Category Archives: Season 14

A Hare Raising Experience

A Hare-Raising Experience

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HIGHWAY 602 – FAIRFAX COUNTY, VIRGINIA

1:07 A.M

The smashing of glass startled her awake. Instinctively Scully reached out to brace herself for an impact that never came. All she heard was her partner’s loud curse. When she looked over at him his expression was that of utter disbelief, tiny crumbs of glass littered the front seat of the car. “Mulder? What the hell?”

“Some lunatic in a rabbit suit just impaled our windshield with an ax!”

“Wha…” Sure enough imbedded within the dashboard and a web of safety glass was the head of a large ax. “A guy in a rabbit suit?” she asked enunciating each word.

“Scully don’t look at me like I’m Elwood Dowd, I didn’t imagine it. There’s an ax imbedded in the dashboard!” Mulder turned to release his seatbelt with trembling fingers and reached for the door handle. “I’m telling you the guy was wearing white fur and he had big floppy ears.” He made ear like motions with his hands. “He came out of the woods from over there…”

“Mulder, call the police,” Scully reached to grab his right arm, preventing him from exiting the vehicle. “Tell me what happened,” she begged him.

He fumbled in his pocket for his phone, “Scully, you can see what happened!” he told her with an astonished look as he finally extracted the illusive item from his jacket.

“This is Fox Mulder, I’m with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I’d like to report an accident…”

1:19 A.M.

“Will you submit to a breathalyzer test sir?” Deputy Drake from the County Sheriff’s office sized Mulder up. He didn’t look intoxicated but then who in their right mind would admit to seeing a six foot white rabbit? Especially one wielding an ax?

“I beg your pardon? I’m a federal agent.” Mulder pulled his badge from his pocket in an over exaggerated motion and held it up for the deputy’s inspection.

“Are you armed, Sir?”

Mulder didn’t respond, opting to pull his coat back to reveal his sidearm rather than risk a comment that would probably only escalate the situation. He glanced darkly in Scully’s direction.

“Well then, Agent — Mulder, “Drake flashed him a questioning look in obvious response to his first name. “May I ask what you’re doing out here at uh, one in the morning?”

“My partner and I are returning to DC from a case. Look, I’d think you’d be more concerned as to who drove the ax through our windshield then whether or not I had a few beers for dinner.” Mulder was fast losing his patience with the young deputy.

“Did you?”

“Did I what?”

“Have a few beers with your dinner?”

Mulder rolled his eyes, “Shit”

“Deputy Drake,” Scully interrupted. She had been standing to the side of the conversation between the officer and her partner and could tell by Mulder’s tone that if she didn’t step in shortly he would be the one wearing the handcuffs. “I’m sure my partner would be willing to submit to a sobriety test if that will help with your investigation,” she gave Mulder a winced smile when he turned to her in amazement.

While Mulder went through the usual motions — touching his nose, standing on one foot — Scully examined their windshield. Who ever it was had to have been a big man. The ax had gone directly through the safety glass, impaling the dash by about three inches. The windshield had pulled away from its frame, spider-webbing around the handle of the ax. According to her partner it had happened when he stopped for the light.

Mulder came back from his test non too pleased, intentionally brushing her shoulder as he passed her and then turning to lean against the car with his arms folded, he said nothing.

“Well, did you pass?” Scully asked, taking a few steps to stand next to her partner while the officer called for a tow truck.

“I’m not wearing any silver bracelets so I guess so,” Mulder replied bobbing his head from side to side with a closed-lipped grin.

“Truck will be here in about fifteen minutes,” Drake advised them as he came over to stand next to Scully. “You didn’t see anything, Ma’am?”

“No, I’m sorry; I think I must have dozed off…”

Mulder watched the deputy nod in acceptance and then flash a look his way. He was certain the deputy was thinking he must have been dozing too.

“Are you at all interested in taking my statement for your report deputy?”

“Uh, yeah, sure,” Drake glanced at Scully and then back to Mulder. “You ah — said the guy was about six foot and was wearing a bunny suit?”

“Six feet three and a half inches, let’s stick to the facts,” Mulder deadpanned.

Drake just looked at him dumbfounded.

Thirty minutes later Drake was helping Mulder pull their belongings from the trunk of the bureau car. The tow truck driver stood to the side and scratched his head. “Been a while since I seen one of these.”

“I can give you folks a ride into the office,” Drake interrupted and then corrected himself at Mulder’s angry glare. “I mean, so you can call a rental car from there and — and be on your way.”

“Thank you Deputy,” Scully replied as she grabbed her laptop from her partner’s outstretched hand. “We appreciate the ride.”

After their possessions had been safely stowed in the trunk of the cruiser, Drake stepped over to hand the truck driver a slip of paper. Mulder studied the driver while he held the cruiser’s door so Scully could slide into the backseat. The man said a few words to Drake and then shook his head.

“I want that ax bagged and dusted for prints,” Mulder yelled over while the deputy conferred with the driver.

“Ain’t never seen a bunny with fingerprints, Mister,” the driver yelled back before turning and laughing with Drake.

“Mulder, get in the car!” Scully reached up to grab her partner’s sleeve, quickly losing patience with the whole situation. “The more you egg them on, Mulder the worse this is going to get,” she told him when he finally slid in next to her and closed the door.

“Scully, we were attacked with an ax. I don’t care if it was Lizzie Borden or Harvey,” he spat back and then turned away from her, looking back out the window and making a mental note of the name and phone number on the side of the truck. He wanted to talk to the guy tomorrow.

COUNTY SHERRIF’S OFFICE

3:04 AM

“Yeah, this time I hear it was an FBI agent!”

Scully turned to her partner as they stepped into the bullpen of the sheriff’s office. Mulder was fast becoming the butt of an evidently local joke. His non-responsive expression indicated that he either hadn’t heard the comment or was just too tired to respond. They had been on the road since about eight-thirty. At a little after 3 A.M. they didn’t need a rental car they — needed a hotel.

Mulder spotted the coffee pot and headed straight for it. Scully glanced around the office trying to locate the person of authority. The sheriff’s office door was closed so she headed an older officer standing just behind the glass counter.

“Excuse me, Officer – Wilson.” When the officer looked up in acknowledgement she presented her badge with a smile. “Do you know when my partner…” she asked nodding towards Mulder. “And I might be able to speak with the sheriff?”

“Sheriff Donaldson comes on at seven, Ma’am,” Wilson’s gaze drifted in the direction of her partner, they both watched as Mulder winced down a sip of the office sludge. “I’m sure he’ll want to speak with you too,” she watched his right eyebrow climb to his hairline. “We haven’t had a report on the Bunny Man in quite some time.” Several of the men behind him chuckled out loud.

“The Bunny Man?”

“Yeah, it’s sort of an urban legend around these parts.”

Scully nodded, she was beginning to understand now what the joke was all about.

“Agent Scully,” Drake’s voice behind her startled her. “It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to get you a car until later today. There’s a Motel 6 down the road, I can take you both there if you’d like.”

Oh joy, top-notch accommodations she thought to herself. On the other hand, the accommodations there would probably be better than spending a night in a cell at Mulder’s expense.

“Can you give the sheriff one of my cards when he gets in please,” she asked Wilson, passing the card through the tray at the bottom of the glass partition.

“Sure thing, Agent — Scully.” She was thankful he didn’t say ‘Ma’am’ again.

When she turned around, Mulder was standing behind her holding the cup of dark coffee. He still had that nasty expression on his face. “Would you believe this is worse than mine?” he asked her.

“Is that possible?”

10:22 AM

Mulder pulled the Elantra into the parking lot of the sheriff’s station. There were considerably more vehicles in the lot now than there had been last night including a local television station’s remote van. “Please tell me they’re not here for the Bunny Man story,” he whispered almost to himself.

“Must be a slow news day,” Scully replied as she popped open her car door.

When they entered the station the news crew was just finishing packing up their gear. Evidently they were too late for the remote broadcast. “Thank you Jesus,” Mulder muttered as he approached the counter and flashed his badge again, “We’re looking for Sheriff Donaldson,” he told the clerk.

“You must be the man of the hour,” the young woman told him. “Let me tell the sheriff you’re here.”

Mulder turned back to Scully and slid his hands into his pants pockets, surveying the room. They’d both opted for the casual look this morning intending on making this meeting short and then head for home.

“Agent Mulder!” The deep voice came from behind them and echoed around the room. Everyone seemed to stop what they were doing and look in their direction. Mulder turned around. Sheriff Donaldson was a big man in more ways than one. He was probably a good three inches taller than Mulder and had to weigh at least two-fifty but it appeared to be all muscle. He was not someone with which your average offender would want to tangle with.

“How the hell are ya!” he bellowed, shaking Mulder’s hand vigorously.

“Sheriff, this is my partner, Dana Scully…” As Mulder made the introduction, Donaldson grabbed Scully’s outstretched hand and pumped it almost as hard as he had Mulder’s. “Well, pleased to meet you too! Why don’t we all step to into my office, don’t want the whole department hearing your tale,” he started to laugh. “No pun intended of course.” He turned and motioned for them to follow him into his office. Scully smiled at her partner’s soft chuckle.

“Have a seat,” he told them as he closed the door and then proceeded to walk around the old desk. “Sorry you had to miss the broadcast; it would have been really good to get your eyewitness account.”

At this point Mulder couldn’t tell if the man was serious and just pulling his leg.

“So, tell me about your encounter with our Bunny Man, Agent Mulder,” the sheriff stated, sliding into his chair. The ax that had been extracted from the windshield of their car sat wrapped in plastic on the top of his desk.

“You get any prints off that?” Mulder asked.

“Nope, never do,” Donaldson picked up the bagged ax and balanced it in his hand testing its weight.

“I’m beginning to get the impression this is isn’t a one time occurrence. Maybe you should tell us about your Bunny Man then,” Mulder suggested tossing a glance at his partner.

“Truth is Agent Mulder, we haven’t had a report in some years which is why there’s all the hubbub over your encounter last night,” the sheriff made a motion towards the bullpen outside his door. “First time it’s been someone of your authority though. Probably better off you weren’t here for the news-folk, I don’t suppose the FBI .would want to broadcast the fact one of their agents took a little venture from reality,” he concluded with a wink.

“Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for many years, Sir. I’m happy to say I’ve finally won out over it,” Mulder joked.

“Well, this bunny ain’t no Harvey, I’ll tell you that much,” Donaldson chuckled and then scooted his chair closer to the desk and leaned over it, resting his big arms on the blotter.

“Local encounters like your own started back in the seventies. ‘Course the legend goes all the way back to the forties. “Ya see, there used to be a dirt road leading off Sunset just before the intersection where you were attacked. One story says the road led to the Bunny Man’s house. Evidently a family lived up that way back then. One Halloween the old man dressed up in a bunny costume, killed his wife and kids and then spent the whole night greeting trick-or-treater’s while their bodies cooled in his living room.”

“Happy Halloween, huh?”

“There was never any substantiation to the story?” Scully asked, a bit bewildered.

“There’s been so many variations over the years, Agent Scully; it’s hard to tell if there was really any truth to the whole thing. ‘Nother story tells of a town hermit that used to live up the same way. Story goes that he was an escaped schizophrenic. Snapped one day and murdered some kids. Guy ended up in the state pen for twenty years and then just disappeared when he was released. But lately all we’ve gotten is a bunch of stories from high school kids that like to tease their friends around Halloween up by Bunny Man Bridge. They go up there to try and see his ghost or somethin’. ‘Bout the only thing most of the stories have in common is that the guy likes to kill people. So I guess you should both consider yourselves lucky.”

Mulder leaned forward in his seat, “There’s a bridge named after him?”

“Not officially no, that’s a legend in and of itself. Railroad bridge up on Colchester Road, sort of goes along with the escaped mental patient theory. Says the guy used to hide out up that way and people started finding skinned carcasses of bunnies hanging from trees, then one day, they found this carcass of a teenager hangin’ along with them.”

Mulder turned to his partner with a pained expression. She shrugged in response.

“Sorry Ma’am. Anyway, supposedly the authorities caught up with him and chased him until he jumped in front of a train right there by the bridge.”

“The Bunny Man Bridge,” Mulder finished for him. “And you say that all these accounts are just local legend? No one has investigated these sightings?”

“Yes, sir — well I mean, no, sir. Truth is Agent Mulder, we don’t have the manpower to go lookin’ into every crackpot account of a guy in a bunny suit. There’s never been any murders as long as I’ve been sheriff — just some fools with nothin’ better to do playin’ into the legend…”

“Excuse me, Sheriff,” Scully interrupted before Mulder could respond to the sheriff’s comment. “That ax lying on your desk came out of our windshield. It could have killed either of us and you’re saying you don’t have the manpower for an investigation?”

“Well now, we got evidence here that your vehicle was damaged by this ax but there’s no prints on the ax nor were there any rabbit tracks in the local vicinity that would match a six foot rabbit so you can see where our investigation has sort of come to a stand still…”

Mulder leaned on the arm of the chair and brushed his fingers across his lips while he watched his partner attempting to work her charms on the stubborn sheriff. “Excuse me, Sheriff, but what if what you’re looking for isn’t a man in a bunny suit but something like a pooka?”

“Mulder…” Scully warned.

“A pooka you say. We’ll I never heard him referred to as that before. What’s a pooka anyway?”

“It’s from Celtic mythology. A fairy spirit in animal form, they’re usually very large,” Mulder made a motion with his hand in the air to indicate the height of the spirit. “They’ve been known to appear here and there and cause mischief.”

“A spirit you say, I’ll bet they have,” the sheriff sized Mulder up with an upward glance and then smiled.

“Mulder,” Scully reached over to touch his arm. “We need to get back to the Bureau. I think we can let the sheriff handle this.” Actually she just wanted to get Mulder out of there before his foot when all the way down his throat. When he made no attempt to move, she stood, “We appreciate your time Sheriff. If we can help you further on this, please don’t hesitate to call. Come on, Mulder,” she tapped her partner lightly on the arm hoping that he would get the hint.

Mulder sighed and got to his feet. “You mind if I take that with me?” he asked motioning to the ax on the sheriff’s desk.

“Knock yourself out,” Donaldson motioned for him to pick it up. “You might want to stop by the county library. Got a fella over there– his name’s Con — Conners I believe, that’s done quite a bit of research on the Bunny Man legend. Maybe you can tell him about this pooka theory.”

“Thanks sheriff.” Mulder gave the man a pained smile. “Maybe we’ll do that.” He turned and followed Scully out of the office.

The overcast morning had given way to a beautiful early spring day and Scully was ready to head for home. At least she was, until she overheard her partner asking the clerk at the front desk for directions to the county library. She should have known better. This was Mulder after all and he wouldn’t be satisfied until he solved the mystery of whom or what planted that ax in their windshield. He found her outside leaning against their rental car.

Mulder hefted the ax. “So, you up for a little Bunny Man research?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.

“I was afraid you’d say that.”

Mulder popped the locks on the car and dropped the ax into the backseat before he slid in himself. “You’re not the least bit interested in who this assailant might be?”

“Mulder.” Scully tilted her head to the side trying to figure the most diplomatic way to say this. “I got the impression from the sheriff that the locals use this legend as nothing more than an excuse for malicious pranks — it’s nothing more than that. Yes, the car was damaged but it’s not your fault and no one got hurt.” With the exception of Mulder’s pride she thought to herself.

“And you’d just like to get home…” He watched her nod in agreement. “Well then, I’ll take you home and come back out here. The car is supposed to be ready later this afternoon anyway.” His voice had an irritated edge to it as he started the car. He didn’t look at her.

Somehow she’d had the feeling he would say that too and she reached over to touch his arm. “No, if you want to do this, then lets go. Just remember you owe me — big time.”

Mulder slid the car into reverse and smiled.

CHUMLEY’S RESTAURANT

12:23 PM

Mr.Conners had been out to lunch when Mulder and Scully had finally located someone at the library that knew of his whereabouts. At the suggestion of the librarian they’d ended up in this local restaurant. Scully picked at her salad while she watched Mulder attack his club sandwich. “Did you tell the librarian why you wanted to speak to Mr. Conners?” she asked her partner.

“I just told her I was doing research on local legends and that he had been recommended to me. That sound vague enough?” He swirled several fries around in the pool of ketchup on his plate and then popped them into his mouth.

Scully watched as he played with more of his fries, “Normally yes, but I got the impression from the look on her face that she didn’t believe you. What are you doing?” she asked as he suddenly began rubbing his forehead with the fingertips of his right hand.

“Wiping the ‘Crackpot’ sign off my forehead,” he smirked at her.

“Excuse me?” They both looked up as their waitress eagerly refilled their coffee cups.

“You the FBI folks that saw the Bunny Man yesterday?” she asked.

Mulder scanned the restaurant and then looked up at the woman, “You know anything about the legend?”

Scully just rolled her eyes.

“Just what my dad used to tell me,” she glanced quickly over her shoulder. He told me the guy was responsible for something like FIFTEEN murders, course that was before I was born. But I think there was one back around 1980.” She patted Scully on the shoulder, “You folks are lucky to be alive.”

Scully watched Mulder’s eyes light up. “So he’s definitely a man then?” he asked the woman.

“Well sure, honey,” she smiled in bewilderment. “What else would he be?”

FAIRFAX COUNTY LIBRARY

1:14 PM

“Mr. Mulder,” the young man reached out to accept Mulder’s hand. “My name’s Ryan Conners. Mrs. Simmons told me you’re interested in some information on our Bunny Man legend.”

“Or your Bunny Man was interested in us,” Mulder replied.

“Ah,” Ryan glanced back and forth between the two agents. “You’re the FBI agents Sheriff Donaldson called me about. He said he thought you’d be stopping by. Come on back to my office — I’ll tell you as much of the truth as I know about our local legend.” Ryan motioned for them to follow as he turned away and headed off through the non-fiction section.

Once inside his office, Conners opened a file drawer and started to place reference material on his desk for the agents.

“That’s quite an inventory,” Mulder commented as he put down the list that had been compiled in a paper done by a University of Maryland student. The list contained over fifty accounts from all over the state that involved the Bunny Man in various nefarious acts ranging from chasing people with an ax, attacks on vehicles, and vandalism. Only three of them mentioned any murders. “What got you involved in this if I might ask?”

Conners chuckled, “I grew up around here, been hearing the stories all my life. To tell you the truth, if it weren’t for the fact that the subject keeps coming up I probably would have let it go a long time ago as just a local ghost story. But people still come in and ask about it.” He looked over his glasses at the agents. “I suppose you want to know if I think he’s real?”

Mulder continued to flip through the volume of news clippings Ryan had presented him with when they first sat down. “A lot of urban legends have some basis in fact,” he noted when he came upon the mention of the missing inmate. What about this Donald Grifon?”

“That’s an older version of the story about the man who killed his family on Halloween. Grifon was the man officials named as the escaped inmate. They later revealed that he has been institutionalized for killing his family — only it wasn’t on Halloween, it was Easter Sunday.”

“Here comes Peter Cottontail,” Mulder deadpanned.

“Mulder, I can’t believe you’ve never heard of this before,” Scully glared at him, accepting the book from her partner. Mulder was a walking encyclopedia of folklore and native legend.

“I never said I didn’t, he just never came after me with an ax before,” he answered meeting her eyes.

Ryan studied the two agents, it was easy to tell that Mulder enjoyed ribbing his partner but he could also tell the agent found legends like this fascinating. “There’s been a lot of development in the area recently. Popular opinion is we’ve got a local environmentalist using the legend as a way to scare people but I can — ah, get you a list of reference material if you’d like to do a little research yourself, Agent Mulder, he offered.

“Yeah, I’d appreciate that,” Mulder answered, looking up from studying his partner’s perusal of the material. The ringing of his cell phone startled him. “Excuse me. Mulder…”

“The library has an extensive historical newspaper archive,” Connors continued to tell Scully. “And I can give you some websites that…”

“Car’s ready,” Mulder interrupted.

Scully smiled and closed the book, “Thank God.”

As the agents rose from their seats Ryan presented Mulder with list he had mentioned to Scully. “You should have some fun looking through those,” he told the agent.

“So, in all this research you did,” Mulder glanced across the material that littered Ryan’s desk. “Did you come to any conclusions?”

“Actually, Agent Mulder, I just compiled a lot of research other people did. Based on what this gal from U of M came up with and the widespread locations and variations in the story — I’d have to say the Bunny Man did not exist. Sorry.”

Mulder just pursed his lips and nodded.

SANDERSON’S GARAGE

2:23 PM

Mulder loaded their belongings back into the truck of the bureau car while Scully settled with the owner of the garage. Mr. Sanderson followed her as far as the door and leaned against the doorjamb. “You all might want to take a different route home, wouldn’t want you to run into the Bunny Man again,” he joked.

Scully turned and glared back at him. Mulder just laughed and waved. “Thanks,” he told the man. Then something the sheriff had mentioned earlier came to mind. “Hey, Mr. Sanderson, can you tell us how to get to this Colchester Road?”

“Mulder…”

Mulder glanced down to see his partner was standing right in front of him. She was not amused. “All set?” he asked her innocently.

“Yes,” she replied, snatching the keys from his fingers. “Get in the car.”

408 COLCHESTER RD.

7:14 P.M.

Ryan Conners finished opening the can of Fancy Feast and spooned it into bowl over the head of his eager feline. “Dammit Elwood, wait a minute, will you!”

He tossed the empty can in the sink as the chime sounded on the microwave signaling his own dinner was ready. Gathering up his Hungry Man and some utensils he headed into the living room to watch the end of Wheel of Fortune and catch up on the latest entertainment gossip.

When the clock chimed eight he stood almost robotically, walking stiffly through the kitchen and then down the stairs to the basement to begin the practiced Celtic ritual he’d performed on many a night in the past.

Stripping from his street clothes, he began his chant. “Lord of the woodlands, hear me…”

Lyon’s Share

lyons share

Lyons’ Share

(A reference is made in this story to the VS12 episode, Remnant.)

AUTHOR: Windsinger (AKA Sue Esty)
RATING: Nothing for anyone over 1013 to really worry about.
CATEGORY: Casefile, Mulder Angst. Written for Virtual Season 14 – initial posting 3/2/2007
DISCLAIMER: Thank you Chris. Nope, not getting paid for this; never has, never will. Now where’s that second movie? No copyright infringe-ment intended.
ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclu-sive for VS14 and then any-where.
SUMMARY: The near drowning of a woman by an elephant take our intrepid agents to Florida to investigate a series of possible hate crimes.

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Prologue

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The black nalgene raft spun and twisted as it dived through the surging white water. The pale rock cliffs of the canyon towered above, their edges softened by a riot of vegetation that sprouted from every crack and crevice. A black bird with a startlingly red curved beak sailed out over the white water nearly brushing the heads of the occupants of the raft. Not that any of the eight had time to notice however. Their attention was riveted on the foaming water as they strained to find the deep, deceptively calm holes in the surface that would herald when the raft was about to take a stomach clenching dip.

The raft swept around a corner in a wave of white spray and eyes left the surface. A sheet of water cascaded from the edge of the cliff thirty feet above. The children shrieked as if by the very volume and pitch of their cries they could witch the raft under the falls. In contrast, most of the adults cowered, tightly clenching belongings as if this secular prayer could prevent the raft from that very thing. Too many years of umbrellas and running from rain drops lay on their shoulders to willingly open themselves to getting soaking wet with all one’s clothes on no matter how hot the day. The adult’s silent incantations must have been louder than the begging of their offspring for only small, outstretched hands broke the film of that silvery sheet as the raft spun past.

Almost immediately the cliff to their left fell away. The raft spun for a moment in relative calm though all knew that the river was only gathering itself for another drop and another series of rapids. On the bank an elephant stood, its trunk swinging as if to ward them away from the several hundred pound youngster at her side. An eddy spun the raft nearer. The mother elephant’s trunk raised and seemed to swell and swell. A jet of water ejected from the appendage directly into the boat. Screams of surprise and delight exploded. Just when the animal’s proboscis could not possibly have held any more, the spray expanded so that the water gushed forth with the force of a flood, a virtual firehouse of water. A small woman, a matron of three, could not even gasp, could barely breathe as the deluge seemed to center on her alone.

The screams of surprise and even joy transformed to those of an entirely different sort.

Act 1

Georgetown, Washington D.C.

Tuesday 4pm

The backyards on the narrow Georgetown street were tiny but secluded. Mature, well placed trees and bushes supported the illusion that each yard could have been lifted from the wilderness if their owners only believed strongly enough.

In one particular back yard, that might actually come true one day if believing in the vastly improbable could actually bring about such a miracle.

Dana Scully was doing her best. Just a minute before she had tilted her head back and closed her eyes all the better to feel the mild spring sun on her face and hear the songs of the first hearty South-returning birds. As was true of most city dwellers she had developed selective hearing and the dull white noise of the Friday afternoon traffic on Wisconsin Ave six blocks away rumbled so far under her radar that the hiss might have been no more than the rush of a swiftly flowing river.

But then she became aware of another sound, the scuff of a step on flagstone.

Still as stone, she opened one eye. The head of the lounge chair was situated so that she saw only the back half of the little yard – and upside down at that. Nothing to be seen. Another scuff and a slight rustle. Why so soft, so stealthily?

In one fluid motion she came upright, had reached for the revolver on the patio table and brought it around to the source of the sound.

A tall, dark figure ducked, swearing.

“Jeeezus! Scully. Did you go over your ration of caffeine today?”

“And what were you doing sneaking up on me like that?”

His lean form unwound itself from behind a defensively inadequate patio chair. “I thought you were asleep. I didn’t want to wake you. You almost blew my head off.”

Coolly, she replaced the firearm onto the table next to its cleaning supplies. “It wasn’t loaded, but I am sorry.”

Fox Mulder, her partner in more ways than one, pulled the chair he had taken refuge behind over to sit beside her. “There’s enough jitters going around for both of us. It’s been a rough few months.”

“Rough few years.”

“That too.” His handsome face brightened, the playfulness of the smile on those lips and in those eyes bringing out more boyish appeal than any man of forty-something had the right to possess. “I’ve got a surprise for you.”

She had learned not to allow herself to be swept away by his charm, at least not unless she was in the mood and then it was oh so easy. At the moment she was up for going either way. “Is this a good surprise?” she asked suspiciously.

“What other kind is there?”

Her narrowed eyes indicated that in her experience most of the surprises from him could not, in the reality of normal people, be considered, ‘good’.

“Well, this one is.” With a flourish he pulled two airline tickets out of the breast pocket of his suit coat.

Her face lit in anticipation. “Where?” she asked, eagerly snatching at the tickets that just as quickly moved out of range.

“Florida.”

Not Maui but it would do.

“When? Or Christmas next year?”

His face fell. “Ah, tonight, actually.”

Unbelieving, she looked around the garden. The air was mild. Though only early March the yard was protected from the winter winds and got full sun so the leaves had actually begun to sprout. There was even a bit of color, From where she sat she could see the bed of crocuses her mother had planted, a few valiant daffodils, tiny yellow tips of a emerging forsythia, and the early pink buds of cherry blossoms. March had its ups and downs in D.C. but at the moment, it was a perfect time to be here especially after the horrible February the city had just barely survived. In Florida they would already be sweltering in summer-like heat and humidity which Washingtonians would have to face all too soon.

“Tonight…,” she repeated weakly.

“Yes. Nine o’clock so we’ll need to hurry and pack.” Out of habit he had pulled his own weapon from its holster and was using her supplies to give the deadly instrument a quick oiling.

“For what kind of case?” she asked momentarily mesmerized as his nimble fingers effortlessly moved through this activity he had performed so many times. Was he distracting her on purpose? “Give me a hint.”

“Popular tourist spot,” he said as he reached for the tool to clear the barrel. “Too many accidents though no fatalities yet. The last was close though. A woman nearly drowned. Messages have been left scrawled on walls after each one. They think it’s a hate-crime related, hence, the FBI.” A final wipe with the soft cloth and he was done at least enough for daily maintenance.

“But why us? That’s not what we usually do.”

His eyes dropped. Oh, no, not the look. She couldn’t stay mad at him in his old kicked puppy mode. “I pulled some strings, called in some favors. I’ve done a lot of extra profiling for the Behavioral Sciences boys lately.”

‘Which they repay by sending us to melt in Florida when we finally get some good weather in D.C.? Where were they three weeks ago when we were chopping four inches of rock hard frozen slush out of our parking spots?”

Somehow, he could tell Scully was a might miffed. “I messed up again?”

Sighing, she patted his shoulder then bent and gave him a sweet kiss right on the lips. “You try. That’s always better than not trying.” She looked at her watch. “Okay, but I have so little that’s clean right now that we’ll have to leave right away to give me time to pick up a couple of new outfits – and you’ll have to wait while I try them on.”

“Ouch,” he groaned. Then sensing that he was forgiven, he allowed mischief to creep back into his eyes. “What if we agree to place the price of three new outfits on Madame VISA once we get there? Would that give us time… Because you know that we don’t… while we’re working.”

Those eyes. Her insides quivered. All it took was one look from those eyes and she was ready. Gathering weapon and cleaning supplies in one arm, she took his hand and pulled him to his feet.

Mulder saw this as a good sign. “I can be quick,” he offered.

She began tugging him towards the house. “Let’s not be too quick.”

Wild Gardens

Clearwater, FL

Wednesday 11am

Wishing the hat would just do its job, Mulder seated the baseball cap more firmly on his head. His eyes still stung from the sweat that dripped down his face. Central Florida would have to be suffering under an early hot spell. Scully glanced at him from under her own black cap and humidity lank hair. The white ‘FBI’ stitched onto both of their hats must shine like beacons.

“Not exactly subtle,” she murmured removing her own to stare at the lettering.

“They don’t mean anything necessarily. They were selling them to tourists on the street in front of the Bureau. Two for five dollars.”

“And how much were the ones for the CIA?”

“Two for ten,” he answered almost apologetically.

She replaced the cap. “I don’t know whether I should feel happy about that or not. Happy that you didn’t pay any more for these or distressed that merchandise for our friends ‘across the river’ can garner a better price than ours.“ She began to cross her arms in a sulk but it was too hot and put her hands on her hips instead and looked down again into the ‘canyon’.

They were standing on an observation platform on the top of a salmon-colored ‘bluff’. Immediately under the metal platform the land dropped abruptly away. Thirty feet below white water raced around a bend in a swift-flowing, narrow ‘river’. Three black rafts each carrying eight people facing each other in groups of two chased each other down this man-made watercourse like huge, black corks. As they watched, an ‘elephant’ standing in a ‘field’ only a little above the level of the churning water raised its trunk to spray each passing raft with the equivalent of no more than three gallons of water. There was some giggling from the passengers but not much more than that. The big falls were behind them and the next set a hundred yards further on. In comparison this light spraying by the animatronic pachyderm was nothing.

As the echoes of “Ahs” and giggling from a newest boatload of patrons reached them, Mulder mused. “Clearly they don’t know about the woman who almost drowned here four days ago.”

A Wild Gardens’ employee had briefed the agents on the ‘accident’ as he had driven them in the nimble, electric cart through the underground service corridors of the Clearwater-based theme park. Scully thought of that now as she followed Mulder’s gaze and also looked down on the peaceful scene below. “That PR man who drove us here tried to tell me that the woman was not seriously injured.”

“She wasn’t breathing when they got to her. I’d say that was serious.” Mulder indicated another ‘blind’ obscured by bushes down near the ‘elephant’s watering hold. “They patrol this attraction pretty carefully because they do get patrons who try to leave their rafts. A park employee was there and responded promptly. All employees are required to know CPR.”

Scully nodded. “I’m glad to hear it or things would have been far different. We’re still left with what caused the ‘attack’. It must have been a mechanical failure, a power surge or kink in the line for the volume of water to increase like that.”

“You would think so, but they weren’t able to find a cause. What’s surprising is that they were also able to keep it out of the national news. Not that they don’t take the incident seriously. Their maintenance people immediately replaced all the critical control parts and sent them to the Bureau for failure analysis.”

Under her breath Scully muttered, “Just so long as I don’t have to autopsy another damn elephant.”

Mulder didn’t smile at the memory but unconsciously rubbed the souvenir scar under his hairline the result of that earlier case.

“What you haven’t told me yet is why they think these ‘accidents’ are related. Accidents will happen, especially in a place like this. All these people, the roller coasters and other attractions all have a level of risk, not to mention the hazards of handling wild animals.” The theme park’s brochure went on and on about their huge collection of exotics animals, but one only needed to pull in a lungful of air to know they were nearby.

“That’s what puts the ‘wild’ in Wild Gardens,” Mulder mused as he pulled a series of six photographs from the case folder he carried. “This is what ties them all together and why the FBI’s here.”

Scully turned the pictures so that the glare from the hazy one hundred plus heat index day was less. After a few moments, brow creased, she turned the pictures over. “It looks like graffiti.” She looked closely at the broad brownish strokes decorating a variety of surfaces – concrete, white stucco, an expanse of reddish terracotta. “It seems to be the same language but I can’t make it out.”

“No one can,” Mulder assured her, “and they’ve been studied by the best we have. One has been found the morning before every incident’. That hardly sounds like a series of unrelated accidents to me.”

“Warnings?” she asked.

“Or threats? Or ultimatums.”

“Are there any originals left?” she asked handing the pictures back.

“Unfortunately not. They were all in public places around the park so the maintenance staff quickly removed them. At least they took photos first.”

At that he took her hand. It was as sweaty as his own. “Come one. Let’s take a walk and visit the scenes of some of the crimes.”

With help from their driver, they were on the tourist side of the park in less than three minutes. Gone were the huge trash bins, barren ground, and stark white cement block buildings. On the staged side of the ‘world’ all was exotic architecture, souvenir and snack shops, and lush landscaping boarding paths crowded with families in shorts and t-shirts and pushing strollers. Scully consulted the colorful park map their previous driver had given them. “According to this, that was the Congo River Rapids,” she announced.

“Talk about your shrinking world,” her companion remarked.

“And this is the Uganda area.” The highly idealized theme ran to picturesque villages that attempted to look as if it had been transported from half a century before as long as one ignored the log flume attraction that soared above the palms and twisted scrub oaks. “The layout is complicated,” she said extending the map to Mulder. “Do you want to take a look or do you know where you’re going?”

He shrugged it off and strode forward in long-legged strides. “Scully, you know about me and maps. I’m fine. Besides the great explorers didn’t need no stinking maps!”

Within five minutes they were completely lost. They had passed into a land with an architecture that tended to run to grass huts and with far more mature vegetation than the area around the ‘Congo River’ which had to be a newer part of the park despite the au naturale look of the buildings.

They paused only to gaze down into a huge, landscaped ‘canyon’, the home of two magnificent white tigers that were cooling off in the sparkling swimming pool clarity of their ‘river’.

Mulder stared. “The books say that cats hate water.”

Scully took his arm and leaned into her own great cat. “Obviously those two haven’t read the books.”

Leaving what was clearly the focal attraction of the area, he pointed over his shoulder to where ski resort gondolas swung gracefully high overhead. “West should be that way,” he said without much conviction.

Scully tapped him on the shoulder. It was still morning and the hazy sun was at his back. “Why don’t you tell me where you want to go? Maybe I can help you find it,” which in Scully speech meant that, of course, she could find it, no problem.

Once they had found the path that cut around the Nairobi Research Station and Scully had had a chance to ooh and ah over all the babies of nearly extinct species in their incubators, they crossed under an arch of vines and over a small bridge. They had finally found ‘Timbuktu’. They didn’t have to go far to find one particular salmon-colored faux-mud, sun-baked wall. Its smooth surface must have made a fine writing surface but the mysterious alphabet had been cleaned and/or newly painted.

“And what accident did this message portend,” Scully asked as she compared one of the photos to the now blank wall.

Without consulting his notes Mulder replied, “A forty-year-old carpenter – patron, not park personnel – slipped on a patch of ice and broke his ankle.”

Scully felt a bead of sweat trickle down her back. “Is there an ice rink nearby? Either that or a pretty impressive cold spell.”

“No on a path about thirty yards from here at high noon about two week ago.” Patiently, Scully waited for the punch line. “A park employee parked one of those concession carts they sell ice cream from directly over a low spot in a path where a six-year-old from Grand Rapids had poured out the ice from her soda. The drainage plug from the ice cream cart had fallen out. The cart, full of dry ice, moved on, voila, icy spot. Hapless tourist comes jogging along ten seconds later and, voila times two, instant law suit.”

“And that’s an example of what’s been going on? That’s just bad luck,” Scully argued. “Or a coincidence.”

Mulder nodded curtly. “If that had been the only incident. There were more. The weld on the step of an aluminum ladder gave way and a worker fell. Sprained his wrist. A child allergic to nuts had a violent allergic reaction but the parents didn’t buy anything that was found through testing to have nuts of any kind in it. One of the big horses they have here stepped on his groom’s foot. Broke three bones. One of the pigmy hawks from their Bird of Africa show attacked the colorful hat of a patron, thought it looked like lunch. The carrousel braked suddenly, separating two children from their mounts. One day, ten unrelated persons came down with food poisoning but no common denominator could be found.”

Scully shuttered. “With your luck, maybe you’d better not eat here.”

“Or climb, or watch a show, ride the Merry-Go-Round or even walk. That’s what the park owners are worried about.”

“And graffiti was found associated with all of these incidents?”

“Nearly every time somewhere in the vicinity.”

“None of this is life-threatening. They are all nuisance events.”

“Until this last one,” he reminded her, “which is why we are here. Specifically why I’m here. They want a profile. What is this person after and how far will he go if he doesn’t get it?”

“But you have your own agenda,” she reasoned. “How are these things orchestrated?”

A half-dozen laughing teenagers clumped by in their inch high flip-flops eating snow cones and funnel cakes. The scent of a charcoal grill and smoking meats waved past. Mulder patted his stomach.

“Maybe we can brain-storm while we eat. I hear there’s really good smoked brisket nearby.”

“After the food poisoning incident!”

“Ten out of a million or so. I think we’re safe but maybe first…”

They had been walking, the scene changing around them to something nearly tropical. Somewhere close the car of a roller coaster roared by. They had passed more than one during their time in the park. The one before them and on which Mulder’s attention was transfixed, was more impressive than most. Huge and tall, sleek girders carved out spirals and loops in the air. The primary ‘hill’ was high, high above them, a literal mountain. So far away was it that it seemed almost too fragile to stand there all alone especially when the passenger ‘car’ came into view. The car was not a long series of two or four-person units but an ungainly shovel-shape, a shovel filled with people strapped in six rows, eight across. As the agents watched, it finished its laborious crawl to the top of the mountain, — and stopped. The front two rows of screaming bodies were pointed straight down the nearly vertical slope. Beside her Mulder watched, fascinated and horrified. After an agonizing wait the shovel inched forward. Not until its balance shifted at the pinnacle did it drop, transforming within seconds into a locomotive-size meteor streaking through space. It swooped down, passed through the faux ruins of a faux fortress, thundered less than twenty feet above their heads, dipped for a moment like a huge water dragon through a pond sending up a gigantic plume of spray and then was gone to loop and twirl impossibly elsewhere.

“Before eating…?” she asked suspiciously, seeing the dread and delight on his face. “You want to ride that thing? You? I took you to your first theme park remember and you got sick on the merry-go-round.”

“We had known each other how long? Less than a year? It was because I went on after I ate. Actually,” had admitted sheepishly, “I’ve been working up to larger and larger coasters.”

“When? Why?”

He shrugged. “Why do I run, swim, look into the face of everything that terrifies me – so I’ll be ready for the next thing that’s bigger and stronger and faster and more terrifying still.”

In his own way he was serious, of that she had no doubt. He pushed himself, kept himself in shape, not for vanity but for survival. And if the lengths he went to were a little quirky… quirky was one reason she loved him.

She stared upwards as another shovel car came to the brink of the steel mountain and hung. “Ah, would you think me a sissy if I don’t go?”

After seating Scully at an outside table of the Kenya Smokehouse where the coaster’s shovel cars trumpeted across the pond every three minutes, Mulder headed for the loading area for the Great Kazan. Soon he was enveloped in the make-believe hype of danger and adventure. The adrenaline surge kept him moving restlessly on his toes. Was this really the reason he did this? Had he become addicted to the ‘‘high’’ and had their cases been too cerebral of late as this one threatened to be? Time passed. It was a popular ride. Five then six times, the video from the ubiquitous television screens in the waiting area looped through the melodramatic storyline. Some allusion to an African resurrection myth. He entered the final loading area just as the announcer was sonorously ticking off the safety warnings one more time. His eyes sought the special line for those who wanted to sit in the front of the car. For this sort of ride, it was surprisingly short.

The safety harness was as expected for suspended coasters and Mulder was as expectedly freaking out. He had been tied up, handcuffed, locked in tiny rooms too many times to have his freedom restricted even for such a harmless activity. The dreaded shoulder harness came down over his head and across his chest. The seat molded suggestively into his posterior and alarmingly tight up against his family jewels. A padded bar came down across his stomach.

The panic he had to fight down was real. When an attendant, someone tall and thin in khaki shorts, checked that his harness was secure, Mulder barely noticed. He was eternally relieved when the car began to move.

As he had expected, the first few thrilling but half-hearted climbs, dips, swoops and swirls took the worst of the terror of the harness away. He had other things on his mind. Now it was time for the car to climb the mountain. It was preferable not to think of the nearly seven hundred-foot drop on the other side. Better to think about how good the breeze felt on his sweaty skin, of how good the view was from up here as long one didn’t think about how very, very tiny the figures and even the buildings below looked. The <click>, <click> of the safety chain and catch which now pulled the huge shovel car higher but kept it from falling backwards was the only sound as the climb continued. There wasn’t much of the track left to climb. The approach became so steep that it became impossible to turn around to see below except for the parts of the city that were far beyond the park.

At least he was safe; his weight secure against the back of the seat, his bottom firmly in the fiberglass bucket.

They were almost at the top. Most birds did not even fly up this high. Adrenaline pumped. The bump, bump of his heart was threatening to overwhelm the click, click of the chain and catch. Inevitably, the car leveled off. Almost immediately it began to dip in the opposite direction.

Mulder’s center of gravity shifted. In a dizzying blur of blue sky, white cloud and spotted green and brown earth his perspective swung one hundred and eighty degrees.

Straight down.

And it was a long, LONG way down. As expected, the huge car hung in heart pounding stillness, balanced between the ancient energy of gravity before sucking at them all to plunge downward and the incredible mass of the remaining sections of the car holding them back. Being in the front row – how intelligent had THAT been – Mulder was completely exposed. Except for the shoulder harness and the padded bar across his stomach, there was nothing between him and a distressing and messy death among the strollers and snow cones. Between them the ride restraints were now supporting his entire weight. He could be wildly flailing the thin air with unrestricted arms and legs as some of his screaming fellow first-rowers were doing. Mulder choose, however, to maintain a white-knuckled grip on the shoulder harness.

The world spun despite his tightly shut eyes. This was part of the ride; he and Scully had seen it. After a suitable time for terror to build the car would creep forward until gravity overcame mass and then all would come hurtling down…

Time hung in the balance – literally. From below – where he wished he was now – he and Scully had watched the car hang for perhaps five second, no more than ten. Certainly more time had passed than that. Of course, this was one of those Twilight Zone moments when time just ‘streeeetched’ out. He felt a stillness begin to flow slowly into him. He had known those moments – a perp with a weapon, you with a weapon, some innocent bystander in between. Time to move, drop, spin bring your arm up, fire off the shot, save the day. All the time in the world. Sometimes…. Sometimes it went the other way. No time at all. Einstein had been right. Time was relative.

Mulder became aware that peace had not only crept within him, it was around him. The other riders, most of whom had been screaming from the sheer, barbaric joy of the experience, had begun to quiet as each realized what he had begun to. The car wasn’t moving and wasn’t going to.

The quiet that descended over the forty-eight people was surreal. Only the wind could be heard, no mechanical sounds at all.

Finally the bull moose voice of a man maybe two rows back rang out, “Hey! We’re stuck up here!”

In seconds at least twenty voices repeated the call in a kind of ragged unison at first that soon became a riot of shouts. His fellow front-riders did not call out, however, Mulder noted. Theirs was a separate but shared terror that any exertion could upset what now seemed to be an all too delicate web of restraint. The harness and lap bar were all that was keeping them from flying out and down like broken, fallen angels.

Act 2

Wednesday 2pm

“Quiet!” voices began to bark and hiss around him. There was a crackling from a speaker on a tiny platform to his right. That’s right, there would need to be plans for such emergencies. He hoped that the squawking indicated that help was coming but it would be a long climb. An interminable wait.

“Hey, Mister?” asked a tiny, small voice to his right. “Hey, mister…”

Words, language. What a concept where all had been little more than raw emotion for what seemed so long. He also discovered another reason why the front riders were so quiet. Hard to shout when you’ve been holding your breath for nearly two minutes. His came out in the rush and a temporary spike in his panic as the loss of air loosened the harness.

“Mister?”

Intent on his own macho agenda, Mulder hadn’t paid much attention to his fellow passengers. Now, by daring to move no more than his eyes, he was able to look cautiously over and down on the top of her dark-haired head. The soft voice belonged to an equally small girl.

“Are you scared, Mister?”

How could she tell? By the bloodless grip he had on the padded part of the harness that crossed his chest? It bore so much of his weight that he literally felt his heart thumping madly against it.

“Y-You’re not?” he asked, furious at the tremor in his voice.

“Well, yes, but you’re suppose to be.”

Her voice was so far down and the range of his vision so limited that he could barely see the curve of her cheek. No tears he noted.

“Don’t they have a minimum height restriction on this ride?” he murmured in a voice steadier though tight from too little air. “What’s your name?” he asked then, struggling for a normal tone.

“Rita,” came the small, fearless voice.

“Where are your parents?” He tried to swivel his eyes to take in more passengers without moving his head but was not successful.

“Oh, I’ve ridden this lots of times.” Then her brave voice dropped a little. “But it’s never done this before. Do you think it’s broke?”

“Y-Yes,” he had to agree, “I think it’s broke.”

“When do you think they’re going to fix it?”

Before these harnesses stress out and everyone in the first two rows plunge to messy deaths, he prayed, but said, “They’ll fix it soon, I’m sure. You’re very calm.”

“Calm is easy,” she snorted. “Fear is hard.”

Mulder was still trying to work out the logic of that odd phrase when the thin, far sound of a gasping voice from somewhere below the car reached him over the whistle of the wind. Murmurs of strained relief from the other passengers rose like a wave behind them.

“See they’re coming,” he assured her gripping his shoulder harness even harder. Scully would give him hell if he should fall out at the last moment. Footsteps pounded in a staggered rhythm on the metal rungs of the emergency stairway that ran beside much of the track. A voice gasped out assurances. It would have been a long, long climb from the bottom.

There followed much fussing about metal that should have released but hadn’t. Another man arrived who must have been older and in considerably poorer shape. The two murmured together but any words were lost in the rising complaints from angry passengers now that help was supposedly near. It was disappointing to see in those who had valiantly suppressed their panic for so long.

Footsteps trotted to the front of the car even descending a few feet over the crest. Their owner could now look up into the strained faces of Mulder and the girl and their fellow passengers in the first row as they hung from their harnesses.

The face was unfamiliar but Mulder found that he recognized the bony, hairy knees below the shorts. It was the ride attendant who had checked his harness before this whole nightmare began. Good thing that he had. If the harness had failed, this nightmare would have been shorter but with a considerably worse outcome.

In an amazingly calm voice, the gangling teenager with acne scars on the sharp planes of his face announced, “We found a problem. A frozen gear. We can release it.” There were moans of dismay. “I know you want nothing more than to be off but, believe me, taking the ride till the end will be faster, not to mention safer, especially for you front riders, than if you were to try to crawl out and walk down. If it were possible, I’d take that empty seat and ride down myself.” It was a LONG way down which, thankfully, the young man did not emphasize further. “There was no time for any other thought then as the young man with ‘Randy’ on his ID pin, said, “Ready?” and the car dropped.

Mulder had been though horrible experiences in this life but the next two minutes ranked up there in the top ten. It would have been a gut wrenching experience at the best of times. With blood pooled in his legs and torso and circulation restricted, Mulder seriously considered death as an option. There was nothing quite like being turned inside out, upside down, whipped and beaten in a blender. At least he’d be ready for the space program if it ever came to that.

The car finally coasted at about 80 miles per hour into the departure area, breaking with a violent jerk.

