Compos Mentis


Compos Mentis

Author: Starfleetofficer1

Category: X-file

Rating: PG-13

Summary: The agents investigate a crime spree where children are the apparent culprits.

Disclaimer: Two weeks exclusive with VS16. No copyright infringement intended.

Original web date:23/04/2010


Compos Mentis





Charlie Rueben stuck his gloved hands into his winter coat pockets, and stood on the worn-out blacktop. The ice had melted, but he knew it was going to get cold again tomorrow. He looked around, waiting for his friends.

They approached one by one, from different directions. Around the teacher’s parking lot, from the soccer field, and one from over the fence directly behind him. The four stood on the blacktop for a moment, not speaking, until nine-year-old Lauren Marks said, “You ready, Charlie?”

Charlie nodded. The ten-year-old was the leader of this group. Although Meg was older than he was, at age twelve, she hadn’t been chosen. And no one questioned it.

“Willie will be here soon,” Charlie said, looking at his watch. “Anyone have any problem with their parents?”

“Mine were asleep,” Lauren volunteered.

“Mine were asleep, too,” Meg said.

“Mine were awake but their door was closed,” eight-year-old Sam added.

They were silent for another minute, bouncing on their heels in the cold weather. Finally, Charlie looked at his watch again. “Where is he?”

“He’s supposed to be here,” Sam said.

“If he’s supposed to be here, he’ll be here,” Meg told them. They all knew she was right.

“Hey, did you watch the Fairly Oddparents last night? Wasn’t that funny?” Lauren asked.

Charlie nodded, and laughed. “When Cosmo and Wanda take Timmy to the moon…that was great!”

“Houston, we have a problem,” Sam quoted.

“Problem, problem, problem. All you ever talk about is problems! Don’t you ever just call to say ‘Hi’?” Meg recited, and then giggled.

They all giggled, actually. And before they knew it, seven-year-old Willie Howell walked onto the blacktop.


“Willie, it’s about time,” Charlie scolded.

“I’m sorry,” Willie stated.

“Where were you? Parents?” Meg asked.

Willie shook his head. “No, not parents. I fell asleep.”

“You fell asleep?!” Sam exclaimed. “You’re such a baby!”

“Am not! I was tired!”

“Shut up, both of you. We have work to do,” Charlie said. “Everyone’s here. Let’s go.”

They nodded, and approached the elementary school. They didn’t speak from that moment on.

Charlie pulled out a lock picking kit and picked the outer lock to the building. It wasn’t alarmed. Nothing in the tiny Sewickley borough was alarmed. They walked easily to the principle’s office, where they picked another lock, and yet another. They were careful not to take their gloves off, or touch anything they didn’t need to.

Charlie was the first in the principle’s office. He handed the heavy desktop CPU to Meg, who set it down by the door. Then Charlie and Sam picked the lock on the file cabinets and extracted the files of eight random children, and put them through the shredder.

Meanwhile Lauren and Willie smashed personal effects, pictures and knick-knacks, until the office was ransacked. Then they nodded to each other, grabbed the CPU, and walked out of the office. They closed the doors behind them, tossed the CPU in the dumpster, and headed in their separate directions.

“See you next time,” Charlie said cheerfully.

“Bye, Charlie! Bye everyone!” Willie said as he took off in the opposite direction.

“See ya, man!” Sam said, and crossed the street. Meg crossed with him, and waved.

Lauren gave Charlie a high five and took off down the dirt path that led to her house.

Little Charlie was by himself as he walked home, but he didn’t mind. He smiled happily. That had been fun. Next time would be bigger.






Mulder tossed another sunflower seed shell into his garbage can as he read the report in front of him. His feet were up on the desk, and he leaned back in his chair, in his usual comfortable position.

He glanced up from his report repeatedly, expecting Scully to be back from the meeting any second now. He looked at his watch. Yeah, any second.

Finally, the door opened and Mulder’s feet were down instantly.

She looked at him with surprise. “Happy to see me?” She asked with a smile.

Mulder grinned. “I’ve got something to show you.”

“Oh, I know you do,” Scully said playfully, approaching him, and giving him a hug. “But that wouldn’t be appropriate at work.”

Laughing, Mulder pulled gently out of the hug and said, “Then later, definitely.”

She grinned. “Sorry I had to run out on you this morning.”

“No, it’s fine—how was the meeting?”

“I would have been more excited if they had made us memorize twenty different kinds of lint in four hours.”

“I was under the impression you liked early morning pathology conferences, Agent Scully,” Mulder said, still smiling as she sat on the edge of the desk. He took a seat in his chair.

“Not when they’re given by someone as animate as a corpse. But anyway, what’s this you want to show me?”

“You remember Sewickley, Pennsylvania?”

“This isn’t another leprechaun sighting, is it, Mulder? Because I’m not going back there to hike in the woods in the freezing cold,” Scully said as she picked the file out of Mulder’s hands, and started paging through. “On my birthday,” she added.

“Not to worry, no leprechauns in sight this time around. Sewickley’s population is 3,902. Yes, we’ve seen smaller. But we’ve never seen safer. Check out those crime statistics from three weeks ago.”

“That’s remarkable. The worst thing that’s happened in this town in three years is four teenagers getting busted for possession of marijuana. Mulder, that was two years go. This is impressive.”

Mulder smiled that knowing smile he always gave her when he knew something, and she was about to find out. “Turn the page.”

Scully complied, and stared at what she saw. “Three break-ins, one assault…all since Wednesday.”

“Odd, don’t you think?”

“Yes. Considerably.” Scully closed the file. “But how is this an X-file?”

“The first crime was a simple break-in, into a principle’s office at the local elementary school. They caused some damage and stole a computer, later found in a dumpster, completely destroyed as if it had exploded. No one saw anything. The second was a video store break-in. No video camera in the store, unfortunately. At least not one that worked. It looked like it had caught fire in some kind of electrical short. Every DVD was knocked off the shelves, and the computer monitor was smashed. The windows were also broken. The third was a stabbing. And here comes the X-file. Darrel Wade, 42, was stabbed outside a 24-hour drug store in downtown Sewickley very early two mornings ago.”

Scully opened the file again, and looked at the contents.

“Darrel plays baseball in his spare time. He’s a healthy, 6’3”, 200 lb man. He works at the Eckerd as a pharmacist. He was on his way to his car when assailants lured him to the side of the building, away from the security camera, knocked him to the ground, and began stabbing him. They stabbed him five times before they left. A fellow employee going outside for a cigarette break found him, and called 911. He’s listed as ‘in critical condition’, but he woke up yesterday. And you know what he said?”

“Children,” Scully read.

“Yes. Five small children were to blame,” Mulder said. “And they weren’t even caught on tape—that’s how careful they were. They lured him by voice out of the security camera’s range, and then tackled him. Tell me, Agent Scully, how five small children, all under thirteen, he said, attacked a 200 lb man by themselves?”

“Did they threaten him? Say they’d stab him unless he got down on the ground?”

“Not according to him. He says they all tackled him. Jumped him at once.”

“I don’t know, Mulder…but it seems like this isn’t an X-file. This is just a case of some juvenile delinquents.”

“There’s more. Take a look at the crime scene photos.”

Scully did. And there was a symbol carved into the principle’s door, so that one could see through to the other side. The same symbol was carved into the door to the back room in the video shack. And Darrel Wade’s thigh showed the same, very deep yet very meticulously carved symbol. It was the Nazi swastika.

