’s front yard.

“-and forget what the others say. Maybe you just need a vacation.”

…Teeth baring, sleek body propelling itself into the air…

Frozen, all Randolf could do was cry out his friend’s name as the

window imploded and both of them were thrown to the floor along

with the shattered glass.

“GREG! LOOK OUT!”

Pitt looked up in time to get a quick look at the long-thought

imaginary panther-esque creature looming above him before its jaw

lowered to tear out his throat.

XxXxXxXxX

==========

ACT ONE

==========

“You’re here!?”

Mulder looked up from the piece of paper he was scrawling a note on

at his desk in the X-Files office to see a flustered Scully

standing in the doorway – a mixture of relief and annoyance pasted

on her face. Clearly she had been trying to find him since waking

up alone in the bed earlier this morning.

“Oh, hey…uh…yeah, sorry if I made you worry…” He nervously

glanced around the office, searching for anything to look at but

her until he’d cleared his name of the criminal charge of

‘ditching’. Admittedly, acting guilty wasn’t exactly helping his

cause, but…

“Mul-der?”

He began rifling several papers on his desk – trying and hoping to

be able to hide the note he had started writing to her within the

blur. But his slight of hand was rusty, and certainly no match for

the ever-observant Doctor Dana Scully.

“What you writing?” She stopped in front of his desk and folded

her arms across her chest as the too-familiar brow-raise showed

up. “If it’s a grocery list, don’t forget beer. It was your idea

to let the guys come over later, so you can deal with the

responsibilities.” Of course, she knew full well it wasn’t any

such thing, but it helped calm her before she yet again had to

breach the subject of his unannounced disappearances.

The past year had certainly been…challenging. Then again, when

wasn’t anything in their lives like that? Permanently moving in

together in their own home had certainly been one of (if not) the

best decisions they’d made since their relationship had stepped up

a level – leaving behind her apartment and the ashes of his that

had both only haunted them with bad, painful memories over the

years. The fact remained, however, that her older brother was

dead, her youngest brother was one of Them, Mulder had almost been

taken away from her again due to another piece of alien artifact

turning up, and she still wasn’t one hundred percent convinced

either of them were happy with their decision to return to the

Bureau.

His behavior this morning was not something Dana’d seen for quite

some time, and it worried her.

“No, I…uhh…” Mulder paused and shook his head – lifting out

the sheet of paper he’d been trying to conceal. He couldn’t

explain why he felt so guilty – he’d left her this morning for good

reason, and all he’d been doing upon her arrival was writing a note

to let her know he had to see somebody before they met up for lunch

– but it just refused to let him be. “I was just writing you a

note,” he continued, sitting down in his chair. “I got a call from

Kenny earlier asking if we could meet up to discuss a possible

X-File. I figured I could see him, and then meet you in the park

for lunch.”

The raised brow quickly lowered into a frown. “Kenny? Mulder,

not–?”

“Yes, *that* Kenny – Spooky Jr.”

“I thought we’d discussed–”

“It’s not like that. C’mon, he knows as well as you, me and

Skinner how I get on those cases. I promise, this is different. I

don’t know the specifics, but it sounds like some kind of animal

attack,” he shrugged, silently pleading for her to bear with him.

Doubtful, she ignored the puppy-dog look and backtracked slightly.

“‘An animal attack’, Mulder? Side-stepping the fact that whenever

there’s an animal attack somewhere, somebody for some reason thinks

we should be called in, how did Kenny come across it?”

“I guess I’m never gonna be able to shift the title of ‘Monster

Boy’ after all, am I?” Mulder quipped, leaning back in his chair

and fiddling with the pencil he’d been using to write the note.

When no positive reaction sparked from where she stood, he knew

there was no wriggling away with lame jokes. “I told you,” he

sighed, serious, “I don’t know any details. Kenny said he had

something he wanted to talk over, so I left, got earlier-mentioned

beer from the store, and then came here. I guess, now you’re here,

though, we can go see him together!” He smiled, but she shook her

head.

“Oh, how kind of you!” She let out a deep sigh and sat down on the

corner of the desk. “I’m just so tired of it all sometimes.”

He considered her words for a minute. “Do you regret coming back?”

“No…No, you know it’s not that – we still have answers to

uncover, lies to expose and mysteries to unravel – but…I don’t

know…Maybe I’m just having one of those mornings.”

With an understanding nod, Mulder slowly raised to his feet and

cupped her face in his hands. “I know – we’re damned if we do and

damned if we don’t,” he smiled as she looked up into his eyes. A

brief, silent pause followed as they both ran the past months over

in their minds. “Look, if you’d rather I cancelled the meeting, we

could skip straight to lunch in the park…”

“And have you go on for the rest of eternity about how you wonder

what that case you passed up on was about? No way, mister!” Her

arms snaked around his waist and pulled him forward to close the

gap separating them. “I’ll go with you, but please, Mulder, can we

talk it through before you jump into a decision if it is a

profiling case?”

He moved back a fraction so that he could lower his forehead

against hers – never letting her face fall from the cradle of his

warm palms as he gently rubbed both thumbs back and forth across

her skin. Once, he’d been a creature of habit, but, if he hadn’t

known already, the past year had certainly brought it home that he

wasn’t the only one he had to think about now; every decision had

to be made with her in mind. If the hypothesized consequences of

that decision didn’t look one hundred percent positive, it was

definitely not the path to follow. That didn’t necessarily stop

him from being a forgetful, selfish fool now and then, but he was

trying to make amends in his own clumsy way.

“I promise you that with all I am,” Mulder whispered, silently

praying it was a promise he would manage to keep for once.

With a final kiss, they collected their stuff and then made their

way to meet Agent Kenny Andrews from Violent Crimes.

XxXxXxXxX

The crime scene photos in their full Technicolor goriness were

nowhere near as contradictive as the theories and accusations

flying round about the murder – it was obvious something had burst

through Robert Randolf’s window thus supporting the now-

incarcerated Randolf’s statement. But, as Andrews pointed out,

nothing – no human, let alone creature – was witnessed entering

the house after the deceased Pitt’s arrival, nothing was seen

leaving, nothing was found inside the house, and none of the blood

sampled so far showed traces of foreign DNA, which remained the

local law’s basis for arresting Randolf.

Mulder’s mind, of course, was in overdrive, and his curiosity was

in its element. Even with her eyes trained on the photographs in

her hands, Scully could sense his child-like excitement emanating

from his body beside her.

“So, what d’ya think?” Kenny asked, leaning forward on the edge of

the bench.

Dana had a lot of questions regarding evidence etcetera, but she

knew her partner would explode if he didn’t ask something as soon

as humanly possible, so she let him go first.

It was an opportunity he snatched up within a heartbeat, but he

surprised her when he asked with a slight chuckle, “If the cops are

so certain it’s a simple murder, but all the signs point to an

animal attack, how the hell did you get hold of this? Surely the

VCS doesn’t follow up on this kind of stuff now?”

Andrews let out a loud chuckle and slapped a hand down on his

knee. “No, far from! I actually have a cousin who’s the deputy

there, and …Well, let’s say he’s about as paranoid and hell-bent

on conspiracy theories as you, Mulder!”

There was no holding back the snort of laughter that escaped Scully

– making both men turn to look in her direction – but she said

nothing more as she continued to focus on the crime-scene photos.

“Never mind her – she’s having ‘one of those mornings’,” Mulder

teased, playfully nudging his partner’s arm. “So, your cousin

called you? He thinks it’s an animal?”

“You know that as an officer of the law you’re supposed to take all

the evidence into account. As far as I, and my cousin, figure, the

Douglas County sheriff and the rest of the guys there are ignoring

the hard facts and only paying attention to the circumstantial

evidence.”

“Surely they have more than Randolf’s presence in the room to go

on?” Dana asked, sitting up and handing the photos back to Kenny.

“Neighbors say that–…Oh, no, give ’em to Mulder to put in the

file, and keep it… Apparently, neighbors reported hearing raised

voices, and Randolf’s guide stick was covered with blood – as well

as dented from where it had obviously impacted something.”

“But his throat’s been eaten away!” Mulder exclaimed.

“You don’t need to tell me that. Look, I don’t know if you’re

interested or if you can get the green light on this, but I bet

they could really do with your help there to find the truth.”

Kenny stared at them both with a smile and then slowly stood up.

“I’ll leave it with you – I gotta get back…Real nut-jobs to

profile and track down, you know… I mean, we can’t all be

geniuses, have beautiful partners and our own office in the

basement of the FBI now, can we?”

Scully shot a impish grin in her partner’s direction, and then

turned back to the profiler, quickly replying, “Why thank you,

Kenny – it’s a position I’ve worked hard to reach, though.”

With a warm smile, Mulder gave a nod of his head and ran a finger

across the back of her hand – acknowledging that she’d deserved

that. “We’ll see what we can do, but no promises,” he sighed,

standing also, as did Scully a second later. “It’s good to see you

again, kid. Jeez, it’s been too long! Hey, Scully and I now have

a place over on N – you and Kerry should stop by some time so we

can catch up.”

“Yeah, sure. Keep in touch and keep me up to date on how this

goes, if it goes at all.” Kenny shook the two FBI agents’ hands,

turned, and was just beginning to walk away when Mulder’s voice

made him pause momentarily in his tracks.

“Hey, Kid?”

“Yeah?”

Mulder faltered for a second as he eyed his partner, and then, with

a slow nod of his head and small lift of the case file in his hand,

he finished, seriously “Thanks for this.”

“Always.”

The two sat back down and watched their friend walk away until he

was completely gone from view, but even then they remained still

and silent for several minutes.

A crowd of cheering children ran past, playing ‘Tag’.

An elderly couple followed the path across the horizon, arm in arm,

and then entered the small library hidden in the eastern corner of

the park.

Somewhere to their right a dog playfully barked.

These moments when they could watch and listen to others blissfully

living their purportedly ‘normal’ lives in ignorance while they

fought so painfully hard for the future somehow made it all

worthwhile.

Finally, Mulder started, “So, what do you think?”

“Well, it’s not a profiling case–”

“Right.”

“–it’s not in Florida; by the looks of it there are no woods to

trawl through; no ghosts; no mutants…It would be completely

different from what we’re used to if it weren’t for the possibility

of pissing off the local law.”

Beside her, Mulder sat staring at her with bated breath – a smile

tugging at the corners of his mouth as she reeled off the list.

“It’s perfect!” she beamed playfully, reaching out to take the file

from his grasp. “I’ll go submit the 302 to Skinner and then come

collect you. You can call the guys to let them know they can’t

come over tonight, check we’ve got everything in the overnight

bag… Oh, and can you get the flights or shall I?”

“I got it,” came his reply as he immediately reached for his cell

phone. “Anything else?”