The loading area they had left forty-five minutes before was empty but the departure zone was a buzz of activity. There must have been two park employees assigned to assist each passenger and assistance they needed just to walk. Mulder’s two young things gushed about him offering a shoulder to lean on, a free night’s lodging in the park’s premium resort to recover, and a free yearly pass. But Mulder ignored all. As he staggered forward, his spinning eyes sought only the crowd of seventy or so friends and relatives who were anxiously gathered outside a roped barricade. There was Scully. She stood on the edge of the crowd, white-faced, clutching a much-mistreated carryout bag of what must have been the much discussed beef brisket. Rushing forward, she clasped him around the waist, affectively relieving him of his official damage control representatives, and led him and his rubbery legs to the nearest exit.

In the first free patch of grass he collapsed onto his knees and retched out everything he had eaten in approximately the last week.

Mulder stayed seated on the grass for some time, though a good dozen feet from where he had messed the well-manicured lawn. Scully wiped his sweaty face with a damp cool towel that had appeared miraculously from somewhere.

“Another accident?” she asked after ‘Are you sure you are all right’ to which he had not answered.

Mulder merely groaned and let his elbows rest on raised knees, limp hand dangling. The area cleared slowly. Two passengers were escorted away in wheelchairs though neither was seriously hurt.

The spin of the world had become a mild rotation when Randy, the long-legged teenager, emerged. He stopped by several of the riders many of which had lingered to get their ‘land’ legs. “You okay?” he asked Mulder crouching down. “You didn’t look so good up there.”

Mulder raised his head without enthusiasm. “Neither did you.” Then Scully saw a little spark of color rise in his gray face. “Thank you for coming so quickly. Respond to many emergencies around here, do you?”

The wary hesitation in Randy’s expression instantly cleared the last of the cobwebs from Mulder’s brain. “You have, haven’t you?”

When the teenager remained silent but gave every indication of getting ready to bolt, Scully smoothly pulled out her wallet and flashed her ID. Her movements had been rapid but not threatening. “Special Agent Dana Scully, FBI. We’re investigating the series of incidents which have occurred in the park. Your management wants to label them hate crimes. My partner,” she inclined her head towards Mulder who swayed only slightly as he got to his feet, “doesn’t think so. I’m waiting for more evidence one way or the other. You do know about the incidents?”

Seeing who they were, Randy had relaxed. Not what one would expect of a guilty man.

“We’ve all been briefed.”

“And the content of that briefing was….?” Scully asked.

“Brief. That there had been a lot of accidents. To keep our eyes open.”

“That would explain your rapid response. So other than today, how many of these accidents have you witnessed yourself?” Mulder asked.

Randy’s mouth opened mutely for a moment before he stammered, “N-None, while they were actually happening. Afterwards? A few.”

“Counting today, that’s a few plus one. It would be helpful if you could be a little more specific.”

Clearly caught and he knew it, the young man launched into his tale as if he had been rehearsing it in his sleep. By his red eyes, perhaps he had been. “There was grease fire a couple of months ago at the smokehouse while I was taking a dinner break. Just flared up, no reason. They put it out pretty quick but that kind of woke me up. I started payin’ attention to the rumors”

“What rumors specifically?” Mulder asked.

“That the park was cursed.” The fact that the boy shivered rather than display the omnipresent teenage shrug spoke louder than his soft voice of how seriously he took the situation. “After that I started noticing things. A worker fell when the leg of a ladder gave way. A dancer in one of the shows got a bad eye infection from makeup she had used a hundred times. A hyena got out one night while they were cleaning his enclosure. They found him out on the Savannah – you know, where the antelope and giraffes and African cattle hang out? He was well fed so he didn’t cause any trouble but it spooked a lot of people because the keeper swore that he chained the gate behind him and our safety record is really good about stuff like that — until recently.”

“Spooked…” Scully repeated with a tiny smile.

Mulder pointedly ignored his partner. “What about the graffiti? Have you seen it?”

The tension in the boy went up several notches. “A few times. I don’t go looking for it though I know cast members who do.”

“But you don’t,” Scully asked. “Why not?”

The boy stared at the ground. “Makes me feel funny. Guess because a couple of times, right after I see it, things happen.”

After that, they asked the boy to show them some of the places where he had seen the ‘scribbling’ as he called it. He was reluctant. He said it was his lunch break. Another flash of Scully’s badge, however, and the offer of Mulder’s beef brisket, which her partner couldn’t look at much less eat, convinced the boy though his feet dragged.

Nothing remained of the scribblings in any of the places where Randy led them during the next hour. In addition to paint on walls, he had seen signs in rapidly drying water on cement, scratches in the mud in heavy traffic areas that could not have lasted five minutes, suggestive marks in spilled ice cream that would have been rapidly cleaned away.

Mulder crouched at the last site while the boy, feeling more comfortable with them, started in on the beef as only teenage boys can. Even with his senses – normal and paranormal — stretched to their fullest, Mulder felt very little. He exchanged glances with an apprehensive Scully and shook his head. This was not going to be one of ‘those’ cases, at least not for him. But there was something.

Rising, he turned to the boy. “Randy… What is your last name?”

The boy swallowed noticeably. “Lyons,” he admitted sheepishly, ”Randy Lyons. Sounds like a character in a children’s book.”

It did, but Mulder knew better than to agree. “And how long have you worked at Wild Gardens?”

“Three years. Since I was sixteen. Started out in food service, but I hung around for years before that.”

“Well, Mr. Lyons, the management wants to get to the bottom on this and has given us freedom to commandeer whatever assistance we need. So how would you like to be our tour guide for the next couple of days?”

“Do I have a choice?” came the faint-hearted reply.

Wednesday 7pm

Mulder had refused the offering of the resort room as compensation for his ‘ordeal’. Their connecting rooms at the Best Western were better than usual and according to Mulder had a better location as it was situated just across the street from the park’s own nursery that adjoined the park itself. Besides, he told her, the hotel advertised that the park’s birds often roosted in the trees surrounding the hotel’s pool and outdoor café. As promised, as they sat sipping tropical drinks – virgin variety – a pink bird with a long curved beak strutted with brazen indifference by their table on long spindally legs.

“You don’t see those in D.C.,” Mulder remarked spearing a stuffed mushroom.

Scully actually looked relaxed despite the fact that she was still reading the various printouts they had collected throughout the day. “You’re forgiven,” she said without looking up.

“Hmmm?”

“For dragging me here.”

“It’s nice to see that I can occasionally do something right.”

“Well, your timing could be better but the case has merit.”

“So you agree that there’s more than coincidence to all this?”

Scully shrugged. “There’s something though don’t ask me what.” She gazed absently over the palms towards a stunning sunset. “Mr. Lyons seemed oddly reluctant to leave his nine-to-five herding of the tourists for our company.”

“I noticed that,” he said.

“He’s scared.”

Mulder bit a mushroom in half. “I’ve noticed that, too.”

Drinks and mushrooms were gone and the last of the sunset had passed into a deep purple rose before Scully straightened from her reading again. “Interesting,” she said, gesturing with a stack of forms so that the table’s candlelight flickered. “Mr. Lyons is mentioned in these accident reports more than any other employee.”

“As a suspect or a witness?”

“As a first responder. His personnel record is glowing. He has more experience at the park than he led us to believe. As he said, he ‘hung’ around for years before he was eligible to be hired. He had an annual pass. He followed his big brother around, who was employed here, and who eventually recommended him for a job.”

“Big brother literally?”

“Sort of. Ernest Sawyer was a Big Brother in the Big Brother program. Randy’s emergency contacts list only a mother. No father or siblings.”

“Ah, that kind of Big Brother,” Mulder said. “And why do I think that there’s more.”

“Ernest Sawyer disappeared two weeks after Randy Lyons started working at Wild Gardens.”

Mulder’s eyebrows lifted then sunk back. “I don’t see this kid as a murderer if that is what you’re inferring.”

“Don’t worry about that. He has an alibi. He was out of town. But you were right to ask; you know that you can’t always tell.” She eyed him over the report she held. “At least normal people can’t. Still nothing?”

“Nada. As I indicated earlier, my Spidey sense isn’t tingling. Just ol’ Spooky.”

Scully smiled. She had first fallen in love with ‘Spooky’ Mulder while passing a root beer during a stakeout. It had just taken her too many years to realize it.

“Coming to bed?” she asked but her implied invitation failed to penetrate. Spooky was indeed on the ascendant.

“Later.” He waved absently. “I’m going to take a walk. I want to listen to the wild life a little longer.”

He had a point, she thought, and much as she wondered if she shouldn’t stay with him, she needed her sleep even if he didn’t. It had been a long day. Still, she hesitated even as she headed towards the lobby door. Somewhere near a strange night bird trumpeted, a troop of howler monkeys chattered, exotic cattle lowed, and hyenas sang after antelope forever beyond their reach.

It was a strong, gamey scent that woke Mulder even more that the cold, rock hard surface he lay on. Something snored very low but softly and very nearby and no way was that Scully. The Dolby-deep rumble went with the warm, wet, rancid breath that touched his face.

Suspicious of unexpected surprises, Mulder tentatively opened his eyes and ever so slowly raised his head.

It was dark but an even darker dark was right in front of him. A large mound rose and fell ever so slightly with the low snoring. It was also the source of the gamey scent. The edges of the silhouette were fringed as if Mulder needed more of a hint. Lion. The wet nose of a very big, very male lion was less than ten inches from his face.

Act 3

Thursday 1am

Mulder lay very… very still. Think first, panic later. This was an especially good idea if lions, like other predators, could smell fear. How had he gotten here? This was no idle question because remembering that was probably going to show him the fastest way out.

He had been drawn by the wild night sounds. His FBI ID had gotten him though the sleepy guard at the gate. Once inside, the groundskeepers pruning by lighted helmets, the trash collectors trucking away their tons of napkins and plastic cups, the cleaning and maintenance crews paid him no mind. A city that never sleeps, just a different city than during the day. He might as well have been invisible.

Wide-awake, he was equally unnoticed as he slipped into the shadows. Restful. A barely legible sign pointed to a walking path. Something about a safari. The trees clustered closely to the path here. Occasionally, the path diverted into a cave-like entrance where only a few emergency lights glowed like gold stars. In one exhibit, fish darted behind glass as tiny phosphorescent steaks of crimson and blue only to spiral away to evade the mountainous bulk of a submerged hippo as it glided past. Further down the path within the darkness of another grotto, cat eyes glowed behind another glass wall. It was then that Mulder lost clear track of time.

He had felt suddenly tired, unbearably tired. As if in a dream, he spied a figure flitting among the shadows. A lithe body; long, straight black hair swinging, moving away from him. Not Samantha, as from his old nightmares, but another girl whose name and face came immediately to mind. Rita, the one from the seat beside him on the coaster. What was she doing here?

Though not entirely certain that he had seen her, he sprang forward to follow. He remembered a slope, trees, scrub, and bamboo hitting his face. He could hear her soft, rapid footsteps ahead but not as far ahead as before. “Rita, wait –“ he called just as he vaulted a low wall.

There had been nothing beneath his feet but darkness.

And this is where he had ended up. Could have been worse; he could have landed ON the lion.

But that was then and now was now and the great cat was shifting. It yawned, revealing a cavern protected by four-inch long incisors. Paws as big as dinner plates flexed, claws like a matched set of Swiss army knives scratching the concrete pad before the glass wall.

He didn’t dare turn his head but a movement on the other side of the glass wall, the side he should have been on, caught his attention.

The girl Rita crouched there, barely an outline in the darkness behind the glass but her face was down near Mulder’s. She raised a finger to her lips and then inclining her head began to move along the wall outside.

She clearly wanted him to follow. Covering barely a foot a minute, he began to back away from the sleeping cat, belly to the ground like a lizard. Only when he was ten feet away did he begin to rise to his feet. Half way up his skin began to itch. He froze and then at glacial speed turned his head. Two huge, golden eyes studied him lazily from within their mane of dark fur. Still half in crouch, his own eyes on those golden eyes, heart thundering, Mulder backed away a little faster. His hip hit a wall and a few feet further on found a doorway. The door, heavy metal, might as well have been a lead for all that it budged when his sweating palms pushed down on the cool, lever handle.

Fifteen feet away the lion finally blinked. Stretching incredibly sleek muscles, it began to rise. Still stretching it yawned. A huge tongue flickered over gleaming ivory teeth. Two many pounding heartbeats later, the door vibrated, oh so slightly with a metal on metal sigh behind Mulder’s back. When he pushed down on the handle this time it moved silently on well-oiled hinges. Mulder was out the door, and had thrown his weight behind it to shut it and slid home the bolt before the yawning jaws had even closed.

Limbs trembling, he slid to the ground, his back against the door. Only then did he look for the girl who must have thrown the heavy bolt. Nothing. Somehow he suspected that. Twenty minutes of a stumbling run later he pulled his cold, sweat-slick body beneath the hottest water the hotel shower could be convinced to provide. When he slipped under the sheets next to Scully at least his skin was warm though his muscles still quivered and not from the hasty trip back. Scully. Home. Questions and revelations could wait.

“Have a nice run?” she murmured sleepily.

Greedily, he wrapped his arms around her, his one rock in the universe. “I’ll tell you in the morning.”

Thursday, noon

It never occurred to her to doubt his story. They had been involved in far stranger things. While he left at dawn to meet the trace evidence team he had called to look over the area around the lion’s enclosure, Scully pursued her own research. As previously arranged, the three came together at the empty bird show arena at noon.

As Mulder told his story of the night before, he learned one thing – Randy Lyons would last about half a day if he ever seriously decided to take up a life of crime. The thin face flushed scarlet.

“Now let’s hear your version,” he asked.

“Uh, my version?” the boy stammered.

“Clearly none of this is news to you.”

In less than two minutes the young man was telling all. “I just went for a walk. I like to walk around the park at night. Some of the night watchmen slip me a little for making a round or two for them. Hey, most have families and work two or three jobs. They need the sleep. You won’t tell, will you?”

“No, we won’t ‘tell’,” Scully assured him, “but were you doing your friends a favor last night?”

“Uh, no, not last night. I just went for a walk.”

“What led you to take a walk last night?” Mulder asked in as conversational a tone as possible. “More specifically, how did you come to choose your route?”

Lyon’s mouth opened but then he hesitated at the unexpected question. After a long pause he stammered, “I don’t know… I just get these feelings sometimes. Like an itch. Like I gotta move. When I’m at work, sometimes it’s all I can do to stay at my post until my break. During the day, the feeling doesn’t usually last too long. At night I sometimes don’t get back for hours.”

Mulder felt a chill. “Did your stroll last night take you by the Safari Walk?”

Lyon looked scared. “I often do. It’s quiet. Interesting. The animals are usually active.”

“Did you see me?” Mulder snapped. “Follow me?”

The young man shrank away. “See, yes. Follow, no,” he swore his voice gathering speed. “Someone was in with the lion, crouching, backing away, and he wasn’t one of the keepers.” Long fingers clasped and unclasped nervously. “I saw whoever it was try the door but it wouldn’t open so I slid back the bolt then hid in the bushes to make sure whoever it was got out ok.”

“You didn’t know it was me?” Mulder asked.

“It was dark. Not till you stumbled out and slammed the door.”

“Why didn’t you say anything? “

The thin young man cringed. “You were already looking into things and asking questions, I didn’t know how you came to be in there. Certainly not by choice. How would it have looked? You must know that I’ve been around too many times when things happen or just after they happen. Honestly, I didn’t cause any of it. I’m just sort of there like last night. I don’t know why.” The rush of words trailed off.

Scully raised an eyebrow in her partner’s direction. “’Eau de paranormal’?” She asked knowing what he was thinking. His eyes were on the sweating teenager, however, whose acne blemishes were absolutely glowing in the dim cavern of the bird show arena.

“You aren’t by any chance a shapeshifter, are you?” he asked the boy.

Lyons stared. “A what?”

Mulder absently waved a hand. “Never mind. What about the little girl? Where did she go? I thought she was the one who pulled the bolt. You must have seen her.”

The boy shook his head, bewildered by the seemingly random question. “A girl? Around the lion’s viewing window? I didn’t see any little girl.”

Mulder’s voice tightened. “About ten years old? She was sitting next to me on the coaster and was outside the glass last night. I thought maybe she was the child of a park employee.”

“Coaster?” Randy shook his head. “There was that big man on your left, I remember him because he was so red in the face. There was no one on your right. The seat was empty. I thought that odd because front seats are almost never empty.”

Mulder stared. “You must be remembering some other emergency with a stuck coaster.”

“Oh, no. I thought having an empty seat was a good thing. One less to freak out. Besides, children that young aren’t usually tall enough for that ride.”

Mulder was fair-skinned and the light under the arena’s tarp was subdued, but Scully could still tell when all the color left her partner’s face. After forcing him to sit with his head between his knees she threw two twenties in Randy’s direction and sent him for a sweat shirt, hot coffee and food with some protein in it.

“No… no… no… no…” Mulder was moaning under his breath as she sat down and wrapped her arms around him. He was shivering. “Now I’m seeing ghosts… and hearing them and talking to them.” He raised his eyes to her. Those bloodshot orbs cut right through her the way they always did. ”I’m so sorry, Scully.”

“How is this your fault?” she asked gently knowing how much all Mulder had ever wanted since the horror of losing his sister when they were both so young was something approaching a normal life.

“I know how much you worry when I weird out on you.”

Tenderly, she stroked his sweat-matted hair. “We should have suspected this sort of thing might happen,” she told him sympathetically after what Albert told you. Do you remember?”

Two years before when this whole thing with the artifacts and the visions were just beginning, the Navajo wind talker, Albert Hosteen’s ghost had come to him or so Mulder had told her. Scully was eager and willing to believe that the whole episode had really happened if only for the comfort Mulder found in the memory. Still bowed over his knees he rocked and murmured, “That the dead talk to me because I listen.”

She leaned her cheek against his cool one. “Not that much different than the living who will talk to you for the same reason. I’ve watch these poor, suffering people open up to you for twelve years.” She kissed the top of his bent head. “Because you have an open mind… and an open heart.”

He raised his face to hers. She wished she could take the shadows from his eyes. He didn’t like being reminded that in the last few years he come far too close to being what he used to chase. “So you believe me?” he asked incredulously.

“You didn’t say that you saw this girl’s ghost. Randy’s evidence makes that the most logical conclusion, and I can’t believe I just said that.”

They were laughing, actually laughing at the black humor of it all, when Randy returned with a Save the Condor sweatshirt, two hot dogs, and a Styrofoam cup of black coffee.

“And people really can see ghosts?” the fascinated boy asked after Mulder had donned the sweatshirt. The boy’s eyes were wide and completely fearless. As Mulder was forcing down the first hot dog in an attempt to settle his stomach, Scully filled the boy in on what they investigated as part of the X-Files. “And you saw a ghost here? Do you see them all the time like that kid in the Sixth Sense?”

Mulder nearly choked on his current bite. “No. Not like the Sixth Sense. The documented instances of spirit sightings are very rare and in no way do I see them all the time. In fact this is only the second time and I’m not so sure that the first time wasn’t wish fulfillment. Besides, Rita may only be a projection, a memory, an imprint of an event that happened before, not an actual ghost.” He was not going into the actual conversation he’d had with this ‘projection’ and the fact that most people who see ghosts can’t hear them. The fact that he could made him hope profoundly that most of them didn’t have much to say.

“Regardless of what she is, the three of us need to find out why she’s here. I can’t believe that her presence and all that’s been happening is just a coincidence.”

Scully didn’t object — this was Mulder’s area of expertise after all. Neither did she protest as she would have in past years. Instead she slipped a warm and supportive hand in his.

“How can I help?” Randy asked. “I don’t see ghosts.”

“No, but you can let the spirit move you,” Mulder suggested in all sincerity.

Randy’s confusion was palpable.

“Maybe not see them, but you feel something.” Mulder paused seeking the right words. “You told me. You sense where you should go during your wanderings. You see the scribblings. You’ve often been on the spot to lend assistance when there’s an accident. That’s a gift not that much different than seeing ghosts.”

Randy sat in shock while Mulder seemed to have bounced back. Before they could talk again a few tourists sat near them. Several couples had come in under the shade to find seats for the next bird show. A man in ‘jungle’ wear and pith helmet had come out on stage to provide a little pre-show entertainment and help draw a crowd. He carried a bright red and blue macaw. When he raised his arm, it launched itself to sail gloriously above their heads.

“Let’s find a quieter place,” Mulder said rising. “With my luck it will decide to dive bomb my head.”

“I need to talk to you both anyway,” Scully said, her expression oddly expectant. “With all these new developments, I haven’t had time to fill the two of you in on the results of MY efforts this morning.”

Scully started out in the lead but then Randy’s long legs passed her. At the sight of his distracted expression the partners traded meaningful glances and eagerly followed.

Act 4

They skirted the desert-themed Timbuktu area. The sun-drenched orange clay walls sparkled all the more before a backdrop of blue-black clouds gathering on the horizon. “Afternoon thunderstorm,” Scully noted.

They passed the food and souvenir shops near the main gates, as colorful as a Moroccan market. A large auditorium detailed with white carvings and intricate patterns of blue Islamic tiles rose majestically into view. Huge, brightly colored banners advertised a show of Africa tales, larger than life puppets, music and dancing.

“There were several accidents associated with the theater,” Scully remarked nearly running now to keep up with the boy.

“And the alligator pool,” Mulder added as they passed by the fenced pond. “So does that mean we’re getting closer? We haven’t even had time to consider if this thing has an epicenter.”

Beside the pool was yet another entrance to the Safari Walk with its jewel-like fish and sleepy lions. Daylight gave it a peaceful look but Mulder shivered again anyway.

Before his paced slowed the teenager led them to a theme area they had seen only on the park map. This was ancient Egypt. Faux statues of pharaohs paraded down the single, nearly empty street. At the end of the row rising behind pylons worthy of Ramses II, snaked the cerulean blue struts of a twisting iron coaster.

Mulder’s shivers turned to sweat despite the fact that the temperature had dropped as the storm darkening sky not only veiled the sun, but swallowed it. “We seem to have come a pretty long way just to find a quiet place to chat,” Mulder quipped as he came up alongside the boy.

Randy Lyon twitched as if waking from a daydream. “Well i-it is quiet,” he stuttered as if needing to defend even to himself why he had led them here. “There’s not much to do except for the coaster and even that doesn’t draw what it should. It’s really a good suspended coaster.”

“Let’s skip the coaster this time,” Mulder suggested with a slight shudder. “Think about why we came here. What were you feeling? What were you thinking on your way here just now? Did you actually make a decision or did it seem to be made for you?”

Long fingers combed roughly through hair already spiky with sweat. “I don’t know. I don’t know if I know anything anymore,” came the uncertain reply in a voice close to tears.

Scully took pity on the boy and found them seats around a table near the sweeping entrance to the coaster where the more faint of heart could wait for the braver members of their parties. There must be brave groups up today because no one waited except for a footsore woman who watched over a toddler who played in a canvas-shaded sandpit graced by a pair of haughty stone camels.

As though still in a trace, Randy muttered softly, “I do come here a lot, but I always thought it was because it seemed a little lonely. I know that that sounds stupid.”

“Not at all,” Mulder said in his most soothing voice.

“It’s the least visited part of the park. They keep talking about what they can do to change it to help draw in the crowds but nothing ever seems to work.”

Mulder’s lips pursed for a moment in thought. “I really hadn’t meant ‘why here?’ as in this particular place. I didn’t think that there was a particular focus. I was just thinking that something might be leading you – like a leaf in the wind.” As if sensing something himself, like an itching on his skin, Mulder looked over his shoulder first in one direction, then the other. “Now I’m not so sure.”

Randy was completely out of his trance now. “But it is like that, like you said. Like a leaf blown by the wind. And at the end there is often a problem of some kind, an accident. Funny though, I’m drawn here more than anywhere else though there is hardly ever anything going on when I get here.”

Scully leaned forward. “Let me fill you in on what I learned which I haven’t even had time to tell Mulder about yet.” She gave her partner a significant look before turning back to the boy. “You were raised by a single mother, is that right? Irene Lyon?”

“Yes,” admitted the boy looking down at the ground beneath his feet. “She died earlier this year. Cancer. But what does that have to do –”

“I’m sorry for your loss but have patience. Who did she tell you your father was?”

The young man flushed even deeper if that were possible. “A married man. They were in love, she said, but he died before he could get a divorce.” His expression and tone, however, clearly indicated that he hadn’t believed that story for some years. “It’s okay. We did well enough. I had this cool Big Brother from one of those city programs, ya know?”

Scully nodded, “Yes, Ernest Sawyer.”

“Who… disappeared,” Mulder whispered, remembering. A ghost girl and a missing man. The coincidences were piling up.

Scully pulled out an enlarged photocopy of a much smaller picture. “This is a photo of Ernest when he first started working at Wild Gardens. He was about the same age as you are right now, Randy.” It was grainy picture and the subject’s hair was longer and the skin clearer, but other than that, it could have been Randy Lyon. The young man didn’t seem surprised, only very much saddened to be reminded of his missing mentor. “Did anyone ever remark on the resemblance between you two?” Scully asked.

Randy nodded slowly. “Yeah. Just one of those things and maybe that’s why Ernie chose me out of all the other boys to be a Big Brother to. I didn’t ask. I was just happy he did.”

Scully turned her attention to her partner with a look that could only mean, ‘You’re going to love this.’ To the nervous young man before her, she said, “I went digging today, Randy, and I found some things that might disturb you. Do you want me to go on?”

The young man nodded though his hands were balled into fists.

“Your mother couldn’t tell you who your father was because you don’t have a father in the conventional sense. Irene Lyon was single though she badly wanted a child. Unfortunately, she was also infertile. She, therefore, purchased an embryo, an egg already fertilized, and had it implanted.”

Now Randy seemed more confused than anything. “I don’t understand.”

“A couple in Ohio had problems conceiving in the conventional way and went the in vitro fertilization route. A couple of rounds of fertility drugs then they harvested her eggs and fertilized them in a petri dish with her husband’s sperm. There were more than she needed for one pregnancy unless she wanted a really big family all at once, so they froze the extra embryos. According to my research, over a period of eight years this couple gradually sold the extras off.”

Randy’s pale eyes could not have been open wider.

“I had to call in a lot of favors but I eventually confirmed that you and Ernest were both the result of that one round of fertilization.” Randy wasn’t even breathing now. “Therefore we know that you were at least full brothers. Often they allow the eggs to undergo a few divisions before freezing,” Scully went on in the same even but compassionate tone. “It aids in their viability. Therefore, it’s not outside the realm of possibility, especially considering the high degree of resemblance between the two of you, that one or more eggs split entirely.”

Mulder’s eyebrows were arched to his hairline. “Twins, identical twins,” he breathed, “but born five years apart.”

Scully nodded. “Possible, and yet impossible to prove without a DNA sample from Ernest.”

Mulder turned to Randy who was taking in air again but in strangled little sips. “Identical twins, At least possible. Do you know what that means? It begins to explain how you and Ernie found each other, how you were drawn to each other –“

“But he’s dead.”

“No one else seems sure of that but you.”

Randy’s head drooped. “I just know. I knew then. I know now. And he wouldn’t have just gone without saying good- bye.”

Mulder’s undivided attention could sometimes be unnerving and the boy squirmed. “You say that you feel that Ernest is dead, but you’re still here. I would think the Park would hold too many sad memories for you. Have you even considered moving on?”

The young man clutched long fingers into fists between his knees. “Tried to. The Mouse would have taken me, Disney, to you. But I couldn’t stay away. Lasted a week.”

“And you feel as if you are ‘maneuvered’ around this place. Randy,” Mulder said intently, “could Ernest be not quite ‘gone’? Do you know what I mean? In your midnight rambles about the quiet park is it possible that you can still ‘feel’ him?”

Scully’s lips opened in warning but she didn’t speak. Mulder had said enough already.

Before Randy Lyons could answer an explosion – BURST – directly over their heads. All three jumped to their feet, the air crackling about them. The storm had rolled in over the park and they had been so involved in their conversation that none of them had noticed. Now lightning flashed about them in a world gone suddenly dark without it. Thunder cracked and CRACKED again to roll off in BOOOMING echoes. And then the hail came, tiny bouncing pellets, followed closely by the rain that within seconds became a deluge. It came down so strongly that sheets of water ran off the table umbrella under which they huddled. It was as if they stood within a dimly lit cylinder of flowing silver. A fine mist even found its way through the thick canvas fabric.

There was no continuing their conversation over the deafening roar of the storm. Scully gesticulated to the much taller Randy. She seemed concerned about the people that might still be on the coaster.

“Don’t worry!” he screamed above the incredible drumming of the rain. “First sign of lightning, they shut ‘em down!” His last two words were much clearer as the cloudburst backed off from a nearly-impossible-to-shout-over level to just very difficult. At the same time, breaks developed in the sheets of water cascading around them. Then another sound broke through, a series of uneven screams. A figure broke out from a small knot of people clustered around the covered entrance to the Egyptian coaster’s loading area. It was a girl of about twelve, skinny to the point of emaciation especially since her scanty T-shirt and shorts were so wet that a bikini would have been more concealing. Her sodden brown hair looked as if it had been painted on. She screamed as she splashed barefoot through ankle deep puddles. Their plaza seemed to be a collecting point for a significant area.

They finally were able to make out the words that she was hysterically screaming, “Grandmere! Grandmere! Help!” in what was clearly a French accent.

All three, the agents as well as Randy, good park employee as he was, ran out into the still considerable rain to go to the girl’s assistance. It was Mulder’s right foot that twisted on a step hidden by the rising lake of runoff.

He had barely had time to catch his balance after the shot of intense pain before he found Scully at his side.

Speech being still difficult over the rumbling thunder and pouring rain, he waved her away. She gestured to a kind of small, enclosed porch underneath one of the buildings. By the time Mulder had limped under its shelter — a far better refuge than the table umbrella had been — she had returned if only long enough to shout, “The girl’s grandmother can’t catch her breath. Randy and I will stay with her until the EMT’s can get here. It may be a while with the storm.”

“I’m fine,” he assured her but she was already disappearing into the rain and the kind of steamy fog created when rain suddenly pounds sun-baked sidewalks. He was thinking how beautiful his Scully was, even soaking wet, when light and sound exploded together and skies opened up once more. Instinctively, Mulder stumbled back farther under the porch. The downpour was steady now, more regular than the white noise of heavy ocean surf. It wrapped around him like sudden dark as the lowering sky brought on the gloom of twilight when it should have been midday.

He had been standing less than a minute engrossed by the deluge when Mulder felt the familiar ice trickle down his spine. There was something, something so strong that it touched him despite sensation and sound and sight overwhelmed by the sudden cold of the violent storm and the preternatural dark.

“Yer ankle, okay?”

He wasn’t the least surprised to find the slender Hispanic girl beside him. She was perfectly dry and in the gloom seemed almost to glow.

“Yes, hardly hurts at all,” he answered, which was the truth. “Did you do that? And the storm, too?”

She laughed. It was as if the crystal sound came from the bottom of a well. “Who do you think I am? I had to wait for that.” Her expression turned smugly proud, ”But aye, CAN push here and there.”

“I’ll bet you can. So all those ‘accidents’ they were yours? And the writing on the walls.”

“Not the writing, but the rest, yeah. I didn’t hurt anyone.”

“You almost did the last time.”

She gave sulky frown. “Didn’t exactly mean that, but he wouldn’t hear. He wouldn’t pay attention. That’s why I had to start in the first place.”

“Who didn’t pay attention?”

“That big boy you’ve been talking to.”

“Randy?” Mulder asked, not surprised. “And what should he have been paying attention to?”

“The writing.”

“Which you don’t do.”

“His brother does.”

Mulder felt the warmth in his chest of a theory proven. “Is Ernest dead?”

“Ernie? Oh, yeah. He’s with me.”

“Lot’s of ghosts here?” Mulder asked peering into the twilight dark beyond of pelting rain. He was immediately sorry he’d asked because as if in answer he could see them. Little dim flames.

“Parks like this have lots of child ghosts. It’s like heaven, that’s why they come.” He supposed that it would be. “You should see Disneyland. You can hardly move but you’ll trip over one.”

Mulder’s stomach went queasy. On a couple of levels here was a thought he would have been happy to do without. “So you’ve been around for a while. You can actually move around from park to park?”

She shrugged. “Oh, yes. Besides Disney’s not that far. I like it here best because I like the animals. Besides, Ernie can’t move. He was too old when he died, you see.”

“Where is Ernie?” Mulder asked with some hesitation.

“Here.”

He looked around. There were just the faux plaster walls of the porch. “Here?”

“There.” She was gesturing with her head. There was an old announcement on the wall behind him, now faded, advertising some sort of attraction and beside him what he had taken in the gloom to be a cement pillar like the rest of the structure were hastily installed plywood panel painted to blend in. Their colors mellowed with dust, they were clearly blocking an old entrance. Like the words behind him, this ‘wall’ had been in place some time.

Horrible despair filled in. Ghosts of his own Samantha and the years of not knowing. Not a soul knew about this. He ripped at the panels, barely hearing the sound of the destruction over the still-beating rain. Besides, it wasn’t hard. The blockage was intended only as a temporary construction.

After the incident with the lion, he had slipped a pocket flash into his pocket; he pulled it out now and dove into the black hole.

Without the flash there would have been no light at all. The walls were concrete or stucco but painted to look like stone. The tunnel twisted and turned and sloped downward, ever downward. Images began to show up on the walls. Men and women in straight black wigs, males in short kilts and women wrapped in nearly transparent gauze. Scenes of eating and fishing and harvesting grain. Beast-headed gods. Of course, reproductions of ancient Egyptian tomb reliefs. More turns. Sconces lined the walls but the fake torches in them were dark. Finally the tunnel opened into a much larger and very damp space. Below him on the floor of a dank, open space the size of modest-sized auditorium, the pin-point beam of his flash found a large carved box. Passing the light back and forth he finally identified the object as a sarcophagus. Of course, faux tomb; faux burial chamber.

“It was a simulator ride,” the girl said not so much from beside him as inside his head. “See those rooms going off to the sides? That’s where they went in to fill in the seats row by row. The projection equipment was removed even before my time.”

That was where she led him, to one of those rooms where the silent chairs still sat silently bolted to platforms that would buck and tilt and sway in time to the graphics on the huge projection screens. Now they just sat staring at nothing, eerie reminders of what once transported patrons on falcon back across mountains, on Nile barges struggling through a storm, into the magnificent halls of the divine Pharaoh, flying down a rocky slope towards an enemy army as a charioteer.

Wrapped as a mummy and locked in a tomb? Mulder mused.

She led him behind where the projection screen must have stood. They had been doing some work here at one time, digging and demolishing. Intent on trying to make out the pictures on the walls with his little light, Mulder didn’t see the edge of the pit.

The floor simply fell away. Great slabs of poured concrete were just gone, sucked into the black. A step back, the weak ankle turned. He fell and kept falling. Too far. Way too far to survive if he landed on ragged edges of the broken floor.

Act 5

Thursday, 2pm

He fell into water, inky, silent water like being swallowed by a slumbering whale.

He came up sputtering who knew where in water that was only chest high. Of course his flash was gone. Black it was. Cavern black. Rita’s voice drifted across the water like the thin piping of a bird calling to him to swim to her. On the far side of the pool, which was not very far, his hands and feet found a waist high shelf of crumbling dirt and mud that overlay one of the fallen slabs on concrete. He didn’t hurry, but searched slowly, reaching out further and further. He was only a few feet from the water when his questing hands found what he had more or less expected the find. The bodies, or perhaps more rightly the skeletons, for they were mostly bone. Some brittle tendons still held them together, that and a little tattered cloth. The long shinbones of Ernest Sawyer, Randy’s five-year senior ‘twin’ and the much smaller bird-like bones of a child, where intertwined as they lay at the end, wrapped together for warmth or perhaps just for comfort.

Mulder shivered and not only because it was indeed surprisingly cold down here.

“What happened?” he asked, unconcerned that there should rightly have been no one to ask much less respond.

And there was silence for a time, and then a voice began, Rita’s small, matter-of-fact voice.

“I was a throw-away child.” The statement was ever so slightly bitter. “I was fostered at first but Mom died in prison so orphaned after that. I lived in a group home.” The thin words seemed to take on more weight. “They mix the kids around now and again between the homes. You lose the bullies you know but you lose what friends you were able to make, too. The switch was to happen at the park that time. I didn’t like my situation much and didn’t expect the new place to be much better. But I loved the park so I was happy to go.” Her voice lightened. “It’s like being in a fairytale in the park. I didn’t want to leave. I especially didn’t want to leave when I saw who was in my new group. I knew her from before; she was a mean one. So when they weren’t looking I ran away.”

“How did you get all the way down into here?” he asked. As softly as he spoke, his voice was too loud among the dripping echoes.

“Hid. There were no boards up at the entrance then, just some yellow tape, I remember that, but I didn’t know what it was there for and it was easy to just duck under. It wasn’t entirely dark then. There were a few lights up near the top but also lots of shadows. I had talked to the big boy running the coaster before when we waited in line. That was Ernie. Later, he told me that he had just gone on break when he saw me sneak away from the group that by that time was made up of all the kids from all the houses. He saw me run in there. He didn’t want me to get into trouble so he didn’t tell anyone, just came in after me.” Her voice went even thinner and sadder and seemed to echo from wall to ceiling to lake. “It was my fault. I heard him coming after me and I ran and I ran. I ran in here looking for someplace to hide. I started falling, he tried to catch me.” There was a long pause. “There was more water then but still we couldn’t climb out. We tried, we shouted but no one came. No one knew we were here. We waited and we waited. I was very hungry but Ernie kept me warm.”

During the story Mulder had found an almost dry place a few feet away from the sad grouping and now tried to make himself comfortable. Bodies this old didn’t frighten him but he was wet and cold and sitting in black as black as pitch. “So you go above,” he said into nothing his voice echoing with that of dripping water. “You trip up people and try to get people’s attention because you’re good at it and Ernie isn’t. All Ernie can do is squiggle on walls.”

“No, all Ernie can do it make his friend squiggle on walls.”

Mulder’s eyebrows lifted. “Randy’s been doing that?”

“He doesn’t remember. He doesn’t know how hard Ernest has been trying to get him to find us.”

“Randy sensed something. The message just wasn’t clear.”

“Ernie only wants his friend to know and his family to know what happened to us. Then I think he will go away,” said the child ghost almost wistfully.

“Will you be lonely then?”

“A little but I have other friends now. Everywhere. You saw them.”

The little gray veils of mist in the rain. Yes, he had seen them. They had reminded him of Samantha and her friends playing in the meadow that last and final time. Finally safe from harm.

“Besides, maybe you’ll be my friend, when you die.” Her voice seemed to fade away till it was just a tiny, tiny whisper. “Because you’re never going to get out of here either, are you? Maybe I didn’t do such a good thing.”

She didn’t speak again. Maybe she went topside to make more mischief.

After a time, Mulder realized that the dark about him was not quite so absolute unless it was just his starved optic nerves playing tricks. Here and there he thought he could make out the faintest bioluminescent glow. Algae and fungi will do that, some rocks – and decaying bodies. He could almost see the two now, the little girl in the young man’s arms. In time he made out more. A little ways up on a slab of concrete rakishly tilted towards the lip of the pit were scratches. From fingers worn to the bone from the young man’s fruitless attempts, over and over, to climb out and save them both?

Then for just out of the corner of his eye, just for a moment, he thought he could make out an outline as if the finest web of an Egyptian veil covered the long limbs of a tall young man who sat forlornly by the pool. Long arms rested on raised knees. The image’s face radiated an expression of infinite sadness. The young man looked a lot like Randy Lyon.

They sat and it seemed, regarded each other for a long time.

Perhaps half an hour later, not so very long, Mulder seemed to sense the smallest of vibrations though the cold, hard slab of stone under his butt. In reaction his head came up. When he looked back Ernest had gone on his way.

Because of course it was Scully. In less than a minute he heard her beautifully irritated voice and Randy’s tremulous one shouting his name. She had come for him as he knew she would. He had never had the slightest doubt. The beams of the two powerful floodlights, crossing distantly over the vault of the ceiling above the sink hole, provided just enough light to force the glow of the bones back into the black from which they are emerged just for him.

Epilogue

Thursday 7pm

It was early evening before they brought the bodies up. Mulder was actually the last to come out having elected to keep vigil until equipment that could handle the fragile skeletons correctly could be brought in. In the pale warmth of the setting sun he finally shrugged off the blanket, Scully had thrown down to him.

Randy Lyon stood against the wall of the porch, his face nearly unrecognizable in his grief. He had been able to identify Ernest’s remains, from what scraps of clothing remained and a ring.

“He didn’t need to put himself through that,” Scully reported. “Ernest Sawyer’s name tag was still pinned to what was left of his shirt.”

“But he did,” Mulder disagreed knowing a thing or two about closure himself. “What was going on down there? Where did the hole come from?”

“Sinkhole. They’re all over Florida. That’s why the ride was closed down. It is only opened now for a quarterly risk assessment. The girl slipped in during one of those. Ernest must have seen her cross the yellow warning tape and went in after her. The unfortunate part is that he clearly didn’t let anyone know where he was going. They were locked in when the engineers packed up and went home.

“What were you able to find out about our runaway?” Mulder asked tilting his head to the sun as he stretched weary neck muscles.

Scully consulted a small pocket notebook. “Rita is her name, as she said. Rita Hernandez. Orphaned at seven. A young aid named Amanda Cosetti has been taken into custody.”

Mulder whistled. “You work fast. It’s been what, four hours?”

Scully shrugged. “You had the girl’s first name and we knew the exact date when Ernest Sawyer worked his last shift. The Park also keeps good records of its charity work. They routinely sponsor daytrips for group homes. Within two minutes after I pulled out my badge at Theresa’s House and started asking questions this young woman was practically sobbing in my arms. She was that anxious to confess. Two years ago she had been only sixteen and this was her first job. She misplaced one of her charges the very first week. She was terrified. The transfer process was so lax and the paperwork so routinely sloppy that it was just too easy to make her mistake go away. She made it look to the group Rita should have gone with that she had elected to return to Theresa’s. The staff at Theresa’s thought she had transferred. So no one knew.”

“Except for your Amanda.” Mulder sighed. Such a waste. “What will she be charged with?”

“Reckless endangerment. Maybe manslaughter. Nothing more. The charges are the least of her problem. She’s a mess. She needs therapy. It’s a horrible outcome for her, worse than even her worst fears, but at least she can start getting the help she needs.”

At that moment Randy stumbled by, vaguely following in the path of the coroner’s van but with no serious desire to catch up to it.

Mulder reached out and touched his arm as he passed. “Can we help?”

Tears still ran down the scarred face. “I just feel empty. Like I said, I knew something was really wrong, but always felt Ernie was still with me somehow. Not now. Now there’s just this big hole.”

“He was with you,” Mulder assured the young man. “You were his lifeline, literally. His link to the living world through your bond of blood though neither of you were aware of that connection. As I remember, you were out of town the week he went missing.”

“I was training at our sister park in Virginia. I suddenly felt horrible. Couldn’t breathe, couldn’t get warm. I collapsed. They took me to the hospital. I was there for days but no one could figure out what was wrong.” Randy pounded fist into palm in his anguish. “Why didn’t I know!”

“How could you? How could anyone? If the two of you – twins, probably identical twins – had shared a life together, a womb, a home, and not been separated by distance and years, then you may have been able to interpret what you were feeling.”

“In the end it was all for nothing. Useless.”

“No,” Mulder said gently, “Not useless at all. The writing on the walls? You did that, Rita told me. Ernest working through you, trying to communicate. He just wasn’t very good at it. Rita stepped in to help then. It was a bit of a rough touch at times, but she was only trying to help the only one who had ever tried to help her.”

“But the writing didn’t mean anything. And you found him, I didn’t.”

“But the writing brought us here,” Scully said gently. “A trail of accidents alone wouldn’t have.”

“So if I helped so much why am I so empty?” the young man sulked.

“He’s gone,” Mulder said.

Randy’s eyes were pleading. “Where?”

“To the place where souls go who are at peace,” Scully replied aware of the approval in her partner’s eyes. “You did that.” she told them both.

Randy wandered away, head bowed, looking as lost and forlorn as a person can. They watched with concern. About a hundred feet away just as he ducked under the yellow caution tape keeping the paying patrons away from the site, a family rushed into the area, father, mother and three children ranging in age from roughly ten to fifteen. Their faces were grim. Seeing Randy, they stopped abruptly, their expressions opening in a kind of shock.

“Who…?” Mulder asked though he thought he could guess just by the silhouette of the oldest child, a boy, who had reached out to take Randy by the hand and then to clasp him in a frantic hug.

Scully’s small smile was wistful. “When I was doing my investigating this morning – was it only this morning? –,” I contacted Ernest’s family. Ernest was their eldest. After they saw how well he turned out they purchased the rest of the fertilized eggs from the in vitro procedure that produced Randy and Ernest. They wanted Ernest to have siblings. There were no more identical twins that we know of, but Randy has another full brother and two full sisters now in addition to who knows how many children the original couple had.”

Surrounded by his new family, grief mingling with a shy happiness all around, Randy looked back over his shoulder at the agents and gave them a watery smile. Scully took Mulder’s hand. “And they are good people. They nurtured a son who was not only a Big Brother to his own brother and sisters but to Randy and to other fatherless boys as well.”

“And who gave his life trying to save a lonely little girl.”

“You do good work, Mulder.”

“We do good work,” he corrected and kissed her.

She cringed dramatically at the stagnant pool smell that clung to his damp clothes. “After you shower and change – how about we take in a coaster?”

“Maybe after some food and a little – “ he smiled wickedly “— aperitif?”

She led him off as eager to get to the ‘aperitif’ as he was. She, therefore, didn’t notice when he looked up once more at the blue coaster, it’s evening lights just coming on.

“What’s up?” she asked well aware of her pun. Because he had told her about what he had thought may have been little gray ghosts in the storm, she asked more soberly, “Wondering how many little soul lights you’ll be able see from up there?”

“Actually, no. I was calculating the airtime in that big drop. As far as seeing Rita and her friends, I think I can safely say that that particular door is closed to me and I hope will remain closed.”

“But you saw them and you helped,” she said. Then she asked with some hesitation, “In general, did they seem to be having a good time?”

“Oh, yes,”

“And that’s a good thing?” she asked taking his hand.

“That’s a very good thing.”

The End

Author’s note: As with many of my stories, I base my setting on a real place. Wild Gardens is based, very closely at times, on Busch Gardens in Tampa. It does have an African theme with lots of animals, a Congo River ride, a new coaster that that strange shovel type car, wonderful beef brisket, and an Egyptian area with a blue coaster and, yes, a boarded up attraction that was once a simulator ride. Also, I love theme parks. Years ago I co-wrote a short story about Mulder’s first trip to a theme park which took place in my family’s favorite park, Busch Gardens in Williamsburg.

How Mulder Forgot the Most Romantic Day of the Year (and lived to tell the tale)

How Mulder Forgot the Most Romantic Day of the Year

(and lived to tell the tale)

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He couldn’t believe he’d done it. It was arguably the worst crime he’d ever committed in their 14-year partnership. Even when he was up to his neck in heartfelt guilt over the myriad of agonies she’d had inflicted on her by the consortium, he still had a clear conscience that at least he hadn’t directly been involved. This time, though, the consortium — old Smokey, Charlie, even that goose-stepping Strughold — were nowhere in sight. It had been him, all him and nothing but him.

He’d forgotten Valentine’s Day.

On a good day, a day when he could calmly look back — say twenty or thirty years in the future — he could convince himself that it wasn’t really his fault he forgot. VCS had gone to Skinner, there was a kidnapping in the Midwest that looked like similar kidnappings in recent months. Six and seven year old girls had been taken. So far no bodies had turned up but it was in the back of everyone’s mind that it would just be a matter of time before the body count started. Surprisingly, that had not been the case. So, while Scully waited back in DC for the call to do some particularly gruesome slicing and dicing, he had flown out with a cadre of agents to assist the Kansas City Regional Office in their investigation and hunt for the missing girls.

The fourteenth of February had dawned just one more day in a seemingly endless case. But luck had been on their side and the farmhouse twenty miles outside KC had been raided, all three girls had been found — miracle of miracles, unharmed. The press conference was set up within hours of arresting the perpetrator — a grade school janitor who had been fired months before — and getting the girls to the hospital and the reunions with their families. All agents were required to attend — the Bureau needed all the brownie points it could get with the press in the days of Senate and House investigations. Mulder had showered, still going on only two short catnaps in a little over 48 hours, and put on a fabulous display for the media types. Wolf Blitzer had even joked that the country’s hearts where with the good guys and it still didn’t register with him why hearts would matter so much.

When the press conference broke, he’d found his way back to the hotel. The message light was blinking on the phone on the nightstand, but in his sleep-deprived state he’d ignored it as he collapsed face first on to the bed. He awoke as one of the agents was pounding on his door, telling him they were going to be late for the airport if he didn’t get a move on.