“Tell me if you think a small child is capable of that.”

“Maybe they had help.”

“Darrel says he saw it appear on his leg before he lost consciousness. None of the children did it, but as soon as they left, it appeared. He saw no one else that night.”

“No adults.”


Scully sighed, and closed the file. “When do we leave for Sewickley?”






“I’m sorry for your inconvenience, but no one’s gonna be back until Monday.”

Mulder and Scully stared at the woman who had to be at least eighty, wearing a police uniform behind the glass at the police station. “We were told we were supposed to speak to a Sergeant Hanes this morning. In fact, we did speak to Sergeant Hanes this morning. He told us he’d be here when we arrived,” Scully offered.

“Billy never was good at scheduling,” the woman muttered as she flipped through a scheduling book that looked like it was from 1970. “See, now, dears, you’re right. He’s put you down for a 9 o’clock appointment. But I’m afraid he’s gone. His mother Gracie, well she’s been ill and he’s gone to the hospital to see her. He must be terribly distracted.”

“Is there someone we can speak to?”

“The Chief’s always gone home on weekends, unless there’s an emergency, and…well, I suppose I might give Edward a call.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” Mulder said, not bothering to ask who ‘Edward’ was. Talking to someone was certainly better than talking to no one.

In a few moments, a uniformed man about Mulder’s age walked out, flashed them a toothy grin, and said, “Sergeant Edward McDonald.” He shook their hands, and Mulder gave him a quick smile, hoping maybe he could wipe that annoying grin off the man’s face.


“I’m Fox Mulder, and this is Dana Scully. We’re here with the FBI, investigating the stabbing that occurred three days ago. Mr. Darrel Wade.”

“Of course, of course. Why don’t you two come into my office, get some coffee, and we can talk. I’ve got the case-files already pulled up…big deal, you understand.”

“In a small town like this with crime statistics as low as they are, I’m surprised more people aren’t working this weekend,” Scully said as she followed him through the door and back to his office.

“Well, just because the crime statistics don’t show much, it doesn’t mean we aren’t busy people. Very busy people,” Edward said. “It’s all the Chief can do to take the weekend off—sometimes he shows up in the middle of the night after being called out of his bed.”

“We’re familiar with the concept,” Mulder said dryly. Clearly, this man had no idea what being busy was actually like.

They sat down across from the Sergeant’s desk, and he pulled the file up on the computer. “All right, the crime scene photos, the reports…you’ve got all of that?”

”Yes,” Scully stated before Mulder could make a smart comment. What did this guy think, anyway? They had heard about the case on the news and flew in just for fun? Maybe he knows Mulder’s reputation for doing just that, Scully thought humorously.

“So…what do you two think?” Edward asked.

Scully raised an eyebrow.

“We’d like to visit the victim, go over some school records, and try to pinpoint which kids he’s accusing of the crime before we make any conclusions,” Mulder said. “But we came here to get your insight on the case, and hopefully get a look at some of the evidence collected from the crime scene.”

“Well, these things don’t happen too often, Agent Mulder…you have to understand, it’s hard for us to draw instinctive conclusions on something like this.” He stood up a little straighter. “But me personally? I think it’s one of those neo-Nazi groups, brainwashing our kids and making them do this stuff.”

“You say ‘one of those’, Sergeant…what exactly do you mean by that? Are there neo-Nazi groups in the area?”

“No, no Ma’am, of course not. But you hear about them on the news. They spread like wildfire, brainwashing kids as they go—if one of them got into Sewickley, it’s our duty to get rid of them.”

“How many people have moved into Sewickley that weren’t here before, in the past couple of months, Sergeant?” Mulder asked.

Edward shrugged. “I suppose…not many. Maybe one?”

“So do you think it’s a safe assumption that no extremist group has moved into Sewickley? That if it was a neo-Nazi group, it would most likely be composed of current residents?”

Edward frowned at Mulder. “I guess so…that would make sense.”

“Do you believe the children were capable of carving the symbols through the doors and into Mr. Wade’s skin?” Scully asked.

Edward shook his head. “No, absolutely not. That door was at least two inches thick, and made of solid oak. Old door, too. Been there since Osborne Elementary was built. Then there’s the video store—those kids couldn’t have drilled through a storm cellar door.”

“Storm cellar door?” Mulder asked.

“The video store houses one of four storm cellars we have in the town, just in case of a micro-burst. You only have a few minutes to get somewhere.”

“Micro-burst?” Mulder asked.

“We get ‘em here in Sewickley pretty often, during the summer,” Edward explained.

“A micro-burst is a very short, but very powerful storm,” Scully offered. “It’s common in some parts of the country, but others never see them. And there’s no real explanation as to why.”

Mulder nodded, and turned back to Edward. It was time to get back on topic. “Would the children have been capable of carving the symbol into Darrel Wade’s skin?”

“Not unless they had either amazing dexterity or some kind of branding device that also cut through the victim, because that cut was too deep and too precise for that.”

“So the children can’t be responsible for the symbols, and it’s possible that the children attacked Mr. Wade but had nothing to do with the other crimes,” Scully offered.

“Well…I never thought of that…” Edward said, and began to stare off into space.

Mulder glanced at Scully. Was this guy for real? “Sergeant,” he pulled the man’s attention back to Earth, “Do you have some evidence for us to examine? From the three crime scenes?”

“Yes, of course I do. You can follow me,” he offered, and stood up. He led them out of his office and to an elevator that took them one floor down, to the evidence lab. It was small, and consisted of a couple of computers, a scanner, a fingerprint area, and a large shelf with rows and rows of boxes. With this town’s crime record, Scully thought, most of the boxes were probably filled with evidence far from current.

“Right over here,” he said. He pulled a small box with no tape on it from a shelf, and handed it to Scully. Scully carried it to the table and laid it down, and then opened the lid. Inside evidence bags were some wood shavings, some metal shavings, and some crime scene photos they already had. Also enclosed were pictures of the destroyed electronics at the scenes.

“This is it?” Mulder asked.

“Well, yeah. I mean, we collected the shavings at the foot of the two doors, and we didn’t lift any prints from any of the scenes. No weapon was left at the scene of the stabbing. And all the destroyed machines were ruled electrical fires, unrelated.”

“I’ll examine the shavings and see if I can match any tool marks,” Scully said skeptically, and then turned to Mulder as she put the evidence bags back in the box. “But it doesn’t look good.”

“Why don’t you see what you can do about that, and I’ll go to the elementary school.”

“No one will be there. It’s Saturday,” Edward said. “Sorry, Agent.”

“Do you have the name of a school secretary?”

“That’d be Ms. Mesko. She’s the school secretary. She’ll be home, absolutely. She doesn’t have a family—I’m sure she’d be happy to come in and let you into the school.”

“Could you give her a call?” Mulder asked nicely.

“Absolutely. I’ll go do that.”

Edward left, and Mulder turned to Scully. “How do five children all under the age of thirteen manage to leave no fingerprints if they’re at a crime scene?”

“They wear gloves. It’s cold this time of year,” Scully answered, studying the photos in the box.

“Kids take their gloves off the second they get in a building. Why weren’t there fingerprints left in the school, and the video store?”

