Judderman

Judderman

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Glacier National Park

Montana

December 21, 1976

He was suspicious when they invited him. His roommate had been less than inclusive in the four months he’d been on campus. Not one ‘hey, come grab a beer with us’ or a ‘hey, wanna split a pizza at the Union’ in all that time. But for no apparent reason, he’d been included in the ‘Winter Break’ trip to Montana. He’d been suspicious, but the lonely part of him, the part that missed the companionship he’d enjoyed in high school had won out and he’d readily agreed.

It appeared that all was in order. The car ride from Southern Illinois to Montana had taken days, especially when they hit snow in Nebraska. But a warm front had melted the snow to slush and they’d managed to get to the National Park just before another big snowfall closed the passes in the mountains for the winter.

“So what if we get snowed in,” his roommate had laughed. “It’s not like we have anything to hurry back to anyway!” That much was certainly true — spring semester wouldn’t be starting until the middle of January. The four young men had all the time in the world.

He thought briefly of the call he’d made to his mother. How she’d tearfully encouraged him to have fun — not to worry about missing Christmas at home with her. He was a grown up now, he shouldn’t have to abide by the family traditions every year. Besides, she’d said, there would be other Christmases. He should enjoy himself while he was young. He knew a part of her largesse was because his father had died before reaching 50 and there had been many things the man had never found time for in his life. “Bring me back a pine cone,” his mother had told him. Since his father’s funeral, she couldn’t find it in herself to ever say ‘goodbye’.

“Hey, we’re gonna camp out tonight,” his roommate had said in the afternoon. He had just settled in with a good book and was reluctant to venture out into the bitter cold of the north woods.

“Camping, in this weather?” he’d replied, incredulous.

“Yea! It’s great! You build a big fire and you stay warm enough. Besides, we have other stuff to keep us warm.” The young man produced a pint bottle of peppermint schnapps from his coat pocket. “They drink this stuff in Sweden, or Norway or one of those places. Warms you right up!”

“I thought I heard it was bad to drink alcohol when you were cold,” he said thoughtfully.

His roommate rolled his eyes to the ceiling and shrugged. “Fine, you gonna be a pussy. Stay here and make sure to check the bed for bedbugs.”

As his roommate went about gathering the camping supplies, he licked his lips. What was the harm? As long as they kept a fire going — it was a National Park after all. They were safe — right?

“Let me get my gear,” he said finally, putting the book aside.

They hiked for about two hours through the knee-deep snow. The woods were beautiful — sparkling in the twilight of the winter sunset. Pinks and blues, grays and purples mingled with the brooding dark trunks of the leafless trees and the ever-present deep green firs. He marveled at the silence of the snowy woods.

Setting up camp went easily and they feasted on canned beans and a package of hot dogs. As the fire roared, the small flasks of schnapps were distributed, one per man and they settled back against their packs and swapped stories of other camping trips and college life in general.

He truly felt included for the first time since he’d come to the college. They joked with him, teased him and allowed him to tease them back. One of them had stowed two six-packs of beer in his rucksack and they distributed those as the schnapps ran low.

“I gotta take a leak,” he announced, somewhat slurring his words.

“Watch out for the Judderman,” his roommate said with a crooked and drunken grin.

“Judderman? Who the hell is Judderman?” he asked, trying to get his eyes to uncross so that he saw only one of his roommate and not two.

“He lives in the winter woods. Mean old asshole. Watch out. If he gets you — you never come back.”

“Yeah, sure,” he waved off his friend and staggered to his feet. “Save me one of those beers.”

He wandered down the same path they’d forged upon arrival. Spying a tall and sturdy tree, he wobbled off the path as he unzipped his jeans to take care of business. Closing his eyes in bliss, he soon zipped up to avoid the nip of the north wind. As he turned to head back to the campsite he saw something glittering just off to his left, away from the warmth of the fire. It looked like a person, standing beneath a low-limb tree. The figure appeared to be calling to him.