“No. I’ll see you back home – I’ll call when I’m on my way.”

He bent to kiss her on the forehead, but she quickly grabbed his

arm before he could pull away.

“This doesn’t mean I think this is an x-file in any way, of course

– I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation.”

“Oh, of course!”

XxXxXxXxX

CRIME SCENE

2427 SYCAMORE STREET

SOLUS, ILLINOIS

3:12 PM

As anticipated, Skinner had signed off on the case, in fact, happy

they were taking an ‘easy’ case so they could wind down a little,

but the Sheriff’s Department had been barely a couple degrees above

freezing with their welcome. The fact that the two interlopers

were from the Bureau spelled trouble enough, but even worse was

their interruption with a case that was almost wrapped up.

Here they were though, beyond the yellow tape and conducting their

own thorough survey of the scene. Scully had managed to carry out

an inspection of all the evidence still present on site after ten

minutes, but Mulder seemed more interested in the shattered glass

on the floor and the window from where it had come. Scully hadn’t

questioned him about it for a couple of minutes as she knew his

mind was probably working a hundred miles a minute to come up with

some theories, but now it was worrying her.

“Mulder?”

No answer.

Pulling off her latex gloves, she approached – being careful not to

tread on anything of importance.

“Mulder? What you got?”

He glanced up, finally acknowledging her presence, but just as

quickly turned his attention back down to the floor.

“*Something* burst through the window from outside…” His head

raised and he pointed at the overturned table and chairs. “Pitt

and Randolf were sitting at the table at the time, and Randolf must

have…stood up to step away. He put his mug down on the

table…” Mulder paused for a thoughtful second as he moved his

hands around to kind of re-enact the last seconds of Greg Pitt’s

life, before motioning towards the still intact mug that lay close

to the toppled table.

Nodding her head at every observation he made, Scully smiled and

watched her partner do what he did best: piece the puzzle together

and hunt down the missing parts until it was complete. It was what

they were trained to do as investigators, but she found herself

staring in awe at his ability to literally recreate a scene in his

head as if he were there at the time nevertheless.

Her only concern was that he was starting to show the

characteristic habits he took on when he got deeply into a

profiling case.

Several frowning officers silently stood in the corner with their

arms folded across their chests and watched.

“But Pitt didn’t believe his friend…he didn’t expect anything…”

Mulder continued, standing up.

“Bobby’s crazy is why,” one cop piped up, clearly disgruntled. “He

believes in ghosts, you know? Thinks there’s some phantom creature

on the prowl!”

“He was thrown to the floor by whatever it was…” Trailing off,

Mulder looked around the room thoughtfully, and then looked up at

the group of uniformed men. “The report said something about the

accused’s white stick. Where is it?”

There was silence before, a minute later, “In evidence back at the

sheriff’s office.”

Scully stepped up beside him and lightly touched his forearm. He

automatically looked down at her, and to her surprise he actually

had an apologetic expression on his face.

“What are you thinking?” she asked quietly.

“I’m…not sure yet…” Just the look in his eyes and the

hesitation let her know otherwise, but he inclined his head

slightly towards the officers to emphasize his point, and then

snapped his own latex gloves off before resting his hand at its

home on her lower back. “We’ll know more after you’ve examined the

victim. Come on.”

“She–…You’re examining the body?”

Both agents looked at the man that had suddenly stepped forward

with both hands on his hips. It was an attitude and reaction they

were used to having to deal with, but they still wondered when

everybody would catch up with the twentieth century, let alone join

the twenty-first.

“Agent Scully is a medical doctor and we are here to find the truth

about what happened. Just, exactly, what problem do you have with

that?” Mulder snapped, stepping in front of his partner.

At only five foot seven, the officer found himself staring up at

the FBI agent, and he stuttered as he looked for a good enough

answer. Not that he had one, of course, but that was beside the

point… “W-well, uh…n–…”

When no intelligible reply came, Mulder gave a nod of his head and

turned away to lead Scully out. “We’ll be on our way and get back

to you later, then.”

~~~~~

“What was with the alpha male act back there?” Dana chuckled as

they got into their parked sedan.

Mulder fastened his seatbelt and started up the engine. “Small-

town, wanna-be cops always piss me off,” he grumbled, glancing out

at the group leaving the house. “Nobody had even bothered to

examine or consider anything we just worked out in…what? Fifteen

minutes of our arrival?”

“It’s not exactly something we’re unfamiliar with,” she pointed

out. “So, what was your mind working overtime on in there?”

“I’m not saying it’s out of the realms of possibility, but these

guys were sitting having coffee together…Pitt was probably the

only person that had anything to do with Randolf – everybody else

in the town thought he was crazy because of his ravings about

seeing stuff. Why kill the only person that wouldn’t ignore him in

the street, let alone sit down with him in his home?”

“We-ll, that I don’t know…” She shifted in her seat and glanced

out of her own window before shooting him an evil grin. “Maybe if

it were the other way around…”

Wide-eyed, he stared at her, and then slapped a hand against his

chest in mock hurt. “Wow, Sadistic Scully! Have I forgotten

something you’re trying to hint at?”

Chuckling, she shook her head. “At any rate, I think you’re

right. Everything in the house points to somebody–”

“Or something.”

“Yes, even *something*, else. We might, hopefully, be able to

settle that one after I’ve done the autopsy. Are you gonna

question Mr. Randolf while I do that?”

“Actually,” Mulder started, putting the vehicle into gear and

pulling away from the curb, “I thought I’d stick with you for a

while, if that’s okay.”

Now she was confused! “You want to come with me to the morgue?

I’m definitely worried!”

“I’m curious about what could have done this.”

That was his only answer and she silently accepted.

~~~~~

Strangers.

Interfering strangers.

It had silently watched through slit eyes as solid pad had followed

solid pad along the damp, asphalt road, but as they had sat in

their car, Its teeth had bared – saliva dripping from Its hungry

jaws as It felt the desperate need to dispose of these threatening

beings course through its veins.

It could almost smell and taste their blood.

…Later.

It would get them later.

…Make the hunt a little more interesting…

It watched their car pull away, and then turned a thoughtful eye on

the departing police officers before continuing on its way.

It still had some leftovers from its newest victim to eat…

XxXxXxXxX

DOUGLAS COUNTY MORGUE

TUSCOLA, ILLINOIS

“Oh, my God!”

The photos Kenny had shown them had been gory in their detail, but

they certainly had not done enough justice to capture the full

extent of wounds on the victim, and even Scully found herself

having to look away briefly as she pulled the cover back.

Mulder immediately covered his mouth and stepped away.

The throat was practically non-existent – even the neck was nothing

but a collection of bone fragments. At least a dozen long slashes

down and across the face had ripped it to near unidentifiability.

Further down the body was no better…

Ravished skin hung loosely from the left shoulder and arm, exposing

the torn and dead muscle tissue inside; lacerations marred the

torso, but not as badly as the large rip leading all the way down

from the decimated throat to the just-as-mutilated groin, and

without even having to look too closely it was easy to see through

the wound that all vital organs had been nibbled at…some were

even missing…

“They think a human did this?” Scully croaked, examining the whole

body with wide-eyed horror.

“No, they think a middle-aged, weak, lonely, blind guy did it,”

Mulder tried to joke with little success.

He stepped around the metal gurney until he was opposite her, and

frowned as he stole a glance at the torso – hand still firmly

covering mouth. Scully watched the curiosity grow on his face as

he leaned in closer, and asked what it was, but he didn’t reply

until his face was merely centimeters from the victims chest.

“Hey, Scully, you got a razor there?” his muffled voice queried

from behind his sweaty palm.

She quickly turned to pull the utensils tray over and picked up the

electrical razor – handing it over to Mulder, who then immediately

shaved away the fair chest hair that covered the area he was

examining.

“A-ha!”

“What is it?”

He took several steps away and gestured toward the body. “Tell me

what that looks like to you.”

Scully eyed him curiously, pulled a magnifying glass from the tray

and then moved to stand beside him. She was about to question

further until she noticed what he had found: a faint, purple bruise

in the shape of a–

“It’s a paw print,” she coughed, sharply looking up.

A moment of silence as they both weighed up the facts.

“Scully, can you do a full autopsy of this body?” Mulder suddenly

started, planting both hands on Dana’s shoulders and surprising

her. “Document every wound…maybe run a tox screen to see if he

was under the influence in any way…See if you can find out the

size of what we’re dealing with?”

“Well, of course, b-but…” The frown creasing her brow deepened.

“You don’t think it’s obvious already?”

“I know and you know, but something tells me the Douglas County law

won’t be ready to accept our complete overhaul of their work. We

need as much evidence as possible more than ever.”

With a nod of her head, Scully’s hands raised to pull the green

mask up over her mouth, but he quickly stopped her by grabbing her

wrists.

“Don’t I get a kiss before I go?” he asked, bending slightly and

puckering his lips in expectation.

She stared at him for a while, smiling – he was so beautiful when

he acted so sappy. Of course, they shouldn’t be being so openly

affectionate towards each other – particularly while on the job –

but there was no one around, and hey, she’d pretty much stopped

caring about it since they’d moved in together. So, she eventually

reached up on tiptoe to share a passionate kiss with him that

became very difficult to leave.

“You just didn’t want to stay for the autopsy,” she laughed,

finally pulling the face mask up.

“Well, there is that, but I figured I’d go return the favor and

piss the local law off a little more by questioning Robert Randolf.”

“That’s my g-man. I’ll call you if I come up with anything. You

be careful!”

Cupping her cheek in the palm of his hand, he smiled at her and

then walked out.

Scully turned back to the corpse and let out a deep sigh.

XxXxXxXxX

SHERIFF’S STATION

TUSCOLA, ILLINOIS

“Oh, hey! You!”

Mulder sharply turned at the sound of the calling voice to see a

uniformed man quickly pacing down the corridor toward him with a

waving hand in the air.

“Yeah, you. Can you wait a moment?”

Nodding, the FBI agent sighed and cast a brief glance at the room

behind him.

“Hey! You Ken’s guy? From the Bureau?” the stranger panted once

he’d finally caught up.

Mulder smiled and pulled out his ID wallet. “Hi, yeah – Special

Agent Fox Mulder. Are you his…uh…cousin?” He hesitated,

holding out his free hand to shake the stranger’s. If this guy was

the deputy, he was the most unlikely one Mulder’d ever come across:

Short-cropped blonde hair topped the slim-built man that likely

only just reached the height of five foot one because he was

wearing shoes.

“Deputy Michael Grovener – you can just call me Mike. I’m so glad

you made it…Ken’s mentioned a lot about you – about the work you

do; sounds like fun.”