“We don’t know if the kids are to blame,” Scully reminded him. “We have no confirmation of what Darrel Wade said.”

“Maybe we should go see him, then. Get some confirmation.”

“It’s better than this alternative,” Scully said, looking hopelessly at the filings. “I’ll do my quick analysis and then head to the hospital.”

“I’ll go to the school. See if Ms. Mesko can pull up some records.”






Ms. Mesko was about five feet tall, maybe shorter. She had to be about eighty or so, and had told Mulder that she had been the only secretary at the school for fifty years.

“I know all the students’ schedules by heart. It’s a small but successful Blue Ribbon School. Who is it you’d like to meet, Agent Mulder?” She asked through sixties’-style glasses.


“I was hoping I could look through the disciplinary records,” Mulder said. “See if any troublemakers could be to blame for the stabbing.”

“We have one troublemaker. Jared Taylor,” she said as if she was talking about a hardened criminal. “Mrs. Woolsey’s third grade class. Six detentions last month, alone,” Ms. Mesko said, easing into her secretary’s chair as Mulder leaned against the desk in the front office.

“Does Jared have any friends?”

“No, that boy is a loner if I ever saw one. He comes in here, pants down by his ankles, shirt three sizes too big for him, sits down, all defiant and such…it’s a shame to see a child go to such a waste. He’s one of the ones who are bused in,” she said with certain distaste.

“Bused in…you mean from another school district?”

“Of course. Sewickley’s got a reputation for raising our children well. It’s only the ones who are bused in that cause the trouble. The other cities want to give their children opportunities to go to a Blue Ribbon School. And this year, that’s Jared Taylor.”

“Where does Jared live?”

“He lives all the way over in Emsworth, if you can believe that. On the outer edges of town. And they still bus him in.”

“What kinds of things has Jared done, Ms. Mesko?” Mulder asked politely. Her dislike for this child was evident, but there seemed to be a certain sympathy there as well.

“He hit a child on the playground earlier this year. He’s locked his Spanish teacher in her classroom. George had to come let her out…”


“Our janitor.”

“I see. Ms. Mesko, has he done anything…criminal?” Mulder asked. He was beginning to think his potential lead was crumbling under his feet. Locking a teacher in a classroom was hardly convincing four other children to stab an adult.

“Criminal? What do you mean, Agent Mulder? He’s eight years old.”

“Any hate crimes? Racial slurs toward other children?”

“He called his Spanish teacher a…Agent Mulder, I don’t normally let these words fall from my lips…but just to repeat, you understand. He called his Spanish teacher a cracker.”

“I see,” Mulder said. It was looking more and more like these children were innocent. Of course, that warranted further investigation.

“If you’d like, I can show you his records.”

“That would be great, Ms. Mesko. And any records of children who have served detention or faced suspension or expulsion in the last year or two.”

“Agent Mulder,” Ms. Mesko looked shocked, “This is a Blue Ribbon School. There are none of those children here. Even Jared would never go that far. He has, by far, served the most detentions, but he has never faced suspension or expulsion. And none of our other children have, either.”

“Well,” Mulder started, trying to continue being polite, “How many children have faced detention in the last year or two?”

“Six. Six children in all, three this year, three last year. And the worst has been Jared, of course, but Sally Winnebaker comes in a close second. She flicked a rubber band at a poor little boy’s ear.” Ms. Mesko shook her head, as if it were a heinous crime. “And served two day’s detention.”

Mulder tried not to roll his eyes. “Do you think maybe I could just see a yearbook? And take it with me? I’ll bring it back.”

“Well, all right,” Ms. Mesko said, and got up slowly from her chair. She shuffled over to a bookshelf filled with yearbooks and pulled the correct one. Then she handed it back to Mulder. “There you go, Agent Mulder. I hope you don’t truly suspect children of stabbing poor Darrel?”

“We’re investigating all avenues, but it’s looking unlikely,” Mulder admitted, taking the yearbook from her.

“I should think so. Especially at a Blue Ribbon School.”






Mulder had never seen a town so easy to navigate. Going straight down the same road as the school for one mile took him into downtown Sewickley, and then one quick turn brought him to the hospital. It was a small hospital but regionally renowned as one of the best. Healthcare in the Pittsburgh area was extraordinarily good, and Mulder half expected Sewickley Valley to be labeled a Blue Ribbon Hospital.

He found Scully in Darrel Wade’s room fairly quickly, and entered silently. She was still questioning him.

“Mr. Wade, are you Jewish?” Scully asked just as Mulder entered the room.

“Yes, I converted to Judaism during college. That’s why they did this to me—this is a hate crime.”

Scully nodded slowly. “Did the children say anything to you?”

“No, they just jumped me. Didn’t say a word.”

“And you did not see them carve the symbol onto your leg.”

“No, they were gone when it appeared. Agent Scully, I’m not makin’ this up. I don’t know how they did it, but they did it.”

“Mr. Wade, my name is Agent Mulder. I’m Agent Scully’s partner. Would you be willing to look at last year’s yearbook from Osborne Elementary School and see if you can identify the children who attacked you?”

He nodded from the hospital bed, and Mulder handed him the book. He began paging through, looking at photos of happy children doing volunteer work, raking leaves, having a field day out in Osborne’s field, and putting on a Christmas play. Finally, he got to the class pictures. He paged through Kindergarten, and then stopped at first grade. “There,” he said, and pointed, fear in his eyes. “That’s one of the little monsters.”

Scully wrote down the name on her pad. Willie Howell.

Going to the second grade class picture earned them another two names. Sam Witherborne, and Lauren Marks. Fourth grade gave them Charlie Rueben. And the fifth name couldn’t be found in the elementary school book.

Scully was very surprised that in such a fast and brutal attack, Darrel was able to identify nearly all of his assailants. When she asked, though, he responded, “You don’t forget those faces. So blank…so…unlife-like. It’s almost like they didn’t know what they were doing.”

“Did they communicate with each other, Mr. Wade? Make eye contact with each other, any kind of attempt to give instructions?” Mulder asked, intrigued by the fact that all five children seemed dispassionate.

“No, they didn’t,” Darrel answered. “They didn’t so much as look at each other. They knew exactly what they were doing, and didn’t need to talk about it.”

“Would you say the fifth child was older or younger than the ones you identified here?” Scully asked.

“Older. A little taller than that…Charlie kid.” He shivered despite his visible efforts to control his voice. “Tell me there’s not some kind of sociopathic epidemic going through Sewickley? It’s a small town—it wouldn’t take long to spread.”

“I’m unaware of any such sociopathic epidemic, Mr. Wade,” Scully said. “Crime waves are usually brought on by an action, some kind of wrong. Something that creates a lot of passion in people.”

“Did the children look unusual, Mr. Wade?” Mulder asked.

“What do you mean?” Darrel asked.

“Did anything about their appearance strike you?”

“No,” Darrel said, confused. “Other than the fact that they all were staring at me blankly…like they weren’t even seeing me.”

“Did their eyes change color?” Mulder asked.

“What kind of question is that? You think they were demon-possessed or something? What kind of federal agents are you people?”

Scully glanced at Mulder, and Mulder shrugged. “I was merely concerned about the possibility of this being chemically induced. The altered appearance of the human eye is often an indicator of drug abuse.”

Nice save, Mulder, Scully thought wryly.