“You lost?” he called. No answer came to him but the figure waved to him, beckoning him over. “I gotta get back before they drink all the beer,” he said with a laugh, sure that it was his less than sober mind playing tricks on him.

The figure had something in its hand, gently waving it to and fro. It looked like a bottle. Thirst, and the desire to be shit-faced drunk, got the better of him and he wandered over to where the figure stood.

Little did he know as he followed the retreating figure that he would never see another Christmas with his mother.

Glacier National Park

Montana

December 20, 2006

“So you can see where it’s causing quite a stir among the locals,” Park Ranger Will Mason said with a frown. “I mean four young men found froze to death — we don’t recommend camping in the winter because of the snow and the possibility of getting lost but these kids hadn’t traveled more than a quarter of a mile from their campsite and there were no signs of animal attack.”

Scully stared down at the photos of the young men. They were frozen, it was obvious. What was unsettling was the look of abject terror on each face and the defensive posture of their hands. They were cowering — but from what? “Well, I appreciate the local medical examiner waiting for us to get out here so I can perform the autopsies, Ranger Mason.”

“Are you kidding? When Doc Barnard took one look at those boys — well it didn’t take any convincing to have him wait for someone with more experience with these kinds of cases,” Mason huffed.

“Ranger, this sounds like a missing persons case. What prompted you to call the FBI in the first place?” Scully asked, trying to warm her hands by blowing on them and holding them to the ceramic heater near the Ranger’s desk.

The Ranger looked sheepish. “This would appear to be a simple case of a camping trip gone bad, if it weren’t for what happened 30 years ago.” He went to a file cabinet and dug through it until he came up with an aged manila folder. “30 years ago a few kids from some college in Illinois came out here over Christmas break. They decided to go camping,” he said, rolling his eyes. “When they were found two days later — near dead of hypothermia, there were only three of the four. The other three told this story of a guy out in the woods that lured them away from their campsite. Said they’d been held captive and tortured, said their friend had been skinned alive before their very eyes. There was a big manhunt, the whole park was searched but no one ever found any sign of the kidnapper nor the missing boy.”

Scully had been reading through the file and looked up. “Ranger, it says here that quite a few beer bottles and other alcohol was littering the campsite back in ’76. Isn’t is possible the kids were just drunk and dreamt it all?”

“The head ranger back then thought of that, Agent Scully. But they found the missing boy’s coat and scarf — frozen stiff as a board — tied around an oak tree trunk. And when I saw the looks on those boys faces we just found — well, that story came back to me.”

Mulder took the photos and the file from Scully’s hands. “How did you come to call us specifically, Ranger — if you don’t mind my asking?”

Mason beamed. “Mel Bocks outta Minneapolis comes up this way about once a year — does a little fishing. I called him as soon as I saw the bodies and he gave me your number in DC. I guess we’re too ‘under populated’ to merit our own Regional Office here in Big Sky Country,” he ended on a sour note.

“Well, we appreciate the call. Um, on the phone you said something about cabins?”

“Yeah. A couple of them are rented out over Christmas this year, since it falls on Monday but nobody will be showing up till Saturday morning. This being Thursday — you got your pick. Won’t even charge you for it, since the same guy signs all our checks.”

“Isn’t there one not far from where the victims were camping?” Mulder asked.

“Sure thing. It’s right at the edge of the trail to the primitive campsite. Here’s the key,” he said, reaching into a shallow cabinet on the wall next to his desk. “The parking lot is a bit of a hike, though.”

“We’ll be fine,” Mulder assured him.

“Just let me know if you need anything. Oh, and here.” He went over to a closet and pulled out a set of walkie talkies. “Cell phones are useless up here. We tried to get a cell tower — but apparently you have to be big enough for a regional office of the FBI,” he said with a smirk, which he quickly covered. “Just keep it set to 8 on the dial. I have mine with me at all times. If you have any problems or just need to get hold of me, just holler.”