“I wouldn’t call it that as such…” The agent shifted

uncomfortably from one foot to the other as he continued to study

the man he towered above. “Uh…maybe more ‘interesting’. Anyway,

Kenny said you didn’t agree with how this is being conducted?” He

had hoped to question Randolf before confronting the sheriff or

even the deputy, but that idea was clearly out the window now.

Fingers were suddenly more tightly crossed that Scully would be

able to turn up the answers and proof they needed.

Grovener shook his head, quickly glanced around to check no one was

within earshot, and then whispered, “You’ve seen the scene, right?

The file? There’s no way the case holds. I mean, have you spoke

to Bill yet?”

“Bill?”

“Bill Dench – the sheriff?”

“Uh…no,” Mulder shrugged, becoming more uneasy. “We met a couple

of officers at Randolf’s home, but that was–”

“We?”

“Me and my partner, Agent Scully.” At the deputy’s frown he

quickly added, “She’s at the county morgue examining the victim.”

“Oh…uh…” The frown creasing Grovener’s brow deepened and he

shook his head. He didn’t have a problem with what he’d just been

told, but Bill certainly would, and he’d not worked alongside the

sheriff for two years to not learn that it was best to never get on

his bad side. “Oh-kay…uh…Ken never mentioned you had a

female partner…But–”

“You have a problem with that?” Mulder’s arms folded across his

chest. “We got the same kind of reception from a group of your

colleagues earlier…”

“Believe me, I don’t think that way, but Bill…Well, he’s old-

fashioned – lived here his whole life and, well, he’s lived it

pretty sheltered, like. You know what I mean? That’s why nobody

in this building, ‘cept his assistant, is female.”

This could get interesting once Scully returned from the morgue!

Smiling, Mulder couldn’t help but envision one of the possible

disagreements his fiery partner and the sheriff would get into on

their encounter. It wasn’t the others undermining her he liked –

far from, and he would happily throw a fist or two in her defense

if allowed – but her kick-ass reactions and retorts made it

worthwhile.

“We can worry about that later, though,” Grovener’s voice droned

on. “So, have you found any answers yet?”

Answers? They’d only been in town an hour, if that! Admittedly,

they had come to a better conclusion than the sheriff, but that

didn’t mean to say they had concrete answers (at least, not ones

they wanted to share just yet). He had to wonder what the kid had

been saying to his cousin…

“Not yet – I was just about to go question Mr. Randolf,” Mulder

replied, gesturing toward the door behind him.

“Oh, sorry! Hey, mind if I come in and watch?”

Did Mulder even have a choice in the matter? This wasn’t his

territory – he didn’t exactly have the right to say ‘no’ to the

county deputy.

“Uh…no, of course not…”

XxXxXxXxX

Step. Step. Step.

The green linoleum flooring slipped easily beneath Its paws – the

pads leaving prints of condensation in the wake of each that slowly

faded away just as the lives of these strangers would soon

enough… Them and anybody else that crossed Its path.

Step.

Step.

Its lithe body moved along the corridor, and It desperately tried

to ignore the foul smell of disinfectant that polluted every

molecule in the air and filled Its nostrils. It couldn’t

understand how a species that depended on blood as its life source,

could be so desperate to clean the stuff away.

Step.

“…Organs to note that are missing include–”

Ears pricked up, body pressed to the ground and eyes contracted to

slits. The voice of the woman echoed against the walls, and It

slinked along until It crouched outside the double doors.

Wait.

XxXxXxXxX

“I believe you didn’t do it, but your defense is far from

conceivable, so why don’t you just explain it to me? Forget Deputy

Grovener – just me. Tell me about this creature you swear killed

your friend–”

“I don’t even understand it!” Randolf whined, shaking his lowered

head. “I just see it – most of the time it just walks along the

street, but sometimes…” Gulp. “Sometimes It stops and…and

w-w-watches people…J-just *stares*, like Its planning

something…”

Mulder – one hand flat down on the table Bob sat at while the other

quickly reached up to wipe some sweat from his brow – glanced round

at the deputy, who continued to stand silently in the corner of the

room.

“I tried to help Greg…I-I used my stick, but…b-but…” The

seated man’s tears overwhelmed him, and he broke down – resting his

forehead against the edge of the table.

“Why can’t anybody but you see it, Bob?” Mulder continued, quietly,

moving to crouch beside Randolf. “What does it even look like?”

His voice dropped to a near whisper. “I can help you stop It –

make sure It doesn’t hurt anybody else, if you just trust me and

tell all you can.”

Bob’s head lifted a fraction, and Mulder prayed he’d made the

connection necessary to gain the key information to stop the

creature.

“It’s like a panther – black and slim…” came the choked response

after several tense minutes. “Its teeth…It–…I don’t know if

It can be stopped…”

“Just help me find It.”

“I–”

The door swung open and a tall, broad man stood with hands on hips

casting a puzzled look around the room before focusing on

Grovener. “Deputy, I been looking for you everywhere! Come on, we

got another one.”

Randolf sat upright with wide eyes, Mulder sharply turned and

raised to his full height, and Grovener quickly moved to the exit.

“Same MO?”

Sheriff Bill Dench snapped around to frown at the stranger who had

called out the question, as if only just noticing his presence.

“Who’s asking?”

“This is Agent Mulder from the FBI,” the deputy piped up before

Mulder had chance to reply.

“FBI?” The frown deepened, and then realization dawned. “Oh,

*you* – the guy here to screw up our hard work? Well, looks like

there’s a new twist without you having done a thing,” Dench sniped,

bitterly. “Heard you had a partner with you. Where is he?”

Mulder’s mouth opened to respond, but once again Grovener jumped in

with “At the morgue – examining Pitt. Who’s the new victim?”

before any sound managed to pass his lips.

“Unidentified female in her late twenties/early thirties found

behind the post office just two blocks away from this guy’s

place.” A large, gloved hand pointed in Randolf’s direction before

Dench turned steely eyes back on the FBI agent. “And yes, the

body’s in the same condition as Pitt’s. Come on, Deputy, let’s

go.” With one last disgusted glance at Mulder, the sheriff stalked

out with Grovener slowly following.

Waiting a beat after the door had slammed shut, Mulder crouched

back down beside Bob. “I’m gonna go now…My partner and I are

working our own investigation, and we knew you hadn’t done this

even before the newest victim, but you gotta promise me something:

as soon as you get out of here, you’ll help us find this and stop

It. Do you think you can do that?”

Randolf lifted his head to stare at the blurred shape of the figure

beside him, and gave an unsteady nod. In honesty, he didn’t think

he could stop the creature, but he’d lost everybody that meant

anything to him. So very little mattered to him, except killing

the creature that had murdered his best friend. He had to try, and

at least this guy seemed to care and believe him.

Mulder left the room, nodded his thanks to the police officer

outside the door, and then pulled out his cell phone as he headed

for the car park – hitting the well-used speed-dial button.

“Mulder?”

His eyebrows raised sharply at the sound of his partner’s response

over the line, but then a mischievous grin begun to lift his

cheeks. “Wow! What a coincidence – my name’s Mulder, too!” he

teased. “I’m sorry, though – I must have the wrong number…I’m

trying to get hold of my doubting, forever-questioning-every-theory

little partner whose name is only Mulder in my fantasies.”

There was an unsettled pause from the other end, and his smile

broadened at the thought that he’d succeeded with his aim.

“Mul–…”

“Had you big time, Scully!” he chuckled – shaking his head as he

heard her large release of breath. “How’s it going on your end?”

“This is a case for Animal Control, Mulder, without question, but I

don’t see what we can do.” It was obvious she was tired and

frustrated. The sigh punctuating her sentence only confirmed that,

but he had to know…

“What’ve you got?”

“There’s a similar bruise to the one you found on the opposite side

of Mr. Pitt’s chest; a lung, the heart and liver have been ripped

out as if It knew distinctly what It was after – I mean, other than

from the deep lacerations, there is no damage to any of the other

body tissue. There’s signs Pitt struggled right until It bit

through the aorta and superior vena cava.”

“Ouch.” He irritably wiped a hand down his face before reaching to

put the key in the ignition. “I just spoke to Bob Randolf, before

the high-and-mighty Sheriff Dench intervened–”

“That bad?”

“We-ell, let’s say–” He cut himself off abruptly – he’d almost

made a crack about another Bill hating his guts, but that was still

a little too inappropriate, so he quickly considered his next

words. “…uh…he’s not exactly separate from everybody else

we’ve received a cold reception from. Anyway, Randolf’s probably

about as clueless as we are right about now.”

Pacing the room, Scully shook her head and quirked an eyebrow. It

actually sounded as if…

“So, what theory have you subscribed to? Phantom beast? Invoked

spirit summoned to protect Randolf? Some kind of psychic ability

on Randolf’s or an outside source’s part? Lycanthrope?–”

“‘Lycanthrope’? Scully! Dear diary…”

“*What’s your theory*?”

His hand withdrew from the key. She knew already, so why she had

to have so much fun rubbing it in his face still puzzled him.

“Actually…I’m not–…I don’t have one.”

There it was!

“You, without a theory? Maybe I should be the one saying ‘Dear

Diary…’,” she scoffed, pausing in her tracks near the double-door

entrance to the room.

“Whatever,” he chuckled, clearing his throat, before turning

serious again. “This thing is hungry, Scully, and It’s found Its

next victim already – they’ve disc…….”

Her partner’s voice drained out as Scully frowned and stared at the

double doors. She didn’t know why, but she felt inexplicably

unsettled – almost as if she was being watched. The phone lowered

away from her ear, but it didn’t really matter as she’d already

stopped registering what Mulder was saying, anyway, or if he was

even saying anything at all anymore.

*It’s just your imagination running away,* the voice in her head

rationalized.

The dark, gripping sensation refused to go though, and the tiny

hairs on the back of her neck stood up in terror. …Just that

irrational feeling of eyes following her every move…

Watching.

Waiting.

“–nd…Scully?”

A small, latex-encased hand raised shakily to press against one of

the metal double-doors.

“Scully? Scully, are you there?!”

Eyes narrowed.

Mulder’s worry heightened.

Scully stepped out into the hallway…

…And then the phone line disconnected.

“*Scully!*”

XxXxXxXxX

==========

ACT TWO

==========

Memories of blood-spatter on walls, ripped skin, and a gouged

throat hounded Mulder as he slammed on the brake, exited the car as

quickly as possible, and then ran down the long corridor of the

morgue to the room he’d left his partner in earlier. Any number of

things could have been the reason for her hanging up, but the only

ones he could think of as cold sweat bathed his body filled his

heart with dread.

“Scully?”

He burst through the double doors – eyes darting around the area as

he searched for her.

‘Please, God, let her be okay.’