“No…” Darrel said, still clearly confused. “None of that. Normal kids, dressed in winter clothes…attacked me out of thin air.”

“All right, Mr. Wade, thank you. We’ll let you get some rest,” Scully said, and stood up. Mulder followed her out of the room, but not before handing Darrel his business card in case he thought of anything else.

When they were in the hallway, Scully turned to Mulder. “You’re thinking demon possession, telepathic or telekinetic remote control, or possibly some kind of government experiment creating violence to spawn in elementary school children in this particular town?”

Mulder stood, dumbfounded. “Scully…”

“I know, I know, marry you,” she joked, and started walking toward the elevator. Mulder had no choice but to follow.






When they rang the doorbell, Mr. Howell was the one to answer. A little boy about seven years old, who matched Willie Howell’s yearbook picture, ran right into his father’s back side as he chased his younger brother through the house with an inflatable sword.

“Willie! Watch where you’re going!” His father corrected.

Willie shouted, “Okay!” as he continued to chase his brother up the stairs, and around the corner, out of sight.

Mr. Howell turned to the agents. “Can I help you?” He was about Mulder’s height with dirty blonde hair kept very neatly cropped. He wore a golf shirt tucked into khaki pants, and tennis shoes.

“We’re agents Mulder and Scully with the FBI,” Mulder introduced, producing a badge. “We’re in town investigating the stabbing of Darrel Wade, from the pharmacy. May we come in?”

“Of course,” he said, looking very confused. “I’m unsure why a local stabbing is an FBI matter, though…”

“We investigate unusual cases, Sir,” Scully explained. “And the circumstances surrounding the stabbing are very unusual. If it’s all right with you we’d like to discuss this.”

“All right. I’m unsure how this concerns me, though…”

They walked into the family room and took a seat on the couch. “Can I offer you anything? Coffee, water?” Mr. Howell asked.

“No thank you, we’re fine,” Mulder answered. He pulled out a picture of Darrel Wade and showed it to the man. “Do you recognize this man?”

“That’s Darrel Wade. He’s been the pharmacist for years now. We heard about his stabbing on the local news.”

“That’s correct. Mr. Wade recently woke up and he claimed that he was attacked by five small children. We presented him with a yearbook from Osborne Elementary school, and he was able to identify some of the children,” Scully began. “Mr. Howell,” she said gently, “your son was among them.”

Howell raised his eyebrow, and folded his arms. “You must be mistaken. Willie is a very timid child, he’s a model student, and he has a seven-thirty bedtime. He’s seven years old.”

“As we stated before,” Mulder began, “We investigate unusual cases, Mr. Howell. We understand the impossibility of a small child accomplishing the crime that was committed. Mr. Wade had a deeply-inscribed Nazi swastika carved into his leg, and several other swastikas have appeared at crime scenes in the past few weeks. The initial conclusion of the Sewickley PD was a hate crime, committed by group of adults. But with Mr. Wade’s stabbing, and his implication of four very specific children, we have to investigate other possibilities. Mr. Howell, is Willie ever alone with any adults from school?”

“Willie’s schedule is like most seven-year-olds’. He gets up, he goes to school, he goes to soccer, he comes home, goes to bed at seven-thirty. He’s a normal child, Agent Mulder,” Howell said. His tone was picking up, becoming angrier.

Scully tried a different approach. “Is there any chance that Willie might have been influenced by someone? A group of teenagers, a soccer coach…maybe even someone from a religious organization?”

“Willie is never alone with any adult. He’s either with his team or with his class or with us. And if you’re trying to imply that my son or my wife and I are racist, anti-Semetic or something—”

“We’re not implying any such thing, Sir. We’re merely trying to investigate the crime,” Scully said immediately. “May we speak with Willie?”

“Only if I’m present.”

“That’s fine,” Mulder said with a smile.

Howell got up cautiously and walked to the foot of the stairs. “Willie! Brad! Come down here please!”

The two little boys ran down the stairs, still carrying their inflatable swords. Brad was probably about four years old, with freckles and very blonde hair. Willie looked like an older version of his little brother.

“Willie, there are some people here who would like to speak to you. Brad, why don’t you go play on the computer?”

“Okay,” Brad said, and climbed on a stool in the kitchen, where the computer was. He began to play a Nick Jr. game, while Willie followed his father into the family room. “These are Agents Mulder and Scully, Willie,” his father said gently. “And they’d like to talk to you.”

“Hi,” Willie said shyly.

“Hi, Willie,” Scully said, smiling at the child. “Why don’t you have a seat next to your dad?”

When they were seated, Mulder leaned forward and asked, “Do you like to play outside, Willie?”

Willie nodded. “With my friends,” he said.

“I’ll bet that’s fun. Who are some of your friends?”

“Jack and Ryan and Katie,” Willie said. “They come to my birthday parties.”

“That’s good,” Scully said with a smile. None of them matched the names Wade mentioned, though. “Willie, what kinds of things do your friends and you play?”

“We play video games. We play basketball, and soccer. And we play pretend.”

“What kinds of things do you pretend?” Mulder asked.

“Lots o’ stuff. Like cops an’ robbers, and house, and school.”

“Do you and your friends ever play in the dark, Willie?” Mulder asked him gently.

Willie shook his head emphatically. “No! We’re not ‘apposed to go outside when it’s dark. Plus, the dark is scary. I have a cool night light. It’s a soccer ball. It makes me feel better when it’s dark.”

Mulder smiled. “Do you know what a religion is, Willie?”

Willie nodded. “Yep. It’s what kind of God you believe in. I got friends with lots o’ different religions. Like Ryan, he’s Hindu.”

“I’ll bet it’s interesting to learn about different religions,” Scully offered.

“Yeah, I like it,” Willie said.

“Do you know anyone who’s Jewish?” Mulder asked him.

“No, nu-uh,” Willie said. “I know a kid in my class who is, but I don’t play with him.”

“Is he not a nice kid?” Mulder asked.

“I dunno, I just don’t play with him.”

“Who are you talking about, Willie? Ben?” Mr. Howell asked.

Willie nodded. Mr. Howell turned to the agents. “Ben is one of the bused kids. He lives too far away for play dates.”

“I see,” Mulder said. “How large is the Jewish population in Sewickley?”

“It’s not extremely large, but it’s not in the single digits either, Agent Mulder. Are you finished questioning Willie?”

“I think we are for now,” Scully answered for him. “Thank you, Willie.”

“You’re welcome,” Willie said automatically, and got up, took his inflatable sword, and left.

“May I use the restroom, Mr. Howell?” Mulder asked.

“It’s right around the corner, next to the basement door,” Howell said. Mulder got up and left, as Scully tried not to eye him suspiciously.

“Mr. Howell, may I ask what religion you follow?”

“No, you may not. That’s personal and trying to pin a racial crime on me will get you nowhere. This interview is over. As soon as your partner gets back from the restroom, I want you both to leave.” He stood up, and walked to the front door. Scully followed with an inaudible sigh, and a few moments later, Mulder appeared in the hallway.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Howell,” he said, and extended his hand.

Howell didn’t take it, but instead opened the door. “Goodbye, Agents.”

When the door was shut behind them, Mulder said, “You gotta love the friendly attitude of small town citizens of America.”

Scully rolled her eyes. “So what did you take, Mulder?”