Cabin number 8

The next morning

“Yes, Dr. Rossen, I think that’s the best we can hope for,” Scully said into the phone as she watched Mulder busy doing — something.

“Yes, I would really appreciate it. And I’ll let you know if the Bureau labs turn up anything in the toxicological. But for now, I would say hypothermia should be the official cause of death.” She sat down on the sofa, only to have Mulder wave her off something she’d been sitting on. “You have a good Christmas, too, Doctor. Good bye.” She hung up the phone and stared at her partner. Slowly it dawned on her why he was scurrying about.

“You aren’t serious.” Scully stood with her fists on her hips watching her partner stuff granola bars and fire starters into his knapsack.

“Scully, how else do you propose we look for the cause of these murders?” he asked, not bothering to stop in his efforts to pack.

“I understand going out there. I even understand taking some provisions just in case. But I object — strenuously — to staying out there tonight! The weather report has a 30 percent chance of snow and the temperatures are expected to drop as soon as the front moves through. Drop from today’s high of 25 degrees, I might add.”

“Hence the need for the thermal blankets,” Mulder said, waving a silver color blanket at her with a dopey grin. “We have sleeping bags that are thermal lined and good to minus 20, plus we can build a fire — ”

“It’s illegal to use found wood in a National Park,” she interjected.

“Not if you have prior approval from the Ranger — and if you promise not to use more than you absolutely need,” he replied. “Scully, I really think whoever — or whatever — killed those kids is still out there.”

She frowned and then shook her head. “Mulder, I have a news flash for you. I’ve heard that very tale the Ranger spun for us today about the kid in ’76. I’ve even seen depictions of the ‘figure’ that lured the kid to his death. It was a very popular commercial for a brand of schnapps a few years back and it’s all over the internet! It’s _not_ real!”

“They depict St. Patrick’s day on Guinness commercials. Are you going to stand there and deny the existence of St. Patrick?”

“Mul-der,” she whined. “You know that comparison is absolutely preposterous! Almost as insane as going out in the middle of the forest in the dead of winter. I know you think those boys were murdered and I would like to find out what caused them to be frozen in such a state of panic, but that’s no reason for _us_ to die of hypothermia!”

“Scully, we’re fully equipped — sleeping bags, first aid kit, food, _walkie-talkies_,” he counted off on his fingers. “It’s the winter solstice. Haven’t you ever wanted to get back to your Druid roots and go build a big bonfire to ward off the darkness that comes in mid-winter?”

“My ‘Druid roots’ as you call them are far more content to sit by a roaring Yule log in the fireplace of a cozy and fully furnished townhouse in Georgetown, sipping my Great Aunt Bridget’s special Christmas wassail and trying to puzzle out the oddly shaped Christmas Present addressed to me under our Christmas tree. And I don’t think I have to mention how every other ‘trip to the forest’ has ended for us.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” he quipped.

“I have boundless faith, Mulder — and thanks to my Celtic heritage, a very long memory.” She donned all her winter outerwear and grabbed one of the walkie-talkies before heading for the door.

“So you’re going?” he asked, shouldering the pack.

“Oh, I’m going. But first I’m radioing the Ranger to have a medi-evac on stand-by — just in case,” she said with a sweet smile and held the door open for him.

The forest was beyond beautiful — it was breathtaking. A heavy rain had turned to ice before the last snowfall and every tree appeared to be of cut glass. The tiny branches tinkled as they walked beneath. The snow was only past Scully’s ankles, but it still made for some exercise. The trail was clearly marked and easy to follow by placards placed at eye level on the downwind side of large trees. They made good time, considering the amount of effort it required.

“I see the crime scene tape,” Mulder said, the words coming out as puffs of white in the frozen air. In just moments there were at the abandoned campsite.