They’d taken the red-eye back to DC. He arrived at Dulles at the unholy hour of 1:25 am. Rather than wake Scully, he’d grabbed a cab — paying through the nose for the ride to Georgetown. He climbed the steps to their townhouse and wearily entered. As he stood at the bottom of the stairs leading to their bedroom all the energy seeped from his body. He turned right, dropped his briefcase on an armchair and with his coat still on, laid down on the sofa and was fast asleep before his head fully rested on the couch pillow.

When he woke up from the light streaming in their front window, he found his shoes off his feet, a blanket thrown over him and the smell of coffee in the kitchen. He wandered toward the wondrous elixir, shedding his overcoat and suit coat and tie as he went. There was a note on the fridge from Scully. She’d been called to Quantico to sub for a pathology teacher out with the flu. She promised to be home on time for dinner. Not a word about the preceding holiday, nothing to clue him in at all.

He showered, thought about calling in ‘asleep’, but opted to go to the office. Before he even got to the elevator, his cell phone had gone off — Skinner’s assistant Kim was calling him up to a meeting to discuss the recently completed case. He pushed the up button on the elevator and rode in silence with the rest of the occupants.

Once in Skinner’s outer office, he noticed a distinct floral aroma and saw a bouquet of roses gracing Kim’s usually tidy but bland desk. “Nice flowers,” he’d commented as she winked and ushered him into the inner sanctum, where he was soon required to report in detail on the actions of the previous four days. All thought of the flowers and their potential meaning were completely wiped from his mind.

The meeting lasted so long that Skinner had Kim send out for sandwiches. They broke once and Mulder high tailed it to the men’s room. Not paying attention to anything but his business, he couldn’t help but overhear a few of the other agents complaining about how long the wait had been at a specific upscale restaurant the night before and how the wait staff seemed to clear the table in a hurry, almost rushing diners out the door. That was the first time it occurred to him that something was amiss. It sounded like the place was overbooked. That usually happened only on the weekends. The night before had been a weeknight, he was sure of it. He even checked his watch and saw that yes, it was Thursday the fifteenth, just as he’d thought. Something about that date tickled against the back of his mind, but he shook his head and promptly busied himself with washing his hands before returning to his meeting.

The rest of the meeting was mind numbing in its attention to detail. Every action, every scrap of data, every lead was agonized over in an attempt to quantify the rare success where everyone was alive. The case against the perpetrator had to be airtight before it was handed over to the Kansas City US District Attorney’s office for prosecution. It was nearly eight o’clock when Skinner finally agreed that they had done enough for one day and everyone was free to go home for the night.

Mulder dragged his body up out of the chair at Skinner’s conference table and headed for the elevators. He thought briefly about making a quick stop at their basement office, but decided against it. Scully had promised she would be home for dinner, he only prayed that meant she was planning on preparing said dinner for the two of them. So, with a mind fogged with repeated facts about a case he would just as soon file away in the drawer and a body still suffering serious sleep depravation, not to mention hunger pangs, Fox Mulder finally found himself on the way home.

Scully indeed had dinner on the table. It was beef stew, canned. She had added some celery and some Worcestershire sauce, but it wasn’t exactly what he had hoped to find. Still, the grumbling in his stomach was loud enough that he finished his plate in no time flat. If Scully had made dinner table talk, he would have been able to pass a polygraph that he hadn’t been present in the room, he was that tired. With a kiss to the crown of her head, he mumbled something resembling ‘thanks’ and headed up to their bedroom where he just barely managed to shuck his clothes before crawling under the covers and falling into a deep and dreamless sleep at just barely nine o’clock p.m.

So it was that Mulder didn’t even come to find out about his most serious of omissions until Friday, the sixteenth of February. Again, Scully was called to fill in at Quantico. Since it would take her a full hour (due to rush hour traffic around the Capitol City) to get to her eight o’clock class, she left while Mulder was still sawing logs. He awoke to the alarm, showered, gulped down a cup of coffee that Scully had left warming in the kitchen and hurried off to work, blissful in his ignorance.

He always hated coming to their office when Scully was off somewhere else, even if he knew exactly where she was. The office seemed darker, colder without her. He looked up through their ‘window’ high on the basement wall — it was gray outside, more than likely a harbinger of snow. He put his coat on the hook, picked up the mail from in front of the door and was sorting through it as he walked around to sit down at his desk. When he sat on something — something that crinkled under his dress pants, he quickly got up and stared down at his chair.

A plain white envelope, not business sized but the kind cards came in, lay slightly wrinkled on the seat of his chair.

Putting down the mail in his hands, he gingerly picked up the envelope. There was no writing on the outside, but holding it up to his nose he detected Scully’s signature perfume — one he’d given her for Christmas. A love note? At the office? They weren’t above such little endearments around the house, but at the office where anyone could walk in and see it?

As if feeling the eyes of some intruder upon him, he glanced fearfully at the door. No one in sight. Still, he walked over and shut the door solidly before daring to open the envelope.

What he found caused his blood to freeze and his heart to stop beating. It was a card. A Valentine, to be exact. And to make matters much worse, it wasn’t a card that she found going through the selection at the local card shop. No, she had made this one, using their computer and color printer at home.

The card was simple. Two heart outlines, interlocked in the corner. A simple red border. No frills. No doves and rainbows. Classic. Even the font for the words was pure, direct. No curlie-ques and lace. Just words that went straight to his soul.

“To My Partner

My Love”

On the inside it continued: “Mulder, you are the joy of my heart, the love of my life, the man of my dreams, the center of my world.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Love forever and always,

Your Scully”

Valentine’s Day? Oh, shit on a shingle — VALENTINE’S DAY! He’d freakin’ completely forgot about Valentine’s Day! And what was worse, Scully had remembered. When they’d first become intimate, when they took that gigantic step and admitted their feelings to themselves and each other, he’d made a vow to himself. He would never become his father. He remembered running home on Valentine’s Day as a child so that he could present his mother with his own hand drawn creation. He also remembered that his card and his alone was the only way she could mark the occasion. Even before Samantha was taken, his father was never one for public displays of affection. No roses, no cards, no candlelit dinners for two at some quiet little seafood place on the Vineyard. Never for his mother. But he vowed that he would do better by his Scully.

He was torn between rage at himself and grief for what he had done to Scully when there was a loud knock on his door. “Agent Mulder, are you in there?” boomed Skinner’s voice.

Mulder opened the door, card still clutched in his hand. Skinner stood there a moment, regarding him coolly. “Mulder, is something wrong? You look — did someone die? Not Mrs. Scully . . .”

“No, no sir, nothing like that,” Mulder said brokenly. “C’mon in.” He went around to his chair once more and sat down despondently.

“If no one died — Mulder, what did you do?” Skinner asked tersely, his arms crossed.

Mulder handed over the card without a word. Skinner scanned the card, looked his agent over once again and slowly shook his head. “Don’t tell me — you forgot Valentine’s Day?”

Mulder’s answer was to prop his elbows on his desk and cover his face with his hands.

Skinner propped his hip on the edge of the desk, laying the card down on the blotter. “Valentine’s Day was Wednesday, Mulder. You’ve been home for a full day since then.”

“I know,” Mulder whimpered through his fingers.

“It’s the same day every year. I mean it’s not like they hide the date or any-thing,” Skinner rambled on.

“I know, I know, I know. There were clues, I just didn’t pick up on any of them. Kim’s flowers, the guys in the toilet talking about the wait at Michel Richard Citronelle on a Wednesday night, the fact that Scully got home early enough to make dinner and all I got was canned beef stew — ” He raised his face from his hands, his expression one of total dismay. “Walter, I really effed it up good this time.”

Skinner nodded his head in total agreement. “Mulder, you have to do some-thing. If Scully is pissed at you — ”

“My life is in the toilet,” he said, rubbing his face briskly and leaning back in his chair. “I’m fielding all suggestions at this point.”

“Flowers,” Skinner said firmly.

“Total cliche. I refuse to be the guy who has to bring her flowers because he for-got the anniversary.”

“Candy?”

He glared at his boss, who quickly relented.

“Oh, yeah, last year’s near tragic bon-bon poisoning. Forgot about that one. OK, diamond jewelry!”

“Walt, I forgot Valentine’s Day — I didn’t sleep with a Hill staffer! Besides, I have to have something to give her for her birthday in a week.”

Skinner put his hand on Mulder’s shoulder. “Look, you just completed a very im-portant and very stressful investigation. You’re owed some flex time. Take it. Get out of here right now — that gives you most of the day. And don’t show your face until you make this up to her — preferably by Monday at 8 am. Got that?”

Mulder looked up gratefully at his superior. “I’ll consider that an order, sir,” he said with a wistful expression.

On his way home, he panicked. This was more than just a casual ‘oh, yeah, it is February 14, isn’t it?’ This was a screw up that could potentially lead to disaster. Today, Valentine’s Day, tomorrow would he forget to kiss her goodbye or would they tumble into bed and not even touch hands before falling to sleep? It wasn’t the big things that drove wedges between people, it was often an accumulation of little things that built up over time, much like the Grand Canyon started as a little trickle of water. Well, their trickle was going to stop, if he had anything to do with it!

He knew that Scully wasn’t the hearts and flowers kind of girl that a lot of women were. She was no nonsense in her outlook on romance. Lacy black teddies and satin sheets never made an appearance in their sex life. Even so, in Mulder’s humble opinion, she _deserved_ hearts and flowers and rose petals covering the bed and scented baths with candles surrounding —

An idea was starting to form in the back of his mind. He’d have to make a few stops first, but he was sure he could pull it off in the time allotted. But he would definitely need to call for back up.

Mulder and Scully’s residence

6:35 pm

Scully pulled the car into the parking space off the alley and sighed. She’d com-pletely forgotten how tiring teaching could be. She’d been on her feet all day long, and when she’d taken half an hour for a lunch break, one of the recruits had tracked her down in the cafeteria for an impromptu tutoring session on blood splatter patterns. All she wanted to do was crawl into a nice hot tub and stay there until Monday.

She noticed Mulder had beaten her home. Poor guy — he’d been exhausted since his return from the case out in Kansas City. Both of them were going to sleep in on Saturday, if she had anything to say in the matter! She grabbed her briefcase and wondered if Mulder would have had the presence of mind to call for a pizza. No, probably not. She debated dialing as she walked, but decided she wouldn’t be able to juggle the cell phone, her briefcase and the back door all at once. The pizza could wait till she got to the phone in the kitchen.

She was fumbling for the right key when she saw the post it note stuck to the glass of the storm door. “Use the front entrance,” it read in Mulder’s distinctive scrawl. Oh dear. What had he done to the kitchen? It must have been bad if he was shooing her away from the scene of the crime. She sighed and headed around to the front of the duplex by the little sidewalk that bordered the house.

There was another note on the front door. It read “shed your coat and briefcase and follow the hearts — clothing optional” and had a large arrow complete with ‘feathers’ pointing up the stairs. Scully smiled to herself and hung up her coat, placing the briefcase on the little table by the door. Slipping off her shoes, she crept up the stairs, avoiding the step that squeaked. Along the way she took note of several red construction paper hearts with paper lace doilies. They looked like the work of the average 10 year old, but she sensed her partner’s artistic talents in the endeavor. She started to head to their bedroom when she heard the water lapping in the bathroom and saw the very large heart taped to the door. There were several aromas coming from behind the closed door, not the least of which appeared to be roses.

She opened the door and was immediately entranced by the glimmering sight before her. Several dozen votive candles sparkled in tiny glass cups on every flat surface of the room. Rose petals were scattered all over the floor, a vase with at least a dozen blood red roses graced the vanity. There was a champagne bucket with a wine bottle chilling next to the tub. And in the tub sat her partner up to his chest in water, sipping from a wine flute and nibbling a piece of shrimp.

“Scully, lose the clothes. You’re chillin’ the mood here,” he chided. “Hurry, be-fore the water gets cool!”

She didn’t need to be told twice. In just a few seconds she’d escaped the confines of her business suit and had returned to lower herself into the fragrant water of the tub. “Mulder, there are rose petals,” she whispered in awe as her hands skimmed the delicate pink and red blossoms floating atop the water.

He busied himself with her champagne flute. “There’s more food in the bed-room. Some brie, some fruit, nothing heavy. Oh, and for after our bath.” He fished around in the water and pulled up a tube of massage oil, warming in the water.

“You finally remembered Valentine’s Day,” she said with a loving smile.

“The most romantic day of the year? How could I forget? I’m partnered with the most beautiful woman in the world. A guy would have to be a total cad to forget Valentine’s Day when he gets to spend it with you, Scully. Admittedly it’s a couple of days off the calendar — but here, tonight, it’s Valentine’s Day.”

She leaned against him, her back to his chest and sipped her wine. “OK, Mulder. You’re forgiven. This time.”

“I sense a ‘but’ coming . . .” he countered.

“No, I’m just wondering how in the world you’re going to top this — for my birth-day next week.”

She wasn’t sure if the groan was from the kiss she bestowed on him but she de-cided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

the end

First Star to the Right

First Star To The Right

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**

The tickets had been a complete surprise to her when she’d opened the box Mulder had given her on Valentine’s Day. Expecting some sort of suggestive lingerie in the carefully wrapped box from Victoria Secret she’d found instead and elegant negligee and two tickets to this weekend’s performance of Eugene Onegin at the New York Met. He wouldn’t tell her any of the details, only that she needed to dress for a “very expensive” evening on the town and to bring an overnight bag that preferably contained said negligee.

“You ready?” Mulder asked as he stepped into the office and grabbed his coat.

“You’re sure we have everything done?”

“We were supposed to be out of here by noon if you remember correctly. I just handed off the last of the year-end reports to the man upstairs and got his blessing,” he informed her, lifting her coat from its hook and beckoning her into it by holding it open for her. “Let’s get out of here before the phone rings.”

**

“What time is our flight?” Scully asked shortly after they left the parking garage. Though he had never said she assumed they were catching the shuttle up to New York, there certainly wasn’t time to drive up.

“Whatever time the limo gets us there.”

The comment from him was so nonchalant that his response didn’t sink in at first. It wasn’t until she watched a white stretch limo pull away from the curb in front of them that the word “limo” registered.

“Limo?”

“Yeah,” he replied, turning to catch her eye with a quirk of his lip. “I just need to call them after I’ve had a chance to make myself beautiful. But in answer to your question, we need to be in the air no later than four. Our dinner reservations are at six.”

“OK.” She glanced down at her watch; they’d be home in a few minutes. That would give her a good hour or more to primp herself. “Do I get time in the bathroom to make myself beautiful too?”

“How much time do you need? You’re already beautiful.”

She knew he was teasing her. Mulder wasn’t known for comments like that. Most of their relationship was based on assumption. They both knew how the other felt. It didn’t mean she didn’t appreciate a compliment from time to time and it made her smile.

“I hope I’m not going to need hip boots or a towel this evening Mulder…”

“Why whatever do you mean, Ms. Scully?”

“I’m just wondering how thick you intend to spread it on tonight.”

He eased the car down the alley and pulled into the open spot behind their town house slipping it into park. “Let’s just say you need to forget who you are tonight,” he told her, his voice slipping into that soft baritone that made her shiver. “Forget the guns and the conspiracies and the shady informants and pretend you’re a lovely maiden and that I’m your handsome albeit slightly damaged knight in shining armor, sans armor of course, who has come to whisk you off to a land far, far away in his obscenely expensive chartered Lear carriage and — go with it.”

Lear carriage? “Mulder?” She reached across the front seat to take his right hand from the steering wheel. “What have you done?”

“Tonight, Scully,” he told her turning her hand over in his own and meeting her eyes. “We are not who we are.”

She watched as he leaned down and kissed the back of her hand ever so softly.

**

When she came out of the bathroom Mulder was standing in front of her dresser wrestling with his tie. “Have I ever told you how much I hate these things?” he asked when he noticed her observing his frustration. While his attention was drawn to the tie she took a moment to observe him in a different way. He had on a white on white striped shirt and black slacks that on closer inspection of the fabric had a fine gray pin stripe in them. The tie that he finally seemed to be satisfied with was a dark silver gray on gray print. Despite his abundance of t-shirts and jeans, the man or his tailor, she amended noticing the Armani label in the jacket he had carelessly tossed on the bed, had good fashion sense.

“Ta Da!” he exclaimed, turning around to face her with his arms spread out. “What do you think?”

“I think you clean up real well, Sherlock,” she commented with a smile fingering the fabric as she sat down on the bed next to his jacket. “New suit?”

“And one I promise not to wear while diving in sewers, investigating manure factories or being shot at,” he told her reaching to pick up the jacket from the bed.

“I’ll keep you to that promise you know.”

“Good. I’m gonna call and have them pick us up at three-fifteen,” he told her, glancing at the watch she’d given him just a few days ago before picking up his black leather overnight bag. “See you downstairs.”

She sat on the bed for several minutes after he’d disappeared down the stairs wondering if there was something else behind this sudden venture into the extravagant besides a Valentine gift. The disturbing thought that there was something he wasn’t telling her played in her mind but he’d promised a long time ago not to keep things from her. He wanted her to be the fair maiden tonight and the thought made her smile. It was time to become his lady in waiting.

**

The click of her heals on the aged wood floor of their foyer made him look up. He’d been standing in front of the living room window with both hands in his pockets, his suit jacket falling back against his forearms, one foot slightly in front of the other, a perfect pose for GQ magazine she imagined. His lip curled ever so slightly as he watched her set her own bag down next to his. Suddenly self-conscious she could feel his eyes on her as she crossed the floor to where he was standing. “New dress?” he asked.

She’d found it in Saks on an after Christmas shopping expedition with Tara. It was Tara who had talked her into it when she complained she would never have anywhere to wear it. It suddenly seemed like a conspiracy and she chuckled inside herself. The dress, an interesting version of “the little black dress” had a V neck and three quarter length sleeves but it had been the handkerchief tea length skirt that had caught her eye. The black fabric had a slight shimmer to it making it elegant despite its simple style.

“Tara talked me into it,” she told him when he put his arm around her and drew her to his side.

“Remind me to thank Tara.”

“You haven’t told me where we’re staying in New York,” she questioned, a gentle smile pulling at her lips with his compliment.

“I didn’t tell you we were staying in New York did I?”

Just like him…to evade the question she thought.

“Come here,” he beckoned, taking her hand and leading her to the mirror in front in the foyer. “One more thing before the limo gets here. Close your eyes.”

She heard the rustle of his suit jacket and then he was draping something around her neck, the metal falling against her skin just above the V of her dress. “Mulder, what is this?” she asked trying to reach up and touch it but he grabbed her hand, clutching it in his own.

“A very late Valentine or very early birthday present,” he told her. “Ok, open your eyes.”

Twinkling against her skin was a gold circular pendant lined with tiny diamonds.

“It’s the ring you won’t let me buy you for your finger,” he told her softly when the reflection of his eyes met hers in the mirror. She studied him for a moment trying to determine if there was any hurt or regret in that statement. “You know,” he finally continued. “It will be kind of like high school.”

She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry until she saw the mirth in his expression and they both laughed.

“So this means we’re going steady?”

He didn’t get a chance to answer when the doorbell rang announcing their limo had arrived.

**

The limo had brought them to a private hangar away from the bustle of the larger terminal. On the tarmac in front of them Mulder’s Lear carriage was warming up. He hadn’t been kidding when he’d told her about the charter earlier in the car. While their driver was pulling their bags from the car a pristinely uniformed gentlemen helped her from the warmth of the vehicle. “Welcome to Sky Charters Ms. Scully,” he offered as Mulder climbed out behind her. “I’m Jess Humphrey, your co-captain on this flight. We’ll be ready in just about ten minutes, Mr. Mulder,” he said after making sure Scully was safely out of the limo.

“Thank you,” he told the young man turning to look at Scully who seemed to be hesitant to climb aboard the shiny craft. Even after years of crossing the country and half the world enumerable times she still hated to fly. “Just think happy thoughts, Scully,” he told her reaching out to grab her hand. She smiled at the twinkle in his eye. He was having too much fun with this for her not to play along.

Climbing inside the fuselage of the plane was like stepping into a well-equipped motor home. To the left of the door was a small crew quarters. “Welcome aboard, my name’s Katlin,” Scully turned to the young woman who was standing just past the galley to her right. “Can I take your coat?”

Mulder helped her shrug out of the coat and handed it off to Katlin before peeling off his own. Scully took the opportunity to survey the interior of the plane. Two cream-colored leather couches sat on either side of a nice coffee table. There were also two recliner type chairs of the same cream leather and a large flat screen television built into a bar at the back of the compartment.

It surprised her when Jess appeared from behind a door panel just to the left of the television. “I put your bags in the back for you. Everything you requested is on board Mr. Mulder. I’ll go check with Captain Reese; we should be just about ready to taxi out.”

That was two ‘Mr. Mulder’s’ in the past few minutes with no correction from Mulder to ‘just Mulder’. It occurred to her that he was enjoying the royal treatment as much as she was.

“There’s a bedroom and bath in the back if you need to freshen up,” Jess motioned through the door where he had just come before continuing past them heading for the cockpit. “We just ask that you remain seated during take off and landing unless the Captain has the seatbelt sign on,” he advised turning to Mulder with a knowing look.

Scully wandered to the back of the plane. There was indeed a nicely appointed bathroom and in the bedroom, a bed that took up most of the rear compartment.

“Well, what do you think?” Mulder asked, his hands coming to rest on her shoulders.

“I think you have more than the opera up your sleeve.”

“I was hoping you’d say that.” His voice was soft in her ear just before he place a gentle kiss on the side of her neck.

“The Captain asks that you both take your seats.” Katlin’s voice came from behind Mulder. They both turned around a little sheepishly and followed her back through the hall. “I’ll be in the front cabin. If you need anything after we take off just hit intercom 3. Intercom 1 will get you the captain,” Katlin instructed pointing out the buttons on the arms of the chairs and couches. There was a heavy whoosh sound as Jess secured the cabin door and both he and Katlin disappeared into the front cockpit.

It was a short taxi out to the runway and the plane turned into position for takeoff. “Are you happy?” Mulder asked her, reaching over to take her hand.

“I’m having the time of my life, Mulder,” she answered, her eyes meeting his.

“Good, so am I.”

The plane was airborne before either of them suspected, banking gently to the right as the felt the landing gear doors shut below them.

“Good evening Ms. Scully, Mr. Mulder, this is Dale Reese, your captain,” the disembodied voice came from the speakers that lined the bottom of the overhead storage compartments along both sides of the plane’s cabin. “Airtime to New York should be just under forty minutes. That makes our arrival time five-twelve p. m. The limo will be there to take you into the city.”

“Thank you — Captain,” Mulder replied with a wink in Scully’s direction. She could tell by the way he hesitated that he had been about to say ‘Dale’.

“We’re expecting a smooth flight so please feel free to move about the cabin.”

She heard Mulder unclick his seatbelt just before his hand came to rest on her arm. She’d been watching the earth slip away from them from her window. “Should I raid the mini bar?” he asked.

**

Forty-five minutes later Jess was helping her down the steps onto LaGuardia’s tarmac. Mulder followed behind her, taking her arm and escorting her to the waiting limousine. The trip through the city to the theater district took them another forty minutes.

The Lincoln Center had become a landmark of the theater district since it’s completion in 1966. The Metropolitan Opera with its arched facade sat at the back of the plaza. As their limo turned off Broadway and into the drop off area Scully watched the beautiful building come into view. Their driver pulled the vehicle to the curb at the center of the plaza and stepped around to open the door for them. Mulder climbed out first and turned to elegantly offer her his hand. She smiled up at him, his eyes danced with the enjoyment of the moment. After receiving directions from the driver on how to contact him after the performance she slipped her hand under Mulder’s arm as they walked across the plaza. It was a chilly but thankfully dry New York evening and Mulder slowed his pace so she could take in the scene around her.

Once inside the building they opted to climb the sweeping staircase rather than take the elevator up to the restaurant. The Grand Tier Restaurant had the same contemporary elegant feel as the rest of the building. Mulder checked their coats and they were escorted into the restaurant. She wasn’t sure if the heads that turned as they walked across the room were for herself or her partner — all she knew was that together they made a striking couple. The Matre-de showed them to a table with a window view of the plaza. Someone had taken a lot of time preparing for this evening.

“How long have you been planning this?” she asked him after they had been seated.

“I still have connections you know,” he mocked back at her.

“Their names wouldn’t be Larry, Curly and Moe would they? Seriously, Mulder,” she reached across the table and touched his sleeve. “This is absolutely wonderful, I don’t know why I deserve this but right now I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.”

“You deserve more than this for putting up with me Scully,” he told her, placing his hand on top of hers. “Consider this a make-up for all the Valentine’s and birthdays and any other time I’ve neglected to tell you what you mean to me.”

She was about to reply with much the same comment when the waiter appeared with a bottle of wine and two crystal glasses. “This is compliments of Magic Bullet Publications, Sir,” he told Mulder as he presented him the bottle of wine. “Shall I open it for you?”

“By all means, yes, please,” he replied struggling to keep the smirk from his face.

She knew Mulder was no wine connoisseur but she enjoyed watching him swirl the light burgundy liquid in the glass and take a sip.

“Shall I pour some for the lady?” the waiter asked.

“Please,” he said, tilting his glass towards her.

**

Dinner had been wonderful. She’d declined a second glass of wine. It would have been her third for the evening if she included the one Mulder had poured her on the plane. He however, didn’t hesitate at the offer before their waiter offered to re-cork the bottle so that they could come back during intermission and enjoy the rest with dessert. Not knowing much about wine she figured it was probably a fairly expensive bottle and even the waiter didn’t want to see it go to waste.

Their seats were in on the same level as the restaurant. The usher showed them to the third box to the left of the stage. As she sat down Mulder handed her the binoculars he’d rented and a copy of the program.

Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was a well-known example of lyric opera; the libretto retaining much of the poetry of Aleksandr Pushkin’s original novel. The story concerned a selfish hero, Onegin who lived to regret his rejection of a young woman’s love, Tatyana, and his careless incitement of a fatal duel with his best friend. It was a very romantic piece.

“This is in Russian; do you want to use the Met titles?”

“Hmmm?”

“I asked,” he said with a soft grin as she pulled her eyes from the pages of the program and watched him tap the small screen in front of her. “Met titles…the English version of the story…you can read along.”

“The music tells the story, Mulder. I’d just prefer to listen.”

“Fair enough.” He turned away from her, settling into his seat as the curtain began to rise.

**

By the end of the first act Scully was thoroughly entranced with Onegin. He reminded her of Mulder. He was not a man who gave his heart easily either; he’d kept it well guarded from her for the better part of the first five years of their partnership. So when Onegin rejected Tatyana’s love she in some respect, understood.

But in the second act Onegin flirted with his best friend’s fiancée, Olga, Tatyana’s younger sister in an act of revenge over some idle gossip. Lensky, Onegin’s best friend and he became involved in an intense quarrel over Olga and Lensky’s challenged Onegin to a duel. Onegin shot Lensky dead. Tears filled her eyes as she had reached for Mulder’s hand. She knew Mulder could never be that cruel.

In the final act, Onegin attended a ball in St. Petersburg. Onegin was reflecting on how empty his life had been since that fateful day when the nobleman and his wife had entered the ballroom. His wife was none other than Tatyana, now a beautiful woman. Onegin was desperate to regain her love.

The final scene takes place in the reception room of the palace after Tatyana had received a letter from Onegin. Onegin entered begging her for her love and pity, adamant that his passion was true. Tatyana, moved to tears admitted that she still loved him and spoke of how happy they could have been. In the end, she told Onegin that she must be faithful to her husband and leaves him alone in his despair.

The curtain dropped to a standing ovation. “Did you like that?” Mulder asked, turning to her and using the pad of his thumb to gently wipe the moisture from her eyelids.

“Did you like it?” she asked him back. He’d shown remarkable restraint in keeping his usual rambling diatribe of comments to himself during the whole performance.

“Yeah, you’d be surprised what a bottle of wine can do for your appreciation of the arts.”

She gave him “the look” and gathered up her belongings. During intermission they’d gone back to the restaurant and while she had savored a remarkable chocolate dessert and a cup of coffee, Mulder had finished off the bottle of wine. She knew it had given him a comfortable buzz.

“I’m glad you let me love you, Mulder,” she told him as she accepted his arm and he escorted her from their box.

While they waited at the coat check Mulder called for their limo. A light snow had begun to fall during the opera and as they exited the building a frosty coating covered the entire plaza. In their dress shoes it was slippery under foot. “If we go down I want us to go down together,” he told her, wrapping his arm around her and pulling her close to him.

“As long as I land on top of you…” She knew the comment was a mistake the moment it left her lips. It didn’t take him long for the comeback.

“I was hoping we could wait til we’re someplace a little warmer for that.”

They made it to the limo and climbed into its warm interior. Mulder wasted no time in unbuttoning his collar and loosening his tie and in a few minutes they were well on their way back to the airport.

**

The plane was already warming up when they arrived. The wind was picking up and it played with her wet hair as they crossed the tarmac and climbed inside. Mulder helped her out of her damp coat and handed it and his own to Katlin while Jess secured the door. “We should be underway shortly,” she told them. “If you need anything…”

“Just buzz,” Mulder finished for her.

She and Jess smiled and left them alone in the cabin.

They were airborne in less than twenty minutes and when the seat belt sign went off Mulder got up from his seat and slipped off his shoes. Scully watched him peel off his suit jacket and then came the tie. As he pulled his shirttail from his pants she decided that she was beginning to like this subtle stripe tease that he was doing and began to applaud him. He stopped short of unbuttoning his shirt and turned around. “Ta Da!” he mimicked again, spreading his arms. She laughed at this playfulness but was a little disappointed when instead unbuttoning the shirt he unbuttoned the cuffs and began to roll his sleeves. Slipping off her own shoes she watched him pop open the small refrigerator and take out another bottle of wine.

“Flight time to D.C. should be just about thirty-five minutes Mr. Mulder,” Reese’s voice sounded through the speakers. “Unless you have other instructions…”

“What do you say, Scully,” Mulder began to ask. “Can I talk you into joining the ‘Mile High Club’ with me?”

Scully didn’t answer, getting up from her seat and stepping to the bar where she grabbed two glasses and the bottle from Mulder’s hand. As she stepped through the doorway of the bedroom she threw a provocative glance over her shoulder. Behind her in the main cabin, she heard the click of the intercom button and then Mulder’s voice, “First star to the right and straight on til morning.”

“Yes Sir!” came Reese’s reply.

Silent Night, Painful Sight

silent night

Silent Night, Painful Sight

Author: XSketch

RATING: R – for language and violent content

CLASSIFICATION: X, MSR, MT, ST, A

Field Notes: Inactive

Summary: Just another little trip to the forest, really –

cannibalism, thick snow…oh, and an evil Santa Claus. Just what Mulder and Scully really wanted at Christmas instead of spending time together at home!

Archive: Two weeks exclusive to Virtual Season 14, and then it’s yours as long as you let me know where and keep my name attached.

Field Notes: Active

Author’s Notes : Mucho kudos to Lisa and Vickie for the great, speedy beta, the constant pokes, the support and the ending – YOU ROCK!

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———-

TEASER

———-

Wide, fearful eyes blink back the sting of ice particles. Chattering teeth bite back against searing, unending pain that will bring the body down if the small plates of enamel fail to keep up their task.

Brow sweats, lungs wheeze, heart thuds frantically with a maddening beat that may have the power to set it free from the confines of its chest cavity very soon, legs pump despite the constant flow of blood and deep, slippery snow underfoot.

Mind dwells on one, solo thought:

‘Why the hell did I leave my gun behind?’

As fresh powder is kicked into the air – spraying every which way – the tall, dark figure desperately forges ahead. He stumbles several times, and even drops to a knee at one point as the unbearable pain, cold and exhaustion tear at and overwhelm his senses, yet still he shakily regains his footing and rushes ever further onward, crashing through a low curtain of spindly tree branches.

Only to come to an unexpected halt at the fallen pine blocking his escape.

*Shit!*

Short shallow breaths fog the silent air as the figure contemplates all available options, but before he’s had chance to decide on a new route, the sound of chasing footfalls crunching the crisp snow echo in his ears and he knows jumping the log is the only realistic choice. Biting down on his lip even harder, he gathers what little strength he has left and makes a vaulting leap over the obstruction.

…Except, his foot slips, and there’s a loud thud followed by a bone-jarring, throbbing pain in his groin as both legs straddle either side of the tree trunk. Eyes begin to water profusely and there’s no fight left in him to ward off the inevitable cloak of unconsciousness, so he lets it claim him, certain that it will

shortly be followed by his death.

“Sculleeee…….”

As the prone figure of Special Agent Fox William Mulder slides to the ground, a large man pushes through the mesh of branches ten feet away – blood-red smearing his thick white beard – and then looks hungrily at his next meal.

XxXxXxXxX

———-

ACT ONE

———-

42 HOURS EARLIER

As a rule, it had become almost customary for just about anything and everything to go wrong – particularly in conjunction with special occasions or when plans had been made – so as a guy that had ignored pretty much all the rules in the book over the years, Mulder’d be damned if he was gonna let this one go by unbroken with a perfect average for yet another year.

No hospitals or bedside vigils. No family interruptions. No explosions or car crashes or gun shots. No cases.

He didn’t care what it took, even if that entailed tightly wrapping padding around every single thing in their duplex: this was gonna be *the* best Christmas that they’d spent together, if not ever – just him, Scully and the overweight turkey they’d managed to leave untouched over the Thanksgiving holiday and keep hidden at the bottom of their chest freezer.

“Excellent,” he smiled to himself, stepping back and proudly surveying the room as he finished putting up the last Christmas decoration. They’d both shared the task of finding and erecting the eight foot tree last week like excitable children (though Scully would deny that part), but work had gotten in the way of the rest of the regalia being tended to, so when his partner had been called to the Bureau for what they could only guess was an unseasonable audit assessment for their division, Mulder had promised to have the place finished by the time she got back.

“That’s it! I quit!”

Mulder sharply turned on his heel at the sound of the front door slamming shut and stared in worried bewilderment at his partner as she stormed into the room, threw both handbag and car keys onto the coffee table and then dejectedly dropped herself onto the couch.

“I don’t care what truths we haven’t uncovered or whatever – we can go ‘independent renegade’ for all I care!” she exclaimed, waving both hands in the air. “I’m not having them completely screwing with us one more day! I quit!”

A little disappointed that his efforts of the day had gone unnoticed (although he doubted she’d even realized he was actually in the room), Mulder sighed and moved to sit down beside her. By the sound of it, it had been the dreaded audit after all.

“‘Hi, honey!’ to you too,” he joked, leaning in to nudge against her arm. “What happened? Did they accuse us of spending too much on pencils?”

There was silence as Dana stared blankly at the space in front of her and mulled over this afternoon’s meeting with Deputy Director Wallace. Time and time again they’d had to put the job before their personal needs and lives, so much so that she’d stupidly let herself believe that this once – this one insignificant Christmas when everything was working out right for a change – they’d be given a restful respite.

Obviously an even higher power than believed possible was against them.

“Scully?”

“Our vacation time has officially been cut short,” she finally grumbled, wiping at her face with both hands.

Mulder let out an uncomfortable snort of laughter. “Wha-at?”

“The Bureau has decided our work is so invaluable that three days before Christmas they’re sending us on an ‘urgent’ case somewhere in the wintry wilderness of Colorado.” Her head turned and she watched the disbelief and anger vie for supremacy of his senses as his facial features contorted. “You’ve pulled some sneaky ones in the past, but I’m afraid you’ve been beat by this one.”

“Skinner–”

“Trust me, I’ve already had rather sharp words with him, but his hands are tied – the order has come direct from Deputy Director Wallace and there’s nothing he can do to out-rank her. I just wish–… Oh, what’s the point? Every time something happens we say ‘we won’t make plans next time’, but…” Reluctantly sealing their fates, Scully stood up. “I’m gonna go get changed – the thoughtful

DD kindly booked us on an 8PM flight.” Her hand lingered momentarily on his crest of hair. “…And you’d done such a beautiful job with the decorations…”

As their bedroom door clicked shut behind her, Mulder grabbed for his basketball and threw it across the room.

“*Dammit*!”

XxXxXxXxX

EN ROUTE TO WYNTACK, COLORADO

8:43AM

If he’d been pissed at just the thought of being sent on a case three days before Christmas, Mulder was certainly not far from downright outraged and ready to shoot someone in the ass by the time Scully had finished filling him in on why they had actually been sent to the tiny town out in the wilds of Colorado. Of course, he had to concede that he’d sent them on some pretty wild goose chases in the past, but he couldn’t see the motive behind one of the Powers That Be sending them to investigate an obvious case of cannibalism that had nothing

to do with them and could easily be handled just by the local law enforcement.

“It’s gotta be a trap.”

“Mulder, you think everything’s a trap unless you hand-picked the case.”

“So, you don’t find this at all suspicious?”

“Of course I do! But I live in fear of what your next injury will be enough as it is – if I dwell on this too much, it’ll drive me mad. Let’s just catch the perp and get back to D.C as soon as possible so that we can actually wake up Christmas morning in our own bed, okay?”

“I knew we should have gone to your mother’s again this year…

Thanksgiving at Skinner’s instead of in our own company no doubt doomed us…”

They’d reluctantly taken the pre-arranged late flight out to Denver International yesterday (noting also that it was just their luck that it wasn’t one of the hundreds that had been cancelled), and then stopped at a nearby hotel for the night, refusing to tackle the icy, treacherous roads in the pitch black – in broad daylight was proving difficult enough. Now, as their rental carefully made its way across

the white, unpopulated wasteland, Mulder couldn’t avoid the unsettling feeling in his gut that they should turn back.

Scully was experiencing the same sickening sensation, but as much as she’d come to trust it in the past, she knew they had no choice but to do their jobs.

“I still say it’s a trap,” Mulder grumbled, tightening his grasp on the steering wheel. “Who is this Deputy Director Wallace anyway?”

From the picture Dana had painted him yesterday, the stranger was nothing more than an insufferable bitch, but considering his partner’s mood since she’d returned from the FBI building, even a description of her mother would have had him conjuring up images of the Wicked Witch of The East in his head. “Was she transferred from somewhere else or promoted?” He diverted his gaze from the road momentarily to shoot a glance in her direction.

Letting out a deep sigh, Dana closed the folder she’d been looking through yet again for any clues that would explain their impromptu involvement with a two-week old cold case involving the discovery of a family of four by a hiker in the local woods, who had then reported his bloody find to the city cops in Denver instead of Wyntack’s lone sheriff. According to the pathologist’s report, the bodies had been bitten by what appeared to be human teeth marks, and the chests had been sliced open by a hunting knife, after which varying organs had

been ‘scooped out’ from each. By all accounts, the local FBI field office hadn’t been informed of the investigation, let alone involved, and the DPD held little hope that any suspects would be found as a light snow flurry had erased any footprints or evidence at the scene.

Basically, they were too busy with ‘more important’, easier-to-solve crimes that were actually covered by their jurisdiction, and the deceased didn’t have any other family, so……

None of this made sense, and her doubt about following orders seemed more and more founded as the mileage constantly clocked up.

“Scully?”

“I told you alread–”

*BANG!**BANG!*

The car suddenly lurched and fish-tailed violently for ten hundreds of a second before losing ground on a patch of ice and spinning completely out of control. Mulder used his lightning-fast reactions to tug at the steering wheel and try to right the vehicle’s forward motion, but the sideways incline of the mountainous region’s sparse road network and the below-freezing treacherous conditions made it impossible.

And he knew all was lost.

As he moved to shield his beloved partner from the inevitability of what would follow, the rental swerved one more time, hit a bank of snow and flipped once, twice, and then came to a halt…

On all four wheels.

XxXxXxXxX

FBI HEADQUARTERS

WASHINGTON, D.C

Walter Skinner sat down at his desk, ready to start his last day at work before a two-week holiday vacation, when he noticed the copy of the case file his two best agents had just been sent to investigate lying in the middle of the wooden surface.

‘No doubt they will come running to you to complain-‘

‘I’m their superior.’

‘Maybe, but you’re also an assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. You have a responsibility to the work which far exceeds your favoritism of two troublesome agents. They are employed to accept assignments, and that’s what they will do.’

‘Their ‘assignment’ is to the X-Files, investigating bizarre cases. This is for somebody at VCU, not them.’

‘We’ll see. Just be assured that if you insist on fighting me on this, you won’t have a job to let you run to their defense.’

He felt a shiver run up and down his spine as he recalled the encounter with the newly-appointed deputy director yesterday morning. Of course, Scully had come to him about it after her own meeting, but he was powerless – only able to wish that his two friends could be left alone to enjoy the festive season for a change.

Or was he?

As the conversation repeated itself once more in his memory and he toyed with the corner of the folder, Skinner realized that the best way to help his agents right now was to do some investigating of his own, from the safety of his office. He quickly stood back up and opened the office door.

“Kim?” he started in a hushed tone, leaning towards his assistant’s desk, where she sat sorting through some paperwork.

Her head snapped up at the sound. “Yes, sir?”

“I, um…I need you to find out as much information for me as you can about Deputy Director Deborah Wallace. Do you think you can do that? As discreetly as possible?”

The redhead hesitated for a moment. “Of course, sir. Is this to do with the case Agents Mulder and Scully have been sent on?”

“If I answer that you’ll be in possession of too much information. Let’s just call it a ‘background check’ for now, okay?”

She gave a nod and reached for the phone as Skinner smiled his appreciation and then disappeared back into his office.

XxXxXxXxX

From a perch high in the Wyntack Forest, two tired, aging eyes blinked against the sunlight as it reflected against the end of the figure’s high-powered binoculars, and then lips pulled back in a crooked grin to reveal blood-stained teeth as on the road a day’s trek away, a maroon sedan swerved and then flipped over several times.

Not wasting any time, the large figure quickly packed the binoculars

away and reached for the red suit neatly laid out on the crisp snow.

It was time for the show to begin.

XxXxXxXxX

“Mulder?”

He blinked several times, disorientated and mistaking the air-filled bag his face was snugly pressed against for his bed pillow at home, until the freezing chill of the air stabbing at his skin registered and dragged him back to reality…as well as the pain radiating from the left side of hairline.

“Mulder, are you okay?”

A groan to assure Scully he was at least alive, and then he lifted his head to check she was more than ‘fine’. “A little daunted by this moment of déjà vu and pissed that with fifty inches of snow on the ground, Lariat couldn’t provide us with a rental that actually had chains…Other than that, I’m fine,” He noticed her wince and shift uncomfortably in her seat. “How about you?”

Dana shifted yet again, knowing she couldn’t – and didn’t want to, anyway – lie. There was a razor sharp sting tearing down her arm whenever she moved, and she needed to check it but there was a sense of fear niggling at her.

Dreading the worst, Mulder quickly unbuckled his seatbelt and moved to examine her. And that was when he spotted the large shard of glass from the shattered window on her side of the vehicle protruding from the top of her left arm – blood seeping out in copious amounts, but thankfully slowed by the offending item acting as a plug. Panic rapidly shifted to something much greater as he struggled to think of the best thing to do to help his partner. “Shit, Scully…Why didn’t

you rouse me a lot sooner and tell me?”

“You were only out for ten seconds!” she unexpectedly snapped, gritting her teeth against a wave of nausea. It subsided after a moment, and she stared at the worried expression wrought on Mulder’s face. “I’m sorry. I’m…I’m sorry, Mulder. I–…I know I’ve been a little distant since I got back from the meeting yesterday, but I don’t know how to explain how I’ve been feeling or what’s been going through my head. I have the same suspicions as you about Wallace,

just as I have questions about the missing gaps in this report, but we’re in a Catch 22 situation – They know how much off our radar this invesyigation is and, with Christmas coming up, the inconvenience it will cause by sending us on it, but that we’re also walking a thin line and that if we refuse this assignment They have grounds to fire us.” Scully sighed, resigned, and tentatively leant in to rest

against the comforting, solid frame of his body. “And I know you worry about me, I’m–”

“Just tell me what to do,” he whispered against her hair, glancing once again at the slice cutting through her thick winter jacket and muscle.

She gave an accepting nod and sat up, swivelling in her seat as best she could so that he had better access to the injured arm. “I need you to pull it out at the right angle.”

“But if I pull it out–”

“It’ll do further damage whether it’s left or not. Just remove it at the angle it’s going in and get some snow to press against it – it’ll help to slow the bleeding and wash the wound at the same time.”

“But Scully–”

“Mulder, please.” She paused to wince against the excessive pain again. Over the years – thanks to frequent medical emergency hospital visits (or ‘The dreaded gurney treks’ as Mulder unaffectionately called them) – Scully had acquired a very high pain threshold, but this little injury, which paled in comparison to many she’d had before, was causing an unbelievable amount of discomfort that she couldn’t avoid. “If it’s left there, one wrong move and it’ll be buried all the way in.”

With a reluctant nod, Mulder took off his padded gloves – shivering slightly as the cold air bit at the newly-exposed skin – and leant in to pinch the end of the glass fragment between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. He gave her one last questioning look, and then in one swift move he pulled the shard out. Scully snatched in a breath and hissed as her right hand shot up to clutch at the wound, from where the where was beginning to flow a lot more freely.”Holy shit,” Mulder gasped, watching her and then diverting his attention to the two-inch length that had been buried in her arm.

“Mulder?…Snow?”

He looked back up at her, realized what she was saying, and quickly turned to open the driver’s side door and scoop up a ball of the white powder thickly blanketing the land.

At least, he would have, had the snow not been packed against the door and stopped him from opening it.

“Oh, for–” His voice trailed off as he awkwardly squeezed between the two front seats to get into the back of the car. An attempt at the left back door proved more promising and he managed to force it open far enough for one of them to escape should they need to. As soon as he had a handful of snow, Mulder quickly moved to sit beside his partner, who had removed both her jackets to expose the deep lesion, again. He wanted to comment on the large amount of red liquid bathing her arm, but thought better of it – knowing that upsetting her more right now was not a wise idea – and promptly placed the freezing ball against the injury, holding the pressure there as hard as possible for a silent moment. “You hold that,” he instructed, letting up on what was quickly becoming a slushy mess so that she could replace his hand with her free, slightly trembling, one. “I’m just gonna get the first-aid kit of the trunk – I won’t be a second, I promise.”

She didn’t respond.

“*Scully*?”

That got her attention, and her head snapped up to stare at him – teeth chattering as the frosty air entered through the back of the car and wrapped itself around her small, thinly clothed frame.”Stay with me, okay?” He gently kissed her forehead.

At her acknowledgement, Mulder hurriedly left the car via the back door, but slowed to assess the situation. All four tyres were deflated, and the vehicle had landed at an angle so that the nose was essentially buried in the snow. As he reached the trunk, he looked out at the road and shuddered at the harrowing sight of the erratic, out-of-control tracks burnt into the icy tarmac – his mind reflecting back to the last nightmarish time their car had been forced off the

road in snowy conditions, not long enough ago.

“H-how did they a-all blow-out?” Scully’s inquisitive voice suddenly asked from behind where he stood in thought.

“I don’t know – I’ll follow the tracks back to where it happened in a minute.” Mulder turned, wiped a hand across his face and then stared down at his partner with a raised brow. “And what are you doing out of the car? I said I’d be back! Go sit down – you’re badly injured!”

“So are you!”

“What?”

As always unwilling to let him win the debate when it came to what she should and shouldn’t do, Dana carefully took a step forward and reached up to touch the still lightly-bleeding cut on his forehead. The contact made him instantly yelp in surprise and recoil. But he lost his footing in the slippery powder, and before he had chance to right himself, Mulder fell hard onto his butt.

And, despite the pain tearing down her arm or even the direness of their current situation, Scully couldn’t hold back her burst of laughter.

“Ha-ha,” Mulder grumbled as he struggled to stand up. “Like I don’t get my ass kicked enough, now I have to have it hit by hard, compact snow?” He picked up a handful of the stuff and passed it to her to press against her arm – the last ball having already melted into the water that was now washing away some of the blood.

“S-sorry,” Scully sighed, still lightly snorting at the sight of him trying to get up.

He eyed her, smiled, and then turned to open the trunk.

Ten minutes later her arm had been cleaned and tightly wrapped, and she’d made sure he’d put a band aid on his own cut. They now followed the skid marks back along the road, and stopped when they reached the point of impact.

“What the hell?!” Mulder frowned, crouching down

“I-is that–”

He brushed away the light dusting of snow to expose the police-issue spike strip that had punctured all four tyres of their rental.

“Yep,” he sighed. “Either this was left here by accident, or for about the millionth time we’ve stumbled across more crooked cops.”

“But w-where does that l-l-leave us?” Scully asked, bending down beside her partner.