Mulder turned and looked at her. “Take? Are you suggesting a federal employee would illegally obtain evidence without a warrant?”

“What did you take, Mulder?” Scully repeated, more firmly.

“Nothing, actually. I went to the bathroom, took a quick look at the basement, and came back up. Looks normal to me. Boxes, a tool bench, a furnace…give me an hour and I’ll find you something but two minutes…”

“He only became hostile after I asked him what religion he was. I think he’s hiding something.”

“It’s possible. But I want to question the others first.”

They got in the car, and Scully drove to the next residence. On the way, Mulder commented, “It’s normal for the people to be nervous when the first major crime in two years happens, especially when everyone knows everyone else.”

“But it’s also normal for guilty people to act guilty.”

“I don’t think the parents are guilty. At least not Howell.”

“You can’t possibly think that little boy is responsible?”

“No. Willie has no idea what’s even happened, and if he does, he’s about as sociopathic as they come. I think there’s something else at work here.”

They pulled into a driveway, and Scully said, “Lauren Marks, next on the list. Let’s see if you’re right, Mulder.”

“I’m always right,” Mulder argued.

“But you weren’t driving,” Scully said with a smile, and got out of the car before he could respond.







They had questioned everyone and come to the same conclusion as they had when questioning the Howells. The parents present weren’t guilty and the kids were clueless. They managed to get the fifth name from the middle school yearbook, when they visited Darrel Wade again. Megan Siposki. And after questioning the Siposki’s, they determined that the twelve-year-old was equally as clueless as Willie Howell had been.

“So what do you think, Mulder? Are they receiving signals from their television sets, are they doing the bidding of some evil, telepathic force, or are they all sociopathic Anti-Semetists?” Scully asked, flopping down on her bed. Mulder’s room had been the dumping ground for his luggage but nothing more. He now sat in Scully’s lounge chair as he fingered the remote control and contemplated turning on the television.

He shrugged. “This doesn’t fit the profile for any of that, actually,” he said. “In most telepathic control cases we’ve seen, the controlled parties are troubled by certain questions, or at least all have something in common. Howell was unwilling to answer about his religion. Megan’s parents readily volunteered that they were Catholic. Lauren’s parents are different religions, and Charlie’s parents are agnostic. Sam’s parents have tried to convince him to come to church with them but he’s totally unreceptive. All five of them have different socioeconomic backgrounds, different nationalities, and different intelligence levels. There are no common factors such as a learning disability, a dietary restriction, any health issues, or anything academic except they attend public school. The only public school in the neighborhood.”

“What about the fact that none of them are bused in?”

“Not many kids are bused—that’s statistically probable that none of the five would be bused in from other neighborhoods.”

“So why doesn’t it fit the sociopathic Anti-Semetist profile?” Scully asked.

“C’mon, Scully, you saw those kids. None of them acted the least bit sociopathic. The only one we could argue for is Willie, and I doubt he was an act—just a little child who didn’t know anything. The rest gave away information that they probably didn’t want to, information that’s probably going to get them grounded. Do you go outside at night when you aren’t supposed to? Yes, I do.”

“What if that was an act?”

“I seriously doubt it. There’s something else here…and it’s not something we’ve seen before.” He turned on the television, and the weather was on.

“It is possible that we just haven’t asked them the right questions yet. That they will slip and say something they didn’t mean to. There’s also the possibility that Darrel Wade is lying. That these children had nothing to do with it and he premeditated naming them as the assailants.”

“The question would become, why would he want to do that, and who really attacked him,” Mulder said as he watched the meteorologist drone on about a cold front.

“They’re not in the same extracurricular activities, and they haven’t been with the same coaches or teachers in the past. Only two of them had the same teacher.”

“They’ve all lived here their entire lives—none are newcomers,” Mulder said. “That’s a commonality, but not one that’s particularly unusual in this town.”

Scully sighed. “Maybe we should go ask the leprechauns if they know.”

Mulder chuckled. “I don’t think Fin would mind a return visit, Scully. I promise not to get shot this time.”

“Like I haven’t heard that before,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“Shannon might make you a birthday cake.”

“Is this your idea of mooching off of leprechauns so you don’t have to bake?”

“Never, Scully,” Mulder replied with mock seriousness.

The television switched to sports, and Mulder listened to the announcer rave about Sidney Crosby, bringing in the Penguins’ latest victory.

“I think I’m gonna check the kids’ medical records. See if they all see the same doctor,” Scully said, standing up. “Will you be here, wasting time?”

“I’m not wasting time,” Mulder argued as he watched Sidney slapshot the winning goal in a replay. “I’m doing important research.”

“I’ll see you later,” she said, still smiling as she grabbed the keys to the rental and headed for the door. She knew he was thinking about the case, profiling in his head, and not really watching the television. She would most likely return to find the room covered in yellow paper, with his notes scattered around like a micro-burst had hit the small space. “I expect a full report on Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby when I get back,” she said before closing the door behind her.






It was after dinner and Willie’s brother was about to get his bath and get ready for bedtime. He was entitled to some television time since it wasn’t a school night, and so he sat on the little pillow in front of the TV and watched as Spongebob took off with Patrick’s secret box.

The cartoon starfish ran after the sponge when the phone rang. His mother picked it up, and Willie smiled. It was time to go now.

“Oh, all right. Sure. I’ll make sure that happens,” Willie’s mother was saying, as she watched Willie walk to the front door. He got his coat, gloves, and hat from the coat rack, and then slipped on his shoes before leaving. His mother watched him with an indifferent expression. “Absolutely. I understand completely,” she said.

Willie was well on his way by the time she hung up the phone, and turned the television off.






The kids arrived at about the same time, and stood on the blacktop.

Charlie was the first to speak. “We know there’s a problem,” he said. “Did they come see all of you?”

The kids nodded. “Now I’m grounded for three days for lying to my mom and dad,” Meg said. “This sucks.”

“It’s really a big problem. They’re gonna ruin all our fun,” Lauren said.

Sam folded his arms. “We can’t let ‘em do that.”

“No, we know what we have to do,” Charlie said. “Especially since he’s one.”

They nodded. “He’s not really one,” Sam said. “But he’s a problem so close enough.”

“And she’s not one but she has to go too,” Willie said.

“So we have to think about how we’re gonna do this,” Charlie stated.

“We could take a cab into Pittsburgh and get a gun there,” Meg suggested.

“Too expensive. My allowance isn’t that much,” Charlie rejected. “Let’s just take theirs.”

“Okay. We can do that,” Lauren said. “Let’s do it tonight.”

“Let’s do it now!” Willie said excitedly, and jumped up and down for joy.

“No, we gotta wait till they’re asleep. Besides, the message is playing. By the time it’s done, our parents will all go to sleep. We got all night,” Charlie said.

“This is gonna be so great!” Meg said, and high fived Sam.

“Let’s play here for the next couple of hours and then we can go,” Charlie told them. Sam produced a tennis ball out of his winter coat pocket, and they began tossing it around, giggling about the latest Spongebob episode on television.






“I really appreciate you coming down here, Doctor Edgehouse,” Scully said. “I know it’s the weekend, and I know it’s late.”

“It’s not a problem. Anything I can do to help. I understand you had some questions about some of my patients? But I’m afraid I don’t understand. All but one of my patients are children.”