Mulder dropped his pack in one of the two tents. Scully dug through her daypack and produced a camera. “I don’t know what we’ll find out here, Mulder — it’s been a day since the boys were found. Animals have probably been feasting — ”

“I found footsteps, Scully,” Mulder called out from the far side of the campsite. “They lead out that way.” He pointed a gloved hand toward a denser section of trees and scrub.

“I would suspect that is the way to the latrine,” she replied with a half-smile. “You are more than welcome to inspect that, if you want.”

He feigned a silent laugh and began to follow the footsteps. He did find the latrine, or what the boys had decided was ‘a really good tree with a windbreak’, but upon closer inspection, he found footprints leading beyond said tree.

Scully was busy cataloging the equipment and personal items left at the campsite. Although some smaller animal tracks could be seen, it appeared that larger animals had left the site alone. That thought intrigued her, since it was winter and though bears hibernated, deer and elk did not. She was concentrating so hard she startled when Mulder broke through the brush.

“Come with me. I want to show you something,” he panted excitedly.

Several yards beyond the ‘latrine’, Mulder pointed to the ground. “Look, Scully. Here are the tracks leading from, well, the tree. But look there,” he directed her line of sight to the snowy ground.

“Another set of tracks,” she said, stepping forward and crouching to examine them. “This person isn’t wearing boots. The bottoms appear — could they be wearing moccasins?”

“They’re obviously some kind of leggings,” Mulder agreed. “No heel, no discernable tread, but the impression in the snow is clear. This print was made by a fairly large individual.” He stood and walked a few paces. “And look, Scully — they meet here and then they walk off in that direction.” He pointed in a direction away from the camp.

“What’s in that direction?” she asked, standing and dusting the snow off her gloves.

“Let’s go find out,” he grinned at her.

“OK, but it’s getting late. We’ll check this out and then we have to start finding wood and make to fire, or we’re going to freeze to death out here tonight and I have no intentions of doing that.”

They followed the tracks, Mulder leading the way, to a group of pine trees. The tracks simply disappeared. Mulder searched the area and glanced back at Scully in confusion.

“Where did they go?” he asked, still scanning the area.

She bit her lip and slowly raised her eyes to the gray clouds above them.

“Very funny,” he growled, not the least bit amused. “I’m serious, Scully. There should be more tracks. These don’t even lead close enough to a tree to say they climbed up one of them.”

“What can I tell you, Mulder? Maybe the wind blew snow into the rest of the tracks. Whatever happened, we’re losing daylight,” she said pointing to where the sun had dropped below the horizon and any light was now just glowing clouds in the distance. “Let’s get back and you can build me a fire. We can investigate my Druid roots by zipping the sleeping bags together.”

His confused frown morphed into a lecherous grin. “Scully, are you telling me I just got lucky and it ‘snowed’ sleeping bags?”

“Last one there has to sleep next to the zipper,” she teased and spun on her heel to race him back to the campsite.

Three hours later, after dinner and some ‘tent exercises’, they lay snuggled together in the double sleeping bag. Scully let out a big yawn and shook her head. “I can’t believe how sleepy I am. And it’s only a little after 7.”

“Why do you think bears hibernate, Scully? There isn’t much left to do in winter after you eat and wrestle around in a sleeping bag for an hour or so,” he said with a sated sigh. “You realize this is the December solstice. The shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. And because of our latitude, we’d have to be in Alaska to have a shorter day than today. The sun rose well after 8 am and it set at almost 4:30. That’s just barely seven hours of sunlight. Makes for a long night,” he said, tickling her ear.

“I guess I can see why primitive humans felt such a need to bring any form of light into their world. Bonfires, Yule logs — ”

“Christmas trees,” Mulder chimed in. “It’s not just primitive humans, Scully. Look at what modern humans did to the Nevada desert — Las Vegas, the city that never sleeps.” He shifted to his back, pulling her head up to rest on his shoulder. “But it was more than just bonfires. Primitive man, at least as late as the period of the Druids throughout Europe, believe that the shortest day of the year allowed the spirits to roam free. They built bonfires to ward off the evil spirits and light the way for the good spirits to find them in the darkness.”