Mulder pulled out his cellphone, and sighed as ‘No signal’ flashed back at him. “With a nice little trip in the forest.” He slowly raised back up to his full height and glanced around at the open landscape and then at the dense tree line that flanked the other side of the road. “We got a choice – either we sit and wait in the car, or we hike it.” A pause and his focus fell once more on Dana. “Or

you stay in the car and I hike it.”

“Oh, no – don’t even think it! You’re not ditching me this time!”

“It’s gotta be at least three days trudge over that ridge…It’d be easier for you to stay in the car, and then I could send for help…”

Scully stubbornly rested both palms on her hips. “Mulder, if I stay in that car and it snows I’ll be buried alive. And what if something happens to you? Do I really need to give a not-so-brief recap of your medical track record? As always, we’re better together, and if we’re gonna get out of this, that’s how it’s got to be.”

There was a moment of silence as Mulder tenderly regarded his pint- sized but feisty partner. “You always seem to know best, even in the most hopeless of situations,” he sighed with a smile.

“Damn straight, and don’t you forget it!”

“We’ve got enough snacks in the back of the car to keep us fed for at least a day and a half, and I guess the snow will provide enough liquid to sustain us…”

“Is this where I have to teach you the ‘Yellow Snow’ rule again?” she teased, following him back to the car.

He wheeled on his heel – almost slipping over yet again. “Aren’t you just the wittiest little sprite today? What happened to the bad mood?”

“Seeing you fall on your butt kind of got rid of it.”

XxXxXxXxX

3:46pm EST

“Chief Chad Spector speaking.”

Skinner snatched up the handset of his phone and sat back in the seat behind his desk. After reading through the case file more thoroughly, he’d decided it might be worth contacting an old war buddy of his at the Denver police department to find out why they had given up so easily on the investigation of four murders.

“Hi, Chad, it’s Walter Skinner in D.C.” he sighed. It had been at least ten years since he’d last spoken with Spector, so he just hoped the man remembered who he was.

“Walt? No kidding? Hey, man, how’s it going in the life of an FBI assistant director?”

“Great, thanks, Chad. You?”

“Oh, you know – not as fun as the life of a big-shot g-man, but I can’t complain. So, what can I do you for? Drug bust? Stakeout? Hair piece?”

“Very funny,” Skinner shook his head “Look, I need some information on a case – four homicides in Wyntack Forest? I just wondered If you could fill me in on why it was so quickly filed as a cold case? A whole family’s killed and two weeks later you give up hope?”

At the other end of the line, Spector turned to his computer and typed in some information. “Hey, now! We’re not *that* incompetent here, Walt. We may not be New York or D.C, but we still have a pretty ‘together’ way of doing stuff.” A little humming to himself, and then, “Aha! See? We never cold-cased it – the case was closed, period.”

“Wha-at?”

“I haven’t got all the details here, but apparently the bad guy was caught and the investigation was closed. One man, one woman and their two young daughters found cannibalized in the woods by a hiker almost a month ago?”

“That’s the one, but…” Skinner frantically thumbed through the folder that was quickly in front of him again and then stared disbelievingly at the last page. “Two of my best agents have just been sent out there to…to investigate…” He stood and pulled his jacket from the back of his leather chair.

Spector snorted. “You’re kidding, right? What idiot did that? Wyntack isn’t the most friendliest of terrains at any time of the year, but it’s like minus ten out there, sixty inches deep and there are only about five houses in the whole place, miles apart! I wouldn’t be surprised if the sheriff’s moved here for the winter. If

you’ve got people going out there, I hope they’ve got a truck-load of supplies or gas to get ’em through!”

“This isn’t funny, Chad!” Walter exclaimed, wiping a sweaty palm down his face. “Who caught the guy?”

“Like I say, I haven’t got all the details here – I could go track ’em down, but it’s gonna take me at least a day.”

“That long?”

“We’re understaffed – it is Christmas Eve tomorrow unless you didn’t notice! Have you got a number there I can fax the details to when I find them?”

“No need – I’m gonna get the next flight out–”

“Whoa! Didn’t you hear me before? Haven’t you been watching the news lately?” Spector turned in his seat and looked out the window at the zero-visibility whiteout. “All the airports in the state are pretty battened up – I’d be surprised if your agents’ flight even took off – hundreds are being cancelled….It’s just not safe for a plane to try land or take off in this. Sit tight, let me dig out

this info, and if there’s any reason to think your agents are in danger, we can go from there, okay?”

Skinner wasn’t happy, but he was out of options for the time being and he needed as much help as possible – knowing their luck, Mulder and Scully needed as much help as possible. “Okay. The fax number’s 202-555-1704. You got that? I can’t tell you how much this means, Chad.”

“Hey, Walt, you need anything, you only have to ask! No need for begging…If it hadn’t been for you I wouldn’t have gotten through – let alone survived – ‘Nam. Just make sure it ain’t another decade before the next time!”

The assistant director bade his goodbye with a promise of speaking again tomorrow to end the call, and then – slipping on his jacket, left the office.

“Sir?” Kim suddenly started, standing up and taking a step toward her boss to be as circumspect as possible. “I found a little of what you asked me to ‘background check’, but I should be able to have some more by the end of the day.”

“Thanks heaps, Kim. I’m going out for a late lunch – I’ll be back in about an hour.”

“Yes, sir.”

XxXxXxXxX

After examining the area map, both Mulder and Scully had agreed that their only hope of survival was to hike the forty-six miles to Broomfield, which lay just over the ridge on the other side of the forest. They’d donned as many layers of clothing as possible, and packed as much of the food and accessories they’d had in their overnight bags into one easy-to-carry holdall. As if on cue, the clouds had then begun to close in, and they’d taken that as their own cue to get moving. Four hours later, as darkness loomed on the horizon to the east and an occasional snowflake fell from the sky, the two agents stopped to rest and scavenge any food the woods had to offer.

“D’ you ever think ‘this is it’?” Dana unexpectedly asked, resting back against a fallen tree and rubbing the bandage that covered her sore injury.

Mulder sharply looked up from the map and frowned at her. “Wha-at?” Of course he’d heard, but he didn’t like the implications…

“Do you ever wonder if this could be it – that your body can’t take anymore?”

Now he really was worried! He immediately rushed to her side to unwrap her arm and check the wound hadn’t become infected. When he was satisfied it was clean and okay, scared eyes lifted to stare at her. “Scully, honey, you’re scaring me…” He reached up to brush an errant strand of coppery hair from her face. “What’s brought this on?”

Her head jerked up, as if only just noticing his closeness.

“Explosions on Valentine’s Day, hanging from the rafters when we just go to see a basketball game, Egypt, and now this… We’ve almost lost each other so many times just this year…”

“Hey, hey, hey! We’ve only been out here a few hours, and you’re giving up all hope on my Indian Guide skills already? You wound me!” He cupped her frozen cheeks in his gloved hands. “Christmas Day we’re walking out of here…Frostbitten, tired, chapped lipped, hungry, and my ass as bruised as hell, but alive nevertheless – we might even be able to avoid the chapped lips by making out a lot.”

Dana rested against the welcome warmth of his palms and nodded, uncertain herself why she’d been so ready to give in…Until she saw the figure approaching from behind her partner.

“Mul-der?”

“Okay, so we won’t overdo the making out…”

“No – behind you!”

Both hands slowly lowered away from her face as he carefully pivoted to glance over his shoulder, and see the adult wolf that skulked several more steps toward them before stopping and just staring.

Scully fumbled for her holstered gun, but there were too many layers of clothing in the way, and her frenzied movements were only spooking the animal more, so Mulder quickly stilled her hand.

The wolf continued to watch them with nothing more than curiosity for five minutes before sharply turning and running away.

Leaving the two agents completely bewildered.

XxXxXxXxX

———-

ACT TWO

———-

LONE GUNMEN OFFICE

TACOMA PARK

“You sent them on a case right before Christmas? Man, I thought you were on their side!”

Both eyebrows sharply lifting, Walter Skinner looked down at the shortest of Mulder’s three friends in shock. Byers and Langly were nowhere to be seen, which didn’t help the assistant director’s unease, but now the false accusation…

“After all these years – after what happened this summer – you really believe that?” he retorted, not breaking eye contact with Frohike.

“Come on, Melvin! If it’d been up to me, they would’ve had the whole holiday season off! This Deputy Director Wallace…”

“Who?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that for now – I’ve got my assistant looking into it. I need you to find out if they did catch that plane and–”

Frohike turned to his computer and started typing in the necessary details.

“And track them down somehow…”

The tapping on the keys paused momentarily, but then continued without anything being said.

Langly chose that moment to enter the office. “Hey, Skinman! Skipping work to come hang with us? Cool! Any governmental secrets you wanna leak while you’re here?”

“Mulder and Scully may have been sent on a bogus case to endanger their lives by a newly-appointed deputy director at the FBI,” Skinner stated flatly, not looking away from the monitor as the details of yesterday’s scheduled flights came up.

Frohike glanced over at his friend and shrugged, before sighing,

“They went and they landed last night. According to their bank cards they booked into a hotel that end and left early this morning.”

“You don’t know where they are now?” When the elf-esque man shook his head, Skinner forged ahead, “*Can* you find them?”

“We could track them down via the GPS chips in their cellphones,” Langly piped up, nudging his friend aside and hacking into a system they’d had to use a number of times in the past to find their FBI buddies. “The only problem is, their phones have to be on or at least able to pick up a signal for us to track it, and at the moment…” A tense pause as he set the system to dial either of the two phone numbers. “Neither of them are connecting.”

A loud curse word erupted from Skinner as his fist slammed against one of the tabletops and he turned away

“Hey, man, calm down!” Frohike assured, moving to stand in front of the much taller man. “We’ve found them before, we’ll find them again – just trust us, okay?”

Walter considered this for a moment, knowing that these men, above anyone else, had never given up on Mulder or Scully and certainly wouldn’t now. Even if they did find them, though – from this far away – would they be able to get to the two agents in time if they were indeed in danger?

Awkward silence descended for a moment – only the sound of the whirring computers circulating the air around them.

“Scully came to me…begging me not to let them be sent on this case…but…” The assistant director stepped around Frohike and moved slowly toward the exit, his head lowering. “I had orders to follow – that’s my job. I know I’ve sent them on some pretty pointless investigations in the past that have only ended with them badly injured, but even I wouldn’t have sent them on this one if the

302 had come to me directly.”

“We know, dude, don’t take it so hard – it’s not your fault!” Langly piped up, diverting his gaze to the computer monitor to check the program was still redialling the two cell numbers.

“Yeah, I’m sorry, Walt. I didn’t mean what I said before,” Frohike added solemnly, patting Skinner’s back. “They get in so much trouble so often, we’re scared one of these times we won’t get to them in time.”

Skinner’s hand fell on the door latch and his head gave a shaky nod.

“I fear that every day.”

And with that he left.

“Jeez, man! What did you say to upset him that much? He looked like his favorite pet had just been run over!” Langly snapped, standing up and stepping towards his much shorter friend.

Melvin eyed him back and then stepped back towards the computer. “I said exactly what he would have said if the roles had been reversed. Now let’s find them.”

XxXxXxXxX

He dreams he’s running, as fast as possible, for his life. Running, struggling for breath, smacking into hordes of branches.

Running against the snow, not fast enough.

And then there’s pain ripping through his whole body, blood, and–

“Mulder?”

Her voice cuts through the haze, and the pain morphs into something much more piercing that instead envelopes him and seeps through his muscles straight to the bone.

Bitter, freezing cold air.

“M-Mulder?”

He shuddered back to awareness and tightened the circle of his arms around himself as both eyes tentatively open – blinking several times against the fresh snowflakes before focusing on Scully. They’re still resting against the fallen tree, but there’s now a dark blanket of nimbostratus clouds blocking out the sky above them, and the steadily increasing rate of falling snow lets him know enough time

has passed for the forecasted impending storm to find them. The last thing he remembers is the wolf leaving them alone, and then…. nothing. No wonder she looks so worried.

“What time is it?” he asked, yawning and scrubbing gloved hands at his damp, icy hair.

Scully folded back the cuff of her jacket to examine the watch hiding underneath and then puffed out a sigh as she looked back up at her partner. “Almost three o’clock, local time. You were snoring away for about half-hour, and I would have left you a little longer, but you started frantically kicking and mumbling something…I figured you’d rather be woken up than left in whatever nightmare you were having.”

“Thanks.” He gave her a weak smile and nod. “Are you okay? Did you get any rest?”

“No – I’ll take my turn a little l-later.” At his confused frown, she elaborated, “Somebody had to keep an eye out for wolves that weren’t as friendly.”

Mulder gave an appreciative huff of laughter and uneasily stood up, folding away the map that had been resting in his lap. He then paused, though, and dropped to his knees in front of her – both arms outstretching to embrace her tightly. He felt the shakes wracking her body fade slightly as she absorbed the heat their bodies shared, and wished he could whisk them away to a tropical isle within a blink of an eye.

“Come on, let’s get moving. The map says there should be a cave a little further up ahead. We can shelter and rest there for a while.”

“A cave? Won’t bears be hibernating in it?”

“We won’t disturb them. It’s our only option.”

After a thoughtful pause, Dana nodded her head against his chest, and then looked up to press a kiss against his pale, frozen lips – a kiss which he quickly returned, fuelled with passion that burned even hotter than the warmth their bodies could generate or share. The bitter air biting at them and exhaustion brought it to a much-too- soon end, though, and their icy foreheads rested together for a moment before they helped each other to their feet.

“This must be how the victims were forced into the woods,” Scully noted as they started forward.

“Most likely, but they probably didn’t have a map or compass and that’s how they became lost. What I don’t understand is if there are indeed a group of cannibals out here, what benefit would any source of law e-e-enforcement have protecting t-them, or even – more darkly – providing live meals for them? There’s no way they c-could survive out here in these mountains on just the occasional person, unless more people have b-been reported missing and there’s a cover-up.”

“The townsfolk ignored what was going on in the d-desert in ‘The Hills Have Eyes’.”

Mulder blinked and gave her a mock-shocked glare. “Scully! Your taste in m-movies just keeps surprising me! W-when did you get time t-t-to see that? And without me?”

“I was actually thinking m-more along the lines of the original – there were actually advantages to having an older brother who could sneak you in to an NC-17 flick.”

“Bill? Doing something generous and against the rules? That I do wish I’d seen.”

“He had his moments.”

As they forged ahead against the blistering breeze and snow, silence fell between them momentarily, but then Mulder had an idea. “Unless the local LEOs *are* the cannibals?”

“The only n-native officer is Sheriff Lynus D-Donner.” She quickly raised a hand to stop him interrupting. “And don’t even think about making that joke.”

Mulder gave an innocent shrug of his shoulders. “You mean the s-same Sheriff Donner – I have read the file, remember? – we were on our way to see when the tyres were blown out?”

“Well, y-yes, but… S-surely you’re not implying that one m-m-man on his own managed to k-kill that whole family?”

“One person could kill a whole army g-given the r-r-right tools and means, S-Scully.”

“But the crime-scene photos showed the bodies were all together and t-there w-w-were no signs of great struggle.”

“‘No signs’ that were probably covered by fresh snow.” Mulder came to a stop, wheezing against the frigid air filling his lungs. The weight of the backpack he was carrying was beginning to take its toll, and struggling to walk as quickly but carefully through the deep snow so as not to end up chest-deep in it was no easy stroll in the park. He coughed, wiped a hand down his face – wincing when he

accidentally brushed a finger over the cut on his forehead – and was about to continue onwards when he paused to glance over his shoulder to check she was okay. “Do you w-w-wanna t-take…take another break?”

Scully shook her head and took a deep, shuddering breath. “N-no… Let’s k-keep moving for as l-long as possible.”

From the pain tearing at her face, he wasn’t convinced, but he gave her an assuring smile and started moving ahead again.

XxXxXxXxX

FBI HEADQUARTERS

WASHINGTON, D.C.

5:09PM EST

Kim jumped out of her seat as Skinner walked through the door to the area outside his office with his head lowered and quickly moved to walk alongside him. “Sir?” Her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “Sir, I managed to get the information you were after…for that ‘background check’.”

His head snapped up and fixed on her. When she gave him a slight affirming nod he guided her into his office and immediately shut the door after them.

“‘Officially’ Deputy Director Wallace was transferred from the New York offices,” Kim started, keeping her voice as low as possible as she offered her boss a file folder – which he instantly accepted, “but I contacted a friend whose worked there for twenty years, and she said she’s never heard of a Deborah Wallace. She didn’t even recognize her from the file photo I e-mailed to her. So I did a

little more digging…” She became slightly antsy, shifting from one foot to the other. “Apparently whoever assigned her here is…Is from somewhere high up in the chain of command at the Pentagon.”

Walter Skinner sharply looked up from the pages in the open profile and frowned. He knew the Syndicate had never been restrictive when it came to the lengths they were happy to go to, to get at Mulder and Scully, but placing somebody in the FBI seemed like too elaborate a plan for such a brief, insignificant end.

Unless there was even worse trouble on the horizon…

He mulled it over, chewed on the gristle of the facts, and then spat it all out of his thoughts for the time being, knowing that it was enough to prove his fears that his two agents were at risk but that he also couldn’t go after Wallace to try have her exposed and removed from the Bureau – that was a level in this conspiracy he would never be able to battle. All he could do was focus on finding and rescuing

Mulder and Scully.

“That’s excellent work, Kim. Thanks so much for doing that,” he sighed, squeezing her shoulder affectionately with his left hand as the right one slipped the now-closed folder underneath his arm. “Why don’t you pack up and go enjoy Christmas? I’ll see you next week.”

“Agents Mulder and Scully are going to be okay, aren’t they, sir?”

“Of course.”

Kim gave a grateful smile and then turned to leave. “Merry Christmas, sir.”

“You too, Kim.”

As the door closed after her, Skinner reached for his cellphone, moved to pick up his briefcase from beside his large desk and then left the office via the double doors at the back of the room.

“It’s me. Have you managed to find them yet? Okay. I need you to get me a seat on the soonest flight out to Colorado.”

XxXxXxXxX

WYNTACK FOREST, COLORADO

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 23rd 2006

11:27PM

The figure huddled underneath a large blue spruce as the snowstorm reduced visibility on his trek down from the mountain to zero. This wasn’t the most convenient of developments in his plan, but it was far from about to hinder him too much. He’d almost literally grown up in these woods, and had used them for many hunting games over the years so he knew the area and how to survive in it rain or shine like the back of his hand. Plus the red suit he now wore was thickly

padded, so it kept him well-insulated.

No, no snowstorm would deny him these two fine, healthy catches.

Bare, frostbitten-but-steady fingers tore at some more of the red, raw meat pooled by his feet and bloodstained teeth hungrily bit into it – ripping as much of the flesh from the bone before discarding the inedible remains onto the nearby pile of fur, bone and cartilage that had – not twenty minutes ago – made up the body of a tall, proud, adult wolf.

The night would be long and this was his only meal for now, but he could relax with the knowledge that by tomorrow afternoon he’d have the finest cuisine for the taking that he’d had in over a month.

Thank God for people with grudges who could deliver!

XxXxXxXxX

———-

ACT THREE

———-

7:07AM

The storm had died out about two hours earlier, and as the sky began to slowly lighten and welcome the new day, Mulder watched the clouds begin to part from where he and his partner were huddled.

They’d just managed to reach the cave before the complete whiteout had set in – tired, weak, frozen to the core and leaning on each other as the fierce wind had fought back against them – but it had turned out that there were indeed three happily-snoring grizzlies hibernating within the depths of the shelter as Scully had feared, so they’d been forced to rest right at the entrance where they had

been protected from the cutting wind, but not from the bite of the chilly air or all of the snow.

Mulder glanced down at Scully, pressed a kiss against the crest of her icy hair and then pulled the hood of her jacket that had slipped down at some point during the night back up over her head. She shivered and snuggled even closer against him, but didn’t wake up.

“We will get out of this,” he vowed in a hushed whisper, holding her a moment longer before carefully slipping away from her and edging toward the cave’s exit. “I’ll b-b-be b-back, I p-promise – I’m just gonna g-go ahead a l-l-little and check the w-way is safe…”

He was about to turn away when one of her hands suddenly shot out and wrapped around his wrist. “N-No you d-d-don’t,” she stammered, shifting to sit up. “No w-wandering off o-o-on y-your own…Wherever y-you go…” Her eyes fluttered shut, no matter how hard she tried fighting it, and her voice began to trail off. “…I g-go…” And before she’d even had chance to fully wake up, she was asleep again.

Mulder smiled, leaned in once more to kiss her on the lips and then crawled out of the cave – leaving behind the backpack of supplies for her, just in case.

XxXxXxXxX

27th STREET

DENVER, COLORADO

8:32AM

*knock* *knock* *knock*

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m coming!”

*knock* *knock* *knock*

Chad Spector wiped frantically at his sleepy, gritty eyes and scowled at the front door as the loud knocking continued. He’d been up all night going through the case file Walter’d asked for and he’d finally managed to dig it out of the records department at work at about 9PM, so this early visitor on Christmas Eve was not about to get on his good side.

*knock* *knock* *knock*

“I said I’m coming, dammit!”

He tore open the door as hard as possible, only to reveal Walter Skinner – red-eyes peering out from beneath a baseball cap.

“Walt? How the hell’d you get here?”

Skinner shrugged. “I …I managed to get a late flight out to Colorado Springs and then drove the I-25 over night…I’m sorry if I got you up…”

Spector stared disbelievingly at his friend for a moment and then quickly moved out of the doorway so the older man could enter out of the cold. “Don’t be silly! Holy shit…You drove here? I don’t remember you being this crazy.”

“There’s a big chance my two agents are in danger,” Walter sighed, dragging his tired frame across the threshold and shuffling with his head lowered into the living room. “I needed to get out here as soon as possible.”

“Your agents?” Chad frowned, puzzled, as he quickly followed the FBI assistant director. “You came all this way to–”

“They’re friends. Were you able to find that case report?”

“Uh, yeah – I was gonna fax it to you when I was fully awake. I’ve been going over it all night. Apparently Sheriff Donner called in to say that he’d caught the killer and the case was closed.” Skinner opened his mouth to say something, but Chad quickly continued, “*But* no official report was forwarded on to us, which is standard procedure – especially if we’re involved in the investigation – and

from what I was able to find out by calling a few favors in, no suspect was ever sent our way to be tried. Normally red flags would have flown up everywhere in our system, but whoever was handling it either accidentally or purposely altered the info on the system network to say the case had been wrapped up completely. It was only when I looked at the hard copy, which we’re always sure to keep of every single case we’re involved with in our Records department, that

I spotted the gaping holes.” The Denver Police Department chief shrugged his shoulders and picked a cigar out of the wooden box on the coffee table in front of where Skinner sat. “And before you ask, no I couldn’t find out who that was.”

“That I *can* help out with,” Skinner piped up, pulling a folder out of his bag. “I was able to acquire a copy of the personnel file of who sent my agents out to investigate the murders. It says she was transferred to us from the New York field office, but after a lot more digging, it turns out she was actually assigned to us from your department by somebody at the Pentagon.”

“You’re kidding? What’s her name?”

“She’s posing as Deputy Director Deborah Angela Wallace in D.C, but her real name – at least the one she was using when she was parading as a cop – is Sally Morse-Elba.”

Chad stood in thought for several minutes, puffing on his cigar as he wracked his brain to try remember the name. “Sally…Sally…Sally! Yes, I remember her – she must have only been with us a couple months! Never thought to find out where she disappeared to; she left at the start of the month. But how could a cop get promoted straight to deputy director of the FBI? Why would she go to such lengths to dispose of the case, and then send your two agents out?”

“These two particular agents have pissed off a few figures in authority over the years by trying to expose conspiracies. Let’s just say there’ve been a lot of ploys used to try get rid of them, so nothing surprises me now.” Skinner wiped a hand down his face.

“What about the sheriff? Why would he so blatantly lie about something he knew would send up red flags?”

Chad gave a shrug of his shoulders and rested back in the comfy chair opposite his friend. “I tried calling him at his office in Wyntack, but the line just kept ringing. As I told you yesterday, though, he might have moved to Denver for the winter months. He must be in cahoots with your deputy director there – there’s no way he’d dare to

try pull the wool over our eyes otherwise.”

There was a moment of thoughtful silence, and then Skinner suddenly reached to pull out a second folder from his bag. “Maybe not,” he muttered, thumbing through the file. “What if…What if Sheriff Donner’s the murderer? It would explain his need to throw you guys off the trail as soon as possible.”

“A cannibalistic sheriff? That’s a bit of a leap, isn’t it?”

“Like I say, nothing surprises me now. Seriously, think about it, Chad. He could have been doing this for years! The only reason why you were involved this time is because the hiker that found the family came to you first.”

“You really believe–”

Skinner’s tired head nodded vigorously.

Spector got up from his seat and moved over to his computer, where he immediately typed in a request for Lynus Donner’s profile. After reading for approximately three minutes he suddenly stood up and quickly snatched up his coat. “Come on, Walt, we need to get to the PD!”

“What is it?” Skinner queried, standing up also.

“When he was a kid, Donner and his parents were in a car crash out by Wyntack Forest. They were found a week later by a search and rescue team; Lynus had eaten his folks to stay alive.”

“Shit!”

XxXxXxXxX

Mulder hadn’t realized he’d been walking for as long as he had until he stopped to catch his breath and thought to look at his watch.

8:42.

He’d only intended to venture away from Scully for about half-hour to survey the path ahead before returning to the cave, not almost two hours! She’d probably be awake by now and worried about where he’d gone…as well as fuming and ready to kick his ass for ditching her.

With a sigh, as the sun peeked out from above the mountain and an eagle passed overhead, Mulder turned on his heel to go back and face the music, but as he did something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. He paused and then – curiosity getting the better of him as ever – made his way over to the red patch underneath one of the taller spruces.

When he was close enough to see the lifeless, empty eyes of the wolf that they’d encountered yesterday staring back at him from a mass of matted fur, muscle, bones and diluted blood, he knew exactly what had happened here. Instinctively his hand reached for his gun…but it wasn’t there. He must have left it behind back at the cave, but that meant–

Suddenly there was a sharp pain tearing up his leg from somewhere in his right calf, and Mulder looked down in time to see the large hunting knife sticking out from there before he dropped to the ground. There was movement from somewhere behind where he lay, but he was too busy frantically scrabbling to apply pressure to his leg to stop the blood flow to care who it was. There were another pair of hands pushing his away, though, and before any of what had

happened had had chance to sink into the agent’s muzzy brain, a head came into focus, the knife was ripped out of his leg, and – just when he didn’t think the pain could get any more excruciating – teeth chomped into his bleeding flesh.

A scream barely recognizable as his own voice shot out of Mulder’s chest, and he thought he may have blacked out for a minute, but the pain, the blood, the pull of something trying to rip his skin from his body…It all never ended.

Lynus Earl Donner smiled greedily as blood poured down his white beard and the pain-filled cries echoed against the trees in the morning air. If there was one thing he’d learnt over the years, fresh, living tissue was so much more of a delicacy than that in which the heart had stopped beating blood – life – to the muscles and organs.

*I’ll be back, I promise.*

His own vow replayed over and over in Mulder’s mind as he lay on the frozen ground, futilely struggling to break free from the stranger’s jaws.

*Christmas Day we’re walking out of here…Frostbitten, tired, chapped lipped, hungry, and my ass as sore as hell, but alive nevertheless.*

He’d promised her an end to this nightmare. He’d promised her life. He’d promised that this would not be the final time Death stared them in the face and claimed them or that they’d be separated forever.

It was time to prove all his promises to her actually meant something.

With the tiny bit of strength left in him, Fox Mulder kicked and rolled his way away from the cannibal and shakily got to his feet. He felt the other man lunge at him, but before he could be taken down again the FBI agent ran with all his might deeper into the woods – disorientated and desperately trying to bite back against the pain tearing his senses to shreds.

He ran and ran and ran, almost feeling the breath of his pursuer right against the back of his neck, but then he reached a fallen tree that was blocking his path of escape, and the only option was to jump it.

Which he did.

And failed to clear.

And all he knew then was darkness.

“Sculleeee…….”

As Mulder’s body shut itself down, the distant sound of rustling branches registered in his brain, and he knew Death had finally caught up with him. He thought he heard something akin to a gunshot…

And then there was nothing at all.

XxXxXxXxX

WASHINGTON, D.C.

The sudden beeping from the computer snapped Frohike back to attention and he quickly sat up, staring at the monitor in shock.

“Hey! Guys! I’ve managed to connect to Mulder’s phone!”

Both Byers and Langly rushed to his side and stared at the screen also.

“Finally!” Langly exclaimed, slapping his friend on the back and then nudging him out of the way so that he could have full access to the keyboard. “Now, if we can just locate their exact position…”

As the long-haired geek started tapping away, a shaky voice suddenly started over the speakers, “H-h-hello?”

Byers brightened when he recognized the voice and quickly reached for

the system microphone.

“Agent Scully? It’s John Byers. Are you okay?” Considering how weak and upset she sounded, it was probably a stupid question, but it was the first thing he’d managed to think to ask.

There was silence, the ever-so-faint sound of her shivering, and then, “I…Mulder’s b-b-bleeding…”

Langly sharply looked up from his work, but those two words made him even more determined to succeed with tracking their friends down.

“Don’t panic, Scully. Assistant Director Skinner is in Colorado, and we’re using the GPS in your phone to locate you, so don’t give up yet,” Byers gently assured, hoping he could calm the scared woman even a fraction.

“There’s a s-s-stinger on the r-road in…Make s-sure n-n-no one d-drives o-over it.” She paused, sniffed. “I-I-I need…I n-need

to–”

The line went dead.

“I’ve got them!” Langly smiled, taking a step back and pointing the flashing indicator on the screen.

“Let’s get those co-ordinates to Skinman immediately,” Frohike barked, wiping at his eyes and rushing for the telephone.

There was no need for questions from his two friends – they were all feeling the affects of the emotional charge.

XxXxXxXxX

DENVER POLICE HEADQUARTERS

CHEROKEE\STREET

Walter Skinner closed his cellphone and turned to face the group of twelve officers that Spector had managed to gather to help with the search.

“We’ve found them. Let’s go.”

The team moved into action at his order and quickly filed out of the room – leaving Chad and Walter alone.

“By the sounds of it, both of them are badly injured,” Skinner sighed, trying to compose himself as best as possible but failing to ward off the guilt that continued to consume him. “And there’s a concealed spike-strip on the road in to Wyntack…Do you have any choppers we can use?”

Chad gave a nod, knowing a lot was riding on his answer. “I could call one of our pilots in, but it’s gonna take him at least a couple hours to get here,” he explained, heading toward the exit.

“Please, can you call him? A foot search isn’t gonna get to them soon enough.”

“Sure thing, Walt. You go ahead with the guys and I’ll catch you up.”

The two stared at each other in companionable silence for a second and then went their separate ways.

XxXxXxXxX

6:39PM

Pain sifted through the darkness and tugged him in every direction.

In his head.

In his leg.

In his groin…

Fox Mulder had experienced a *lot* of pain and torture over the years, but he really didn’t believe that he’d ever experienced anything like the agonizing ache inflaming his squashed genitals, and he never wanted to again – hopefully that was something he could keep to himself and not let them use against him.

“…Joy to t-the f-f-fishes in t-the d-deep b-b-blue sea…J-joy to y-you and m-m-me.”

His eyelids slipped open as reality tried to break through the fog in his brain, and he realized he was resting in the cradle of her arms…

And there was something cold being gently rubbed against his testicles.

Not in an arousing way, but it was certainly helping to take the edge off the burn in his balls.

“You’re e-e-enjoying t-that far too m-much,” he whispered in a strained, quasi-falsetto.

Scully almost jumped out of her skin at the sound and she looked down at her partner, pulling him tighter against her as she rested back against the fallen pine tree that had caused him this extra injury.

“M-Mulder? You’re o-okay?”

“J-just as w-w-well we c-c-can’t think a-about having k-kids the old- fashioned w-way, ‘cos there’s n-n-no way I-I’ll b-be able to d-deliver n-now,” he pouted, letting his eyes close again. “That and m-my leg…it…I-it–”

“It’s o-okay,” she whispered, kissing the top of his head.

“How d-did you–…What h-h-ha-happened?”

“I w-woke up again after y-you l-left the c-c-cave,” Dana explained, withdrawing her hand from his pants and reaching for another ball of snow. “But I-I had that b-backpack to c-carry and f-f-fell behind, so I had to j-just f-f-follow your footp-prints in the sn-snow. Then I saw you and Donner–”

“D-Donner?”

“Mm, y-you were right – it w-was S-Sheriff Donner c-committing t-t-the m-murders after a-all. Anyway, I saw y-you b-both s-scrabbling up ahead after a-a-awhile, d-dropped the bag and r-r-ran to catch up. Sadly y-you h-had your procreation-damaging s-slip b-before I-I was able to s-s-shoot the guy.” Her hand delved back into his pants to cup and massage his swollen balls with the cold slush. She’d only just managed to get the bleeding from his leg under control, so she hoped upon hope that she could help him with this unbearable injury at least.

“H-he’s d-d-dead?” Mulder snatched in a breath as his testicles began to numb and the fog in his brain cleared a little.

Despite the lack of energy left in their bodies, there was no mistaking the fire of hatred and poison of disgust when she spat out, “H-he’s on the o-other side of t-this log.”

Mulder looked up at her, saw the icicles that had formed on her cheeks glisten in the moonlight, and gave her a loving, reassuring smile.

Her hand once again retreated to scoop up a fresh ball of frozen powder.

“I-is there s-something I should know a-a-about your knowledge and e-expertise at d-d-doing this?” he joked, eyeing the snow in her hand.

“W-well, y-you know,” she mused, expelling a huff of laughter when she saw him waggle his eyebrows, “I-I’ve always h-h-had this s-secret f-fantasy of ‘packing i-ice’ w-with y-y-you, so r-really I’m just t-taking advantage o-of you a-and your injury.”

“If only t-that was turning me on and n-n-not n-numbing my s-senses.”

“Will h-have to s-start c-calling y-y-you ‘Blue Balls’.” She began to chuckle, but then suddenly paused and looked up at the sky.

“S-Scully?”

“Shhh. Did y-you hear t-that?”

There was silence and he listened as hard as he could, but he guessed he must be more out of it than he’d thought as he couldn’t hear anything.

Scully could though, and she strained to hone in on the noise as it came nearer and nearer.

“It s-s-sounds l-like…” She paused, searched the horizon frantically for the source,

And then she saw it – its searchlight coming into view as it skimmed the tops of the trees.

“…H-helicopter blades… ”

“You m-mean we’re g-g-gonna be out o-of h-here for Christmas a-after all?” Mulder hummed as his eyes slipped shut once again – his body beginning succumb to the cold and pain and exhaustion. “N-not s-s-sure if I’ll…b-be up to coo-cooking the d-dinner…”

The searchlight stopped on them as the chopper hovered directly above. Scully quickly withdrew her hand from her partner’s groin and raised it to shield her eyes from the bright light and whirlpool of snow the rotors whipped up. If she’d had the energy, she probably would have sent up a silent ‘Thank you’ up to whatever deity had saved them this time, but everything left in her was focused on Mulder…

And getting the hell out of here as soon as possible.

XxXxXxXxX

———-

EPILOGUE

———-

‘Case File: #X14082273

Agent of record: Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner

Date: December 28th, 2006

Due to the injuries inflicted by Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully whilst on this investigation, I shall make my own report on this case.

Lynus Earl Donner was found dead wearing what appears to be an imitation Santa Claus outfit. His ID photo depicted him with a clean-shaven face, however his

corpse fashioned a thick white beard, giving the all-round impression that he was trying to portray himself as the mythological bringer of Christmas presents. To

date, no explanation has been found amongst his belongings sequestered from his office at the Wyntack Sheriff’s Station, but a full psychological evaluation

of his background from medical records etc. will be carried out in the new year. Personally, I wonder if the trauma incurred by his parents’ death triggered

something in Donner’s brain that made him regard every special holiday as a reason to feast and dress-up – I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d been dressed up as a turkey when he killed the Thompson family at Thanksgiving. Or, perhaps he had been psycologically okay, but – isolated out in the wilds alone – cabin

fever had begun to set in and his past caught him up, pushing him completely over the edge of reason. This is all hearsay, but I think that that’s all it will

ever be – only Lynus Donner knew the truth behind his reasons…Or, at least what he believed to be the truth.

Deputy Director Deborah Wallace has not been seen since her meeting with Agent Scully. A further check into the FBI’s payroll list revealed she is not even listed as an employee here anymore, deepening my suspicions that she was placed here for malicious purposes, and I highly recommend that an investigation should be opened to deal with this matter.

Agents Mulder and Scully are currently still receiving treatment at Georgetown Memorial Hospital for pneumonia, and hypothermia, as well as the external injuries they suffered. There was a fear that the lower half of Agent Mulder’s right leg would have to be removed due to the damage incurred and infection that had started to set in, but thankfully his surgery went successfully and his

leg was saved.

Both agents will hopefully be fit to return for work in three weeks.

Further details can be found in Chief Chad Spector of the Denver Police Department’s report into the oversight on their handling of the case.

Otherwise, FBI case number X14072273 is closed.’

XxXxXxXxX

The woman walked away from the building – each calculating step taking her nearer and nearer to her next assignment.

“Who are you working for?”

Deborah Wallace turned at the voice, finding herself coming face to face with Conrad Strughold but never flinching at all, even though she knew this impromptu encounter probably meant that her deception had been uncovered.

“I thought I was working for you,” she dryly retorted, brushing her hair back away from her face.

“You know we have more plans for Mulder – more we need to learn from him,” Strughold snapped. “Why would you put those plans in jeopardy by sending them on that case?”

Wallace quickly unholstered her concealed gun and pointed it at the shorter man. “Because someone offered me a bigger pay packet!”

*BANG!*

One shot.

One kill.

Unwavering eyes stared and watched nonchalantly as Deborah dropped to the ground – a gunshot wound in the center of her head.

“It obviously wasn’t big enough,” Strughold coolly noted, pulling both his hand and silencer-equipped gun out of his jacket pocket and giving them a quick wipe. “Otherwise you’d have been long gone by now.”

Before a crowd could gather, he re-pocketed the weapon and moved to the nearby parked black sedan.

ROLL CREDITS

“Mulder? Mulder, are you all right? Mulder, wake up!”

Sounds slowly made their way through the darkness – hollow, indistinguishable to begin with but eventually sharpening into something he could place as his head groggily turned to the side. What was happening? The searing pain in his calf and certain other places of his body he would give anything to save reminded him of what had happened and that he must be in hospital. Except…there was no familiar smell of disinfectant, no clinical sounds or groanings of people passing back and forth in the corridor, or–

“Mulder, if you don’t open your eyes this very minute I’m calling for an ambulance!”

Scully? That was Scully’s voice! But she was– Wait… Did she say ‘ambulance’?

Mulder’s hand shot out and grabbed at the closest appendage, which turned out to be Scully’s warm, bare wrist. He must have been out of it for ages if she was back to good health! She was so going to kick his ass for this one… He slowly blinked open his eyes, preparing for the glare of cold fluorescent lights he knew would blind him.

There was no blindness, though. No fight to focus as the familiar ceiling of their living room came into view above him. No need to long for the heat that had been deprived from him for the past three days. No–

Living room ceiling? Why was he on the floor of their living room and not in a somewhat lumpy, slightly raised bed at Northeast Georgetown?

“Scully?” he choked out, lifting a hand to eye-level so that he could examine it. “Scully, what’s going on?”

“That’s what I want to know, Mulder.” Dana sounded pissed and worried at the same time. Knowing how long she could hold a grudge, ditching her at the cave really hadn’t been the smartest move he’d ever made “I came home from the office early and found you sprawled on the floor with the ladder knocked over, half the bulbs from the tree smashed on the floor and… Well, you were clutching…your pants,” she concluded, pointing to his midsection.

“What about Donner? And Deputy Director Wallace?”

“Who?” Scully asked, confused.

“Donner! Sheriff Donner – the cannibal. Scully, surely you remember–” His voice trailed off as realization dawned that she really had no idea at all of what he was talking about. “Scully, what day is it?”

She raised an eyebrow, wondering if it was time to examine his scalp again for any extra bumps that may have come up in the last five minutes, but then dutifully checked her watch. If there was one thing she‘d learnt from experience, it was that Fox Mulder would not settle until his confused mind had been appeased, and right now she needed him as lucid as possible so that he could lift himself up off of the floor (it was times like this when she really wished she

wasn‘t almost a foot shorter than him). “December 23rd,” she intoned, rising to her feet, “and it’s time for me to call that ambulance,” Scully slipped out of his grasp as she took a step away, but his hand outstretched to grab her ankle, and as he regained contact with her soft, heated, unharmed flesh the sudden movement almost brought her toppling down on top of him. “Wait. No ambulance. I’m fine.”

“You aren’t fine. You’re talking about cannibals and sheriffs and deputy directors I’ve never heard of, and you have a knot on your head the size of a melon!” she argued, inspecting the back of his head from her vantage point above him. When his head shook in dismissal, she dropped back to the floor and grabbed his shoulders.

“Mulder, track my finger.” A detached, authoritative and clinical order was the only thing she knew would bring him back into focus if he really was as okay as he insisted, and he dutifully obeyed, watching as her left finger slowly waved back and forth in front of his eyes.

“Scully, I’m fine,” he groaned, hoping her standard failsafe would be as acceptable as she expected it to be when she delivered it to him.

“I guess it was just…just a bad dream. It was so real, though! I could literally feel the ice hanging from my nostrils! It was so detailed I even saw things from everybody else’s point of view, like I was watching it on television! Honestly, Scully, I thought I was a goner! What‘s worse, I was shit-scared *you* were done-for.” His head lowered and he shuddered, the memory of the cold and fear

shaking his frame to the very core. When he felt her gentle touch on his cheek, he lifted his head again and stared into her blue, concerned eyes. “Really, I’m fine.“ He started to get up from the littered floor, hoping a vertical stance would reassure her, but the ache in his groin tightened and both hands quickly clutched at the area right over his pants’ zipper. “Okay, maybe not *that* fine,” he

admitted, barely managing to gasp it out. “But no ambulance, and definitely no hospital!”

Forty-five minutes later Mulder was resting in their bed with an icepack on his lap and ibuprofen happily flowing through his bloodstream. Scully came up the stairs with two cups of mulled cider and settled in next to him.

“Sorry you had to clean up the mess,” he lamented, taking one of the cups and sipping the cider.

“Well, it wasn’t as bad as I initially feared. Only two casualties in ‘The Great Christmas Ornament Disaster of 2006’ — not including you. You’re lucky you don’t have glass embedded in your ass as well, just to add insult to injury.“

“…Like what I did do isn’t insult enough…“

She couldn‘t hide the slight chuckle that burst out at that. “You were doing a great job, right until, I guess, you tried to tie the ornaments to the ceiling fan. What were you thinking, Mulder?”

“That it was a cool place to hang the mistletoe?” he replied with an innocent look.

“Well, judging from the swelling, we won’t be playing ‘find the mistletoe’ for a couple of days,” she reminded him.

Mulder winced, shifted uncomfortably and decided it was time to change the subject to something a lot less painful and embarrassing as soon as possible if he was to retain any dignity. “I heard the phone ring while you were clearing up my sorry mess…Was it your mom?”

“No, it was Skinner. He was calling to ask if we might be interested in a case. I told him you’d had an accident and would be laid up till after Christmas. He said he’d find another set of agents and see us in the New Year.”

“Did he say what the case was about?” Mulder asked, slightly uneasy.

“Not really. Something happened in a place called Wyntack, Colorado.”Scully shrugged her shoulders and settled back against the headboard, not noticing how pale her partner’s face had suddenly become.

“Anyway, it’s not our bother, so let’s just forget about it. Now, are you going to tell me about this dream you had — the one that played out just like a television drama complete with credits at the end?”

“Yeah, sure, Scully. But first, uhhh, I have to make a quick call to Skinner. He’s gonna want to send more than two agents on that case. I’m sure of it.”

THE END

….Really, it is this time J

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.

An X-mas Carol

x-mas carol

An X-Mas Carol

AUTHOR: Elf X
CATEGORY: Holiday casefile
RATING: PG-13 for language, mild sexual content.
DISCLAIMER: With apologies to Chris Carter, Theodor Seuss Geisel, and David Shore,
for consulting Dr. House without an appointment
SUMMARY: A weeping Santa, an amnesiac agent, and a mysterious Man in Black give
Mulder and Scully an unusual Christmas mystery to unwrap.

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Please suck down your wassail;

Repose for a while.

Let me share on this eve

A Christmas X-File.

It concerns a young lady

With a perpetual smile.

She made up in spirit

What she lacked in guile.

Leyla’s rose-colored view

Was deemed quite perturbing;

For an FBI agent,

It was awfully disturbing.

But her heart was alight

and her caseload was low.

So one Saturday morn,

to the mall she did go.

It was Christmas, you know;

Leyla had but one worry.

She was a gal on a mission:

Nurture Me Norm was her quarry.

Aunt Leyla thought gifts

Should be educational,

And this frabulous doll

Taught tykes to be more relational.

“I need affirmation!”

Norm loudly proclaimed

When his surrogate mommy

Pursed her lips and complained.

“Hug me tighter, but please

Not so tight it will bruise me,”

Norm implored — his warm eyes shrieked,

“Good shopper, please choose me!”

But Leyla had come

To the brink of despair;

For this marvelicious googog

Could be found nowhere.

She investigated Dillard’s

Prowled Toys R Us,

Ventured bravely to Wal-Mart,

Oh my, what a fuss!

She hopped onto Ebay

And hopped off again,

She e-mailed Norm’s maker

But he couldn’t say when.

Leyla was nearly nigh ready

To tear her blonde hair,

When her cell phone vibrated

And to the mall she repaired.

It seemed a good chum

At D. Suess’ outlet store

Had held back a Norm,

Just one and no more.

Leyla grabbed her warm poncho,

Fired up her red Focus

And sped down the beltway

To her retail friend’s locus.

D. Suess was packed

With frenzied folks and their brats.

Grabbing intuitive robots

And wry talking cats.

Old St. Nick held court

On a plush velvet throne, or

Maybe from his bloodshot eyes,

He was a Santa Claus loaner.

After squeals of delight

And perhaps too much hugging,

Leyla emerged from the stockroom.

Nurture Me Norm she was lugging.

She squeezed the grinning critter

To her comely young chest,

And made for the exit

Though the crowd did congest.

Leyla came within inches

Of escape with her doll,

Yhen stopped dead, and oh, my,

Her jaw did then loll.

She blinked her bright eyes.

It seemed beyond her belief.

She looked once again,

But found no relief.

Leyla dug in her purse

And dug out a clipping,

She took care to be careful;

It wouldn’t do, slipping.

And when she was absolutely,

Frabjolutely sure,

Leyla pushed through the patrons,

No caution for her.

Then she felt on her neck

No more than a splat

Her eyes started blurring,

On her ass she fell flat.

Her lungs began burning,

Her throat slammed shut.

Shoppers stared at her fishlike,

As if she were a nut.

Then a patron named Alex

(A nurse aide by day)

Yelled, “Call 911, you yutzes;

And get out of my way!”

Alex tended to Leyla,

Told the EMT crew

“Try a quick dose of epi

Or this woman is through.”

They stabilized Leyla,

And off they did speed

In an ambulance swift

As its sirens shrill screed.

And as Leyla gasped

For each breath she could snatch,

She grabbed the EMT’s clipboard

And on it she scratched.

Her eyes rolled over

That was that; it was it,

The EMT glanced at her note

And said, “Hey, what is this shit?”

Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital

Plainsboro, N.J.

In the land of New Jersey,

There dwelt a smart doc;

In being the smartest,

This doc had a lock.

He had just one foible,

This right scholarly doc.

His thrill beyond healing,

Was his colleagues to shock.

He shocked without blushing,

He shocked round the clock,

And when tired of shocking,

His patients he’d mock.

He mocked with abandon,

With moxie he’d mock,

He mocked with abandon,

With moxie he’d mock,

No one could be spared

When House came to knock.

Because of his manner,

They gave him three elves.

Three plucky young docs,

Right brainy themselves.

Now House had a foil;

A sharp adversary,

His presence around her,

Made Dana wary.

She might have side-stepped him,

If not for the flu.

His three elves were ailing,

This day she would rue.

“Why, Agent Scully,” House exclaimed, grinning wolfishly as he hobbled into the waiting area. Scully inhaled sharply and set her acrid hospital coffee down with a slosh. “I told you you can’t just come around and bother me at work.” The slovenly diagnostician perked. “Or are you here to return that stuff from the cavity search? I still don’t know how any of it got there.”