“That’s correct,” Scully said, and laid the casefile folder down on the desk in front of the doctor. He sat down in his leather chair and folded his hands. “Our prime suspects are children,” she explained. “Darrel Wade identified five children as his assailants. They are all patients of yours, according to their pediatricians.”

She indicated that he should pick up the case file, and he paged through the children’s pictures. “Yes,” he said. “I’ve been treating all five of them. Willie Howell is one of my youngest patients. He just got spacers in his teeth, and had several pulled to make room for the adult ones. He’s going to have extremely crooked teeth and he has a bad overbite. We can correct all of that, of course…what does their visiting me have to do with the fact that they’re suspects in this stabbing?”

He seemed very frazzled, and extremely confused. Scully didn’t blame him—most people wouldn’t suspect five small children in a brutal stabbing and hate crime. “It was the only unifying factor between the five of them, Doctor. Is there anything about these five children that sets them apart from your other patients? Any procedures you’ve used, any special products?”

He leaned back, and wracked his brains. Then he got up and pulled their files out of a nearby filing cabinet. He flipped through Willie’s first, and then went on to Lauren’s. After a few moments, he snapped his fingers. “These are the expander trial members,” he said suddenly, with a triumphant smile. “These kids were all part of an expander trial last year. They all volunteered to try a new kind of expander—it’s programmed to expand on its own, instead of relying on the parents to turn a key on the inside of the child’s mouth. You see, Dr. Scully, some children’s mouths aren’t big enough for their adult teeth to come through. We use an expander to periodically widen the gap, and create more room. It decreases crookedness of teeth. The trial was stopped after these five were introduced, mainly because it didn’t work. Their parents have been turning the keys in their expanders for months now.”

“Do they still have the original expanders?” Scully demanded.

“Yes. They’ll come off in another couple of months. But Dr. Scully, I don’t see how this is going to help you solve this. They’re just expanders…they can’t make a person a suspect in an assault investigation.”

“Who makes these expanders?” Scully asked, standing up.

“I…I’m not sure, I don’t remember the company name. It wasn’t something I had heard before. We get several trials a year…”

“Do you have it on record?”

“Yes, definitely. I’ll pull it up for you.”

Scully thanked him quickly and pulled out her cell phone. She speed dialed her partner. “Mulder, I’ve got something.”

“I think I do too, Scully. Maybe. Did you notice all the kids had a lisp?”

“I may have the reason for that,” she said quickly. “Do you know what an expander is?”

“This isn’t the time or place, Agent Scully,” he quipped.

“Mulder, seriously. It’s a dental device. It’s put in a child’s mouth to expand the area and make more room for adult teeth. All five children have one of these things right now. They were part of an experimental trial.” She quickly filled him in on what the trial was and what it was supposed to do. “Dr. Edgehouse is looking up the manufacturer’s name right now.”

“You took the car, Scully. I can’t come.”

“Stay on the phone, he’s almost got it. When he does, I’ll come back and pick you up.”

“Got it,” Dr. Edgehouse said, tapping the screen, and turning it around. “If you want to call the company, there’s a number right here, effective as of two weeks ago. It was automatically updated in the system.”

Scully’s eyes widened. “Mulder…we have a problem.”

“A bigger one than five killer children being controlled by expanders in their mouths?” he asked. She heard him turn the television off in the background.

“Yes. Rousch.”

“Really? I thought they went bankrupt.”

“Rousch Pharmaceuticals went bankrupt, not Rousch Medical Supplier.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“I’m not. I’ll come pick you up.”

“Here we go again,” Mulder said.


Scully hung up the phone, and asked Dr. Edgehouse for a printout of the Rousch information page for the expanders, as well as copies of the children’s orthodontist records. In another few minutes, she was on her way back to the hotel.

She pulled up in the driveway and walked to the door. Sliding her key in the slot, she entered and found Mulder pacing.

“You got the info?” He demanded.

“And a phone number, though I’m sure it’s fake.” She handed him the paper.

He snorted. “Yeah, it’s fake.”

“What, you know this number?”

“The National Rejection Hotline, Scully. I’m surprised they’d be this childish.”

“It was updated two weeks ago. The study was terminated months ago. No one cared anymore, Mulder. We have to go warn these parents.”

“I agree. How much do you want to bet they’re all ditching their bedtimes and are about to make a move again tonight?”

She nodded, and they walked out of the hotel room together. Once in the car, Mulder paged through the medical records. “Scully, Megan and Charlie are too old to have expanders, if they’re for children with no adult teeth…”

“They were both taken to the orthodontist late in their dental development. Expanders are a standard step before braces, if the mouth is too small, and that was the case for both of them. The expanders work with adult teeth,” Scully said as she pulled out of the parking lot.

“But these expanders are different. For adult teeth, they’re nearly the same model but just slightly different. Scully, Charlie has an extra expander, on the bottom. Meg doesn’t.”

“What, you think the signal is stronger for him?”

“I’m thinking he might be the most dangerous one,” Mulder said.

“Then we’ll go to the Rueben’s house first.”






“This is a really big problem!” Lauren exclaimed, looking at the hotel room door with an exasperated expression.

“Calm down,” Charlie commanded. “Everyone calm down. This is a really big problem. But we also have a really big solution. Meg, can your feet reach the pedals?”

Meg nodded. “Yeah,” she said definitely. Her recent growth spurt had landed her at a towering 5 feet tall, much taller than Charlie and the others.

“Good. That’s what we’ll have to do. Break into one of these cars, and use it. Lauren, you have your pocket knife?”

She pulled it out of her pocket and handed it to him.

“Sam, paper clip?” Sam nodded, and handed him the paper clip.

“I can hotwire the car. Let’s go.”

They picked a blue minivan, since it was the car most of their parents drove. They reasoned that they would know how to drive one.

It wasn’t hard to pick the lock on the 10-year-old minivan, and before they could finish their discussion on the latest CoolBrain Yomega Yo-yo in the toy shop in downtown Sewickley, they were on their way.






Mulder and Scully pulled up to the calm house, stopping only a few feet away from a child’s bike in the driveway. They jogged to the front door and rang the doorbell once, and then waited. Mulder pounded on the door after a moment, and shouted, “FBI! Mr. and Mrs. Rueben, open the door!”

“Mulder, we don’t know that Charlie’s receiving signals at the moment. Don’t scare them,” Scully cautioned.

“Something’s wrong. The lights are on in the house, the shoes are by the front door, but no one’s answering.”

“They might be asleep.”

“Not likely.” He pounded on the door again, and that elicited movement upstairs. A little child and a teenager walked out of their rooms, and down the front stairs. The teenager was lanky and tall, with acne splotches on his face. The small child was probably no older than three, her little bunny sleepers covered in pink cars with smiley faces on them. She rubbed her eyes sleepily.

The teenager began to open the door when out of nowhere, Mr. Rueben made a dive for him and caught his hand before it touched the knob. He led the teenager away gruffly and the toddler began to cry as her father yelled.

“Something is seriously wrong here,” Mulder said.

The teenager began to struggle with his dad, his face betraying his fear. Mulder stepped back, pulled his gun, and then placed a well-aimed kick at the door. After several more kicks, it gave. He and Scully trained their weapons on Mr. Rueben as the man tried to put his teenage son in a headlock. “Thomas Rueben, stay right where you are!” Scully yelled.

“Release your son immediately!” Mulder screamed. The toddler wailed even louder, and cowered in a corner.