“Scully!”

When he saw her smashed cellphone on the floor, all hope he’d been

harboring was snatched away.

Mulder stepped cautiously toward the gurney he’d stood beside

earlier; where Greg Pitt’s body had been but now wasn’t. Gone,

just like–

“Sc–?”

“Mul-der?”

Defying whiplash, his head snapped around at maximum speed to stare

at the mauled utility closet door. The knob turned, but the wood

had been bent in its frame and wouldn’t budge.

“Mulder, are you there?”

The breath he’d been holding quickly left his lungs in a relieved

sigh as he ran to the door holding his partner captive. He didn’t

think he’d ever been so glad to hear her voice – no matter how

shaken.

“I’m here, Scully! Are you okay? What happened?”

“I’m…I’m fine…”

She said nothing more, and there was no doubting she was far from.

Mulder tried to open the door from his side, but had as little luck

as she’d had.

“Stand back, I’m gonna kick the door in,” he told her gently,

briefly resting his forehead against the scratched wood panel in a

silent prayer that she wasn’t too badly injured. “Okay?”

“Okay…I’m clear…”

One hearty kick freed her from the prison she’d originally used as

a refuge, and she rushed into his open arms – quietly sobbing. He

held her close for a moment, before stepping back to examine her.

The four long, parallel gouges on her right arm told him more than

he wanted to know.

“I was talking to you and…I can’t explain it – I just got this

feeling that somebody was watching me and…” Her voice trailed

off momentarily as she shook her head dismissively, the scientist

in her trying to push away all the other explanations she’d been

pondering over for the last ten minutes, but her better judgment

knowing otherwise. “I couldn’t see anything…There was

nothing–” Shakily, she lifted the injured arm and studied it.

“The next thing I knew, something slashed my arm… But still I

couldn’t see anything else in the room…”

Mulder tentatively ran his fingertips over the scratches – wiping

away the blood pooling from them. They’d faced so many dangerous

beasts, creatures and mutants over the years, but the only time he

was sure he’d seen her this shaken was after her encounters with

Donnie Pfaster. Of course, this was a completely different

scenario, but he’d come so close to losing her… His eyes slipped

shut and it was difficult to push away the memories of the scene at

Randolf’s home.

“We need to get you to the hospital,” he finally started, opening

his eyes to stare at her.

“I’m fine – I’ll go to the hospital later, but it’s nothing,

really.” Once again, Scully paused, but this time her jaw set and

her shoulders squared as she continued to stare at him for a long

while before continuing, in a serious tone, “I was lucky – every

cell of logic in me said it wasn’t possible, but I got to the

closet before any real damage could be done. This…*thing* –

whatever It is – is still out there and we have to find a way to

stop it before somebody else isn’t as lucky.”

“It’s killed two people already…You could have been the third…”

“But I *wasn’t*,” she assured him, lifting her left hand to cup his

cheek and prove she was really there. “Randolf must know more than

he’s letting on – why is he the only one that can see this thing?”

“Maybe I can help a little with that.”

Both agents turned towards the double doors to see a tall, gray-

haired, bespectacled man.

“It’s okay. My name’s Doctor Tom David – I’m Mister Randolf’s

local physician. I just received a distraught phone call from him

asking that I come speak with you – I take it you’re the agents

from the FBI?” the stranger explained, wearily glancing at the

destroyed closet door in the far corner of the room, and the

congealed globs of blood on the floor by one of the gurneys.

Mulder gave a last lingering ‘Are you sure you’re okay?’ look to

his partner as he carefully let go of her arm, waited for her nod

and tiny smile that anybody but him would have missed, and then

stepped toward the intruder. “Doctor David?” he frowned, searching

his memory cabinet for the name. “Oh! You were questioned by the

sheriff right after the murder of Greg Pitt. You’re on file saying

Randolf is…uh…’Delusional’?”

David gave a nervous chuckle and shrug of his shoulders as, yet

again, he cast a surveying eye around the room. “‘Delusional’ is

maybe a little over-exaggeration concocted by Sheriff Dench to make

his report look more aesthetically pleasing to his own ego. My

point I came here to talk with you about is that Bob suffers from

something called Macular Degeneration…It’s a condition that

usually affects people as they get older, but I believe the trauma

of the car crash he was in and the resulting death of his wife

caused a great surge of pressure on all his functions, leading to

the bursting of vessels in his eyes.”

A befuddled Mulder turned back to Scully – silently asking for

confirmation.

“That would be a fair enough assessment,” she finally piped up,

clearing her throat and quickly shifting into Doctor mode.

“But…” Suddenly, a look of confusion creased her features also,

and she rested her left hand against her hip. “That doesn’t

explain what Randolf has been reporting, or – more to the point –

why you’re here.”

Tom David had lived in Douglas County all his life – in Solus for

the largest part of that – and had practiced medicine for almost

thirty years, but despite the many people he’d met, he didn’t think

he’d ever come across anybody like these two federal agents. He

couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was an electricity or

unseeable force of some kind in this room, and the inability to

explain it scared him. Admittedly, he was more concerned about the

broken door, blood splatters and broken cellphone on the floor, but

he couldn’t let them know that – after all, he had a job to do.

“The degeneration has been causing Bob to hallucinate. His brain

fills in the holes that his eyes cannot, and, as a result, his

imagination presents him with mostly mundane objects…except for a

dark beast that, I believe, represents his anger at his whole

situation. He’s become fixated, though, his grief has been

deepening, and everybody in the town mocks. In my medical opinion,

I believe the stress became too much and he finally snapped – using

this manifestation as an excuse.”

“That sounds more like a psychologist’s opinion to me,” Mulder

grunted, folding both arms across his chest. “A psychiatrist’s

assessment. I thought you said you were his physician?” They’d

been faced by so much contempt so far for reasons they’d put down

to just their presence, but he was beginning to wonder if there was

something else going on. Even Scully looked doubtful.

The doctor shifted from one foot to the other, refusing to say

anymore.

“Who asked you to speak with us, again?”

“I told you, Mr. Randolf phoned me.”

“He asked you to tell us he’s guilty of murdering his only friend,

despite swearing to me half-hour ago that it was a panther-like

creature? Fascinating!” the tall agent snapped sarcastically.

“Who sent you, Doctor David, and how did you know I was here?”

There was a moment of tense silence, before the older man finally

closed his eyes and conceded, “Sheriff Dench gave me a call… He

said your partner was examining the body, and asked me to come and

speak with…’him’.” He fixed his gaze on Scully briefly before

turning back to Mulder and shrugging his shoulders. “He’s just

trying to tie up loose ends without it all having to be dredged up

again. I am Bob’s doctor, but I confess to listening a bit too

much to the rumors and things people say about him.”

Wincing when she took a step forward and accidentally brushed her

injured arm against Mulder’s jacket, Scully queried, “Why weren’t

any of your medical observations noted on record? If Dench is so

adamant on essentially solving this with Occam’s Razor, why not

include what you just theorized to us on file?”

“Because nobody else reading it would have believed it.

Hallucinations seen by a sane, visually handicapped man? That,

alone, would have been cause for further investigation.”

“Actually, no,” she replied. “It’s known as Charles Bonnet

Syndrome to specialists…I heard somebody once mention it in

passing while I was at Quantico, but didn’t know anything until I

read a paper on it a year or so ago. It’s a fairly common

condition, and some people have actually been recorded as seeing

figures and monsters. What Bob is seeing though, isn’t a

hallucination…” She raised her right arm and felt a wave of

nausea and giddiness overtake her senses momentarily.

“Scully?”

“Oh my God!” David exclaimed, examining the deep, bleeding

slashes. “What the hell did this? You should be at a hospital.”

“That’s what I said,” Mulder scolded, staring at his partner.

“This is what Randolf’s imagination did. If he’s delusional,

Delusion must have its own body.”

“What?”

“Whatever Randolf’s seeing, it attacked Agent Scully–”

“I’m fine,” she insisted, trying to calm Mulder’s heightening

temper and voice. “It’s just a couple of scratches…”

Her voice trailed off as a larger wave of light-headedness claimed

her, and just as the looks of concern on the two men’s faces

registered in her brain, everything faded to black. There was the

distant sound of Mulder calling her name as he rushed to catch her,

and then nothing.

XxXxXxXxX

As the doors on the back of the coroner’s van slammed shut, Deputy

Mike Grovener turned with a hung head, wiped a hand down his weaty

face and sighed, “This is the fourth known attack! God, what the

hell’s doin’ this?”

“And why is it they’re all only turning up after these two FBI

agents arrive in town?” a frustrated sheriff growled, briskly

approaching with a small evidence bag tightly gripped in one hand.

“I had it all wrapped up, and then they had to come in snoopin’

around for some goddamned reason!”

“It’s not their fault,” Grovener defended. He knew he’d done the

right thing by getting an outside source involved to find the

truth, but he couldn’t believe how out-of-hand this had gotten in

just a few short days. “That body looked like it’d been there for

a good couple months. Nobody’s to blame ‘cept whatever’s doin’

this.”

“The hell it ain’t! How the hell did they even know to come here

in the first place?”

A broad, spectacled figure dressed in a dark suit and trenchcoat

stepped up behind them and attempted to intercept the conversation,

but was quickly shot down by the infuriated sheriff. “They were–”

“Can you shut up a second – I’m talkin’ to my Deputy! Now, you

tell me, Grovener: if they ain’t responsible in any way for any of

this, how the hell did they find out about this case?”

Mike shot a nervous glance over at the federal agent behind Dench,

before finally and tentatively replying, “I called them in.”

“Excuse me?”

“I have a cousin in D.C who’d spoken a lot about two agents he knew

that dealt with…unusual cases. I thought they’d be the best to

help solve this,” the deputy explained, regaining some confidence.

“‘Solve this’? We had it solved!”

“Oh, come on, Bill! You know as well as me that there’s no way

Bobby could have killed Greg at all, let alone done what we saw at

that house…or even what we’ve seen here!” Irritably, Grovener

gestured toward where the last few police officers were still

standing with shocked expressions on their faces. “We’ve got three

people dead, one in hospital, and for some reason Randolf is still

in custody!”

Dench felt the energy drain out of him, and his shoulders sagged as

his head shook in defeat. So, maybe Mike was right, but at the

time it had seemed so simple…what else was he supposed to have

thought? And now, as the afternoon light was beginning to fade and

the cloud cover threatened to bring weather that would wash any

other possible evidence away, he didn’t know what to do – he just

felt as if his ability to do his job had been ripped away like the

lives of these victims.

“I’m gonna go speak to Randolf – that Agent M–…uh…whatever his

name was…”

“Mulder,” Grovener provided.