“Dr. House,” Scully breathed, as if she were announcing the triumphant return of the bubonic plague. “I wouldn’t think this case would challenge your sherlockian diagnostic skills.”

House blinked. His smile warmed and widened. “You know, given our kind of rocky start the last time, I wouldn’t have expected such a glowing appraisal of my abil—” The doctor stopped dead, rocking back on his cane. “Damn. I’d forgotten your rapier-like gift for sarcasm. How is Agent Mulder, anyway? If you’re visiting him, I heard the reattachment was successful, but he’ll have to wear a cup for a few months. Oh, and you might consider keeping your nails a little shorter.”

Scully held out both palms. They had consulted Dr. House several months ago on a case involving a homicidal pitbull. Scully had preferred the pitbull. “Enough.”

“Cuddy – you remember her, right? Too much eyeliner, bodacious rack? Well, since Larry, Curly, and Moe were inconsiderate enough to expose themselves to a virus, I traded five hours at the clinic for Tinkerbell down the hall. Little did I dream…”

“How is Agent Harrison?” Scully asked bluntly.

House grew somber. “I have some tragic news. She’s conscious, and she’s regained her powers of speech. Sorry. We could try removing the trachea, but beyond that…”

The remark was unnecessarily cruel, but Scully couldn’t refute its accuracy. Agent Harrison had been attached to the Bureau’s comptroller, assigned primarily to processing field travel vouchers. Her curiosity about the X-Files’ rather esoteric expenses had evolved into a full-blown fascination with all things Mulder, and Harrison could cite chapter and verse of every one of her partner’s frankly overblown exploits. Scully had been deeply relieved by Harrison’s recent transfer to the Newark field office (the result of a bit of luck in uncovering an inside ring of identity thieves), while Mulder’s reaction to his No. 1 fan’s departure had seemed somewhat more ambivalent.

In fact, Mulder had responded rapidly after a semi-coherent Harrison requested his presence in the Garden State, stopping only once for Cornnuts on the long drive north.

“Agent Harrison’s Washington physician was good enough to share her medical history with me,” Scully informed the unshaven doctor. “Nothing stood out. What do you think happened?”

“Well, Doctor Scully – and by the way, you’d be more persuasive if you put one of those stethoscope thingies around your neck – I’d normally say anaphylaxis. Sudden onset, classic presentation, immediate response to the epi. But we have three problems, Dr. Scully. One, the source of the anaphylactic shock – it’s the dead of December, the patient hadn’t had a bite or a drink in hours, and there was no sign of any insect bites. Two, there’s her nearly entire loss of short-term memory. Agent Harrison can’t remember anything about the events leading up to her ouchy. No head trauma, and her basic cognizance and long-term memory are hunky-dory.”

Scully waited. “Three?” she finally exhaled.

“No, that’s it – just like to hedge my bets. Your diagnosis, Dr. Scully?”

“Quit calling me Dr. Scully.”

“C’mon, I’m sure you’re hell with the dead folks. What’s your differential, Doc?”

The agent studied the doctor for a moment, then frowned. “Stroke? I assume you did a CAT scan?”

“Normal brain activity. Well, for her, I assume.”

“Well, could we be talking about two sets of symptoms that occurred simultaneously? Or the anaphylaxis brought on some anomalous neurological reaction.”

“It is soooo hot when you talk complete medical gibberish,” House gushed. “More likely, whatever caused the memory loss brought on the anaphylaxis. Agent Harrison had a simple, if extreme, allergic reaction. As you know, Dr. Scully, an allergy’s basically the body’s reaction to a hostile agent it’s not equipped to fight. Think Oprah and Tom Cruise. The agent was introduced into Agent Harrison’s system, probably with the innocent intent of impairing her memory. The anaphylactic shock was an unexpected cherry on the sundae.”

Scully dropped back into her chair. “You’re saying…?”

“Your buddy was roofied,” House stated. “Some kind of psychotropic drug, my guess. And this was no good-natured fraternity date-doping. No needle marks, no punctures, no pygmy dart ballistics. No sign she ingested anything foreign — she drove right to the department store from home when her friend called about this No-Neck Norm doll.”

“Nurture Me Norm,” Scully amended.

“Of course,” House gasped. “How did I miss that? It’s obvious – your friend is a mush-brained psycho-babbling progressive and a poopy gift-giver. We’ll start a green tea IV right away. As soon as we take some epidermal swabs.”

Scully perked. “You think it was administered transdermally?”

“Transdermally? Ah, doctor talk. The question is, do you think it was administered transdermally?”

“What do you mean?”

House arched his brow. “Psychotropic drugs, administered through the skin? Gee, I don’t know, sounds like, oh, maybe, Uncle Sam? ‘Cept the victim’s an FBI agent, so it must be a cousin or something. Would the CIA be a first cousin or a second cousin?”

“That’s ludicrous,” Scully murmured uncertainly.

House clasped his hands and batted his eyes. “Can I swab your buddy anyway? I assume you won’t let me.”

Scully stared at him for a moment, then pivoted and headed briskly for the elevator bank.

“Well, it wasn’t a no,” House muttered.

**

“Agent Mulder,” Leyla marveled, raising the bed to a 45 degree angle. “I can’t believe you came all the way to New Jersey. That’s so sweet. Hey, I saw where you caught The Centaur. That was incredible. I had a bet with the guys at the office that you’d be the one who’d snare–”

“Agent Harrison,” Mulder grinned patiently. “What happened?”

“You know, I was thinking about that.” Leyla’s brow furrowed. “Remember a few months ago, when you discovered that gang of memory-suckers? What if it was something like that – some sort of psychic brain-drain?”

“Well, that’s a theory. But perhaps there’s a more grounded explanation. This note you gave the EMT. ‘SANTA MODEL.’ Ring any bells, Christmas or otherwise?”

Leyla smiled apologetically. “I got in the car when Kristi called me, then I woke up here, with that funny doctor standing over me. Oh, no.”

“What?”

“Norm. Did somebody get Norm when I had my attack?”

“Norm. Who’s Norm?”

“Nurture Me Norm. The doll. For my niece. That’s what I went to the store for.”

Mulder shrugged. “I checked your effects. No Norm.”

Leyla’s face clouded. “I ran myself ragged trying to find one. Poor little Britney. Oh, Agent Mulder. You don’t think somebody stole him? It?”

“I’ll check into it,” her icon pledged. Most likely, the holiday spirit had overcome one of Leyla’s fellow shoppers after she went into respiratory arrest. He planned to check the department store security video, anyway – there was something a little off about the whole thing.

Besides, he needed all the supporters in the Bureaus he could get.

**

Mulder could no longer resist. “So how was your boyfriend?” he deadpanned as he opened the passenger door for Scully.

“How was your girlfriend?” Scully responded, nearly severing his fingers as she slammed the door.

D. Seuss Department Store

Princeton, N.J.

“Luckily, your friend was in a high-traffic area, near the toys and Santa,” the manager, a Mr. Horton, announced jovially as he pulled up the digital security feed from the previous day. “We got three cameras covering that zone. And heeeere’s Camera 5.”

Mulder and Scully leaned in toward the monitor as the high-contrast black-and-white footage began. The time readout in the corner was roughly three minutes before the 911 call had gone out on their fallen colleague. Shoppers milled and bumped as children ran in and out of the frame. A large fiberglass Santa smiled benevolently on a platform overlooking the mob.

“Did you take down that display yet?” Mulder asked.

“And all the Santa dolls, too, like you asked,” Horton nodded. “They don’t sell so well anyway – the kids want something that shoots fire out of its ass, and half the parents want some kind of boring ‘educational’ toy these days. What do you folks want with them, though?”

Mulder was absorbed in the security video, and Scully remained silent. Harrison’s delirious message in the ambulance was cryptic, to say the least, but they could identify only one possible “Santa model” at the scene of her collapse. Mulder had confiscated every Santa facsimile in the store, as well, in keeping with Harrison’s “clue.” Despite Dr. House’s diagnosis of foul play, Scully could find no X-File or even a rationale for FBI involvement here, but she’d learned to buckle in for Mulder’s little whitewater fishing expeditions.

“There she is,” Mulder murmured as a trim figure strode into the frame, hugging an extra-large D. Suess bag. Leyla was headed toward the exit when she stopped dead, her back to the camera. She opened her purse, foraged inside, and pulled something from its bowels. “Damn,” Mulder growled. “Can’t make it out. Wait. What’s she doing?”

Leyla had suddenly reached back to feel her neck. She returned to the object she’d pulled from her purse, then fell to her knees.

“Oh, my God,” Scully whispered as a crowd began to gather about the fallen woman. “He was right.”

“There’s the nurse guy,” Horton reported, tapping the grainy young man kneeling beside Leyla.

“Who’s that other guy?” Mulder asked.

“What other guy?” Horton squinted. “What’s he doing?”

As the alert nurse’s aide cajoled the mob into action, a middle-aged man in a camel hair’s overcoat dropped to a knee about two feet from Agent Harrison’s body. Mulder watched the man scoop something from the tile – a small, white rectangle – then stand and ease back into the throng.

“He stole something,” Scully frowned. “I think it was whatever was in her purse. Was he following her?”

“How about the other cameras?” Mulder asked Horton. “Can we get this guy’s face?”

“Betcha,” the manager responded enthusiastically. “We have a cam hidden in one of the cosmetic cases facing the Santaland display. Lemme punch it up.”

Mulder and Scully watched a new perspective on the drama they’d just observed. Leyla stopped dead again, searching her purse, touching her neck, falling to the floor. The nurse’s aide appeared on the scene, checking her vitals. And the man in the camel’s hair coat slipped onto the scene, feigned interest in Agent Harrison, and snatched the square that had fallen from Leyla’s hand when she seized. The pilferer pocketed the object and turned directly toward the cosmetic case camera.

“Shit, he’s moving too fast,” Mulder complained. “Mr. Horton, can you burn off every security video from the store for, say, a half-hour before and after Agent Harrison collapsed?”

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“Betcha.” Horton started to rise, then spotted a compact Asian woman in the office doorway. “Ms. Hu? Where’s the Santa? Ann, are you OK?”

Ms. Hu glanced warily at the two feds, then back at her boss. “Something weird’s going on. Scott started to take down Santa, then he practically fell off the ladder. He called me, and, well, I just can’t believe it.”

“What?” Horton asked A. Hu.

“It’s Santa,” she stammered. “He’s….crying.”

**

St. Nick beamed cheerfully at Mulder, his eyes all aglitter. Mulder clicked off his mag lite, and the flat, fiberglass eyes stopped aglittering.

“No hidden devices or reservoirs,” the agent mumbled. “You want to do a more detailed search, Dr. Scully?”

“Don’t call me Doct—” Scully started to flare, then glanced at Horton. “Ah, did your people check the ceiling sprinklers yet?”

“Everything checked out fine, no leaks — plumbing in the sub-ceiling, too,” the manager reported, resting an elbow on a rackfull of dismembered arms and legs. “What’s the big deal? There’s gotta be an explanation.”

“Oh, I’m sure he has one,” Scully breathed.

“I’d like to call the Vatican first, if you don’t mind,” Mulder murmured.

“Please. You can’t be suggesting–”

Mulder settled in. “The phenomenon of weeping statues has been documented for centuries. In most cases, witnesses maintain the ‘tears’ are similar to human blood, and the phenomenon sometimes is associated with miraculous healing, the appearance of oils, or the scent of roses.” He sniffed at Santa’s cheek as Horton gawked on. “Historically, weeping statues have been almost exclusively of the Virgin Mary, although an occurrence was reported in February 2003 in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

“Skeptics suggest propose the apparent weeping is in fact merely a psychological manifestation on the part of witnesses, Many maintain the ‘tears’ are actually condensation seeping from microscopic cracks on the surface of the statues. But the truly faithful defend accounts of weeping statues as a revelation or apparition.”

“But, Mulder,” Scully sputtered. “It’s…Santa.”

“And certainly, Santa has become an almost sacred symbol of the season, a sort of secular surrogate for the Christ. If miracles are designed as a reminder of divine love and intervention in a time of doubt and despair, then why not employ a revered and beloved modern icon?”

Scully studied Santa’s boots. Horton studied Mulder.

“It’s OK,” Mulder smiled. “Rhetorical question.”

**

D. Suess’s home office

Was highly displeased;

They told Horton to clam up

And say Hu was diseased.

They swabbed all their Santas,

For costly lab tests;

Dropped prices even lower,

And put the miracle to rest.

But D. Suess didn’t count on

Margaret Mary O’Ryan,

The savvy young shopper

Who saw Santa cryin’.

Maggie kept to herself

‘Til her weekly rap session

With Father Tataglia

At St. Andrew’s confession.

Father T. would’ve stayed mum

But the sexton outside

Overheard every word

And that night told his bride.

His spouse told a neighbor

Who read the Enquirer,

One anonymous tip later,

And the crap hit the wire.

At first, Santa’s tears

Were mere newspaper filling;

Then the six o’clock news

Gave it almost-top billing.

Next up, Headline News

Gave it top of the hour

Then a leading theologian

Offered thoughts to Matt Lauer.

Weeping Santa took off,

Like Tom Cruise and Suri;

On Geraldo, on Katie, on Blitzer.

What a flurry!

Then Diane Sawyer

On a special 20-20

Exposed crying Claus,

And sparked furor a-plenty.

Two groups led the battle

On two different sides:

The Equal Civil Rights Union and

Americans For Religious Oversight.

ECRU screamed all Santas

Must be pulled from the malls:

“D. Suess must desist

From deifying S. Claus.

This back-door approach

To all miracles mystic

Is an affront, an outrage

To all folks atheistic.”

AFRO joined in the clamor

With a quite different beef:

“A miraculous Santa

Goes against our belief.

D. Suess must give

This fat elf the boot,

We can’t have folks praying

To a beard and red suit.”

While this media circus

Played in all three rings

People flocked down to D. Suess

Of all crazy things.

They brought their sick oldsters

And said rosaries;

These armies of pilgrims

Fell onto their knees.

The D. Suess home office

Was quite agitated,

‘Til it discovered how much

Cash receipts elevated.

For although Megalomart

Might have bargains to die,

It couldn’t force

A fiberglass Santa to cry.

**

“You’re like Jessica Fletcher, Mulder,” Scully sighed, slipping her cell phone back into her purse. “Everywhere you go, chaos follows.”

“Maybe it’s just your super-negative vibes disrupting the karmic flow, Sister Downbeat,” Mulder suggested, shoveling fries into his maw and considering the best approach to his Jumbo Gyro. Scully’s hopes for the elegant dinner she’d been promised had rapidly vaporized.

“The PPPD’s been hit by with Freedom of Information requests from both ECRU and AFRO. ECRU’s claiming this is some scheme by the ‘religious right’ to institutionalize Santa, and AFRO thinks it’s a plot by leftist ‘secular humanists’ to invalidate genuine divine phenomena. Nancy Grace’s people called an hour ago to see if I’d go on tonight and talk about D. Suess’ ‘cynical consumerist fraud.’”

“Larry King called me,” Mulder beamed. “What do you think? The suit, or maybe a turtleneck? You know, kinda California casual crimefighter?”

“Forget it, Mark Fuhrman. Why don’t we focus instead on how Soggy St. Nick impacts our case. Oh, yeah, I forgot: We don’t actually have a case, do we?”

Mulder emerged from his funk over his vetoed celebrity career. “Maybe the weeping statue is connected to the attack on Leyla.”

“Attack? We don’t even–”

“Shhh, quiet, my little one. I took the liberty of examining Leyla’s personal effects, including her purse. She’s keeping a literal file cabinet in there – I found several dozen clippings of our past cases. You know, she’s kind of a student of my technique…”

Scully looked around. “Where’s our waitress? I can’t do a spit-take without water. Mulder, Agent Harrison is a highly excitable, overexuberant paranormal buff. And it’s you she’d like to buff.”

“Please,” Mulder sputtered, a pleased blush nonetheless coloring his features. “Just because Leyla’s a promising young agent looking for a mentor, you have to invalidate her interest in my investigations as some kind of sexual infatuation.”

“Calm down, Big Boy. And since when are they YOUR investigations?”

Having stumbled into treacherous territory, Mulder took a sip of his coke. “Anyway, I think something at D. Suess’s sparked something in Leyla’s memory, and she pulled out one of those clippings to verify her suspicions. Leyla’s discovery must have been an impulsive one, because she only lost her short-term memory, and all she’s been doing the last week or two are background checks. Whoever doped Leyla –”

“Allegedly doped.”

“— allegedly doped Leyla, jeez, may have been trying to keep her from reporting what she’d seen. What if it was Weeping Santa? Look at all the media the last day or so. This thing is a socio-religious hot potato. A fiberglass Santa manifesting divine tears could make a laughing stock of an already besieged spiritual community. Or maybe the spiritual community hopes Crying Santa might help validate its faith in miracles.”

“So what’ve we got here, Mulder? The Da Vinci Code meets Miracle on 34th Street? You think the archdiocese has been staking out plastic Santas? That the Vatican is doping federal agents who get too close to the divine truth that even obese elves get the blues?”

Mulder ripped gratuitously into his gyro. “Fine.”

“Sure.”

“Whatever.”

**

“Hey, Sweetcheeks!”

Brandi turned, sighed. The holidays always brought out the pricks. Take this one. Middle-aged, pricey haircut, nice suit – probably out Christmas-shopping for his suburban Stepford wife and his spoiled brats while eyeing the “merchandise” behind the counter. He’s already come up with four endearing nicknames for her. And he was a toucher.

“Yeah, hon.” Might as well give back as good as she got. Except it backfired, and the guy grinned like the Big Bad Wolf about to chow down on a Triple Pig Platter.

“Little more java, Babe? Not that I’m not already stimulated enough…” He actually wiggled his bushy brows. Brandi suppressed a shudder.

“Fresh pot brewing, sweetie. Be up in a minute.”

“Nice and hot. I’ll be waiting, Gorgeous.”

He leaned back and watched the two agents bicker across the dining room. The receiver in his right ear had picked up the whole ludicrous exchange. This Mulder was a real loon – the taxpayer’s dollars at work. After Fox – Fox, Jesus! — confiscated Sobbing Santa, he’d run a check on him. How this ticking time bomb of paranoia and neuroses had even passed the FBI exam was a mystery. No worries from this guy, although he wouldn’t have minded a few hours of Good Cop/Bad Cop with his hot little redheaded partner.

Sobbing Santa had been a godsend, no pun intended. Fox was sniffing entirely down the wrong sewage drain, and after the freak show died down at D. Suess, Project Oshi was back on. He’d neutralized Mulder’s fawning little Girl Scout fan, not that she was a serious threat, either.

He was contemplating the image of Agent Harrison in a scout uniform when Brandi materialized in her yellow nylon one. “Hot and fresh and all for you, Babe.”

He grinned broadly as she placed a hand on his gabardine shoulder and squeezed as she poured his “java.”

“Anything you want – anything – you just ask, hear?” she purred in a slightly nicotine-scarred Jersey accent. He nodded dumbly.

Brandi swayed away, forming her own wolfish grin. It’d probably be hours before the letch discovered the wad of gyro meat she’d shoved deeply into the pockets of the fancy camel’s hair coat he’d hung by the door…

**

Into Jersey had skulked

A most slithery fellow;

His wife called him Morris

But most called him yellow.

He’d survived through the years

Through an oily, quick wit

And had gained a high post

Through creative bullshit.

Morris worked for a group

Who tinkered with fate;

Whose job was to inveigle,

Deceive, obfuscate.

They worked out of Dreamland

Of UFO fame.

When strange things made the headlines

They quite often were to blame.

Morris Fletcher was the father

Of their most garish schemes

He breathed public deception,

Boiled plots in his dreams.

He’d come up with Osama

Over coffee one morn;

To cover his ass,

Y2K was born.

He made Tupac vanish,

Global warming? That was his.

He spiked Howard Dean’s tea,

To create a lunatic tizz.

Morris’ crème de la crème,

His pride and joy,

Was a cocktail he’d mixed up

To pull off the Dean ploy.

It had speeded Mel’s meltdown,

Revved a small Dixie Chick,

And made Tom Cruise go crazy

Like a mutated tick.

This cocktail he’d used

To clean Leyla’s brain;

No intention to kill her

Or cause her great pain.

But oh, well, Morris thought;

No harm and no foul.

Onto Part B of his mission,

Can’t throw in the towel.

Casefile of Morris Fletcher:

Once upon a time, there was a guy named Bob. He was an average guy, nothing special: Good parents, not great; fair grades, nothing exceptional; engineered for mediocrity and destined for pretty much bupkes.

But God or genetics or Vishnu or fate gave our Bob one quality that would drive his destiny eventually into the grill of a cosmic Peterbilt: An ego the size of Kirstie Alley before she discovered Jenny Craig. Bob wasn’t content to become the pretty good Wal-Mart night manager or the faceless desk jockey he seemed fated to become. He demanded significance — that can on the very back of the top shelf, out of reach of most all of us except for the Gandhis, the JFKs, and the Ryan Secrests.

Bob kept leaping for that top shelf, spraining his ego and bruising his spirit with each ill-fated lunge. He joined the military, with the intent of becoming either a Navy SEAL or a Green Beret, but washed out of both to toil in obscurity as a supply clerk at Fort Bragg. He applied to the FBI academy, but flunked the shrink test.

Then, twisted destiny and a few wild cells intervened. Bob sprouted a brain tumor, and discovered his true aptitude: A psychic ability for which any Scientology recruiter or Amway distributor would kill. Bob not only could sell ice to an eskimo, but talk said eskimo into signing over his igloo and letting Bob rub noses or any other sundry body part with his wife. In fact, Bob could have persuaded the president to sign over Alaska and become king of the eskimos himself, had he been able to grab the big man’s ear.

Of course, Bob didn’t use this new-found ability to talk Bill Gates into buying lunch for every homeless person on the Left Coast, or to bring Israel and Syria together over virgin margaritas, or even to cajole Angelina Jolie into a weekend of unspeakable sin. Bob’s power and ego may have been an XXL, but his vision was straight off the kid’s rack. Like many little men who’ve found a big stick in the bushes, Bob embraced martial arts and a quasi-samurai philosophy that enabled him to justify breaking bones with zen-like calm. He entered the growth field of professional assassination and adopted the highly imaginative sobriquet of “Pusher,” for his ability to push his hapless victims into suicidal destruction.

Of course, this was years ago, before Dr. Phil might have been able to salvage Bob’s soul and self-image. Instead, Bob ran like a bumper car into another of life’s careening losers — an FBI agent with the improbable name of Fox Mulder. Fox was a smart enough fellow — smart enough to outsmart himself into a permanent basement office at FBI headquarters and a lifetime of supernatural ramblings and paranoid ponderings. Fox and Bob wound up in the ring in what could only be characterized as a Celebrity Deathmatch for Dweebs.

Bob came out with a wounded ego and a little lead buddy for his tumor. A few years later, he came out of vegetation long enough to get whacked by his long-lost sister, who turned out to be a better Pusher than him. Beat by a girl — it seemed like an appropriate end for a little man with a fast line of empty patter. Fox beat the girl — a somewhat equally pathetic irony.

The story of Robert Modell and his psychically gifted sibling might have ended there. But that’s where I came in.

**

“I think our girl has promise,” the voice on the other end whispered loudly amid the clattering of dishes and silverware.

“Are you on a payphone?” Morris Fletcher asked incredulously, watching the shoppers pour out of the Princeton Parkway Mall.

“Relax, Morris — I’m at some Mex joint in the Village, and if I yelled ‘INS,’ I’d be the only guy here. I think we got a live one.”

Morris grinned despite himself as he settled back behind the wheel of the cheap black sedan Uncle Sam had requisitioned him. Janine Modell was a call girl who worked Times Square — like her cousin Bob, she dreamed big. What had red-flagged Morris and the rest of his Project Oshi team (actually, The Colonel had only been willing to kick loose the agent on the other end of the line and another guy now in Utah seeking a polygamist named Gary Modell) was Janine’s rate of business success. Janine was 5’3, 200 pounds, with a faint mustache and a large Norway-shaped birthmark on her neck. She also was, by all accounts, one of Manhattan’s most prosperous hookers, nearly impossible to book without a month’s notice.

“You give her the pitch?” Morris asked eagerly.

The line went silent. “Ah, I tried to.”

“What do you mean?” Then it hit Morris. “Yikes.”

“To say the least,” his agent muttered. “I made the approach, flashed my creds, and the next thing you know, I’m cuffed to the bed and my wallet was empty. I’m still having trouble walking. Hey, you think I can expense–?”

“Noooo. Put it down as surveillance equipment — I’ll square it. Sounds like a winner, but she may not be interested in a new profession. We’ll figure out an approach later. I want you to get on the next plane for Kishwaukee, Illinois. Insurance agent named Trey Modell, won Mutual Farms’ top sales award three years’ running. Oh, and you might get yourself tested.”

“Wha–?” But Morris had disconnected. The Man in Black sank into contemplation, then jumped as his cell phone shrilled.

“Yeah,” he snapped.

“Morris, it’s been two days since I’ve heard from you. The roofing guys are still here, and one knocked down the satellite dish, which I could care less but I know how much you love your Skinemax. And my mother’s psoriasis has taken a turn for the worse, like you give a crap. You still coming home Saturday, or did you forget Terry’s cosmetology school graduation ceremony.”

“Joanne, baby,” Morris cooed, once again pondering the implications of having his wife disappeared, or perhaps himself. “Just a few little complications here — a difficult client. I’ll be back in plenty of time for Terry’s beauty school graduation.”

“Cosmetology, Morris, cosmetology. You know Terry hates it when you call it beauty school.”

“I know he does,” Morris sighed. “Is you-know-who going to be there?”

“Zack is Terry’s significant life partner, and you’re just going to have to wrap your homophobic little brain around that. Dr. Grizzard said we have to affirm Terry’s alternative relationship choices, and it’s about time you started pitching in on the affirmation, mister.”

“Yes, dear.”

“And, Morris? Stay away from the sluts. You hear me?”

“Yes, dear. Look, could you call the dish peo–” But Morris once again was alone. He holstered his phone, rubbed his temples therapeutically, and headed back into the mall.

**

To answer his quandary,

Mulder called three elves in D.C.,

Three paranoid wise men

Melvin, Byers, Langley.

They knew all to know

About the Big Lie;

They knew each thumb buried

In every pie.

They were close to uncovering

With whom Oswald was involved.

Women were the sole mystery

These elves couldn’t solve.

Mulder found a sharp screenshot

Of the camel-haired man

And sent Langly a .jpg,

For this was his plan:

Langly’d writ his own software

For facial recognition

He could match any mug.

Regardless condition.

Ringo’d used his fine program

To prove Elvis alive

(He runs swordfishing tours

In Miami – no jive).

He’d seen Idi Amin

In Vegas on slots;

Hitler’s squeeze Eva Braun

Sipping cosmos on yachts;

So he plugged Mulder’s .jpg

Of this camel-haired man

Into his Mac

For a five-hour scan

He ran every database

From Reuters, FOX, CNN

UPI, AP

Matt Drudge, and then

He hacked into Quantico,

Langley, INTERPOL;

He searched every person,

Every face, every soul

Langly went for a pizza

And when he came back, this curious chap

Took one look at his Mac,

And said, “Dude, holy crap!”

Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital

“I told you to call back,” House sighed, tossing his Gameboy onto the desk. “Do I have to get a restraining order?”

“I didn’t feel like waiting until General Hospital was over,” Scully said, remembering at the last moment to unclench her teeth.

“Probably didn’t even send a gift for Luke and Laura’s wedding,” the diagnostician grunted, leaning back under a Vertigo poster and propping his feet on the dark wood next to his handheld toy. “Midazonitrascopolitan.”

“Excuse me?”

“Coming up with a snazzy name for the cocktail your friend Mary Sunshine took.” House frowned. “Too Sex in the City?”

“Scopolamine, I got. What’s the rest?”

“Midazolam and nitrazepam. Or pretty close synthetic versions. Same with the scopolamine. Sort of a forget-your-troubles-and-where-you-parked-your-car cocktail. The midazolam may have been what caused Agent Poppins to arrest, instead of anaphylaxis — it’s uncommon, but then again, whoever roofied her didn’t have her history. Probably just wanted to put her down quick and temporarily and wipe out a few memories. Not too tough in Sandy Duncan’s case.” House twirled his cane with a wolfish grin. “Sounds like my tax dollars once again at work.”

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Scully eased into the chair opposite the desk. “What do you mean by that?”

“I do keep up with the pharmaceutical trades — just for the horoscopes, of course — and I haven’t seen anything like this even close to market, or I’d’ve stocked up with the cocktail wienies and Quervo. I can’t imagine Merck or AstraZeneca talked the FDA into doing man on the street clinical trials. So that leaves somebody who’d develop a transdermal, instaneously acting benzodiazepene cocktail that helps get rid of pesky witnesses. Now, let me think, who, oh who, would do such a dastardly deed…”

Scully began to object again, then fell silent. It was exactly the kind of Bondian psychotropic monstrosity the intelligence guys would come up with. House waited patiently for a response. The pair’s reverie was broken as a handsome doctor started to enter the office, then skidded to a stop and stared at Scully. House raised his brows expectantly.

“Sorry, House,” the doctor offered drily. She recognized him as Dr. Wilson, who appeared to be House’s only and presumably long-suffering friend. “Forgot to check the schedule. How long have you booked my office?”

“Come back after Montel,” House suggested. “He’s doing ‘Adulterous oncologists who care too much.’ ”

“Ah. Lock up when you’re done. Oh, and flush the key, OK?”

“No sense of professional cameraderie,” House informed Scully as his friend retreated down the hall, head shaking. “Now, about those boundary issues of yours…”

Princeton Holiday Inn

“Ah, the Boys in the Black Choppers,” Mulder nodded as he checked the minibar. He filled Scully in on Langly’s astonishing findings. “And I think I might know how our covert friend delivered Leyla’s hotshot. To the laptop, Scully.”

She sighed and followed Mulder across the hotel carpet. He clicked open the media player on his Powerbook and opened an .mpg. Scully bent over his shoulder and watched as more grainy footage of D. Suess’ sales floor materialized. Leyla Harrison entered the frame, hugging Nurture Me Norm, then stopped dead.

“See, there’s the man in the camel’s hair coat,” Mulder noted, tapping the screen. “He was staring where Leyla’s now staring until she started staring.”

“Huh?”

“There! Look! He’s reaching into his coat and pulling out a…cell phone, right?”

Scully squinted. “It would appear so.”

“He’s looking at the phone, then up at Leyla, then down at the phone. Leyla’s digging in her purse. She takes out the clipping. Annnndd heeeere weeeeee goooo. Yeah. There it is.”

“There what is, Mulder?”

Mulder sighed in exasperation and ran the video back a few seconds. “Focus. Okay, okay, okaaaaay, and….NOW! See that? He pointed the cell phone at Leyla. And then Leyla swatted at the back of her neck. And there she goes down!”

“He shot her?” Scully asked incredulously. “He shot her with his cell phone?”

Mulder turned, grinning. “It would appear so. Camel Hair must have ‘Q’ on his staff along with his friendly neighborhood psychopharmacist. Gotta be CIA, NSA, one of our brother ‘A’s.”

Scully flopped onto the bed. “Great, that should make him easy to ID.”

“Actually, I may have a few thoughts in that direction. Scully, what would you say the temp is today?”

“I dunno, maybe 50, 55?”

Mulder typed a URL into Explorer and pulled up a page festooned with clouds and radiant suns. “Weather Channel.com says 53. It’s a very mild Christmas here in Joisey this year. Today’s actually the coldest day in the past week. But look how bundled up James Bond is. Camel’s hair topcoat, and I actually see gloves sticking out of his pocket. He’s not from around these parts, Scully. He’s from more hospitable climes.”

“All right,” she yawned behind him. “So we’ve got it down to, what, maybe 25 states? Heads Carolina, tails California.”

“Ho, ho, ho, my truncated Grinch. How about we try Nevada?”

“Nevada?”

“I had the mall management pull the parking lot videos for the time Leyla got laid out, and looked for out-of-state tags, government plates, rental cars. There were only a few out-of-state cars, mostly from surrounding states — it’s not exactly a destination mall. There were no government plates, outside of a couple cops probably hitting the food court Dunkin’ Donuts. But there were four rental cars. I fast-forwarded through the videos for all four, and who finally drove off in his rented Crown Victoria?”“Camel Hair.”

“Yup. I got his plate, called Coast Rent-a-Car, and suggested their client was a person of interest in a highly classified investigation. Irving Krutch. Phony name, I’m sure. His driver’s license lists Las Vegas, which got me thinking.”

“There’s trouble,” Scully sighed.

“Dreamland.”

“I’m about to go there if you don’t cut to the chase.”

“Dreamland. It’s what they call Area 51. Groom Lake. The Box. It’s a Nevada military installation where according to some wild-eyed conspiracy buffs–”

“Ah. Them.”

“– government scientists are working to reverse-engineer crashed UFOs, developing energy weapons, and possibly fine-tuning time travel technology. And home to a thousand nefarious government plots and the kind of guys who mix up psychotropic cocktails and gag cell phones. It seemed like a fit.”

“Obviously.”

“So I had Langly hack into the Nevada Secretary of State’s DMV records and run his facial recognition program. Irving Krutch is Morris Fletcher of Rachel, Nevada. A freelance ‘business consultant,’ husband of Joanne, father of Chris and Terry. And according to Langly’s research, an acquaintance of Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Newt Gingrich, Fidel Castro, Kim Jong-il, Hugo Chavez, Sean Penn, the Amazing Yappi, and Donald Trump. And a point of interest: Rachel is located on Nevada Highway 375, known as the ‘Extraterrestrial Highway,’ within a gila monster’s throw of Area 51.”

“OK. So we’re probably dealing with a highly connected, deep cover intelligence agent who works deep within the bowels of the nation’s most secure military installation. Let’s saddle up and round this cayuse up.”

“Yeah, I know,” Mulder sighed, shutting down his browser. “You got any ideas?”

“Just one.”

Mulder jumped as something struck him between the shoulder blades. He glanced down at the object, which possessed two lacy black cups and a system of posterior hooks. Mulder turned and blinked at the woman on the bed.

“Well, I don’t get how this’ll help,” he shrugged, yanking at his belt, “but I guess I oughtta give you the benefit of the doubt.”

**

“Yeah, yeah,” Scully heard Mulder murmur enthusiastically. “No, just following up on a line of inquiry. Thanks for the help, especially at this hour.”

“Who was that?” Scully yawned.

“Your ‘idea’ actually did help. In my post-coital ardor—”

“When you rolled over and started snoring…”

“—I mentally reran the D. Seuss security videos. I realized what Leyla must have been looking at when Fletcher drugged her — what Fletcher must’ve been watching. Santa.”

“Weeping Santa?”

“Flesh-and-blood Santa. Something must’ve sparked Leyla’s memory – something to do with one of my cases. That’s why she pulled that clipping out of her purse – to verify her suspicions.”

“Which were?”

“You remember the Pusher case? Robert Modell? Linda Bowman?”

The sleep fled Scully’s eyes. She sat up under the covers. Mulder retrieved his laptop from the hotel desk and placed it on the bedspread before her. Scully studied the screen, then looked up, puzzled. “Modell?”

“Yeah. I pulled it up with Google – they had his mugshot on a paranormal blog – and dragged it into Photoshop. One beard and a red cap later and voila! – Psycho Santa. Modell’s eyes and forehead were his most prominent facial features. I think that’s what Leyla saw when she looked at Santa. Must’ve been a momentary shock for her. The clipping probably had a photo of Modell. Maybe even this one.”

“Mulder, Modell is dead.”

“But he has relatives scattered down the East Coast – remember when he escaped, we checked to see if he might be hiding with family? That’s why I called Horton just now — to find out who’s behind Santa’s beard.”

“No…”

Mulder nodded. “Leyla probably passed out in that ambulance before she could finish her note. She didn’t mean ‘Santa Model’ – she meant to tell us Santa was Modell. In her delirious state, Leyla didn’t realize she had the wrong Modell.”

**

On the west side of town,

Lived a fellow named Tony;

He lacked pluck and lived meager

On pizza and beef-a-roni.

He ate quite a bit

Of this kind of shit,

And developed a belly

That shook much like jelly.

But unlike that jelly-like

Fella we know as St. Nick, well,

Tony wasn’t really that jolly,

And his eyes didn’t twinkle.

But for four weeks a year Tony

Gained meaningful work

He toiled and he labored,

And for once did not shirk.

He forgot the dull pain

In his overworked knees

And said thank you to folks

And to folks said, “Yes, please.”

Tony had a great secret

That brought out his smile;

It warmed him each winter,

If only for awhile.

But he’d felt a chill now,

For his place of work was

Rapidly becoming a

Media circus.

Shoppers collapsing,

Santas that weep,

FBI agents prowling,

It plagued Tony’s sleep.

And worse yet for Tony,

He knew this man Mulder;

His worry about the agent

Was too much to shoulder.

So he trudged to the bus

In a cerulean funk;

And shared the ride home

With a giggling drunk.

The kids on his stoop

Arose such a clatter

He’d have kicked all their butts

Had he not been much fatter.

It was then Tony realized

Why they found him a hoot;

In his frazzlish state

He’d left on his red suit.

**

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“Hey, Tony.”

Tony Modell turned on the stair, sighing. “Yuh?”

He’d hoped to pass Veronica’s door silently, but at 276 pounds, stealth was not Tony’s long suit.

“Yeah,” she purred. “I made too much lasagna. You had dinner yet?”

Veronica had overcooked every evening since they’d broken up – if that’s how you wanted to put it – three months ago. The first few times, he’d come in, had a few bites more out of guilt than anything else, and fended off her advances – which wasn’t easy, as Veronica was a pole dancer and sometime model with a nimble repertoire of moves. Then he began to politely turn down the beautiful woman’s offers of salmon croquettes and spaghetti carbonara and beef stroganoff. He didn’t want to lead her on, and besides, despite her grandiose culinary choices, the food pretty much sucked. But the buffet and Veronica’s not-so-subtle flirtation continued.

“No, Ronnie – ate at the mall. Look–”

Veronica’s eyes clouded. “I know what you’re going to say…”

“No, I mean look. At me. I’m a fat, semi-employed shlub who dresses up like Santa every year to meet the rent. You’re like, well, like something out of Playboy or Maxim. What’s wrong with this picture, Ronnie?”

“I actually think the Santa thing’s kinda hot. Kinda like role-playing. Hey, you know what? I could go down to the Adult Boutique out by the airport and get an elf costume, like that guy in the movie? Oh, shit, what was the movie about the elf?”

“Elf?”

“Yeah. And you could wear your Santa costume, and I could be the realllly bad elf who forgot to feed the reindeer…”

“Good night, Veronica,” Tony mumbled, continuing up the stairs wearily.

“Oh, Tony,” the smitten stripper called. “Mr. Ianuzzi fixed that drip you told him about. Oh, and replaced your couch – the one you spilled the Cheetos on. Said he was real sorry about the cheap Scotchguarding job. Oh, and you know what? He hooked us all up with free satellite, like you suggested? Oh, and—”

Veronica’s voice faded as Tony reached the third floor of the slightly musty apartment building.

“Anthony?”

Tony turned warily toward the open door at the end of the hall. Mrs. Niemeyer, the tiny octogenarian who seemingly never left her cave, was extending a Corel plate heaped with cookies.

“Toll house,” she beamed toothlessly.

“Mrs. Niemeyer, I haven’t even finished the raisin pie or the red velvet cake.”

“C’mon, take. They’re my mother’s recipe. I stole it last week when I visited her at the high-rise – I knew you’d love ‘em.”

“Thanks,” Tony sighed, accepting the treat. He’d probably catch diabetes if this kept up.

“You know, I mentioned you to that niece of mine, Alberta. I think she’s interested…”

“Think that’s my phone, Mrs. Niemeyer,” Tony retreated. “Thanks for the cookies.”

It was like that episode of The Twilight Zone, the one with the creepy kid — also named Anthony, what a hoot — the one who had all the grownups kissing his ass so he wouldn’t wish them into the cornfield or convert them into a live-action jack-in-the-box. Except Veronica and Mr. Ianuzzi and Mrs. Niemeyer and the rest weren’t scared of him – they smothered him daily with unsolicited attention and affection.

He’d had it out with Niemeyer – told her she was a bitter old bag of bones who needed to lighten up. Told Veronica she oughtta dump the lowlifes she’d been dating. Suggested to Mr. Ianuzzi he could let up a little on the beer and tend to the tenants a little more. To Tony’s shock and awe, after a lifetime of being talked over, overlooked, and passed over, they’d listened.

He’d taken his newfound assertiveness on the road, with astonishing results. Tony suddenly found himself at the head of the line, the top of the list. With a soft-spoken word to the waitress, his portion became significantly larger than that of his fellow diners. Returns were never a problem, he no longer needed to clip coupons, and telemarketers vanished in an instant (though after one rather uncomfortable long-distant episode, Tony learned to be careful what he told them to do, especially with themselves, which was kind of tough in Jersey).

Then it hit him. Cousin Bob. Cousin Linda. The FBI had contacted him when Bob went off the rails, and again when Linda went a little loco in the kielbasa. It must be a family thing. Tony was thrilled. He wasn’t a homicidal psycho – he could make this work for him.

The world appeared to be an open oyster to Tony, but then he arrived at three revelations. One, people had to be willing to talk to him for him to talk them into anything. Tony could coax an extra topping or two from the Domino’s guy, but he couldn’t talk the president of the Craddock Marine Bank into bagging up a few hundred Benjamins for delivery to his doorstep. As a result, he was able only to skim nickels and dimes from his penny-ante peers.

Two, Tony’s circuits ran only one way. What he could talk folks into, he couldn’t appear to talk them out of. Thus, the voluptuous Veronica continued to pursue him, and Mrs. Niemeyer seemed bent on feeding him into a piano-case burial.

Three, Tony realized to his great chagrin that he was neither as cynical, opportunistic, or avaricious as he had imagined. His bounty of petty treats and treasures soon became meaningless. His brief and adventurous romp with Veronica offered no triumph, in fact had seemed unearned and unworthy. Tony felt guilty that Mrs. Niemeyer was blowing her Social Security money on flour and semi-sweet chips.

And then it came to him. His mission. The meaning of this shitty little gift from the Modell gene pool. A few Christmases earlier, Tony had parleyed his chief asset – a huge gut – into a seasonal gig at D. Suess, listening to greedy rug rats slobber over robot transformers and microchipped dolls with intuitive conversational skills. It was a fairly sweet gig – Anthony got to sit all day, and as it turned out, he was pretty good with the brats. D. Suess asked him back, and he’d been playing Old St. Nick every Thanksgivsmas since.

Then fate intervened, one day when Tony had been suffering a hangover, a bad case of overdue rent, and the theft of his parka at Denny’s. The juvenile litany of materialistic demands began immediately and crescendoed over the course of the day. Something in Tony’s head popped as a particularly shrill nine-year-old rhapsodized over the virtues of the GameRhombus X-300 Video Blastah. He glanced up at the boy’s mother, standing at the roped entrance – shabbily but cleanly dressed, a twinkle of hope mingled with economic anxiety in her eyes.

“Well, Jason,” Tony murmured basso-profundo, as calmly as he could. “That sounds like a cra–, um, a boatload of fun. But you know what might be even nicer.”

“I want a Blastah. You’re just sposed to take my order. I want a Blastah.”

“Noooo,” Tony ventured, mentally watching his Santa gig flush down the toilet. “I think you want your mommy to have a merry Christmas.”

Jason’s face reddened, and his pudgy jowls quivered. His eyes narrowed, and he opened his mouth. “I do?”

“Yeah. You do. Your mommy works her a–, works awful hard, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah,” Jason mumbled. “Dad took off last summer. She works nights at Gyro City.”

“I know the joint — the place. You know what would be a great surprise for your mommy? You clean your room every day. Make her some breakfast couple times a week. No more GameRhombus shi–, talk, OK, buddy?”

“Yeah,” Jason nodded slowly, then beamed as he climbed from Anthony’s leg. “Thanks, dude – I mean, Santa.”

“Forgeddaboudit.”

And thus began Tony’s quiet crusade to make his corner of the world a better place, one spoiled, foot-stamping money pit of a kid at a time. It was like a freaking Hallmark special.

“Well, here comes Santa.” The voice was cool, smooth, oozing with confident sarcasm. Tony flipped the light switch and slowly pulled the key from the door. The man on his new couch (and it was a beauty, with a recliner and cup and remote caddies) had authority written all over him – black suit, conservative but high-priced silk tie, fancy shoes that probably cost Tony’s entire Santa paycheck for the season. He was smiling in a way Anthony didn’t like, and his eyes reminded him of that TV show he’d seen as a kid – the one with the green bottomless guy who’d stolen all the brats’ presents.

“You better watch out, you better not cry,” Morris Fletcher murmured before Tony could protest his intrusion. “Better not call the cops; I’m telling you why. ‘Cause I could probably put your double-wide ass in Oz.”

“Who the–?”

“The good news, Tony, is that I come bearing a gift.” Morris glanced around the two-room apartment. “Nice place – Ted Kozinski do your decorating? I think we can do better. How would you like Nevada – warm weather, casinos…”

“We got Atlantic City.”

“And a permanent aroma of garbage scows in the air. I’m authorized to offer you a very lucrative position where you can utilize your talents and serve your country.”

“Jesus, this Iraq thing really has you guys desperate, don’t it?”

Morris chuckled. “Good one, Chubby. I think you know what I’m talking about.” The intruder pulled a digital recorder from his jacket pocket and depressed the Play button.

“…and while you’re at it, maybe you could bring home a couple of A’s next report card, and maybe crank down the hip-hop just a little bit…”

Morris silenced the recorder. “I’ve got about a gigabyte of your greatest hits, Tony Boy. How do you think the folks might feel about your little pediatric brainwashing scheme?”

“I ain’t brainwashing anybody,” Tony sputtered. “I just try to reason with these kids, get ‘em to step off a little. I’m helping their folks.”

Morris stood. “I doubt they’d see it that way, Anthony. Two words, bubby: Michael Jackson.”

“Hey, I never did anything bad to any of those kids.”

“Tell it to Nancy Grace, Big Boy. Point is, you have a talent we could put to use in the national security arena. Imagine if we could talk an entire cell of Shiite insurgents into eating their Russian guns? Get the Koreans to FedEx all their nukes to the Pentagon?”

“I’m not such a great speaker, mister. I was in this essay contest back in fifth grade—”

“Bullshit walks – right through the front gate of Riker’s Island. I’ve seen the Modell magic in action, and we want the franchise.” Morris waggled the recorder. “Unless you’d rather I play this little holiday classic for the local constabulary and Dateline. Hey, getting late. Why don’t you sleep on it, have your people get in touch with our people? Oh, forgot – you don’t have any people. Ta, Tony.”

Anthony stood, frozen to the worn carpet, as he heard Morris’ footfalls down the stairs. Then he dropped onto his new couch, which popped loudly in sympathy.

D. Seuss Department Store

“I wanna Tarantulaman Tarantulamobile an’ a Double Homicide II GameRhombus an’ a Tony Hawk skateboard.”

Tony peered around the sales floor, seeking his houseguest’s smarmy face. “Yeah, uh huh.”

“I don’t want the sucky Funstation 2 version of Double Homicide, neither. The GameRhombus version. Got that, Dude?”

“Sure, whatever,” Tony told the six-year-old listlessly.

“Oh, and a pair of Super Def Crosstrainers – Nuclear Red with silver trim.”

“Got it. Merry Christ—”

“Yeah, yeah.” The kid leapt from Santa’s lap and stalked past his father.

Santa turned to Digital Camera Elf, who was checking out two teens in Petite. “Yo, Neal – gonna grab a slice down at the Food Court.”

“Sure, whatever,” the politically correct 5’11” elf muttered.

He was waiting for Tony in the concourse outside D. Seuss. “Santa Baby,” Mulder grinned. “After all you’ve given to the community, I’d like to buy you some ‘za.”

“Shit,” Santa sighed. “Wonderful.”

“You don’t appear overly jolly, Tony.”

Anthony stopped before Successories. “What? Your buddy send you to put some more pressure on me?”

“Morris Fletcher?”

Tony frowned, reappraising Mulder. “I dunno. Blonde hair, nice suit, looked kinda like the guy in Spinal Tap.”

“What’s he pressuring you about, Tony? Your telepathic abilities?”

“What are you talking about?”

“C’mon, Tony. I played a fast couple rounds of Russian roulette with your Cousin Bob. Plus, I’ve been talking to your boss and some of your coworkers. You have an almost ‘magical’ way with kids – they come to you whining and demanding, leave like happy little Smurfs. The Soviets and CIA have been experimenting with mind control and remote viewing for decades.” The pair queued up before a counter lined with New York-style pies and calzones. “Did Fletcher give you some spiel about national security, service to your country?”