Mr. Rueben seemed to be in a trance that suddenly broke when he looked at the agents. He released his son, and backed away, staring at his hands in horror. Then he ran to the kitchen as quickly as he could.

Mulder followed, while Scully stayed with the two children.

Mulder was about to yell at Rueben to stand still once more, when he noticed the target of the man’s sudden movement. A cordless phone lay on the kitchen table, the speaker on, while a calm voice spoke to his wife, who sat stock-still at the table. She didn’t seem to notice anything was going on. Rueben appeared to fight with himself for a moment before he picked it up and threw it at the wall.

The second it stopped, Mrs. Rueben looked up. “Tom? What’s going on?” She asked. “Why’s the baby crying?” She got up quickly and ran to the front hallway. “Who are you?” They heard her demand, and Scully began to answer.

“What’s happening?” Tom asked Mulder, clearly frightened.

“Mr. Rueben, I believe you and your wife have been subjected to subliminal messages. And Agent Scully and I believe your son Charlie has been receiving messages from the same source, that are instructing him to do extremely destructive things. If you don’t believe me, think about what you were doing a second ago. And think what effect it would have on a ten-year-old boy.”

Rueben stared wide-eyed at Mulder.

“Come on. We have to go. Charlie’s out there and we need your help to stop him from doing whatever they’re instructing him to do next.”

Rueben was silent as they ran for the front hallway.

“Mrs. Rueben, can you stay with your children? We need one of you to come with us. Charlie might need convincing by someone he knows,” Mulder urged.

“What? What’s going on, Tom? What’s happening? Where’s Charlie?”

“Hannah, trust me, please,” Tom said, and took her by her shoulders. “Stay with John and Katie. I’ll be back.”

“Where are you going?”

“To find Charlie,” he said forcefully. “And stop whatever the hell this is.”

“Come on, we have to go now,” Mulder said firmly. “If Charlie’s not here, they’re out planning their next attack.”

“Attack? What?”

“Just trust us, Mrs. Rueben. We have to go,” Scully said, and they jogged out the door, and to the car.

“Do we have time to find the other parents?” Scully asked Mulder.

Mulder shook his head. “I don’t think so, no. We’ve got to try to find the kids. As soon as we can.”

“We’ve got an entire town to search,” Mr. Rueben said from the backseat. “If Charlie’s out, he could be anywhere in Sewickley.”

“No…no, I think…” Mulder started the car and peeled out of the driveway. “I think they’re going to find us. I think we’re their next target.”

“Mulder, we have no way of knowing that,” Scully said. “And if we don’t figure out where they could be, someone might be killed. Mr. Rueben, there’s a small Jewish population in Sewickley. Where is one of the houses? Someone your son would know?”

“No, that’s not it, Scully. We’re the next target,” Mulder insisted. “We need to go someplace where it’s enclosed, but there’s a lot of ground to move around on. And we need to split up.” He halted the car just outside the driveway, and backed up. “Scully, go with Mr. Rueben to whoever’s house he thinks his son would know. Just in case I’m wrong.”

“No, Mulder. I’m not leaving you alone with five hypnotized children.”

“Scully, dammit, we don’t have time to argue about this! If I’m right, I’ll call you as soon as they show up. If I’m wrong, and you don’t go, then someone else could be victimized!”

Scully and Mulder stared each other down for a fraction of a second, a silent battle of wills. Finally, Scully lost. “Fine. Mr. Rueben, get your car keys.”

They got out of the car and Mulder peeled away as quickly as the little rental car could.






“Oh, great! This totally sucks!”

“We’re not supposed to say that word,” Willie chastised Charlie.

“Shut up, Willie. All right, I gotta think. Okay. I think we have to split up like they did.”

“But then how are we supposed to kill Jessie?” Meg asked petulantly.

“Jessie’s only eight. We can take her,” Charlie said. “As long as her parents are asleep. Remember the rope trick we learned?”

They nodded.

“Okay,” Meg said, and put the car in drive. “So Charlie, you and Lauren and Sam are goin’, and me and Willie are going to Osborne?”

“No, it’s not gonna take three of us to take Jessie, just one,” Charlie said. “It’ll take at least three of you to take Mulder. And we need a majority to make the mark, anyway.”

“But his partner and your dad are gonna be here in another two trips!”

“That gives us enough time,” Charlie argued. “Now you’re wastin’ time. Go, Meg. Drive the rest. I’ll take care of Jessie.”

“You sure?” Meg asked him.

“Positive,” Charlie said with enormous confidence. He got out of the car, and went around to the back, where he found the wire the voice had promised him. He tugged on it with his gloved hands, and then put it in his winter coat. Looking down at the cool pictures of Spiderman on his gloves before he closed the hatch of the minivan, he waved his friends on and the minivan took off. Charlie made his way up the front stairs, and began to think of how to get inside.






Mulder pulled up in the teacher’s lot and jumped out of the car, positioning himself on the blacktop. He knew the kids would come soon, and when they did, he had to have a plan. He pressed number 2 on his cell phone and waited.

“Joe’s Pizza Kitchen, how may I help you?”

“Turn off the tape, Frohike, and listen carefully,” Mulder demanded.

“What’s up, Mulder?”

“I need you to create a digital jamming signal on my cell phone in the next couple of minutes.”

“Whoa, that’s gonna take more than a couple of minutes, amigo. What’s this for?”

“I need to stop Rousch Medical Supplies from sending mind-controlling signals to children’s orthodontic expanders,” Mulder said quickly.

There was a pause. “What’ve you been smoking, Mulder? And can we have—”

“Now, Frohike! They’re gonna be here any minute!”

“You want us to jam all radio signals within a few feet of you?”

“Whatever you can, just do it quickly.” He saw the headlights of a minivan pull up, and squinted to see the much-too-young driver in the front seat.

“Byers, Langly, get over here, we have to create a jamming signal in Mulder’s cell phone…” Mulder heard Frohike explain as he dropped his cell phone into his pocket and left it active. He got ready to run.

The kids ran for him all at once, hands at their belts where they kept their knives. These were probably the same knives used to stab Darrel Wade, Mulder thought. And he was especially a target, he realized, because of his family’s heritage. These kids were programmed to target certain people, probably so as not to confuse the targets.

As Mulder ran for the jungle gym, he was formulating a more complex profile. Rousch obviously wanted to test mind control, and so it was the same old story—create a trial no one would question. Children’s expanders. Then create targets for the kids, to clarify in their minds what they were supposed to do, and keep law enforcement looking in the wrong direction. Let them loose, and watch it unfold. Same old story. Complete with Mulder running for his life.

He ran up the slide and leapt over some handlebars, then took a survey at where the children were before leaping off the play structure and heading for the monkey bars. It was a good place to run, and keep them all contained. But it was also not so easy for an adult to navigate.

Sand and wood chips kicked up around his pant legs as he ran through a sandbox and back out again. He made a sharp turn and ran through some swings, then leapt onto the middle of a teeter totter and back off again. He jumped on top of a shaky wooden bridge, and leapt off the other side. The kids were in hot pursuit, and Mulder was well aware that he wasn’t evading a bunch of elementary school children—he was evading the adults giving them commands.