“Whatever…I got the impression he thought Bob was connected to

whatever this is somehow, and those stupid rumors in town imply the

same. Deputy, maybe it’s time we called in Animal Control after

all – if the FBI can’t crack this, we’ll have to take a different

approach.”

“Yes, sir.” With a small, acknowledging nod to both men, Grovener

turned and walked away to make a call on the car radio.

“We are doing all we can, Sheriff, I assure you. Those two are our

best, and this won’t stop them from finding the truth,” the third

man assured, staring at Dench’s back.

“Ian was sixteen years old – his life hadn’t even started yet. I

just want this thing captured before it kills anybody else –

especially a small child.”

Pushing his glasses up to rest properly on the bridge of his nose,

Assistant Director Walter Skinner watched as the Douglas County

sheriff shook his head and left also.

So much for letting Mulder and Scully work on an ‘easy case’.

XxXxXxXxX

JARMAN MEMORIAL HOSPITAL

TUSCOLA, ILLINOIS

APRIL 19th, 2005

4:12 PM

Dim light.

Sounds of people milling about and occasional cries of pain.

The familiar smell of–…

As senses kicked in, both eyes slowly opened and Dana Scully turned

her head until she noticed Mulder’s tired form slumped in the chair

to her left.

“Mul–”

“Scully!” he exclaimed with relief – leaning forward and kissing

her forehead, his hand never releasing its death grip on hers.

“You’re awake?”

She frowned, confused. She remembered performing the autopsy on

the victim’s body and speaking to Mulder on the phone, but after

that was a complete blank.

“Mulder, where am I? What’s happened?”

“You don’t remember?” It was his turn to frown, but he was just

grateful she was okay.

When she shook her head, he explained what had happened over the

past twenty-four hours: how she’d been attacked by the invisible

entity; how they’d spoken with Doctor David and she had then

passed out; how she’d been brought here and stitched up.

“But, I don’t understand… Why can’t I remember anything after

going to open the doors?” Scully asked.

He wished he could give her the answers, but he didn’t even know

them himself. So much of the last day was a blur, he even had

trouble describing it to her. The only thing barely coherent in

his memory was the call he’d made to Skinner at 2:37 this morning

begging the assistant director to fly to Illinois and help in their

hunt for the answers.

‘Mulder, you know I’ll help as much as I can, but I can’t just leave

what I’m working on to assist with what was originally a simple

homicide!’ the man at the end of the line had exclaimed, rubbing a

hand across his chest and then reaching for his glasses on the

nightstand. ‘I’m Assistant Director of the FBI – things are a

little busier than they are down in the basement.’

‘I know, but I need you here,’ had been Mulder’s insistant reply as

he’d paced back and forth outside Scully’s hospital room. ‘I can’t

leave her – not until she’s woken up. But I need to chase down

some possible leads and come up with a solid theory. Please.’

“Skinner’s here?” Dana coughed at the end of her partner’s

narrative – eyeing him suspiciously. “He ditched all his

appointments because you said ‘please’?”

Grinning at the skepticism he’d missed not being able to throw wild

theories at last night, Mulder shrugged his shoulders and joked,

“What? You don’t think Skinner’s susceptible to my charms as

well? How’d you think we got away with my ‘losing’ the expense

report last week?”

“Okay, okay, so he’s here – although I hasten to correct that it’s

Accounting’s responsibility to ream you a new ass for that, not

Skinner’s,” she chided with a shake of her head.

“Of course.”

“But I still don’t understand why I don’t remember anything or why

I’m still here?”

He nodded his head in agreement. “That I’m still trying to figure,

as well as a hundred other things. I got Grovener to bring me some

reference books, and have been looking some stuff up whilst waiting

for you to come to. The one thing that keeps coming up is the myth

of the black, unknown creature that has been spotted primarily in

farm lands across the world…Central and southern Illinois even

have their own claims to the myth.”

“You can’t be serious?” came her familiar, cautionary tone.

“Actually, no. Those have, for the most past, all been proven to

be either large domesticated cats or creatures that have escaped

captivity and adapted to live in the wild – all only feeding on

cattle and other livestock to help survival. This…this is

different to anything I’m finding in the literature.” He could see

from the dubious frown creasing her features that she disliked the

sound of that even more than the idea that this was something out

of local folklore, but he stuck with the train of thought

nevertheless. “This thing has thought – it even came back for

Pitt’s body. Why, when there’s plenty of others in the town to

hunt down if It’s hungry? And then there’s that important aspect:

why can no one but Randolf see It? It attacked you but you still

didn’t see it…”

“At the moment, I don’t even remember it,” Scully groaned.

“I know, and we’ll figure that out, but I’ve been thinking about

something Randolf said, you said, Doc David said and I said, and it

occurred to me: what if all of Randolf’s emotions became so great

and overwhelming that they broke free and manifested themselves

into a violent spirit intent on protecting Randolf as best it can –

it would explain the connection between them. And he suffers from

MD – blocking out parts of his vision…What if his having that

disability is what gives him the ability to see this thing when

everybody else can’t?”

Scully stared at her partner, waiting for him to say ‘gotcha’ or

anything of the like. But when he finished and took a deep breath,

she knew he was serious. She took a deep breath also, and then

glanced down at the four hands tightly linked together and resting

in her lap. If only she could remember what had happened at the

morgue…

“Maybe I should have stayed asleep a little longer,” she sighed,

half-heartedly. “Mulder, something invisible cannot scratch me,

let alone kill somebody, it’s impossible. You know we’ve come far

enough along for me to not so readily push your theories aside, but

you have to admit this is asking me to believe in a lot! There’s

nothing in what you just said that I can scientifically prove or

disprove. And…Who’s ‘Doc David’?”

“You wanted a theory yesterday, and this is the best I got,” came

his hurt reply, shortly followed by a large, uncontrollable yawn.

“For all I know it could be Randolf’s wife reincarnated! I know it

sounds crazy, but when hasn’t the craziest possible scenario been

the right one? Bob has a connection to this thing he likely

doesn’t know about, and It’s killing anybody that has questioned

anything he says. And I know you can’t remember (for reasons as

questionable as this case, I hasten to remind), but yesterday you

said that Charles Bonnet Syndrome caused visually impaired people

to see hallucinations – often times actual moving figures.

Correct?”

Finding it hard not to cower away from his growing temper and the

crushing hold he now had on her hands, she gave a silent nod. Of

course, he was right – in fact, his theory held a logical

believability no matter how far out there it was.

But something didn’t *feel* right.

He’d been acting…odd…since they’d arrived yesterday. Even she

hadn’t exactly been acting her normal self.

It wasn’t right. Something just–…It all felt too orchestrated.

Her eyes slipped shut, but they flung back open again straight

after as all she saw behind her eyelids were those cold, piercing

yellow eyes staring back at her from that black snarling, hungry

feline face.

“Scully?” Mulder quickly asked in concern – realizing the death

grip he had on her hands and immediately letting them go. “I’m

sorry…I didn’t mean–…I’m petrified by what could happen.”

“It doesn’t like strangers,” she whispered.

“Huh?”

“Where’s Skinner?”

“Uh…Last I heard he was trying to convince Animal Control that

this isn’t their standard coyote or coydog to exterminate, with

little luck. Why?”

She fixed her gaze on him – eyes filled with terror. For some

reason there were thoughts in her head she knew didn’t belong there

– explanations for what was going on in Solus – but the words were

jumbled and she couldn’t seem to speak them out loud. She didn’t

need to, though: Mulder could see at least some of it through her

eyes and quickly left the hospital room, placing a lingering kiss

on her lips before he did.

XxXxXxXxX

Meat tore away from bone.

Blood-soaked teeth tore ferociously once more at the throat until

the head completely disconnected, and then the silhouetted figure

stood.

“They’ll learn,” a voice whispered, before the hand lowered to pick

up the discarded cranium. “I’ll show them what they refuse to see.”

A tearful Randolf moved to put his find in a paper bag, and then

left Sheriff Dench’s home – forgetting to wash up the bloodied saw in

his haste.

XxXxXxXxX

==========

ACT THREE

==========

“Skinner.”

“Sir, it’s Mulder.”

“How is she?”

Mulder smiled as he pulled the car up alongside where the assistant

director stood, hung up the phone and called out the open window,

“You workin’?”

“I thought yours and Agent Scully’s relationship gave you no need

to follow that form of recreation,” Skinner frowned, turning at the

sound of his agent’s voice and pocketing the cellphone. “Besides,

I asked you a question first.”

“She’s awake. Hop in, sir – I’m heading over to Greg Pitt’s place

to do some sniffing around.”

Skinner eyed his friend suspiciously. At half-three this morning

Eastern time, Mulder had been seemingly lost and completely

clueless when he’d spoken to him over the phone. Six hours later

he’d been pretty much the same. Skinner’d known there would be

some level of regained energy upon Scully’s awakening, but the

gleam he saw in Mulder’s eyes now was…

Well, it was just spooky.

“How’d it go with Animal Control?”

“Not very well. They’ve sent out a special team to hunt It down,

but they’re still under the impression they’re searching for a

coyote, not a black, phantom cat. Deputy Grovener tried to help

explain, but it was useless,” the A.D sighed, settling into the

passenger seat. “Anyway, why you off to Pitt’s place?”

Mulder diverted his eyes off the road long enough to throw an

enigmatic glance in his boss’s direction, and then replied – more

serious, “Playing a hunch. Scully doesn’t remember anything after

when we spoke on the phone, and I think she may be questioning my

sanity right around now, but when I looked in her eyes…” He

paused. What was he’d seen? How could he explain it? When he’d

looked into the depths of her blue eyes, it had been like there

something was missing – or, even, that something else had been

added.

He’d caught a fleeting image of the beast reflected in her eyes.

“I can’t explain it,” he continued after attempting,

unsuccessfully, to explain to himself how the new theory eating

away at him had come to mind. “But so many dead-end thoughts have

been swimming about in my head since yesterday, I figured it might

be best to try chase down the unconsidered option that would

normally have probably been my initial gut instinct upon reading

the case file.”

All Skinner could do was sit and stare in unresolved bewilderment.

“If I tell you, you’ll laugh.”

“Mulder, I may not agree with some–…Well, a *majority* of your

ideas…and I may question your sanity even moreso than Agent

Scully, but I don’t ‘laugh’ at any of your theories.”

Awkward, hesitant silence lasted for long minutes. It wasn’t until

the rental car had pulled up on Mekke Avenue in Solus, and the two

men had gotten out, that Mulder started, “When I looked in Scully’s

eyes at the hospital, I saw this thing – this black cat – and I

realized Pitt saw it too right before it killed him.”

“But how?”