“The Holy Family finding their way to Bethlehem,” Scully murmured.

“Christianity can’t be accused of being overly original, Scully,” he said with a smile. “But I guess it only made sense that if people were already celebrating, why piss them off by telling them not to. Much better to coop their festivals, give new meanings to old traditions.”

“I prefer to think that we ‘adopted’ some of the old traditions in with the new meanings,” Scully said with a tired smile. “But that still doesn’t explain why I’m so sleepy.”

“Too sleepy to maybe test out that sleeping bag theory again? Best practice to conserve heat and all?” Mulder asked hopefully.

“Well, I don’t know if I’m _that_ sleepy,” she said coyly.

11:38 pm

The gray clouds had moved south without a single snowflake falling, revealing a sky of sparkling cut diamonds, with a new moon allowing all the stars to take over the stage of velvet black. Mulder stared out through the tent’s fly netting and watched the stars dance for several minutes before he tenderly kissed the top of his partner’s head and untangled himself from her embrace. She whimpered and he kissed her again. “Too much hot coffee building that fire,” he whispered in her ear and she smiled, drifting back to sleep.

It took a few minutes to pull on his pants, his thermal shirt and his boots in the tiny two-person tent, but he finally felt confident that his short trip out in the elements wouldn’t result in hypothermia. He grabbed one of the flashlights and quietly unzipped the tent flap, stepped out in the darkness and then turned to zip the flap closed to try and maintain some of the heat.

The air was bitter cold and crisp, biting at the lining of his nose and making him fight against a sneeze. He blinked several times in the twilight. Even without the moon’s illumination the snow brightened the otherwise dark night. He chose the path they’d found that afternoon and headed off to attend to pressing business.

The latrine/tree was easy to pick out and Mulder soon found relief. He was hurrying back to the tent when he saw it — a light in the darkness in the direction away from their camp. Then, on the wind, a sound came to him — a faint tinkling sound, distinguished from the ice on the tree branches. This sounded almost like laughter. He spun in the direction of the sound and saw the light again.

Mulder’s curiosity was one of his greatest assets, but as Scully reminded him time and again, it was also his greatest folly. She would have been proud of the way he actually hesitated before he plunged into the darkness, moving farther and farther away from their tent and the slowly dying embers of their fire. But his hesitation was soon lost in the wind as he heard the sound again and determined it was, indeed, laughter. Human laughter.

As he walked cautiously toward the sound he noticed that he didn’t feel the cold as much as he had before. A brief thought came to him, that he was moving and generating more heat. But he wasn’t running and the path was windblown and clear of snow and debris, so he really wasn’t exerting himself either. That thought was gone the moment he saw the cave.

How had they missed it before? It was right there, in the copse of trees they had looked at in the wan light of day. He walked slower now, the light in the cave was bright and it was hard to see into the interior. It was where the killer was, he was sure of it. Mulder reached instinctively for his weapon, cursing silently when he realized it was in the tent, next to his sleeping partner. With a heavy sigh, he started to turn around to go back to the camp to wake Scully and get his gun but something grabbed his arm.

The feeling of cold steel slicing the flesh on his upper arm caused him to spin around. It wasn’t steel, but the icy, inches-long fingernails of a man. He was tall, he towered over Mulder, easily reaching seven feet. His clothing appeared to be a gown or robe in glimmering shades of gray and white and iridescent silver. On his head was a crown that was made of ice.

“I’m dreaming,” Mulder assured himself, speaking out loud.

“Don’t be so sure of yourself,” the man replied with a smirk. “Come, join the party.”

“I don’t want to join the party,” Mulder said firmly. “I want to arrest you for the murder of four young men just two days ago.”