“Two sausage, one pepperoni,” Tony ordered. “You?”

“Eggplant calzone. So, Fletcher trying to recruit you? ‘Cause I’ve done some research on our friend, and he appears more interested in Machiavellian manipulation than in Mom and apple pie.”

They reached the register. “Two slices?” the pretty blonde cashier asked.

“Yeah – got a two-for-one coupon.”

“We got no twofers today.”

“Yeah, sure you do.” Tony pushed a D. Seuss sales flyer at the girl. She glanced at it and shrugged. “They never tell me shit here. Two-twenty-nine for the two.”

“Impressive,” Mulder said, depositing his tray at a table near the condiment station.

“Coulda had her flash her boobs,” Tony said.

“Little showy maybe, especially for Santa.”

“Yeah.” Tony turned to the couple at the next table. “Have a couple of those fries?”

The husband blinked, then smiled, extending his cup of fries. Tony grabbed a cluster and nodded as Mulder stared on. “Thanks, man. You probably better get back to your shopping now.”

The couple obediently rose, bussed their trays, and drifted off toward Sears.

“He threatened me – said he was gonna tell people I was messing with the kids,” Tony informed Mulder.

The agent hacked into his calzone. “Well, Tony, you kinda are.”

“Hey, all I’m doing is making Christmas a little nicer for a few folks, maybe save ‘em a few bucks and an ulcer or two. There a law against that?”

“You could just be the guy they write it for,” Mulder warned. “Perhaps you should contemplate a change in careers.”

“Shit,” Tony grunted, folding his slice and yanking his beard down. “Knew it was too good to last. So what do I do about this Fletcher guy?”

Mulder leaned forward, a smile forming. “I have an idea, but I need to know something. You got any family in the area?”

Garden State Gardens Hotels

Morris Fletcher muted the TV and tossed the last slice of pizza back into the box as he rose from the hotel bed to answer the knock.

The woman on the threshold was built somewhere along the line of a fire hydrant, with muscular legs sticking out of her housekeeper’s uniform and a downy mustache perched above her glistening purple lips. “Here’s them towels you ordered.”

”I didn’t call for any towels.” Morris started to close the door.

“They told me Room 312,” the hydrant persisted.

Morris sighed and pulled a buck from his pants. “OK, fine. Buy yourself something nice.” Like electrolysis, the MIB thought.

The housekeeper glanced at the TV screen, where two nurses were delivering an unusual brand of health care to a shirtless construction worker. She smiled slyly as Morris eased the door closed.

“Out-of-towner, huh? Kinda lonely, right?”

The door halted, although Morris didn’t quite know why. “Well,” he murmured.

“I’m goin’ off shift,” she said, pudgy fingers toying with the top button of her uniform. She did have striking brown eyes and strong calf development, Morris noted. “You maybe don’t want to be so lonely?”

With a lupine smile, Morris nudged the door open.

**

Morris snapped awake as the lights blazed on. His right foot connected with the pizza box, and the now-coagulated last slice skidded across the carpet. It stopped next to a black-pumped foot. Morris blinked the sand from his eyes and traced the leg wearing the pump to the attractive redhead above.

“Hey, Morris. How do you like the Princeton-Plainsboro Welcome Wagon?” Morris gaze moved from Scully to Mulder, who was straddling a chair next to the TV. Tony Modell was perched precariously on the hotel work desk. The “housekeeper” was slinging her purse over her shoulder.

“Thanks, Janine,” Tony called as the small woman turned the knob.

“Hey, no problem,” she nodded. “Tell Aunt Teresa I said hey, OK?”

“Betcha.”

“What’s the deal here?” Morris sputtered, retrieving his pants from the chair next to the bed. “What are you people doing here?”

“We traced your rental car and ran a check on your government credit card with all the local hotels,” Scully related.

“You know what I mean,” Morris growled. “What the hell are you people doing here? Modell, you’re already skating on thin ice. And you two – you have any idea who I work for?”

Mulder smiled. “How do you think your bosses at Dreamland will feel about your extracurricular activities?”

Morris’ eyes narrowed, then his teeth came out. “Fox, right? Fox, my bosses could make you and Kewpie Doll here vanish somewhere out in the Nebula Galaxy.”

Mulder turned toward the desk, where a laptop was open and Photoshop was up. Morris peered at himself on the screen. “Wonders of wireless DSL, Morris. I already e-mailed a couple sets of these lovely Christmas card .jpgs to some friends and acquaintances. You like, I could send a set back home for you.”

Morris snorted. “Hey, knock yourself out, Fox. Then maybe you can explain why a couple of FBI badges are blackmailing a fellow government agent.”

“You think Mrs. Fletcher will care?” Scully asked quietly.

The smirk vanished from Morris’s gray face, and he sat hard on the mattress.

“You see, I think Mr. Modell here would like to just be left alone,” Mulder said. “And I assume you’d just as soon your lovely bride Joanne didn’t know how you’ve been passing the time here. Your choice, Morris – what happens in Jersey can stay in Jersey, or not.”

Morris glanced again at the laptop monitor, then at the portly telepath.

“Merry Christmas, Modell,” he sighed.

“One more thing,” Mulder said.

D. Seuss Department Store

“So what are we doing here, Mulder?” Scully demanded, leaning against a clearance bin.

Mulder was on his hands and knees, pawing through the white velvet faux-snow framing D. Seuss’s Santa’s Wish Shop as the night crew set to work. “Don’t you want to find out what makes Santa cry?”

“Not our job, Mulder. We solved Agent Harrison’s assault in our customary manner – no arrests, and we wrote off a variety of fairly serious felonies and misdemeanors to satisfy your romanticized sense of personal justice. Let’s leave the miracles to Roma Downey.”

“Watching those store security videos, I noticed something strange,” Mulder continued.

“Besides Santa brainwashing children and Morris Fletcher shooting Agent Harrison with his cell phone?”

“There was an unusual level of romance.”

“Romance?”

“Yeah. I noticed several couples suddenly kissing on the sales floor, with no apparent provocation.”

“As strange as it may sound, maybe the provocation was love, Mulder.”

“You find Christmas shopping at the mall an aphrodisiac? No, these people were reacting to a seasonally conditioned stimulus. Ah.” Mulder straightened, displaying a small object.

Scully peered at a sprig with spatulate leaves and white berries. “Mistletoe?”

“Yeah – there are sprigs of it on the ceiling all over the store. Part of the Christmas décor. I think this one fell when Horton had his people check the sprinklers.”

Scully frowned. “I still don’t get the connection between this and the weeping Santa.”

Mulder grasped her shoulder, gently turning his partner. Twenty feet away, a middle-aged Latino woman reached into her apron and pulled out an odd-looking weapon. She searched the ceiling, locked in on her target, and pumped the Super-Squirter. She unleashed an arc of water.

“That’s Juana,” Mulder explained. “I talked to the custodial crew, and it seems she’s very conscientious. So much so that she waters the mistletoe every night.”

As Juana moved on, Scully crossed the floor and stared up at the sprig fastened to the light fixture. She blinked as a plump drop of water struck her brow. Her hand went to her face, then froze as the droplet trickled down her cheek.

**

So night came to Jersey

And all was at peace;

Tony returned to his hovel

With a wholly new lease;

For he’d found that when one door

Slams inevitability shut,

If you’re lucky, it doesn’t

Slam shut on your butt.

Mulder pulled a few strings

And a few favors, too;

And now Tony tends reindeer

At the Plainsboro zoo.

Morris Fletcher pulled the plug

On his search for Modells;

And pledged to avoid

Two-star highway hotels.

The Jerseyans found

Plastic Santas don’t cry,

And went back to their shopping

With a disillusioned sigh.

And in a small room

In her hospital bed;

Agent Leyla awoke

In time for her meds.

She looked round the room,

And into the hall,

And fished for her button

Her nurse for to call.

Then Leyla saw a sight

That filled her with cheer

For sitting in the corner

In her guestless guest chair

Was a grinning button-nosed

Fellow with bulging blue eyes

The object of her quest,

Her sought-after prize.

Some Santa unknown

In some strange kind of form,

Had delivered a brand-new,

Fresh Nurture Me Norm.

Norm’s sensors kicked in,

And with digital delight,

He declared, “Good karma to all,

And to all a good night.”

First Timer Blues

First Timer Blues

clip_image001

Skinner’s Office

Monday

“Well, Agents, everything looks in order,” commented Skinner as he closed the report before him. “I’m glad you were able to finish the case before the holidays. What do you have planned for the rest of the week?”

“Well, sir,” Scully began, “since it is a short week and we don’t have any current cases, I thought Agent Mulder and I might take the opportunity to catch up on our paperwork. We have several weeks of expense reports that need to get done and we want to finish the report on the Hodgkins case. I got the lab results back on Friday.”

“Excellent idea. So, what do you two have planned for Thanksgiving?”

Mulder fielded this question. “We’re planning on staying home, watching football, do a little snuggling on the couch.” The last comment earned him a kick from his partner. “Ouch!”

“You’re not going to your mother’s house, Agent Scully?”

‘My sister-in-law, Tara, has taken the kids to visit her family and Mom chose to go on a skiing trip with her ladies club, ‘The Red Hat Brigade’. That leaves Mulder and me without family this year.”

“You’re not cooking dinner?”

“I was going to cook, sir,” Mulder began, “but decided against the hassle of cooking for just the two of us this year. Maybe we’ll order a pizza to be delivered.”

Scully looked at him incredulously. “Pizza!”

“We could make it a turkey pizza with all the trimmings.”

Scully chuckled at the idea of a turkey pizza, covered in dressing and gravy. Mulder would probably love that. Put anything on pizza crust and he was a happy man.

“How about you, sir, what do you have planned?” asked Mulder.

“Oh, the usual. Stay home, watch football, maybe have a nice steak dinner at the local restaurant.” Skinner rattled off his usual Thanksgiving tradition. He was so tired of spending the holidays alone. He would love to have some company. He suddenly had an idea. He had come to think of Mulder and Scully as more than his agents; he thought of them as friends. Maybe he could persuade them to join him for Thanksgiving. Yeah, that was a super idea. He could cook! They could enjoy each other’s company, watch football, eat a real Thanksgiving dinner; it would be fantastic. “I have an idea. Why don’t you two join me for Thanksgiving? It would be great. I’ll cook dinner. We can watch the football game together. Sorry, but I can’t do anything about the snuggling thing.” He added with a smile. “Please, I would really like that.”

Mulder and Scully shared a glance that said everything. They had planned on spending the holiday together and doing nothing, but they would have the whole weekend to do that. This would mean a great deal to the Assistant Director and they could use all the good karma with their boss they could get.

“We’d love to, sir, thanks,” replied Scully. “Can we bring anything with us?”

“Well, yeah, why don’t you bring the beer? I mean what’s football without some brewskis?” Skinner was literally grinning from ear to ear. This was going to be so much fun. This would be a great Thanksgiving.

Basement Office

Tuesday afternoon

“Scully, these reports are so boring. What I wouldn’t give for a good bigfoot case right now.”

“Mulder…you don’t want to be on the road for Thanksgiving…again, do you? Just think, one more day and we have a 4-day weekend.”

“Actually, that’s dinner at the boss’s, then a nice 3-day weekend. You know, I had big plans for us on Thanksgiving.”

“It’s only dinner. It’ll mean a lot to the AD and we could use a few brownie points. Besides, we will have plenty of weekend left for your _plans_.”

Suddenly the phone rang. Mulder uttered a “Thank you, Jesus” under his breath as he jumped to answer the phone. This could be his salvation from the reports. “Mulder.”

Scully could tell by the straightening of Mulder’s stance that it was their boss on the line. It was almost a Pavlovian response to the sound of Skinner’s voice.

“Yes, sir,” said Mulder and then hung up the phone.

“What’s up?”

“Skinman wants to see me…just me…in his office, muy pronto.”

“Why? What did you do, Mulder?”

Mulder feigned a hurt look. “Do? Now, why do you assume I’ve done something?” Her only answer was the now routinely raised eyebrows. Mulder grabbed his suit coat and headed for the door, “I can assure you, Agent Scully, that I have done nothing to draw the wrath of the AD.” As he left the office, she heard him mutter, “At least, I hope not.”

Mulder rapped lightly on Skinner’s office door and entered, when he was beckoned inside.

“Please, have a seat Agent Mulder.” Skinner directed him to his usual chair facing the AD’s desk.

Mulder noted the stern look on Skinner’s face. He had been wracking his brain the entire trip from the basement to here, trying to figure what he could have done to upset him so much. He couldn’t come up with anything; not anything recent.

“Sir, I don’t know what I have done…” began Mulder.

Skinner held up his hand to stop Mulder is mid-sentence. “Agent Mulder. Are you under the impression I’m mad at you?”

“Well, sir, that is usually the case when you call me up here…alone.”

“I called you up here to ask you a question.”

“Certainly, sir, fire away.”

“Have you yourself ever prepared a Thanksgiving dinner?”

Mulder was completely taken aback by the question and the look on his face showed it. This was the last question in the world he would have expected the AD to ask. He stared at the man in a state of shock.

When Mulder didn’t answer the question, but continued to stare, Skinner tried again. “Agent Mulder, it’s not a hard question. Yes or no. Have you ever cooked a turkey dinner?”

Mulder finally brought himself back to reality, answering the question that was posed. “Yes, sir, I have. Several times. In fact, if we eat Thanksgiving at home, I do the cooking. It’s kind of a tradition now.”

“Good!” That was exactly what wanted to hear. A huge grin spread across his face which was contagious, because Mulder couldn’t help grinning too. He had obviously given the right answer.

“What kind of turkey do you usually get? I mean, do you get a fresh turkey or frozen? I read about free-range turkeys…have you ever tried one of those? How big? I need enough to feed 3 people, but I love turkey sandwiches, so I thought I would like to have a lot left over. What should I make with the turkey? I know you have to have stuffing, but what else?”

The questions seemed to be non-stop. Mulder didn’t think the AD took a single breath in between the string of questions. They kept pouring from his mouth.

“Does Scully like apple pie or some other kind? I prefer pumpkin, but I wanted to see what you would prefer?”

Finally Mulder put a stop to the questions. “Sir! Umm, have you _ever_ cooked Thanksgiving dinner before?” Mulder was pretty sure he knew the answer, but he had to confirm his suspicions.

“Well, no, _but, I have seen it done hundreds of times. My mother cooked every year for as long as I remember and, after I got married, Sharon cooked it many times.”

“Did you ever help, sir? Help them in the cooking process?”

“No, not really. I was never allowed in the kitchen. I was always told to stay out of their way,” he said resignedly. “But, I did carve the turkey,” he added as an afterthought.

“Oh, uh, Scully usually insists on carving the turkey. She’s the professional slicer & dicer. She may fight you on that one, sir.”

Skinner formed a mental picture of Scully in her scrubs and mask, standing over a roasted turkey, sliced open with the traditional “Y” incision, removing the slices of meat from the bird.

“Sir? Sir!” Skinner finally broke out of his daydream and looked up at Mulder. “Why did you offer to cook dinner, if you hadn’t done it before?”

“I spend every Thanksgiving alone. I wanted some company. I’ve come to think of you and Agent Scully…Dana…as more than just my agents, but my friends. That’s what friends do…they spend the holidays together. Besides, how hard can it be?”

Mulder thinks back to his first attempt at Thanksgiving dinner. He had managed, but it did not come off without a hitch. Perhaps, he could pass on some tips that might help.

“Buy a fresh turkey. Seeing that it is Tuesday, you won’t have time to thaw out a frozen turkey.” Mulder recalled being up all night changing the water in his attempt to quickly thaw out his frozen bird.

“Make a list _before_ you go to the store. Decide what you want and make a list. You have a better chance of getting everything you need if you make a list first.” That was another mistake Mulder had made. He just went to the store and started buying things. Luckily, he managed without the missing items, but he had never gone to the store without a list again.

“One more thing…check out the Butterball website. It’s full of information for the first-timer. I sure wish I had seen it before I started the first time.”

Skinner wrote all this down. “Anything else?”

“Buy lots and lots of whipped cream. It saved my dinner more than once.” The thought brought a smile to Mulder’s face, remembering how he and Scully had found so many uses for the wonderful stuff, other than putting it on food.

“Whipped Cream? For the pie?”

Mulder realized what he had just said and the thoughts he was having here in Skinner’s office. He immediately straightened in his chair. “Umm, never mind, sir…I don’t think it will help you in this case. Forget I mentioned it.”

Skinner appraised his agent, trying to figure out what he had talking out, but decided it was best to forget about it. He was impressed that Mulder knew so much about cooking. He felt much more confident after their discussion.

“Thank you for all your advice, Agent Mulder. I feel much better now. Please don’t tell Agent Scully about what we discussed. Let’s just keep it as our little secret.” Skinner knew it would be hard for Mulder to keep a secret from Scully, but he didn’t want her to think he couldn’t pull this off on his own, which of course, he couldn’t, but he didn’t want her to know that.

When Mulder got back to their office, Scully was ready for him. “What did Skinner want? Is everything OK? You were gone a long time. I almost thought about coming to your rescue.”

Dammit! He had completely forgot about Scully. He had been so floored by the AD and his apprehension about cooking the dinner, that he hadn’t prepared an excuse for Scully. “He..uh…he wanted..uh,” stammered Mulder. Luckily, this worked in his favor, since Scully simply thought he was stalling, which he was, but she thought it was because he didn’t want to tell her what had happened, which of course, he didn’t. Finally, the light bulb went off. He could have sworn the room brightened with the birth of his idea. “He wanted to talk to me about Sheriff Oates. He said he had gotten several complaints about my behavior during the case.”

Scully had to think a moment. Sheriff Oates. Mulder could tell the moment that she remembered, as her bright smile turned into a dark scowl. “You mean that chauvinistic pig from “Pig Snout”, Kentucky? If any one was out of line, Mulder, it was him. He was rude to both of us.” Her voice had grown louder with each word. “I thought you were on your best behavior…considering. Maybe I should talk to Skinner.” She headed for the office door.

“No!” Mulder shouted, which pulled Scully up short. “I mean, no, everything is OK. I explained everything to Skinner and he was fine with it.” Scully’s expression seemed to relax before his eyes. “Besides, he said he didn’t care much for the sheriff either,” he added with a chuckle.

“OK, Mulder, if you’re sure,” she conceded. “Let’s get this last report finished up and head out a little early.’

“I like the way you think, Agent Scully.”

Mulder/Scully residence

Thanksgiving Day, 6:00 am

Mulder woke to the sound of the ringing phone. He fumbled to answer it before it woke Scully. “H’lo, he slurred sleepily.

“Agent Mulder? I’m sorry to call so early in the morning, but I need your help.” It was Skinner and he sounded panicked.

“One sec,” whispered Mulder, as he slid out of the warm bed and left the room carrying the cordless phone with him. He went into the kitchen, so he could talk to Skinner without disturbing Scully. “What’s wrong, sir?”

“What kind of stuffing should I make?”

Stuffing, thought Mulder. He woke me at 6:00 am from a dead sleep to ask about stuffing. The man was losing it. He cleared his throat, before he began. “What do you mean?”

“I _mean_, what kind of stuffing should I make? I have cornbread stuffing, rice stuffing, and plain bread stuffing and I don’t know what kind to make. What kind does Agent Scully like?”

Mulder chuckled to himself. “Well, Scully is partial to cornbread stuffing, but I’m sure she’ll love any one of them.”

“Ok, cornbread it is. Thanks!”

“Umm, sir, you’re not going to make it now are you? You have to make it right before you use it to stuff the turkey.”

“I know that, Agent Mulder. I’m just about ready to put the turkey in.”

“Sir, how big of turkey did you buy?”

“I bought the smallest I could find, which was 11 pounds. Why?”

“Well, it should only take a little over 3 hours to cook that turkey. If you put it on now, we can eat it for breakfast.” They had already agreed to meet at Skinner’s for dinner at 1:00 pm. “Why don’t you wait until 9:30 or 10:00 to put it on?”

Mulder could hear the disappointment in Skinner’s voice. He obviously wanted to put that turkey in now. “Ok. I’ll wait a while before I put the turkey in. I’m just anxious to get started. Maybe I’ll read the paper for a while. I’ll see you and Scully around 1:00.”

When he returned to bed, Scully snuggled up to him and asked…actually it was closer to a mumble, “who zat?”

Dammit! He had completely forgot about Scully…again. He had been so caught up in Skinner’s plight, that he hadn’t thought about what to tell Scully. At this rate, he was going to have to compile a list of excuses that he could pull out at any moment. He thought she had dozed back off, when she asked again. “Oh, it was Skinner. He wanted us to bring some, uh…butter when we come.”

“‘kay,” she managed and burrowed deeper into Mulder’s arms. Good one, Mulder, that seemed to satisfy her.

An hour later, the phone rang again. Mulder knew who it was before he even picked it up. He slid out of bed, grabbed the ringing phone, and headed back to the kitchen.

“Does Scully like giblet gravy or plain gravy?”

Mulder rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Sir, it really doesn’t matter.”

“I don’t understand how one is supposed to make gravy using the internal organs that were removed from the turkey.”

Yummy, thought Mulder. It doesn’t sound too appetizing when you put it the way. “You boil them to cook them. Dump them all in boiling water for about half an hour. Personally, I only use the liver and throw away the rest, but that’s my preference.”

“Ok, that sounds like a good idea, Agent Mulder. I’ll just cook the liver.”

“And boil a couple of eggs to add to the gravy. Scully likes it that way.”

“Great. Thanks again. See you at 1:00.”

Mulder was just about to crawl into bed next to Scully’s warm body, when the phone rang again. He did an about face and left the room.

“What is it now, sir?” Mulder asked with a hint of irritation.

“Am I disturbing you, Agent Mulder?”

“Uh, no sir, I’m up now.”

“Oh, good. I seem to be all out of eggs. Could you please pick some up on your way over here?”

“Yeah, sure,” Mulder said as he hung up, without so much as a see ya later. “Sure, fine, whatever,” he mumbled as he returned to the room.

He decided against crawling back into bed. Scully looked so peaceful and he didn’t want to disturb her anymore. Besides, he was wide-awake now. He would go for a run instead. He leaned over and gave Scully a peck on the cheek. She asked him who was on the phone. He didn’t have to make up an excuse this time. “It was Skinner. He asked if we could bring him some eggs when we come over later. I’m going for a run. Be back soon.” He gave her another kiss, which elicited a small moan from her. He hesitated a moment, gazing at her sleeping form. With a sigh, he gathered his running gear, and headed for the bathroom.

He returned an hour later to the smell of coffee. Obviously, Scully was up. He had stopped and bought a newspaper and some bagels for breakfast. Mulder followed the smell into the kitchen. Scully was sitting at the table drinking coffee. He put his purchases on the table and headed directly for the coffee pot.

“Skinner called. He wants you to call him”

Mulder stopped in mid-pour. “Did he say why?”

“Nope. He just wants you to call.” She looked up from her coffee, as Mulder sat down at the table with a sigh. “Is everything OK? He sounded a little stressed” Scully asked, her voice dripping with concern.

“Nah, everything is fine. I’ll give him a call and then take a shower.” He took his coffee and the cordless phone and headed to the bedroom. Mulder dialed the AD’s number, while he began to remove his sweaty clothes.

“Skinner.” Wow, he answers the phone with the same tone that uses in the office. He doesn’t even have a home phone voice. “Hello?”

“You called sir?”

“Yes I did. Do you know how to make cranberry sauce? I have a pint of fresh cranberries, but I can’t figure out to turn them into a sauce.”

“Gee, sir, I’ve never attempted to make cranberry sauce. I have no idea how to pull that one off. I always buy the kind in a can. You know, the jellied kind.”

“Oh. Well, then could you pick up some canned cranberry sauce on your way over?”

Mulder better start writing this down. At this rate, he was going to have quite a list of things to pick up at the store. “Sure, sir. No problem. See ya later.”

A couple of hours passed without any more phone calls. Mulder assumed that was a good sign…you know, no news is good news, when all of a sudden the phone rang.

“Mulder,” he said as he answered the phone.

“Mulder. I need your help. Can you come over now?”

“Now?”

“Yes, _now_!” Skinner shouted, then added in a softer voice, “Please?”

Mulder could tell Skinner needed help. He’d never seen him in this state and hoped never to again. It was unnerving. “Yes sir, we’ll be over soon.” He heard Skinner whisper a contrite, “thanks” before he hung up.

“Mulder, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Everything’s fine.” At the look she gave him when he used the dreaded “f” word, he added, “Really. He’s just lonely and wants some company.”

She scrutinized him, trying to figure out what was up with him and the Assistant Director. He looked back with such an innocent face, that she decided to drop it. “Let’s head out. Besides, we need to stop at the store to get the stuff on Skinner’s list.”

When they arrived at Skinner’s apartment, he answered the door almost immediately. Almost, like he had been waiting for them by the door. Scully smiled at the sight before her. Skinner had a bath towel tucked into the waistband of his jeans. He and it were covered in flour and other assorted smears.

You could smell the cooking turkey. She took in a deep breath. “Something sure smells good, sir.”

Skinner relieved her of the bag of groceries she was carrying. He grasped her arm and hustled her to the couch, offering her some Chex Mix that was in a bowl on the coffee table.

“Thanks. Can I help you with anything?” she offered.

“No, no, no. Everything is under control,” he said calmly. “You just sit back and enjoy the game. Mulder, you want to put that beer in the fridg?”

Mulder followed the AD into the kitchen. As soon as they stepped in the kitchen, Skinner changed into a different man. He started talking at ninety miles an hour in a hushed voice, so Scully wouldn’t hear.

“Mulder, everything is going to hell! I burned the cornbread stuffing, so I had to make the rice stuffing. Of course, there wasn’t very much rice stuffing, so it all went into the bird. Do you think that will be enough dressing or should I make the bread stuffing? I don’t know if I have enough ingredients for it though. I’m running low on supplies.”

If Skinner hadn’t been in such a state, it would have been funny. Mulder knew how important this had been for him. “Relax, sir. Calm down. Everything will be fine. I think the rice stuffing will be plenty. Is that the only problem?”

Skinner gave him the “are you serious” look and began where he had left off. “The mashed potatoes are done…real done…I didn’t even have to mash them.”

Mulder peeked into the pan and took a spoon to stir the potatoes. Skinner might have just made the first mashed potato soup. “It’s OK. Scully doesn’t really do a lot of starches anyway and she’s been trying to get me to lay off them too. What else?”

“My pie crust turned out pretty well…after the third try, but the pie cooked a bit too long, so it is burnt on the edges.”

Mulder glanced at the pumpkin pie cooling on the counter. It was overdone, with a perfect black charcoal ring around it. “Don’t worry about the crust, sir. No one ever eats that part anyway. Next?”

“I couldn’t figure out the whole giblet thing. All the pieces looked alike; well, except for the neck. I didn’t want to accidentally use the heart or something, so I just threw them all away. Besides, I wouldn’t have had time to boil any eggs anyway. So I settled for plain gravy. It didn’t taste too bad, but it was really thin, so I tried to thicken it up by adding flour; that’s what my Mom use to do. Of course, then it got all lumpy. By time I fished out all the lumps, I have about a cup of viable gravy left.”

Mulder was working very hard not to smile at Skinner’s plight. He knew he would have problems, but a problem with everything was almost unheard of. “A cup of gravy should be plenty for 3 people. Anything else?”

“My salad turned out OK,” he said proudly.

“Congratulations, sir! Scully loves a good salad. Um, sir, do you mind me asking? How did you cook the pie and the turkey at the same time?”

“Well, I put the turkey in early. I know, you said not to, but I knew I needed the oven for the pie. The turkey has been done for a while now. That’s one of the reasons I called you to come over early. It’s ready…everything is ready.”

Mulder looked around the kitchen and didn’t see the turkey. “Where is the turkey, sir?”

“I wanted it to be hot, so I put it back in the oven. It should be hot by now.”

“Sir, you can’t do that,” Mulder said, as he snatched a couple of potholders off the counter and handed them to his boss. “Pull it out now or it will dry out.”

Skinner removed the bird from the oven and it did indeed look dry. It looked a lot worse than when he first took it out of the oven. He deflated right before Mulder’s eyes. “I’m a failure. My dinner is ruined,” he moaned.

“Sir, you are not a failure. Thanksgiving dinner is not as easy as it sounds. Believe me, I’ve had my share of failures in the kitchen. Everything will be just fine.”

Skinner felt slightly better, but not much. He had wanted everything to be perfect. He had no idea how hard that would be. “I’ll put the food on the table and you get Scully.”

Scully was sitting back on the couch, munching on a handful of Chex Mix and watching the game.

“Hey, that’s a good idea,” Mulder said as he grabbed a handful of the snack and began eating them. It might be the most sustenance they would get that day. He sat down next to her and leaned in so he could whisper in her ear. “Skinner had some difficulties with his dinner. You should be supportive and complimentary. Don’t make a big deal out of it. OK?”

“What kind of problems?”

“Typical first-time problems.”

“First time?” Mulder nodded affirmative. He pulled her up from the couch by her hands and led her into the dining room.

Scully had to admit the table looked nice. Really nice. He had some fine place settings, obviously from his wife. Once they all sat down, Skinner stood up to address his company.

“Thank you for coming over and spending Thanksgiving with me. It has been a long time since I have had friends to spend the holidays with. Anyway, thanks.” He took the knife and turned to Scully. “Would you like to do the carving, Dana? I heard you were the best.” He gave a little wink to Mulder at the last remark.

“I’d be honored, sir…um, Walter.” He smiled at the use of his first name. She sliced into the turkey and noticed it was a bit dry, but decided not to comment. “This really looks great, sir.” His smile widened with the compliment. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. Once she had cut about a half a dozen slices, she sat down to enjoy the meal.

The bowls of food made the rounds. The turkey really wasn’t too bad, especially bathed in the gravy. The potatoes were thin. You couldn’t eat them with a fork, but a spoon worked just fine.

Between the two of them, Mulder and Skinner polished off the cranberry sauce and Scully had 3 helpings of salad. The rest of the dinner pretty much remained untouched.

“I’m sorry, but this dinner is not exactly what I had planned,” offered Skinner by way of apology.

“Oh, I don’t know sir, mashed potato soup might just become a new Thanksgiving tradition,” Mulder said trying to ease Skinner’s guilt.

“Really, sir,” Scully said, “it really wasn’t that bad, especially for your first try.” Oops, she shouldn’t have said that.

Skinner glared at Mulder. He hadn’t wanted Scully to know this was his first time. Of course, he then realized, considering how it turned out, he should be glad she didn’t think that this was the dinner of an experienced cook. That would be worse. And Mulder had done everything to help him. He really was a good friend to put up with so much. His glare softened into a smile.

“Thank you, Scully. And thank you, Mulder, for all your help. You just wait until next year. I’ll do it better next time. You’ll have to come back year, to see how much I have improved, and I assure you, I _will_ improve. I have nowhere else to go but up.” Everyone had a good laugh at that point.

“Hey, who wants dessert? I made pumpkin pie.” Before they could decline, he had disappeared into the kitchen. He returned a few minutes later, carrying a tray. On the tray were the pumpkin pie, three plates, and four cans of whipped cream.

When Scully spied the cans of whipped cream, she turned to Mulder and gave him a very seductive smile and licked her lips. Mulder’s breath caught in his throat. Finally, once he was able to breath again, he turned to the AD and said, “Um, sir, could we get that dessert to go?”

The End

American Gothic X

American Gothic X

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Trixie’s Truckers Home

Interstate 55

McLean, Illinois

November 23, 2006

4:15 am

I was still pretty groggy when Dan called me and said I could take Lisa’s shift if I hurried my ass up. Oh joy. But at least working the early bird shift meant I could be home eating turkey with Mom and Martin by 12 o’clock, maybe even catch a little of the Macy’s parade on the DVR.

I don’t mind working the early shift. It’s quiet, just the OTR guys coming in, mostly. Since I got this job when I was in high school, I’ve become familiar with a lot of the guys in the rigs. People think truckers are always strangers, but that’s not true at all. Truckers are nomads, most of them have set territories so you get to know them and more often than not, all their heartaches. One thing for certain, once you know them, you are one of them and they don’t take to any one else causing you any trouble.

I grabbed the decaf that had just finished spitting and hustled over to Jake, sitting at the counter. “Fill ‘er?” I asked, holding up the carafe.

“Josey! Girl, where you been? Ain’t seen you in a couple ‘o moons!”

“School started again,” I smiled as he nods toward his cup. “I’m a junior now.”

“You’re up at ISU, ain’t ya?” he asked before taking another swig of coffee. Jake likes his coffee HOT. He’s told me on more occasions than I care to count that he likes his coffee like he likes his women and that’s as far as I want to remember the rest of his analogy. “What ‘er you studying fer now?”

“Same thing — Psychology. Gonna get my degree, get a masters and a Ph.D and then I’m gonna open up an office back where we used to have the smokers lounge. Charge all you guys out the butt to come in and tell me all about your women troubles.” I gave him a wink and he knew I was kidding.

“You’ll be a millionaire, sweetheart. A friggin’ millionaire!”

I went back to the kitchen to get another load of cups when I heard the door chime. Peeking around the corner, I saw a woman in a fur trimmed parka sitting down at one of the window booths. She pulled off her gloves and blew into her hands — a sure sign she needed a cup of coffee. I hurried out with a cup and pot.

“Regular?” I asked, holding up the carafe.

“Yes, thank you,” she sighed. She picked up the menu card and glanced over both sides. “I’ll have an order of raisin toast, butter on the side, please.”

“There’s a special today, eggs, an order of hash browns and toast or english muffin for 2.99,” I suggested.

She smiled and shook her head. “Just the toast. And a glass of water, please.”

Diets — why bother when you can just run a few miles? But I jotted down her ‘order’ and headed to the pass through to call it back. Henry was working the grill and he and I go way back — back when I was just a little girl in pigtails and Dad would bring me in with him when he was off the road. Henry grinned at me as I tacked up the order.

“So, tell me about this young man you’re seeing,” Henry said casually as he pulled the raisin bread out and popped it in the toaster.

“I hardly call it ‘seeing’, Henry. We have a lot of classes together and he gave me a ride home. Saved Martin a trip into Bloomington to pick me up. No big deal.”

“He helped you with your bag,” Henry countered.

“Who told you? Oh, wait, Mrs. Dubois was sweeping her porch when we got in. The old busy-body.”

“Seems to me, a nice girl like you oughta be thinking about settlin’ down, startin’ a family.”

“Henry, despite what everyone in McLean has decided, I’m hoping to go to graduate school — in Chicago.”

Henry shook his head. “You don’t belong in a place like the Windy City, child. You’ll get your fool head blowed off — and that’s if your’n lucky!”

I rolled my eyes. Sometimes it felt like this town was just too tiny — everybody elbowing their way into everyone else’s business. The door chimed again and this time it was a guy — an older guy but still really cute. He had on a leather jacket and no hat. His ears were red from the cold of the parking lot. He sat down at the counter three seats over from Jake.

“Coffee?” I asked, but I’d already plunked down a cup in front of him.

“Yes, please. And I’ll have the steak and eggs special, eggs over easy.”

“American fries or hash browns?” I queried.

“There’s a difference?” he asked back, an amused look on his face.

“American fries are sliced fried potatoes. Hash browns are the shredded kind,” I explained. Not from around here — at least wise not from around Illinois.

“Hash browns. And raisin toast, please.”

I couldn’t help it, I looked over to the woman by the window. It was just too much of a coincidence. But the guy in front of me just kept looking at me.

“Oh, and could I have a side of biscuits and gravy with that?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said with a smile and jotted it all down. I only had to turn to tack it up for Henry. By this time, the lady’s toast was up.

I picked up the plate and was taking it over to her table when he came in. He looked like he’d been driving a flat bed — jeans were torn and dirty, shirt hadn’t been changed in a week and his beard was right at the really seedy looking stage. Now, that’s not saying anything bad about flatbed drivers. They just never seem to have enough time between loads to take showers and change. My Dad drove flat beds for a while before he went Haz mat. He’d probably still be alive today if he’d stayed with them.

I nodded to the guy but he kept his head down and took a table in the center of the room. He was huddled down in his jacket, an old fatigue jacket, the kind hunters used to wear before everything had to be blaze orange. I took him a cup of coffee but he pushed it away.

“Just water,” he growled.

I looked over at Henry, but he was busy fixing the counter guy’s eggs. “You have to buy something to sit at the tables,” I told him.

He lifted his head to look at me and my guts froze. He had the strangest eyes. They were blue, but pale blue, like a lake in January. And when he glared at me I thought I might just turn into a giant popsicle standing there.

“What’s the cheapest thing on the menu in this dive?” he spat out.

“Coffee. Eighty-nine cents a cup, free refills,” I answered. My voice just barely made it out of my mouth, my throat was dry as dust.

He nodded and I put the cup back in front of him, filling it. As I turned to walk back behind the counter, he grabbed my wrist. His hand was like a vice.

“I want cream. Not that half and half shit. Real cream.”

I was trying not to cry. I knew I was shaking like a leaf. I glanced over to Henry but he was still busy. Fortunately, Jake had taken notice of what was happening and he stood up, coming over to where I was standing.

“Is there a problem here?” Jake asked. Now, Jake wasn’t a spring chicken, he’d turned 60 just last spring. But he still stood 6’3″ without his special order cowboy boots and he was built like — well, like a long haul trucker, minus the beer belly. He reached over and wrapped his big bear claw hand around the sleazy guy’s wrist, right above where he was clamped down on mine. “I think it’s time for you to pay your bill and leave,” Jake said and he was using the voice that said he meant it.

“Let go, old man,” the slimeball snarled.

“When you let go of the lady here,” Jake returned. It was the first time in my life I’d ever been called a ‘lady’ by someone as old as Jake. At least without that permanent ‘young’ in front of it. It made me want to cry again, but I was trying hard not to.

“Well, why don’t you just go straight to hell!”

Everything from that point on happened way too fast. The bastard held out his hand and all of a sudden, Jake flew through the air and landed in a heap, knocking over a table and two chairs in the process. I flew through the air in the opposite direction and landed on the floor, too stunned to move. The woman by the window jumped a chair to get over to me, dragging me behind the counter. The guy at the counter pulled out a gun from I don’t know where, but the asshole was faster and the gun flew out of the guy’s hand and crashed into the window, going off in the process and one of the ceiling lights crashed to the floor. Then he ‘pushed’ the guy up against the wall so hard he hit his head and slumped to the bench seat below him.

Sparks were flying from the ceiling light, but other than Jake groaning, there were no other sounds.

The woman and me were huddled behind the counter when I heard what must have been a hundred sirens pulling into the parking lot. Lights were flashing across the white and black tile behind the counter. I looked up to see if Henry was still in the kitchen. I couldn’t hear him back there and I prayed he didn’t try to do anything heroic, like Jake.

“It’s over, Wilson. Just give yourself up,” the woman called out and I covered my ears, afraid of what would happen next.

“I got your boyfriend out here, Agent Scully. I suggest you come up with a way for me to get out of here. Wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to him,” the asshole shouted back.

The woman, who I just found out was an ‘agent’, didn’t look very happy at that comment. She shook her head and chewed on her lip. “Mulder?” she called out. There was no answer.

“Hey, Agent Scully, is it a bad thing when there’s blood comin’ outta yer ear?” asshole Wilson crowed.

That was when Agent Scully started looking real angry. “If you hurt him in any way, Wilson, I will personally rip your balls right off your — ”

“THIS IS THE STATE POLICE! WE HAVE THE BUILDING SURROUNDED!”

“C’mon, Agent Scully. You know I can take all of you with me. You don’t want that, do you?” Wilson yelled back to us. Suddenly, all the ceiling lights started popping and crackling and crashing to the ground. “Scully, you have to the count of three to get your ass out from behind that counter!” Wilson shouted. “One . . . two . . . ”

Agent Scully grabbed her weapon, which I could now see was holstered at her hip and shoved it in my hands. “Do you know how — ”

I nodded an emphatic yes. Dad had taught me to hunt, I could use a gun.

“Just don’t let him get it,” she hissed as she stood up, hand raised, and walked around the counter.

“Where’s the little filly? I want everyone where I can see ’em,” Wilson said with a smart ass chuckle as if he was the funniest guy on the planet. I wanted to plant a bullet right between his eyes, but after seeing what he could do, I was afraid I’d miss and he’d kill us all.

“Leave her out of this, Wilson. You’re trapped in here. You’re in charge. This doesn’t have to end badly.”

From the crack in the front of the counter that Dan never had fixed I could see her eyeing the other guy — Mulder — on the floor. But she was talking directly to Mr. Incredible, or whatever the hell he was.

“Nice, nice. I know what you’re doin’ Agent Scully. Talking me down off the ledge. Real nice. But you see, I’m not gonna be taken again. I’m not gonna let them bastards shoot me full of drugs so I can’t out of that looney bin. No sir, not this time. This time, I’m goin’ out with a bang!”

I heard the wind starting to howl, and then I realized it was coming from inside the diner! The walls were shaking, the pots back in the kitchen were rattling and the hair on my head was whipping around my face. I took that gun Agent Scully had given me and released the safety. The wind was so strong I had a hard time cocking the damn thing. I peered through the crack, looking for a good shot. Finally the asshole was in range. His back was turned to me, his arms raised up and his hands waving with the wind. He was a conductor and he was orchestrating the whole diner. I squinted my eyes, lined up the sight and gently squeezed the trigger . . .

Bang, Bang, Bang – Bang!

I looked down at the gun in my hands — I hadn’t finished pulling the trigger! Where had the shots come from? I looked through the crack and saw that Wilson was lying across one of the tables. There was a lot of blood. Agent Scully was feeling his neck.

“He’s dead, Mulder,” she said and sighed. That was my cue to get up and come around the counter.

“Nice shot. For a minute there, I was afraid you were really out,” Agent Scully said as she helped the other agent off the floor. He had a little gun in his hand and I could now see the holster at his ankle peeking out from under his pants leg.

“For a second there, I was out. Then I just sort of played possum,” he said with a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. Man, he was even cuter than he’d been when he walked in the door!

“Played possum? Mulder, we have been on this assignment way too long,” Agent Scully said, and tried hard to hide her matching grin.

“Think we can get home in time for leftover’s at your Mom’s?”

I lost the rest of the conversation because the entire Illinois State Police District Six out of Pontiac came busting through our doors. Before long I was explaining what happened. Apparently, Henry had snuck out the back door, called in the troops and then went over to Mom’s house to get her. Mom and Martin both hugged me to pieces before I had a chance to tell them I was fine.

Poor Jake ended up with a concussion and a cracked rib, so he was spending Thanksgiving at Bloomington Memorial. He got to ride in the back of an ambulance. Henry assured him we’d watch over his rig.

In all the ruckus, I was afraid they’d get away. I found them standing at the back of a second ambulance, arguing.

“It’s a scratch. Not even a real scratch, look, a band-aid covers it,” Agent Mulder was saying, forcefully, and showing the little bandage just behind his ear.

“You were unconscious. I’m not taking you on an airplane for the next 24 hours and that’s final,” Agent Scully was telling him, in no uncertain terms.

I cleared my throat and that caught their attention. Agent Mulder stepped forward, extending his hand toward me. “Fox Mulder, with the FBI. Thanks for your help in there,” he said. He looked back and smiled. “This is Dana Scully, my partner.” She stepped forward and shook my hand, too.

“My name’s Josey, Josey Hanner and I didn’t help,” I told him. “I wanted to — I was meaning to, but by the time I had him in my sights — you had him already.”

“That’s how we wanted it,” Agent Scully said. “I just wanted to make sure he didn’t get control of the gun, I didn’t expect you to take him down. That was our job.”

I nodded, understanding. “Well, um, I was wondering — ”

“How he managed to do all that with the wind and all?” Agent Mulder offered.

“Yeah! I mean, he looked completely like a — ”

“Normal person?” Agent Scully suggested.

“No, like a complete and total loser,” I finally found the right words.

Agent Mulder nodded. “From what we know of him, he had a . . . power, for lack of a better word. He could control air currents. He had been in a psychiatric hospital until a week ago. When he escaped, everyone assumed he died of the elements. He’d fooled them all into thinking he was incapable of taking care of himself. But it was just an act, a means to get them to let their guard down so he could sneak past them without being detected.”

“So he was smart?” I asked.

“Too smart. He’d killed several people, but was always found unfit to stand trial. He’d wrap the psychiatrists around his little finger,” Agent Mulder added with a disgusted look.

“So if one of them had seen through his act — ”

“He would have been on death row, more than likely,” Agent Scully said.

“Thanks,” I told her. That paper I had due in Deviant Behavior was looking more important by the minute. “Are you gonna be here for a little bit? I’ll be right back.”

“We aren’t going anywhere except a very close by motel,” Agent Scully said, crossing her arms.

I ran over to where Mom and Martin were talking to one of the state troopers. Mom was more than agreeable to my plan. I ran back as the ambulance pulled away, leaving the two agents standing in the cold wind.

“We’d like you to come to Thanksgiving at our house,” I said, chewing my lip. “It’s just me, my older brother and my mom, but Mom can’t figure out how to cook for just three people and we have enough to feed an army.”

Scully was shaking her head. “That’s very kind of you, but we don’t want to intrude.”

I just laughed. “Look, my Mom wants to give you guys a medal or something for saving my sorry life, so you better keep her down to just a plate of turkey and dressing. Besides, the diner’s the only place around that serves dinner, unless you want fries with your chicken nuggets.” I nodded my head toward the McDonald’s in the gas station across the road.

“Scully, a home cooked meal sounds awful nice, and it is Thanksgiving,” Agent Mulder reminded her. “I don’t suppose your family watches football on Thanksgiving, do they Ms Hanner?”

I laughed again and nodded. “Are you kidding? Martin played defensive lineman at ISU. He’ll be glued to the set.”

Agent Scully rolled her eyes. “Who am I to stand between you and a turkey dinner _with_ football?”

I pulled out my order pad and scribbled directions to our place. “The Motel 8 over there is brand new and if you explain the circumstances, I’m betting they’ll let you in early. Mom said the turkey will be ready to come out of the oven at noon.”

Agent Mulder looked at his watch. “That means we have 3 hours.”

“Which you will spend taking a nap,” Agent Scully said and she had the same tone to her voice Mom gets that warns me not to try and argue with her. Agent Mulder rolled his eyes and sighed, but finally nodded.

“We’ll see you in a few hours. Thanks again, Ms. Hanner.”

“The name’s Josey,” I reminded him. “And believe me, it’s our pleasure.”

I watched them get in their car and Agent Scully drove across the road to the Motel 8. Mom was calling my name; something about the turkey would need basting. I hustled over to our car and got in the backseat. I closed my eyes. A nap didn’t sound at all bad, I decided. But first, I had to call Dan. I wanted him to make sure I didn’t have to work any shift on Christmas. One holiday a year was enough, in my book.

The end

Paradigm

paradigm

Paradigm by Vickie Moseley

November 10, 2006

Comments and feedback (please)

Summary: When given her heart’s desire, will Scully be able to give it back?

Rating: no really bad words or sex, some violence

Archive: Two weeks exclusive VS 14, then anywhere

Field Notes: Inactive

Dedication: Tracy, this is the one I promised you.

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Tara Scully’s Residence

Fairland, MD

6:15 pm

“Police report another murder in Fairfax County believed to be connected to the ‘Ripper’

killings. The fourth victim, whose identity was not released, was found in an alley . . .”

“Hey, Buddy, let’s turn this off while we finish your math problems,” Mulder said affably as

he clicked off the blaring television set in the family room. “What have you got here?”

Mathew Scully, third grader, looked up at his ‘uncle’ and sighed. “We’re starting division,”

he said glumly. “Mom says she was a domestic science major and can only divide using a

calculator.”

Mulder winced while trying to hold back a grin. “Well, you’re in luck. I was pretty good at

division back in school. Let me look at the homework.”

The young boy handed over the workbook and crossed his arms. “I can’t believe I got the

teacher who gives homework on Fridays,” he bemoaned his fate.

“Oh, this isn’t that bad! Look, Matty, you’re dividing by twos. You can do this. It’s just

half. Remember how easy it was when you had to learn the two times tables? You were a

whiz! C’mon, let’s give this a go, I bet we’re done before Auntie Dana has dinner on the

table.”

Mathew’s eyes brightened at Mulder’s encouraging words. “OK,” he agreed with a grin.

“First one is 12 divided by 2 . . .”

Tara stood at the top of the stairs leading down to the family room from the kitchen. “He’s

so good with Matty,” she said, not for the first time.