*Pitt didn’t believe his friend…he didn’t expect anything.*

“He looked around – his chair was slightly pushed away from the

table as well. Scully said at the morgue that he’d fought against

It until It gutted him, but there was no sign that he was making a

mad, frantic struggle against something invisible; it was a

controlled fight against something he could see – something that

left paw prints on his chest.” The younger agent frowned and then

moved toward the front entrance of Pitt’s home. “Maybe he did

believe his friend after all…or maybe he knew something…”

“And you thought I’d laugh at you because…?”

“You’re not amused or disturbed by the concept that I came up with

these thoughts just by looking into Scully’s eyes? This is stuff –

crazy stuff at that – that I should have come up with before we

even reached the airport!”

Skinner shook his head and chuckled, “Believe me, I’ve seen a lot

weirder things happen between you two. Maybe you tried thinking so

much about the case, too much of a pressure to find all the answers

clouded your mind and it was up to Scully to use her magic whatever-

it-is-she-has-over-you to clear it.” Shrug. “Maybe you did see

something she saw in her eyes, and it’ll all come clear soon.”

A shy, agreeing nod from Mulder was shortly followed by the deep,

groaning creak of the front door opening.

XxXxXxXxX

DENCH RESIDENCE

TUSCOLA, ILLINOIS

4:47 PM

As the wind picked up and a storm looked imminent, Bill Dench

removed his hat and entered the house.

“Bob?”

Shrugging off his coat he mentally evaluated the last few days in a

desperate bid to seek the answers that nobody else seemed fit to

find. Unsurprisingly, though, nothing came to mind, so he shook

his head and paced out into the kitchen. He had a few minutes

before he should probably get back out on the road and question

some of the locals in Solus, but he wanted to take this opportunity

to take a long swig of cold beer and speak with Randolf – who’d

been driven here a little earlier for safety.

“Bob!”

When silence was the only answer his empty home delivered, broken

only a second later by the distant roll of thunder, the sheriff

quickly paced into the living room…

Only to see, lying in a large pool of blood in the center of the

room, the mutilated, beheaded corpse of his beloved pet Alsatian.

A hand shot up to cover his mouth before the vomit spewed

everywhere, and then he ran as fast as he could back out to his car.

The animal supposedly loose in the area could easily be blamed for

the torn and bloodied torso of his dog, but he knew full well who

was responsible for the saw he’d also seen on the living room floor.

XxXxXxXxX

Eyes narrowed.

Ears lifted to attention.

Cold tongue swept over the tops of sharp, blood-stained teeth.

It paced along the road, effortlessly missing the cars passing

hurriedly by, and watched Bob Randolf yelling out at the top of his

voice and waving a blood-drenched grocery bag above his head.

People stopped to stare in shock.

But they didn’t see.

‘Make them.’

As the distant voice struck into the creature’s brain like the

coming lightning, It lowered Its body nearer to the ground and

speeded up Its gait toward Randolf.

XxXxXxXxX

1766 MEKKE AVENUE

SOLUS, ILLINOIS

Aside from the pentagrams painted in dark red on every door in the

house, Skinner and Mulder found little in their brief search of the

late Greg Pitt’s residence to implicate that he had anything to do

with the phantom beast’s existence…

…Until they entered his bedroom.

“What the hell is all this?” the assistant director croaked,

glancing at the candles and altar on the bedside cabinet before

turning in a circle to look at all four walls, which were

completely covered in poorly-painted pentagrams, foreign,

unintelligible verses and crude pencil drawings of black cats.

Taking it all in as well, Mulder looked down at the unusual diagram

painted on the floorboards and felt the breath catch momentarily in

his lungs. “‘The Triangle of the Art’…” he whispered, almost to

himself. “He really did know something.” There was a thoughtful

pause, but then he shook his head and moved to pick up the large

book from beside the small altar. “Pentagrams are traditionally

used to attract good spirits – to protect its bearer…”

Stale air filled with dubious silence as Skinner frowned and looked

once again at all four walls.

“Protect him from what?” he finally asked, shooting another brief

glance at the drawings before turning his attention back on Mulder

– who was now reading the hand-written passages in the book.

“‘It wasn’t meant to happened this way. All I wanted to do was

make things better for Bob – try bring back Jessica. I know I

don’t know about this stuff and I shouldn’t have tried it, but

Tommy assured me it was easy and would be the best solution… No

idea what I’ve brought back, but it ain’t Jess, for sure.'”

Skinner approached as he silently, intently watched Mulder skim

through several pages and then continue,

“‘Bob saw It today – for real. He told me about It, and I tried to

laugh like everyone else, but I know he’s not lying. In a way he’s

lucky though – I might not be able to see It, but I can sense It,

and at least It doesn’t haunt his dreams.'” More pages were turned

over, but Mulder found himself pausing to soak in what he saw

before reading out loud. “‘I tried to reverse what I’d done but

that failed. Then I tried to control it for good…but now I think

somebody else controls It, or It even controls Itself. I saw It

kill someone today, and I never wanted that! Never. What am I

gonna do?'”

“Somebody’s intervening?” Skinner piped up, staring at the open

book resting in the younger man’s hands.

“He tried to play God for his best friend, but somebody with more

power wanted to play God for their own purposes.”

“But who?”

Closing the book and shaking his head as the storm outside begun to

gain momentum, Mulder looked up with uncertainty creasing his brow,

and both men stared at each other in silence.

XxXxXxXxX

“Ah, Dana! I heard you were awake! How are you feeling?”

It took several long moments for Scully to break free of her

thoughtful trance and register the voice, let alone realize that

there was somebody hovering beside her hospital bed. Still the

image of those piercing eyes and blood-stained teeth ingrained on

the insides of her eyelids refused to let her be, and now she had

the added worry as to what Mulder was up to. A clap of lightning

brought reality back into focus, and she shook her head as she

looked up at the dark haired woman.

“I’m…uh…fine,” she started, a little hesitantly. “Sore and

very foggy on the events after the attack, but considering what the

alternative could have been, I’m very well, Doctor…?”

The tall, neatly-dressed woman smiled, stowed the clipboard she’d

lifted from the end of the bed under her arm, and then offered her

hand to shake Dana’s. “I’m Doctor Sowlitzer, I was here when you

were brought in,” she declared, lowering her eyes to the charts

attached to the board she’d pulled back out from under her arm.

“Considering the excessively high level of amino acids found in

your bloodstream – in turn, overproducing serotonin – the extended

sleep pattern is to be expected, but–”

“Amino acids?” Scully frowned. She’d been attacked, not ingested

something to knock her body’s levels off-balance…

Thunder echoed in the room as heavy rain attacked the building, and

Sowlitzer frowned herself. She’d been told her patient was a

medical doctor, so surely the woman knew what Amino acids were?

“Ye-es,” she awkwardly replied. “When you were admitted, we

stitched the four deep scratches on your right forearm and took a

blood sample, which showed extremely unbalanced levels.

Fortunately – if not surprisingly – they seem to have sorted

themselves out, but we’re still waiting on some other test results

to see if they explain your amnesia.”

Still frowning, Dana looked down at her bandaged arm. She was

still trying to understand what she had meant by ‘It doesn’t like

strangers’ and why she had said it to her partner earlier before

his quick departure, and make sense of the jumbled thoughts tearing

her mind in all directions. But…very unstable Amino levels

balancing themselves out without any kind of medical therapy? It

was the scientific side of the case she really had no hold over…

…Or maybe it was the scientific fact necessary to tie some of the

extraordinary scenarios together…

Her frown deepened as her legs swung out of the bed. “Can I look

at that chart quickly, please?”

Sowlitzer shrugged her shoulders and handed the clipboard over –

looking up at the window as the thunder and lightning outside grew

louder and more frequent. “As I explained to your…uh…partner?

Your case is odd, but not unheard of. We had a young boy in at the

start of the new year with similar symptoms who’d been attacked by

a rabid dog.”

Scully looked down the list of numbers and other statistics –

barely registering the female doctor’s voice. “A rabid dog?” she

asked, distractedly.

“Yes. I don’t know the ins and outs of his case as he was mainly

dealt with by his doctor in Solus – Doctor David – but the boy’s

condition worsened shortly after the levels in his system rectified

themselves, and the authorities brought him here.” Sowlitzer

paused and shook her head as she added in disgust, “That was also

when they found out about how medicine wasn’t the only thing that

guy was practicing.”

*And…Who’s ‘Doc David’?*

The FBI agent’s head snapped up to stare at the doctor, and flashes

of what had happened during and after the attack at the morgue

returned to her memory with each beat of rain against the windows.

*What Bob is seeing though, isn’t an hallucination, though…*

*It’s okay. My name’s Doctor Tom David – I’m Mister Randolf’s

local physician*

*’Delusional’ is maybe a little over-exaggeration concocted by

Sheriff Dench to make his report look more aesthetically pleasing

to his own ego*

*That doesn’t explain what Randolf has been reporting, or – more to

the point – why you’re here…*

“What do you mean?” she queried, passing the medical notes back.

“You mean you don’t know – never heard – about him?” At the blank

expression on Scully’s face, Sowlitzer suddenly became nervous and

closed off – quickly looking away at anything to break eye contact,

and giving an awkward shrug of her shoulders. “It must just be

local lore then.”

Scully wasn’t ready to be deterred from finding out the facts so

easily. “What did you mean by that?”

Lightning struck, accompanied by a ear-deafening crack of thunder

as the female doctor once again gave a dismissive shrug of her

shoulders.

“Doctor Sowlitzer?”

“It’s not really my place to discuss something that’s not common

knowledge, but Doctor David had his medical license revoked two

months ago ‘cos they found out that he’d been dabbling pretty

heavily in Black Magic or something like that. There was no proof

that he’d been using it to make people ill, but the board

definitely couldn’t take the risk of having him handling people’s

lives so freely. Personally, I never understood what good that

would do – I mean, if he was experimenting with that rubbish, what

good would taking away a bit of paper do? It’s not even as if they

got him to leave the area. I didn’t know him too well – he didn’t

come into Tuscola all that often – but when I did see him, he came

over as a very strange guy…bad attitude towards new people.”

*It doesn’t like strangers*

Eyes widened as far as they could, and Scully focused her complete

attention on the doctor. Finally things were beginning to make

more sense than they had twenty-four hours ago. There was an

unavoidable paranormal element that Mulder would have to unravel,

but at least she had a possible direction to point accusations in.

“Did you tell any of this to Agent Mulder – my partner?”

“He didn’t ask…It didn’t seem relevant. Besides, he was clearly

too distracted. Anyway, I have other patients to see. I just

stopped by to let you know that when you’re feeling up to it,

you’re free to go. There’s nothing else we can do for you, and

unless the extra test results come back saying something to the

contrary, you’re going to be fine in a couple of weeks. Is there

anything else you’d like to ask?”