The man laughed loud and it sounded like a gunshot or the crack of thunder close to the ground. The laughter hurt Mulder’s ears. “I didn’t kill anyone! They died of exposure. I bring only pleasure. It’s not my fault if pain is the price to be paid later.”

“They were kids, they didn’t know what price you would exact,” Mulder sneered.

“Yes, but you seem to know and it isn’t bothering you. Come, it’s only for a night.” The man grabbed Mulder’s hand and tugged and suddenly it was impossible to resist. Mulder stumbled, but followed blindly. Each step he took he felt warmer, lighter. As they approached the cave, he could see the fire. It wasn’t actual flames, just a glow that came from the ground. He was reminded of the two times he’d witnessed a nuclear reactor up close. The heat from the glow warmed him all the way to his toes and he grew sleepy.

“Come, drink, join the party,” the man chuckled and pressed a cold glass in Mulder’s hands. Without thought, the agent brought the glass to his lips and drank deeply.

12:20 am

Scully startled awake from a dream she couldn’t remember. Sitting up, she saw that Mulder hadn’t come back from his trip to the latrine. She grabbed for her watch, safely resting in a pocket along one of the seams of the tent. It didn’t do her any good — she didn’t know when he’d left. She was certain he should have returned already. Pulling on her clothes and hiking boots, she gathered her weapon and Mulder’s and started out of the tent. It was then she noticed the Mulder hadn’t taken his coat or hat and gloves. She quickly stuffed them in her empty knapsack and left the tent in search of her partner.

It wasn’t hard to follow his tracks. She found the tree and noticed that he had wandered further into the forest. She called out his name several times, but only the wind and the icy branches of the trees greeted her. Picking up his track again, she followed it until she came to a spot where she picked up another set of prints — ones similar to the ones she and Mulder had found earlier in the day. And that’s when both sets of prints disappeared.

Panic gripped her. “Mulder!” she screamed, but again there was no reply. She fumbled for the walkie talkie on her belt. It took a while to raise the Ranger, but finally she heard his voice come back to her.

“I’m sorry to call so late, but my partner is missing,” she explained, trying to keep the hysterics out of her voice.

“Do you still have the GPS with you?” the Ranger asked.

She dug deep in her pocket, coming up with the device the Ranger had given Mulder. “Yes, I can give you my coordinates,” she told him quickly.

“I’ll get hold of the Sheriff and we’ll get a team up there within the hour, Agent Scully. You should go back to the camp till we get there. I don’t want to lose you, too.”

Torn between continuing the search for her partner, and knowing that she was vulnerable alone in the dark, she reluctantly agreed. “Yes, Ranger. I’ll be at the campsite. But please, hurry.”

She was walking back to the campsite when something brushed past her. She turned and startled to find a man standing next to her path. He was tall and lithe and was dressed in green robes. A string of red berries encircled his head. He tilted his head in a silent salute.

Scully started to grab for her weapon, but the man smiled and shook his head. “I mean you no harm,” he assured her. “I’ve come to be of assistance.”

“Do you live around here?” she asked guardedly. His robes, or whatever they were, appeared to shimmer in the darkness. His eyes were as black as the night.

“You could say that,” he replied easily and smiled at her, showing perfectly form dazzling white teeth. “I know where your friend is being held.”

“He’s been captured?” she asked frantically. “Who? Who did this? Is it the same one who killed those boys?”

The man before her looked off with a sorrowful expression. “I’m afraid I wasn’t strong enough to protect them. But tonight, well, tonight that’s not a problem. Come, we must hurry.”

They went back to where she’s lost the footprints in the snow. “But I can’t see where they went,” she said and as the words left her mouth her companion pointed in the distance. Suddenly, she could see a brightly lit cave some 100 yards ahead. “Oh my God,” she gasped.

“Shhh,” he quieted her. “I would prefer our entrance to be a surprise,” he said with a slight grin. “If you don’t mind, could you follow behind me?”