When he looked behind him again, he felt a small surge of panic hit him as he realized only two were following him. That meant…

He nearly slammed into the little kid that appeared out of nowhere. He saw Willie’s face as the seven-year-old went for his feet. Between one kid catching him off balance and another grabbing his ankles, Mulder didn’t have a chance. He was down on the ground in an instant, the woodchips cushioning his fall.

The children approached, out of breath, and expressionless. They unsheathed their knives from their belts, and approached slowly. “Frohike…” Mulder warned in a near-panicked voice. “Now would be a good time!”

He didn’t hear the reply, but realized he was surrounded, and that there was no way out.






Scully pulled up to the residence of Jessie Snitz, one of Charlie’s classmates. She and Thomas Rueben exited the vehicle and ran toward the front of the house. Rueben was right behind Scully, and said, “Their screened-in porch on the side—it’s been broken into. The screen was slashed with a knife.”

Scully drew her weapon. “Stay back, Mr. Rueben. Don’t come in until I tell you to.”

“But if Charlie’s in there—”

“If Charlie’s in there, then you can help me, but not until I say it’s safe. He might have found a gun.”

“Charlie wouldn’t…he couldn’t…”

Scully didn’t answer Rueben’s horrified, unasked question as she ran around to the side of the house. If Charlie got in quietly, so could she. It was better not to spook him.

They were able to easily pick the lock on the screened-in-porch, instead of climb through the screen as Charlie had. They then gained entrance through the side porch door, and were in the living room.

Scully put her hand out to keep Rueben back as she extended her weapon, and walked through the house with a flashlight lighting her path.

The house was dead quiet. It was clear this family went to sleep early. They had no pets, so nothing made any noise at their entrance. No one set a security alarm.

Scully climbed the stairs and turned her flashlight off, the nightlights in the hallway sufficient to light her step. She began to silently check bedrooms.

The first was a guest bedroom. In the second, the parents silently slept as if nothing was wrong. She considered waking them, but then decided it was a bad idea. It was odd, she thought, that they didn’t even awaken at the sound of her feet on the floorboards.

Finally, she got to the child’s bedroom. The door was the only one closed in the house, and locked. Scully took a step back, and broke the door down with a kick.

Charlie stood in a wide stance, trying in earnest to strangle 10-year-old Jessie Snitz as she gasped and flailed her arms in wide-eyed panic.

“Drop the wire, Charlie!” Scully yelled. Rueben ran over to Charlie and tried to wrench his son’s arms away, but the 10-year-old had so much adrenaline coursing through his body that he was able to kick his father in the groin, and drop him to his knees. His face was expressionless, his hands white-knuckled in their attempt to strangle his classmate.

Scully ran over and holstered her weapon as she grabbed the boy in one motion. Jessie’s parents arrived at that second, and moved into action immediately. They screamed for Charlie to stop, trying to wrench his hands away from the wire.

Finally, just when they were making progress, it was Rueben who stood up with a child-sized wooden baseball bat, and clocked his son over the head with it.

Charlie dropped, unconscious. “Call an ambulance!” Mrs. Snitz screamed, holding her unconscious daughter as Rueben pushed the crowd aside to get to his son.

Scully pulled out her cell phone and dialed 911 while checking the children’s pulses. Just then, a beam of light streamed out of the computer in Jessie’s room. The computer exploded instantly, sending sparks flying into the air. The concentrated energy traveled through the air, electrons finding their instant conductor on Jessie’s leg. There, imprinted through her pajamas, was a Nazi Swastika.






Meg made the first dive with the knife and Mulder rolled out of the way. It caught the wood chips, but not him, thankfully. “Frohike!” He screamed at the top of his lungs, just as Lauren made the second dive for him.

He was able to dodge her as well, but just barely. He tried to get up, but Sam kicked him in the forehead with a winter boot.

Suddenly, the four just froze, and dropped their knives. They looked around, clearly confused. Then they looked at Mulder, and each other.

“What are we doing here?” Willie asked. “I’m cold.”

“I wanna go home,” Sam said.

“Why are we at the playground? Did you kidnap us?” Lauren asked Mulder.

Mulder smiled, and started to get up. “No…I didn’t kidnap you.” He rose slowly, and took his phone out of his pocket. “Thanks, Frohike. Not a moment too—aaaah!” He dropped the phone as it became red hot, and caught fire. It exploded with a burst of energy and a stream of electricity traveled directly from the ground into Mulder’s leg. He dropped instantly and grasped the leg painfully as the symbol was carved in.







“So the pharmacy’s video camera was destroyed as well, but the police didn’t include that in their report because it hadn’t caught anything on tape—it was the one on the inside,” Scully said, sitting in the chair beside her partner’s bed.

His thigh was bandaged and he sat on the side of the bed in a hospital gown, waiting for them to bring his clothes from the other room.

“And they disappear into the woodwork again. We can try to keep the expanders as evidence, Scully, but you know they’re just going to get lost.”

“I think it’s worth a try, at least. This time they’re using the newest technology available to restart these tests, Mulder. It’s just like before, only more disastrous. Popular Mechanics magazine recently featured an article about wireless transmission of electrical charge—effectively charging electronics without wires. That’s exactly what they did here, only they concentrated the energy into a symbol. If they were somehow able to do that, they could potentially carve a symbol like that into a city, destroying several buildings from some unknown origin.”

“They can already do that with missiles. What this gives them is the ability to terrorize. What extremist wouldn’t like to get his hands on some anti-religious or anti-government or anti-capitalist or anti-Oprah symbol to carve into the land and freak some people out?”

“Anti-Oprah?” Scully asked with an arched eyebrow.

“Popular Mechanics, Scully?” Mulder countered back.

“It’s in Skinner’s office…” She defended.

Mulder smirked slightly, and then sighed. “I’m wondering if they’re starting up again, or if they never stopped. What if this is just the first one we’ve caught, Scully? What if they’re just getting better at these tests? Getting so good at it that we’re not noticing anymore?”

“If they have to resort to using expanders in children’s mouths, I’m pretty sure they’re not getting better,” Scully said dryly.

“How are the kids?”

“They’re all confused. It hasn’t been explained to them why their orthodontist had to pull out their expanders in the middle of the night.”

“At least we won’t have the Manson children running around anymore.”

Scully looked down. “Their parents aren’t happy campers.”

“If I were a parent, I’d be pretty damn confused myself.”

“How’s your leg, Mulder?”

“It’s fine. Doctor said it wouldn’t scar as long as I apply this vitamin E crap to it on a regular basis.”

“You’d better. That’s not the kind of scar you want to have.”

“Got that right,” Mulder said, glancing down at it. He paused a moment. “Why do you think they chose the Nazi Swastika? The Anti-Semetist theme?”

Scully shook her head. “I don’t know. Could be a message…”

“Maybe a statement of their purpose? To manipulate the minds of the weak—the children—to serve their purposes and form a unified but enslaved population? Drones under the monarch, the present-day Hitler?”

“Possibly,” Scully said, entertaining the thought. “I wouldn’t put it past them. It is sort of what they want to do, isn’t it, Mulder?”

He nodded slowly. “2012…”

“Let’s not think about that right now,” Scully said, getting up and sitting beside him. “We stopped them this time. Now that we’re watching Sewickley, they won’t try here again. And we’ll do our best to stop them the next time.”

“The question becomes, how many times can we stop them? And how many times do they get away with it?”

Scully didn’t have an answer for that.

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