Before a couple of seconds had even passed for the federal agent to

consider her answer the doctor rudely gave a nod of her head and

quickly left the room – leaving Scully alone, still gently rubbing

at the bandage on her forearm and mouth hanging agape in shock.

XxXxXxXxX

As the violent storm continued its attack on the northern towns of

Douglas County, Deputy Michael Grovener – who’d received a call

from the sheriff five minutes ago ordering him to find Bob Randolf

– edged cautiously down Main Street toward the visually impaired

man. He hadn’t understood the urgency of Dench’s direction, but as

he eyed the bag soaked so heavily with blood that it was a wonder

the contents hadn’t broken free yet being waved ceremoniously in

the air, he had every reason to be comforted by the feel of his

hand resting on his holstered gun.

“It’s here!” Randolf’s trembling voice cried out as loud as it

could. “You wouldn’t believe me, but It’s here!”

As per human nature, Curiosity was too strong for the townsfolk of

Solus to ignore, and they all gathered to stare in disgust at the

man causing such a ruckus.

Grovener approached, drawing his weapon – his cold, stinging eyes

too set straight ahead to notice the black beast stalking Its way

up behind him, or the man shrouded in shadows to his right.

XxXxXxXxX

“Mulder.”

“Mulder, it’s me.”

With a lazy smile lifting his features, Mulder rested his head

against the back in the passenger seat as Skinner drove them to

Main Street. He’d only been away from the hospital for a couple

hours, but having spent the whole night before at her bedside, it

felt like he’d abandoned her for a lifetime, the overwhelming

regret he felt at his raised temper shortly before his departure

making the distance between them seem greater.

“Hey, Me,” he teased, combing a hand through his drenched hair.

“You okay?”

“I’ve been released from the hospital and just getting a cab to

come find you. I just found something out that might help us with

this case.” Scully paused and watched as the taxi she’d called for

pulled up outside the hospital.

“Ditto. Skinner and I just checked out Greg Pitt’s home and it

turns out he inadvertently summoned this thing instead of his

friend’s wife using black magic he learnt from somebody we only

know as ‘Tommy’–”

“Tom David,” she cut in before quickly asking the driver to take

her to Solus. “Doctor Tom David.”

“*What*?” The exclamation – almost washed out by the accompanying

crack of thunder – was filled with a mixture of confusion,

disbelief and surprise. Mulder sat upright in his seat as all

senses went on alert, and Skinner turned his attention away from

the treacherous road ahead just long enough to shoot a slightly

worried glance of his own at the younger man. “The guy we met at

the morgue?”

“My doctor told me David’s practice was stopped because it was

revealed he was heavily playing with Black Magic. I called the

guys to ask them to dig up anything they could on him, but think

about it: who showed up at the morgue not long after I was

attacked?”

“Shit…”

“Apparently a boy displaying similar symptoms to those which I’ve

been suffering from since the incident at the morgue was under

David’s care until his condition worsened to the point his parents

took him to the hospital.”

“Jesus Christ, he…he touched you! I…” Mulder’s voice trailed

off briefly as he cursed himself yet again, before whispering, “I

let him examine your arm and that was when you collapsed… Scu–”

“It’s okay,” she assured from the other end of the line – keeping

her voice low so that the cab driver didn’t overhear her side of

the conversation too much. “Honestly, I’m going to be fine.

Besides, I think his touching me and my unconsciousness were purely

coincidental.”

Mulder frowned and shifted uncomfortably. “What do you mean?”

“This is gonna sound strange coming from me, but… *Something*

undoubtedly attacked me, and to have caused the damage it did on my

arm, it has to be something solid–”

“But S–”

“What if this creature–…What if it’s becoming real – changing

from a spirit to something a lot more violent and permanent?”

Long seconds of uneasy silence ensued as Mulder’s jaw fell open in

shock. It wasn’t that he thought she was crazy, but…God, Scully

pitching a paranormal theory he should have done ages ago? Scully

even making a passing glance at something as far out of the reach

of the laws of Science as *that*?

“Mulder?”

“Are you sure you’re okay, Scully?”

“I told you after we accepted the case that there was more than

likely a perfectly reasonable explanation for the murders…I still

think there is, but that it has to go hand-in-hand with the good

ol’ x-files explanation. You’re the expert when it comes to

knowing the possibility or regularity of this kind of phenomena,

but…” Yet again Scully’s hesitant voice stops as she tried –

desperately – to iron out the knot of theories in her head. “The

organs missing from Pitt are ones we know are often used in ritual

sacrifice. My doctor says my Amino acid levels were severely

imbalanced when I was admitted to the hospital, and that can only

have happened if I’d eaten something to boost my energy, but the

last time I’d eaten before the attack was on the way to the airport

in D.C!…Maybe contaminated blood was absorbed into my system from

this creature’s claws when it scratched me…” A deep breath

followed by a sweaty palm wiping down the front of her face, and

then, “Look, none of this fits into conventional lines of thought,

and I really can’t believe I’m saying any of this, but if there’s

anything I’ve learnt from being with you for over a decade it’s

that sometimes it’s wise not to turn a blind eye to the fantastic,

and I think that’s what we’re purposely being made to do here. Is

it at all possible David is dealing with enough black magic to

control this thing?”

The rental car slowed to a stop, and Mulder looked up to just see

the red light through the heavy rain attacking the windshield. He

bit down on his lower lip and gave a agreeing nod of his head.

“Pitt raises this thing, but he was inexperienced so he has no

control over it,” he replied, plotting out the new theory. “I

think It feeds off Randolf’s emotions, and those were enough to

help it exist on this plane, but then David – who suggested the

invocation in the first place – took his chance and now has

possession of the spirit.”

“But why a black panther?”

“That one I still don’t know…I mean, it could just have been a

bad consequence of Pitt’s unfamiliarity with the ritual, but It

seems to have far too much of a connection to Randolf. Maybe you

should get back on to the guys and see if they can dig up anything

from Randolf’s past. I gotta go – we got a tip-off that Randolf’s

on Main Street brandishing a severed head. I should be able to get

more answers there.”

“What do you mean by that? Mulder, who gave you the tip?” her

panicked voice choked into the cellphone.

“Our supposedly friendly Doctor David. Look, we’re just pulling up

there now. You take care – I’ll speak to you later.”

“Mulder, no! Wait until I’m there!”

Silence.

“Mulder?!” She was practically yelling into the mouthpiece, and

the cab driver looked up briefly into the rear-view mirror as the

car entered the long stretch of corn and soybean fields separating

Tuscola and Solus. “Mulder!” Eyes flicked down to stare at the

phone display, only to see the ‘NO SERVICE’ message flashing

tauntingly on and off.

XxXxXxXxX

MAIN STREET

SOLUS, ILLINOIS

5:54 PM

With coat collars pulled up to shield themselves as much as

possible from the unrelenting storm flooding the streets, Mulder

and Skinner got out of the Ford and rounded the corner, only to

almost trip over the mutilated – almost unrecognizable – corpse of

Sheriff Bill Dench and bump into Deputy Grovener standing beside it

with his head lowered.

He slowly looked up at the sound of their approach and mournfully

shook his head.

“I was…I–” He turned a fraction and pointed at Bob Randolf, who

now stood at the other end of the road – the useless, disintegrated

paper bag now lost in one of the storm drains courtesy of the

running rain, and the severed head of Dench’s pet rolling in a

circle at his feet. “I was approaching him when Bill…He turned

up in the Rancher, but then…” Grovener shook his head yet again

– desperately fighting against the tears clouding his vision. “I

didn’ see it…He didn’ see it…But *he* saw it!” The accusing

finger stabbed the air again to point in Bob’s direction. “The

next thing I knew, somet’ing p-p-pushed me over and blood was…Oh,

God, his flesh was just bein’ ripped away, and there was so much

blood, but I still couldn’ see anything!”

“Because you never look, and that’s why Sheriff Dench had to pay

for his ignorance – for his ‘Old School’ way of thinking.”

The two men from the FBI sharply turned with weapons drawn.

“So, who sent you this time, Doctor David?” Mulder seethed through

grit teeth – the memory of him ignorantly standing aside as this

convincing liar touched Scully’s wounds refusing to let him be. “I

don’t think Sheriff Dench is in much of a condition to use as a

false alibi this time.”

Lightning tore through the clouds, illuminating the older man

standing only a few feet away.

“People meddle with things they should never touch. People turn up

where they don’t belong. People commit crimes but remain

unpunished. Why does everybody become so blind and deaf to these

things, Mr. Mulder?” Tom David ground out, keeping both hands deep

in the pockets of his anorak. “Oh, and how’s your partner, by the

way? She seemed rather shaken up at the morgue…”

“Where’s the creature, sir?” Skinner barked before Mulder had

chance to react – briefly glancing over his shoulder for any clue

that the panther was still around.

David let out a chuckle, but refused to answer.

“You don’t have control over It anymore, do you?” the younger agent

hesitantly queried, taking a step forward and pushing the last

comment directed at him away.

“You’ve got it all wrong.”

“It’s coming back!” Randolf suddenly cried out to anybody or

anything that could hear him over the hurricane.

All faces turned to stare at him questioningly for a second before

Mulder turned back and demanded of the doctor, “How’ve I got it

wrong? Tell me. Explain it to me.”

“Greg lied to me. We were talking a few days after Jess Randolf’s

funeral, and he said how much he wished he could do one of those

resurrection spells like in the movies so his friend would be happy

again…” David shook his head and lowered it for a second as

inside his coat pockets he continued to rub thumb and forefingers

along the metal concealed there. “I told him it was easy, but only

if you could handle that kind of power – if you’d worked with the

dark arts before. He told me he had, years ago, but he’d never

been able to do *that*.”

“You believed him?”

Clueless, Skinner remained silent – gun steadily trained on the

still figure of the doctor.

Likewise for Deputy Mike Grovener.

At the other end of the road, as thick clouds begun to circle above

their heads, Bob Randolf desperately searched left and right for

the source of the distant voices he could hear. He was angry the

death of the sheriff had caused the gathered townsfolk to run away

before they’d properly seen what he could, but at the same time it

relieved him because he didn’t think he could bear to witness

another death.

When the creature materialized into view through the fog forever more

marring his vision – yellow piercing eyes fixing on blue clouded

ones – he knew it was time.

“I thought I could help,” David continued, reluctantly. “When I

received a call from Bob’s ophthalmologist at Jarman ten days later

reporting the symptoms of possible CBS, and then a week after that

when Heather Mallory brought her boy to me with the strange bite

wound on his leg, I knew that it had gone awry…that Greg had no

control over It. I tried to send It back to the Hell It came

from, but It was too strong. It… It feeds on emotions – the

ultimate pet peeves of anybody with a mystical connection to It. I

don’t know what It gained from Greg, other than his life, but It

fed on my hatred of the people that just waltz into this town, milk

it of whatever they can and then disappear again – that’s why the

victims over the last month have been new members of the community

and why your partner was almost the next….why you two will be as

well if you don’t leave here as soon as possible.”