She licked her lips in thought, but finally nodded in agreement. She walked behind the tall green-robed stranger toward the cave where she knew Mulder was being held.

As they approached the cave the wind picked up and grew to a steady gale. Scully had to duck behind the man to keep on her feet. Her friend spread his arms, creating a bit of windbreak for her, but continued to move forward.

The two were within a few yards of the mouth of the cave when the very ice in the trees started to hail down upon them. Again, the man used his robe to protect Scully for the brunt of the onslaught. As they got within feet of the cave, the man called out.

“You can’t win tonight and you know it. Release him!”

Scully peeked around the man’s robes and saw another figure, equally tall but solidly built and dressed all in silver and gray. “He’s not of your concern. You have someone to play with. Let me have my fun.” The sound of the other man’s voice froze the blood in Scully’s veins. She tried to find Mulder in the cave, but the light was too bright.

“Mulder!” she called, but the moment she stepped behind the robes, the other gray man reached out to grab her. Her friend in green pulled her back behind him.

“You really don’t want it to come to this, brother,” the man in green intoned. “Release him. You’ve had your fun for one year.”

The laughter that echoes in the dark forest shook the very trees to their roots. “Ah, but ‘brother’, they have seen us. We can’t let them live now!”

“On the contrary. The children of Man no longer worship the woods. They don’t believe,” said Scully’s companion. “You have to let them go.” For the first time since their meeting, Scully detected a note of menace in the man’s voice. “Now, brother.”

The gray man narrowed his eyes. “They might not worship us, they might not believe — but I’m afraid he’s already drank of the cup. He’s mine — to do with as I please.” He stepped aside and revealed Mulder, standing along the wall, encased completely in ice.

“Mulder!” Scully screamed and ran to her partner. “Oh, god, Mulder! Mulder, can you hear me?” She pressed her ear to the ice above his heart and when she couldn’t determine a sound, she turned to her companion. “He’s dead,” she moaned, falling to her knees and throwing her arms around his frozen legs.

“No!” objected the green man. He shoved the gray man aside and stepped closer to Mulder. Touching the agent’s head, he closed his eyes. “He’s not dead. But you must find it in your heart to believe that you can cure him.”

“How?” Scully wailed, unable to even raise her eyes.

“Do you love him?” asked her friend.

“Yes, more than life itself,” she said unashamed.

“Then hold him,” he directed.

Scully swallowed, and slowly stood. Just wrapping her arms around his legs had leached all the warmth from her body. “Mulder, I should have brought the sleeping bags,” she quipped as she placed her arms around his concrete solid shoulders and hugged for all she was worth.

It was like standing in a glacier-fed waterfall, the cold was so intense it hurt. Her eyes watered and her mouth went dry. Her arms ached for release, but still she hung on. She moved closer so that every part of her touched some part of him. “Mulder, you saved me from a frozen death once. Let me do the same for you,” she pleaded.

When she awoke, there was a flashlight shining in her eyes. “Agent Scully? It’s me, Ranger Mason. You have to let go of your partner, Agent Scully. We’ve got a couple of stretchers, we’re gonna get the two of you to the hospital as quick as we can.”

“Mulder?” she croaked and looked down to see her partner, his cheeks wind chapped and red, his lips held a bluish tint, but alive and breathing in her arms.

“He’ll need to be in a warmer for a while, but I think we found you in time,” Ranger Mason assured her as he helped her to her feet and then onto one of the stretchers. Mulder was quickly placed on the other stretched and encased in thermal blankets.

“The men, where are the men?” Scully asked, searching faces of the crew with Ranger Mason.

“Men? Just my men, Agent Scully. Was there someone else out here?”

“Yes, there were two men, both very tall. One was wearing all green and the other all gray. The gray one, he’s the murderer. He captured those boys, he was going to kill Mulder but the green man stopped him.”

“She’s delirious, Will. We need to get them both to the hospital,” said one of the men hoisting her stretcher.