“He’s always been good with kids,” Scully agreed, stirring the pot of macaroni boiling on the

stove, making sure to avoid stepping on Claire, who was ‘cooking’ at her play kitchen

nearby. “So, tell me about Ben,” she prodded.

Tara blushed. “He’s a neighbor,” she said. “That’s a blessing that could turn out to be a

curse if tonight doesn’t go well. But he’s recently divorced — I guess that’s the best I can

hope for at my age, huh?”

“Tara,” Dana said firmly. “You have to stop putting yourself down! You are a beautiful

person, you have done a tremendous job with these kids, alone — it’s time for you to have

some fun in your life.”

Tara dropped her gaze. “I guess — I’m not really expecting much. I mean, Dana, you

know I miss Billy. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him — ”

“Tara, he would want you to be happy,” Dana interjected. “I really don’t think he would

expect you to be alone for the rest of your life.”

The doorbell rang and Tara ran to get the door. In a minute she came back into the kitchen

with a tall, well-toned sandy haired man with a ready smile. “Dana, this is Ben Nelson.

Ben, this is my sister-in-law, Dana.”

Ben held out his hand. “Dana, nice to meet you.”

Hearing the commotion, Matty raced up the stairs, almost tackling Ben. “Hi, Ben!” he said,

before grabbing Mulder’s hand and bringing him closer. “This is Uncle Mulder!”

Ben shook hands with Mulder. “Matt has mentioned you a time or two,” Ben said with a

nod. “Certainly nice to meet you both.”

“You live nearby?” Mulder asked. Scully could almost see him mentally reviewing the Top

Ten Most Wanted list just to see if he could match the face.

“Yeah, our back yards touch,” Ben said motioning out the kitchen window. “I just moved in

last spring and Matt’s ball found its way onto my patio. We met and we’ve been watering

each other’s crabgrass ever since.”

Tara blushed and drew in a breath. “Well, we better get going. Dana, I have my cell

phone, if you need to reach me. And we won’t be out too late, right Ben?”

“Early tee time in the morning. I’ll have you home by curfew,” he vowed, holding up his

right hand. “Mulder, do you play golf?”

Mulder shook his head slowly. “I’m not much of a golfer. More into basketball.”

Ben looked slightly uncomfortable in the silence, but finally clapped his hands and turned to

Tara. “Hey, the movie starts at 7:10, we should probably get a move on.”

At that moment, Claire looked up and must have realized something was going on. She

dropped the play pot and spoon she was holding and ran to her mother, clinging to her legs.

“Mommy! Mommy, I go toooo,” she wailed.

Mulder scooped her up in his arms and bounced her on her hip. “Claire-bear, you promised

me a cake, remember? You don’t want Uncle Mulder to miss out on his cake, do you? You

promised I could pick and I want a chocolate cake with chocolate chips and chocolate

frosting and chocolate sprinkles and chocolate roses . . . ” With great stealth he turned and

moved the child away from the doorway and her departing mother.

“Quick, make your move now — he’s running out of chocolate,” Scully advised them with a

wink.

Tara looked hesitant, but Scully gave her a gentle shove toward the door. “They’re fine,

Tara. Go, have a good time.”

With one weak smile back, Tara hurried out the door with Ben trailing after her.

Tara Scully Residence

11:35 pm

“Repeating the story from the top of the hour, Tyson Corner’s police are requesting that

anyone with information on the brutal attack and murder of a 34 year old businessman in

this . . .”

“Mulder,” Scully whispered, muting the sound of the television. “Mulder, wake up.”

She almost hated to wake him, but knew he had to be developing a crick in his neck from

the way he was sitting. Matty was sprawled on his lap, the thumb on his left hand sitting

against his slack lower lip.

Mulder opened his eyes slowly. “I’m not really asleep,” he said but a yawn contradicted

him.

“Do you want me to take him up?” Scully asked, moving to take the child from his arms.

“Nah, I’ve got him. Besides, he’s almost as tall as you now,” he teased quietly. He shifted

the gangly boy more firmly in his grip and started up the stairs. A left u turn at the kitchen

and he was headed up the next flight to Matty’s room.

“Unc’a Mulller?” the boy murmured.

“Movie’s over, Matty. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones saved the planet. Time for bed.”

“Okay,” the child agreed, snuggling into his covers. “‘Night Uncle Mulder. I love you.”

Mulder’s breath caught in his chest, and he could hear his heart pounding in his ears. He

leaned over the small boy. “Good night, Matty. I love you, too.” Gently, he placed a kiss

on the child’s forehead.

Scully was waiting for him in the hallway. “Claire asleep?” he asked, guiding her down the

steps.

“She went down about 10. I had to read A Very Hungry Caterpillar three times, but we got

the job done,” she grinned.

“At least it’s not Dr. Seuss,” he shot back.

“You just hold a grudge because he named a book after you,” she teased.

“Yeah, well, want to hear what we can do with ‘Dana’?” he returned.

They ended up in the family room. Mulder had snatched a bottle of Snapple Iced Tea on the

way through the kitchen and settled in on the sofa, next to his partner. She immediately

scooted over and drew his arm around her shoulder.

“You OK?” he asked, noticing her need for contact.

She nodded yes, but he could still feel the tension in her shoulders. “So what do you think

about Ben?” she asked, seemingly interested in the rerun of Last Comic Standing he’d found

on Comedy Central.

Mulder shrugged. “He’s OK, I guess.”

“He’s divorced,” Scully said with a sigh.

“People get divorced, Scully. Doesn’t make him a bad person.”

“I’m not saying that,” she said defensively. “I just . . . ”

“She’s not betraying Bill, you know that, right?” Mulder asked, looking down at her upturned

face.

“I know that. I told her that myself. I’m not even thinking that.” She was quiet for a few

minutes. “I guess it means she won’t be needing us as much now.”

“Scully, this is a first date,” Mulder chuckled. “Let’s not get the rice out yet.”

“No, I just mean, well, Matty seems to like him. It just means . . .”

Mulder nodded slowly, taking another drink of his tea and setting it down on the coffee table

in front of them. “I know. Probably won’t need me to coach tee ball,” he said casually.

“I know they’re just my niece and nephew, but sometimes, when they’re with us — ”

Mulder turned his head to look at her. He rubbed his thumb across her cheek and was

surprised at the dampness he found there. “It makes you wish we could have our own,” he

whispered.

“Mulder, I know I shouldn’t feel that way. I know what we have is special and I’m blessed,

truly blessed. I could have lost you — I thought I did lose you last summer. But

sometimes, when I’m holding Claire or I see you playing with Mathew — I just can’t help but

think — ”

“Scully, we could adopt. I’ve told you that before. Say the word — ”

“Mulder, it’s impossible,” she said, shaking her head. “One look at our lives . . . Good grief,

the judge in California denied my petition to adopt my own child!”

“That was different, Scully,” he crooned. “We’re together now. You wouldn’t be raising the

child by yourself.”

“You think any judge would look at the last 24 months, hell, the last 10 years of our lives

and allow us to take care of a child?” she asked flatly. “You were kidnapped, I was left to

believe you were dead — how many times have we been in dangerous situations, Mulder?

How many times has one or both of us almost died?” She threw her head back against the

cushions and stared at the ceiling. “It’s not possible.”

“Do you want it to be possible? Scully, we could — ”

“Leave everything behind?” she snorted. “We tried that once and look where it got us.”

“Look, I know it hurts. I see Mathew and Claire and I can’t help but wonder if our kids

would have red hair like you or brown hair like me. I can’t help but picture us together,

going to the zoo, putting together a two-wheeler at three in the morning on Christmas. I

told you once that I never saw you as a mother. Well, Scully, I didn’t think of myself as a

father — until I realized how much I love you. Every time we make love, I think . . . I hope

. . . ” He sighed and pulled her to him, kissing the crown of her head. “I would do anything

to give you a child, to give us a family. You know that.”

“I do know that, Mulder. And you have no idea how much that helps me deal with this

heartache.” She kissed him then, gently, tenderly, allowing her fingers to touch his cheek

for several minutes while she breathed in unison to him. No more words were spoken and

after a while, Mulder flipped the channels and found something neither of them cared about

yet they didn’t care enough to change it. Together they waited for Tara to return.

Act 1

FBI Headquarters

Monday

8:15 am

“So, you want to write up the report from Friday?” Mulder asked. He was juggling his

briefcase, his travel mug of coffee, the morning newspaper and his keys. It was anyone’s

guess which would fall to the floor first. It was the keys.

Scully stooped to pick them up. “I could. But then I’d have to kill you,” she said sweetly,

unlocking the door.

“What? That was open and shut! Scully, that report practically writes itself!” he declared,

accepting his keys from her.

“Good. Then you won’t have any trouble with it,” she answered, this time a little less sweet

than before.

“You’re still mad about the laundry,” he said with a sigh.

“Mulder, I told you, I’m not mad. A little peeved, but not mad. Besides, you said on Friday

that you were going to do this report because, and I quote ‘it’s pretty easy so I’ll knock it

out on Monday’. Well, I’m holding you to it.”

“You’re still mad about the laundry,” he muttered.

“Am not,” she said evenly. “But keep bringing it up and I might have to rethink my

position.”

Scully booted up her computer, over her partner’s pathetic attempts at sympathy by sighing

heavily at his desk. An email caught her attention. “Mulder, didn’t you say there’d been

another animal attack during the night?”

He looked over at her and frowned. “Yeah, it was in the morning paper. Homeless guy in

Rock Creek — it was pretty gruesome according to the account. And I told you, I don’t

think they’re animal attacks.”

Scully rolled her eyes. “Mulder, a werewolf — in DC? I thought most self-respecting

modern werewolves preferred London,” she said dryly.

“Scully, have you been sneaking downstairs to watch Sci Fi after I’ve gone to sleep?” he

teased back at her. “No, I’m serious here. The wounds are consistent with — ”

The ringing of the phone cut off the rest of his lecture. Mulder grabbed it and after a few

‘yes sirs’, returned the receiver to its cradle. “That was Skinner. Three guesses why he

wants to see us.”

She sighed. “Fine. But I refuse to listen to Warren Zevon at any time during the course of

this investigation,” she said firmly and followed him out the door.

Rock Creek Park

Tuesday

9:35 pm

It was cold and clear, a full moon hanging over the tops of the trees. From the driver’s seat

of the car, Mulder cracked another seed between his teeth, bringing his hand to his mouth

to take the hull and toss it out the partially open window.

“What time is it?” Scully asked, stretching as much as she could in the tight confines of the

passenger seat next to him.

It had already been a long day. Skinner had given them the assignment. Three murders

with similar M.O.s had happened in the last week. All three men had been torn to shreds.

The DC Medical Examiner determined that the killer had animal-like claws and teeth, but

DNA traces left on the second victim showed human markers. The case was shuffled over

to the FBI and labeled an X file, but with a difference. This time, Mulder and Scully headed

a team of agents staking out Rock Creek Park.

“Just after 9:30,” he answered, after glancing at his watch. “When did the watch repair

place say your watch will be fixed?”

She sighed and turned toward him. “Guess what I want for my birthday,” she said dourly.

“Can’t fix it, huh?”

“Apparently it’s only water resistant if it’s not put through the washer,” she replied dryly.

“Scully, I said I was sorry about forty million times already,” he retorted. “But I think this

should teach you a lesson.”

“Never put my watch in my pants pocket, even if I get called in to do an autopsy at 4 in the

morning?”

“No.” He shook his head solemnly. “Never trust me to do laundry again.”

She snorted, shaking her head vehemently. “Oh, no, laundry boy! You are not getting out

of that chore so easily.”

The radio on the dashboard crackled to life. “Rocky. Report in, Rocky.”

Mulder rolled his eyes and reached for the radio. He clicked it on with an air of

exasperation. “Nothing to report, Bullwinkle,” he said as Scully tried to stifle a laugh next to

him.

“That’s Balboa — not ‘Bullwinkle’, Mulder,” came a deeper voice over the radio. Even

though there was no way for Skinner to see him, Mulder sat up straighter in the seat.

“Sorry, sir. My bad. But nothing is happening — ”

“Mulder,” Scully said, grabbing his arm. She pointed out the windshield. “I just saw

something — over by those bushes.”

“We have an UNSUB just spotted at position 6 in Rock Creek Park, requesting back up,”

Mulder said into the radio and tossed it in to the dash as soon as he heard Skinner’s ‘copy’

reply.

Scully spared him a glance. “Back up? We don’t know for sure — ”

“This thing has torn apart three grown men, Scully. I don’t want to take any chances.”

As they got out the car quietly, Mulder tilted his head and Scully took off to the right, gun

muzzle pointed to the sky, moving slowly. Mulder headed left, his gun in his hand. He kept

sight of Scully as they approached the trees and gave her a nod, then moved into the

forested area.

The underbrush was thick and hard to walk through because vines tangled around his feet.

He heard something moving ahead of him and he licked his lips, wondering where the hell

the troops were. The sectors weren’t that far apart, he should have heard other cars pulling

up. As he pushed aside a particularly tall shrub, he caught sight of something. It was a

creature, more wolf-like than anything he could have imagined. It’s elongated snout lifted

as it sniffed the air. It turned its head and moved quickly and near-silently forward. The

moon cast a silvery glow on the fur-covered body, the toned muscles rippled as it moved.

At full standing height, the creature was at least inches taller than Mulder. The agent

followed the creature, looking around for Scully, their back up, or a good angle to shoot,

whichever came first.

As he was lining up his gun site, he saw Scully suddenly appear through the trees. She

stepped into an opening in the thicket and looked around. Mulder was a few yards away

and tried to wave her back, conscious that the creature was close by. She didn’t see him.

But the creature saw her.

clip_image004

Letting out a blood-curdling howl, the beast bounded forward on strong back legs and was

on Scully in a heartbeat. Mulder shouted and raised his gun again, but couldn’t risk a shot

for fear that he would hit his partner. He ran forward as the monster wrapped its massive

arms around Scully’s shoulders. Mulder turned the gun in his hand and tried using it to

bludgeon the creature with it, but the thing swiped out with one arm, catching Mulder in the

upper chest with rapier sharp claws. Mulder dropped the gun, but tried once more to pry

his partner away from the monster.

The next swipe tore the flesh at his neck and shoulder and one foot thrust out, catching the

hapless agent in the stomach and launching him several yards through the air. By the time

Mulder had picked himself off the forest floor, the creature and Scully were gone.

Mulder stood, dazed, with blood dripping from a dozen slash wounds, when Skinner arrived

just moments later.

“Mulder, oh, God — call for an ambulance,” Skinner shouted to one of the men following him

into the clearing. “Mulder, here, let’s get you sitting down.”

“It took her,” Mulder whispered. He looked at his superior with soul crushing sadness. “The

thing — it took her.”

“Mulder, we have to get you to the hospital,” Skinner said slowly, as if talking to a child.

Over his shoulder, he directed the other men. “Scour this area. Cut off all access points.

They have to be here.” Looking back to Mulder, he took the man’s arm. “We’ll find her. I

promise.” He watched helplessly as Mulder’s eyes rolled back in his head and the agent

collapsed unconscious into Skinner’s arms.

George Washington University Medical Center

Emergency Department

12:47 am

Skinner was paging through a year old copy of the New England Journal of Medicine when

Mulder appeared from behind a set of double doors.

“I thought the nurse said they wanted to keep you for observation,” the Assistant Director

said gruffly.

“They wanted to. I didn’t. Any word from the park?”

Even wearing a borrowed scrub shirt didn’t hide the bandages on Mulder’s torso. His left

arm was in a sling and his neck was covered in enough gauze to appear that he was

wearing a white turtleneck. Skinner wondered how much painkiller his underling was

carrying because his eyes were dilated, but his gaze was focused. The older man decided to

be upfront with him.

“Richards is heading up the team. They’ve gone over the area with a fine-toothed comb.

All exits are blocked. They couldn’t have gotten out of the park. I’m going back out there

after I drop you off home.”

“I’m not going home,” Mulder growled. He took a few steps and swayed but caught himself

and glared back at Skinner. “I’m going with you to the park.”

“Mulder, you aren’t going to help her if you pass out again. Go home, let us handle this.

We have all the Bureau’s man power — ”

“Hell of a lot of good that’s ever done us,” Mulder spat out angrily. “I’m going to find her.”

Skinner glared off at nothing, not wanting to risk a showdown with an injured man. Finally

he turned back to gaze at his agent. “I don’t want to make this an order.”

“Don’t push me, Walter. You don’t like me when I’m angry,” Mulder said in low even tones.

“Listen to reason!” Skinner exclaimed. “Look at you. You can barely stand. The nurse said

they had to put in over two-dozen stitches. You lost a lot of blood, you need to rest — ”

“I. Can’t. Go. Home.” The younger man closed his eyes and shook his head. “Please.

Don’t make me go back to that empty house,” he begged. “Not with Scully still out there

with that thing. Not ’til we find her.”

Skinner shook his head slowly. “OK, but I want you to stay in the car until we find

something — do you think you can do that much?”

Mulder nodded, trying to hide his weariness. “Let’s go.”

Location unknown

time unknown

Scully awoke with a blinding headache. After a few seconds of just lying still, she realized

she wasn’t injured seriously anywhere that she could assess — just sore everywhere. It felt

as if she’s been dragged through the woods and dumped down a flight of stairs. She

groaned and rolled over, trying to get her eyes to open. With eyes opened and mind fully

engaged, it was still black as pitch. She pulled herself to a sitting position and allowed her

eyes to adjust to the darkness.

There was light, if you could call it that, coming from a grimy set of glass blocks that

replaced a window. From the cement floor beneath her to the rough wood stud at her back,

she surmised that she was in a basement.

Standing was a bit more of a feat, with her head and her bones screaming at her to stop.

She persevered and only swayed slightly when fully upright. At least the ceiling wasn’t so

low that she had to stoop over. She had to smile at that thought — there weren’t many

basements where she had to watch her head. That was Mulder’s department.

Mulder! The last she’d seen of him, he was bleeding from slashes all across his upper body.

And then, in the blink of an eye, he was gone. What had happened? She couldn’t

remember anything, even how she got hit on the head. Not surprising, head injuries were

notorious for leaving a person dazed and confused. She sometimes thought all the head

injuries had left her partner in a permanent state of daze and confusion.

But she did remember who, or what had caused her to be in this basement. The creature,

and she now accepted that it was a creature, not just an animal running rampant through

DC, had brought her here. But why didn’t it kill her?

As she paced the small basement room, she soon found her answer, or at least another

piece of the puzzle. On a double bed in the corner of the room lay a sleeping child, a little

girl, no more than three or four years old. At first glance, Scully was afraid the child wasn’t

just sleeping, but then the little one rolled over and cuddled the thin pillow in her arms.

Scully breathed a sigh of relief. Moving closer, she tried to see if the girl was injured in any

way. The tiny face appeared unconcerned, innocent in slumber. The breathing was near

silent, just the rise and fall of the small mound of covers to indicate respiration. Once more,

Scully let out a relieved exhale. She moved to look around at the rest of the room.

It was just one room, a door in one wall leading into the rest of the basement, Scully

assumed. A closet served as a half bath, with sink and toilet. There was a light switch near

the bathroom door and Scully tried it, illuminating the alcove with a less than 60-watt bulb.

She quickly turned the light out in difference to the child. A table and two chairs sat across

from the bed and a child’s desk and toy box were tucked in a corner opposite the table.

Next to the bed was a white rocking chair with a blanket tossed across the back. Were it

not for the mode of transport, and the fact that the door appeared to be padlocked from the

outside, Scully could easily imagine the room to be decorated specifically for the little girl

asleep on the bed.

With no way out and not wanting to disturb the child, Scully pulled the blanket from the

back of the rocker and settled in. Despite her best effort to keep watch, she soon drifted off

to sleep.

Rock Creek Park

1:15 am

The floodlights set up in the area gave the park a circus feel. Mulder let his head fall back

against the seat, alternately trying to remember every detail of his encounter with the

creature and yet pushing those images away in an effort to retain any shred of sanity he

had left. One thought kept repeating itself in his mind — that thing had Scully.

“I’m going to check in with Richards,” Skinner said, pulling in between a DC squad car and a

tactical van. “You’ll stay here.” It was probably intended to be a question, but there was

no indication of that in his voice.

“If something comes up, all bets are off,” Mulder said with an abbreviated shrug. He

watched Skinner go off toward the floodlights, shaking his head.

It was stuffy in the car, even with the window rolled down. Mulder got out and leaned

against the hood. He wanted to be out there, searching. They could easily miss some clue.

If Scully had a chance, she would have indicated something — anything. She would have

left something for him to find. How would they know what to look for? He was ready to go

over to the highly lit area and start looking with something tugged his sleeve. He turned

around and came face to face with his worst nightmare.

Alex Krycek.

Without thinking, Mulder pulled back his right fist and rifled it toward the other man’s head.

Only the fact that he was on heavy meds and was still weak from blood loss kept that fist

from breaking bone. In a second Krycek responded, grabbing Mulder’s arm, turning and

slamming the agent face first against the door of the car.

“Listen, we don’t have time for this. I need to tell you something,” Krycek hissed in

Mulder’s ear.

“Did you have something to do with this?” Mulder demanded. “Do you know where she is?”

“I’m not who you think I am,” Krycek replied, letting go of Mulder long enough to pull

something out of his jacket. It was an identification wallet, similar to the one Mulder

carried. Krycek flipped it open, holding it so that Mulder could read.

“Detective Alex Krycek, Washington PD?” Mulder read skeptically. “You have to be kidding.

Where did you get that made up — Kinkos?”

“Look, you held me at gunpoint once before but a certain mutual acquaintance saved my

life. Does the name Glas-glo Industries ring a bell? How about Brad Kensworth?”

Mulder relaxed, sagging against the door. “You’re trying to tell me — you’re from . . .”

“We can’t talk here. C’mon, I’ll explain everything.”

Mulder glared at the man for a full minute. “If you’re trying to pull something, so help me

God — ”

“You’ll kill me, yeah, I figured that out last time we met. Look, as much as I love the

romantic atmosphere here, we have work to do and the sooner I explain everything, the

quicker we can get started. I’d liked to get out of here before the Captain gets back.”

Krycek nodded to the group of men talking not more than fifty feet away.

“Captain?” Mulder looked where Krycek was glaring. “Skinner? He’s not a Captain, he’s —

“I don’t care what his job description is here, just from the looks of him I can tell he’s still a

hard ass and we don’t time to deal with that. Are you interested in finding Bunnykins or

not?”

Mulder’s eyes grew to pinpoints, but this time he didn’t telegraph his punch. His right fist

caught Krycek’s left cheek, splitting the lip. “I remember you now. If you want to live

through this, don’t ever call her that again.”

All Night McDonald’s

Wisconsin Avenue NW

2 am

Mulder stared at the man across the table. “So you’re telling me you’re from another

dimension, an alternate version of this world. This thing has been killing in your world and

somehow it found a vortex to travel between the two worlds. And I’m also supposed to

believe that you followed it here through that same vortex. I’m waiting for the punch line.”

Krycek dabbed his lip with a napkin, stirred his coffee and ignored Mulder’s snide comment.

“OK, I’ve been tracking this thing for a couple of months. It kills when the moon is full.

We’ve found 6 bodies — or at least what’s left of them. It’s been sighted a couple of times,

but the witnesses say it disappears into thin air.”

“Is it a werewolf?” Mulder interrupted.

“Are you on crack?” Krycek shot back sarcastically. “Nobody believes in werewolves! We

don’t know what it is, just that it usually kills its victims, until this week.”

“What happened this week?” Mulder asked, nursing his coffee.

“It took a child, a little girl. But we haven’t found a body. I think it still has her. I believe

she’s still alive.”

Something about the way Krycek’s eyes changed caused Mulder’s mind to kick into high

gear. “This child — who is she?”

Krycek closed his eyes and leaned back. “Her name is Sarah. She’s three years old. She’s

. . . aw, hell.” He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a different wallet. Fingering

through the contents, he pulled out a small picture and handed it to Mulder.

He took it, looking first at the child. She had strawberry blond hair and a huge grin on her

face. Her eyes twinkled at the cameraman and she held a worn bunny rabbit firmly in her

tiny arms. It wasn’t until he’d memorized her features that Mulder looked at the other two

people in the photo. His head shot up and he pinned Krycek in his angry gaze.

“What is her name — her full name,” Mulder demanded.

“Sarah Katherine Mulder,” Krycek said softly, taking the picture back and putting it carefully

in his wallet. “She’s, in our world she is . . . Fox and Dana Mulder’s only daughter.”

Mulder dropped the picture and jumped up from his chair. “You son of a bitch! How dare

you try to pull this on me! I’ll send you straight to hell — ”

Alex grabbed his arm and pulled him down to his seat. “Would you shut up!” he seethed.

“Look, I’m sorry if this doesn’t fit into your idea of reality, but it is the truth! Sarah is your,

or rather your twin’s daughter. And Dana’s. She is . . .” Alex turned his head, biting his

lip. When he faced Mulder again, the agent saw tears glisten on the man’s lashed. “She

means everything to them — and to me. Look, I promised Dana, I promised both of them

that I would find her . . . or die trying. And that is exactly what I intend to do!”

“Why?”

“What?” Alex asked, startled by the impertinent question.

“Why did it take her? If it’s killed 6 people, plus three in our world, why take a child? Why

take this child? What did they do, leave her unprotected?” Mulder sneered.

That got the man’s hackles up. “Look, asshole, she WAS protected. As protected as she

needed to be! Dana’s been working half days since Sarah was born and the Professor

worked it out to move his classroom hours so that one parent or the other is with her 24

hours a day. She has never been out of their sight!”

“Then how — ”

Krycek looked aside and swallowed hard. “I fucked up,” he said simply.

“You? How did you — ”

“I was watching her, goddamn it! I was . . . I was watching her while Fox and Dana went

out to a fucking charity dinner-auction at the university. I was sitting in the living room

drinking a beer and watching the game when I heard something. By the time I got to her

bedroom, the window was busted in and she was gone.” He wiped angrily at his chin,

catching the fallen tears on his sleeve. “It was a fucking rookie mistake and I made it and I

lost her and I have to get her back!” he shouted. “Do you understand now, Mr. FBI??? Do

you get it??? Huh???”

Silence descended on the two. Alex wiped his face a few times and Mulder sat back, looking

at the picture. “How do you know it was the creature?” he asked quietly.

“Fur. In the window casing. We found similar fur on the victims’ bodies.”

“No other — evidence?” Mulder prodded, keeping his voice even.

Alex glared at him. “There was no blood found at the scene. Footprints were right at the

window, a first floor window, they led a few feet away and then vanished. No one saw

anything, no one heard anything.”

“How did you follow it?”

“I was staking out the previous crime scenes. It appeared again, in Rock Creek Park, very

near where you saw it tonight. I think that’s the vortex, the portal.”

“Rock Creek Park? In the middle of one of the most ‘secure’ cities on the planet?” Mulder

pointed out with disdain.

“I didn’t put it there,” Alex shot back. “I’ve seen the creature there twice but I can’t get it,

it disappears on me. I think there might be another portal or vortex that comes out

nearby.”

“Or in Arizona. Or Hong Kong,” Mulder warned.

“No. I think it’s nearby.”

Mulder looked dubious. “Based on what?”

Alex dropped his eyes to the coffee cup in his hands. “A hunch. 16 years on the Force.

How the hell should I know, maybe it’s just wishful thinking.” He raised his eyes to look at

Mulder again. “Maybe it’s the only hope I have.” He stared at Mulder. “But you don’t give

a damn about her, do you?” he snarled.

“I . . . I have to find Scully. I’m sorry, I’m sorry about this little girl, but you have to

understand — here, Scully is my world. I have to get her back.”

Alex licked his lips. “But see, I think the creature has them both. Together.”

Mulder shook his head. “I can’t — I can’t risk that you might be wrong.”

Alex thought for a moment. “Look, we’re both after the same thing. You need to find the

creature to find your Dana; I need to find the creature to find Sarah. We _need_ each

other.”

Mulder sighed and looked away. After a moment’s contemplation, he looked back at Alex.

“Where do we start?”

Alex looked around the McDonald’s and shrugged. “We need to go somewhere we can

plan.”

Mulder and Scully’s duplex

Georgetown

2:45 am

“Gimme a minute, I want to change out of this thing,” Mulder said with a wave toward the

borrowed scrub top. “There’s iced tea in the fridge, make yourself — ” He stopped in mid-

sentence as he saw Alex pick up each of the three picture frames Scully had arranged with

the flowers she kept on the bay window.

Mulder walked up and took the picture of Samantha and him leaning against a tree out of

Alex’s hands. “Well, not that much at home,” he said dryly, putting the picture back where

it had been.

“She’s a neat lady, your sister. If she hadn’t gone and hooked up with that architect, I

might have stood a chance — ”

“The woman you’re talking about is not my sister,” Mulder said quietly. “That’s — his

sister.”

“Yeah, I know that. It’s just — ”

“Let’s get one thing straight, Krycek, before this goes any further. I’m really sorry they lost

the little girl — I think I can sympathize more than the next guy. But I want to be totally

clear on this: that little girl is no one to me. She’s an innocent victim, but beyond that I

feel nothing for her. I know you care for her, and I understand that, but my priority is

Scully. That’s why I’m helping you. She is the only thing that matters to me.

Understand?”

Alex nodded, his expression guarded. “Sure. Got it. Now, can we get started?”

Mulder sighed. “Yeah, right after I change.” He moved toward the stairs again. When he

started up the steps, he leaned over and glared at Alex. “And this time, just watch TV or

something. Don’t go nosing around.”

Alex frowned, but plopped down on the sofa. “Sure thing, Ace. Wouldn’t want to disturb

the ‘happy family’ memories all over this place.”

Mulder gritted his teeth and took the steps two at a time. In minutes he was back

downstairs with maps of the DC metro area.

Act 2

Location unknown

early morning

Scully awoke to find herself stretched out on the bed, cuddling the child. Sunlight battled to

make it through the grim on the glass blocks, but enough light was now in the room that

she could see around her.

The smell of coffee and cinnamon toast caused her to look over at the small table.

Breakfast was laid out, complete with small glasses of orange juice and bowls of cereal. As

Scully was mulling over who brought the food, the little girl in her arms woke up.

“Mommy, I’m hungry,” the child said drowsily, stretching her tiny arms over her head and

then giving Scully a big hug.

Scully’s breath caught in her throat. The child’s eyes were open; surely the little girl could

see that Scully was not her mother.

“Sweetie, ah, I’m not — ”

“Gotta go bathroom,” the girl said with a grin. “I know where it is. I can go by myself,

Mommy — watch!” With that the child scampered off the bed and headed straight for the

bathroom that Scully had discovered the night before. Totally at ease, the girl went about

her business, humming a tune Scully couldn’t recognize. When she was finished, she stood

on tiptoe at the sink to laboriously wash her hands, drying them haphazardly on the towel

before running back to Scully, hands raised for inspection. “All clean! Let’s eat!”

“Wait,” Scully said abruptly. There was no telling what was in the food.

“Oh, right,” the child said. She sat at the table, made the sign of the Cross, folded her

hands and bowed her head. “Bless us oh Lord, and these your gifts — ”

“No, I meant, um, I wanted to see if the milk was sour,” Scully said, coming up with the

only thing she could think of that wouldn’t scare the child. “Let me take a taste first, OK.”

“OK,” the girl said with a bright grin.

Scully first smelled then tasted the bowl of cereal. It appeared to be fine. Of course, there

were any number of substances that could have been hidden because the lacked both taste

and smell. But her own stomach was growling and the food did look normal. “OK, I think

it’s fine,” she said.

The child dug into her breakfast with a ravishing appetite. Scully sipped her coffee, drank

her juice and nibbled on her toast, all the time watching the child.

She was a pretty little thing with strawberry blond hair and the most amazing green eyes.

She smiled readily, which told Scully that she hadn’t been traumatized too much by her

ordeal. Her little short-sleeved shirt and cropped jeans exposed plenty of creamy white skin

without a hint of bruising. Scully let out a relieved breath.

“All done!” the child announced, showing Scully the empty bowl. “Mommy, can I help wash

the dishes?”

“Um, I’m not sure where we would do that, sweetheart. How about if we just rinse them in

the sink in the bathroom and leave them on the table to dry?”

“OK,” the little one said and happily gathered her bowl, spoon, juice cup and milk cup to

take it into the bathroom. Scully gathered her own dishes and followed, rinsing each item

and then giving them back to the girl to take the to table. It kept them occupied for all of

ten minutes.

“Mommy, I’m bored,” the child announced with her hands on her hips.

Scully swallowed. It was really beginning to wear on her nerves the way the child kept

calling her ‘mommy’, but the girl seemed comfortable enough with using the title whenever

it suited her. “OK, let’s play a game, how about that?”

“Yeah, a game!” the girl exclaimed excitedly. “Let’s play Candyland!”

“Um, no, I don’t think I see Candyland on the bookcase there. Let’s play another game. I’ll

ask you a question and then you answer it. Then you ask me a question and I’ll answer it.”

“Mommy, that’s not a game,” the girl said, scrunching up her little forehead. “I want to

play a real game.”

“Let’s play this one and then we’ll see what we can find to play, OK? My turn first. What is

your name?”

The girl broke into giggles. “Oh, Mommy, that’s easy. My name is Sarah Katherine Mulder.

I got that one right. Now, my turn. What’s my bunny’s name?”

Scully’s heart stopped beating the second the child had said her last name. She looked at

the girl closely — she could see the resemblance. The eyes were the same eyes Mulder had,

just more green than hazel. The chin was definitely Mulder’s. But the nose and the mouth .

. .

“Mommy, c’mon, that’s an easy one.”

“Um, Peter?” Scully suggested, for lack of anything else to say.

The girl giggled happily. “No, silly! Bunnikins! Unc’a Alex said he was named that when he

gave him to me when I was a baby, ‘member?”

“OK, Sarah, you won that one, too. It’s two to nothing. The first person to five wins.”

Scully closed her eyes and thought hard about what she was going to do. It was a risk, but

one she needed to take, she had to know. “OK, Sarah. What is MY name. Not Mommy,

what is my real name?”

Sarah laughed and clapped her hands. “Oh, I’m gonna win! That is so easy, Mommy! Your

grown up name is Dana Katherine Mulder! We have the same names — Katherine and

Mulder. Daddy told me he wanted to name me after you and you said no but he did anyway

when you were sleeping. I’m right! I’m right! I’m right!” she cried, dancing around the

room. “OK, my turn again. What is YOUR mommy’s name?”

Scully bit her lip. “My mother’s name is Margaret Scully. Most people call her Maggie.”

Sarah clapped happily again. “Mommy, you win that one! Your turn again.”

Scully decided she’d had enough of the game for one day. “OK, Sarah, umm, what color is

the sun?”

After Sarah named the color of the sun, Scully had to name the color of grass. She guessed

blue, much to Sarah’s delight.

“I win, I win! Mommy, call Daddy and tell him I won!” Sarah said, skipping around the

room.

Scully jerked and stared at Sarah in wonder. “That’s a wonderful idea, sweetheart.” She

reached into her pocket and was thrilled to find her phone. The signal wasn’t very strong,

but she pulled the rocking chair over to the glass block window and stood on it, hoping to

boost the reception. After two rings, someone picked up.

“Scully? God, Scully is that you?”

She almost laughed with relief at hearing her partner’s voice. “Mulder, yes, it’s me.”

“Scully, where are you? Are you hurt? Did you get away?”

“Mulder, I’m fine — really. A little bruised. I’m in a basement. The door is padlocked,

there isn’t any way out.”

“Is there a window? Can you give me something to go on? I’m running to the car right

now, stay on the phone.”

“I can’t see anything out the window — it’s made of glass blocks. I think we’re in the

country, I can’t hear any traffic noises and it was very dark last night.”

She was trying to think of some way to help Mulder locate them when the door to the room

opened and a middle-aged man entered. He wore a pleasant expression and smiled at

Sarah as he gathered the breakfast dishes. When he looked over and saw Scully, though,

he screamed and dropped the dishes, running from the room without closing the door and

hurrying up the steps.

“Mulder, someone was just here. He left the door open! I’m going to try and go up.” She

motioned for Sarah to stay behind her as she made her way to the basements steps.

Suddenly, in the doorway at the top of the stairs appeared the creature. Sarah screamed

and grabbed Scully’s legs, almost tumbling them both to the ground.

The creature launched itself down the stairs, grabbing the cell phone out of Scully’s

nerveless fingers and crushing it against the far wall. It then advanced again on Scully and

the girl, forcing them to run into the room and cower in the corner. Scully was certain the

thing would go after them, but instead of entering the room it slammed the door. Scully

heard the padlock engaging and footsteps on the stairs. Realizing that her only link to

Mulder was now in pieces, she enfolded Sarah in her arms and let the tears fall.

Mulder and Scully’s duplex

7:13 am

“Scully! Scully, can you hear me? Scully, keep the line open, I’ll get the guys to track you!

Scully, answer me!” Mulder could hear the dead air that signaled a broken connection.

“FUCK!” he shouted and slammed the phone down on the hood of the car.

“What happened?” Alex demanded. “Did she say anything about Sarah?”

“No, she didn’t mention the girl, but I think I heard a little girl scream,” Mulder said, letting

his head fall on his arms braced against the car. “Oh, god, I heard this awful howl and then

the screams — ”

“It won’t hurt them,” Alex insisted.

Mulder spun on the man. “How the hell do you know that? They could be dying right now!

We have to find them!”

“I know it because . . . because I have to believe that! It’s kept them alive, kept Sarah

alive all this time. It took her three days ago and you said you heard a little girl scream.

She’s still alive!”

Mulder stared at Alex for several minutes. “We still don’t know where they are,” he said

with barely contained fury.

“You’re FBI — don’t you have cell phones with GPS systems in this world?”

Mulder’s eyes lit up. “Yeah. Yeah, we do. But we aren’t going to the FBI. I know some

guys who will move heaven and earth to find Scully.”

Offices of the Lone Gunmen

Anacostia

9:03 am

After repeated hammering on the door, Mulder finally heard the telltale click of a dozen

locks and deadbolts being thrown open. Finally, Frohike’s gnome-like visage appeared in a

crack of the door.

“This better be good,” he growled, opening the door a little farther to allow entry to his

guests. “Hey, what the hell — ”

“It’s OK. This isn’t who you think it is,” Mulder didn’t quite explain. “I need your help. Or

rather, Scully needs your help.”

“I’ll get the others,” Frohike said, casting an evil glare at Alex.

A pot of coffee and some of Byers whole grain banana muffins later, Mulder summed up the

problem. “So we need to track her cell phone. She was close enough to a cell that we got

iffy reception, but we got cut off.”

“Well,” Byers said, pulling up his computer screen, “if she left the phone on, it should be an

easy matter of contacting the GPS system. The last time you and Scully upgraded your

phones, you’ll remember we played with them for a day.”

“I remember. You also erased all my saved numbers,” Mulder said dryly.

Byers looked flustered and contrite. “Um, sorry. It couldn’t be helped. But anyway, one of

the features we activated is currently being marketed to parents with teenaged children. If

the program is activated and the phone is on, someone with similar software can track the

cell phone to anywhere on the planet. If Suzy says she’s going to the library, Mom and Dad

can track her when she skips out and goes to the Mall.”

“How close can you get us?” Mulder asked.

“This software is hooked up directly to the orbital tracking station used by trucking

companies. We can get you to within 10 feet of Agent Scully, or rather her phone,

assuming she has it with her.”

Mulder nodded, satisfied. “Close enough. She was holding it when we got cut off. OK, let’s

fire this baby up. Daylight’s burning.”

Byers’ fingers flew over the keys. He waited a few seconds and then hit more keys. He

frowned and Mulder leaned over his shoulder, staring at the computer monitor.

“So . . . where is she?”

The tidy Gunmen sighed in exasperation. “Her cell phone must be off.”

“She was talking to me, Byers. She wouldn’t turn it off — I told her to keep it on!”

The other man licked his lips and looked over at his companions. “Well, then, it may have

run out of power — or it could have been broken. There is no signal. There’s nothing to

track.”

Mulder slammed his fist into the nearest metal table, making everyone flinch. His phone

rang and he grabbed for it with his other hand, checking the number. With a frown, he

pocketed it without answering.

“Who was that?” Alex asked.

“Skinner. He’s tracking me down. Guys, you know the routine.”

“If he calls, we claim complete ignorance,” Frohike said brightly. “We got you covered. But

Mulder, what are you going to do next?”

He looked over at Alex. “You said there were six other attacks. Do you remember where?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Then we start with those places,” Mulder said and headed for the door.

Location unknown

late morning

Sarah’s cries finally came to a stop when the little girl fell asleep in Scully’s arms. Gently,

she settled the child on the bed, pulling the covers up to keep her warm in her slumber.

When she was positive she hadn’t woken Sarah, Scully got off the bed and began to explore

the room.

The door was padlocked again and the hinges were on the outside, so that escape was

negligible at best. She climbed the rocker to examine the glass blocks of the window,

hoping to find the age of the house in her favor. Unfortunately, the blocks appeared to be a

recent addition and were set in mortar with no cracks or weaknesses that she could find

after a thorough search of the seams. There was one heating duct, set high in the ceiling of

the wall with the door, but the dimensions of the grill would have given Eugene Victor

Tooms food for thought. After several minutes, she sat down on the rocker and sighed in

defeat.

It was then she noticed the lunch sat out on the table. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,

carrot sticks and a quart of milk. She fought hard to tamp down the hysterical giggle that

threaten to form. Surely the largesse wasn’t from the creature! Who had brought the food

in and when? She hadn’t fallen asleep; at least she couldn’t remember falling asleep. Her

head still hurt from the struggles the night before and there was a lump that was tender to

the touch above her left ear. Maybe she had fallen asleep.

Her thoughts went back to the strange little man who had come down with breakfast — was

he still in the house? She went to the door and listened closely. She heard no sounds, not

even footsteps on the floor above her. Wasn’t he a captive, too? Or maybe he was an

accomplice and that was why he alerted the creature to her cell phone. She turned away

from the door just as Sarah awoke from her nap.

“Mommy, I want to go home now,” Sarah said plaintively as she sat up and rubbed her

eyes.

“I know, sweetheart, but, um, just a little longer. It’s not time yet,” Scully said, grasping at

any reason for the delay that might make sense to the child.

“I’m hungry,” Sarah replied, eyeing the table. “Oh goodie! Peanut butter and jelly! My

favorite!” She scrambled over to the table and sat down. “Mommy, you forgot,” she said,

frowning up at Scully.

“Forgot what, sweetie? There’s your milk and look, carrot sticks,” she pointed out.

“No, Mommy, the cruts is still on. I don’t like cruts and you always cut it off. Remember?”

the child mispronounced.

Cruts? “Oh, the _crust_,” Scully corrected. She looked at the table and found only a plastic

knife and fork set. “I’ll have it fixed in a jiffy.”

After lunch, Sarah was once again bored. If Scully had any doubt of the child’s paternity,

her boundless energy and impatience with being confined to a small place erased those

doubts. The agent looked around for something to occupy the small child. Her eyes fell on

the little desk in the corner.

“How about we draw some pictures?” Scully suggested, extracting paper and crayons from

inside the desk and taking them to the table.

“Oh yes,” Sarah exclaimed, clapping. “I like to color! I’ll color you a picture, Mommy!” She

set about her work happily, choosing one of the crayons, a bright yellow one.

“Mommy, where’s Daddy?” the child asked without lifting her gaze from the paper.

“He’s, uh, he’s working,” Scully answered. She was sure of that statement. She’d been so

worried when she woke up, but at least she’d had a chance to hear his voice. When the

creature had attacked him, she’d had no time to see how badly he was injured. She knew,

however, that if Mulder were conscious, he was searching for her. Maybe the phone call

had given him some clue. She realized they were needles in a haystack, but if any one

could find them, it was Mulder.

“Sometimes Daddy takes me to work with him,” the child rambled along happily.

“Do you like that?” Scully asked. It was difficult, she didn’t want to frighten the child but at

the same time she was still confused. Could this child really be their child — just in another

place another time?

“Oh yes. The grown up kids are nice to me. I get to draw on the chalkboard while Daddy

grades papers. Mommy, what’s a grades?”

Scully shook her head and held back a laugh. “It’s called a grade and it tells you how you

did on your work. An A is a very good grade.”

“Like a star? Meemaw Mulder gave me a star one time for a picture I made her. It was

gold and she stuck it on my paper and put it on the ‘fridgerator.”

Scully’s heart clenched at the thought that Mulder’s mother, in another place, would have

been a loving grandmother. The child was watching her expectantly. “Yes, sweetheart. A

star is like a grade. A very good grade, in fact.”

“I’m going to make you a picture that you can put a star on!” Sarah declared and went back

to work, her tiny pink tongue peeking out between her lips as she concentrated.

Scully nodded, fighting back tears.

Mulder and Scully’s duplex

Georgetown

3:45 pm

They were pouring over the maps of DC and the surrounding suburbs when the house

phone rang. Mulder started to ignore it but Alex checked the caller ID. “It’s your mother-

in-law,” he said.

Mulder sighed and reached over to retrieve the phone. “She’s not my mother-in-law,” he

said tersely. “We aren’t married.”

“Then you really are a dumbass in this world,” Alex said with a smirk.

“Hi, Mom,” Mulder said, clearing his throat and shooting Alex a glare. After a few seconds

he closed his eyes. “I’m sorry, I should have called you. We’ve been searching all night . .

. Yes, I believe — there’s every reason to believe that she’s all right. . . No, I’m fine. . .

Well, Skinner has a big mouth, it was just some scratches — I’m fine. Sleep? Well, um,

I’ve been busy — I know, I’ll try. I will try to get some sleep, but right now, well, you know.

I’ll find her, Mom. I promise. What? Yes, there’s someone else here — ” Wordlessly he

handed the phone over to Alex.

“Mrs. Scully, hello, my name is Alex. . . No, ma’am, I’m a DC policeman. Yes, ma’am, I’m

helping your, um, Fox. Yes. Well, about 36 hours by my watch. Yes, I can do that. Yes,

I’ll make sure. I will, ma’am. We will find her. I know how much Dana means to her

family. Yes, ma’am. You, too. Good bye.” He placed the phone in its cradle. “Three

guesses what I’m supposed to do,” he said, crossing his arms.

Mulder glared at him. “I know you would have no way of knowing this, but in _this_

dimension, I kick your ass on a regular basis,” Mulder sneered.

“Yeah, well, we can test that little theory later, friend. But right now, I’m under orders from

a woman I happen to think of as a very dear friend in my world and she wants your ass in

bed. Or on that god-awful couch I helped move three times. Where is it?”

“It burned up in an apartment fire,” Mulder said tiredly.

“Good riddance, I say. Now, go stretch out for a couple of hours. I swear, I’ll wake you if I

hear anything.” He took the agent’s arm and started to lead him toward the stairs.

“No!” Mulder objected. “Not up there. Not alone. I’ll stretch out on the couch down here.”

Sighing in defeat, he lay down on the sofa and closed his eyes. In minutes he was dead to

the world. Alex breathed a sigh of relief and went back to looking at the maps.

Act 3

Location unknown

mid afternoon

They’d colored pictures, played a few of the games on the shelves. At one point Sarah

found a tea set in the toy box and they had a tea party on the table with make believe

strawberry sandwiches (Sarah’s own recipe, she confided) and make believe chocolate ‘tea’.

When Sarah grew restless, Scully found a jump rope and they moved the table to the wall

to make room for a jumping lesson, something Sarah found very amusing. After a few

hours of play, Sarah grew tired and fussy. Scully found the Winnie the Pooh series on the

bookshelf and pulled Sarah on her lap. They settled in and Scully began to read. When her

little head started to nod, Scully put the book aside and picked her up.

“Sing to me, Momma,” Sarah said sleepily when Scully attempted to put the child down on

the bed.

“Oh, Sarah — ”

“The Bullfrog song, Mommy. I like the Bullfrog song.”

With a catch in her voice, Scully began to sing, stroking the little girl’s back as she finally

drifted off to sleep. “Jeremiah was a bullfrog . . . ” To her relief, Sarah smiled, stuck her

thumb in her mouth and was soon sound asleep.

It was only mid afternoon, but Scully found herself drawn to the double bed. She wondered

briefly if there might be something in the food, a sedative or something that would cause

her to sleep so much. Then, it was kind of tiring, keeping an active three year old from

going stir-crazy. Not sure what she could do besides not eat any food left in the future, she

joined Sarah in her slumber.

Mulder and Scully’s duplex

7:45 pm

Alex had raided the refrigerator and made himself a sandwich; all the while marking out the

best possible places for them to stake out as soon as ‘sleeping beauty’ arose. He leaned

against the table and watched the agent sawing logs on the sofa.