Slow steps followed by tiny splashes of water on the tarmac road

started out toward the three men, and then increased pace to a run.

Somewhere nearby there was the sound of tires screeching to a halt.

Mulder felt an inexplicable shiver run up his spine – making the

sensitive hairs on the back of his neck stand on end and his head

turn to look over his shoulder.

“But there’s something else driving this creature – something that

made my attempts to dismiss it impossible,” the gray-haired doctor

continued shakily as he sensed the approach of the unseen entity.

“It has to be guardian to the man that killed It.”

Skinner’s eyes opened wide, but as he turned to glance at Mulder,

the younger agent fell to the ground – a loud scream of pain

rushing past his lips.

“Mulder!” Scully cried out as she quickly rounded the corner in

time to see several inexplicable slash marks tear through his

Armani suit and chest. “Wh–?” She pulled her gun, but there was

nothing she could do but watch helplessly as her partner was

attacked by something she could neither see nor explain.

Time seemed to slow in the minds of the interlopers, but Tom David

focused his attention on the visually-impaired man who’d taken

several steps to the middle of the road, and then quickly removed

the two metallic items from inside his custom-altered coat

pockets. Grovener’s weapon fired, but not in time to stop the

doctor from throwing the unknown, round objects at Randolf.

Lightning struck the road where Randolf had been earlier.

Light reflected on the surface of the flying pieces.

A bullet ripped through David’s chest.

Sharp, bloodied teeth released their catch.

Scully dropped to her knees beside Mulder’s unconscious, bloody,

discarded body.

Piercing eyes sharply turned to intently watch as the two headlamps

landed by Randolf’s feet, and that was when the memory returned.

//Roaming the open land, hoping to find food and maybe a mate as

the dark night enveloped It; the unending rain pelting against Its

fur; crossing the makeshift road; hearing the screeching tires and

looking up into two blinding saucers of light before unspeakable

pain ravaged Its body, and then………nothing\\

Suddenly, It knows who the true threat to It is.

Despite his open mind when it came to weird stuff – beliefs that

had certainly only been strengthened by this case – Deputy Michael

Grovener had had no true handle on just how weird things could be

until he – as well as Agent Scully and AD Skinner – looked over at

the two headlamps.

Paw followed paw followed paw and then the creature leapt into the

air – ready to pounce on Its prey.

“Go in peace,” David whispered from where he lay writhing on the

sidewalk.

And in that moment a lightning bolt struck the earth mere

centimeters from Randolf’s feet, sending him hurtling backwards

several meters and a surge of energy causing the headlamps from the

car he’d crashed four months ago to momentarily illuminate. Three

faces watched in shock as the beams revealed the shape of a panther

in mid-pounce, but then the light faded…

Absolutely everything went still.

XxXxXxXxX

==========

EPILOGUE

==========

3605 N STREET NW

WASHINGTON, DC

MAY 4th, 2005

8:21 PM

“Wow.”

Wide, blue eyes stared in awe and then blinked.

“I mean, *wow*!”

Sitting down on the couch, Scully gave an uncertain shrug of her

shoulders and a just-short-of-genuine smile. The last two weeks

had been a living nightmare she prayed to God she could forget, and

as fascinating as it may be to Kenny as he sat there with a can of

Coke in one hand and listened to her recital of the events, ‘wow’

was far from being the word she would have used to sum it all up.

It had taken fifteen minutes for the EMS vehicles to arrive in

Solus due to the debris kicked up by the tumultuous storm that had

miraculously cleared after the beams from the damaged car

headlights died. Questions had been asked, answers had been

disbelieved and Skinner had had to try explain as much as he could

of what he understood – which was very little – whilst the

paramedics worked on the three injured men and Dana frantically

begged her unconscious partner to hold on.

The next forty-eight hours had seen all three patients in critical

status, but only two made it beyond then; both Mulder and Randolf

regaining consciousness on the 22nd.

“So, this creature was the ghost of the thing that caused Randolf’s

car crash?” Kenny Andrews queried, sipping on his drink.

Skinner had returned to D.C to deliver the necessary paperwork on

the case and inform Andrews of what had happened. The Kid had

wanted to visit his friends at the hospital in Tuscola, but had

been trying to wrap up the profiling case he’d been n when they’d

left, so this was the first time he was able to catch up properly.

“It would seem so,” Scully sighed reluctantly – knowing that by

doing so she was admitting to some belief in ghosts.

An awkward pause for thought.

“But how the hell are you gonna explain any of this? I mean, how

and who do you prosecute?” the younger man pressed with a frown.

“What does Mulder think?”

‘Too much,’ she inwardly chuckled. Despite his lethargic state,

her partner had certainly been the master at reeling off summations

on their experience, much to her chagrin, although she did partly

blame herself for letting him use that damn laptop in the bed.

“Mulder’s been making a lot of reference to Shamanisitic and Native

American beliefs – about the black panther spirit’s power and

guardian energy. So much of those two days is inconceivable,

though, I really couldn’t tell you either way or the other. The

x-files explanation will go on file saying Pitt, David and Randolf

were all responsible in some way for the murders, but Pitt was the

instigator – that a mystical, vengeful spirit killed anybody that

went against Its masters. The official explanation? It never

happened.”

“I got a letter from Mike saying he’d moved on and would contact me

soon, but he didn’t tell me anything else,” Andrews sighed,

shaking his head before combing a hand through his black hair.

“Seriously? They’re sweeping it under the carpet?”

“Assistant Director Skinner says the senior US Senator from

Illinois ordered us not to take this further, and he thinks it

might be for the best – to let them take care of things.”

“What about you?”

She looked up and fixed her gaze on him at the sound of the

concerned tone, but then quickly looked away and shook her head.

“I guess he’s right. We were there to prove Randolf didn’t kill his

friend, and we did that – our involvement was fi–”

“No, I meant ‘how are you doing’?”

“Me? Oh, I’m fine…”

“Mulder still letting you get away with that one?”

Scully smiled and checked the time on her watch. “No – I wish!”

she teased. “Seriously, though, I’m doing okay – the scratches on

my arm healed so that there’s just light scarring there, and I’m

just happy he’s doing well. I gotta give him supplements to ensure

his amino acid levels stay balanced for a few more days, but

hopefully after that everything will be as ‘back to normal’ as it

can be for us.” She paused, let out a sigh and then raised to her

feet barely managing to conceal a large yawn by raising a hand to

her mouth. “Did you want to go in and see him?”

“You sure that’s alright? I don’t wanna disturb him if he should

be resting…”

“Resting? You are still referring to the same Fox William Mulder

that I live with, aren’t you?”

Kenny laughed and stood also.

~~~~~

Mulder looked up from the laptop screen as the bedroom door clicked

open, and smiled as Kenny came in. He closed the computer up and

reached to place it carefully on the nightstand – wincing slightly

at the pain in his chest the movement caused.

“Coming to laugh at the helpless, fallen agent, Kid?” he teased,

outstretching a hand to shake Kenny’s.

“Well, it was a thought, but then I just learnt from Scully that

you’re not as ‘helpless’ as you like to make out and figured maybe

I should come in here and kick your ass instead.”

Mulder let out a small chuckle – blinking several times to clear

the sleep from his eyes. “She worries too much. I told her ‘a

couple more days or so and then we can go on another little trip to

the forest’, but she doesn’t believe me. Then again, she’s not

exactly rushing to repeat the theories she suggested in Solus…”

“She’s a scientist, Mulder! She may be more open ‘cos of all the

stuff you’ve experienced together, but a part of her will always be

reluctant to accept anything paranormal – that’s what makes her

her.”

Silence and then a nod as Mulder mulled over the past fortnight.

If it had been up to him, he probably would have been back at the

office after their return to D.C a few days before the end of

April, but Scully, Skinner, the Gunmen and even Mrs. Scully had all

been on hand to make sure he remained in bed to recouperate.

He was impressed they actually let him use the toilet on his own!

‘A big, phantom cat clawed my chest, that’s all!’ he’d whined to

apparently deaf ears. ‘I’m not incapacitated!’

‘I don’t care, Mulder – this time you’re gonna properly take it

easy…at least for a week.’

Despite the small ache when he stretched too much, he felt fine

now, but nobody seemed to wanna know that, and he had to wonder

if they just liked to see him in this state!

“Anyway, what happened to Randolf in the end? Scully didn’t tell

me,” Kenny piped up again after a few minutes.

“Bob’s receiving psychiatric help to get him over the last five

months of his life,” the agent in the bed replied sleepily. “Maybe

tamper down those emotions. He completely lost his sight, so there

were fears that might push him completely over the edge, but it

seems to work out better for him – at least now the CBS isn’t

affecting him as badly… Certainly no claims so far of seeing any

kinds of creatures…”

“No sightings at all?”

With a shake of his head, the bed-bound agent sighed, “You know,

everybody mocked Bob because of what he reported seeing, and yet –

irony of ironies – before the accident, there were numerous

reported sightings of a black figure disappearing into the woods

bordering the town, and I even managed to track down a local

newspaper report from a couple years back stating that Sheriff

Dench had taken a couple pot-shots at it.” He paused only for a

second to yawn, and then continued, “Bob managed to kill the local

legend, but in the process became the cause of a new one being

born. Nobody wanted to believe him because they couldn’t see it

and there was the possibility of it really being right on their

doorsteps as opposed to out in the fields.”

“Do you think he knew he was the main cause of the people dying?

D’ you think he purposely dwelled on those emotions so that the

spirit would act upon them?”

Mulder considered the question for several moments – remembering

his meeting with the petrified man at the Sheriff’s Department.

“No,” he replied, confidently. “He wanted It to stop – to stop

seeing It at all. Maybe it was that feeling that made It do the

opposite and stay there.”

~~~~~

‘Case file #X121692B

Agent of record: Special Agent Dana Katherine Scully.

For centuries mankind has debated on the subject of if

there is an afterlife or not. Having grown up in a

Catholic family, I was taught that the fate of our souls

is up to God after our bodies have ceased to exist.

However, scientific logic states that there is nothing

after death. Though very little of this case can be

explained, and my personal accounts of witnessed events

may not be wholly depended upon, this investigation

certainly proved that there are just too many questions

out there for us to ignore all the answers…

…And maybe, sometimes, it really is possible for you to

take that second chance – whether you’re human or animal.’

XxXxXxXxX

THE END

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