“We’ll talk about all this when you’ve had a chance to warm up, Agent Scully,” Mason said as if speaking to a child.

“No, I’m all right. I saw them, I saw them both. And the cave, there was a light . . .”

St. Patrick’s Hospital,

Missoula, MT

December 23, 2006

11:15 am

“He wore a green robe and there were red berries as a crown around his head,” Scully said emphatically. “And he wasn’t a bush or a tree!”

“Scully,” Mulder said casually, lying all so seductively in the bed next to her. “I’m telling you, that was the Holly King. According to the Druids, the Holly King ruled the December Solstice and the Oak King ruled the June Solstice. So it only stands to reason that the man who helped you save me was the Holly King.”

“Oh, and I suppose the gray guy was the Oak King,” she snorted.

“Well, would you rather call him the ‘Judderman’?” Mulder shot back.

“Regardless, Mulder, you almost died out there. What were you thinking, wandering off in the forest in the dead of night?” she asked, crossing her arms. Since they’d awoken, warm and safe, she’d avoided bringing up the subject for fear she would tear him a new orifice before their departure home. Of course, that was before he found out about her experiences and decided to tease her about her story.

“A little frostbite, Scully. I’ll be fine in a day or two. But you wandered out after me,” he pointed out.

“After calling for back up,” she retorted.

A knock on the door signaled the end of round one. “Come in,” Scully called.

Ranger Will Mason stood in the doorway, his hat in his hands. “Just came by to wish you folks a Merry Christmas and a safe trip home,” he said shyly.

“Ranger, please, come in,” Mulder greeted. “So what did the State Police find up there?”

“Well, Agent Mulder, it’s quite a puzzle. They found your tent and the sleeping bags, they found your supplies but we searched nearly a square mile of the area and never did turn up a cave. We even had dogs and sonograms out to see if we could find a hollow place that might be hidden by trees or rocks. We got nothing.”

Mulder hid his disappointment well. “That’s fine, Ranger. Thanks for making the effort.”

“Well, you two have a nice trip back. Come back next summer, it’s real pretty up here.”

“Thank you, Ranger. We’ll just have to do that,” Scully said amiably, to cover for her partner’s crestfallen expression.

The nurse came in just as Mason was leaving, bringing their release papers. “Mom said she’d pick us up at BWI and we’re grounded — at her house — until after Christmas. I think if we’re good, she might let us run over to the duplex and grab the packages under the tree.”

“I think I’m too sore to be anything but behaved,” Mulder admitted. “Guard the door, I’m changing out of this handkerchief of a gown.”

December 24, 2006

A day later, snuggled up by Maggie’s fireplace with a cup of Aunt Bridget’s recipe wassail, Mulder sighed and kissed the top of his partner’s head.

“Penny for your thoughts,” she mumbled into his chest.

“I was just thinking about the legends — the Holly King and the Oak King. The whole idea that the solstice is a turning point where one’s strength can wax or wan.”

“Heavy thoughts,” she sighed and snuggled in, hugging him tighter. “You know, Mulder, I still have to go along with Ranger Mason’s theory.”

“That was both got so cold that we fell asleep due to hypothermia and we dreamed the Judderman and the Holly King? C’mon, Scully, you aren’t gonna pull out the old ‘we dreamed the whole thing’ excuse again, are you?”

“Mulder, all I know is I woke up and we were back at the campsite with the Ranger and a squad of EMTs around us. You want to explain that one to me?”

“I just assumed it was part of the magic,” he said, sipping his wassail and stroking her hair.

“Well, magic, dream, who’s to say what was real and what was fantasy. All I know is,” she said rearing back to look at his face, “the next time, we stay in the cabin.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said with a wink. Tilting his head down, he kissed her lightly on the lips. “Happy Winter Solstice, Scully.”

“Merry Christmas, Mulder,” she replied and kissed him back.

The End.

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