What a life they had here, he thought sadly. They weren’t even married, no sign of kids.

So many sore subjects — Fox’s sister, hell, the subject of his whole family was like one raw

nerve. And from what he could gather, most of Dana’s family was dead and gone, too. It

was so different from the happy bunch of people who had unofficially adopted Alex in his

own world. He shook his head and went back to the maps.

The ringing of the phone woke Mulder. He lunged off the sofa, grabbing for the phone.

“Scully?” he all but shouted into the receiver. When the caller identified himself, Mulder’s

face fell. “No, sir. No, I haven’t heard from her except for the one time. You’re kidding!

No, I’ll be right over there. Oh, and sir, um, be prepared to accept another extreme

possibility, OK?” He hung up the phone and went to the coat tree by the door to pull on his

jacket. “C’mon, Skinner says there’s been another attack and they think they have it

cornered in a parking garage in Falls Church.”

“Wait!” Alex objected. “Maybe I should stay here. Or go to one of the other sites. You

know, just in case.”

“Are you on crack?” Mulder responded, using the detective’s own words. “They have it

cornered. If we get there in time, we might be able to — ”

“To what? Get it to tell us where Sarah and Dana are? Now who’s on crack?” he laughed

bitterly. “And besides, I don’t see why we have to drag the Captain — ”

Mulder looked at the man closely. “Hold on a minute. You went AWOL, didn’t you?”

Alex dropped his head. “I had vacation time coming,” he said defensively.

“You didn’t tell your Captain where you were going, did you?” Mulder accused.

His head jerked up and Alex pinned Mulder with a defiant glare. “Do you know how much

paperwork and crap the old man put me through over that fiasco at Glass-glo the last time

our path’s crossed? I was in shit for months! And the son of a bitch never did buy my

explanation of an alternate world, even when Dana came back from San Francisco with a

tan, showing us pictures of the New Bay Bridge! So yeah, I went AWOL — because I knew

it was the only way! And I would do it again, anytime, for that little girl!”

Mulder licked his lips and then nodded, before breaking out in a smile. “Alex, I think I’m

beginning to . . . understand you.”

“Geez, don’t get all mushy on me,” Alex sneered.

“C’mon, you can stay in the car until we know for certain they have the creature.”

1013 Leesburg Pike

Falls Church, Virginia

8:30 pm

Mulder cringed as they pulled up to the address Skinner had given him. The place was a

circus. There were at least a dozen squad cars from various jurisdictions, including a

familiar Bureau HRT van parked along the road. Mulder pulled his car behind several of the

other vehicles, rolling his eyes as Alex folded himself down in the seat to remain unnoticed.

A Virginia State Trooper was directing traffic and required Mulder to his identification before

he could cross the barricade set up in the driveway to the parking garage. Mulder set off at

a trot to the van.

“When the hell is the chopper getting here,” Skinner was barking into a cell phone as Mulder

stepped into the van. Agents manning the equipment turned to him and nodded in

acknowledgement. One agent, a woman Mulder had seen Scully talking to in the cafeteria

just the week before made a point to get him a cup of coffee and gave him a pat on the

shoulder. One of their own was missing and regardless of what the bullpen thought of him,

Scully was well liked.

“Where is it?” Mulder asked, looking at the tiny surveillance monitors that showed each of

the twelve floors of the garage.

“We think it’s hiding here — an equipment locker on the roof,” Skinner said, pointing to one

of the monitors. “We have all elevators locked down and all stairs blocked. There is no way

in hell this guy is getting away this time.”

“It’s not a guy, sir,” Mulder corrected. “It’s a creature. Possibly a werewolf.”

“Whatever it is, I want it down,” Skinner growled.

“But we still haven’t found Scully,” Mulder pointed out. “We need it alive.”

“Why? So it can lead us to her? Mulder, if this thing took her — I know how hard this is — ”

“She was alive!” Mulder shouted. When all heads turned toward him, he lowered his voice

and pulled his superior out of the van so that only Skinner could hear him. “I talked to her

this morning. She called me on her cell phone but something happened and we were cut

off. The creature took her somewhere, has her locked up in a basement. She thought they

were in the country because there were no city noises and it was very dark at night.”

“Mulder, you’re saying this animal took your partner — to hold her captive? For what

possible purpose?”

Mulder licked his lips. “Remember when I told you to be ready for another extreme

possibility?”

Skinner clamped his jaw shut so tight Mulder thought he head a molar crack.

“Sir, this creature, werewolf, what ever you want to call it, it’s not from — our world.”

“Mulder, if you’re going to tell me this thing is alien — ”

“Not exactly ‘alien’, sir,” Mulder interrupted. “I said, not of this world.”

“You’ve lost me.”

“Sir, remember when we investigated the deaths at Glass-glo Industries?”

Skinner’s eyes went wide and he started shaking his head. “Mulder, that whole parallel

universe bullshit — ”

“Sir, I have proof,” he said, grabbing his superior’s sleeve and leading him back to his car.

“But I want you to keep in mind, this is NOT who you think it is.” Mulder opened the

passenger side door, revealing Alex Krycek, huddled in the front seat.

Skinner immediately reached for his weapon, but Mulder caught his hand.

“I seem to get that same reaction back home,” Alex joked.

“What is he doing here?” Skinner demanded.

“See, that’s just it. He’s not the Alex Krycek from our world. In his world, he’s a police

detective — ”

Alex stepped out of the car, flipping out his badge. “DC homicide. I’ve been working this

case for two months.”

“How did you get here?” Skinner grilled.

“I followed the creature through a rip in space or vortex. He’s killed six people where I’m

from — and taken a hostage.”

“A hostage?” Skinner prodded.

Alex looked over at Mulder, hesitant to answer. Mulder stepped in for him. “The creature

kidnapped a three-year old little girl,” Mulder said, not bothering to reveal the child’s

background.

Skinner frowned. “So you’re thinking it has both Scully and this child?”

“Her name is Sarah,” Alex interjected. “Yes sir, Captain, um I mean — ”

Skinner shot him a confused look but turned back to Mulder. “Are you sure about this?”

“When I heard from Scully this morning, I distinctly heard a child’s scream just before we

were cut off. I believe they were together at that time.”

“And what makes you think they aren’t — ” Skinner couldn’t bring himself to say the word.

“We haven’t found their bodies,” Alex said with a shrug. “The creature never bothered to

conceal its kills before. Why start now?”

“Well, it certainly didn’t conceal this one,” Skinner mused. “Pulled the guy out of his car

and ripped him to shreds right on the floor of the garage.”

“We need this thing alive. We have to use tranqs to bring it down,” Mulder said firmly.

“Mulder, I understand — ” Just then a helicopter arrived at the scene, landing in a vacant

lot across from the parking garage. Skinner jogged to it, Mulder and Alex bringing up the

rear.

Location Unknown

night

When Scully woke up, she noticed more food on the table. Hot dogs and macaroni and

cheese along with the ever-present milk. Whoever was feeding them seemed attuned to

the tastes of a three-year old, but Scully would have killed for a nice Cobb salad. She

sighed and decided to once again check her surroundings.

On a bad day, Mulder would have told her the definition of insanity was repeatedly taking

the same action and expecting a different result, but she persevered. The window was just

as impassable as it had been. The door, however, was a different matter. Whoever had

brought down the food — probably the little man, had left the padlock off. The door was

still closed, but a little jiggling on her part and she was able to get it open.

“Mommy! Don’t let the monster in!” Sarah screamed from the bed. Scully turned to see

the child, trembling in fear at the sight of the open door.

“Sarah, it’s OK. I don’t see the monster. I don’t think it’s here.”

“No, Mommy, please, close the door! Don’t let the monster in!” The child pulled her knees

to her chin and started to cry.

Scully reluctantly closed the door and went over to the little girl, gathering her in her arms.

“It’s OK, baby. Mommy closed the door. It’s OK.” As soon as the words were out of her

mouth she realized what she’d said. Her heart seemed to stop beating for a moment and

tears threatened to choke her. She sat on the bed, stroking Sarah’s hair until the child

finally settled down.

“I don’t like the monster. He’s scary!” Sarah said, still a little shaky.

“Yes, he is. But he’s not here, so we’re OK. I’ll protect you, Sarah. I promise.” She forced

herself to use the personal pronoun as opposed to the name Mommy. She had to watch

herself. This wasn’t her little girl, no matter how much she might want that to be.

“Let’s do something. What would you like to do?”

“Can we play school? I’ll be the teacher first,” Sarah declared and scampered off the bed to

get out paper and crayons again.

Scully gathered her tattered emotions and pasted on a smile, ready to go to ‘school’.

1013 Leesburg Pike

11:21 pm

It had taken some time to exchange the normal rounds for tranquilizers, but finally

everything was in place. Mulder requested that he and Alex be allowed to go with the team

making their way up the parking ramps to the top level, just in case the creature decided to

run that direction. Skinner wasn’t happy about it, but agreed.

clip_image006

The parking ramp echoed every footstep as they made their way up the twelve stories. On

some levels there were still cars, but most of the levels were vacant, all the workers having

left the structure for their homes hours ago. Alex glanced over at Mulder as they walked, a

few steps back from the rest of the team.

“How do we communicate with it, once we have it?” he asked.

Mulder blew out a breath. “Well, it’s been my experience that once incapacitated, the

creature — if it is a lycanthrope — will return to its human form. Then it’s just a matter of

interrogation.”

Alex raised one eyebrow. “You really are on crack, aren’t you?”

“Look, Scully and I deal with this shit every day of the week. If you didn’t want my answer,

why did you ask me the question?”

“Sorry!” Alex said contritely, holding his hands up in surrender. “It’s just — I’m a little

freaked out here, is all. I mean, most of the time, you’re this stuffed shirt intellectual who’s

lecturing me on the psychological ramifications of police brutality on a civilized society, or

some shit like that. I’m just not used to you totin’ a gun and spoutin’ off weird shit theories

like they were straight out of the Journal of American Psychology.”

Mulder looked over at the man. His first reaction was to deck the guy, but he held himself

in check. “I guess . . . I guess it would be hard. I mean everything around you is the same

yet it’s all different.”

“Yeah, something like that. I don’t know how your Dana did it when she was there with us.

She was incredible.”

Mulder smiled at that. “She’s _always_ incredible,” he replied.

“She had you fooled, well, at least, your twin. And the Captain, although he thought she

was acting kinda funny. And me — whoa, I was totally fooled. But she was different.

Harder around the edges. When she held that gun — that was . . . it was the sexiest damn

thing I’ve ever seen!”

“Watch it,” Mulder glowered at him.

“Oh, yeah, sorry. I need to find the parallel universe where Dana Scully thinks you’re a

twit, or you’re an axe murderer — that’s what I need to do,” Alex said with a firm shake of

his head. “I’m just stuck in the wrong dimension.”

“You keep tellin’ yourself that, chum,” Mulder returned with a fake smile. “Now, maybe we

should get back to the lesson?” He nodded to the rest of the team as they made the final

turn to scramble to cover on the rooftop.

“Yeah, down to business,” Alex agreed, following Mulder to crouch behind a cement support

for a lamppost.

The HRT members were in position, the helicopter was circling overhead. The FBI had

arranged for the garage superintendent to put a tear gas canister in the ventilation system,

flooding the storage closet with the painful gas. In a matter of seconds, the creature burst

through the door of the closet, howling in pain.

Mulder watched breathless as the sharpshooter took aim. He fired, hitting the mark on the

right flank. The creature bellowed its anger and to everyone’s astonishment, ran as hard as

it could toward the chopper and the sharpshooter. In a haze of drugs and fury, the beast

leaped over the short retaining wall in an attempt to catch the aircraft. It fell the twelve

stories to the cement driveway below.

Mulder and Alex found themselves running all the way down the parking ramp. When they

got to the ground floor, a crowd of law enforcement from various jurisdictions stopped them

from getting to the creature.

“Holy shit!” Alex exclaimed, having reached the monster’s body before Mulder. Mulder

broke through the crowd and stared down at the body.

In the darkened alley, illuminated only by the searchlights of the helicopter, lay a naked

man. The commander of the HRT members ordered an immediate search of the grounds for

any trace of the creature. It was Alex who knelt down next to the body that was lying face

down, and pulled the tranquilizer dart out of the man’s shoulder.

“This is the . . . perpetrator,” he said, not really believing his own eyes. He looked up at

Mulder and shook his head. They exchanged a knowing look. Without the creature, their

hopes of finding Sarah and Scully were looking very dim.

Location unknown

night

As darkness fell, Sarah grew tired. Finally Scully was able to convince the girl it was time

for bed. After several minutes of teeth brushing and face washing, Sarah climbed into the

big bed. Just as Scully was pulling the covers up over her, Sarah ducked under her arm and

knelt down next to the bed.

“Prayers, Mommy! You forgot!” Sarah accused with a twinkle in her eyes.

“Oh, of course, how silly of me,” Scully replied, kneeling down next to the little girl.

Together, they made the sign of the cross and bowed their heads. Sarah waited, not saying

anything. Finally, she darted a glance over at Scully.

“Mommy. You start, ‘member?”

Scully drew in a breath. She thought back to her own childhood prayers, so different from

the desperate pleadings she whispered as an adult — ‘keep him safe’, ‘let him find us’.

“Now I lay me down to sleep,” she uttered in a cadence reminiscent of her youth.

“I pray the Lord my soul to keep,” Sarah responded.

The next part was tricky. In her childhood, the prayer went ‘if I should die before I wake’,

but Scully had learned from putting Matty and Claire to bed that there was a newer version

less likely to cause nightmares. “Bless me Jesus, through the night,” Scully said, hoping

she was right.

“And wake me with the morning light,” Sarah completed, much to Scully’s relief. Scully

started to cross herself, but Sarah wasn’t finished. “God bless Mommy and Daddy and

Grandpa Ahab and Grandma Maggie, Uncle Bill and Aunt Tara, Uncle Charlie and Aunt

Missy. And Paw paw and Meemaw Mulder and Aunt Sam and that boy she likes Kevin and

God bless Uncle Alex and find him a keeper. Amen.”

Scully couldn’t help the chuckle that came as she heard the last part of the prayer. Sarah

looked concerned. “That’s what Daddy says, isn’t it, Mommy? Uncle Alex needs a keeper.”

“What is a keeper, Sarah?” Scully asked, because it was just too good to resist.

Sarah scrunched up her little face and thought for a moment. “I think it’s a dog,” she said

confidently. Scully had to bite her lip to keep from laughing out loud.

“OK, munchkin, enough,” she said playfully. “In to bed you go.” Dutifully, Sarah scurried

under the covers and snuggled into the pillow.

“Mommy, I want Bunnikins,” she said plaintively.

Scully frowned. She had no idea where, or for that matter _what_ Bunnikins was. “I’m

sorry, sweetie. We’ll find Bunnikins in the morning.”

“But I left him at home, Mommy! We have to go home to find him!” Sarah insisted.

“We will, sweetheart. I promise. We will be home before you know it. Now go to sleep.

I’m going to clean up a little bit and then I’ll hold you all night so you won’t miss Bunnikins –

– will that work?”

Sarah thought about it for a minute and reluctantly nodded. “OK, Mommy. But tomorrow, I

want to go home. I want to see Daddy.”

Scully stroked the child’s baby fine hair. “I know, sweetheart. I want to see him, too,” she

said, holding back her own tears. After a few minutes, Sarah had fallen asleep and Scully

began her exploration of the rest of the basement.

1013 Leesburg Pike

Falls Church, VA

1:15 am

The coroner had declared the body dead at the scene, cause of death a broken neck and

severe head trauma. While the combined Virginia state troopers and Fairfax County

Sheriff’s deputies continued to search the area for the creature, most of the officers at the

scene were struggling with the incredible truth that the dead naked man in the alley was the

monster they’d been chasing for days.

As the coroner’s people loaded the body into a bag and prepared to take it to the county

morgue, Alex stood, staring into space.

“We’ll find them. We should go back to all the previous scenes. There has to be a clue

there somewhere. Maybe someone saw something — someone who works nights — ”

Mulder was rambling, laboring with his own sense of impending doom at this most recent

failure.

Suddenly, Alex jerked his head over toward the coroner’s wagon, where an attendant was

slamming the door. “Wait! Wait a minute!” Alex shouted, running flat out to grab the guy’s

arm and swing him around. “I need to take another look at the body!”

“Sure, buddy,” the attendant said, wide eyed. “No problem. Hey, Hank! Wait up a

minute.” The attendant then pulled the gurney forward and waved his hand. “Be my guest.

Just be careful not to get any on ya,” he said with a casual shrug.

Alex pulled the tab of the zipper down, revealing just the face. Impact had not been kind, it

was hard at first but then . . . “Oh my god,” Alex muttered. As the picture became clearer,

he stepped back and threw his hands in the air. “Oh my GOD!”

“What? What’d you find?” Mulder demanded.

“I know this guy!” Alex shouted. “I know him! Dana knows him! YOU know him, for God’s

sakes,” he said, poking Mulder in the chest.

“Alex, I don’t — ” Mulder realized what the detective was saying so he took him by the

elbow and steered him to an area without an audience. “You’re saying it’s someone you

know from . . . back there?” Mulder asked again.

“Yes, of course! Oh, this is incredible! I had no idea! I thought they had clearances, but

then, maybe since he’s been around a while — ”

“Krycek! Focus! Tell me what the hell you’re talking about!” Mulder insisted adamantly.

Alex beamed. “The dead guy, our ‘werewolf’ for lack of a better description, is the denier

that works the night shift at the morgue. My God, he has access to everything about you

and Dana — your phone number, your address — that’s why there was no forced entry! He

could have taken an impression of Dana’s keys, then had one made. Then all he would

have had to do was sneak in at any time when you were away, stayed hidden and waited

for the right time to take Sarah out through the window!”

“Alex, you keep saying ‘you’,” Mulder reminded the detective with a tired sigh. “So, who is

this guy? What’s his name?”

Alex shook his head, lost in thought but coming back to the present. “Oh, his name is . . .

uh, let me think a minute. Carter. No, Carver! That’s it! Terry Carver! I think maybe it’s

Terrance Carver.”

Mulder was writing the name down in his notebook. “So we look up this Terrance Carver.”

“Wait,” Alex said, taking hold of his companion’s sleeve. “Just because he’s a wolfman in

my world doesn’t mean he’s a wolfman in your world,” he reasoned.

“True. But what was the first thing you did when you arrived?” Mulder asked.

Alex bit his lip. “I went to my apartment, but someone else was living there. Then I

headed for the last crime scene, but I got there too late — you were being loaded into an

ambulance.”

“You went to your house. Let’s see if we can find out if maybe Terrance Carver visited his

twin. Chances are we might find another dead body.”

FBI Headquarters

5:45 am

There were fourteen Terrance Carvers in the greater DC metro area. Only two of them were

matches for age. Of the two, one was in the Guard, serving in Iraq and the other had been

killed in a multi-car pile-up on the I-95 just four days after New Years 2006.

“Well, that’s a wash,” Alex said, laying his head in his arms.

“No, wait,” Mulder countered, turning the computer monitor so that Alex could view it. “Mr.

Carver, the one who is in Iraq, had an apartment in Bethesda, but it also lists him as owner

of a farm out near Sharpsburg. He pays property taxes on it.” A few more clicks and

Mulder smiled. “It was the family homestead. He still owns the house.”

“Dana said she was out in the country,” Alex remembered. “You think this could be where

they’re being held?”

Mulder checked his watch. “It’s almost sunup. It’s definitely worth a look, don’t you think?”

“We could call the Sheriff up that way, have his men go check it out.”

“We can do that one the way. Our werewolf isn’t going anywhere,” Mulder said with a

smile.

Location unknown

night

She found light switches, but only one very dull bulb hung in the far corner of the

basement. It was barely enough light for her to see to the top of the stairs. The door at

the top of the steps was barred; there would be no escape that way. Scully sat on the top

step for a few minutes, willing away her depression.

She tried to remember how light it was outside when she’d smelled breakfast the day

before. She knew it had been early, which meant she had little time to find an escape.

She crawled down the steps, feeling apprehensive. She was aware the hostages were

sometimes kept for years, just as Carl Wade had kept Lucy Householder for eight long

years. She didn’t want to think what it would do to Mulder if they weren’t found soon. For

that matter, somewhere in another place her exact twin was living a mother’s worst

nightmare. She had to find a way out for both of them.

It was a long abandoned basement; she soon discovered mice nests and spider webs

everywhere she turned. She examined every nook and cranny. At some point someone

had replaced all the windows with the same glass blocks she’d found in the small bedroom.

She did find a sledgehammer and was in the process of trying to devise a way to break the

glass bricks when another possibility presented itself. There was an old coal door set in the

side of the wall. Once used to send coal into a long dismantled coal bin, the hatch-like door

was rusted completely shut. Scully eyed the sledgehammer, then eyed the coal door.

Wrapping rags she’d found on the floor around her hands to prevent blisters, she picked up

the sledgehammer and went to work.

Act 4

Location Unknown

Daybreak

It had been exhausting work, and at times she had almost given up, but finally she felt the

latch move and she was able to pry the door open using a small pry bar. She wiped the

sweat from her face and went to wake Sarah.

It was a testament to the sleeping abilities of the young that Sarah hadn’t awoken during

Scully’s assault on the rusted latch. Scully went to the bathroom and washed the grime and

rust from her hands and face before going to the bed to wake the child.

Sarah smiled up at her. “Mommy, I’m hungry,” she said as she stretched. She looked over

at the table. “Where’s breakfast?”

“Sarah, it’s time to go home now. We’ll have breakfast later, OK?”

“We’re going to see Daddy?” the girl squealed. Then she noticed the open door and jumped

back into the bed, cowering under the covers. “The door, Mommy! The monster will get

us!”

“No, sweetheart, the monster isn’t here. Come with me. We can leave now.” Finally,

Scully was able to coax the child out of the tangle of blankets. She wrapped the girl up in a

threadbare quilt from the bed and carried her to the coal door that she had propped open

with the handle of the sledgehammer. “Sarah, you go through that little door and wait for

me. I’ll climb out right after you.”

“NO!” the child screamed. “No Mommy! The monster, it’ll eat me!”

“Sarah, listen to me. The monster isn’t here. It’s gone. But we have to leave, now.”

“No, Mommy! Daddy will come find us!” Sarah insisted.

“Sweetheart, Daddy doesn’t know where we are,” Scully reasoned. “We have to go find

him. Daddy is probably worried about us. It will be all right. Mommy will protect you,” she

promised. Once again, the ease of using that title was not lost on Scully. She tamped

down her guilt by rationalizing the need to comfort the child. “This is a very scary thing,

Sarah, but Mommy is right here with you. I would never let anything hurt you. You believe

that, don’t you?”

Sarah was far from totally convinced, but slowly she nodded her head.

“OK, you keep hold of my hand after I get you up there. You can pull me up, OK?”

“OK, Mommy. But hurry!” the child pleaded.

The coal door was only 4 feet off the floor, so getting Sarah through it proved a simple task.

Scully was a bit more encumbered getting out because of Sarah’s ‘help’, but finally the two

were standing on the ground outside the old farm house. A cold wind blew through the bare

trees nearby and Scully considered going back into the house to grab some more of the

blankets from the bed.

“Mommy, go!” Sarah urged.

Scully nodded. Picking the child up and wrapping the quilt around both of them, she started

off through the trees.

Miller’s Sawmill Road

Sharpsburg, Maryland

8:06 am

Mulder gripped the cell phone harder, wishing he could crush it with his bare hands.

“Deputy, what do you mean there’s no one there? Did you check everywhere?” he

demanded. “Well, we’re almost there. I’ll look around for myself, thank you!” He snapped

the phone shut with an audible crack from the casing.

“Could it be the wrong house?” Alex asked meekly from the driver’s seat.

“No,” Mulder defended. “It’s the right house. It’s abandoned and they found a room in the

basement where someone has been recently. But there’s no one there now.”

“Where could they have gone?” Alex wondered aloud. “You don’t think — ” His face went

white as he considered the awful possibility.

“No, I don’t think he killed them,” Mulder said firmly.

“Just like you knew where he took them?” Alex jeered, staring out at the highway.

“We’ll find them. At least we know he’d dead and they’re safe.”

“Assuming that really was the beast back there, and not some poor victim it tossed over to

hide its escape,” Alex replied glumly.

Mulder glared at the detective. “Just drive,” he ordered.

The farmhouse was at the end of a long, overgrown gravel drive, now sporting two county

squad cars. Mulder pulled in behind one of the cars and parked, getting out without waiting

for Alex. He went up to one of the deputies.

“I’m Special Agent Mulder, are you Deputy Allen?” he asked, flipping out his badge.

“Yes sir, that’d be me,” the young deputy said with a nod. “Let’s go inside, I can show you

what we found.”

The first floor of the house was completely bare, not even a forgotten mattress. Mulder

noticed the Alex had joined them and was looking around the kitchen.

“Electricity is on. The refrigerator has food in it,” Allen noted.

Alex opened the fridge and pulled out a gallon jug of milk, reading the label. “Expires next

week,” he said, opening the lid and sniffing the contents. “This is fresh.”

Mulder looked around the kitchen, finding plates and cups in the dishwasher.

“We found the room down here,” Allen explained, holding open the basement door.

Mulder caught his breath as he looked at the room. The child’s desk and table, the rocking

chair. He leaned over the bed, picking up one of the pillows and bringing it to his nose.

“Scully was here,” he told Alex.

Alex went over to the child’s desk and picked up a piece of paper. He brought it over to

Mulder, showing him. It was a stick-figure drawing of a house with three people out front, a

woman with red hair, a man with brown hair and glasses and a little girl with red hair. At

the bottom of the page was scrawled the name ‘Sarah’.

“Dana told me she learned to write her name last week. She was going to have her draw

me a picture for my desk at the station,” he said, carefully folding the picture and putting it

in his back pocket. “So where are they now?”

“There’s no blood anywhere. No signs of a struggle,” Mulder recited as he paced the room.

“The door was barred when you arrived, Deputy Allen?”

“Yes sir, and it sure didn’t look like any body could have gotten out that way.”

“There has to be another way out,” Mulder said, striding purposefully from the room. He

searched the basement, finally calling to Alex.

“Here,” he said, pointing to the closed coal door.

“There was a sledgehammer leaning against the house out back,” Allen offered. “Didn’t

think much about it, but they could have propped the door open, made their escape that

way.”

“They’re on foot and it’s getting colder,” Mulder said, taking the stairs two at a time.

“Deputy, put out an ABP on a woman and a child, I gave you the descriptions. They

shouldn’t be that far from here! Alex, you have shotgun,” he added as he hurried off to the

car.

Unknown State Highway

two hours later

Scully had never been so happy to see cement adorned with white and yellow lines in her

life as she was when she and Sarah broke through the trees and saw the highway. Sarah

had been a trooper, walking almost half the way. It was slow going, but Scully couldn’t

have made it if she’d had to carry the child. Two days of inactivity had done a number on

her bruised muscles, leaving her sore and stiff. The wind hadn’t been kind, either, kicking

up a pile of dark clouds that seemed to be threatening either sleet or snow.

“Sarah, I think we should wait here a while, see if a car goes by,” Scully suggested.

“But Mommy, I gotta go potty,” Sarah announced with a grimace.

Scully sighed, trying to figure out where a good impromptu ‘potty’ might be among the

trees and dense underbrush when she heard a rumble coming from down around a corner in

the road. There, before her very eyes, was a Sheriff’s Department squad car, pulling to a

stop.

The deputy all but ran over to Scully and the child. “Ma’am, you wouldn’t happen to be an

FBI agent, would you?” the deputy asked, breathless.

“As a matter of face, I am,” Scully said with a grin.

“Hot damn, uh, excuse the language, ma’am. Um, we been looking for you two for quite a

while. Here let’s get you in the patrol car and warm you up a bit. I have a car seat in the

trunk for the little one.”

“Thank you, Deputy . . . ”

“Webb, ma’am. Andy Webb. Boy, I don’t know how I rate. You two are the biggest thing

to hit these parts in a while! And here it is, only my first day on the job! Whoooo Hoo!” the

young man whistled.

They were quickly buckled in the very warm and comfortable back seat of the patrol car and

on their way. As Scully listened to Deputy Webb calling in his ‘discovery’, she stroked

Sarah’s hair as the child fell asleep.

Washington County Maryland Sheriff’s Department

11:15 am

Mulder was near frantic as he plowed his way into the small brick building. He scanned the

half dozen people until his eyes fell on the one red head in all the room. He was at her side

in a heartbeat, pulling her into a fierce embrace, his face buried in her hair.

“Mulder, I’m a mess. I’m dirty, I haven’t showered in days,” she protested, but he couldn’t

stop himself.

“You’re alive. I don’t care if you just crawled out of a New Jersey sewer, you’re alive,” he

chanted, hugging her close again.

“Munchkin!” Alex shouted and scooped up the little girl who was trying her best to get in on

the ‘family hug’ taken place right next to her. “Oh Sweet Sarah, Uncle Alex has been so

worried about you!” he said, showering her with kisses. Suddenly, he held her at arms

length. “You weren’t hurt, were you? Did a doctor look you over? Are you OK?”

“I looked her over, Alex,” Scully said quietly, when she finally broke Mulder’s bear hug.

“She’s fine.”

“Thank god,” Alex sighed, holding the little girl tight.

“Daddy! Daddy, I want my Daddy!” Sarah cried out and lunged for Mulder. Alex tried to

keep her in his arms, but the little girl launched herself in mid air and only Mulder’s quick

reaction time prevented her from falling to the floor.

“Daddy, I missed you so much!” the child exclaimed, kissing Mulder’s face repeatedly.

“Mommy said you’d find us and you did!”

Mulder held the girl stiffly and looked uncomfortably over at his partner. Scully frowned and

nodded to the little girl. “Mulder, she doesn’t understand,” she hissed in a low voice.

Mulder licked his lips and looked down at Sarah. Scully’s pert nose and mouth were on that

face, but it was Samantha’s eyes that stared back at him. His throat tightened and he

struggled to hold back his tears. Like a floodgate opening, he crushed the child to him,

burying his face in her baby fine hair. “Oh, Sarah, I’m so very glad we found you,” he said

softly.

As the emotion of the reunion finally slipped away, Alex caught Scully’s eye. “Hi, long time

no see,” he said in a whisper.

“Hello again. I’m not sure how — ”

“Long story,” he said tilting his head toward Sarah, who had climbed out of Mulder’s arms

and was busy rearranging the pencil holder and stapler on the desk sergeant’s counter.

“You two have been working together?” she asked, looking at Mulder for confirmation.

“It took a little getting used to,” Mulder admitted.

“Say what, G-man?” Alex countered. “It took a LOT of getting used to. But in the end — ”

“Mulder, there was a man, I think he was another captive. We didn’t find him after the

creature left the door open. I think he might have been another victim.”

“Scully, believe me, this report is going to kill a forest of trees before we get it documented.

Right now, I think we have bigger items to consider,” he told her, nodding toward Sarah

who was now tugging on her arm.

“Mommy, I’m hungry!” the child declared. “Can we go to McBurgers?”

“Um, how about we try something different, Munchkin?” Alex suggested. “It’s called

McDonald’s and it’s almost exactly like McBurgers.”

“OK, Unc’a Alex! Let’s go!”

“Fast thinking, but how did you know?” Mulder asked quietly as they headed for the car.

“I saw the arches. The name is different, but I’m betting they still have the best fried

zucchini you can find,” Alex said with a wink.

“Um, about that — ” Mulder countered.

“Gotcha,” Alex replied with an evil grin.

Homewood Inn and Suites

off the I-70

Scully closed the door to the bedroom quietly, so as not to wake the sleeping little girl.

Lunch and 45 minutes in McDonald’s playland had exhausted the tiny girl once again.

Mulder had suggested not going back to the city immediately. From what Alex had told

him, Dana and Fox lived in Prince Georges County, Maryland, in a two-story colonial with a

half-acre yard. Going to Scully and Mulder’s duplex in Georgetown would only serve to

confuse the child. Even so, the three adults needed time to talk and plan.

“So, basically, we go back to the vortex and hope it’s still open,” Alex said, sipping coffee

that Scully had prepared in the hotel room’s kitchen.

“What if it’s not open?” Scully countered, sitting forward on the sofa next to Mulder. “Alex,

you can’t assume that it’s going to be there now. If this vortex has always been around,

why haven’t more people gone though it?”

“Dana, I don’t know what to tell you,” Alex admitted. “I just know that’s the only way we

can get back home.”

“Alex,” Mulder broke in. “Do you think you could give us a few minutes to talk — privately?”

The detective looked at Mulder and then at Scully, whose face was hidden because she was

staring at the floor. He ran his hand through his hair and sighed. “Sure. I’ll just go out to

the courtyard and um, talk to the ducks.”

When he was gone, Scully stood up and went to the window. “Mulder, I know what you’re

going to say,” she said, crossing her arms.

“Good. Maybe you can tell me,” he quipped. He got up from the sofa and stood behind her,

pulling him to him, her back to his front. “Scully, I don’t know what to tell you. I went

through hell the last couple of days, but I think what you went through was worse.”

She shook her head vehemently. “No, Mulder. It wasn’t. After destroying my cell phone

we never saw the monster again. We were warm, we were well fed. Aside from being

trapped, we were fine — better than fine.”

He kissed the top of her head lightly. “That’s what I’m saying. Scully, you had 48 hours —

a taste of motherhood. Just like before, when you found Emily. And now, just as before,

you’re having to give that up — to walk away. I can’t think of anything worse than that.”

He turned her around and she buried her face in his chest.

“Mulder, she calls me Mommy. And she has your eyes and your chin and she draws

pictures and she loves Tigger and thinks Rabbit is mean to Pooh and I want that — I want

all of that!” she said, breaking down into sobs.

He wanted to be strong for her, but his own eyes were cloudy with unshed tears. “And I

want that for you. Scully, do you think I was unaffected when she hugged me and called

me Daddy? When she told me she’d missed me?” He stopped, grasping for some control

over his emotions. “But Scully, we aren’t who she thinks we are. We aren’t Mommy and

Daddy — not to that little girl.”

She pushed away from him with a gentle shove and paced the sitting room. “Don’t you

think I know that, Mulder? Don’t you think I kept thinking that every time I looked at her?

But now, I’m afraid for her, too. Mulder, we’re talking a vortex! There is no scientific basis

for this ‘passageway’ between two dimensions!”

“Brad Kensworth got the idea somewhere, Scully,” Mulder said evenly. “Maybe his ‘glass’

invention was based on a vortex of some kind. And just because we haven’t studied it

doesn’t mean it can’t exist. You of all people should know that. Scully, look at all the

things we’ve seen in the last dozen or more years that your science could not explain.”

“But Mulder, we are talking about a little girl’s life,” she countered. “A little girl who is made

up of _our_ DNA!” She toyed with the small decorative arrangement on the table in the

dining room area. “Who would know that she wasn’t ours?” she asked hesitantly.

Mulder closed his eyes and then opened them slowly. He walked the few paces to take her

in his arms again. “We would know, Scully. We would know.” He stroked her hair,

dropping kisses. “Not like this, sweetheart. You know I want to give you this one thing

more than I could ever say, but not like this. Not when it means stealing something that

isn’t ours to take.”

clip_image008

Against his chest he felt her nod and then they both held each other and cried.

Homewood Inn and Suites courtyard

2:30 pm

Alex looked up when he saw Mulder at the door. Mulder motioned for him to stay seated

and walked over to join him.

“How’s Dana doing?” Alex asked, not mentioning the tearstains he could see Mulder’s

cheeks.

“She’ll be fine. Sarah’s awake. They’re watching television. Toon Disney.”

“That should make her happy. Dana and Fox only let her watch Omni Kids and Crazy

Animals.”

Mulder cleared his throat and leaned back, letting the fading sun warm his face. “Scully

suggested we have a picnic supper, in Rock Creek Park tonight.”

Alex nodded. “Sounds like a plan. I can tell Sarah I’m taking her for ice cream. I do that

from time to time.”

Mulder looked over at his companion. “You really do love her, don’t you?”

Alex refused to look at him. He toyed with a twig he’d found on the ground. “I don’t see

myself as the marrying kind, if you know what I mean. That little girl — she’s all the family

I’ve got. Her mother, even that tight assed dad of hers — ” He stopped and looked

sheepishly at Mulder. “Sorry, but he is a tight-ass — no offense,” he confided guiltily.

“None taken” Mulder said with a smirk.

“Anyway, they let me . . . borrow her from time to time. Let me pretend that I’m normal, I

have a normal job and a little girl who loves me — ”

“She does love you, Alex. I could see that when you held her,” Mulder interrupted.

“Well, I like to think she does,” the other man said with a sigh.

“Going through this vortex — it didn’t . . . hurt at all, did it?” Mulder asked with a worried

expression.

“To be honest, I didn’t know I’d gone through it until I saw a stop sign,” Alex said with a

shrug. “We have the green on the top,” he informed Mulder. “So I figured I wasn’t in

Toledo anymore.”

Mulder looked at him with confusion on his face.

“Sorry, bad joke,” Alex said with a wink. “C’mon. I know a Mom and Dad who are worried

sick and a Captain who is waiting to chew me a new asshole.”

“Well, with a welcoming party like that, we don’t want to keep you any longer,” Mulder

replied with a smile.

Rock Creek Park

Washington DC

5:00 pm

It was a testament to Scully’s acting abilities that she didn’t break down into tears when

they got to the park. She sat in the front seat with Mulder, Alex and Sarah sat in the back

seat with a sack of Subway sandwiches and drinks between them.

Mulder found a little picnic area near the creek near a big tree that Alex pointed out to

Sarah, the prearranged clue for Mulder to follow. The sun had dropped below the rooftops

of the surrounding apartment buildings long before, but on the floor of the little gorge it was

dusk with streetlights illuminating the scene. It looked tranquil, inviting.

They talked of little things, whatever Sarah wanted to discuss. They spoke of going to the

zoo and the last time Uncle Alex came for dinner. She told them what she wanted to do

when she grew up — teaching doctors, like Mommy and Daddy. Finally, Alex glanced at his

watch and Mulder nodded.

“Sarah, how about I take you for an ice cream. We’ll meet your Mom and Dad back at the

house? How does that sound?” Alex asked with forced excitement.

“Oh yes, Unc’a Alex, yes!” she replied, happily clapping her hands. “I want chocolate ice

cream on a big cone!”

“I think I can handle that,” he said lifting her up off the picnic table seat and hoisting her

onto his hip.

“We’ll see you two later,” he said, his eyes twinkling in the dim light.

“Yeah, see you at home,” Mulder said. Scully stood up and both men held their breath.

She walked over and kissed Sarah on the forehead.

“Be good for Uncle Alex, Sweetie,” she said evenly.

“I will, Mommy,” Sarah said and hugged Alex’s neck tightly.

“Good girl,” Scully responded. “Take care of her, Alex.”

“I will, Dana. I promise.”

They turned and walked away, Sarah finally begging to get down and walk, the independent

young lady of two very independent people. They’d only gone a few yards along the path

when Alex leaned over and whispered something in Sarah’s ear. She stood very still and

nodded. Alex jogged back to Mulder, pulling his wallet out of his pocket. When he got to

Mulder, he pressed something into his hand. Mulder looked down and saw the portrait of

Sarah and her mother and father.

“Alex, this is yours,” Mulder protested.

“You keep it. I can get another one in the next card she sends me,” he assured Mulder.

“Thank you,” Mulder said. “For everything.”

“Back at you,” Alex said, shaking Mulder’s hand. “I, uh, gotta go.”

“Yeah, you better.”

He walked back to Sarah; they stepped beneath a big oak tree and vanished from sight.

Scully sat there for several minutes, not daring to look at Mulder. Finally, she picked up the

wrappers from the sandwiches and tossed them in a nearby trash barrel. “It’s time to go

home,” she said quietly and they walked back to Mulder’s car.

Epilogue

Mulder and Scully’s Residence

two days later

“When are these damned things coming out?” Mulder whined as he attempted to shave

around the stitches at his neck. Showering was a distant memory and even Scully had

commented that she thought they could take the stitches out themselves — as soon as the

area looked healed.

“One more day,” came the reply from under the shower spray. “Did you finish the report?”

“It’s on the computer. It was a lot harder than I thought since I can’t substantiate anything

Alex told me. But it does appear that the man we found in the alley worked with the Dana

Scully Mulder from the other dimension and he took the child, perhaps as a way to get

closer to Dana. When he saw you, he probably thought you’d be the next best thing. It’s

rough and dirty but it’s all there. Take a look at it when you get out,” Mulder replied, wiping

wisps of shaving cream from his face.

They hadn’t said a word upon returning to the duplex after watching Sarah and Alex depart.

Scully had refused to go to the Emergency Room, and Mulder didn’t have the courage to

force her. Instead, she acted like it was a Sunday night, she gathered and laundered work

clothes, tidied up the kitchen and didn’t speak a word. When it was time for bed he was

almost afraid she would relegate him to the sofa for some unknown and unintentional crime.

Instead, she clung to him the minute their bodies hit the mattress. They made tender love

and he resolved not to mention the tears creasing her cheeks and staining her pillow. In

the morning, they went to work.

Her fortitude in the face of adversity was one of the things that most endeared her to him.

It also drove him stark raving mad when he knew she was shutting off her feelings, from

herself, from him. They were past that, long past that, or so he had thought.

He had decided, half out of cowardice, to give her some time. But it was Friday and they

had a whole weekend stretching out before them. He was terrified she would go on another

cleaning spree. He couldn’t handle that. He would have to draw her out, one way or

another.

He grabbed his car keys and followed her out to the car. He had all day to devise a plan.

5:00 pm

Scully parked the car in the alley driveway and sat for a moment. Images of Sarah would

flit through her mind, superimposed on images of Emily. Both girls were about the same

age, but Sarah seemed more advanced. Sarah was definitely the happier of the two girls,

always ready to play, to color, to be read to or rocked. Her heart ached when she thought

of Emily, long gone. But the tears burned her eyes when she remembered the feel of Sarah

in her arms, calling her Mommy in a way that Emily never did.

She shook herself and reached for the door handle. Mulder had left the office early,

claiming to go see a ‘real’ doctor about his stitches. She didn’t believe him for a minute, he

was up to something — but she was too tired and heartsick to figure it out. She trudged up

the walkway to the back door.

“I’m home,” she called as she stepped into the kitchen. She could smell something in the

oven — something Italian. Peeking in the door, she saw Mulder’s famous lasagna — as he

had deemed the recipe he’d seen on the Food Network during his convalescence of a few

months back. A bottle of wine was uncorked and ‘breathing’ on the kitchen counter. She

sighed and shook her head. She really wasn’t in the mood for romance or seduction and it

looked like Mulder had pulled out all the stops.

“Hey,” he said, leaning against the kitchen doorway in jeans and a grey tee shirt. The fact

that he looked delectable seemed to make her more depressed.

“Did you get the stitches out?” she asked, peering at his neck.

“All gone,” he said, pulling his collar aside for her inspection.

“I better not find little black threads in the sink upstairs,” she warned him as she moved

past.

“I left the receipt from the co-pay on the desk in the office. I knew you’d be suspicious.”

“Not suspicious, Mulder. Skeptical,” she countered. “Do I have time to take a quick

shower?”

“Real quick. Dinner’s on the table in 15 minutes,” he answered.

“OK, no shower. But I am changing my clothes,” she replied. With heavy footfalls she went

up to their bedroom.

When she came back downstairs, now enfolded in a downy blue sweater and her oldest

jeans, he had the table set with the ‘good’ dishes (ones her mother had given them) and

candles were on the table. He’d even folded napkins. She had to smile ruefully at his

endeavors. The man didn’t nothing halfway.

He gallantly pulled out her chair. “Would the lady care to sample the wine?” he asked as he

scooted her close to the table.

“I’ll take my chances,” she replied and he went about filling first her wine glass and then

his. She picked up her napkin and discovered it had concealed to small packages, both

wrapped in white tissue paper and tied with white silk ribbon. “Mulder, what are these?”

she asked, holding them up.

“Gee, I guess I need to get the guys to check the security alarm, huh?” he said with a

boyish grin, but she detected a subtle air of nervousness about him.

What had he gone and done this time?

“Dare I open them now, or should I wait so I don’t spoil dinner?” she asked with a raised

eyebrow.

He seemed a bit hurt at her words and tone, but resolutely shook it off. “Let’s eat while the

garlic bread is still hot,” he suggested.

The dinner was perfect. She even managed to taste both the entree and the salad he’d

prepared, with fresh mushrooms she had noted. Finally, the wine glass was near empty

and her plate was mostly clean. She daintily wiped her mouth on the napkin and looked up

at him with a smile. “My compliments to the chef,” she said graciously.

“The chef accepts all compliments, it was his pleasure,” he assured her.

“Now?” she asked, picking up the small packages.

“Let’s go into the living room,” he countered, refilling their glasses and taking her hand to

help her up. He guided her from the room with his hand on the small of her back.

Once seated on the sofa with their glasses on the coffee table, Mulder nodded that she could

open the smaller of the two presents. It was the picture of Sarah with her parents that was

now encased in a tasteful silver and mother of pearl frame. She looked up at him with tears

on her lashes. “It’s beautiful,” she said, and leaned over to give him a kiss.

“Open the other one,” he encouraged.

She removed the tape and paper from the slightly thicker box and pried off the lid. A small

metal vial was revealed along with a business card. A frown creased her brow as she held

up the vial. There was a serial number on it. The card, she discovered was for a fertility

specialist at Georgetown University Medical Center. She shot him a hard look. “Mulder,

what is this?”

“First, I want you to know that everything I did, everything I do, I do with the absolute best

of intentions,” he prefaced.

She drew in a breath and nodded slowly.

“When we had first found out about your cancer, I broke into a medical clinic of a Dr.

Scanlon,” he said, licking his lips. “You know that part.”

“Yes, and you found out that they had harvested my ova for their experiments,” she said,

swallowing thickly. “One of those ova was later used to . . . create Emily. You told the

judge that at my adoption hearing.”

He nodded at her timeline. “What I didn’t tell you at the time was that I stole a couple of

the vials from the storage unit,” he said quietly.

“You . . . what?” she asked, her voice catching in her throat. “Mulder — why didn’t you tell

me?” Her expression was a mixture of anger and deep betrayal.

“Scully, when I first found them, you were dying. Or so we thought. I took the vials and I

had them placed in a fertility clinic here at Georgetown under an alias. I thought they

would be safe. They’ve been there, well, for six years now.”

“That still doesn’t explain why you kept it a secret,” she hissed.

“When was I supposed to tell you? After you lost Emily? ‘Oh, don’t worry, Scully — you can

make your own baby’. To be honest, there were times when I completely forgot they were

there. And further, I was hoping that Scanlon was wrong and we’d find out the old

fashioned way,” he said sheepishly. He took her hand and was gratified that she didn’t pull

away. “What I’m telling you is that you have a choice. If you really want a child, we can

have a child. We can start the procedures tomorrow or next week. But if we have a child, I

want that child to be as safe as Sarah is with her parents.”

“Sarah was kidnapped from her bed while a police detective sat in their living room,” Scully

pointed out bitterly.

He tilted his head and frowned at her.

“OK,” she relented. “I see your point. So what are you saying — that we just go on? That

we never just stop the car . . . Mulder, we have so much to do! We have the laptop to

decipher, we have Strughold and Charlie to defeat and that’s not even considering Spender

and Krycek and — ”

“I’m saying right here, right now, it’s your decision, Scully. When you want a child, I’m

there. It doesn’t have to be this week. It can be in a few years. I, uh, I left a deposit last

spring, when I arranged for you to have full access to the family finances. A little mixing, a

little time in a warm place and ‘voila’ — instant parents.”

She shook her head and a sad smile formed on her lips. “God forbid we do anything the

conventional way,” she muttered. “So, what’s this?” she asked, holding up the vial. “It’s

not in a cooler, so it’s probably not viable.”

“It doesn’t have anything in it. It’s just a container with the number your ova are stored

under. Consider it a Swiss Bank Account.”

“So, it’s all up to me?” she asked.

“Isn’t that what all that ruckus outside the Supreme Court is about?” he asked with a grin.

“I want you to be happy, Scully. I will move heaven and earth to ensure that.”

She wiped the tears from her chin and cheek and then looked at the vial in her hand.

“Someday, Mulder. Not now, not when there is so much at stake. But someday . . .

someday . . . voila.”

He took her hand and led her up to their bedroom. As they readied for bed she looked at

the small portrait in the silver and shell frame. She traced the tiny face with her fingertip.

Carefully she placed it on the nightstand by her side of the bed.

the end.